Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Meet Deep Throat

Former FBI associate director W. Mark Felt emerges from his Santa Rosa, Calif., home today with daughter Joan Felt and grandson Nick Jones. (Reuters)
Posted by Hello
The Washington Post story.

Xoff is always looking for the local angle

Posted by Hello Click on cartoon to enlarge

Recycling economics 101

State Sen. Scott (I bet no one calls HIM Scooter; maybe Gatsby?) Fitzgerald has an interesting theory.

Recycling programs aren't paying their own way, he says, so he supports a drop in the fee charged dumping in landfills here. Those fees pay for the grants to local recycling programs -- the ones that aren't breaking even, and could use more money. Make sense to you?

It's like the brothers who were buying a truckload of black dirt for $100 and selling it for $50. But they made it up in volume.

"I'm not sure how much longer we can justify being in the recycling business. When the law was passed, the thought was that markets would drive recycling programs, but now it's hard to even break even on most recyclables. The expectations were so much higher than where we are now," Fitzgerald said.

Well, there's just one thing wrong with that. We don't recycle because we think we'll make money. We recycle because it is saves resources, keeps material out of landfills, and protects the environment. Somehow, that rationale got lost in the shuffle.

Bush's sputtering second term

This from Scot Lehigh, Boston Globe columnist, is worth a read:

THIS CAN'T BE the way George W. Bush and Karl Rove imagined the president's second term would go.

Less than seven months after Bush won reelection, strengthening his party's hold on Congress as he did so, the president has hit a wall with his domestic agenda.

On major matters, he's clearly lost the public. And this week the Republican Congress itself started to revolt. Read the rest.

Bush twins unemployment index 100%

Posted by Hello

Get the whole scoop from Wonkette.

More on SpongeJohn GardPants

Today's Capital Times editorial:"Gard's national embarrassment."

Sharing God's love

The Wisconsin State Journal's Pat Simms fills in some of the blanks on the Alliance Defense Fund, the wingnut law firm invited by Assembly Speaker SpongeJohn GardPants to intervene in a Wisconsin lawsuit on health benefits for domestic partners.

Among the tidbits: Last month, the group sponsored a "Day of Truth" during school hours to let students "share God's love with those trapped in homosexual behavior in a respectful and non- disruptive manner."

Read the story here.

Blue light special on health insurance

Does it bother you that Wisconsin taxpayers are shelling out $2.7-million a year to pay for health insurance for Wal-Mart workers, while the company makes $10.3-billion in profits?

That information, disclosed in a Journal Sentinel story last week, didn't seem to raise too many eyebrows or provoke much response.

Maybe it's a case of "What's good for Wal-Mart is good for the country." But that is hardly the case when it comes to employee benefits like health insurance coverage.

A combination of low wages, part-time workers, and long waits for employer-paid coverage result in 809 employees of Wal-Mart qualifying for BadgerCare, the state health program for the working poor. Taxpayers also picked up the tab for coverage of 443 dependents of those Wal-Mart workers.

That does not count the 3% of Wal-Mart employees who qualify for Medicaid, the health care program for the poor, elderly and disabled. That's another 1,952 people, including dependents, according to State Rep. Terese Berceau, who has introduced a bill to address the problem. She puts the total price tag at $4.75-million a year in state and federal taxes for Medicaid and BadgerCare.

All of this is especially relevant now because the state's Medicaid program is facing a $650-million deficit.

Wal-Mart is not the only company with workers on the BadgerCare rolls, but it is No. 1 on the list. Of the top 10 companies with workers getting Badger Care benefits, Wal-Mart accounts for 40% of those covered.

Jim Pugh of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC), always quick to defend any bad business practices, says that's the way Badger Care is supposed to work, taking care of the low-paid and part-time workers who are working their way into jobs with benefits.

Here's the rub: It takes a full-time Wal-Mart employee six months to quality for health insurance. It takes a part-timer two years! And Wal-Mart is notorious for keeping people in part-time jobs and paying the lowest wages possible. If someone sticks it out two years, the company pays two-thirds of health insurance costs. But the worker's income is probably still low enough to qualify for BadgerCare, and the fact that the company pays less than 80% of the premiums means the workers are still eligible.

A Wal-Mart spokesman said you would expect to find Wal-Mart at the top of the list, because the company is the state's largest employer, with 26,000 workers.

OK, but the No. 2 company on the list, Aurora health care, has about one-fourth as many workers and dependents in BadgerCare as Wal-Mart does. Aurora has 25,000 employees. But it pays 80% of the cost of insurance for most of them, keeping them off the BadgerCare rolls.

So that's the problem. What's the solution?

Berceau's bill, co-sponsored by State Sen. Dave Hansen , would make big employers reimburse the state if it meets certain criteria. The bill is clearly aimed at Wal-Mart. Berceau release. A Capital Times editorial.

Maryland's legislature passed a similar bill, which was vetoed by the Republican governor but may be overridden. Maryland story.

Prospects of passage in the Republican-run legislature are slim and none, although even the GOP has begun to make noises about taking some action to ask companies to pay more of the costs. In a Journal Sentinel story, State Rep. Scooter Jensen and even Speaker SpongeJohn GardPants sounded open to doing something. Unfortunately, in the end it their "solution" will more likely be changing eligibility standards and kicking more people into the uninsured pool than making employers pay up.

But legislation often takes time, and several sessions, to come to fruition. In the meantime the Berceau-Hansen proposal will help shine a spotlight on the problem, keep the issue in the public eye, and perhaps embarrass Wal-Mart and others enough to make even some modest improvements in their current, inadequate benefit plans.

ANOTHER TAKE: Between the time I wrote this and got around to posting it, Folkbum checked in with added insights.

Radio spot aims to inflame prejudices

The Coalition for America's Families, the hard-edged wingnuts who aired a television spot last week about Governor Doyle's budget proposal to allow undocumented immigrants to pay in-state university tuition, expose their hateful agenda further in a new radio spot this week.

The TV spot was merely racist. The radio spot is a twofer -- racist and anti-gay, it plays to people's worst instincts, intolerance, and prejudices.

Doyle, the sarcastic female announcer says, wants to raise taxes and fees to give "free health insurance to the partners of GAY state employees and offer reduced college tuition to illegal aliens." The emphasis on "GAY" is hers, not mine. Hear it.

Now if they can just figure out a way to get guns and abortion into the next spot, they'll have pushed all the buttons.

Just the kind of dialogue we were missing in Wisconsin. As if SpongeJohn GardPants isn't bad enough.

Their website is called sickoftaxes.com. But they are just plain sick.

* * * * *

TV SPOT UPDATE: The group's TV spot gets some well-deserved criticism in a JS editorial. It says, in part: "The ad's real target is Gov. Jim Doyle. Our problem with it is how it unfairly channels the very real and heated passions against illegal immigration his way."

King's crackpot complaint

Madison Alderman Austin King either has a great sense of humor or a bizarre view of how the political world works.

I'd like to give him the benefit of the doubt and conclude that his complaint to Atty. Gen. Peg Lautenschlager about alleged "logrolling" on the minimum wage was intended to generate a story in The Onion.

But if that's the case, why would he write so much? His complaint is novella length, so he must be serious. If you have way too much time on your hands, you can read it here.

King apparently believes that compromise is a Class I felony in Wisconsin.

It happens rarely in the current partisan atmosphere of the State Capitol, but I never guessed that's because it's a felony.

Two things have happened on minimum wage. The Doyle administration has issued an emergency rule to raise the rate, which it appears will take effect without the legislature objecting. The legislature has passed a bill pre-empting local minimum wage ordinances; Doyle has not signed it into law but presumably will.

Is there a connection or an understanding of some sort? In all likelihood. Is that a felony? Of course not.

King's complaint asks the AG to approach the matter "with its deserved gravity." Let's hope she does just that, files it under "Crackpot Complaints" and doesn't spend any taxpayer money on an investigation.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Remember the wounded

On Memorial Day from Vietnam veteran John Wheeler:

Eleven years ago Lewis B. Puller Jr., winner of a Pulitzer Prize for the book "Fortunate Son" on his experiences as a Marine platoon commander who was severely wounded in Vietnam, took his own life. Puller had lost both legs and the use of his hands in the war. On May 11, 1994, he finally succumbed to stump pain, to frustration at his inability to grasp objects and to depression, which he had fought for 25 years. . .

We need to honor the wounded as well as those who died. Their numbers are growing, and society needs to both acknowledge their sacrifice and understand their situation. And it needs, through this tribute, to give support and encouragement to the families of the wounded -- families that bear great anguish, time devoted to care and economic loss.

His column.

The real unknown soldiers

PFC Robert N. Davis Jr., USMC Posted by Hello
PFC Davis listing on the Virtual Wall. Link

This is a column I wrote on June 30, 1969, for a small Illinois daily newspaper, of which I was the editor. I've resisted the urge to edit it. I visit Bob Davis at the Vietnam Wall every time I am in Washington. The numbers are smaller, but I feel the same way today about Iraq as I did about Vietnam when I wrote this 36 years ago. -- Xoff

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Bob Davis was so easygoing it was hard to believe he was real.

Even Marine Corps boot camp didn't get him down. His only comment, no matter what ridiculous experience or torture we were undergoing, would be, "I don't believe this."

He was proud to be a Marine. Even had a "USMC" tattooed on his arm. Unlike most, he didn't apologize for it or say he got it when he was drinking.

He couldn't wait to get to Vietnam. After all, that's what he came in the Marine Corps for -- to do his bit, get out and get back to Alton (Ill.) and his girl, Sue.

I was supposed to meet Sue on my next leave, when Bob and I returned Stateside. We didn't know he'd be coming back much sooner than I would -- in a rubber bag.

Robert N. Davis, Jr. became our battalion's first casualty in Vietnam before he ever had a chance to see a Viet Cong. We'd been there for 13 days. It wasn't his fault; someone else stepped on the booby trap while on patrol. But Bob Davis caught the blast.

I remember when the word filtered back to our tent that our unit had its first KIA -- killed in action.

"Who was it?"

"Some guy from Foxtrot Company. Davis, I think, from Illinois."

"You know Davis. He's got a funny accent and big ears that stick out."

Yes, I knew Davis. We'd been together almost a year to the day, since the first day we reported to the recruit depot at San Diego.

So why talk about it now?Because LIFE magazine brought the memory back with its June 27 issue. Did you see it?If you did, you'll have to agree it wasn't too entertaining.

LIFE chose to explore death -- death in the Vietnam war. To go beyond the daily statistics from Vietnam, that all too often now begin to read like the box score of an athletic event, the magazine presented pictures of 242 Americans killed in one week of fighting in Vietnam.

The pictures are printed almost without comment -- just name rank, service, age and hometown under each.

They seem to go on forever -- 11 pages in all.

At the end, LIFE offers a little personal glimpse into the lives of the men behind the pictures. Each one has his own story -- the PFC killed on his 21st birthday, the fiance of a girl who had just bought her own wedding ring, the GI who had considered going AWOL but instead returned to Vietnam.

LIFE didn't try to tell all 242 stories. And that's fine, because there are 35,000 other stories that have never been told -- one for every American who has died in Vietnam.

I happen to know Bob Davis' story, and a couple of dozen others.

But every one is just as important, whether we know them or not. Unfortunately, to most people the daily figures represent the real unknown soldiers. LIFE helped somewhat last week to make the official reports more meaningful.

The week LIFE chose had 242 Bob Davises.

There were about the same number last week.And there will probably be as many next week.

The question is: How many more Bob Davises must there be?

One more is too many.

On Memorial Day, ABC News' "Nightline" again will read the names and show photographs of the hundreds of U.S. servicemen and women killed in Iraq and Afghanistan in the past year in a broadcast called "The Fallen." It will air at 10:35 p.m. on Monday, even on stations owned by the Sinclair Broadcast Group, which refused to air the 2004 program.

The Washington Post attempts to put names and faces to the casualties in its Faces of the Fallen listing. Link.

Monday's Journal Sentinel includes a tribute to the 22 Wisconsin service members who have died since last Memorial Day. Tribute.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Hillary rules

In case anyone missed it, a majority of respondents in a USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll say they are "very likely" or "somewhat likely" to vote for Hillary Clinton for President in 2008. That election is light years away, but she is riding the lead rocketship.


Friday, May 27, 2005

Kraft stands with SpongeBob, Gay Games

Posted by Hello

A corporation takes a courageous stand: Kraft Foods is taking heat from the Christian right for its sponsorship of the 2006 Gay Games in Chicago. In an e-mail message to its employees, Kraft has stood up for diversity. They could probably use an encouraging word.

For details, see AMERICAblog.

House wants no plan to exit Iraq

The House rejected on Thursday, 300-128, an amendment to the defense authorization bill to require the President to send Congress a plan for withdrawal from Iraq.

Republicans, who scurried to defeat another amendment (see earlier post below) to improve benefits for veterans and their families, said the timing of this amendment, just before Memorial Day, would be a slap in the face to US troops in Iraq. The troops there apparently would be offended by the idea that the war might ever end, or that there was any plan to bring them home.

Wisconsin Dems Moore, Baldwin and Obey voted for the amendment. Dem Ron Kind joined Repubs Green, Sensenbrenner, Ryan and Petri in voting no.

Voice of America story.

"Law & Order" tweaks Tom DeLay

Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - An episode of NBC's pulled-from-the-headlines police show Law & Order: Criminal Intent got a bit too realistic for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay when a fictional detective quipped that the lawmaker may have inspired the murder of a judge.

In a snippet of dialogue in the Wednesday night TV drama, a wisecracking detective, investigating the murder of a black judge, says, "Maybe we should put out an APB (all points bulletin) for somebody in a Tom DeLay T-shirt."

That triggered a heated letter from DeLay, accusing NBC of reckless and irresponsible behavior.

The context for the remark was DeLay's comment during the recent struggle over the fate of brain-damaged Florida woman Terry Schiavo, in which DeLay said, "This loss happened because our legal system did not protect the people who need protection most, and that will change. The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior."

The whole story.

Vets get slap in the face for Memorial Day

It took a lot of arm-twisting by Republicans to get some members to switch their votes, and a rare tie-breaking vote by House Speaker Dennis Hastert, but the GOP majority managed to stop House Democrats from doing something to help veterans and their families on the eve of Memorial Day weekend.

Democrats wanted to use $169-million of money for base closings to pay for benefits for the families of troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and for veterans' health care accounts. That failed by a single vote.

Wisconsin's Dave Obey wanted to do a lot more.

The AP reports: Republicans turned back, by a 223-194 margin, an attempt by Wisconsin Rep. David Obey, the senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, to add $2.6 billion for veterans health care. He would have paid for it by increasing taxes on the wealthy.

Obey complained that while Congress gives a virtual blank check for military costs in Iraq and Afghanistan, it comes up short when caring for soldiers upon their return.

The whole story.

"Shameful report" exposes right-wing TV ad

I'm coming to this story belatedly; still catching up after several days out of town.

Owen over at Boots and Sabers blog had his undies in a bundle this week over WISN-TV's news coverage of a commercial being aired by the Coalition for American Families, Wisconsin's newest right wing goon squad.

In a post entitled, "WISN's Attack Story," B&S says the Milwaukee ABC affiliate "had a shameful report" about the group's television commercial.

The commercial in question features a Latino actress speaking to camera. She says:

"Governor Doyle wants to raise taxes and fees by $368 million so he can give illegal aliens lower college tuition.

"We followed the rules.

"We became citizens.

"We work hard to save money so our daughter will be the first one in our family to go to college.

"We shouldn't have to pay more taxes to fund illegal aliens.

"It's hard enough to save the money to send our own children to college."

Back to Owen at B&S: "First, they brought out a woman from some liberal Hispanic organization to denounce the ad as racist. Unless we are now considering illegal aliens to be a race unto themselves, I fail to see how the ad could be construed as racist.

"Second, they attacked the ad as factually incorrect. WISN completely misconstrued the ad, which, I may mention, they never actually showed on the air. The ad is saying that Doyle wants to increase taxes and fees by $368 million. This is true. Part of those increases by Doyle are intended to fund the illegal aliens provision. Also true. . .

". . .Coalition for America's Families is attacking Doyle's tax increase and are highlighting specific, and particular egregious, spending increases. What does WISN expect them to do? Scroll a complete list of every new spending program that Doyle has proposed? That would take a 3-hour infomercial.

"WISN either deliberately twisted the ad in order to portray it as factually incorrect, or they are so utterly incompetent that they do not know how to interpret the English language.

"WISN's report might as well have been a response ad from a liberal 527. It was advocacy dressed up like a news report."

Those were excerpts. You can read the whole rant yourself here. Watch the ad here.

What actually aired

OK, we've given Owen more than his fair share of space, even if I have edited his outrage somewhat. My turn now; the blogmaster always gets the final word.

The actual story that ran on Channel 12 (WISN) was a far cry from what Owen described. It almost qualifies as what Charlie Sykes would call a blatant act of journalism.

Instead of just cashing the check from the Coalition for America's Families (Going to have to think of a shorter handle for them), and airing the ads, WISN actually asked a few questions and checked a few facts.

Here's what their story said:


REPORTER: Beginning Monday viewers in the Milwaukee area will see this commercial... it's from a conservative non-profit group based in Middleton... The ad claims that Governor Doyle's budget proposal allowing undocumented immigrants to receive in-state tuition is hurting taxpayers.

COMMERCIAL : "We shouldn't have to pay more taxes to fund illegal aliens ."

REPORTER: We showed the ad to Christine Neumann-Ortiz, the director of a local low wage and immigrant worker center... she calls it a racial attack and anti-immigrant...

CHRISTINE NEUMMANN-ORTIZ: "That really is what racism has always been about, denying equality, humanity and equal opportunities to others."

REPORTER: Factually the ad doesn't add up...

COMMERCIAL Governor Doyle wants to raise taxes and fees by $368 million so he can give illegal aliens lower college tuition

REPORTER: The reality is much different, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. Undocumented immigrants under Governor Doyle's proposal would save about 65 hundred dollars a year in the technical college system and just under 4 grand in the UW System. It's estimated that around 120 undocumented students would take advantage ... putting the actual budget cost at anywhere from 775 thousand dollars to around 475 thousand dollars... a big difference from 368 million.

NEUMANN-ORTIZ: They're kind of playing on race and they're playing on a convenient scapegoat.

REPORTER: The release of this commercial comes the same week a group of Republican legislators are expected to try and remove the bill from the budget... an effort they expect to win...

COMMERCIAL: Do we want to reward illegal behavior by giving special breaks for illegal aliens?

Xoff's final word: Are there racial/racist overtones to the commercial? Of course. Why use a Latino actress, who speaks in Spanish-tinged English, to deliver the message? Because they want viewers to think of illegal Mexican immigrants. Does Owen think the commercial is talking about illegals from Iran or Ireland?

They want you to think these students just waded the Rio Grande to enroll at UW. In fact, to qualify a student would have to: (1) be a graduate of a Wisconsin high school, (2) have lived in the state three years, (3) either have applied for a permanent resident visa or certify he/she will apply for one as soon as the person is legally eligible. These are students who are trying to do the right thing.

If this isn't an appeal to racism and isn't pandering to people's worst instincts and fears, why, of the thousands of spending items in Doyle's state budget, have they chosen this relatively inexpensive, obscure provision -- one that might apply to 120 students, and one they know the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee is certain to remove?

What do you think?

AP story says nine other states have passed similar legislation.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Quote, unquote

"I believe that the use of federal monies that end up destroying life is not -- is not positive, it's not good." -- President Bush, explaining why he opposes the expansion of research on embryonic stem cells (which could, of course, actually save many lives).

Speaking of federal monies that destroy life, I wonder if he's heard about the war in Iraq.

Who cares if SpongeBob is a homo?

The Family Research Institute of Wisconsin "sets the record straight" on the Alliance Defense fund, the wingnut law firm retained by legislative Republicans to oppose any state benefits for domestic partners.

The decision has been ridiculed, in part because Alan Sears, the group's leader, has suggested that cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants may be gay.

The Family Research Institute's Julaine Appline enlightens us with this info:

"ADF President, CEO and General Counsel Alan Sears is not part of the debate over SpongeBob. What has been referenced in some media reports has been taken out of context and mischaracterizes Mr. Sears' actual quote which reads: "Whether SpongeBob is actually homosexual or not is irrelevant." Release.

It may be irrelevant, but not to Sears.

In his 2003 book, "The Homosexual Agenda: Exposing the Principal Threat to Religious Freedom Today", Sears speculated that SpongeBob might be gay, noting that his best friend, Patrick, is a pink starfish.-- That from Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Link.

Scott Walker's free ride

Posted by Hello

When Scott Walker's not busy sending political e-mails at taxpayer expense, or chastising underlings who do the same as he does, what does he do for fun?

Well, he rides a Harley around the state of Wisconsin for six days, hitting every media market in the state, doing interviews.

About his candidacy for governor? Perish the thought!

The media exposure is all about promoting tourism in Milwaukee County, he says on his taxpayer-financed website.

You know, like telling people in Madison that Milwaukee County has a zoo. Or reminding people in Eau Claire that there's a major league baseball team besides the Twins, playing in Milwaukee in a stadium they paid for. Or talking up the "dynamic exhibits" at the troubled Milwaukee Public Museum, which could use some more paying customers.

That Walker. What a guy! Spending his own time (well, actually, he didn't say it is vacation, and I'm pretty sure the taxpayers are paying his salary during the trip) just to promote his home county. No politics, no personal gain, no ulterior motives. Just unselfish public service at its finest.

If you'd like to go along, just call or e-mail Dorothy Moore, a county employee, to sign up. You'll find her county phone number and county e-mail address on -- where else? -- the county website.

Bad news for bikers is that they have to make their own hotel reservations and pay their own way. Unlike Walker, we presume.

BUSINESS EXEC'S OBSERVATION: A Milwaukee business CEO offered these unsolicited comments:

"If he wanted to promote tourism I could think of 100 more effective ways for an executive to do it. For example, he could work the phones and meetings with the Convention and Visitors Bureau to attract conventions. He could make sure we have great parks (and pools) all summer. He could coordinate his activities with the state tourism office and help Wisconsin support our tourism industry. Riding his motorcycle and glad-handing around the state may help him get recognized as a gubernatorial candidate, but I don't think he will sell many Brewers tickets.

"County Executive Walker's ride is a self-serving boondoggle. How many businesses would let an employee, at any level, get on his Harley and ride around for 6 days to "promote the business"? Not a one in the private sector.

"It's not logical. It's not right."

Living to fight another day

Weighing in late on this, but sometimes a day to think, while sitting on the deck looking at the light on the lake, gives a little perspective.

The Senate compromise that headed off bloodshed and likely permanent damage to the institution seems like a good outcome -- at least for now (always have to have that qualifier; it's an old editorial writer's trick).

I'm of the brigade on the left who usually wants to use the nuclear option in politics (although always in self-defense, never as a first strike; that would be wrong). My counterparts on the right are legion.

But there are times when it makes sense to live to fight another day, even when that means walking away from the joys of mutually assured destruction. That's what happened this week.

No one admits to being happy about it, of course. But the right wing seems a lot more crazed about it than the left. Something called RightMarch, for example, is foaming at the mouth about the seven GOP Senators who helped engineer the deal. See for yourself.Nothing like that so far on the Dem side of the aisle. Let's hope cooler heads prevail for once and Democrats resist the urge to commit fratricide.

Am I mellowing in my twilight years or what?

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

FBI records show claims of Koran abuse

This does not exonerate Newsweek, and there is not always fire where there is smoke. But this story helps explain how Newsweek could have written its story about abuse of the Koran at Guatnanamo Bay.

By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 25, 2005; 4:54 PM

Nearly a dozen detainees at the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba told FBI interrogators that guards had mistreated copies of the Koran, including one who said in 2002 that guards "flushed a Koran in the toilet," according to new FBI documents released today.

The summaries of FBI interviews, obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union as part of an ongoing lawsuit, also include allegations that the Koran was kicked, thrown to the floor and withheld as punishment and that guards mocked Muslim prisoners during prayers.
Read the rest.

Records released by the government May 19 to the ACLU and made public today summarizing interviews with detainees. FBI Records

Koran Memorandum
Pentagon's detailed rules for handling the Koran at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Memorandum (PDF)

Green misleads on embryos

Green Bay Republican Mark Green said in a statement that it was important to "support research that adheres to ethical standards that have overwhelming support - standards that do not result in the destruction of human life. -- Journal Sentinel.

The facts on surplus embryos: President Bush surrounded himself with adorable toddlers born from test-tube embryos yesterday in a blatant attempt to manipulate public emotion against stem cell research. Here are the facts about the tens of thousands of surplus embryos:

Couples having trouble getting pregnant who undergo in vitro fertilization usually get from eight to 10 fertilized eggs. Once the couple becomes pregnant, the leftover fertilized eggs – the embryos – are either left in storage indefinitely or destroyed as medical waste. A few of these scientifically generated embryos have been donated to other couples trying to conceive, so far resulting in 80 other births.

The estimated 400,000 other surplus embryos will otherwise be incinerated. These are the cells the House voted to allow to be used for stem cell research.

Green, Petri side with stem cell extremists

As the House did the right and courageous thing on Tuesday, voting for expanded stem cell research even in the face of a threatened presidential veto, Wisconsin's delegation split right down the middle.

The four Democrats voted for passage, the four Republicans against.

Not unusual, except this was not a party line vote.

Fifty Republicans stood up to the President, their leadership and their own party's evangelical right wing on this issue and voted for the bill.

There were lots of reasons to vote yes, many of them provided in personal testimony during the floor debate on the bill. It is an issue that cuts across party lines and personal lives. It is not one of those phony issues purt forward so politicians can posture. It is a real, life-and-death issue.

The best reason to support it, of course, is that embryonic stem cell research may prolong, save, or improve the quality of people's lives. Many believe stem cell research holds the key to one day fighting serious illnesses such as Alzheimer's, strokes, brain or spinal injuries, Parkinson's, diabetes and heart defects.

The bill, co-sponsored by Republicans and Democrats, was carefully crafted to meet many of the objections of the Christian right. For example, discarded embryos would be used for research only with the consent of the donors.

But none of that was enough for Wisconsin's Mark Green, F. Jim Sensenbrenner, Paul Ryan, or Tom Petri. They all voted against expanding this vital research.

Green, seeking the GOP nomination for governor, continues to pander to his party's right wing. In doing so, he turned his back on moderate Republicans (even Tommy Thompson) who support reasonable stem cell research, and on those whose families are desperately seeking a cure for debilitating disease.

Green want to be governor of a state that is on the cutting edge of stem cell research. But he votes against expanding it. Green would rather cater to the extremists in his party than do what's best for his state and its residents. (Or maybe he owed Tom DeLay, who's given his campaign $29,000, a vote on this one.)

Sensenbrenner and Ryan were no surprise. But I had held out some hope that Petri would see the light, since he is a member of the Republican group that was promoting a yes vote. His "no" vote was disappointing.

Now the bill goes to the Senate, where its chief sponsors include Orrin Hatch, the Utah Republican who's never been accused of any liberal tendencies.

This is not a Republican-Democrat issue. This is one where people's real concerns, values and priorities are exposed. And all four Wisconsin Republicans came up short. Washington Post story.

Move Memorial Day?

Here's an idea whose time has not come. State Rep. Terry Musser wants Wisconsin to move Memorial Day's observance back to its former May 30 date.

Congress erred when it moved the holiday to a Monday to create a three-day holiday weekend back in 1971, Musser says. So he has introduced a bill saying Wisconsin state government will mark May 30 as Memorial Day, and that state offices will close on that day.

He acknowledges one small problem. This would only apply to non-unionized state employees, since union members' holidays are spelled out in their contracts. So will they show up for work on May 3o, only to find the offices closed?

This seems to need a little work.

Media needs self-defense lessons

The New Republic's Michelle Cottle says the Newsweek case shows that journalists are lousy at defending themselves.

Read it here.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Up Nort'

Been up here for a couple of days, where cellular towers and internet access are a little scarcer than we are accustomed to, so posting may be a little spotty the next day or so.

If you need some progressive stimulation, click on some of the links on the right side of this blog.

More "Family Values"

President Bush talks about his brown relatives and speaks some Spanish on the campaign trail. Nationally, Republicans reach out and make a huge effort to try to win over a greater share of the Latino vote.

And in Wisconsin? A Republican front group makes its debut with a television commercial that tries to divide people by playing on racial themes, pitting taxpayers against "illegal aliens."

Meet the Coalition for America's Families, the latest right-wing group to enter the fray in Wisconsin. Their website.

Republicans will say it is an independent group, of course. No matter that it is headed by Steve King, a former state chairman of the Republican Party of Wisconsin. Its website says its a "diverse coalition" with an agenda that calls for lower taxes and more guns.

The group's mailing address and physical presence is: Coalition for America's Families, 6907 University Avenue #176, Middleton, WI 53562-2767. That's a drop-box at Mailboxes, Etc.

Where are the responsible Republicans in Wisconsin? Who is going to speak up and disavow the racist ad that is currently running, using a Latino woman to sow divisiveness and racial paranoia?

Is there anyone on the right who will say something? Now would be the time.

Wisconsin losing stem cell opportunity

Wisconsin, a pioneer in stem cell research, is in danger of being left in the dust as researchers head for states with a friendly political climate for their work.

It will be a shame if that happens, but it is all but guaranteed if the Republican-run legislature continues to dance to the tune of the evangelical right wing.

Jamie Thomson at UW-Madison had the scientific breakthrough that isolated embryonic stem cells, which many believe will be the gateway to finding cures for diseases like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, juvenile diabetes, spinal cord injuries, and others. Wisconsin had the potential to lead the nation in such research and discoveries.

Gov. Jim Doyle recognized that and proposed to invest $750 million in biotechnology, including $375 million for an Institute of Discovery at UW-Madison. Chances of that happening seem slim and none, given that the GOP-run legislature has even told companies doing stem cell research they can't apply for state research and development grants.

Meanwhile, the NY Times' Nicholas Wade reports: "Up and down the East Coast, stem cell researchers are feeling the tug of a powerful, invisible force. It is a wave of recruiting calls from institutions in California seeking to expand their research programs with help from Proposition 71, the state's $3 billion stem cell initiative."

Some of the benefits will trickle down to Wisconsin, because the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) holds patents on two stem cell lines that others will use for research. But the double whammy of President Bush's opposition and the stand taken by the state legislature won't make Wisconsin attractive for many researchers. We are lucky we to retain Jamie Thomson.

UPDATE: Yet another reputable statewide poll shows overwhelming support among Wisconsin residents for embryonic stem cell research and for expanded federal funding. Results.

A new standard of insensitivity on stem cells

Here's something for John Gard & Co. to shoot for. A New Jersey legislator, with a few well-chosen words, reduced an eighth-grade juvenile diabetes victim to tears.

The story.

The other Republican Party

While Republicans in the Wisconsin legislature move closer and closer to the edge of the world (which they know is flat), Republican governors in two other states have shown that there is another side to the GOP, at least in some states.

GOP leaders in the legislature here have voted to ask a born-again, wingnut law firm -- whose leader accused SpongeBob SquarePants of being gay -- to represent them in a lawsuit over benefits for domestic partners. They are against giving such benefits, of course. The Republicans are also pushing an amendment to the Wisconsin constitution to outlaw same sex marriages and civil unions.

Meanwhile, the Republican governor of Connecticut has signed a bill legalizing civil unions. And last fall, the governor of California -- some guy named Arnold -- signed a bill into law that requires insurers to offer registered same-sex partners the same health coverage as married couples.

Other Republicans have not been as receptive or tolerant. Maryland's GOP gov just vetoed a bill giving unmarried partners more rights to make health care decisions, making some noise about the "sanctity of traditional marriage."

"I think he's vetoing the bill because there is no longer a moderate wing of the Republican Party in Maryland," said Dan Furmansky, executive director of Equality Maryland, a gay rights group. Story

The same could be said of Wisconsin. What do you suppose it is that makes the Wisconsin GOP so rabid? Will it change when John Gard leaves, or is in it the party's bloodstream now?

Monday, May 23, 2005

Who's the thug?

Madison Teachers Inc. shows that school taxes have gone down for critics of the school referendum. It is true that they went down after the state began picking up two-thirds of the cost, but they have declined nonetheless.

The appropriately named Jim Pugh, voice of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, finds MTI's action "thug-like." Huh? Rhetorical overkill is not unusual for Pugh, but even by his standards this one's out of the park. He's never afraid to use a bludgeon, but this one seems -- shall we say -- thug-like on his part.


Damn the constitution! Full speed ahead!

I don't know whether the state constitution is taught in Wisconsin schools. But it might be time for a little study hour in the legislature's Republican caucuses.

There is an epidemic of Republicans messing with the constitution.

Some want to amend it -- to ban gay marriages, to require photo IDs for voters, and maybe anything else they can't get past the Democratic governor.

Others simply want to ignore it. State Rep. Scooter Jensen writes a motion ordering the Commissioners of the Board of Public Lands to sell all of the land they own to the DNR, although the constitution clearly says no one can tell them to sell their land.

Now comes State Rep. Dean Kaufert, co-chair of Joint Finance, who says he supports cuts in 4-year-old kindergarten programs. "I just worry about it being subsidized day care for certain children," he said in a JS story, not specifying just which children that might be.

That causes one Dem who follows education issues to ask, "Wasn't that the same position Gregg Underheim took on his way to getting beat 61-39? If the last election gave Bush a "mandate" to privatize Social Security, what did (DPI Superintendent) Libby Burmaster's election give her on 4K?"

FACT: Four-year-olds have been attending public schools in Wisconsin for over 100 years. Wisconsin made a constitutional commitment to early education in 1848 when the state constitution, Article X, called for school districts to be as uniform as practical and free "to all children between the ages of four and 20 years."

Maybe if the Rs can't cut over 200 school districts and get 18,000 4-year-olds out of the program they can pursue a constitutional amendment to eliminate it. The Democrats would be happy to let the people decide.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Gard v. SpongeBob

Posted by Hello
The Capital Times editorializes:

Assembly Speaker John Gard, R-Peshtigo, is so determined to beat up on gays and lesbians that he has joined the crowd that thinks cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants is a homosexual poster boy.

Gard's goofiness would be embarrassing enough if he just engaged in it on a personal basis. But with his attempt to make a formal link between the state and the most extreme elements on the homophobic fringe, the Assembly speaker is associating the good name of Wisconsin with intolerance, ignorance and intellectual imbalance. Read it all.

Quote of the weekend

"The festival is not about over-consumption." -- John Boler, director of marketing for Summerfest, which announced plans for a new martini bar.

That will come as a shock to thousands who have thought for years that Summerfest was a beer-drinking contest set to music.

DeLay still a bug man

This from the Austin American-Statesman:

Fighting Democrats, bugs alike

Apparently, Tom DeLay, the embattled U.S. House majority leader who has been accused of ethics violations, is not a "former exterminator" after all.

In a twist on the old-fashioned citizen-legislator archetype, the Republican congressman from Sugar Land is very much a dues-paying pest control technician.

According to the Structural Pest Control Board, a state agency that licenses pest control operators, he completes eight hours in training each year with HPC Services, a pest control company run by Darrell Hutto, his former partner at Albo Pest Control.

"Tom and I sold Albo Pest Control in 1994," Hutto explained in an e-mail. "When I transferred my license to HPC Services I also transferred Tom's. Since Tom would be unable to maintain the required Continued Education for Certified Applicators, I transferred him as a Technician so that I could give him the required continuing education for technicians."

Technicians require less annual training.

"Tom does not do any pest control service, training or consulting. It is more of an inactive status and mostly a symbolic tie to the industry that he came from," Hutto said.

DeLay's office did not respond to questions.

"It's always good to know a trade," joked Murray Walton, a field operations manager at the board.

Where are they now? Steve Gunderson

Former Badger Congressman Steve Gunderson has largely dropped out of sight in the news media, but an item in the Oshkosh Northwestern says he'll be in the state next week to talk about jobs and the changing economy.

Gunderson, a former state legislator who served 16 years in Congress from the 3rd District in western Wisconsin, heads the DC office of the Greystone Group, a consulting firm which also has offices in Chicago and Grand Rapids (!). Gunderson is the co-author of a book, "The Jobs Revolution: Changing How America Works," which also offers some thoughts on the Social Security solvency issue.

Gunderson, who acknowledged while serving in the House that he was gay, co-authored a 1996 book, "House and Home," telling his story. It's apparently out of print but still available on Amazon, starting at a bargain $1.45 for a used copy.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Compassionate conservatism at work

Talk about not getting it. Republicans on the Joint Finance Committee have employed slash-and-burn, or maybe search-and-destroy, tactics to programs designed to help poor children and their families.

And they've been callous about it.

They rejected grants for caregivers of newborn infants, even though it would save -- not cost -- the state money.

Rep. David Ward had an interesting perspective on the motion.

“I was primary caregiver for my son over this period of time in his life, and I have to say bonding with your son at that age is an overrated experience,” Ward said.

The GOP also felt the need to punish someone for years of mismanagement and fraud at OIC, one of the agencies which has overseen the W2 (Welfare to Work) program in Milwaukee County.

The punishment: Close the Milwaukee regional office of the state Dept. of Workforce Development, because it didn't catch what was happening at OIC -- either during the Doyle years or during all of those years Tommy Thompson was playing footsie with the top people at OIC. That, of course, makes it even harder to monitor W2 programs in Milwaukee.

The rest of their frustration they took out mostly on the children and their mothers, killing one reform after another, and raising by 15% the monthly amount low-income parents will have to contribute to child care -- placing it out of the reach of some.

They even killed off a Doyle proposal to rate child care centers and pay them according to their rating, as a way to encourage improvement and accountability. The result, as Doyle correctly said, is that the state pays the worst day care center the same as it pays the best. That doesn't offer much incentive to improve.

State Sen. Lena Taylor gets the quote of the week, summing up the actions of the 12-4 Republican majority:

"Shame, shame on you."

Stories: Journal Sentinel Capital Times Wis. State Journal

UPDATE: Doyle goes on the offensive, blasting the committee action and pledging a public fight to restore the reforms he proposed. Saturday story.

How cast is chosen for Bush events

Wondering how you get picked to sit on stage with President Bush when he's visiting your city? Well, it isn't exactly random.

The LA Times reports in a story datelined Milwaukee, and headlined, "How Bush makes sure they agree."

Friday, May 20, 2005

Bush's roadshow held over -- MKE is Day 78

From Washington Post coverage of President's Milwaukee stop:

On the 78th day of a 60-day roadshow, the president's nationwide Social Security tour, even to some of his own aides, has the feel of a past-its-prime Broadway production that has been held over while other, newer shows steal the spotlight. The whole story.

Petri could be key stem cell vote

A bill to allow federal money to be used for embryonic stem cell research has attracted more than 200 House sponsors, is dividing House Republicans, and stands a good chance of passage next week. Those are all good things.

The Wisconsin delegation appears to be predictably split down the middle, along party lines. But there could be one Republican among those who break ranks with the White House.

That would be Rep. Tom Petri, a reasonable Republican who is a member of the Republican Main Street Partnership, which says its purpose is "to promote thoughtful leadership in the Republican Party, and to partner with individuals, organizations and institutions that share centrist values." They say GOP stands for Grow Our Party by broadening its base. Steve Gunderson, a former moderate Wisconsin Republican member of Congress, was among the group's founders.

Rep. Mike Castle, a Delaware Republican, is president of the Main Street Partnership and the sponsor of the stem cell bill.

The organization is running a television commercial in Washington, and has also done print ads and polling on the issue. See the ad and more information on their website.

The bill has 202 sponsors now, with 218 votes needed for passage. Lobbying is intense. AP story

Petri has not announced his position, and when I called his office Friday a staffer said they would have to ask the Congressman whether he had anything to say publicly. If I hear from him, you will be the first to know.

Petri is the only one in doubt. The four Dems -- Obey, Kind, Moore and Baldwin -- all are co-sponsors of the bill. Repubs Green, Sensenbrenner, and Ryan all dance to Tom DeLay's tune and will toe the right-wing, anti-choice, evangelical line.

That leaves Petri, a thoughtful person who's been known to resist party pressure and vote independently on occasion.

Maybe this will be one of those times.

UPDATE: Bush threatens to veto the bill if it gets to his desk. It would be the first veto of his presidency. CNN story.

Why I bash Scott Walker

Scott Walker is beginning to feel the heat. A year and a half before the election, he is already starting to squeal.

One of his top operatives complained Thursday about Walker's treatment in the Xoff Files. Then Walker himself accused Governor Jim Doyle and his allies of waging a "campaign of fear" that's getting Walker some negative press.

Brian Fraley, longtime GOP operative and part of the firm running Walker's campaign, posted a comment on this site asking me why I spend so much time writing about Walker.

Fraley writes: "Sure seems as if the Doyle Machine is mighty worried about Scott Walker (full disclosure, he's a client). Bill, what on earth would you Blog about without Walker? Seems like more than half your posts are focused on trying to tear him down."

I do bash Walker quite a bit, I'll admit. It's probably more like 10% of my posts than half, but if you're Walker it might seem like half.

Why do I do it?

1. It's fun.

2. Walker is eminently bashable.

3. He deserves it.

Walker and Fraley would like to believe Walker is the target because Doyle is somehow afraid of having to run against him. I can't speak for the governor (I gave up that job awhile back and have no Doyle role), but I will tell you that I hope Scott Walker is the Republican nominee. He is eminently beatable for the same reasons he is eminently bashable.

Scott Walker is a phony. He's not who he pretends to be. He hasn't kept the promises he made when he ran for office. He's tried to cover up his failures and mistakes. And he's never, never taken responsibility himself for anything that has gone wrong since he became Milwaukee County executive.

Whether it's budget blowups, breaking the election laws, cutting key social programs, or dozens of other foulups that have happened on his short watch, Walker has always pointed the finger somewhere else.

Now he tells a WisPolitics luncheon that Doyle is responsible for the bad press he's gotten on a failed, risky pension bonding scheme that the voters rejected, and for his violations of the election laws.

Fraley's comment to me came after a posting I did this week about Walker's hypocritical letter to his county corporation counsel. Walker chastised William Domina for sending one political e-mail offering to help on a school referendum,, when Walker himself had sent hundreds of e-mails from the county system urging a "yes" vote on the pension referendum.

I didn't write about that because I'm afraid Walker will be the nominee. I wrote it because Walker painted a target on his chest and offered a free shot. It's an example of how bashable he is. Who could resist?

The Domina affair was so good that the Journal Sentinel's Laurel Walker(no relation, I guess), a columnist in the paper's Waukesha bureau, couldn't resist it, either. The last I knew she was not a Doyle operative. And she laid it on pretty well. Read for yourself.

If Walker is getting negative media coverage, he has only himself to blame. But that's something he never does.

The Trust Issue

Walker claimed at the WisPol luncheon that the difference between him and Doyle is trust.

""[Doyle] is someone who as a candidate said one thing and did something dramatically different when he came into office," Walker said.

Scott Walker, meet Scott Walker's record:

Walker said if people elected him county exec he would freeze or reduce the property tax levy. It has actually gone up since he was elected. He blames the county board. (Maybe when he was running he thought he could set the levy all by himself?)

Walker the candidate said he wouldn't raise fees. In his first two years in office, he raised dozens of fees. They went up 26% overall.

Walker said he would clean up the county pension scandal, and as part of that would make every person who was appointed by him sign waivers of the huge pension payouts. But he didn't do it for 62 of his appointees, including some who worked in his own office. When he was called on it during his re-election campaign last year, he bobbed and weaved, manipulated the open records law and misled the public about what he had done.

(Walker's camp will say that all of these issues were raised in last year's county executive race, which he won handily. True, but he was the incumbent and odds-on favorite and was not subjected to the kind of media scrutiny he will experience in a governor's race, in which he correctly describes himself as the underdog.)

There's more, but that's enough to see the pattern.

Walker presented himself as a reformer, a different kind of candidate, someone who would operate differently, clean up the mess, fix the county's financial crisis, and reduce taxes.

Instead, he has turned out to be just another typical politician -- one who will say anything to get elected, but feels no obligation to follow through once he's in office.

So that, in short, is why I bash Scott Walker. I'll share more specific reasons with you between now and the 2006 election.

Mark Green, the other GOP candidate for governor, will get his share, too. (In fact, he's been mentioned in 19 posts compared to Walker's 25.) It's just that Walker is right here in Milwaukee, under my nose, and just keeps on being so bashable.

Any further complaints?

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Poll: Thumbs down on Congress

This story in the Wall Street Journal should help energize Democrats for next year's Congressional elections:

A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows that disapproval of Congress's performance is higher than it has been since 1994, the year voters swept Democrats out of power on Capitol Hill. Americans have grown gloomier about the nation's direction, the economy and Iraq, and by 65%-17% they say Congress doesn't share their priorities.

"If you're a member of Congress ... you'd better be looking over your shoulder," says Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who helps conduct the Journal/NBC survey. His Republican counterpart, Bill McInturff, adds that a particular concern for incumbents looking to 2006 is unhappiness among senior citizens, a group that disproportionately turns out to vote in midterm elections.

The whole story. Poll results.

Hybrid Camrys, here we come

From our friends at Grist, the environmentalists with a sense of humor:

Oh What a Feeling!
Toyota to build Camry hybrids at U.S. plant

Toyota announced plans yesterday to begin production of a new hybrid Camry model at a Kentucky plant, marking the Japanese automaker's first foray into hybrid production in North America.

With Camry sales tops in the U.S. last year and the company's hybrid Prius selling used for higher than sticker price, Toyota sales exec Jim Press thinks combining the Camry with hybrid technology will be "like magic." The cars should start rolling off assembly lines late in 2006, with initial output expected to be about 48,000 vehicles a year.

Hope my '99 Camry, with 205,000 miles and counting, will survive until then.

Gard, GOP, God and gays

What a volatile mixture. Put them all together, stir a little, and something noxious and toxic will result.

On a party-line vote, as usual, Speaker John Gard and other Republicans in the legislative leadership have asked the Alliance Defense Fund, a born-again non-profit law firm, to represent the legislature and try to prevent the state from granting any health benefits to domestic partners of state workers.

State Rep. Jon Richards hit the nail on the head.

"The Alliance Defense Fund - They are on the front lines of the cultural wars around the country," Richards said. "I'm very uncomfortable with us hiring a law firm that is essentially promoting an American theocracy."

Glen Lavy, senior counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, is an ex-Milwaukeean. He said the fund, founded in 1993 by a group of ministers and supported by private donations, represents "mainstream" American opinions. That includes a lawsuit against Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich in defense of a pharmacist who refused to fill a birth control prescription, and leading the challenge against San Francisco's same-sex unions. Story Jay Bullock at Folkbum has a longer bill of particulars detailing their record.

Wisconsin people have always thought our values are pretty mainstream. Every day, in every way, Wisconsin Republicans are moving farther out of the mainstream and aligning themselves with the radical fringe. That may win a battle here and there, but in the long run it will lose the war.

Opening up ethics records -- UPDATE

A post here on May 16 ("Ethics law needs change to open up records") pointed out that the State Ethics Board, planning to post financial disclosure of officials online, was required by law to collect information on people who want to see the files -- and turn that information over to the official whose forms are being inspected.

Rep. Spencer Black said today he will introduce a bill to end that requirement.

"The public has a right to see this information without having to disclose their interest. This is public information and the viewing of this information should be free and open. The identification requirement serves no legitimate public purpose, but it could deter a member of the public from viewing information which they have a right to see,” said Black.

“To my knowledge, this is the only public document where a member of the public has to reveal their identity in order the view the public document.” (Wrong on that score. The same applies if you ask the Dept. of Revenue to get the amount of state income taxes someone paid, which is available. It also warns against disclosing the info.The form.

But Black is right about this: "It is time to get rid of the outmoded requirement that limits the open public viewing of this information. The disclosure requirement never made good sense, but is more burdensome than ever now that the information will be available on-line,” Black commented. “By viewing the ethic filings, the public can decide for themselves whether an official has a conflict of interest.”

Politicizing Star Wars

Great piece in NY Times today by David Halbfinger on how the new "Star Wars" movie is being used to make political arguments on both the right and left. Read it here.

Spare us the Milwaukee-suburban lovefest

And now a word against regional cooperation:

Well, I'm not really against regional cooperation. "That would be wrong," as Richard Nixon would say, knowing about the hidden microphone.

But can we at least knock off the celebrating about how nice Milwaukee (read new Mayor Tom Barrett) is being to the burbs?

Reporters and do-gooders are piling onto the feelgood bandwagon, gushing over how well Barrett is making nice with Waukesha County Exec Dan Finley and other burbheads.

And now the MMAC has joined in with a proposal to raise millions to market the region, and even got Barrett to pledge the first $100,000. (Note that it is the Metropolitan Milwaukee Assn. of Commerce, not the Milwaukee Metropolitan Assn. of Commerce. Can't tell the difference? Then you'll love the new lovefest.)

Here's the deal, as I understand it:

The whole Milwaukee area, suburban counties and all, will work together to try to bring jobs and business to the region, without fighting over whether they are in the city limits or somewhere else. They might even pool their resources and be willing to brand themselves as -- gasp! -- "Milwaukee" when they are doing business.

That might sound like a concession, but if you've ever been traveling and run into someone who first says they're from Milwaukee, you'll frequently find, if you probe a little, that they are actually from Menominee Falls or Mequon or even Racine. But they think of themselves as being from Milwaukee and identify themselves as such, at least when away from home.

The burbs have always been included as part of Milwaukee in all of those terrible stories you read about "Milwaukee" being the most segregated place in the nation. Guess what? It's the metro area they're talking about. It's hard for your suburb to be integrated when it's almost all-white. (Mayor Maier used to say the open housing marches should be held in the suburbs. While that denied the problem in his own backyard, he made a good point.)

A bigger deal, if it happens, would be that the suburban areas would somehow let Milwaukee share in the tax benefits of new industry. No one has spelled out exactly how that would work, but it's an intriguing idea.

It's not enough to say that Milwaukee residents would get some of the new jobs created. The real long term benefit is in the increased base for property taxes, which is why there have often been tugs-of-war on where a business would locate, and even raids to get a business to move from one municipality to another.

Milwaukee's city boundaries have been frozen in place for about 50 years, by what Mayor Henry Maier used to call an "iron ring" of suburbs. There is no room for the city to grow through annexation. That, more than economics, job loss, white flight or anything else, has prevented the city from growing its population and tax base.

So now, in the new era of Kumbaya, Milwaukee wants the suburbs to grow and wants more companies to locate there and create more jobs.

Well, there are a few minor details to be ironed out.

Like whether and how Milwaukee would really share in the tax growth.

And that little matter of Waukesha wanting water from Lake Michigan. It's been described as a "water-for-wealth" arrangement. Waukesha gets the water, and Milwaukee gets more wealth.

It is not quite that simple. Waukesha, so far, has offered no plan to return the water to Lake Michigan. Since Waukesha is over the rim of the Lake Michigan basin, that water would naturally flow to the Mississippi River unless some other plan is in place. Absent that -- and even with it -- the odds are long against getting the required approval from all of the Great Lakes governors to siphon the water off to Waukesha.

Yes, they are over-developed and thirsty for more water so they can expand even more.

But they remind me of people who buy houses next to the airport and then complain about the airplane noise. Waukesha's public officials and developers knew that water was in short supply, but went ahead and developed anyway. It didn't just dry up last year.

Since Milwaukee seems to have some leverage, maybe Barrett could ask for a few more things -- like more moderate-income housing to bring more diversity to the suburbs, or maybe some regional cooperation on transportation, since his friend Dan Finley single-handedly killed any hope for a rail system in the area and has been hard-headed on freeway expansion. Let's be creative while opportunity is knocking.

There's a lot to be said for civility in government and politics. But there's also a lot to be said for knowing when to hang tough and how to play a strong hand.


Journal Sentinel editorial

Milwaukee Insight by Dennis Shook

JS story on Finley's tax idea

"Voter fraud" in Seattle -- Sound familiar?

What's happening in Washington state, where last November's election for governor is still in dispute, gives an indication of where we could be headed in Wisconsin somewhere down the road.

This from the Seattle Times:

When the governor's-election lawsuit goes to trial next week in Wenatchee, Republicans will claim that someone stuffed ballot boxes or stole valid ballots.

They haven't shown specific evidence of either of those things. But at a news conference yesterday, state Republican Party Chairman Chris Vance said King County's inability to reconcile vote records is proof enough that last November's governor's election should be overturned.

"Nobody has confessed to vote fraud," Vance said, adding that he didn't expect that to happen.

But, he said, "If the books don't balance and you can't figure out why, you have to assume fraud took place."

Or you have to assume there were some innocent procedural mistakes made in the press of a huge election. That's what happened in Milwaukee, and probably happened in Seattle, too. But the Republicans don't say that, in Washington or in Wisconsin. The difference is that in Washington the margin of victory was miniscule.

The story.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

A welcome for W

Opponents of President Bush's plans for Social Security will be out to greet him when he makes a Milwaukee appearance Thursday at the Milwaukee Art Museum.

MoveOn, Americans United to Protect Social Security,Wisconsin Citizen Action and other allies are organizing the event, at 12:15 p.m. at O'Donnell Park, at Michigan Street and Lincoln Memorial Drive. Organizers say rain or shine.


The Journal Sentinel greets the President with an editorial asking him to "tell us whether you're here today to save Social Security or to bury it."

Lutherans oppose anti-gay amendment

The Wisconsin State Journal (and I think no one else) reports:

"Meanwhile, a group of mainline Wisconsin Lutherans voted this month to oppose a state constitutional amendment that would ban marriage and civil unions among gays and lesbians.
"But it's not because the 110,000 members of the South Central Wisconsin Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America favor gay marriage, Bishop George Carlson of Mount Horeb said Monday.

"It's because the amendment would also refuse to legally recognize unions similar to marriage. That goes too far in curbing human rights, Carlson said.

"The significance of the vote is that we want to be a church that wants people treated with justice and fairness, and we don't want our constitution to limit human rights," Carlson said.

I may have to target my religion-bashing a little more carefully in the future.

Walker dances to CRG tune, applies double standard, stifles dissent all in one blow

Score a trifecta for Milwaukee County Exec Scott Walker.

In one short letter, he managed to (a) expose himself as a compete hypocrite, (b) show that when Citizens for Responsible Government says jump, he jumps, and (c) cross the line in telling a county employee he is not entitled to have a different opinion from the boss (Walker).

Based on a crowing, self-congratulatory press release from CRG and a scolding letter from Walker to Corporation Counsel William Domina, this is what seems to have happened:

CRG, which has delusions of statewide grandeur after playing a key role in Milwaukee County recalls a couple of years ago, was going through open records at the Waukesha school district on a recent referendum when it ran across an e-mail exchange between the school superintendent and Domina.

Domina, it appears, offered advice and help to supporters of the referendum. But he did it on his official county e-mail during working hours, which is a no-no. So the CRG vigilantes blew the whistle and turned the e-mail over to Walker, asking him to do something about it.

Walker knows a little something about sending e-mails from county addresses to support a referendum. He did that big-time in April, sending a massive number of e-mails asking people to vote for a county bonding referendum, which failed. Several county supervisors have filed a complaint against Walker for using county resources to take sides on the vote.

Walker thought it was OK then, but his letter tells Domina that "you should not have been engaged in this type of political correspondence on the Milwaukee County e-mail system."

Domina's worse transgression, however, was to contradict Walker. In one breath, Walker tells Domina it was inappropriate for him to comment on an issue outside of Milwaukee County, since he is the county's corporation counsel. In the next, he reminds Domina that Walker himself spoke at a meeting in Waukesha against the referendum. Hmmm, he was the Milwaukee County executive when he did that, wasn't he? (In fact, it was CRG that sponsored said meeting.)

So it's OK for the county exec to use county e-mail, but not the corporation counsel. (They were both wrong on this one. It is not OK in either case.)

Walker's letter says it's also OK for Walker to meddle in Waukesha school referenda. But it's not OK for Domina to have his own opinion or help the other side.

And why is that? Not because Domina works for Milwaukee County, but because Domina owes his job to Walker, who appointed him as corporation counsel.

For political appointees at the city, county, state or federal level, the expectation is that you never publicly disagree with the boss, who gave the job. But that is generally understood to be about policy, not about which way to vote in some referendum in the next county. Walker runs a very tight ship, and he doesn't like disagreement from his subordinates.

And he doesn't like being embarrassed in front of his friends at CRG, who were at their peak of power when he won a recall election to become exec. They are in decline now, and could barely muster 25 people to attend a county exec candidate forum last spring in Milwaukee. But Walker still dances to their tune.

Backtalk welcome

OK, the revolution has come to The Xoff Files.

We're going to try acting like many of the other blogs out there and invite readers to post their comments and reactions.

So, knock yourself out.

Peace-loving Christians dis Bush

The Washington Times, no less, reports:

One-third of the professors at an evangelical Christian college in Grand Rapids, Mich., are taking out a large ad in a local newspaper Saturday to protest President Bush's commencement speech.

"As Christians, we are called to be peacemakers and to initiate war only as a last resort," the ad will say. "We believe your administration has launched an unjust and unjustified war in Iraq."

The 130 signatories, which include 20 staff members, work at Calvin College. Founded in 1876 as a school for pastors of the Christian Reformed Church, it now is one of the nation's flagship schools for a Christian liberal-arts education.

"No single political position should be identified with God's will," says the ad, which also chastises the president for "actions that favor the wealthy of our society and burden the poor." The story.

Questions as POTUS comes to MKE

Points to ponder when the President of the United States, fondly known as POTUS, comes to Milwaukee on Thursday to talk about Social Security deform:

Will Air Force One be landing at the 440th Airlift Wing at Mitchell Field, which his Defense Department wants to close?

When he steps off the plane, will he address the 250 civilians who will lose their jobs? (Oh, that's right, he'll be talking to the young professionals who belong to the Milwaukee Metropolitan Assn. of Commerce. Well, same difference, right?)

When Milwaukee County Exec and governor wannabe Scott Walker greets POTUS on the tarmac, will he ask him about the 440th? Walker was quick with a press release the day the closings were announced, pledging to "fight for the 440th."

Will the other governor wannabe, Congressman Mark Green, even show up? Or will he have one of those "schedule conflicts" that kept Rep. Mark Green away from the Tom DeLay dinner last week? Green has managed to avoid holding or attending any meetings on Social Security in his own district, but can he avoid showing up when POTUS speaks on the issue?

And finally: Do you think we can get POTUS to wear a cheesehead?

"Don't bitch, don't moan" on base closings

Posted by Hello A preview of the Pres' Milwaukee speech on Thursday?


Statement by the President

THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon. Today, the White House switchboard has been lit up hotter than a Baghdad police station ever since news got out about me and Rummy gearing up to shut down 33 military bases.

I know this comes as a big surprise to a lot of folks, what with my re-election campaign having been choreographed to make me look as military-loving as a naked Okinawa hooker spread-eagle on a futon. Yet here we are. Which is why it's real important to me that folks don't ask any follow-up questions when I say, "Don't worry. Everything is going to be OK." Read it all at whitehouse.org.

Stem cell issue splits Congressional GOP

"A fight between centrist and conservative Republicans over a bill to expand federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research has intensified in the past week as the House moves closer to a promised vote," The Hill reports.

"With 199 co-sponsors, supporters of the bill are confident that they have enough votes to pass it when leadership brings it to the floor this month, furthering the possibility that this legislation will become the first veto of President Bush’s tenure in the White House."

Here's the whole story. Wisconsin's efforts make the last paragraph.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Milwaukee Bucks meet Beijing Ducks

Who knew? I thought Peking (Beijing) Duck was something to eat.

From Journal Sentinel blog:

Barrett plans trade mission to China

"In a surprise announcement, Mayor Tom Barrett today said he will lead his own trade mission to China in October.

"Barrett’s trip is part of several China-related initiatives that were unveiled at an annual city export conference. Release of the trade mission details coincided with a separate move to create a professional basketball partnership between the Milwaukee Bucks and their counterparts in the Bejing Ducks.

"Details of the Bucks-Ducks effort are still being worked out, said Ulice Payne, co-chairman of the city’s China Council, a business group that is promoting economic ties between Milwaukee and mainland China. As currently envisioned, professional players from China would come to Milwaukee for two weeks of training in July, lending exposure of the city of Milwaukee to sports fans across the world’s most populous country."

Gard and the God Gang -- UPDATE

So now Speaker John Gard wants the Legislature to intervene in the ACLU lawsuit which seeks to require the state to provide health benefits to domestic partners of state employees -- something many governments and private business do all across the country. (I know the city of Milwaukee does, for one, and I have to assume Madison does, for starters.)

Gard's rationale: If the state loses the suit it will cost money. Of course it will. Sometimes it costs money to do the right thing.

Isn't it enough that the state has refused to grant those benefits, and has to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st Century by the ACLU?

For the Legislature to go to court and oppose this effort to achieve simple justice for domestic partners is tantamount to a hate crime.

If the state loses the lawsuit, maybe Gard and the God Gang could incorporate a ban on domestic partner benefits into their unnecessary, politically-driven constitutional amendment to ban gay marriages. That could be Count 2 in the hate crime indictment.

Gard's somewhat incoherent statement.

UPDATE. State Rep. Mark Pocan enters the fray, with a release saying the group Gard wants to represent the Legislature, the Alliance Defense Fund, is the same lunatic fringe group that has attacked SpongeBob SquarePants as being gay.

Pocan adds: "John Gard is obsessed with gays and lesbians. I know of few people who so regularly think about sex." Pocan's release.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: I am told that Action Wisconsin, the group working to stop the amendment, believes language in the amendment could lead to lawsuits that end up banning domestic partner benefits as well. Action Wisconsin info.

Bush coming to art museum

President Bush's talk on Social Security in Milwaukee on Thursday will be in the beautiful Quadracci Pavilion (above) of the Milwaukee Art Museum. The museum will be closed Thursday morning as a result. Announcement of other details still to come
Posted by Hello

Voice of reason on voter "fraud" and IDs

This from the new, improved Wisconsin State Journal editorial page: "There's still scant evidence that forcing people to flash a government-issued ID card would have prevented any of the problems coming to light in Milwaukee. Rather than a knee-jerk reaction, the Legislature should give the prosecutors more time to sort out the remaining discrepancies.

"A solution shouldn't be hatched until the problem is clearly defined.

"Republican lawmakers are crying fraud no matter what evidence gradually comes to light. They keep demanding ID cards as a solution even though ID cards wouldn't have prevented Milwaukee's problems"

Read the editorial.

Scooter puts the screws to Stewardship

State Rep. Scott (Scooter) Jensen trumpets "the largest Stewardship purchase in state history" in his weekly electronic newsletter.

It would certainly be that -- a purchase of 77,000-plus acres by the Dept. of Natural Resources (DNR) Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund.

The catch? The state of Wisconsin wouldn't end up with any more land. Jensen's plan requires the Stewardship Fund to buy all of the land now owned by the Commissioners of the Board of Public Lands, another state agency. Most of it is in forests and already open to the public.

Jensen's plan would tie up all of the money in the Stewardship Fund, perhaps for several years, and prevent it from doing what it is intended to -- buy land or conservation easements on some of Wisconsin's most vulnerable and environmentally significant lands, to preserve them and protect them from development. (It's the continuation of a program started in 1963 under then-Gov. Gaylord Nelson, when Wisconsin was a leader on conservation issues.)

Jensen offers a lot of dubious justification for his scheme, and was able to win a vote on the Joint Finance Committee to put the provision into the state budget the committee is writing. Story.

But it is just plain bad policy, and it is really little more than a continuation of a tug-of-war over the Stewardship Fund that started between the Republican-run Joint Finance and Gov. Jim Doyle during the last state budget two years ago. Bear with me a minute and we'll get back to the current fight after this background:

Republicans call themselves conservatives, but when it comes to conserving precious land, which is what the Stewardship program is all about, they come down against it.

Two years ago, Republicans tried to gut the Stewardship program, reduce funding by 80% and eliminate $245-million in bonding authority. The Republicans also tried a power grab and put a provision in the state budget saying Joint Finance had to approve all Stewardship purchases, instead of those over $250,000 as had been past practice.

But the GOP "got too cute," Finance Co-Chair Rep. Dean Kaufert admitted, and gave Doyle a chance to use his veto and eliminate all Joint Finance oversight of Stewardship purchases. Doyle did just that, and Joint Finance was shut out of the decisions. Story.

The GOP-run legislature later passed a bill restoring the $250,000 limit but Doyle vetoed that, too. So the Republicans are still fuming.

Fast forward now to last Friday's Joint Finance meeting and Jensen's motion.

Under the guise of helping libraries and reducing property taxes, Jensen moves to cripple the Stewardship program. He makes a credible case. He's a smart guy and good debater. (Remember, this is the guy whose lawyer says he didn't commit a felony by using his Capitol office and staff to run campaigns, because his job as GOP leader was to get Republicans elected. If you can argue that, you can argue anything.)

But it was too much even for two of Jensen's fellow Republicans, Sens. Joe Leibham and Robert Cowles, who voted with the Democrats as Jensen's motion passed 10-6.

Environmental groups are outraged and trying to put some pressure on to reverse the decision before the final budget package is finished.

If that fails, there is always another Doyle veto at the end of the road.

And did I mention that the fiscal note on Jensen's motion basically says it's unconstitutional? The state constitution gives the Commissioners of the Board of Public Lands the authority to "withhold from sale any portion of such lands when they deem it expedient." So Joint Finance, the governor, or anyone else can't make them sell anything.

But when a conservative is trying to kill a conservation program, why let a little thing like the constitution get in the way?

Texas Won't Mess With Sexy Cheers

Praise the lord. Texas lawmakers have decided to keep their hands off high school cheerleaders. A bill to outlaw "sexy" or suggestive cheers and body language, which actually passed one house, seems to be dead. Story.

So Wisconsin Republicans can still be the first in the nation to deal with this insidious threat, either through legislation or, perhaps, a constitutional amendment.

For a sample of the banned positions, see the satirical Swift Report. (Warning: This site does not have the PC seal of approval.)

Monday, May 16, 2005

Quote, unquote

Bonus Quote of the Day

"People have lost their lives. The image of the United States abroad has been damaged."

-- White House spokesman Scott McClellan, with no sense of irony, criticizing the errors in a recent Newsweek report.

(Stolen from Taegan Goddard's Political Wire)