Friday, September 30, 2005

Gee, any idea why?

Army in Worst Recruiting Slump in Decades

WASHINGTON - The Army is closing the books on one of the leanest recruiting years since it became an all-volunteer service three decades ago, missing its enlistment target by the largest margin since 1979 and raising questions about its plans for growth.

Green, Ryan use weasel words

to try to keep tainted DeLay money

At least two House Republicans have figured out how to return money to Tom DeLay, the ethically challenged GOP leader who had to step aside after being indicted on corruption charges this week.

But Wisconsin Republicans' bright lights in the House, Mark Green and Paul Ryan, can't seem to figure it out. It's illegal to return the money, they claim. It's already spent. Bullfeathers.

First, USA Today reports:

WASHINGTON — At least two Republicans in the House of Representatives say they will return money to Rep. Tom DeLay's political action committee now that the
former majority leader has been indicted for allegedly conspiring to violate Texas campaign fundraising laws.

Reps. Jeb Bradley of New Hampshire and Heather Wilson of New Mexico said they would return contributions from Americans for a Republican Majority, the political action committee DeLay started to help elect GOP candidates to Congress. Known as ARMPAC, it is separate from Texans for a Republican Majority, or TRMPAC, which is at the center of the charge against DeLay.

ARMPAC, which has not been charged with wrongdoing, has given nearly $3.5 million to House and Senate candidates since 1998, according to the non-profit Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign cash. It has contributed $250,000 to candidates running for re-election next year.

Bradley, in his second term, was the first to renounce DeLay's money. He said he's returning $15,000 contributed in 2002 and 2004 to "remove any questions that may arise about contributions."

Wilson's campaign committee will give back $10,000 contributed for her 2006 campaign. She isn't returning nearly $38,000 she's received since 1998.

Meanwhile, back in the Badger State, , Green has received more than $29,000 and Ryan more than $25,000 from DeLay's political action committee.

Green's campaign tells the Journal Sentinel:
[Campaign Manager Mark]Graul said Green legally could not return the donations.

"If we wrote a check to 'Tom DeLay for Congress,' we'd be in violation" of federal law, which sets limits on the size of gifts to federal campaign committees, Graul said.

Also, Graul said, "that money has been since spent, so there is no contribution to return."
First of all, the money didn't come from DeLay's campaign committee, it came from his political action committee, so no one would expect a check to "Tom DeLay for Congress." It most llikely could be returned to the PAC if Green wanted to find a way. It is complicated a little by the fact that Green took hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal PAC money, including DeLay's, then laundered it by transferring $1.3-million to his state campaign fund to run for governor. State and federal laws are different -- but where there's a will there's a way.

As for the money being spent, Graun is spinning so fast it's funny he hasn't screwed himself into the ground. Green's campaign has always has far more than $29,000 in the bank, so DeLay's money wasn't "spent."

Paul Ryan didn't handle it any better:

But Ryan said Thursday, "There is nothing to give back; it was two campaigns ago."

"It would be illegal for us to give that back," Ryan added. "I'm not interested in breaking the law, either."
Joe Wineke, Democratic Party chair who called for Green and Ryan to give back the dirty money, checked a little farther. (Surprised that he didn't take them at their word?) Wineke had suggested that if he couldn't return it, Green should give the money to charity, but Green said that wasn't legal either.

Wineke found another legal option for Green and helped Ryan out, too. From a Wineke news release:

Congressman Mark Green misled the people of Wisconsin by saying there was no way he could get rid of the money. Yet, according to Wisconsin State Statutes 11.25(2)(b), Green could give the money to a nonpartisan campaign to increase voter registration or participation. [What is Wineke saying? Green's goal is to keep people from voting, not increase turnout.--Xoff.]

“It’s time to stop the misleading statements, come clean, and return this ill-gotten money,” said Joe Wineke, Chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. “If Congressman Green really wanted to, he could donate this money today. Mark Green has already given enough money to Tom DeLay by contributing to his legal defense fund. He should take advantage of this opportunity to give this money to an organization where it will be put to good use.”

But the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) said today that campaign contributions from DeLay can be refunded, despite Ryan’s claims that it would be illegal. According to the FEC, a refund to DeLay’s committee would not be considered a contribution, so it would not be subject to federal PAC limits candidates must otherwise abide by during a calendar year.

“Paul Ryan doesn’t need to worry about breaking the law, because the FEC has said it’s perfectly legal for him to return this questionable money back to Tom DeLay,” Wineke said. “Congressman Ryan should show the people of Wisconsin that he doesn’t condone the corruption and scandal that have plagued Republicans in Washington by immediately returning DeLay’s dirty money."

Right-to-lifers reprimand senators

who dare to vote their consciences

Wisconsin Right To Life, which seems to own a majority of Wisconsin legislators lock, stock and barrel, couldn't believe that some of their wholly-owned state senators actually had the courage to vote for an amendment the "right-to-life" extremists opposed.

The amendment by State Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, to exempt therapeutic cloning for stem cell research from an anti-cloning bill, failed on a 17-16 vote, and the bill subsequently passed and will go to Gov. Jim Doyle, who has promised to veto it. (See earlier post. Darling shows courage, then caves in to extremists.

The Capital Times reports:

"It is difficult to express the sadness we feel that three pro-life senators believe it is morally acceptable to create human embryos via cloning so that they can be used in biomedical experiments that will kill them," Susan Armacost, legislative director of the group, said in a news release on Thursday.

"Well prior to the state Senate votes on AB 499, Wisconsin Right to Life made it crystal clear to every senator that we would consider a vote for the Darling amendment to be a vote against the bill itself, regardless of how a senator might vote on final passage," she added. "We consider the key vote in regard to AB 499 to be the Darling amendment. The vote on that amendment shows which senators are comfortable with creating human life for the express purpose of destroying it for medical experiments."

The three senators named in the news release are Sens. Michael Ellis, R-Neenah; Jeffrey Plale, D-Milwaukee; and Robert Cowles, R-Green Bay. All three, despite their support for the therapeutic cloning exemption, voted for the full ban after the amendment failed to muster enough votes for passage...

Armacost said in an interview that her group called the three senators on the carpet because each had pledged in a pre-election questionnaire that they would not support cloning for any purpose.

"That's why we're so shocked and saddened," she said. "Obviously on this issue they just feel it's acceptable to create human life and destroy it."

During debate this week on the cloning bill, Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, said that his Republican colleagues were afraid to oppose the legislation because of the intimidation tactics of Wisconsin Right to Life.
Darling, who sponsored the amendment, also voted for final passage but somehow escaped their wrath and was not mentioned in the release.

Meanwhile, State Sen. Roger Breske, D-Eland, the Democrat who provided the winning margin to table Darling's amendment, goes merrily on his way. There seems to be no consequence for jumping ship and voting against his caucus and the governor. No one says a word.

No wonder Right-to-Life has a disproportionate amount of influence, even though a majority of voters are pro-choice and pro-stem cell research. They play for keeps, we don't. The only elected official liberals seem to want to hold accountable is Jim Doyle, while Democratic legislators wander off the reservation at will, and progressives just assume Doyle will save them with yet another veto. All the more reason to make sure Doyle and his veto are still in the East Wing come 2007.

Scott Walker's phony 'freeze'

Dusk is falling outside the Walker residence as Scott Walker, back from a tough day of cracking down on lazy judges, is greeted by his wife.

Scott: Hi, Honey, I'm home.

Tonette: Hi, Scooter. Why so glum? Tough day at the office?

Scott: Pretty rough. No matter how hard I try, I can't get my budget to balance.

Tonette: That's too bad. I got our household budget to balance today.

Scott: Really? I thought we were way overextended. What did you do?

Tonette: Well, I had this great idea. I just quit paying the mortgage.

Scott: You can't just not pay. They'll get you later, and charge you more interest and fees and who knows what.

Tonette: Maybe so, maybe not. Maybe we won't live that long. Maybe we'll win the lottery. Maybe the mortgage company will agree to take less. Maybe they'll lose our file. Who knows? All I know is we're getting through to the end of the month.

Scott: Thanks, Honey. I think you're on to something...

And so Scott Walker proposes a "tax freeze" budget for Milwaukee County, despite the fact that costs of health care, fuel, and other items are increasing from last year. What's his secret? He just doesn't pay $27-million that's due to the pension fund.

The Journal Sentinel reports:

In his 2006 budget address to the County Board, Walker did not mention his pension-funding plan but said he did not want to let the ongoing cost of "horrific" pension sweeteners approved by former County Executive F. Thomas Ament force additional trims in crucial county safety-net services.

Milwaukee County saw a flood of retirements in 2004 under the new benefits. That, pension-fund investment losses early in the decade and previous underfunding of the annual contribution by Walker, Ament and the County Board have pushed the 2005 requested contribution to $45.9 million. Walker proposes to fund $19.2 million of that, about 42% of the amount requested by the Pension Board.

Walker portrayed the underfunding of the annual pension payment as a way to spark debate over trimming pension benefit levels for county employees, as he proposed recently.

But unless that benefit change happens, the underfunding would mean that county taxpayers will actually pay more for the Ament-era pension enhancements. That's because the pension fund would charge the county for the $27 million shortfall, with interest tacked on, in taxpayer contributions to the fund in future years.

Walker wants a related change that would spread that repayment over 30 years, compared to the current five-year payback.

"Wow," said Pension Board Chairman Walter Lanier, who expressed surprise at the size of the shortfall. That board will study the impact on the viability of the fund, he said.

Supervisor Richard Nyklewicz Jr., chairman of the County Board's Finance Committee, called the pension contribution shortfall "irresponsible."

Supervisors will be hard-pressed to replace the $27 million pension contribution shortfall without cutting county services. Under the state's new limits on local taxation, Milwaukee County can raise property taxes by only $8.5 million, or 3.7%.

So Walker, as usual, has proposed a political budget that he hopes will get him through another year and closer to the next election. Next year's budget, conveniently, won't come until after the primary for governor.

But sooner or later, someone's going to have to pay the piper -- with interest. The idea that county workers are going to give back any significant pensions benefits is pie in the sky. As the City of Milwaukee found out, even if the unions agree the courts take a dim view of taking away benefits that people have already earned. The city and county systems are not identical, but in case after case the courts ruled that the city could not reduce benefits. Walker might want to ask his friend Bradley DeBraska, retired police union boss, about that.

Walker asked the voters a year ago to approve a scheme for the county to borrow money long-term to pay off pension obligations. The voters said no. But Walker seems to have done it anyway.

Yet the Journal Sentinel gives him a pass. On the editorial page, the paper credits Walker for keeping his tax promise. It does note:

Walker took another gamble of sorts by putting only $19.2 million in the budget to cover the county's pension obligations, far short of what is needed. Walker is hoping county unions will agree to concessions in their pension benefit levels in new labor contracts. We hope he's right since, as Walker says, the pension enhancements passed under his predecessor are costing the county a bundle and may eventually force the county to make even deeper cuts in service and staff in the future. But we would also hate to see the emphasis on the pension givebacks threaten other concessions the unions might agree to on health insurance, which could also save a lot of money.

Yes, and if gas prices fell to $1 a gallon that would save a lot of money, too.

Walker slashed the court budget, saying the state should pay for the court system, not the county. Maybe, in his campaign for governor, he will explain what state services he would cut to pay for the courts, since he is committed to not raising state taxes, either.

Walker's budget is phony through and through. But by creating the illusion that he has proposed a tax freeze, the onus is on the County Board for any increase in taxes. If the board passes an honest budget, the levy will go up, but Walker will claim innocence.

I guess we should be thankful he at least put $19-million of the $46-million owed the pension fund into his budget. He could have just decided to pay nothing and declare a $19-million tax cut, which would be just as honest as his phony "freeze."

Bennett, who broadcasts his racist views,

wants to educate more Wisconsin kids

"I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could -- if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down." -- Bill Bennett, former Secretary of Education, author of "The Book of Virtue" and conservative poster boy, in a radio interview.

To be fair, he added that it probably wasn't a good or workable idea, like Richard Nixon saying,"That would be wrong" into the hidden microphone to cover his butt. You can read the transcript, and put the comment into context, at Media Matters.

No, Bennett didn't suggest aborting black fetuses. He was talking hypothetically. But no matter how you slice it, his comments were racist.

Bennett, by the way, operates a virtual school in Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Virtual Academy. The Northern Ozaukee School District-based school is run by K12, a for-profit educational business founded by Bennett.

That virtual academy is the subject of a lawsuit by the state teachers' union, WEAC, which has been going on for a couple of years.

But Bennett is continuing to look for more business in Wisconsin, and has hired three lobbyists to represent his interests -- Nate Elias, Bill McCoshen, and Eric Petersen.

Presumably their jobs don't include defending Bennett's comments.

But it is hard to imagine any Wisconsin school district wanting to do business with Bennett after he shared some of his innermost thoughts this week.

Bucher assembling cast of losers

Quick, what do Steve King, Mark Neumann, and John Gillespie have in common?

Yes, they're all out there on the extreme right fringe of the Republican Party, but that's not the answer I was looking for.

True, they are all co-chairs of the Paul Bucher for Attorney General campaign, but that's not it, either.

Correct answer: All three have lost statewide elections in Wisconsin, and none of them has ever won one.

Neumann lost to Sen. Russ Feingold, Gillespie lost to Sen. Herb Kohl, and King didn't even win his party's nomination, losing a Senate primary to Susan Engeleiter, who went on to lose to Kohl. Remember her? No? Remember Steve King? No? Remember any of those losers?

If that campaign committee ever actually gets together, they should all have a lot of good advice about what not to do. Bob Welch, Russ Darrow and Tim Michels should be signing on any day now.

(Bucher's campaign could use an editor. The release announcing Gillespie said he was joining the campaign on the "heals" of Bucher winning two straw polls.)

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Brace yourself for sliming of Ronnie Earle;

Problem is, record shows he's not partisan

The right wing and Republican radio is coming to Tom DeLay's defense in their usual fashion -- trying to slime the prosecutor in the case, Ronnie Earle. DeLay called him "an unabashed partisan zealot," and Charlie Sykes was warming up to go after Earle this morning, but I got to my destination and turned off the car radio, so didn't hear it. Fox News predictably jumped right in, echoing DeLay's false claim.

You can bet they'll do all they can do discredit Earle. That may not be so easy, judging from this Los Angeles Times story:

Prosecutor Takes Aim at Both Sides of Aisle
Although DeLay calls Ronnie Earle an 'unabashed partisan zealot,' others say the Austin district attorney shows no favoritism.

By Scott Gold, Times Staff Writer

HOUSTON — In the 1980s, Jim Mattox was the attorney general of Texas and one of the most powerful figures in the state — mentioned as a future governor and, maybe, more. Today, he is a real estate lawyer.

A turning point came in 1983, when the district attorney in Austin, Ronnie Earle, indicted Mattox on bribery charges. He was acquitted, but the damage was done. Mattox had spent $300,000 on attorneys. His political career began to peter out.

"Ronnie Earle had visions of grandeur," said Mattox, now 62. "He was using it as a stepping stone."

Two decades later, Earle is going after another powerful Texas politician, and the defense is no different. When he indicted U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay on Wednesday, the Texas Republican lashed out at Earle, calling him an "unabashed partisan zealot."

Just one hitch: Earle may be a Democrat, but, he said, so were 12 of the 15 politicians he has indicted over the years, including Mattox. Even Mattox said Wednesday that Earle long had targeted people on both sides of the political aisle, roiling the halls of power in Austin — and now Washington — at every turn.

"He had a very negative impact on my life," Mattox said. But in DeLay's case, he added, "I think Earle is carrying out his responsibility."

Fred Lewis, director of Campaigns for People, an Austin group that works to reduce the influence of money on government, called the politics-as-usual defense the "standard response" here to an Earle indictment.

"Every single person he has indicted, Democrat or Republican, has claimed politics," Lewis said. "That's what people don't understand. I think Ronnie Earle has just done his job. The people that are criticizing the indictments don't know one thing about Texas law or the facts. And frankly, they need to be quiet and let the criminal justice process work."

Republicans are hardly convinced of that, and they accused Earle on Wednesday of wasting tax dollars with a "politically motivated and manufactured indictment" — and of sapping public resources at a time when they are needed to recover from Hurricane Rita.

"He is a small man with a big grudge," said Republican Party of Texas Chairwoman Tina Benkiser. "And that is a dangerous combination. He's abusing the very system he was elected to protect."

Earle has taken pains to project a squeaky-clean image, at one point even accusing himself of a misdemeanor when he discovered that his campaign finance reports had been filed late. Still, he has not always remained above the political fray.

Earle recently said that being called partisan by DeLay was akin to "being called ugly by a frog." At a Democratic fundraiser in May, he called DeLay a "bully." And he has said that ambition and outrage over what he sees as an illegal fundraising scheme devised by DeLay and his associates prompted him to postpone his retirement to prosecute the case.

Raised on a ranch in Birdville, Texas — which had a population of 107 when he was born and hasn't grown much since — Earle worked as a lifeguard as a youth, participated in student government and earned the rank of Eagle Scout.

He was elected to the Texas House in 1972 and became the Travis County district attorney in 1977. Under Texas law, that office also controls the public integrity unit responsible for prosecuting alleged misconduct by politicians, regardless of where they live in the state.

GOP activists have sought to take that power away from Earle, but haven't succeeded.

Within a year of taking office, Earle indicted former Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Yarbrough on perjury charges; Yarbrough fled to Grenada, and eventually served time in a state penitentiary. Earle also went after a state treasurer, state House speaker and several Democratic legislators, winning convictions or plea bargains in each of those cases.

George Shipley — a political operative who worked for the late Bob Bullock, a Democrat and one of the most powerful figures in modern Texas politics — said Wednesday that over the years Earle had taken plenty of heat from Democrats in Austin.

Earle went after Bullock — who was last elected as George W. Bush's lieutenant governor — on several occasions, although he never brought an indictment. Bullock routinely described Earle in terms that are "not printable in a family newspaper," Shipley said.

Still, Shipley said, Earle is not prone to conducting witch hunts; he recalled occasions when Earle sent GOP legislators letters reminding them that it was poor form to step off of state-owned airplanes wearing golf cleats and carrying their clubs.

"Ronnie is a maverick," Shipley said. "The argument that he is a hard-charging partisan with a hidden agenda is not supported by the facts."

One time, however, Earle brought now-U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Republican, to trial on ethics charges. He dropped the case at the last minute — something GOP activists seized upon as proof that he was trying to humiliate Hutchison because of her party affiliation.

"Nobody would ever accuse Ronnie of being nonpartisan," said Alan Sager, a professor at the University of Texas in Austin and the chairman of the Travis County Republican Party.

Today, Sager said, Earle is merely going after DeLay in an effort to hurt the Republican Party and President Bush. And while DeLay's immediate response was to attack the prosecutor Wednesday, Sager said, the congressman would have a more definitive defense at trial: the 1st Amendment.

"This is a case of free speech," he said. "We're not talking about people who committed crimes. We're talking about people who were involved in political campaigns and were spending money.

"Ronnie Earle wants to criminalize political activity."

Green, Ryan tainted by DeLay money;

One Republican says he'll give it back

This is news:

The first Republican member of Congress has decided to return tainted campaign contributions from one of Rep. Tom DeLay's many political slush funds. Rep. Jeb Bradley of New Hampshire is giving back the $15,000.

Which leads to the question: What about Wisconsin's Mark Green and Paul Ryan, who have received $29,414 and $25,390 respectively from DeLay's PAC? Eye on Wisconsin points out that both Green and Ryan also have donated to DeLay's legal defense fund.

Ryan may be able to ride it out, but this could get sticky for Green, who's running for governor. Checking Xoff's Greatest Hits file, I find this entry on April 12: Green Steps in DeLay Doo-doo.

Ryan, you may recall, has had many nice things to say about DeLay, but a mysterious "scheduling conflict" kept him away from a testimonial dinner for DeLay after he got into ethical trouble. But he's still in DeLay's pocket.

Badger Blues says:
Tom DeLay gets away with his corruption because the vast, silent majority of the Republican caucus doesn’t give a damn about clean government. They all benefit from Mr DeLay’s shenanigans, either directly, like Messrs. Green and Ryan, or indirectly, by leveraging all that money to strengthen the Republican majority in Congress. Google “Texas redistricting” and you’ll see what I mean (”Georgia redistricting” and “Ohio redistricting” will yield similar results).
Two hundred fory-one sitting members of Congress have taken money from DeLay's committee. Here's a list.

So far, one has said he will give it back. Mr. Green? Mr. Ryan? We can't hear you.

Nobody wins the Blame Game

Is the Hotline's Blogometer stealing my stuff? From its Sept. 28 edition:

KATRINA RESPONSE: No One Wins The Blame Game -- You Only Lose
Exactly, as this post on my Blame Game board game explains, it's a game nobody wins. Try as you might, you'll never get out of New Orleans. But if you buy a game it will help hurricane victims.

I'll probably continue shameless plugs for this product until a reader boycott develops. Or are we already there?

Darling shows courage, then caves in

to extremists on stem cell research

State Sen. Alberta Darling took a courageous and compassionate stand on Tuesday.

She defied Wisconsin Right to Life, which pulls the strings of every Republican and too many Democrats in the legislature, to take a stand on something she felt strongly about.

Darling, a River Hills Republican, proposed an amendment to an anti-cloning bill (AB-499)pushed by the extremist right-to-lifers, to exempt therapeutic stem cell research from the bill, but still ban human cloning.

Darling, like many state and national legislators, has some personal experience that has shaped her views. Her 60-year-old brother suffers from multiple sclerosis, one of the diseases for which stem cell research offers hope of an eventual cure.

Banning therapeutic research would deny hope to people like her brother, she told fellow Senators during a sometimes emotional debate on the amendment and the bill.

One of Wisconsin's "great strengths" is medical research, including on stem cells, that began on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Darling said, according to the Journal Sentinel's story. Wisconsin is a national leader in stem cell research, despite the Republican legislature's attempts to restrict it.

Darling's amendment lost 17-16. Two other Republicans, Robert Cowles and Mike Ellis, also had the courage to vote with her.

But the next day all three lost their backbone and voted for the bill as it passed 21-12 and went to Gov. Doyle, who will veto it. Democrat Jeff Plale did the same thing, voting for Darling's amendment, then voting for the bill without the amendment.

So Darling voted -- in her own words -- to deny hope to her brother and others who suffer from MS, spinal cord injuries, Alzheimer's, juvenile diabetes, and other diseases for which stem cell research holds out hope for a cure.

Why? Fear of retaliation from the group Democrat Robert Jauch called “Right to Lie," charging them with intimidating lawmakers and intentionally distributing inaccurate information about legislators who oppose their opinions.

“Did the Right to Life people get to you?” State Sen. Fred Risser asked Darling. “I’m just shocked… I’m just amazed with the 180-degree turn.”

"My glass is half full," said Darling, who said it was important to ban human cloning. She said she hopes the debate over therapeutic cloning will be revisited. That won't happen as long as Right-to-Lie is pulling the strings.

"The real purpose of the bill is to restrict stem cell research, which holds enormous potential for our state as well as the promise of curing juvenile diabetes, spinal cord injuries and Parkinson’s disease,” Gov. Jim Doyle said in a statement. Doyle has some personal experience, too; his mother, Ruth, has Parkinson's.

"Allowing our scientists to search for cures to the world’s deadliest diseases isn’t about being liberal or conservative. It’s about being compassionate," Doyle said. "I do not understand how anyone can, in good conscience, tell a family whose child is suffering from a life-threatening disease that politics is more important than finding a cure."

In the long run, this is an issue likely to hurt Republican candidates. The voters --even Republicans -- overwhelmingly support embryonic stem cell research. Being pushed by special interest extremists to take a view that is far out of the mainstream could have some serious political consequences. May poll

Dubya Is Fredo says State Sen. Joe Leibham, R-Sheboygan, who sponsored the bill, is trying to suck up to the right-wing extremists as he gears up for what could be a tough reelection campaign in '06.

Burning the furniture to heat the White House

In his final Earth Day message last April, the late Senator Gaylord Nelson denounced the Bush administration plan to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, saying it was like burning the furniture in the White House to keep the first family warm.

But we know how those tree-huggers exaggerate. Or do they? Read on, from the Washington Post this week:

Document Causes Roosevelt Island Uproar

By Eric M. Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer

Imagine Theodore Roosevelt Island filled with strip malls and hundreds of luxury townhouses, all with breathtaking views of the Potomac River and the monuments. A new bridge would connect the newly developed island with George Washington Memorial Parkway.

That vision of the island's future is contained in a House Resources Committee "brainstorming" document that was inadvertently released to the public. The committee's chairman, Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) is looking for ways to raise $2.4 billion in new federal revenue.

The document suggests as options selling Roosevelt Island, in the Potomac between Washington and Arlington, to residential or commercial developers, and selling 15 other national parks across the county for "energy or commercial development."

"Imagine taking the island named after the greatest conservation president of all time and turning it into condo developments?'' said Craig Obey, spokesman for the National Parks Conservation Association. "I don't know what even to say about that.''

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

For what noble cause?

Two Wisconsin soldiers were killed and a third was injured by shrapnel when a roadside bomb exploded as they drove past in Iraq.

Killed were Michael Wendling, 20, of Mayville, and Andy Wallace 25, of Oshkosh, who were members of Fond du Lac-based Charlie Co. of the Wisconsin National Guard 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry.

Injured in the explosion was a high school friend of Wendling - Jeremy Roskopf, who suffered shrapnel wounds in his legs...

Wendling ...was a student on the Dean's List at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee when his unit was activated... .

Wallace taught physical education at Cook Elementary School in Oshkosh and at Oshkosh North High School, where he was an assistant wrestling coach and part-time physical education teacher for cognitively disabled students.

Staff members at Cook gasped in shock after being notified of Wallace's death at a Monday meeting called by the principal.

"He was a kind, wonderful, positive man," said third-grade teacher Tracy Zangl. "He wanted students to be healthy in every sense of the word, physically, mentally and in attitude."

Source: Journal Sentinel.

Bush's' Dept. of Fraud, Waste & Abuse

Molly Ivins says George W. Bush has broken the first commandment of governing: Thou Shalt Not Steal the People's Money. She says he has brought us beaucoup fraud, waste and abuse, not necessarily in that order.

Read Molly's archive at Working for Change.

Play the Blame Game for hurricane relief

Finally, it is time to play The Blame Game. Posted by Picasa

Brownie played it yesterday, pointing fingers at everyone except himself and FEMA.

Now it's our turn, with a new board game based on Katrina and all proceeds to benefit victims of the hurricane.

I was in Texas visiting friends two weeks ago when the Republican "This is not the time for the blame game" talking points were issued, and everyone from the President to the precinct committeeman said it over and over.

So my artist buddy and I, both yellow-dog Democrats, decided maybe it was time. This is the result:

"Those who complain about the blame game?
They're usually to blame." – Jon Stewart.

“Bush says he doesn’t want to play the ‘Blame Game.’
Makes sense. Never heard of a chicken who wanted
to play the ‘Extra Crispy’ game”. --Will Durst

It is called “The Blame Game,” and the object is to get out of New Orleans – but there is no way out on the board, as players encounter the same problems the city’s residents did before, during, and after the hurricane.

When players reach the Gretna bridge, where sheriff’s deputies turned back evacuees, they are told to “Give up your food and water and go back to the start.”

Landing on some squares calls for drawing a blame card, which announces a new development and tells who to blame. (Hint: W "wins" this part.)

Sample card:“Stay on your roof and lose a turn. The helicopters have been diverted for a photo op with the President. Blame Bush.”

Or: "Wait in line three hours to get help from FEMA. When you get to the front, they give you a piece of paper that says to come back in three days. Lose 2 turns. Blame Bush."

Games are $10 plus shipping and handling from with all proceeds going to help Katrina victims.

Here's a free peek at the game board and blame cards.

There is no marketing budget for this product, so your e-mail and word of mouth are important. If you like it, please spread the word.

Here's a later post with an Austin American-Statesman column about the game.

If it weren't for the honor . . .

The witness list for Brian Burke's upcoming trial is now public, and your humble scribe, Xoff, is one of 169 potential witnesses listed.

As the fellow said in the Mark Twain story, after being tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail, "If it weren't for the honor, I'd just as soon have walked."

Burke and his lawyers, and DA Brian Blanchard, certainly cast a wide net -- lobbyists, current and former legislators, Capitol staffers, a university president, the attorney general,political fundraisers, labor leaders, and sundry others.

It would be a great invitation list for a political fundraiser, except that Roth Judd of the Ethics Board is on the list, too.

Some of the names on the list suggest that Burke, charged with multiple counts of political corruption, may try an "everybody was doing it" defense. Others, presumably, are character witnesses to say Burke is a good guy.

I have no idea why I'm on the list, but I was put there by the defense, I am told. Burke's lawyers have never contacted me, even to say they were listing me, and they have no idea what I would say on the witness stand. I can't imagine anything I would say that could help him.

The Journal Sentinel's Capitol blog has more.

Gov's barbecue's net cost: $250 or less

So the governor's barbecue for the news media, it turns out, cost about $400. About 20 or so people reimbursed the cost of the food, so that's maybe $140-200 that came back. Net cost, worst case, is maybe $250.

Not quite in the same league as Scott Walker's $19,000 ticket giveaway. Walker gave more than $500 worth of tickets to the Green Bay Press Gazette alone, and didn't limit the freebies to the media. His defenders argue that was for a "public purpose" -- getting Walker some face time on outstate TV to improve his name recognition in his run for governor. (Oops -- they say it's to promote tourism. Right.)

Jessica McBride, who has been on the $250 barbecue scandal like yellow on mustard, obtained the costs and list of payees and deadbeats through an open records request. I won't bore you with the details, but the public probably wants to know that the most expensive food item was the $45 carrot cake. The open records request didn't ask who ate carrot cake, so that will remain one of life's little mysteries.

Double whammy for storm victims

The New York Times, in a page one story, discusses the latest double whammy to befall Hurricane Katrina victims -- a tougher new bankruptcy law. Wisconsin's hero, Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, has managed to single-handedly insure that victims will get no relief from the new law, by refusing to even hold a hearing to consider it. Not heartless, though, the Journal Sentinel says. Just wrong.

The Times:

Storm Victims May Face Curbs On Bankruptcy


When Congress agreed this spring to tighten the bankruptcy laws and crack down on consumers who took on debt irresponsibly, no one had the victims of Hurricane Katrina in mind.

But four weeks after New Orleans flooded and tens of thousands of other residents of the Gulf Coast also lost their homes and livelihoods, a stricter new personal bankruptcy law scheduled to take effect on Oct. 17 is likely to deliver another blow to those dislocated by the storm.

The law was intended to keep individuals from taking on debts they had no intention of paying off. But many once-solvent Katrina victims are likely to be caught up in the net intended to catch deadbeats.

Right after Hurricane Katrina struck, several lawmakers - mostly Democrats but including some Senate Republicans - suggested that storm victims along the Gulf Coast should get relief from the new law's stricter provisions, which are intended to screen filers by income and make those with higher incomes repay their debts over several years. Under the old law, which remains in effect until mid-October, many more filers can have their debts canceled quickly in federal bankruptcy courts.

But House Republicans, who fought off a proposed amendment that would have made bankruptcy filings easier for victims of natural disasters, said there was no reason to carve out a broad exemption just because of the storm.

Representative F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, rejected the notion of reopening the legislation, saying it already included provisions that would ensure that people left "down and out" by the storm would still be able to shed most of their debts. Lawmakers who lost the long fight over the law, he said, "ought to get over it," according to The Associated Press.

A White House spokesman, Trent Duffy, said the administration "doesn't see a lot of merit" in calls to delay the law's effective date but was considering making allowances for hurricane victims.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Goliath wins in Jefferson

David Olsen, the Jefferson alderman who dared to vote against Wal-Mart, lost his recall election today.


Recall Election Results


Chris Havill 880 VOTES

David Olsen 815 VOTES

Misc. Write Ins 4 VOTES

Maybe Bucher didn't write the letter

Chris Micklos gives Waukesha DA Paul Bucher the benefit of the doubt, and concludes that some intern must have written the flippant letter to AG Peg Lautenschlager that's discussed in the post below. Bucher wants paper to do his job.

Micklos writes, in a letter to Bucher:

Surely, a man of your stature—the duly elected District Attorney of Waukesha County and candidate for the highest law enforcement post in the state—would never write such an infantile and unprofessional missive as the one attributed to you and dated September 26, 2005. Between the sarcastic tone, the condescending language, and the use of such childish phrases like “just so you know”, the letter—had it actually been written by you or with your consent—would indicate an individual without the personal maturity or professional integrity to drive an ice cream truck, much less serve as District Attorney of one of Wisconsin’s largest counties.
I think Micklos is on to something. Bucher should investigate, find the culprit who wrote that letter, and see that he (or she) never works for him again.

Read Micklos' entire letter.

Bucher wants paper to do his job

Republicans are chortling over an exchange between Waukesha DA Paul Bucher and AG Peg Lautenschlager, whose job he's seeking. They think Bucher scored some real points. I think he comes off looking like someone asking the newspaper to do his job.

The tit-for-tat exchanges are about political telephone calls at state expense, made by a former staffer to State Sen. Alberta Darling. The staffer, Chris Slinker, resigned instead of being fired, and is now running for the Assembly. The calls went to a political consultant working on local races, not on Darling's campaign.

Lautenschlager thinks someone should look into the 226 calls, and offered to help Bucher, who didn't seem to be doing it himself.

Bucher fired off a sharp reply telling the AG to “rest assured I will take care of him if the facts justify a criminal investigation.”

So far, Bucher's investigation has been to write a letter to the Journal Sentinel, asking for any information they have, since they wrote the stories about Slinker's phone calls.

To no one's surprise, except possibly Bucher's, the newspaper did not tell its reporter to give Bucher the information. (Surely his wife, a former Journal Sentinel reporter, didn't expect the paper would hand it over -- or did she?)

The newspaper's story was based on information obtained in an open records request from the State Senate chief clerk. All Bucher needs to do is to make a request for the same information and he will have everything the newspaper has.

If you want to read some of the cute lines in the back and forth between Lautenschlager, Bucher, and others, has them all posted.

Less driving? How about fewer vehicles?

From: Press.Releases@WhiteHouse.Gov
Subject: POOL REPORT #2, 9/26/05
Date: September 26, 2005 7:36:57 PM EDT
Reply-To: Press.Releases@WhiteHouse.Gov

Pool Report #2, 9/26/05

Late on this day of self-restraint in fuel consumption for federal officials advised by the president to avert “non-essential travel,” the president departed from the White House South Lawn driveway by motorcade at 6:51 pm EDT on a rainy evening.

Here's the stated purpose: a “farewell dinner” for Gen. Richard Myers at the NW Washington, DC, home of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, a stately brick house, with two main stories and three dormer windows in the slate roof on a third floor. We had no actual sighting of the president, however, and cannot vouch for his accompaniment.

This motorcade was marginally shorter in the SUV category - five - than the one that traveled to the Energy Department today, with six SUVs. But it was longer in vans, four tonight, compared with three this morning. Two limos, of course.
The motorcade obeyed some traffic signals along Connecticut Avenue, then blew through others north of the tunnel, then obeyed again, and turned onto a lovely residential street.

The 'cade delivered the president chez Rumsfeld at 7:01 pm, and the pool hunkered down for a hold in the shelter of the vans.

Mark Silva
White House Correspondent
Chicago Tribune

Hat tip: Wonkette

I was a little disappointed that Bush still hasn't produced the cardigan sweater.

All the news that fits and then some

I guess my news judgment is slipping.

Who would have thought it would be news that I contributed $100 to help an old friend who's facing a recall election for his position as a small town alderman? Or that I posted some items about his race on this blog?

Anyway, my support of Dave Olsen in today's recall election in Jefferson made the Journal Sentinel, although I can't imagine why. It's not exactly man bites dog.

It's not too late to help Dave with a contribution. Go to

An opponent for Sheriff Clarke?

Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who wants oh-so-badly to be a Republican but knows he can't be elected as one, takes a hit from Joel McNally in a Capital Times op ed piece.

McNally reports on a prospective primary opponent for Clarke next year(assuming he runs as a Dem again):
Even worse news for Clarke is that former Municipal Judge Vince Bobot is considering running against Clarke as a real Democrat. Bobot, a former Milwaukee police officer, was the candidate who caused the most trouble for Clarke in his disastrous run for Milwaukee mayor.

Bobot was the whistle-blower who challenged Clarke's failure to initially submit a paltry 1,500 valid signatures on nomination papers. An extremely lenient City Election Commission allowed Clarke to correct his nomination papers after the deadline so he wouldn't be dropped from the ballot.

Not only does Bobot have experience in law enforcement and on the bench, but he's also a big, friendly likable guy. Clarke clearly is struggling with his orientation as a Republican trapped in the body of a Democrat.
Bobot and Clarke both ran poorly in the mayoral primary, in which Tom Barrett and Marvin Pratt emerged as the top two. But in a Democratic primary -- and with Republicans prevented from crossing over because of a GOP primary for governor -- Clarke could face a real test. Whether Bobot is the one to do it remains to be seen, but he is beginning to beat the bushes and test support, and so far no one else has emerged.

Mark Green, House GOP support

hiring based on religious views

"One of the questions I like asking people - and it's not are they born again - but I like asking people, just so I can get an idea of their understanding of their religious views is, if you die today and were standing before the judgment seat of God and God said, 'Why should I let you into heaven?' what would you say?"

If I'm going to have somebody working in my office, it's nice to know where, how they view their relation to God, whether entrance into heaven is something they earn or if it's a free gift."

-- State Sen. Tom Reynolds, explaining why he asks those questions in job interviews for prospective staff.

"This is not harmless chit-chat," the Journal Sentinel says in an editorial. "These are questions that have no place in the context of interviews or the workplace."

But if House Republicans have their way, those are the kinds of questions teachers may be asked when applying for jobs with Head Start.

Rep. Mark Green, who's running for governor, and Reynolds, the state senator, are not that far apart on the issue.

In a broad update of the Head Start program, the House voted Thursday to let preschool providers consider a person's faith when hiring workers — and still be eligible for federal grants, the AP reports.

The Republican-led House said the move protects the rights of religious groups, but Democrats blasted it as discriminatory. The debate over religion overshadowed the main parts of the bill, which had drawn bipartisan support.

The vote on the amendment allowing the religion-based hiring was even tighter. It passed 220-196, with support from 10 Democrats, none from Wisconsin. All four Wisconsin Republicans -- Mark Green, F. Jim Sensenbrenner, Paul Ryan, and Tom Petri -- voted for the amendment. One of the Dems, Ron Kind, was absent. Roll call.

"[M}ost of the debate Thursday was not about oversight. It was about religion and civil rights. The Republican plan would, for example, allow a Catholic church that provides Head Start services to employ only Catholic child-care workers, and to reject equally qualified workers of other religions.," the AP reported.

"This is about our children, and denying them exemplary services just because the organization happens to be a religious one is just cruel," said Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C.

Democrats and Republicans offered different interpretations of whether the Constitution, federal law and court rulings protected — or prevented — federally aided centers from hiring based on religion.

"Congress should not be in the business of supporting state-sponsored discrimination," said Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla.

The House bill, which had sailed through the Education Committee without controversy, would reauthorize the Head Start program through 2011. A similar measure in the Senate is pending.

The Senate bill does not include the religion-based hiring provision, although the language is likely to be offered as an amendment when the bill comes to a vote, as it was in the House.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Sheehan's not only a Commie,

she's now a criminal, too

Cindy Sheehan arrested at White House (AP) Posted by Picasa

This should rile up the right-wing. The WashPost reports:

By Daniela Deane and Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writers

Cindy Sheehan, the grieving California mother of a soldier slain in Iraq, was arrested today while protesting the Iraq war outside the White House.

Sheehan, whose 24-year-old son Casey was killed last year, and several dozen other protesters staged a sit-in on the sidewalk on Pennsylvania Avenue after marching along the pedestrian walkway, the Associated Press reported. Police warned them three times that they had to move along before making arrests, the news agency said.

"The whole world is watching," protesters chanted as Sheehan was led to a police vehicle.

Sheehan and some 200 other protesters sat in circles on the sidewalk,apparently courting arrest. Hundreds more people rallied in Lafayette Park, across Pennsylvania Avenue.

Sheehan's arrest came after a massive antiwar demonstration Saturday in Washington which drew more than 100,000 people -- the largest such demonstration since the Iraq war began in spring 2003. A demonstration supporting the war drew roughly 500 people Sunday.

Hmmm, 100,000 to 500. Would you call the supporters of the war the Silent Minority?

Bryan Kennedy TV spot highlights

Sensenbrenner vote on Katrina relief

Democrat Bryan Kennedy, who's challenging Rep. F. Us Sensenbrenner for Congress again next year, has unveiled a new television commercial which you can view here. It began airing today, is scheduled to run a week, and a fundraising campaign is underway to keep it on the air.

It apppears to be the first commercial by any '06 House candidate in the country.

It contrasts Sensenbrenner's vote to spend money on the Iraq war and for tsunami relief -- to send money overseas -- against his refusal to vote for an appropriation for relief for Hurricane Katrina victims here at home.

A female narrator says, “When President Bush needed billions of dollars to help rebuild Iraq…Jim Sensenbrenner said “yes”. When the Tsunami hit Asia…Jim Sensenbrenner voted again to send our money overseas. But when fellow Americans on the Gulf Coast needed help…Jim Sensenbrenner turned his back on them and voted “NO”.

Kennedy finishes the spot on-camera, saying "Saying no to our fellow Americans in need is just wrong."

Hat tip: My DD.

"Wrong but not heartless?"

The Journal Sentinel editorial board has chastized the Wisconsin Democratic Party for calling Rep. F. Jim Sensenbrenner "heartless" for his vote against aid to victims of Hurricane Katrina.

The Democrats did make that charge in a Sept. 9 news release and another on Sept. 14.

But I am happy to shoulder some of the blame. I think I'm the one who used the word first, in this Sept. 9 post. For good measure, I threw in uncaring and unfeeling, too. I said then, in part:
F. James Sensenbrenner, as a member of Congress, has the opportunity to do something in his official capacity. But he has refused.

I don't know what he has done personally to help victims. I hope he has been generous. He certainly has the means, if he chose, to write a million dollar check. Maybe he and Cheryl are preparing their extra rooms right now to take in some survivors. I hope so.

But it is his role in the House of Representatives that is at issue.

His title is Representative. But who does he represent?

Does his vote represent the people of his district?

Are we to believe that the people of Cedarburg, Whitefish Bay, Shorewood, River Hills, Wauwatosa, West Bend, Mequon, Brown Deer, and other communities in his district wanted him to vote no?

Do you think the people of his district want to turn their backs on the survivors of Katrina?

Of course they don't.

So who is it, exactly, that Representative Sensenbrenner is representing?

It's not the Republican Party. Only 11 Republicans voted against the bill. It's certainly not his leader, President Bush, who asked for the money.

I'm hard-pressed to explain. Any possible answer seems too callous to be true.

Is he representing the super-rich, who stand to benefit from proposed tax cuts that may never happen now because of the cost of Katrina? You'd like to think not, since he is one of the potential beneficiaries of the tax cut.

If and when he explains himself, I suspect we will learn that he is representing some misguided, esoteric principle that only he can understand.
I've seen no evidence since then to suggest that I was wrong. Maybe he's had some privqte chats with the editorial board, but Sensenbrenner has done nothing to demonstrate any compassion for the victims, and has continued to oppose any relief, even in the bankruptcy laws. He has complained about accountability, but proposed nothing to improve it, He just voted no. In a radio interview, asked if he was uncaring, Sensenbrenner said he cared about money being spent wisely.

If the Journal Sentinel has seen some evidence I missed, I'd be happy to hear about it. The newspaper attributes his votes to "philosophical inner voices speaking to Sensenbrenner." So now he's hearing voices?

The latest report is that Sensenbrenner has resigned, after two days, from a panel the Republicans named to "investigate" the response to Katrina. Why? Too busy, schedule conflicts, the usual. Or maybe he just didn't care.

GOP demagoguery on voter ID

A Journal Sentinel Sunday editorial goes on at some length, and in some detail, about why the Republican obsession with photo ID cards for voters won't solve any of the real problems with Wisconsin's election system.

But the headline pretty much says it all: "Demagoguery on voter ID"

Xoff Files from last Friday: Just like Abominable No Man, GOP has
one answer for everything: Photo ID.

Chicken sandwich with the gov doesn't

compare to Walker's $19,000 in freebies

The Sykes-McBride Mutual Admiration Society has collaborated to raise questions about a cookout Gov. Jim Doyle held for the Capitol press corps last week. They ask: If some of the reporters got a free sandwich, isn't that the same as Milwaukee County Exec Scott Walker giving out free tickets to Milwaukee attractions?


I was afraid the Walker story was over, but Sykes, McBride, and their bosom buddy Rick Graber, the GOP chair, have revived the whole issue. So let's just refresh our collective memory.

Doyle is charged with giving a free meal at the executive residence to reporters who were too cheap to pay for it. Many of them did cough up a few bucks to cover it, but some ate for free, we're told.

(Some news organizations are squeaky clean and make sure their reporters always pay their own way. Others are a little looser. The ones who got a free meal promised the Doyle press office a favorable story this week about the topic of Doyle's choice. Kidding.) This is roughly equivalent to reporters visiting candidate hospitality rooms at state political conventions, where there might be a free piece of cheese, ice cream cone, sloppy joe or even a beer to be had.

Walker, on the other hand, gave away $19,000 worth of free tickets to Milwaukee County attractions. He did it in connection with a statewide Harley ride that stopped in every television market that covers Wisconsin, ostensibly as a way to promote tourism but also as a way to get his mug on television and increase his name recognition as he cranked up his campaign for governor.

Does anyone but me see a difference between a $7 or $10 meal and $19,000 worth of freebies, or am I just being partisan?

There's another, even bigger difference, however, between what Walker's statewide extravaganza and Doyle's little picnic.

Walker didn't limit his largesse to the media. He also gave freebies to others along the route.

I wrote about that in a post in July:

Let's talk for a minute about the freebies that Walker, a candidate for governor, gave to people who were not in the news media, during his now-famous Harley tour of Wisconsin media markets last month.

Walker's main defense has been that the whole trip was to promote Milwaukee tourism, not his campaign for governor, and that he was giving free tickets to the news media to help bring tourists to Milwaukee County. He also pointed out more than once that the county and state ethics boards and state election board had told him it was OK.

The ethics and elections boards signed off on the premise that the tickets were going to the media. But what about the non-media tickets? Who got them? Was that OK, too?

Let's start with who got free tickets, from documents released in an open records request:

Kutter Harley-Davidson, Janesville -- 8 NASCAR, 4 Summerfest, 6 State Fair, 2 US Bank golf championship.

Kegel's Harley-Davidson, Rockford -- 6 Art Museum, 4 Mexican Fiesta, 12 NASCAR, 5 Children's museum, 6 State Fair, 2 Irish Fest, 10 Indian Summer, 2 Pettit Ice Center.

Kathy Kopp, executive director, Platteville Chamber of Commerce -- 10 Indian Summer, 4 Pettit Ice Center, 4 Art Museum, 4 Zoo, 5 Children's Museum.

George Krueger, Platteville Area Industrial Development Corp. -- 4 NASCAR, 2 State Fair.

St. Paul Harley-Davidson -- 10 Indian Summer, 2 US Bank golf, 8 Parks, 5 Children's Museum, 4 NASCAR, 2 Mexican Fiesta.

GM Tomahawk Plant -- 4 NASCAR, 2 Summerfest, 2 US Bank golf, 2 Indian Summer.

OK, those are not media outlets, agreed? Some are listed as businesses. But people -- owners or employees, probably -- not businesses, ended up with the tickets.

Did any agency ever tell Walker it was OK to give freebies to people (if they live in Wisconsin, the term would be voters)?

Well, no, because he didn't ask them that question.
It's probably because he doesn't want to know the answer. The thing is, it is illegal as well as unethical for a candidate for office in Wisconsin to give anything of value (beyond an emery board or a football schedule) to a voter.

McBride makes another real stretch in comparing Doyle's party for the press with a reception the Tavern League held for legislators -- a $5 "all you can eat and drink until you puke, pass out or get arrested for drunken driving" affair that got the Tavern League in some hot water. A lobbying organization plying legislators with food and drink is a whole different ball game.

Newspaper, CRG weigh in as

recall vote nears in Jefferson

Tuesday is election day in Jefferson, where Wal-Mart supporters have forced a vote on whether to recall Alderman Dave Olsen, who voted against an annexation to clear the way for a superstore.

As you might expect, there has been a lot of last-minute activity -- a newspaper endorsement, an "opinion" by Citizens for Responsible Government (now the CRG Network), and a fund-raising appeal on Olsen's behalf. As background, we'll also run the transcript of a Bill Moyers television program on the issue last year. Here we go:

OLSEN ENDORSED. The local newspaper, the Daily Jefferson County Union, endorsed Olsen in a Friday editorial. We are told it is the first time the paper has ever endorsed in a local race. The newspaper has opposed Wal-Mart, and paid a price when the city council moved its legal advertising to another newspaper in retaliation. (The Wal-Mart backers play hardball.) The editorial:

Keep Olsen on council

The City of Jefferson has one of those election rarities next Tuesday: a vote to recall Alderman Dave Olsen. Recall elections are a safety net under our system of government, typically reserved for situations in which an elected official has violated or otherwise lost the public trust.

Unfortunately, they are being used more and more in attempts to remove elected officials who have offended some special interest faction or another. Such is the case in Jefferson. Councilman Olsen is facing a recall not for malfeasance in office or some infraction, but for having the audacity to vote the way he thought best represented his constituents.

The Walworth County district attorney's office found the main charge in the recall petition against Olsen - an alleged violation of the state's open meetings law - to be without merit. Following an informal review, Wisconsin's attorney general also found no violation.

For people who understand the intent and letter of the open meetings law, these decisions weren't a surprise. The intent is that the decision-making process leading up to government actions occur in the full view of voters. Olsen's "crime," in this case, was to cede his question time to fellow Jefferson citizens at what was listed as an "informational meeting" with Wal-Mart officials. This was the only public participation that took place at the meeting and, as the Walworth County assistant D.A. pointed out, the public notice of the meeting did not limit who would be involved with the discussion.

The next night, Olsen cast one of three deciding votes against annexing land from the Town of Jefferson into the city - land that was proposed for the Supercenter, but not committed for by Wal-Mart. The property owners seeking the annexation of the Town of Jefferson property submitted the open meetings complaint.
Soon, a group led by two ardent pro-Wal-Mart advocates, called the "Coalition for the Best Jefferson," circulated a recall petition listing an unspecified open meetings violation, as well a catch-all line claiming that Olsen "failed to act in the best interest of Jefferson."

We often find ourselves on the opposite side of issues from Mr. Olsen, but his is one of the public's most accessible members of the council. He doesn't deserve having to face a whispering campaign concerning charges that died quickly when exposed to the light of day.

If this is really about Wal-Mart, which we believe it is, then the petitioners should have said so in the document. Of course, it is possible that then they might have had trouble gathering enough signatures if that had been stated up front. If there were other reasons for forcing the recall, they should have been specified so they could have been addressed publicly.

We believe the public tolerates differing opinions if they are honest ones. Those who try to punish or silence people whose opinions they disagree with often harm themselves more than their target. They spend so much time circling the wagons that they forget the direction the wagon trains was taking in the first place. Unfortunately, of late, some in Jefferson have forgotten these simple truths.
We recommend keeping Dave Olsen on the council next Tuesday. More importantly though, we'd like to see a full slate of candidates on the ballot - including Chris Havill - when Olsen's and other aldermanic seats are up for election next spring...just a few short months away.

Unintended consequences

As readers of this column know, we have thought all along that a Wal-Mart would not be a positive impact on the area's future. In other places, people also feel that way, with Stoughton being the most recent community to turn down annexing land for the mega-retailer.

Earlier this year, we felt the majority of the Jefferson Common Council punished us for our editorial opinion by moving its legal notices from the Daily Union to a newspaper with a much smaller Jefferson circulation and higher legal advertising rates. We think they though that move would cause us to cut back our coverage. Well, obviously, it didn't.

On top of that, since the council moved the legals, our Jefferson circulation - as of Sept. 21 - has gone up 153 copies a day.

The law of unintended consequences still holds.

Supporters of Olsen have launched an e-mail campaign and website with information and a link to make donations to his campaign. It's at SavingDave.
The Capital Times writes about the recall.

CRG network, the most pro-recall organization in the state, was asked for an opinion on the Olsen race. In guarded language that did not come right out and say it, the group suggested the Olsen recall is not well-founded. From the release:

CRG Network generally opines in favor of recalls regardless of the reason and would very likely have offered our assistance to the Petitioners had they requested it. Recalls are somewhat analogous to the "vote of confidence" procedure in parliamentary systems but with a significantly higher standard for initiation, especially in Wisconsin. They also are self-limiting in that they ultimately reflect the will of the people. Recalls for poor reasons rarely, if ever, succeed.

Nevertheless, we are troubled by the fact that the petition in this case bore a reason for recall that was ultimately proven to be untrue. State statutes do not require the reason to be true and many reasons for recall can never be proved or disproved. However, the integrity of the recall process requires that if the reason given is a simple matter of law that can be adjudicated in a reasonable amount of time, Petitioners should make every effort to wait for final adjudication before proceeding or select a different reason for recall. Given the flexibility of the statutes, this is not an unreasonable burden.

We also are concerned that a recall petition was offered primarily because citizens, regardless of their beliefs, were given a chance to speak. While we sympathize with citizens who felt deprived of the opportunity to offer opposing points of view, we question whether any of the citizen input had a measurable effect on the outcome of any votes. Although we do not condone such practices, at worst, we see this as a case of being politically outmaneuvered. Any Wal-Mart advocate on the Common Council could have also arranged to yield their time as well.

Regardless of the above, CRG Network still believes wide latitude should be given to all Petitioners and, despite serious reservations about its reasons and execution, would not suggest this recall be halted. Moreover, given that the recall election will proceed as scheduled, our opinion is already rendered moot. We would, however, caution all citizens of the City of Jefferson to carefully examine their motives before voting, especially if you signed the petition under the false impression that a violation of state law was committed. You have all been given another chance to speak. Do so in the most informed way possible.

Finally, in case you haven't heard enough about Jefferson and its politics, Bill Moyers asks whether class war is being fought in Jefferson:

"When you visit a place like Jefferson, Wisconsin you are on the front lines of America's class war. Working people are losing this war, as privileged elites arrange the rules to perpetuate their own advantage." -- Bill Moyers.
The struggle over Wal-Mart in Jefferson has been going on for more than a year. This transcript from the Oct. 22, 2004 "NOW" with Bill Moyers on PBS explained the split in the community. With a recall election scheduled for Tuesday, spurred in large part by Wal-Mart backers, it seems like a good time to revisit the story. Sylvia Chase is the reporter.

SYLVIA CHASE: . . . [T]here is another Arkansas traveler bearing down on them: Wal-Mart. Wisconsin has become saturated with them -- Jefferson has 10 stores little more than a 20-minute drive away. Yet, Wal-Mart intends to put down roots in this Jefferson cornfield -- a 150,000 square-foot supercenter, groceries included.

DAVE LORBECKI (at Wal-Mart meeting): My question is do we really need another super Wal-Mart center every 10 miles apart?

SYLVIA CHASE: A town meeting grew tense when opponents charged that the discount giant hurts local business.

SPEAKER 1: A company that all the care about is the profit the bottom dollar, making their own people rich.

SPEAKER 2: Why would we want an emblem of urban sprawl here in this small community.

SYLVIA CHASE: There are studies that conclude that two supermarkets will close for every new supercenter that opens.

That when Wal-Mart's open, some small communities have lost up to 47% of their retail trade after 10 years.

JOHN BISIO: Wal-Mart provides a very competitive wage and benefits package.

SYLVIA CHASE: John Bisio, a company executive from Arkansas dismissed criticisms of Wal-Mart as a campaign of disinformation. The company sent us other studies concluding that new Wal-Mart's do not hurt communities but add to local employment and payrolls.

JOHN BISIO: Nationally our average hourly wage is about ten dollars, it's $9.96 an hour.

FEMALE VOICE: There are no big industries banging on our door to come here. Nineteen and 20 dollar industrial jobs are not coming to Jefferson. Wal-Mart would like to be here.

SYLVIA CHASE: A lot of people in Jefferson are enthusiastic about taking advantage of those low Wal-Mart prices and cannot understand how Jefferson could turn its back on those new jobs.

JOYCE KIRKVOLD: We need jobs here very badly. And I know that they aren't fantastically paying jobs, but they are - there'll be over 300 jobs for the community.

SYLVIA CHASE: Joyce Kirkvold and her friends collected a couple thousand signatures on their pro-Wal-Mart petition. She says she cannot find what she needs on Main Street and that Jefferson mustn't stay locked in the past. At the same time, she doesn't believe Wal-Mart will hurt Main Street.

JOYCE KIRKVOLD: The people in small towns are very loyal. And they'll continue shopping at those merchants if the merchants offer them a fair value for their price.

PATTI LORBECKI: If you're at Wal-Mart and you're pickin' up whatever you need at Wal-Mart and you need a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk, I would stake my life on it that you're not gonna drive across town and come to our store to pick up those two things. And even losing sales like that is gonna be detrimental for us.

SYLVIA CHASE: It has been said that Wal-Mart makes its own weather. Well, when the weather turns stormy, little Main Street guys fear being blown away. Shop owners were reluctant to speak on the record, but there's hardly a place of business whose goods and services aren't duplicated at Wal-Mart. Remember Elmer Waldmann?

ELMER WALDMANN: You know, we just lost our Converse account because we couldn't afford to buy what they wanted us to buy. You know so it's a problem. Company that we bought stuff from say "Well if you don't buy $3,000 a month, you know we can't serve you, ya know." So they're going top just all the biggies.

SYLVIA CHASE: You mean biggies like --.

ELMER WALDMANN: Well I would guess like Wal-mart, Kmart, ShopCo, any of those I think. Kohl's.

SYLVIA CHASE: Elmer Waldmann is Jefferson's unofficial historian -- in the back room his old computer is brimming with photos and clippings from the 19th century up to 1940. But he greets the future with a sigh of resignation.

ELMER WALDMANN: I think the handwritings on the wall, you know I think our city wants Wal-Mart to come-- but I-- it's gonna hurt a lot of us, it's probably gonna do a lot of damage to us. I don't know if we'll be able to survive through it.

DAVE LORBECKI: It really scares me.

SYLVIA CHASE: Scares you?

DAVE LORBECKI: Because where is the future for our children? What are they gonna do? So you know I have my children who have jobs right now. But the thing is where are my grandchildren gonna have. You know that's what I'm looking at basically.

BOB FLEMING: Look at the prices of houses. Houses run, what, $100 to $150,000? How do you pay for that at nine dollars an hour?

SYLVIA CHASE: And are you worried about your future or your--

BOB FLEMING: Am I? No. Uh-uh

SYLVIA CHASE: How about your son?

BOB FLEMING: He's got a lot to worry about. And Jon's even got a lot more.

SYLVIA CHASE: Bob Fleming is talking about his grandson, Jonny, who is likely to be the first son to break with a family tradition. Instead of going to the factory, he wants to go to college.

JONNY FLEMING: Because I don't want some big company to come in, take over a little factory and start shoving us around like Tyson did -- that's something I don't wanna see happen to my future family.

MIKE FLEMING: And I told him, "Jon, there's nothing out there for jobs. You can look at the papers all you want. You gotta get an education. You gotta get it now while you have a chance."

SYLVIA CHASE: But Jonny is already working at one of America's booming, low wage industries -- fast food.

Three generations of Flemings. Three job pictures:

Grandpa Bob, $33 per hour

Son Mike, $13.10 per hour, wages frozen for four years.

Grandson, Jonny, $5.90 per hour.

Male college graduates are expected to earn as much as 50% more than men with just high school diplomas, but for the moment, Jonny needs to keep working at Burger King to pay off his car loan and save for college.

JONNY: I wanna at least just work a year. And then try to go to college, if I can.

SYLVIA CHASE: Jonny does not see Jefferson in his future. For others, it seems like the right place to stay, whatever happens.

SYLVIA CHASE: I guess these people are willing to sacrifice the grocery store, the hardware store, the jewelry store to have a Wal-Mart where they get good, cheap stuff.

PATTI LORBECKI: I guess my answer would be, "No." I'm-- I'm not willing to do that. And-- I-- I wish people could look into a crystal ball and maybe see ten years from now what-- what's gonna happen.

SYLVIA CHASE: Elmer Waldmann believes he already knows. He measures Jefferson's future in each swing of the wrecking ball.

ELMER WALDMANN: And they tore the Opera House down. And then they tore those buildings down and made a parking lot out of it. So you know there goes some more places. So-- you know it's just an erosion of businesses that there's not many left. When you're a historian and you remember those things it's-- quite a loss, you know

SYLVIA CHASE: And when you are a thirty-one years old and jobless, you are "living" history. Kurt Bubolz believes he's watching his hometown fade away.

KURT BUBOLZ: You know, you can make it on $8.50, maybe right now, you're barely scraping by. But every year, we see things go up. You know, the heat bills are rising, the gas bills are rising. You know, right now, we've got this huge gas crunch. You know, we've got gas going, you know, $2.00 a gallon, maybe even more. People in this town, you hear 'em talk about just how tight it's getting. And eventually, there's not gonna be enough there.

MOYERS: When you visit a place like Jefferson, Wisconsin you are on the front lines of America's class war. Working people are losing this war, as privileged elites arrange the rules to perpetuate their own advantage.

Take the Wal-Mart empire as a case in point: the research group Good Jobs first found that the world's largest retailer with nearly $9 billion in profits has received more than one billion dollars in tax breaks, free land, cash grants and other subsidies from state and local governments. Its low-wage employees often turn to food stamps, emergency rooms, and other publicly funded programs just to scrape by.

The study estimates the average payout to a Wal-Mart retail store at $2.8 million. Surely one reason those small businesses on Main Street in Jefferson can't compete with the colossus from Arkansas.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Folkbum, Folkbum, he's our man ...

Congratulations to Jay Bullock, whose blog,Folkbum's Rambles and Rants, won the semi-final round of the blog contest at MKEOnline, with the help of the Cheddarsphere's vast left-wing conspiracy.

All together now: Gimme an F ...

This week's contest includes two blogs from the left side of the Cheddarsphere (that's a Folkbum term): Watchdog Milwaukee and Sadie Says. Check them out.

Safire, Hillary hiss and make up

From ABC News' The Note, reporting on a roast of Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.):

Bill Safire and Hillary Clinton showed that they could play nice.

Back in 1996, Safire wrote in his New York Times column: "Americans of all political persuasions are coming to the sad realization that our First Lady — a woman of undoubted talents who was a role model for many in her generation — is a congenital liar."

Mike McCurry, the White House spokesman at the time, responded to Safire's column by saying: "The President, if he were not the President, would have delivered a more forceful response to that on the bridge of Mr. Safire's nose."

At last night's event, Safire recycled his joke that what he meant to write was that Hillary Clinton was a "congenial lawyer."

When the former First Lady took the podium, she said that what her husband really thought was: "what pathetic prose."

The delivery of the attack on Safire's cherished talent, as well as the accompanying icy glare, were (if not Emmy-award winning) certainly worthy of a statuette nomination. The crowd clearly scored the exchange a KO for Clinton, as apparently did Safire, who we're told went straight up to her after the event with everything but a white flag and conceded something to the effect of, "that was a really quick and impressive quip."

Friday, September 23, 2005

When direct deposit is not an option

As I read this, I could not help but think of the announcement by FEMA, two weeks ago, that it was not giving out any more debit cards but would offer people two options -- a check by mail (if they had an address to send it to) or -- better yet -- a direct bank deposit.

Here's a story about the bank many New Orleans evacuees relied on:

BATON ROUGE, La., Sept. 19 - In the period that some simply call "before," employees working at the Liberty Bank and Trust Company headquarters, a six-story glass box in eastern New Orleans, sat at brand-new workstations in a building they had occupied only this past spring.

At Liberty Bank, the largest minority-owned bank in New Orleans, looters broke into at least five of the branches in the city, including two that were not flooded during Hurricane Katrina.

Now, the head office for this $350 million bank is a cramped branch here, a homely brick building with a corner of its corrugated tin roof missing. Two bank employees, seated on beat-up borrowed chairs behind a pair of folding tables, serve as the loan department for the bank's 13 branches. The table beside them is the one-employee insurance department. Four tables pushed together in the room's middle accommodate a makeshift call center.

At least now Liberty has working phones. It was not until 10 days after the hurricane hit on Aug. 29 that BellSouth installed temporary phone lines so that customers, virtually all of them in desperate financial straits, could find out when the bank would lift the temporary $100-a-day limit on A.T.M. withdrawals that lasted through Sept. 8.

Liberty, one of the country's largest black-owned banks, has long been a gleaming New Orleans business success story, a homegrown institution in a predominantly African-American city. It has outposts here and in Jackson, Miss., but its branches are mainly concentrated in the northeastern quadrant of New Orleans, a vastly underserved part of the city, home to its black working and middle classes.

Liberty's presence, in other words, was greatest precisely in that part of New Orleans most devastated by the storm and the waters that roared through much of the city after the levees broke.

Quote, unquote

"The only thing that stands between us and the White House in 2008 is Bob Shrum."

--Former Commerce Secretary Bill Daley, at a roast for Rep. Rahm Emanuel.

Just like Abominable No Man, GOP has

one answer for everything: Photo ID

Even if you watch television as little as I do, which is very little, you have probably been exposed multiple times to the credit card commercial in which "customer service" representative only has to know one answer: "No!"

Call him the Abominable No Man. He has an answer for any customer question or complaint. No, no, and no.

For some reason, that came to mind when I was reading the latest Wisconsin Republican Party press release about voter fraud.

Republicans, like the No Man, have one single answer for every problem with Wisconsin's electoral system.

People voting twice? Photo ID cards.

Absentee ballots counted after people died? Photo ID cards.

Felons voting? Photo ID cards.

Local clerks not purging voter lists? Photo ID cards.

Photo ID, photo ID, photo ID.

(The right wing seems to be trying to adopt Gen. Russel Honore's "stuck on stupid" line as their own; they liked it because he said it to reporters. But the GOP is stuck on stupid about this issue, among others. Either that or they think the voters are stuck on stupid and will buy their BS.)

Let's take the latest blatant untruth from the GOP, Thursday's release, entitled,
"Jury Trial Indicates Photo ID Would Have Prevented Man's Attempt to Vote Twice"

No, no, no. Photo ID would not have prevented it. Not at all. No.

From the release:
The trial of a man charged with voting twice in the Nov. ‘04 elections is strong evidence that a photo ID requirement would have prevented such behavior from occurring. The 25-year-old Milwaukee man testified that he filled two on-site voter registration cards.

The man actually lived at an address different than the one he said he entered one of his registration forms (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, September 22, 2005). According to the Assistant U.S. Attorney who is trying the case, the man’s two registration cards each show different numbers. Election officials at the trial said a number means a voter was given a ballot.

“Here is a case where photo ID would prevent someone from casting a ballot fraudulently,” said Rick Graber, chairman of the Republican Party of Wisconsin. “The man did not live at the address he said he did and a photo ID requirement would have stopped him from voting at that address.

The only way that would be true is if the Republicans are talking about sweeping changes that go far beyond the requirement to have a photo ID card to prove you are who you say you are.

The real Republican agenda isn't simply to require voters to show a photo ID. It is to require them to show a photo ID with their current address, which means getting your driver's license or ID changed every time you move. About 20% of people in the US move every year; some move more than once.

And it is no secret that most people don't change the address on their driver's license every time they move -- or if they do, they don't do it promptly.

The second part of the GOP agenda is to end voter registration at the polls -- even though 20% of the voters in the 2004 presidential election in Wisconsin -- 390,000 people -- used that system. Guess who's most likely to register at the polls? You guessed it; the same people who are less likely to have a current photo ID card -- minorities and the poor, who are part of the Democratic base.

This is a little complicated, but bear with me a minute if you haven't nodded off yet.

To understand what the GOP is trying to do, you have to understand how the current system works.

When we talk about election day registration, in many cases we are talking about people who are on the voting rolls, but who have moved since the last time they voted. Those people are required to fill out a registration card with their new information and their old address, and to show the poll worker some proof of their new address. New voters who are not on the rolls must show ID to show who they are and where they live.

I worked at the on-site registration table at a South Side polling place last November. Most of the people who were registering or changing their addresses had a driver's license. But in many cases that license had their previous address. My co-worker and I copied the number of the license onto the registration card, and then -- if the license had an old address -- asked for some other proof of their new address. They produced utility bills, leases, rent receipits, bank statements and a variety of other documents to show they lived where they were registering.

If the system had been working as it should, the defendant in this case would not have been able to vote twice at two different addresses, photo ID or not. What is needed is more and better-trained poll workers to endorce the current law.

But the facts don't matter to the Republicans, whose goal is to suppress turnout. Dem Party Chair Joe Wineke hit it on the head when he said, "Republicans are not interested in election reform; their real goal is to prevent as many people as possible from voting."

If the only way you can vote in Wisconsin is to show a photo ID with your current address, they certainly will have accomplished that.

Of course, even with that system in place there would be nothing to prevent someone who has moved from voting at his or her old address -- the one on the photo ID.

And there would be nothing to prevent felons from voting. No one is claiming they used false names. They simply voted when they should not have been allowed to, and no photo ID would have solved that problem, either.

So the "debate" continues.

Photo ID! Photo ID! Photo ID!

No. No. No.

POSTSCRIPT: The jury could not reach a verdict in the case the GOP used as its latest example, and a mistrial was declared. Reminds me of the news conference outside the home of a voter accused of double voting, who turned out to be innocent, one of a series of false charges of voter fraud.

Racine Repubs: Having it both ways

Racine Republicans got their undies in a bundle when State Rep. John Lehman, D-Racine, announced he was going to run against State Sen. Cathy Stepp, R-Racine, and said he wanted to bring more jobs to Racine, and criticized Stepp in his press release.

The party chair, Roseanne Kuemmel, said Stepp has been working hard to create jobs and everything is going great guns in Racine as a result.

A few days later, County Board Supervisor Van Wanggaard announced for Lehman's Assembly seat. His platform: “Racine County needs someone in Madison who will focus on doing everything possible to bring good paying jobs to our community."

What about Cathy Stepp?

GOP porkers won't back away from trough

The Washington Times, part of the vast right-wing conspiracy, reports:
The top House Democrat [Nancy Pelosi] said yesterday she would give up some specific transportation projects in her San Francisco district to help pay for Hurricane Katrina, but Majority Leader Tom DeLay said he doesn't think cutting projects in his district is a good idea.

"The highway bill is an important part of building our economy," Mr. DeLay said. "You cannot have a strong economy unless you have a strong infrastructure."
That's DeLay, rhymes with Pay to Play.

Meanwhile, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) told a reporter to "Kiss my ear!" when asked whether he would return the $223 million he “earmarked” for a bridge so that residents of Ketchikan won’t have to pay $6 to ride a ferry to get to the airport.

Could you make a silk purse out of Don Young's ear?

Citizens Against Government Waste named Young and DeLay as C0-Porkers of the Month.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

"We had nothing before the hurricane;

now we got less than nothing"

This is two weeks old, but new to me and well worth reading.

There is a video link here.

Statement of Senator Barack Obama (right) on Hurricane Katrina Relief Efforts

I just got back from a trip to Houston with former Presidents Clinton and Bush. And as we wandered through the crowd, we heard in very intimate terms the heart-wrenching stories that all of us have witnessed from a distance over the past several days: mothers separated from babies, adults mourning the loss of elderly parents, descriptions of the heat and filth and fear of the Superdome and the Convention Center.

There was an overriding sense of relief, for the officials in Houston have done an outstanding job of creating a clean and stable place for these families in the short-term. But a conversation I had with one woman captured the realities that are settling into these families as they face the future.

She told me "We had nothing before the hurricane. Now we got less than nothing."

We had nothing before the hurricane. Now we got less than nothing.

In the coming weeks, as the images of the immediate crisis fade and this chamber becomes consumed with other matters, we will be hearing a lot about lessons learned and steps to be taken. I will be among those voices calling for action.

In the most immediate term, we will have to assure that the efforts at evacuating families from the affected states proceeds - that these Americans are fed, clothed, housed, and provided with the immediate care and medicine that they need. We're going to have to make sure that we cut through red tape. I can say from personal experience how frustrating, how unconscionable it is, that it has been so difficult to get medical supplies to those in need quickly enough. We should make certain that any impediments that may continue to exist in preventing relief efforts from moving rapidly are eliminated.

Once we stabilize the situation, this country will face an enormous challenge in providing stability for displaced families over the months and years that it will take to rebuild. Already, the state of Illinois has committed to accepting 10,000 families that are displaced. There are stories in Illinois as there are everywhere of churches, mosques, synagogues and individual families welcoming people with open arms and no strings attached. Indeed, if there's any bright light that has come out of this disaster, it's the degree to which ordinary Americans have responded with speed and determination even as their government has responded with unconscionable ineptitude.

Which brings me to the next point. Once the situation is stable, once families are settled - at least for the short term - once children are reunited with their parents and enrolled in schools and the wounds have healed, we're gonna have to do some hard thinking about how we could have failed our fellow citizens so badly, and how we will prevent such a failure from ever occurring again.

It is not politics to insist that we have an independent commission to examine these issues. Indeed, one of the heartening things about this crisis has been the degree to which the outrage has come from across the political spectrum; across races; across incomes. The degree to which the American people sense that we can and must do better, and a recognition that if we cannot cope with a crisis that has been predicted for decades - a crisis in which we're given four or five days notice - how can we ever hope to respond to a serious terrorist attack in a major American city in which there is no notice, and in which the death toll and panic and disruptions may be far greater?

Which brings me to my final point. There's been much attention in the press about the fact that those who were left behind in New Orleans were disproportionately poor and African American. I've said publicly that I do not subscribe to the notion that the painfully slow response of FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security was racially-based. The ineptitude was colorblind.

But what must be said is that whoever was in charge of planning and preparing for the worst case scenario appeared to assume that every American has the capacity to load up their family in an SUV, fill it up with $100 worth of gasoline, stick some bottled water in the trunk, and use a credit card to check in to a hotel on safe ground. I see no evidence of active malice, but I see a continuation of passive indifference on the part of our government towards the least of these.

And so I hope that out of this crisis we all begin to reflect - Democrat and Republican - on not only our individual responsibilities to ourselves and our families, but to our mutual responsibilities to our fellow Americans. I hope we realize that the people of New Orleans weren't just abandoned during the Hurricane. They were abandoned long ago - to murder and mayhem in their streets; to substandard schools; to dilapidated housing; to inadequate health care; to a pervasive sense of hopelessness.

That is the deeper shame of this past week - that it has taken a crisis like this one to awaken us to the great divide that continues to fester in our midst. That's what all Americans are truly ashamed about, and the fact that we're ashamed about it is a good sign. The fact that all of us - black, white, rich, poor, Republican, Democrat - don't like to see such a reflection of this country we love, tells me that the American people have better instincts and a broader heart than our current politics would indicate.

We had nothing before the Hurricane. Now we have even less.

I hope that we all take the time to ponder the truth of that message.