January 31, 2010
Rumors that the speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly, Mike Sheridan, was about to quit or be forced to walk the plank by his fellow Democrats have been scotched. Turns out, according to Sheridan, that a group of lobbyists was behind the effort to get a more lobbyist-friendly speaker. He "accused lobbyist opponents of regulation of pay-day loans" (limiting interest to 36 percent) of starting rumors he was headed for the door. The issue is one we have hollering about all year. Rumor had it that the Mafia charged less than 36 percent when I was a kid.
As you know, Wisconsin is the only state that does not cap interest fees for pay-day loan operations. AP reports that more than two dozen lobbyists have been hired to defeat this modest measure. Sheridan has not been a crusader for the bill, having referred it to Representative Jason Fields's committee--and, believe it--Fields opposes any cap! I am not joking.
But Sheridan told bill sponsor Gordon Hintz that there will be a vote on the bill this year. Odds are it will pass once on the floor. "How dare he!" was the lobbyist challenge. "Fire him. Establish some discipline!"
Now, Mike, name names of the lobbyists so we can tell the people. This is blackmail and must be stopped. You took the flak, now it is our turn. Just wait until the governor hears about this!
Back to school, Paul: Paul Ryan stood to face the president. He was deferential as he laid out his radical, albeit idiotic, plan to help the wealthy get more while we take less. Frank Rich dismissed GOP plans as idiocies. Rich wrote, "Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin congressman hailed as the Republicans’ new intellectual hope, laid out a lengthy 'G.O.P. Road Map for America’s Future' on The Wall Street Journal op-ed page that proposed cutting taxes (disproportionately for the wealthy) and privatizing Medicare and Social Security but devoted no bullet point to creating jobs for Americans in urgent need," and on and on. I think Ryan was as serious as a self-described millionaire "intellectual" in the party of Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin can be. But clear the decks folks, the GOP wrecking ball is poised to privatize everything from sidewalks to social security.
Please read Joel McNally this morning--right on, Joel!
January 30, 2010
We have suggested for years that Congress should establish an American version of the British "question time" and so should the Wisconsin Legislature. You have seen it on public TV: The Prime Minister goes into the well of Parliament to answer questions from MPs of all parties. It is fun, often riveting, full of suspense and it brings people into the debate in a meaningful way. Yesterday Barack Obama went to the Republican caucus (the well). He stood and answered questions. It was civil, instructive, and might lead to action.
At times it was humorous, at times tense, but at all times it beat hell out of a FOX News distortion of what was said. Obama did not use a TelePrompter and I think he won the day. The Republicans will look foolish if they continue to claim that they lack understanding of the health reform package. If they need dialog--invite him back to the well.
Bopped! James Bopp, Justice Gableman's counsel and Wisconsin's Right to Life's counsel, has demanded a litmus or purity test for anyone seeking office as a Republican. It seems extreme because he is, but the idea has some merit. Somewhere between demanding support for a party's platform and the Bopp test makes some sense. Every time I see Joe Lieberman grimace, I flip channels. Shouldn't Harry Reid do something about Mary Landrieu, Mo-Jo, and Ben Nelson? Why they call themselves Democrats is a mystery. To the well perhaps?
Arne Duncan: Secretary of Education Duncan said, "Katrina is the best thing that has happened to public schools in New Orleans." Whoa Arne, whoa. Even if you think it...
Did you feel inspired by the State of the Union speech? Good speech, but an hour too long, and too little passion. But compared to the Republican response--Gettysburg Address from Obama.
Telephone repairs pulled by right-wingers trying to tap Senator Landrieu's phones. Same people who set up ACORN. Prank? I don't think so.
January 29, 2010
First the good news--the MPS special legislative session is done, dead, gone. Not missing a chance to inflame passions, Mayor Barrett of Milwaukee, a gubernatorial candidate, had this to say: "It is unfortunate that the School Board raced to hire a Superintendent" before the Legislature was able to act on two proposals. (Memo to the mayor: Hell would have frozen first.) If that doesn't throw kerosene on the fire, try this line from Mayor Barrett: "The School Board decided to embrace the status quo at the expense if Milwaukee's children."
Jim Doyle said about the same thing, but no one I know thought Barrett would march lock-step behind Doyle as the plan went up in flames. But, yes, Tom Barrett said that in a news release. I'm not kidding.
Recall that Doyle threatened MPS and, indeed, all school districts that Wisconsin would lose out on untold millions of dollars from Obama's "Race to the Top" program designed to replace NCLB if we refused to eliminate the elected school board in Milwaukee. (I have to say the ham-handed handling of this threat may have been the strangest move by a Democratic governor in memory.)
To cap it off--it turns out Race to the Top has not been approved, is in trouble, and may itself also be dead. Me thinks Doyle is lucky the Legislature did not act. The New York Times reported, "Experts say it would be a heavy lift to get the job done this year." Sso much discord, so little time, not enough money available, as we fight two unwinable wars. Experts on both sides of the isle doubt that there can be a bill passed this year. If health is difficult, just watch the school funding debate.
All the more reason to ask, What in hell was Doyle thinking? More to the point, What was Barrett doing?
Alito: Was he intentionally insulting the president? He didn't use one of George Carlin's seven words, but his looks conveyed one of them. Pundits say he was insulting the president, but I think it is possible he had not figured out the impact of the awful decision to permit corporations to take over our electoral system until the speech, and he was whispering to himself, "We did that? No, c'mon!" Next words that may have flowed, "Whoa Nelly!"
Yesterday some said Alito lied during confirmation. Really?
Howard Zinn, we already miss you.
January 28, 2010
I admit it! Proudly.
Yes, it is true, I voted for a Republican. And, I now confess, more than once. Charles "Mac" Mathias, a neighbor in Chevy Chase, Maryland, and a good man, was our senator. He was a Republican the likes of which we may never see again as the pathetic Palin wing-nuts solidify control of a once-proud political party. Mathias believed in public financing of campaigns; he limited contributions to $100 (he would not like James Bopp); he fought against the Vietnam war; was in the trenches on civil rights--indeed he helped coax a reluctant JFK into the battle.
He tried his best to protect the environment. Today he would be well to the left of Harold Ford and the DLC crowd. "Too liberal" would be the cry of the Democratic Party leaders. Yes, too liberal. I prefer to think of him as a principled progressive in the tradition of LaFollette. Can you imagine his outrage at a Supreme Court granting First Amendment rights to corporations? I cannot.
Thank you, Charles Mac Mathias. Thank you for lifting the bar. Thanks for your civility. Thanks.
January 27, 2010
State of the prompter?
Well, the governor read his speech to a joint session last night. This was his last "State of the State" speech--as governor--or so he says. (God, it would have been fun to break the TelePrompTer with a hammer just before Doyle was introduced or, to do so tonight before Obama begins reading. How would they handle it?)
I have given lots of speeches, read a few, and have been with some great speakers who inspired crowds. I can't think of one inspirational speech that was read from a TelePrompTer. Ask--would we have been inspired by LaFollette or Gaylord or Jesse Jackson had they read from a TelePrompTer? I don't think so.
A speaker either engages the audience in front of him/her with words from the heart, or he usually becomes fascinated with the written words on the screen flying by. Even if they are his words, the speech appears to be the work of a committee. It lacks authenticity at a time when a cynical electorate tires of phony props.
I don't remember the first speech I watched aided by a TelePrompTer (LBJ?), but staffers don't work on substance and delivery any more--they have the speaker practice reading while they make last-minute corrections.
Wisconsin Public Televison reported that Doyle was "passionate" only about MPS and his plan for a mayoral takeover. What did we learn? Well, he did seem to talk about MPS with passion--seemed to stop reading. Can't say I liked his message, but that is hardly a news flash. It seemed real.
Presumably, his speech was available to supporters of the Doyle/Barrett takeover. "Coordinated" might be too strong. But this morning MJS editorialized that Milwaukee county should dissolve. The Greater Milwaukee Committee, same day, and the so-called Public Policy Forum, cried for MPS reform--bankruptcy, death or dissolution seem to be the only other options. (Wisconsin Public Television got ahead of the story by reporting Doyle would dissolve MPS.)
Keep your fingers crossed that Biden will hide the TelePrompTer tonight. A little talk from the heart, please!
January 26, 2010
Oh no! State of the Union, State of the State, State of the County...
I'll bet there are even mayors, members of Congress, corporate leaders and a hundred trade union leaders getting ready for grandiose pronouncements on the "condition" of their entity. Most will begin with a simple declarative--"The state of your___________(fill in the name) is" sound or excellent or great! Huzzah!
The gallery in the House of Representatives in Washington and Assembly chambers in Madison will be full of people who have been told to be there, and there will be the now-obligatory "surprise guests" to be introduced in mid-speech to make forgettable moments. Ronald Reagan on the national level and Tommy Thompson in Wisconsin perfected the usually sappy introductions.
All in all, we will hear much but learn little. Tonight our governor; tomorrow night our president. Major problems will be dismissed in a few words--there will be few memorable lines, but listen we must!
Jon Stewart of The Daily Show should move into the West Wing instead of David Plouffe. He gets the aloof Obama mystery. As presidential aids were setting up a TelePrompTer in a grade school class so Arne Dunken and the president could read a speech to the kids, Stewart yelled, "For god's sake, a TelePrompTer for a talk to 6th graders?"
More prescriptions for dealing with President Aloof's aloofness have poured in to FightingBob.
Colin Powell says, "He thinks like a lawyer, makes decisions like a lawyer." Maybe he should try making decisions like a football coach instead of a lawyer for this speech.
To learn more, read this from David Axelrod (I did not make this up): "This is someone (Obama) who in law school worked with professor Larry Tribe on a paper on the legal implications of Einstein's theory of relativity." Wow! David! Did he really? Was it published? Where can we get a copy? Did Tribe give him a grade? Did Obama fill out the teacher eval? Is it available?
Axelrod didn't pause. He went on as if building a resume for the guy. (Hey! David. He is the president. He doesn't have to pad his CV.)
"He does have an incisive mind; that mind is always put to use in pursuit of tangible things that are going to improve people's lives."
He reads more than Palin, surfs the net, studies memos, reads SI, gulps down The New Yorker (I wonder if he races through to read the cartoons or if he dives into poetry). He watches lots of TV, but, remember, his mind is always, always, put to use for us.
Spending freeze? The insiders tell us that the president will lurch to the right and declare a spending freeze! Yikes. Say it ain't true. Spending on the oh-so-popular wars will not be frozen; veteran benefits won't be frozen, but Race To The Top? Or helping states pay debts. Tough it out like AIG, GM, Goldman.
MPS: Sit before reading. The MPS School Board has hired a new superintendent of Milwauee public schools. What about the Doyle/Duncan/Barrett takeover? Don't ask, don't tell. Will the governor have his own pick in the gallery tonight? Dueling superintendents brought to you by WPTV? There is reason to watch. could be the start of a new series,
How about the Onion, Mr. President? Give it a try.
January 25, 2010
Bopp on top!
Years ago, Bob Newhart suggested that if you had an "infinite number of monkeys in front of an infinite number of typewriters, eventually, they will type all the great works of literature." Good for laughs, and it comes to mind as we try to cope with the Supreme Court's awful decision that corporations, unions, and ideological groups have a right to spend as much as they want supporting or opposing the election of candidates. WMC Gone Wild!
If not challenged vigorously, I see it as the end of democracy. The only hopeful note I have seen appeared on our site yesterday, where the always hopeful idealist and regular GuestBlogger Bill Kraus found a silver lining. "Granny D" was not so hopeful. She says, "The court now opens the flood gates to usher in a new tsunami of corporate money into politics." She is right--unfortunately. Kraus is not.
We have written about James Bopp of Terre Haute, Indiana, who has given his professional life to the notion that we are better off if unregulated corporations rule America. (Bopp represents Judge Gableman.) Bopp also represented Wisconsin Right to Life, and a front-page story in today's New York Times gives him the credit for this awful FEC decision. (You must read the article.)
Now, the NYT says the "next step is to roll back the disclosure rules." Bopp says, "Groups have to be relieved of reporting their donors if lifting the prohibition on their political speech is going to have any meaning." Huh? (So much for Bill Kraus's silver lining.) His approach would have defeated Julie Lassa in her action against Todd Rongstad. Then he and his infinite number of attorney-patrons will go to court and try to eliminate the application of libel laws to political campaigns. They have an infinite amount of money and computers--not typewriters.
(I suggest that Bopp probably thinks you should be able to shout "fire" in a crowded theater just for fun. The First Amendment be damned!)
Bopp got started in William F. Buckley's Young Americans for Freedom, supported by newspaper owner M. Stanton Evans. He was a soul-mate of Fulton Lewis III, and supported HUAC (Joe McCarthy types)! He hasn't changed, but now he has big money to pay all those lawyers.
Whoa Nelly! We are in for a ride.
January 24, 2010
As kids we played softball in the street almost every day. The rules were clearly understood. Most of us were out after three strikes; it was four balls for a walk; "99 fouls" and you were out! But one kid brought the bats, balls and gloves. He got more than three strikes. He remained at bat until he got a hit. He walked on three balls, and when he went home the game ended.
If there was a close call at home involving the bat owner the game ended early unless we accepted his version of the situation. He was the classic bully, and eventually we brought our own equipment and everyone obeyed the three-strike-four-ball rules.
Would that we could look at the Supreme Court's FEC decision with the simplicity of kids playing pick-up baseball. Bring our equipment--better candidates, grassroots campaigns, better ideas. But we can't win even if we do, because in the game of politics the big kids own the TV and radio studios; they have unlimited resources; they have the big law firms parading behind the flag of the First Amendment when the black flag of piracy would be more appropriate; and, well, let's face it, we now enter into the cesspool of corporate control. Ultimately, the big corporations will completely dominate our Legislature, Congress, the lower courts, the White House. They will re-district, decide who pays taxes and who doesn't. It is only a question of when not whether.
The Washington Post interviewed the $800-per-hour law firms--Foley & Lardner, Covington & Burling, Skadden Arps--who, surprise, surprise, urge us to be calm. One argued that these are tough economic times so big corporations won't jump in immediately. Some consolation! The bully will, for now, settle for a three-ball walk and only five strikes! Gosh! Are we lucky or what?
This decision, that corporations have the same First Amendment rights as a living, breathing, citizen, is contrived, loopy and wrong. But it will alter our politics completely. It has not been a fair fight for decades in our money-dominated-corrupt political system, but we could win. Grassroots mattered, the quality of the candidate was considered. Not any more.
Don't feel relaxed when the Washington crowd tells you the change is minor--it ain't. It is a game changer. It is rule-by-bully!
Well, we have no choice but to fight. See you at Fighting Bob Fest on September 11 in Baraboo.
January 23, 2010
Not since Plessy v. Ferguson, where the Supreme Court, in 1896, held that segregation was just dandy so long as there were "separate but equal" facilities available, and its forerunner, Dred Scott, where the "Supremes" held that slaves could never become citizens because they were not protected by the Constitution, has the court been so blatant, so arrogant, and so wrong.
How would you like to be an American soldier teaching a course in democracy in Afghanistan or Iraq? "Come to corporate-America! Everything is for sale!" Would you risk your life to save Goldman Sachs?
Some people, and all progressives, understand what the five wrecking balls have done. Some seem to think that there is a legislative fix out there in the weeds. The President used the "bi-partisan" call again. Yah, sure. The GOP will suddenly put country above self-interest.
Others I talked with said, in essence, "Hey! It's over! Drop out--fascism has come to America and we are helpless."
Bad time to counsel dropping out if you have kids and grandchildren. What would you say to them? How about, "Oops! Sorry we let them steal the presidential elections in 2000 and 2004. Oops! We let them appoint Alito and his cunning side-kick Roberts when we should have known what their game plan was." Is that the explanation you and I should feel comfortable with?
I don't think so. I advance a few ideas. First, this decision is so far-reaching it cannot stand. We do believe in democracy in this country not fascism. They (Roberts-Alito types) will win some elections--maybe all of the big ones in 2010--but they cannot alter the touchstone of our republic. They can't change our culture. People die to protect our democracy--we won't let these guys steal it. No siree!
Change the laws governing corporations; eliminate tax-breaks; legislate a short life-span for corporations; practice civil disobedience. We cannot throw in the towel. Nope!
Bob Fest: Some of you suggest that we devote Fighting Bob Fest this year to "Where do we go from here?" I like that idea. We need your input of positive ideas.
The fight begins!
January 22, 2010
Can it get worse?
You betcha! The staid NY Times editorialized, "The Court's Blow to Democracy," and it captured my feelings. With a single, disastrous ruling, the Supreme Court has thrust politics back to the robber-baron era of the 19th Century. Disingenuously waiving the flag of the First Amendment, the court's conservative majority has paved the way for corporations to use their vast treasuries to overwhelm elections and (read carefully) intimidate elected officials into doing their bidding. This was a sneak attack, led by Roberts and Alito--names that will go down in history as the wrecking crew of democracy. They misled or lied in confirmation hearings--they said they would respect precedent. Bull roar!
I'll be back--hopefully with a partial game plan. This fight must involve all of us who believe in social and economic justice, fair play, honest elections. Sleep well Alito and Roberts--you served your ideological brethren well. You will be a hit at the next tea party.
More later. You appreciate the enormous wrecking ball that blasted through our world yesterday. This is, quite frankly, the worst day in American history. Pearl Harbor was awful but we were a democracy willing to lay our lives on the line to preserve that democracy. Not so after this catastrophe. The court has destroyed democracy in our land. This group of five have handed the once proud system to AIG, Goldman Sachs, U.S. Bank, and the other robber barons. Election 2010 may be the last real election.
January 21, 2010
David Prosser, meet Teddy Roosevelt
John Nichols reminds us that Teddy Roosevelt called for full public financing of federal campaigns way back in 1905 (I think that was during Tommy's first term). Teddy told Congress, "All contributions by corporations to any political committee or for any political purpose should be forbidden by law."
Teddy and Bob LaFollette understood the motivation of corporate officers; understood that their only fiduciary duty is to serve the owners of the corporations not the people of the land; understood that corporations could purchase any election. They understood that a corporation is formed to make a profit--not to seek public office or advance the public good. (See AIG, Goldman Sachs, U.S. Bank.)
I never tire of reading the quote from Wisconsin's Chief Justice Edward Ryan, in 1873: "The question shall arise, and arise in your day, which shall rule, wealth or man, which shall lead, money or intellect? Who shall fill public stations--educated and patriotic free men or the feudal serfs of corporate capital?"
Justice Ryan understood that corporations were boldly marching, not "for economic power only but for political power." Justice David Prosser has a different view. He argues in his proposed rule on recusal that "campaign contributions to judicial candidates are a fundamental component of judicial elections." He argues that automatic recusal "would create the impression that receipt of a contribution automatically impairs the judge's integrity." (Yes indeed.) The effect would be to "discourage the broadest possible participation in financing campaigns." (Actually, public financing achieves that goal quite nicely.)
Automatic recusal would, in essence, deny the citizen/litigant/corporation "access to the judges they help elect." Wow! Stay tuned; read the Nichols posting, read Justice Prosser's proposal. Decide for yourself.
January 20, 2010
Dear Democrats: Before you panic, remember that you have a huge majority--enjoy!
No more horror stories about Mary Landrieu holding up the Senate so Harry Reid can count to 60 to break a filibuster; no more threats from "fickle Joe" Leiberman, and the importance of his 60th vote; bye-bye, Senator Nelson. He will go back to Nebraska sans pork!
There is a silver lining beyond the Massachusetts cloud--the Democrats will have a huge majority, and if they put a little hot sauce in their morning java they can do just about everything with 59 seats they could do with 60 seats. Probably more, if they hustle. Maybe this is just what the Senate Dems needed. Does it occur to anyone in Washington that people are angry at the faux filibuster? We elected these senators to do more than wring their hands--get on it! If you have a huge majority no need crying over one less.
And the White House staff might feel Obama's boot as well. No more David Axelrod blaming someone else. Paahhleeeeze! So now Senator Kohl can take the lead on the Butler nomination and secure his confirmation. Perhaps Obama can drop the gloves.
Sure, Republicans can filibuster--but make them do it the old-fashioned, Strom Thurmond way. Cots in the Senate.
Elsewhere, Justice Gableman speaks and reminds us that sometimes one is better off not explaining. He responded to defense lawyers who accused him of bias against criminal defendants. Turns out he didn't like much about the state's Supreme Court. Gableman said, "In a whole host of areas of law...the court began distorting the law to fit its own policy preferences." (Pretty dangerous territory.)
He went on swinging at the court, saying, "It invented new theories of liability and new protections for criminal defendants that were unwise and unjustified by the law." (More evidence of bias?) Whoa Nelly! If you think this reads poorly, listen and watch Justice Gableman in action on Wisconsin Eye. Memo to Gableman: 10 years is a long time to sit with legal scholars after accusing them of twisting the law.
January 19, 2010
Milwaukee and Haiti
I really enjoy articles by John Smart. See his posting this morning, urging us to give the proposed Duncan/Doyle/Evers/Barrett MPS takeover a chance. Understandable that Smart, a champion of public education, would urge us to try.
The issue has thoroughly divided the Barrett base in Milwaukee. One reason is the vehemence of the governor, who comes off as bully not as a teacher-leader. Wisconsin Eye captured Doyle's attitude problem at his news conference. The camera captured the moment.
For months Doyle has warned us that unless we permit the state to take over MPS, the Obama folks will punish us. No specifics, no explanation of why Mayor Barrett would do a better job than board president Bonds, but Doyle says, in essence, if the Wisconsin proposal fails, blame those who "cling to the status quo." In Doyle's world there is "his way" or the "status quo." If you support the "antiquated notion" of democratic elections of your school board, you are in favor of achievement gaps, poor reading skills, and you are not part of the solution--you are the problem.
Doyle finally tells us that he is asking Arne for $254 million, $68 million of which would go to Milwaukee. The balance to the rest of the state. No indication if other districts will be forced to allow the mayor to make all decisions--but Doyle, who is not winning the battle in Milwaukee, suddenly warns Kenosha, Beloit, Superior that they will also lose if the "status quo" forces convince Arne that Wisconsin is not in favor of better schools!
Before Wisconsin Eye covered the Doyle "news" conference, the testimony from more than 100 Milwaukee teachers, parents, community activists, on Eye was riveting. (A few of the passionate comments in opposition to the Doyle/Barrett takeover note that it is odd that the takeover comes just as the first African-American is elected president of the board, that teachers are doing well, and that the state should give the new leadership in Milwaukee a chance.)
Doyle continues to make "Race to the Top" a new game. He explains that while Wisconsin consistently ranks one or two in the country, we must do better if we want to win the Arne race! I am not making this up. The message is clear: We have the money and the power, if you doubt us, lookout! A disappointing performance at best.
Haitian/American Dissonance: Millions of dollars are flowing into Haiti from the U.S. Our armed forces are working night and day, volunteers are risking their lives to save Haitian lives--this is America at its best. Read all about it on page one.
The dissonance is on page A17 of the New York Times: "Homeless Haitians Told Not to Try to Flee to U.S." Every day, a U.S. cargo plane broadcasts for five hours a message from the Haitian ambassador to Washington warning people that if they try to escape to America they "will be intercepted and returned to Haiti." The U.S. has started a campaign to persuade Haitians to stay put! I am not kidding.
Who is responsible for the pre-quake economic disaster in Haiti? You decide. Which America is on display?
January 18, 2010
MLK, JFK, RFK
Today we honor Martin Luther King Jr., but I cannot do so without also thanking JFK, RFK, Bob Moses, Diane Nash, Taylor Branch, Rosa Parks, Connie Curry, Roy Wilkins, Walter Williams, the Field Foundation, Thurgood Marshall, SNCC, CORE, James Meredith, Bill Kunstler, Pete Seeger, John Lewis, LBJ, Fannie Lou Hammer ("I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired"), Malcolm X, Emanuel Celler, Ben Zelenko, Joe Rauh, Hubert H. Humphrey, lots of southern judges, and thousands of students who risked their lives in pursuing social justice. They marched, sang, sat-in, waded-in, and voted.
Some broke unjust laws and willingly went to jail, while others wrote new laws and enforced them. They practiced non-violence, they paved the way, they fought the good fight. Sure would have been nice had they all been in Grant Park the night Obama won the nomination. As King said in his last speech in Memphis, "I may not get there with you--I have seen the promised land."
In short, they made this day possible.
It is sad to think of our losses, but they motivate us to finish the job. We cannot stop now.
Tomorrow: The Death and Life of American Journalism, the latest book from FightingBob.com contributing editors John Nichols and Bob McChesney, is released. (Hint: Watch the latest edition of Now on PBS today to find out more.)
January 17, 2010
What's going on?
First the governor tells us we will get lots of money from Arne Duncan at U.S. Department of Education--all we need to gain a seat at the table is a plan to eliminate the elected school board in Milwaukee and give all power to the mayor who, wouldn't ya know, is running for governor. But, Doyle warned, finger wagging at the Legislature, if you don't do what I tell you Arne will skip Wisconsin and give its share of the loot to....? We don't know. Maybe he will give it to Ben Nelson in Nebraska! Or to Joe Leiberman!
The grass roots in Milwaukee rose up in anger to defend their system from a Madison takeover. They stopped the train and today Doyle's quote seems like whining. He asked the people, the people said no, and he says as a result, we stand little chance of winning funding. We would be "bitterly disappointed if we lose," but he makes it clear we will lose. So prepare yourself for the bitter disappointment we will all feel. Then demand answers from the governor--not more finger-wagging.
As yet unanswered is, What would winning mean? And, Why is mayoral control of schools so good? And, "Had we done what you asked, was the money guaranteed? At first Doyle limited his threats to Milwaukee, but today he says virtually every school district in the state will lose Race to The Top funds. How much? Don't ask, and don't expect a response. Only Doyle knows!
Take it from Doyle--Superior, Platteville, Madison, Beloit, Green Bay, Kenosha--all will lose lots of money because Milwaukee thinks the takeover is loopy.
I think a "profile in courage" award goes to Spencer Coggs and Tamara Grigsby. It would have been easy for them to go along, but they didn't. As a result we might develop a sensible plan based on policy choices not threats. Kudos!
January 15, 2010
MPS_ _ _ _
The proponents of a mayoral takeover of the Milwaukee public schools are still fighting, still refusing to fill in the blanks on their rescue plan, still calling opponents names.
The governor who started the fight has gone back into his comfort zone in Madison, and the teachers, administrators, parents, and students are wondering who will be the new superintendent in Milwaukee. Will Milwaukee get a leader who blames all problems on teachers while ignoring the impact of poverty on education? Or a leader who will take on the entrenched powers?
The school board is trying to hire a first-rate superintendent of schools. The final three candidates will make public presentations Thursday. (No mention if they will wear camouflage.) Will the three hang in? Let's hope so.
Good for Obama: We don't know if Haiti can be saved. The destruction is unbelievable, but one thing is certain. President Obama has taken the lead. His performance has been remarkable. He makes us all proud.
January 14, 2010
Good for the light-skinned-but-spa-tanned bankers!
After all the hou-ha over Harry Reid's comment about "light-skinned Negroes" without dialect, I turned a critical eye toward the New York Times. Would the NYT blame "white men" in suits, with mild dialects and a winter tan for the financial melt-down? Well I think that the Times is as guilty as Harry Reid.
Check the almost half-page picture in the NYT's business section for yourself. Lloyd Blankfein, CEO Gold-Digger-Sachs; James Dimon of JP Morgan; John Mack, Morgan Stanley, Bryan Moynihan, of my favorite, Bank of America--hands slightly raised, swearing to tell the truth to what appeared to be quite a few white members of Congress. Here's the rub. They are all white guys in a picture that had, by my count, 18 other white guys and three white women. All these white folks raising the question, "Where are the Negroes"? C'mon! You don't expect us to believe these white guys acted alone, do you? Something is out of whack. I can hardly wait to hear the explanation from Rush and the Tea Partiers.
January 13, 2010
Haiti = Katrina
The Obama administration needs to rush into action with food, water, supplies, earth-moving equipment, portable hospitals, and lots of personnel to help with the rescue of thousands in Haiti.
This is Obama's Katrina. Why?, Haiti has been our "colony" for more than a century. It may be the poorest nation in the world, the government has been awful, the U.S. anything but helpful. Here is a chance to erase some of the hurt we have inflicted.
This tragedy should stop all talk in Washington of "light-skinned Obama" immediately. More important items on the agenda.
Brown could win the Kennedy seat--but he won't if the coalition holds. If it doesn't and Brown wins, the Obama agenda is in ruins as the 2010 elections approach. Hold your breath.
Packers: Too bad--a missed field goal and a coin toss gave the odds to the Packers. The officials missed a call, but that is how the game is played. Reverse it; would the Packers throw in the towel?
Great game, fantastic young quarterback--the Pack is back.
January 11, 2010
Egad! Alan Lasee, representing DePere, will retire from the Legislature after 36 years of filling an otherwise empty chair. Who will call for capitol punishment now? His prize accomplishment--expansion of Highway 57 and a bridge in Sturgeon Bay. What would Wisconsin have done without him?
How much good news can we tolerate? In addition to Lasee's decision to retire, the DNR reported that deer hunters shot at fewer buildings this year. I'm not kidding. "Deer hunters shot dramatically fewer buildings" this year. Ten buildings were shot--that is down from 25 in 2008! Hey! Progress. Four shootings involved a rifle and four a shotgun. No report on the other building shootings. No indication of dead cows, dogs or other animals. Proud of you guys!
On Sunday I jumped on Harry Reid. He deserved it, but no one deserves the flow of hypocritical bloviating from Fox News and Michael Steele that followed. "Stop this train. I want to get off!" The GOP leader recently used the phrase "honest Injun" in a city where that slur on Native Americans was too much. (The NFL still calls its franchise the "Redskins.")
It is banker bonus time! I can hardly wait.
Are you a fan?
I remember Packer coaches Gene Ronzani, Lisle Blackbourne, "Scooter" Mclean and Phil Bengston. All had lousy records. The Packers were the "Cubs" of the NFL. They were bad, but they were our team. So it was easy for me to feel great pride in the Packers yesterday--front office, coaches and players. What a game! If you are a fan you had to love it. If you recall the pre-Lombardi Packers you really loved it.
Neither team "lost"--it may have been the greatest offensive show in NFL history that should have ended with a Cardinal field goal but didn't. Would the critics have been happier had the Cardinal kicker made a "chip shot"?
Phoenix got more points and moves on to New Orleans.
The Packers have a great future. Coach McCarthy--well done!
Light-skinned. The Republicans in Congress have started hollering about Harry Reid's comment, but there is a hollowness to their noise. I wrote yesterday that Reid should step aside, but he won't and so it goes. Some Dems lecture us that it was merely "an unfortunate choice of words," and the President says "the book is closed." OK. What's a dumb Mic like me supposed to say? I will call a couple of Italians and Jews and seek guidance. (Oops!)
One lesson for sure: There is no such thing as "off the record" if you are a public figure.
January 10, 2010
You can't make it up!
The Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid said that? Yup. He said that Obama might win the presidency because he is "a light-skinned African-American with no Negro dialect unless he wanted to have one." Reid told this to two people writing a book. He apologized to the president, Al Sharpton, NAACP, and everyone else. But he said it. Really. He said that.
The same book quotes Bill Clinton, the guy who once manufactured a dispute with Sister Souljah at Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition dinner in 1992, in order to distance himself from Jesse Jackson. If you can believe it, the authors contend Clinton, in a discussion with Ted Kennedy trying to get Kennedy to endorse Hillary, said, "A few years ago Obama would have been serving them coffee." Apparently Teddy didn't like it.
Now I had to quickly check my calendar. Which century are we in? Remember when one of the PGA tour golfers, Fuzzy Zoeller, mocked Tiger's win at Augusta: "He might be serving chicken at the dinner."
We don't expect much from an adult calling himself "fuzzy" but we sure as hell expect leaders of the Democratic Party to be involved in Civil Rights not advancing derogatory comments that set back the progress made. Don't get all misty-eyed over Martin Luther King and then say what Clinton and Reid said.
I met with a group of African-American men from Milwaukee last week. Their concern was unemployment among adult black men in Milwaukee. It is 55 percent in Milwaukee. What would Harry Reid or Bill Clinton say to them?
Whoa Nelly! Harry, I think you must resign. Step aside. You said it.
January 9, 2010
There is looming up a new dark power...
Justice Ryan, 1873, in a law school graduation speech heard by young student Bob LaFollette, warned:
"There is looming up a new and dark power...The accumulation of individual wealth seems greater than it has ever been since the downfall of the Roman Empire. The enterprises of the country are aggregating vast corporate combinations of unexampled capital, boldly marching, not for economic power conquests only, but for political power.
"For the first time in our politics, money is taking the field as an organized power. The question shall arise and arise in your day, which shall rule, wealth or man; which shall lead--money or intellect; who shall fill public stations--educated and patriotic free men [and women] or the feudal serfs of corporate capital."
As soon as next Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court may announce its decision in Citizens United vs. FEC. Yes, the Court might, probably will, decide that any restriction on campaign funding by unions or corporations violates the First Amendment.
The Court will have answered Justice Ryan's questions in 1873. Q. Who shall rule? A. Corporations. Q. Which shall lead? A. Money. Q. Who shall fill public stations? A. Feudal serfs of corporate capital.
Think about it. If you feel irrelevant in, say, the Feingold Senate race that will cost millions of dollars, because you can't give thousands of dollars, imagine how you will feel if Exxon-Mobil could dump $50 million into the Feingold race. Whoa Nelly! It is bye-bye democracy.
What is Plan B if the Court decides that it is time to kill this experiment called democracy? None on the radar screen. Is Obama ready for a $2 billion campaign? Is Tom Barrett prepared to raise $50 million? No and no.
Barrett's money: Tom Barrett is not a wealthy man. So, when he agreed to run for governor, we suggested he would have to polish the tin cup to raise $41,000 per day until the election. Every day!Every day!
He was happy to report this week that he raised $750,000 in 47 days! OK! Not too shabby. A million dollars less than needed, but still respectable. His team raised about $16,000 per day. Not time for party hats however, because at that rate he will raise a lot of money--about $3 million--but nowhere near the money he will need in a campaign without limits on corporations. In fact, not even enough if the gubernatorial race meets projections of $20-30 million under current rules.
We are in serious trouble.
January 8, 2010
Read from Washington Post today and wince: Just what Americans need as they try to dig out from the Great Depression...oops! I mean Great Recession, gas prices are headed back toward $3 per gallon. Every 10 cent rise in price equates to an additional $14 billion per year out of consumers' pockets. We spend a billion dollars per day on gas!
Now go beyond wincing. The reporters ask, rhetorically one hopes, "Why are prices rising even as demand is falling?"
Last thought for the day from the Washington Post, a note from our new friend Yemen: "A hatred of the government in southern Yemen is complicating U.S. backed efforts." Whoa Nelly. We think the government in Afghanistan is totally corrupt; we don't like the government in Pakistan. People in Yemen hate their government? Iraq? Fill in the blanks.
(Could gas prices be a result of manipulation by big oil--because they are "too big to regulate" or to challenge under antitrust laws?)
Back home in the nation's capitol, D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee laid off 266 teachers and staff in October and must cut another $22 million for the next budget year. Results in this little Race to the Bottom are bigger classes, cuts in all-day kindergarten and the popular strings music, band, and the elimination of foreign language-immersion programs. And yet we can afford a bloated Defense budget, an incredibly inefficient health care delivery system, and three wars? C'mon folks. This is not working. Is there a plan to file for bankruptcy? Call Arne please.
GOOD NEWS: Obama has nominated Louis Butler again as Western District Federal Judge in Madison. Kohl and Feingold ought to seal the deal.
January 7, 2010
Lots to think about
Given the almost unbelievable percentage of inmates in federal prison who are African-American, are rules/laws prohibiting them from voting a civil rights issue? The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals thinks so. Look at Wisconsin. About 60 percent of the inmates at Super Max are black in a state where blacks are in single digits as a percentage of the population. Rather than instant analysis, it would make sense to take a hard look.
Okay, Wisconsin might get lots of money from the Obama "Race to the Top" fund even though the Doyle forces have been warning Wisconsin to remove the elected school board in Milwaukee or lose our chance to "win the Arne-lottery." The Legislature said "hold your horses"--yup. Whoa Nelly. The Milwaukee community asked, how much money; who will distribute; what strings would be attached; would the union of teachers disappear; what is the plan for merit pay? No answers, no legislation.
Today the Doyle-Evers-Barrett team waived a white flag. We will go forward with an application to Race to Top with a bold program without mayoral control. Congratulations to those who fought for small "d" democracy.
Memo to Governor Doyle: Try transparency--you might like it.
Stephanie Schriock will take over Emily's List from Ellen Malcolm, who was quoted in the Washington Post saying, "We've had astonishing victories." Called a "fundraising powerhouse," Emily's List claims to have propelled hundreds of progressive women candidates into office. Malcolm was almost giddy in claiming victories because "early money (was) like yeast." Would it be appropriate to list the victories?
I have a thought or two. I really like the idea of electing more women, and my record has been clear. But I have trouble believing the idea that a gender-biased fundraising effort is a good idea. They cannot hope to raise matching funds and sometimes might hurt good progressives my supporting a less progressive alternative for one reason--gender. Congratulations, but get serious. We need publicly funded campaigns.
Read Dave Zweifel's great article on Gary Bahr's idea for fair taxes. (Hint: Dave and Gary won't be asked to join the WMC board.)
January 6, 2010
Hidden ball trick
The Journal-Sentinel has not been so excited about an issue since the days when they hired lobbyists to push a reluctant Legislature to fund Miller Park. Make no mistake. JS is part of the "team" that favors elimination of a democratically elected school board. They line up with the voucher supporters, Governor Doyle, and DPI.
Doyle, JS, Howard Fuller--all predictable. No one in the crowd was surprised about those folks. But they still shake their heads and wonder aloud, "Why would our friend Tom Barrett get on the Doyle team?"
So they listened carefully to the mayor, and his grade would be a "C" or lower. He can't convince the doubters because it seems he is not convinced.
The hall was packed and the lobby was jammed with No Takeover buttons, but the JS reporter writes "members of the public were fairly evenly divided." (Pigs fly and chickens have lips.) It is remarkable to see Democrats Doyle, Barrett, Taylor and others throw a skunk into the church. It is possible that the powers that be will prevail, but if they "roll" those who believe in parental involvement of education the kids in MPS will not benefit.
Met the daughter of the late Milwaukee Mayor Frank Zeidler. She said, "Frank would be in the first row fighting this travesty." Amen.
The clunker is in the refusal of the Doyle/Barrett people to explain the details. They failed yesterday.
January 5, 2010
Trillin for Governor
Or mayor or president. "I Like Calvin" buttons would instantly appear and a new era, marked by informed citizens acting in the public interest, would commence. No more scams! "Truth gets her boots on" would be the tough-to-beat slogan. Here is Trillin on the public option, dropped from the health care (sic) bill:
"That option is out of the bill now,
And Senators have no remorse. For no one
was really behind it--except for the public of course."
Race to the top news reads more and more like a carnival scam. The latest from Journal Sentinel-land slaps one in the face with this header: "State lagging in race for education funding." As if in a mythical national horse race, Wisconsin is blowing its lead. Our jockey has mud on his goggles. We read that "other states are successfully passing last-minute education reform measures as they try to take advantage of hundreds of millions of dollars in extra education funding and [sit while reading] those last minute ideas may eclipse Wisconsin's efforts." Hurry, hurry--step right up...only a few woof tickets left!
How does JS know all this? JS knows because Joe Williams said so. Who is he? No time for that--pass the Doyle package immediately; grab the money; live for the moment; and you can meet Joe during his victory lap around the state!
Meanwhile these good minds should explain why five school districts (Kenosha, Kimberly, Waukesha, West Allis and Whitefish Bay) jumped at the chance to bring in new revenues by pledging existing assets and borrowing from banks for more easy money--in excess of $115 million--that they may have to default on. Think this might come up in conversation with the Race to the Top folks? Who is picking up the tab? You can bet it won't be the Obama administration.
Call me crazy but it is not the time for "last minute reforms." It is time for sober reflection. Race to the Top, with millions and millions of dollars to be used as we want, ours for the asking, sounds too good to be true. It is. Fools rush in...
January 4, 2010
Keep your eyes open and a hand on your wallet
Governor Doyle is back! Still pushing for mayoral takeover of Milwaukee Public Schools; still hinting that Wisconsin will get mega-bucks if the legislators pass that particular reform--a lump of coal if they don't; still refusing to answer questions. Now he has a new group, Democrats for Education Reform supporting him. Who are they? Damn! I had hoped you wouldn't ask.
One entity on its board is Fortress Investment Group--they allegedly paid John Edwards $479,000 in 2008; they are in the hedgefund business and "hope to enter the casino and horse racing business." (If that doesn't do well one hopes they will consider dog racing.) I'm not making this up. Before bragging about this group of "Democrats" a lot of questions should be asked. How much money has Arne promised?
Is he pushing Democrats for Education Reform? Is the Coggs compromise enough? If not, who said no? Who is behind the curtain? C'mon--give us a peek.
Hearing tomorrow in Milwaukee. All the governor's troops will be armed with everything except answers and transparency.
$3.3 billion! That, says the NY Times, is the amount spent by the lobbying industry in America last year. "How much more in special-interest donations will be bagged by law makers?" Good question. Could a saint survive this tsunami? I have my doubts, but then I gain hope because of Bernie Sanders, Tom Harkin, Russ Feingold, Tammy Baldwin. But the money folks will get rid of all of them unless we alter the system. They will. Not this election but soon.
January 3, 2010
MPS and Barrett
Joel McNally starts us off in twenty-ten with a quizzical look at Tom Barrett, the nice guy, the get-a-long-Mayor-Tom, who very reluctantly agreed to run for governor. The "new" Barrett is not so nice.
The Barrett seeking support to defeat Walker or Neumann inexplicably has his heels dug in over an issue tearing apart his Milwaukee base. He and Doyle want the mayor to kick the elected school board into Lake Michigan and, without a vote, take over the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). Why? Well, that's not easy to explain because the excuses change every week or so. Low performance one week becomes bad school board the next week; more money from Obama if Barrett takes over in week three. Teachers should be on merit system the following week; pensions are too high....But, as McNally points out, if the takeover happens and if Barrett is elected governor, a new mayor would run the schools. Charlie Sykes perhaps? Or is Barrett convinced that the Republicans will win the gubernatorial race so he can remain mayor and clap the erasers after school? Someone is probably whispering, "Tom, you have to run for governor to motivate the base to turn out to vote. Save Feingold and other Democrats!" To that I say, Whoa Nelly High stakes poker indeed.
I don't get it, and old pals of Barrett don't get it. On January 5, the state Senate will conduct a public hearing in Milwaukee on the proposed takeover. I plan to attend. Maybe Barrett will attend and explain. Or the governor?
Detroit: failed city in a failed state in a failed country? People who live in and around Detroit think they are living through an economic disaster--one as worthy of federal help as the people of New Orleans after Katrina. The figures are very scary. In a poll conducted by the Washington Post, almost all residents see their economy in ruins. An epidemic of foreclosures and evictions on top of a declining standard of living, swelling debt and incredibly high unemployment (16.7 percent).
Michigan is in trouble; 14.7 percent unemployment, with 840,000 jobs lost in 10 years. Remember Hillary Clinton sitting with AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland during the State of the Union speech--when Bill Clinton had won the fight to pass NAFTA? Remember how David Bonier, Dave Obey, Ross Perot, and nearly all of labor warned that NAFTA would ruin the manufacturing sector? Well, how we doin', Bill? The most alarming part of the Post article was where it said, "People in their 30s and 40s feel a deep sense of betrayal. They see little promise for their kids."
When America gives up on the idea of kids doing better than their parents are doing...look out! Lots of talk about Afghanistan being a failed state. Are we leading them or vice-versa?
January 2, 2010
Yesterday, I suggested the Blackwater guard prosecution did not pass the smell test. Today we get reaction to the decision from our military leaders and Iraqi citizens, who are outraged.
One headline in NY Times read, "U.S. Lawyers long Knew About Legal Pitfalls in Case Against Blackwater Guards." We are reminded that the Iraqis wanted to hold the trial in Iraq but our position was that Blackwater employees enjoyed immunity from prosecution. Remember?
Our government now seems to blame the requirement that private contractors had a "contractual duty" to give an immediate report of what they had done--to the government--for the 5th Amendment violation.
No one doubts that experienced prosecutors could have found a way to protect the accused of self-incrimination while preserving the case, but the judge said "the prosecutors failed to take common-sense precautions." Once again, I ask, did they intentionally ruin the case?
An Iraqi quoted in the Times said, "What can we say? They killed people. They probably gave a bribe to get released. This is their own American court system."
But fear not! General Odierno thinks we did just fine. The American system proved itself once again. He called the ruling "a lesson in the rule of law." (I'm not making this up!) Sure, he acknowledged that "innocent people were killed," but the bottom line is, "using the rule of law, the evidence obviously was not there or was collected illegally."
So perhaps we should celebrate the Blackwater decision. Give a medal to DOJ prosecutors.
Hip, hip, hooray! As for the survivors and the families of the dead and wounded, remind them that our rules are better than their rules. That's why we are in charge of their country.
January 1, 2010
Who you gonna trust?
Federal Judge Ricardo Urbina dismissed manslaughter charges against five Blackwater guards. You know the details. (Rumsfeld reminded us that "stuff happens," so sometimes the indicted win. Not often, but now and then. Relax!)
I am suspicious. I think the judge had no choice. Experienced DOJ prosecutors screwed up so badly that it was a slam dunk. I doubt if Vegas would have taken a bet on this one. The judge, according to The Washington Post, sharply criticized the tactics of Justice Department prosecutors handling the case. They clearly violated the 5th Amendment rights of the defendants. A first-year law student would not make that mistake. So when a mistake is that obvious, hit the pause button.
The prosecutors used sworn statements given under a promise the statements would not be used against the accused. They lied.
So, did the Bush-Cheney lawyers take a dive? Did they take a dive in the Scooter Libby investigation? Given the politicization of DOJ under Dick Cheney and Bush, this Blackwater case does not pass the smell test. The judge said statements from prosecutors were often "contradictory, unbelievable and lacking in credibility." He called the conduct as "a reckless violation of the guards' rights." While "stuff happens," I have never seen such a strong statement by a federal judge. Congress had better take a look.
Happy New Year!
While it is true that the nominee to head TSA violated privacy laws, he is contrite and Joe Leiberman thinks he should be confirmed. If he's good enough for Joe...
Yes, he improperly used his position to check out a personal matter, but the real reason Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina placed a hold on his confirmation--it turns out that De Mint thinks the nominee favors unionization of TSA! Whoa Nelly!
Talk about sacrifice: Chief Justice Roberts did not ask Congress for an increase in pay this year. He will try to get by on $223,500, insurance; free meals, a driver and car. Thank you, Judge. There will be a cheer at the homeless shelters.
So whom can you trust? I was going to nominate Michael Chertoff, who was on a tour to convince us to purchase full-body scanners. Good idea? Maybe. But he forgot to explain that his company, modestly named The Chertoff Group, represents the manufacturer of the full-body scanners! Oh well.
There is still Max Baucus! I guess.