Archive for June, 2009

Politics Monday…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on June 30, 2009 by Jim Rosenberg

Doyle signing state budget - Reduced - 018

“I’m sorry, but there are no communications devices allowed,” joked Lorrie Keating Heinemann, the cabinet secretary with what has is now the especially critical task of regulating of financial institutions.  “Well, I guess if it’s your daughter, it’s okay,” she offered. “I just got back from three days.”

The thing about these kinds of events is that it brings new meaning to the old slogan “You’re among friends.” (If you’re not, then what are you doing here, anyway?)

Several hundred people gathered on the lawn at the Executive Residence this morning in Madison for the signing of Wisconsin’s biennial state budget. It was windy and the lake was plenty choppy as Governor Doyle fought the effects of the gusts on the microphone during a 20-minute speech. The governor added 81 line item vetoes to the legislature’s work before signing off on the first budget that has been completed on time in the Badger State since 1977 – something that Senate President Fred Risser was actually around for at the time. The biggest applause came for the addition of autistic coverage to health plans in Wisconsin.

There’s no doubt that there were plenty of controversial measures within the budget, but that’s going to happen when you come into the process with a $6.6 billion deficit and a bill that has traditionally been the receptacle for pet measures that couldn’t necessarily stand on their own. We will continue to live in interesting times.

* * *

It looks like Sean Duffy, a 32-year-old lawyer from Hayward who was part of the 1997 Real World series on MTV, is planning to take on House Appropriations Chair Dave Obey in Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District in the 2010 election. He has announcements set for Wednesday, July 8 at 9 a.m. at Wausau Homes and 1:30 p.m at the Lumberjack Bowl in Hayward. (“I’m a lumberjack and that’s okay…”)

 

* * *

Joe the Plumber takes Keith Olbermann’s “Worst Person” award tonight for his comments in Wausau relating to “stringing up” some politicians. It’s the second go-around for a piece by Wausau Daily Herald writer Rob Mentzer to get the tall guy’s attention on the MSNBC political program in a month.

* * *

Is it just me, or does the “Wisconsin Jobs Task Force” report posted by the Wausau Region Chamber on their website look like a partisan piece of work put together by a couple of minority party legislators who had the time while the budget debate was going on this spring? Sen. Randy Hopper (R-Oshkosh) is listed as the “Senate Ranking Member” and he has been in office all of six months. Rep. Rich Zipperer (R-Pewaukee) is listed as “Assembly Ranking Member.” He began serving in 2007. The reason they are the ranking members of the task force from their respective houses may be as simple as them being the only members (although there are two more GOP legislators from each house listed as “Contributing Members.” Decide for yourself):

 http://www.legis.state.wi.us/senate/src/wisconsinjobsnow/press/WJN_Final_Report.pdf
 
I’m not even saying that I don’t agree with some of the things that they say, at least to a point. But what I’m really wondering about is who paid for this and why it seems to take some pains to try to look like some kind of official effort of the legislature when that doesn’t seem like it could possibly be the case. Ranking members? Really? Who’s the chair? 

JR

Energy and the environment: If not now, when?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on June 29, 2009 by Jim Rosenberg
1215609206-sc-170The House passed a 1,200 page energy and environmental bill this past week that is designed to reduce reliance on fossil fuels while increasing conservation and encouraging the use of renewable energy going forward. The vote was 219-212 with eight GOP votes in favor and 44 Democrats against.

I have to tell you this at the onset: while there is a lot of interesting discussion on the subject of global climate change, it is not something on which I personally have to rely in order to support the goals of this legislation. There are compelling environmental reasons apart from the question of global climate change. There are also reasons of national security and economics that more than support a policy direction toward significant changes in the way we that we use energy.

Relying on the market to handle this kind of thing is essentially what we’ve been doing for several decades now. It hasn’t worked. It’s my personal belief that Americans can reduce energy use per capita by a very significant amount – between a third and a half — without sacrificing a comfortable lifestyle. It’s going to take some time to turn this Titanic around, but it can and must be done.

Many of those in opposition complain that the costs are too great. My opinion, after nearly three decades in the energy business, is that the costs of inaction are probably greater. I can find plenty of things to object to in the Waxman-Markey bill, I assure you. But given the choice of an imperfect piece of legislation and doing nothing, I would prefer that we proceed aggressively on these issues sooner and sort out remedies for its shortcomings as we move forward, rather than waiting for something that everyone can agree on. Wide margins are no guarantee of the underlying wisdom or lack of unintended consequences in legislation. We only need to look as far as the authorization that brought us the Iraq War. It passed the House on a vote of 297-133 and sailed through the Senate on a 77-23 vote. Most people today know it was a huge mistake.

I penned my first article on energy conservation more than 30 years ago. We can talk all we want about why it’s important to have sound policies regarding energy and environmental protection, but unless those policies are underlined with personal economic consequences, they aren’t likely to work. What people respond to is money and it has to be their own, directly. At $1.75 a gallon, most people don’t concern themselves with choosing more energy efficient transportation and at 50 cents a therm, they don’t worry too much about their heating bills. At 6 cents for a kilowatt-hour for electricity, they don’t think too much about compact fluorescent light bulbs if they cost much more than a standard bulb. But double or triple those costs and there is a waiting list for hybrid cars, there are more people on the bus, there is a renewed interest in weatherization and there are plenty of people being a lot more fastidious about turning out the lights or considering a windmill. We might wish it was otherwise, but it isn’t. That old axiom about the medicine having to taste bad to work is sometimes true.

JR

The girl from Ipanema, Notoberfest, Joe…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on June 25, 2009 by Jim Rosenberg

So all this Argentina talk got me to thinking about Rio de Janeiro and how we probably ought to get back there sometime.  On the couple of visits we made, we hooked up with Jose Carvalhos, who was running the private car service out of the Inter-Continental on Sao Conrado beach.  Having a driver in a place like Rio makes a lot of sense because you get transportation and security, along with a lot of insight.  Part of the security stems from the fact that you tend to blend in with the locals a lot easier if you don’t show up on a tour bus.  Rio is a great place to be relieved of your valuables, so that’s important.

Anyway, the subject of “the girl from Ipanema” came up in our conversation and Jose said that not only was she still around, but she was still quite beautiful — which is darn good when you’re in your 60s.  I’m guessing that South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford’s pal in Buenos Aires is quite a bit younger and that it’s only a matter of time before some enterprising papparazzi will be fleshing out some of the details on that, so we’ll all have to keep an eye on the grocery store tabloid covers for a couple of weeks.  In the meantime and still speaking of South American women, here’s a 2006 picture the actual “girl from Ipanema” who inspired the song when she was 15. She’s shown with her daughter — and as Jose indicated, she’s held up very well:

http://tinyurl.com/mhaezl

As for Governor Sanford, well, Sen. John Ensign should be thanking him profusely… Rio from Sugarloaf… For single-handedly taking Ensign out of the news by having a much more intriguing storyline.

Joe the Plumber appears at the Plaza tonight, but I think I’ll be blowing that off in favor of “Notoberfest,” which is a fundraiser for the Boys & Girls Club featuring food, live music and lots of fun at the Granite Peak Sundance Ski Chalet on Rib Mountain from 5:30 p.m. until 9:30 p.m.  For more info, go to:

www.bgclub.com

Tickets are $25 a pop, which is not too bad, as these things go.  So maybe we will see you there and in the meantime, I leave you with a shot of Rio from Sugarloaf, which was well worth the price of the cable car ride to get it and there was even a live monkey working the crowd at the first stop. 

“Tall and tan and young and lovely the girl from Ipanema goes walking…”

JR

Joe the Plumber playing small markets now…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on June 24, 2009 by Jim Rosenberg

Joe the Plumber - Cropped - 088Joe the Plumber will be appearing at the Plaza Hotel in Wausau for “Pints & Politics” on Thursday from 6:30 p.m. until 9 p.m.  When the local paper pretty much went with the press release, there was plenty of discussion about Joe, who has managed to parlay his 15 minutes of fame into about eight months and counting, so far.

I talked with Joe in Milwaukee several months back and while I doubt that people will have to worry much about a meaty discussion with details, he’s really not the story here.  What people should really be paying attention to is the proverbial “man behind the curtain” who is bankrolling Joe’s appearance here and elsewhere.  It’s Americans for Prosperity and while they like to bill themselves as a grassroots movement, they’ve been called Astroturf more than once.

David and Charles Koch are billionaire brothers who made their money in the oil industry. There is a Koch pipeline that runs through Portage County and you don’t hear all that much about it except when it occasionally springs a leak, but that’s small potatoes compared to some of the more prominent environmental incidents that the company finds itself involved in from time to time. Koch Industries is privately held and the Koch brothers took Georgia-Pacific Corporation private in 2005. Their father, Fred Koch, was an ultra conservative and a member of the John Birch Society. It seems that the acorns didn’t fall far from the tree.

Charles founded the Cato Institute, a prominent right wing think tank. David co-founded Citizens for a Sound Economy, which later morphed into two organizations: FreedomWorks (headed by ex-House Majority Leader Dick Armey of “Barney Fag” fame) and an organization known as Americans for Prosperity. The president of AFP is Tim Phillips, who co-founded the political consulting firm Century Strategies with Ralph Reed (former wunderkind of the Christian Coalition.) It’s difficult to tell how many bonafide members these groups really have. A few years back, people discovered they had “joined” by signing up for tax-free medical savings accounts:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/07/22/AR2006072200683.html

The “charitable giving” to conservative think tanks, media efforts, research and activities by the Koch brothers foundations is truly monumental, running many, many millions of dollars. What generous fellows they really are – (and they work on things that REAL Americans truly value, like trying to find the Clean Air Act unconstitutional.)

The state director for AFP is Mark Block.  Block has the distinction of having paid one of the larger settlements in state election history after violations in the 1997 campaign of Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Jon Wilcox: $15,000, plus being barred from participation in Wisconsin campaigns for five years.  Well, the time’s been up for awhile and so this week, I’m guessing you’ll be able to see him with Joe.

JR

No fair trial for tort changes…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on June 17, 2009 by Jim Rosenberg

Stashed away in the budget bill unveiled in February by Governor Doyle is a repeal of fairness reforms passed 14 years ago to protect against lawsuit abuse (and yes, Virginia, they were being abused.) Under the provision, called “joint and several liability,” even a person judged to be only one percent at fault could be forced to pay 100 percent of the damages.

Governor Doyle flat-out blew it on this one and it is an attempt to bring back something that took years to get rid of in Wisconsin.  The Assembly wisely tossed the provision out of their version of the budget and then Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker decided that he wanted it back in.  Bad move.

Joint and several liability has nothing to do with the state budget and for that reason alone it ought to be pulled. But more importantly, this change is wrong and there is no mystery about it. We know it because it has been this way before. There were many people in the State of Wisconsin who worked to change the tort liability standard into something that is rational and that effort finally succeeded in 1995. Most reasonable people would agree with it: that you should pay for anything you are at fault for, but you shouldn’t have to pay for other people’s damages. If you’re 10 percent at fault, then you should pay 10 percent of the damages – not more because you happen to have the money or the coverage.

I’m not interested in getting into characterizations about trial lawyers. I think they serve an important function. They provide an avenue for justice that would often not be available to legitimately injured parties. Trial lawyers help people who would otherwise find themselves unable to press a case against the tremendous resources of corporations and insurance companies aggressively protecting their interests. This is an adversarial game and trial lawyers help to provide a level playing field in many, many cases.

But at the same time, it should be about justice – not about making sure there is a bottomless pit for settlements in any case that you care to make, whether the people paying are paying fairly in proportion to their fault or not. That approach ends up dragging defendants into cases for no better reason than that they happen to have deep pockets. Contrary to what some may believe, the most important thing isn’t that injured parties get everything they ask for. It’s sort of like saying that if there’s been a murder, then somebody should hang – and we don’t really care who it is, as long as they may have been in the neighborhood.

It doesn’t just cost money for the entities that are directly involved. It ends up costing everyone. Trust me. You pay for this stuff.  It adds a tremendous level of risk to going to trial and often, it is far too much. It’s nice for trial lawyers to be able to work with that big thumb on the scale of justice and it can lead to a lot of settlements. Trial lawyers may argue that the big cases get all the publicity and there are really relatively few of those; that the important thing is for victims to be compensated. It’s sort of like arguing that not many people are unjustly hanged (and then finding out that it is because they were railroaded into plea bargains for long prison terms for crimes they may not have committed.)

Under current law, a defendant must be at least 51 percent liable for a defendant’s injury before becoming liable for all of the damages caused by other defendants. That’s fair — and the silence about why it really ought to be different than this is deafening.

The initiative to roll back tort law changes would be bad enough as separate legislation attempting to stand on its own, but at least that way it could legitimately be debated and individual lawmakers could be held accountable for their actions on this specific measure. To bury this provision in the budget is reprehensible, but so is the change in the law being advanced.

JR

Wanting peace, fighting for justice…

Posted in Uncategorized on June 13, 2009 by Jim Rosenberg

Four little girls
Who went to Sunday School that day
And never came back home at all–
     But left instead
     Their blood upon the wall
     With spattered flesh
     And bloodied Sunday dresses…

(From a poem by Langston Hughes)

* * *

Other than a stint in the Air Force for a half dozen years, I’ve lived in Wausau pretty much all my life.  I say “pretty much” because I’m actually a native of Milwaukee; my family moved here when I was two years old. 

We went to Milwaukee to visit my grandparents and they were members of Cross Lutheran Church on North 16th Street.  The neighborhood had been populated by German and other European immigrants in the 1800s and by the 1960s, it had a significant African American population.  Since Wausau was literally one of the “whitest” communities in the U.S. in the 1960s, it was the only place that I ever saw and met black people — but most of the kids I knew in Wausau probably never had that opportunity at all.  My grandparents were active in the church and for many years, my grandfather and a couple of other guys were in charge of opening the envelopes and counting the money, which was something that they did every Sunday afternoon in a cloud of cigar smoke at the kitchen table. 

In 1967, a new pastor came to Cross by the name of Rev. Joe Ellwanger.  These were times of great racial tension in our country and Milwaukee was no exception.  I can remember the family driving to Cross from my grandparents’ home on 84th Street and passing by armed National Guard troops in the late 1960s.  This was a tumultuous period.  In 1968, we took a family vacation and we could see the orange glow of burning buildings as we passed some of the large cities on our way to New York.  Joe Ellwanger was insistent on working for racial equality and justice; a real urban warrior.  That much I knew, even as a kid — but it wasn’t until yesterday when I ran into Pastor Ellwanger again that I learned something about what made him that way. 

Before coming to Milwaukee, Rev. Ellwanger had been a pastor in Birmingham, Alabama.  On September 15, 1963, four members of the Ku Klux Klan set off a bomb consisting of 122 sticks of dynamite at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham.  The church had been at the center of the struggle for racial equality in the south.  Four girls were killed in the attack, three of them 14 years old and one of them 11.   (Interestingly, one of the girls killed was Denise McNair, a friend and schoolmate of future U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.)

Birmingham erupted in violence and by the end of the day, 16 year-old Johnny Robinson had been shot and killed by police after throwing rocks at cars with white people in them and another 13-year-old boy had been shot while on bicycle ride with his brother by some passing white kids.  As if it hadn’t been before, Birmingham became Ground Zero in America’s racial turmoil. 

How could those Klansmen think that they could do something like that? 

“With things the way they were at that time,” says Rev. Ellwanger, “they thought they would never be arrested.  Or even if they were arrested, they would never be charged.  Or even if they were charged, they would never be tried — and even if they were tried, no jury in Birmingham, Alabama would convict them and they would never go to prison.  And for 25 years, they were right.” 

It wasn’t until 2001 and 2002 that Bobby Frank Cherry and Thomas Edward Blanton Jr. were convicted of murder in the incident.  Robert Edward Chambliss had been convicted in 1978 and a fourth suspect, Herman Frank Cash, died in 1994 without ever being convicted.

“If you’re going to blame anyone for getting those children killed, it’s your Supreme Court,” asserted former Birmingham Police Commissioner Bull Connor at the time.  As outrageous as that sounds, you have to remember that George Wallace was governor of Alabama — a man whose most famous quote may be from his 1963 inaugural address earlier that same year: “… segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever.”  Wallace later changed his views, along with a lot of other people in this country.  Sadly — and even after all we’ve been through — some will never change.

The funeral for three of the girls killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing attracted thousands.  Dr. Martin Luther King gave the sermon.  One of the girls was a member of a nearby Lutheran congregation and her family asked their pastor to read the lessons.  It was Rev. Joe Ellwanger. 

Although he is retired, Joe Ellwanger is as busy as ever and still working for justice.  Wisconsin needs to think about why we have more than 23,000 people in prison while Minnesota has only around 7,000 in their state penetentaries, he says.  The crime rates aren’t really any different, but what we’re doing here is costing a fortune and it isn’t working.  We need to change.  The group he represents is called WISDOM and they advocate for treatment instead of simply punishment because the former offers some promise of success at lower cost.  We already know how well the latter is working and what it’s costing us. 

What I can tell you is that Joe Ellwanger has been around the block a couple of times on issues of justice and he sure was right the last time.  It was good to see him again.

JR

Preparing for the inevitable…

Posted in Uncategorized on June 7, 2009 by Jim Rosenberg

After almost two and a half years on the somewhat obscure Yahoo 360 site, we learn that Yahoo is shutting that particular feature down and it is time for everyone to find a new blog home.  While I decide whether to continue in the blogosphere or not, we’ve taken a place here on WordPress in the event that it seems like a good idea.  Until mid-July, you can still view the old blog at:  http://tinyurl.com/yn9xjx  — it’s too large to import into WordPress.