Archive for February, 2011

Best of times for the Capitol’s homeless?

Posted in Uncategorized on February 25, 2011 by Jim Rosenberg

While a lot of people who don’t spend much time around the Capitol building in Madison may not know it, there is a small population of homeless people that inhabit the grounds and the building. It was always a sobering sight as we walked into the building each morning, since it was closed to the public until 8 a.m. The homeless folks would sleep in various locations — some lucky enough to find places where warm air was being discharged from a grate or something.  Once the building was opened at 8 a.m., they would filter in to use the restrooms, warm up and start their day, such as it was.

A close-up look each morning at grinding poverty and personal issues like that will certainly keep a person from complaining about going to work. 

I don’t think about it much, now that I don’t walk past the scene every day — kind of a case of “out of sight and out of mind.”  But a picture that came in over Twitter this afternoon made me think of it again. 

There is an unending supply of pizza being delivered to the Capitol for a good part of the day and night now, compliments of people all over the country who are calling in orders, paying for them by credit card and asking that they be delivered to the protesters in Wisconsin. They do it to support the cause and it’s a very thoughtful and tangible gesture — sort of like manna that just shows up. 

The protests have also meant that the Capitol building itself has been open around the clock for the better part of two weeks. 

What all of this means is that times could be the best they’ve ever been for the Capitol’s homeless, since they don’t have to sleep outside and there is plenty to eat. It may be one of the few good things that I can think of about the present state of affairs, but it’s something.  And for Ian’s Pizza on State Street, it’s got to be like having a non-stop Super Bowl party.

As Dickens said:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

Of course, all good things come to an end. The Wisconsin State Journal informs us today…

The enormous “protest village” that has taken hold inside the state Capitol the past two weeks will officially end this weekend.

Capitol police announced Friday that they would kick out protesters and close the Capitol doors at 4 p.m. on Sunday, a move that would allow crews to begin cleaning up after possibly the longest and most intense protests in state history.

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So we’ll have to see how that goes.


UPDATE: New York Times picks up on the Ian’s Pizza story:

Taking it to the streets — all over Wisconsin

Posted in Uncategorized on February 25, 2011 by Jim Rosenberg

Governor Walker continues to pretend that the large-scale demonstrations in Madison are making heavy use of out of state agitators. They don’t. These are mostly his constituents, not that it seems to matter to Walker. While there certainly have been some supporters coming across the state line on both sides of the issue, the idea that the crowds at the capitol are mostly or even significantly made up of people who are not from Wisconsin is pretty much fiction and a spin attempt.

But even though there is no real need to refute that false premise, it’s really starting to unravel when we consider that hundreds and sometimes thousands of people are now regularly gathering to protest Walker’s bill in communities across the state. Municipal governments are beginning to pass resolutions opposing the bill. Essentially nobody from out of state is involved.

Walker’s bill stinks in various aspects beyond simply trashing unions, as if that wouldn’t be enough. Thanks to 14 Senators holding out in Illinois until the guv finds the road to Damascus, the people of Wisconsin are getting the time he wanted to deny them to figure out just how bad it is.

Just who does the governor think he is impressing with his “open for business” slogan while he continues to ratchet up the acrimony at the behest of the Koch brothers and other corporate interests, at the expense of the citizens he is supposed to be serving?

Sadly, the best news of the week was Walker getting punked by a blogger posing as David Koch and recording 20 minutes of conversation that gave people a rare chance to look beyond the public facade of what certainly comes off  as a cynical, ego-driven and ethically-challenged person. It was clear that the main motivation for his bill was to try to make his mark, rather than solve problems. And when the inevitable firestorm of criticism followed, Walker seemed comfortable blowing it off as something unimportant. It wasn’t.

“Governor Walker, this tape would make Richard Nixon blush,” said Senator Tim Carpenter, in a letter to the governor. “If the recording and the items discussed by you are indeed your plans, you have no business being in public office in our State, and should resign.”

That’s pretty serious stuff, for a fellow who hasn’t even been in office for two months yet. 


Walker-“Koch” phone call, Part 1: 

Walker-“Koch phone call, Part 2:

Senator Carpenter Letter:

Sorry I’m not still in Madison? Yes and no…

Posted in Uncategorized on February 24, 2011 by Jim Rosenberg

Last month, I sublet my East Mifflin Street apartment about four blocks off the Capitol Square in Madison, where I had been living during the week since July.  Each morning for nearly six months, I would walk to the Capitol, where I had a key to get in and go to work in the Office of the Lieutenant Governor.  There was a bit of coverage when I left Wausau for this sojourn, since I was the longest currently-serving elected official in Wausau city government at that time. But it was something that I needed to do when the opportunity came up and I’m happy that I did.

As I’m reconnecting with people in Wausau now, the most common thing I hear is this: “I thought you were in Madison!”  I explain that with the end of Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton’s term, I’m now back in Wausau full-time.  But over the last couple of weeks, there is a follow-up: “I bet you wish you were down there now!” or alternatively: “I’ll bet you’re glad you’re not down there now!” 

Well, that’s kind of an interesting thought — but you have to remember that if I was down there now in the capacity that I had served in, none of this would be happening at all. It isn’t because I would have been able to prevent it. It’s because if I was still there, Scott Walker wouldn’t be governor. Barbara Lawton stood with Wisconsin workers and it was more than once that people recalled to me that she stood with Tyson Foods workers in Jefferson on the picket line or showed leadership to defend economic opportunity for Wisconsin citizens, women, veterans and others. 

I ran into Barbara Lawton last Saturday in the Capitol.  We both stand with Wisconsin workers and against the Koch machine, as it tries to steamroll the rights and opportunities of this state’s public employees.  We know that the lower standard of living that these people are trying to set in Wisconsin will not stop with public employee unions.  It’s about a few incredibly wealthy people getting even more at the expense of millions of others getting less. It’s unfortunate that there are still a lot of people who don’t get it, but that’s what it is, pure and simple. (I don’t say any of this an attempt to speak for Barbara Lawton because anyone who knows her would also know that she speaks for herself. I say it simply because I know it to be true.)

So am I sorry I’m not in Madison right now? I’m happy to be back in my own home in Wausau.  But as for the larger question and all that it means, I really don’t know. 


Another bad idea: selling off state assets with no oversight

Posted in Uncategorized on February 23, 2011 by Jim Rosenberg

This from today’s Capital Times:

The billionaire brothers whose political action committee gave Gov. Scott Walker $43,000 and helped fund a multi-million dollar attack ad campaign against his opponent during the 2010 gubernatorial election have quietly opened a lobbying office in Madison just off the Capitol Square.

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In what should be an unrelated matter, I’m still waiting to hear why Governor Walker’s “budget repair” bill includes a provision for the sale of some state-owned energy facilities; heating, cooling and power plants. There is no need for appraisals, economic analysis, requests for proposals, bids, or any of that other pesky stuff. No approval is necessary from the Public Service Commission on the part of the buyer. If you’re a utility, you can just plunk down the cash and put it in your rate base. If you just want to operate it for a fee, you don’t have to worry about being the low bidder.

So this is a very attractive option. You get a solid customer, a great rate of return and no muss or fuss with the regulatory pitfalls of making sure that utility ratepayers are protected from the abuse of paying for things that they may not need. There’s no need to make sure taxpayers get full value or that the deal makes sense over the life of the facility, either. I mean, really, who cares, right? Just bake it into that bill you’re trying to ram through in a few days and hope that the focus is on other aspects of the legislation (as it certainly has been.)

Just like the guv’s labor initiative in the bill, it’s kind of a throwback to the gilded age. (Isn’t that the same kind of thinking that said we could throw out the Depression-era Glass-Steagall Act a few years back because we didn’t have to worry about the banks or burden them with unnecessary regulations?)

Take a read:

16.896 Sale or contractual operation of state-owned heating, cooling, and power plants. (1) Notwithstanding ss. 13.48 (14) (am) and 16.705 (1), the department may sell any state-owned heating, cooling, and power plant or may contract with a private entity for the operation of any such plant, with or without solicitation of bids, for any amount that the department determines to be in the best interest of the state. Notwithstanding ss. 196.49 and 196.80, no approval or certification of the public service commission is necessary for a public utility to purchase, or contract for the operation of, such a plant, and any such purchase is considered to be in the public interest and to comply with the criteria for certification of a project under s. 196.49 (3) (b).

(Highlighting provided by  🙂

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So the administration will be put into a position to sell any of these assets that it wants to for any price that it feels like and then the taxpayers buy power for whatever the prevailing rate happens to be. Alternatively, the state can enter into a contract for operations for whatever price it comes up with and no prescribed method to do that. But whatever it decides to do, it’s going to be in the public interest and in ratepayers interest (because it says so, right in the bill.)

And just as an aside, the brand-spanking new Administrator of the Division of State Facilities is none other than ousted Democratic Senator Jeff Plale, who provided a critical vote with Sen. Russ Decker in the lame duck session of the legislature to block public employee contracts from being approved — something that opened the door for the present drama right now. (It ranked as one of Walker’s more interesting appointments, along with putting the father of Assembly and Senate leaders, the Fitzgerald Brothers, in charge of the Wisconsin State Patrol.)

Do you see any safeguards involved in any of that? There aren’t any. I may be naïve, but I spent nearly 30 years in the energy utility industry and I’m here to tell you that this is a very bad idea. The consequences are currently unknown and there may be little or no recourse if bad calls are made. It’s dumb.

So maybe this item ought to be carved out of the “budget repair” bill and debated as separate legislation with real, live legislative sponsors and co-sponsors who can explain exactly what it is they’re trying to accomplish. Tell us why this measure serves the people of this state and why the people who are there to protect ratepayers need to be sidelined in any decisions. It might keep cynical people like me from thinking that it looks like nothing more than a sweetheart deal for some political supporters.

Walker and Wisconsin are making international news with the budget repair bill and the radical agenda it encompasses. It isn’t because people all over the world care about Wisconsin’s budget issues, per se. The best take I’ve seen from a talking head on one of the networks so far explains it all: the the governor’s bill wasn’t done by finance people trying to solve fiscal issues, but by political people trying to advance their goals.  That figures.


Meet your friends at the Club for Growth

Posted in Uncategorized on February 22, 2011 by Jim Rosenberg

If you’ve been watching TV lately, you’ve probably seen some ads placed by the Club for Growth. Never mind the points being made are moot, since public employee unions have already agreed that members will contribute more toward health insurance and their retirement fund. The Club for Growth had their ads on the air before some Wisconsin legislators even had a copy of Governor Walker’s “budget repair” bill in their hands:

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“Like last Friday morning, when I was driving to a school business administrator’s meeting in De Pere. And I turned on the radio and there was an ad saying, “Hey, support Governor Walker’s Budget Repair Bill. Paid for by the Club of Growth.” Well guess what, I had never been given a bill… And it’s bad enough, it’s bad enough that I had to hear it from a radio ad from Washington DC, and then show up at a meeting with no details…”

– Rep. Gordon Hintz

* * *


The Club for Growth would like the people of Wisconsin to support Governor Walker’s union-busting bill, but it’s just fine with them if people don’t understand what’s in it and what it means. Their ads don’t deal with the issue on the table, which is collective bargaining. But those ads aren’t just for you. What they’re really about is trying to intimidate legislators and especially Republican senators, who might otherwise be tempted to vote their conscience and break ranks from the far-right party line being advanced by the guv.

You see, not everyone is in the club.

The Club for Growth has made a business not only of putting people in office, but bringing opposition in primary races against GOP legislators who they don’t think are adhering to their conservative doctrine. Ask Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who miraculously won a write-in campaign to keep her U.S. Senate seat last November. The Club for Growth tried to swing that seat to Joe Miller, (Sarah Palin’s pick in that race.) Some of us never cheered harder for a Republican Senator than we did for Murkowski.

They successfully unseated Republican Senator Bob Bennett of Utah in the 2010, replacing him with Mike Lee. They backed Marco Rubio in Florida, forcing Republican Governor Charlie Crist to run as an independent in the U.S. Senate race that Rubio ended up winning. Remember Senator Arlen Specter switching over to become a Democrat in Pennsylvania? His seat is now held by former Club for Growth President Pat Toomey. Remember Russ Feingold? The Club for Growth poured six figures into negative ads and their approved candidate, Ron Johnson, now holds the seat.

The Club for Growth was a player with Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce in the ridiculously negative Wisconsin Supreme Court races over the past few years and they are backing Justice Prosser this year.

And now the Club for Growth is blasting the airwaves in Wisconsin again, this time to protect their protégé governor Scott Walker that they supported heavily. All the while, they’re reminding everyone in the Republican ranks — including Scott Walker – that they’re ready to pour on the money against anyone who strays from their no-compromise, hard right party line. The Club for Growth would like to win, but they are just as interested in exacting punishment against wayward Republicans.

Here’s a little snippet from a Club for Growth mailing in 2006 to their members:

“Politicians are risk-adverse. Every Republican in Congress knows what we did in Rhode Island. They realize that Club members donated an incredible $725,000 to Chafee’s challenger. They know that the Club for Growth PAC spent an additional $515,000, mostly on TV ads, and took a challenger from being down 2 to 1 in the polls to the edge of an upset. As senators cast their votes on key bills, wavering Republicans will have to wonder if they could withstand the same punishment.”

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You can thank the U.S. Supreme Court’s horrendous Citizens United decision for making this problem even worse now than it was in the past (and it was already plenty bad.)  

I’m providing a couple of pictures here. One is Steve Moore, founder of the Club for Growth. The other is Governor Scott Walker. Did you notice the background is the same? It’s no coincidence that they were both appearing on the agenda at an Americans for Prosperity event around two years ago in Milwaukee. It’s no coincidence that the Club for Growth holds hands with Koch Brothers funded groups. And it’s no coincidence that even though Wisconsin public employee unions have already given the governor everything he says he needs on the money side, he still won’t compromise.  The club doesn’t compromise and if you do, you’re not club material for anything but an assault in the next election cycle.

Trees are known by their fruit and people are known by the company they keep. 


Tea Party and education: they can’t even take attendance

Posted in Uncategorized on February 20, 2011 by Jim Rosenberg

I’ve been telling you about the billionaire Koch brothers and their Astroturf movements for a few years now, beginning in October 2007. I’m happy to see that more people are beginning to catch on.

Matt Seaholm, former campaign director for Sean Duffy, is now the state director for Americans for Prosperity, replacing infamous campaign law violator Mark Block. Block has moved on to join the staff of Herman Cain, a would-be presidential candidate from Atlanta and talk radio host whose main claims to fame are short stints as Godfather’s Pizza chairman (95-96) and deputy chair of the Kansas City Federal Reserve (92-94). AFP teamed up with American Majority – another non-profit tax dodge foundation used to train right-wing activists that is funded largely by the Sam Adams Alliance – to stage the counter-demonstration in Madison yesterday. (You can Google up all these organizations later, if you have time. I can tell you that once you start pulling threads, it can become a very tangled web that usually ends up with a relatively short list of the same amazingly rich right-wing extremist guys. They don’t call it the Kochtopus for nothing.)

One of the things I’ve noticed about these loudly touted gatherings is that the organizers invariably misrepresent the attendance. For small gatherings, they add a few or maybe double it. For larger gatherings, they sometimes multiply it several times to come up with a number. If you weren’t there to see it, how would you know? Well, you wouldn’t — and that’s why they do it. In Milwaukee a couple of years ago, I physically counted the chairs and then laughed when AFP Mark Block added a couple of hundred people for the media query. In Wausau, a rally that comfortably fit into one triangular quadrant of the 400 block with plenty of room to spare was said to have 2,500 in attendance, even though the number defied physics and an even cursory look. When the newspaper gave an estimate of 1,000 in their ensuing coverage — a number that was still plenty generous — the Tea party folks railed at them for not accepting their bogus figure.

They do it every time and yesterday in Madison was no exception. They tried to sell numbers in excess of 8,000 for their rally at the capitol from the stage and I understand one speaker even claimed 12,000. I don’t know why they do this. It’s not like they don’t know how many busses they chartered, how many seats were empty on the busses, who replied to their websites and how many may have showed up using their own vehicles. Is the professional staff paid on a per-head basis or something?

What I will tell you is that despite the media bending over backwards to make it look like there was significant representation on hand to support Walker in the interests of looking exceedingly fair (and balanced), my best guess is that they had around 2,500. If we give them credit for 1,000 more who were showing up in two and threes in various other areas around the capitol square, that means they were outnumbered by at least 20 to 1. I saw about a half dozen inside the capitol. Some people have been chiding me for the 20 to 1 figure, saying it was more like 200 to 1. But realistically, 20 to 1 would put the 2,500 in the context of a total attendance of 50,000 and 3,500 at a total attendance of 70,000. I think the latter number is a reasonable guess for yesterday’s activities, but it might still be a little light.

Now, I’m sure you’ll be able to hear all kinds of interesting numbers this week on right-wing talk radio and Fox News. That’s why I took a few pictures to show that the Tea Party-AFP-American Majority group comfortably fit into part of a section of paving at one entrance to the capitol at the peak of their rally yesterday. Keep in mind that not everyone in even that relatively small space was a supporter.  (The top two pictures are NOT Walker anti-labor supporters. They’re in the bottom shot; the one with all the empty space around them.)

But my real question is this: Why would anyone want to trust people about matters of education, money or numbers when it’s clear that they’ve never even been able to take attendance?



Let me get this right, Governor Walker…

Posted in Uncategorized on February 18, 2011 by Jim Rosenberg

Governor Walker wanted everyone to know that he has received 8,000 e-mails supporting his agenda to gut employee rights in Wisconsin. He didn’t mention whether he got any opposing it and yesterday, tens of thousands of people showed up in person to register their disapproval. 

Just for the record, I want folks to know that I sent an e-mail to the guv last weekend before the protests ever began and here is what it said:

* * *

Governor Walker:

 Wisconsin has a long history of fair and open government. Part of that has included collective bargaining with public employee unions. As a local elected official myself for many years, I understand the frustrations and limitations of the current system. I also think that our current situation in state and local governments calls for some shared sacrifice.

But having said that, I want you to know that I completely disapprove of your sweeping and unilateral proposals regarding public employee unions in Wisconsin. It is unbalanced and it is on a track that will not provide for a thoughtful and dispassionate discussion of the many impacts and issues involved. I hope you will abandon this ill-advised approach.


Jim Rosenberg

* * *
So let me get this straight. It takes a minute or two to send an e-mail.  It takes hours and sometimes days for people to show up at the capitol to let you know in person. Tens of thousands of people are doing that — sometimes risking their jobs — and we should talk about 8,000 lousy e-mails and act like that’s some kind of counterbalance to a scene that looks like Tahrir Square?

How many e-mails did the governor get that didn’t support him? Well, he didn’t say. (I’m going to go out on a limb here and speculate that mine was probably not the only one.) You can send an e-mail to the Governor General, too:

I’ll bet you didn’t even know we had a governor general, did you?  Well, it’s right there in the address, so it must be true.  And as well we know now, he counts those things.

After what Governor Walker has done in his first six weeks of office and what he has shown the rest of the country on the national news of his poorly received effort to turn Wisconsin into a Red State bastion, his “open for business” tagline has been more than outdone.