Archive for April, 2011

Recalls, recycling and window dressing

Posted in Uncategorized on April 28, 2011 by Jim Rosenberg

With summer recall elections looming for a half dozen Republican state senators in Wisconsin, it’s interesting to watch how some legislators are attempting to position themselves against rising unpopularity. In an effort to have voters remember them for something besides the enabling of Governor Walker’s attack on workers and local governments with their party line votes, some are breaking ranks in on a Walker-proposed rollback of recycling in Wisconsin.

It’s a convenient enough place to act independently. Who was out there staking out the anti-recycling turf in a big way before Walker came out with his assault on it, anyway? Recycling is not a lot of money in the big picture; about $32 million annually. A lot of it is paid for by landfill tipping fees, but the guv would like to divert some of that funding for other things — (so much for all the howling about the need to direct funds toward the purpose for which they were ostensibly collected.) Walker’s proposal is another slap in the face to the environment and local governments among others that are far more significant. Most of those are already done deals, in spite of anything that was said in two-minute increments at public hearings on the state budget.

Maybe the recycling stuff was giveaway item all along. It doesn’t even sound like the guv likes his own idea about it very much anymore.

Never mind the draconian cuts to school districts, medical assistance to the poor, shared revenue to local governments or cuts to higher education. Forget about the rush to pass tax cuts to corporations and big, wet kisses to Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce like gutting consumer protections in tort law and other measures that were taken up in a special “jobs session” of the legislature first and had little to do with jobs.

Don’t worry about the hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of jobs that Walker eschewed by refusing a high-speed rail link – money that will now go elsewhere and that he’s already trying to recover a bit of for some needed rail work that would have been included. Pay no attention to the hundreds of millions of dollars that will be sucked out of local economies by Walker’s extremist agenda. Ignore taking hundreds of dollars each out of the budgets of low-income households via cutting the Earned Income Tax Credit and new charges for medical care that they already can’t afford to in order help pay for tax cuts to the more well off, when they run out of loopholes.

But the matter of giving Wisconsin’s people something to think about every couple of weeks when they take their glass, plastic, newspapers, batteries and used motor oil out to the curb might be different. Tossing a couple of million tons of recyclable materials into landfills every year instead of sending them back for productive uses isn’t something that only comes up at budget time. It’s something we teach our kids and that we believe in. It’s something that extends the life of landfills and conserves natural resources. It even provides jobs. And maybe all of that turns out to be a little too much for some of the more shaky members of the GOP caucus to get behind, especially since gutting recycling isn’t a very smart thing to do anyway.

But it’s important to remember that these folks have done a lot of damage already and it takes a serious case of either amnesia or Stockholm syndrome to look past it. As tone deaf as the guv’s recycling proposal really is, it’s hardly worth a bullet point in a lengthening rap sheet of impudent initiatives since January. Hundreds of thousands of people didn’t show up at the capitol to talk about recycling and tens of thousands of people wouldn’t have signed recall petitions over it, either. Republican legislators are the people who have been making it all possible and in fact, their amazing ability to work with this governor has made a lot of people think that gridlock is something Wisconsin should now be aspiring to reach.

It will be wonderful if enough Republicans are willing to pose for holy pictures with recycling containers and local officials between now and July to save a pretty good way of doing things. While simply abstaining from vandalizing a successful program may seem like relatively dubious accomplishment, it looks impressively reasonable in comparison to a host of other actions in the Fitzgerald-led houses of the Wisconsin legislature and the gubernatorial term of Scott Walker.

But let’s not confuse simply “not screwing something else up” with real progress, legislative leadership or political courage. It’s none of those things. Wisconsin agreed on recycling and established it as an ethic more than two decades back. That’s when the real leadership was shown.


Where were people while the dollar was going south? Right here.

Posted in Uncategorized on April 24, 2011 by Jim Rosenberg

It’s interesting to read Paul Krugman’s economic analyses and I follow him closely, but I have to say I did a double take yesterday when I saw this in his New York Times column entitled “Who Debased the Dollar?”

* * *

“Right now we have all these people hysterical about the debasement of the dollar, but where were they when the real devaluation was taking place?”

“Funny how we didn’t hear all this hysteria between 2001 and 2007. For the record: while I had plenty of complaints about the Bush economy, the declining dollar was never among them.”

* * *

Well, for the record, I had plenty of complaints, too — and the declining dollar was definitely among them. Here’s what I wrote about that on July 16, 2007, when the stock market was setting new record highs. I was skeptical of the market and pointed out that over the previous half dozen years – from 2001 to mid-2007 — the return on the S&P was pretty darn poor (less than 7 percent total return, exclusive of dividends.) And then I said this about U.S. currency over the period:

“If you happened to trade U.S. dollars for Euros as Bush was being inaugurated and stashed them in a safe deposit box, your idle Euro currency is worth about 35 percent more today. If you purchased Canadian dollars instead, your loonies and toonies would be doing even better, with a 41 percent gain. Just pull it out, dust it off and claim your winnings. Congratulations. You picked the right time to bet against the U.S. dollar.”

It’s nice to see that others are noticing this, but the answer to the question of where people were when the real devaluation was taking place is a simple one for me.  And for all the current hype about the stock market rallying, buying Euros has still been a better bet since the beginning of 2001 or mid-July of 2007, in comparison to the S&P 500. 


Politics Friday: recalls, upcoming elections and a poll

Posted in Uncategorized on April 22, 2011 by Jim Rosenberg

This week, Republicans handed in petitions to force recall elections for three Democratic senators: Dave Hansen, Jim Holperin and Bob Wirch. They have legitimate shots in each of those districts, but Wirch seems like the least likely pickup from here. None can be picked up unless the GOP can find legitimate candidates to provide an alternative and it will remain to be seen if that’s the case.

Meanwhile, the number of GOP senators facing likely recall elections is up to five: Dan Kapanke, Sheila Harsdorf, Randy Hopper, Luther Olsen and Alberta Darling. In at least four of those districts, the Democrats already have strong candidates lined up. A good early test of strength will be the open 94th Assembly District, where La Crosse County Board Chair Steve Doyle will try to take the seat held by GOP Rep. Mike Huebsch since 1995, until he left to assume the position of Department of Administration secretary in January. That election is scheduled for May 3, so stay tuned. (Yes, there are two other Assembly elections that day. No, they won’t matter.)

JoAnne Kloppenburg has requested a recount in the Supreme Court election and David Prosser should be thanking her. Why? Because the most likely outcome would be to make his narrow victory look far more legitimate than it has since two days after the election with the Waukesha County fiasco.

The Wisconsin Public Radio – St. Norbert’s College poll has been released, just as it is every spring around this time. Of course, this isn’t like any other spring in Wisconsin. One telling result is that 57 percent view Walker’s assault on unions as having little to do with the budget and mostly to do with trying to weaken unions. A majority also support collective bargaining rights for public employees on health insurance and working conditions, which are both banned under Walker’s bill. Nearly half disapprove of Walker’s performance (48 percent) and 47 percent say they would support a Walker recall. Sixty-seven percent disapproved of his cuts to K-12 education. (There’s some real cognitive dissonance between November and the end of March in Wisconsin, don’t you think?)

On Thursday, former state senator Pat Kreitlow announced that he will be kicking off a run against 7th District GOP Congressman Sean Duffy next Monday. This will be interesting, since it remains to be seen what the 7th District will actually look like after re-districting takes place later this year. Kreitlow was mentioned as a possible contender for the congressional seat in 2010. He ended up losing his Senate seat to former GOP Assembly rep Terry Moulton in the November 2010 tsunami, but it sure looks like some of the water from that wave may be washing back out to sea. The results of the elections this summer – the ones we didn’t even know would be happening back in early February – may provide a bit of an indicator.


Peanut Brittle – Quick and easy recipe

Posted in Uncategorized on April 20, 2011 by Jim Rosenberg

Okay gang, it’s time for a little break from the political stuff and as regular readers know, that means another recipe. Since we’re in the midst of a really weird April snowstorm, it seems like a good time to warm up the kitchen with a little something that many people might make during the holidays, but there is no particular reason that peanut brittle needs to be limited to that season.

First, let me tell you that it really helps to think about cleanup before you ever get started. Molten sugar hardens to a lava-like consistency and so it’s really important to choose your weapons with this in mind. I use a Circulon anodized non-stick 2-quart saucepan for the preparation and a silicone spatula for stirring. Be careful when you set things down on or you will be trying to figure how to undo something on the order of Superglue.


  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 cup peanuts* (If you like more, not more than a half cup extra. I use Planters extra large Virginia peanuts.)
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda


    1. Grease a large cookie sheet and set aside. (This is important because you won’t have time to get it ready when the time comes and timing is critical!
    2. In a heavy 2-quart saucepan, over medium heat, bring sugar, corn syrup, salt, and water to a boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Stir in the peanuts. Set candy thermometer in place and continue cooking. Stir frequently – and I would say almost constantly — until temperature reaches 300 degrees F (150 degrees C), or until a small amount of mixture dropped into very cold water separates into hard and brittle threads.

3. Remove from heat; IMMEDIATELY stir in butter and baking soda; pour IMMEDIATELY onto cookie sheet. With 2 forks, lift and pull peanut mixture into rectangle about 14×12 inches; cool. Snap candy into pieces.

It’s all in the finish! Be sure to have everything in position and MOVE VERY QUICKLY once you stir in the butter and the baking soda. This is what magically changes the color, consistency and flavor into an awesome mix with the correct properties of an extremely fine, uniformly hardened froth after cooling.

I also have to tell you that on that last part, I find the “two-fork” technique pretty lame. I smooth it out as best I can with my spatula, but remember that you only have about 30 seconds to fool around with it because it will begin to cool. You’ll end up with a rough finish if you don’t quit messing with it while it is still hot enough to settle out smooth. Don’t sweat it if you can’t bring it out into a perfect rectangle that completely fills your 14×12 baking sheet — (I’ve never done it.) The main thing is to get it to an even thickness that you like. I shoot for  around a quarter of an inch.

Bon appetit!


An expensive Tea Party; much ado about little?

Posted in Uncategorized on April 18, 2011 by Jim Rosenberg

Reports from Saturday’s “Tax Day” event at the capitol in Madison point to a small turnout, with right-wingers handily outnumbered by counter-protesters opposed to Walker, the GOP and the Tea Party. The total crowd was estimated at 6,500 and the Tea Party share of that was reportedly only in the hundreds. That’s got to be disappointing, considering that somebody had to bankroll the appearance of former half-term Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. Such appearances cost tens of thousands of dollars. Throw in the bus transportation, big screen, sound system and miscellaneous expenses and it’s looking like this little exercise in astroturfing probably ended up with an imputed cost that fell somewhere between $100 and $200 per ticket. These are people who want us all to be more efficient? 

Irony was thick, as out-of-state agitators including Palin and California blogger Andrew Breitbart – who came to Wisconsin to tell the locals to “go to hell,” – were drowned out.

We’ve talked about the challenge that Tea Party folks have with numbers in the past. A claim made by Kim Simic at the rally was that she would be back in Madison Friday to turn in petitions for the recall of 12th District Democratic Sen. Jim Holperin. I have to say that I would be surprised if sufficient signatures will actually be produced by Friday in that sprawling district. Pro and anti-Holperin TV ads have been running for weeks. Holperin faced and won a prior recall election as an Assembly representative during the Chippewa spearing controversy back in the 1980s and he served as Wisconsin Tourism Secretary from 2003-2007.

While all three Assembly seats in the 12th are held by Republicans, that’s been the case for a long time. Democrat Roger Breske left the seat to become Railroad Commissioner in 2008. It was in an appointment by Governor Doyle that many saw as an effort to advance Wisconsin’s indoor smoking ban, which had been languishing in Breske’s Senate committee. Doyle had to throw long-time Railroad Commissioner “Uncle Rodney” Kreunen under the train to do it, an appointee of Gov. Tommy Thompson who had held the job since 1996. (This gig might be something for Sen. Dan Kapanke to keep in mind.)

Like his predecessor in the Senate seat, which he was first elected to in 1990, Breske seemed neither fish nor fowl at times, in a political sense. The Congressional seats up north are Republican, but they only changed hands between the parties in 2010 and they will likely be national battlegrounds again next year. Some of the 12th Senate District is in the 7th Congressional District (Sean Duffy, formerly Dave Obey), but most of the real estate is actually in the 8th  (Reid Ribble, formerly Steve Kagan.) I can’t remember the last Republican to represent the 12th. Lloyd Kincaid came close – speaking of neither fish nor fowl — having begun his legislative career in 1973 as a member of the GOP and then switching parties to become a Democrat somewhere along the way. He retired in 1990 and passed away in 2007, but Kincaid produced some of the more memorable statehouse floor quotes in recent history during his tenure:

“This is a good health-care bill. Take it from one who survived a terminal heart attack.”

“The people in my district do not want this highway bypass, no matter if it goes through or around the city.”

And my personal favorite:

“As long as I am in the Senate, there will not be a nuclear suppository in my district.” (Our crack research team informs us that this remains the case today.)

In short, it’s always a tough call in the Northwoods.

It’s anyone’s guess what will happen in Holperin’s district, if or when the recall petitions eventually come through with enough signatures. My money would be on him to prevail, but one would have to rank it as one of the most likely pickups for the GOP in the round of potential recall elections, along with Sen. Dave Hansen in the 30th. There is a very real possibility that the result of all of the recall fever going on right now in Wisconsin may be a rearrangement that ultimately produces no net difference in the makeup of the Senate. That said, it should continue to be entertaining.


UPDATE: Luther Olsen becomes third GOP senator with sufficient signatures to face recall election:|topnews|img|FRONTPAGE

Brat Fest boycott is a bad idea

Posted in Uncategorized on April 14, 2011 by Jim Rosenberg

This from the April 12, 2011 Wisconsin State Journal…

Fallout from the controversy surrounding Gov. Scott Walker’s bid to strip collective bargaining rights from most public employees, as well as his proposed budget cuts, is sizzling around Madison’s World’s Largest Brat Fest.

Brat-lover Carrie Dainty, a longtime patron of the annual Memorial Day weekend charity fundraiser, isn’t relishing the thought of munching the brats donated by Johnsonville Sausage, whose executives, family members and employees have donated $44,250 to Walker since 2005.

So she and brother-in-law Joey Dunscombe, a chef at the Weary Traveler Free House at 1201 Williamson St., are planning an alternative fest serving locally-produced brats and other food, while also donating all proceeds to charity.

* * *

So the beef is that Ralph C. Stayer, president of Johnsonville Foods, his sister and some Johnsonville staff members have donated to Walker.  I think linking this stuff together is one of the worst ways that could have been cooked up to grill some Walker contributors. Let me tell you why.

First, the brats are a donation. Johnsonville’s contributions to the Brat Fest since they began are far greater than what a handful of company-related people contributed to Walker. Whether you like the private political stances of some of the players or not, this event isn’t a moneymaker for the company. Johnsonville has been sponsoring the World’s Largest Brat Fest for more than a decade. That’s a lot longer, more consistent and way more significant than what any family or staff members have donated to Walker.

We’ve all learned a lot about Scott Walker since the November election. Polls indicate that Walker couldn’t win if he was running for election right now because some people have changed their minds. I would be far more interested in who is donating going forward — in the context everything that we know now — than in what happened before Walker’s real agenda came to light. Union busting wasn’t part of the Walker campaign before the election, so why pretend that all of Walker’s contributors were somehow in on it?

If an overall boycott of Johnsonville actually did have an impact, it would certainly be greater for working stiffs at the company than for any of the people actually being targeted for giving money to Walker. Look, I’m willing to accept a few accidental civilian casualties if we could, say, knock off Bin Laden — but I think it makes sense for working people to look out for other working people to the greatest extent possible. Boycotts can be pretty sloppy when it comes to collateral damage and this particular one seems especially sloppy.

An unlikely “success” in trashing the Brat Fest would negatively impact tens of thousands of uninvolved innocents, wouldn’t it? Abstaining from a worthy charity event because the organizers managed to get support from a company whose management privately threw a little of their personal money at a Republican outlier seems like cutting off your nose to spite your face. It would be more effective to coordinate some type of active participation than to expect others to notice and positively value non-participation.

A lot of Madison non-profits benefit from the World’s Largest Brat Fest and the recipients of that funding are ultimately the people who stand to lose in this case, not Johnsonville. The hope was for this year’s Brat Fest to surpass $1 million in its support to 120 charities since it got rolling.  Having Johnsonville make generous annual contributions has been critical to making that outcome possible. I think we ought to eat every damned one of those brats and be grateful.

Most of us don’t look up the political activity of everyone who contributes to arts centers, university buildings, stadiums, performances or a lot of other things before deciding if they’re a good thing or whether to attend. There is such a thing as knowing too much sometimes and it is the reason that sausage-making has become a well-worn metaphor of nearly mythical status when it comes to observations about politics and policymaking.

There should also be some sense of proportionality to these things. The Johnsonville-related contributions toward Walker compared to what the Koch brothers are doing to bring about an American oligarchy across the country, for example, are like comparing a stick of pepperoni to Tyson Foods.

Even a stopped watch is right twice a day. Great home run hitters chalk up plenty of strikeouts. Hall of Fame running backs sometimes fumble.  The greatest goalies don’t have career-long shutouts and Michael Jordan didn’t make every shot he took on the basketball court. Having Johnsonville step up to support a community effort by volunteering to help feed an army of fest attendees is a good thing. This is Wisconsin. These are bratwurst. We can get past this.

There is a place for boycotts, but the World’s Largest Brat Fest isn’t one of them. Save that stuff for the real weenies out there,  instead of turning a generous act of corporate citizenship into something that this company might begin to think they would be better off not doing at all. Nobody would be better off if that happened.


UPDATE: I see the Wisconsin State Journal and I agree on this today: 

Despite this development, I remain resolute. 🙂

UPDATE: From the elections blog 4/23/11:

*Randy Hopper, R-Fond du Lac, raised $83,854, spent $15,147 and had $82,206 cash on hand with $9,844 in debts. His largest donor was Ralph Stayer of Johnsonville Sausage, who gave him $15,000.  (So, yes, the Johnsonville guy really IS pretty incorrigible.)

Storm brewing from the southwest; Dems should pick up seats

Posted in Uncategorized on April 11, 2011 by Jim Rosenberg

Nearly lost in the brouhaha over the statewide Supreme Court race is that there were three primaries for special elections in the Wisconsin Assembly caused by GOP incumbents taking new positions in the Walker administration.

Reps. Mike Huebsch of West Salem, Mark Gottlieb of Port Washington and Scott Gunderson of Waterford resigned their positions shortly after being sworn in, setting up special elections to fill the three Assembly seats.

Gottlieb’s seat in Sen. Glenn Grothman’s district will be easy to defend for the Republicans and so will Gunderson’s, which is in Sen. Mary Lazich’s district. While both of these senators may officially have recall efforts against them underway, it would be surprising if the organizers could come up with the signatures in those areas and it would be nothing short of shocking if the effort resulted in flipping the seats. (It won’t, because about the only way to take either of Grothman or Lazich out would be to run somebody to the right of them. If there is any air between them and the far fringes, I can’t see it.)

But a fairly large region in western Wisconsin came across blue or purple in the Kloppenberg-Prosser Supreme Court race and it isn’t rocket science to figure out why the Republicans should have more than a passing interest in the change of shade since last November. It’s literally becoming a three-alarm fire.

Over the weekend, Rep. Jennifer Shilling of the 95th came out as a candidate against Sen. Dan Kapanke in the upcoming 32nd Senate District recall race. She will be in a very good position to take Kapanke out, since everything known about that area over the past several months shows that Kapanke is in trouble. Shilling is solid, well known and has been serving in the Assembly in 2000.

While his district comprised two Republican Assembly representatives besides Shilling when he last ran for re-election in 2008, that is no longer the case.   The vacant Huebsch in the 94th is being contested strongly by La Crosse County Board Chair and attorney Steve Doyle.  He has an impressive resume and he looks to have a decent tailwind. Likewise, the Dems should be able to defend Shilling’s current Assembly seat, if she should move to the Senate.

The other GOP representative, Lee Nerison of the 96th, was one of only four GOP representatives to vote against Walker’s “budget repair” bill and that is looking like a very good call on his part. (Note that 17th District Sen. Dale Schultz, whose district adjoins Nerison’s, was the only GOP senator to break party ranks on the measure.)

In short, a Wisconsin Senate district that came out of the November 2010 elections with a GOP senator and two Republican Assembly reps out of three could be heading toward solid Democratic representation before 2011 is out. Interestingly, Kapanke came within less than 10,000 votes of being elected to Congress as he took his off-election year in the middle of his four-year Senate term to challenge incumbent Democrat Ron Kind. Thanks to the impunity of Walker and the new GOP majorities in both Wisconsin legislative houses since taking office at the beginning of the year, Kapanke is already fighting for his political life.

Meanwhile, Oshkosh Deputy Mayor Jessica King, an attorney who lost to Sen. Randy Hopper in the 18th by only 163 votes in November 2008, is expected to enter the recall election against Hopper tomorrow. Hopper’s stock has only declined since people began collecting signatures for his recall and let’s just say the guy is a bit nicked up going into this contest:
King is a proven vote-getter and fundraiser in the district who will be able to provide a stiff challenge to Hopper as he tries to hang on to his seat – particularly with the elements of the present scenario in play.

As for other recalls around the state, it remains to be seen who will be coming up with enough signatures and whether they can follow through with solid candidates and funding to take out their targeted incumbents. Right now, the advantage goes to the Democrats.  And while a couple of seats may not seem like a big deal against the majorities the GOP now holds, folks need to remember that losing any seats at all in an odd-numbered year is not a typical part of anyone’s playbook. 

It seems like a good time to reprise Gov. Walker’s quote from last week:

“But those Senate recall elections on both the Democrat and Republican side aren’t being held in Madison, they aren’t being held in Milwaukee.”

Very true.  And it’s also true that the GOP could break even in the Senate after all of the recall dust clears, but they still have only seats to lose in the Assembly.  If the Prosser-Kloppenburg Supreme Court race proved nothing else, it may be that Wisconsin is more evenly divided between the parties than the current legislative makeup seems to indicate.