Archive for May, 2011

Quick, easy rack of lamb

Posted in Uncategorized on May 31, 2011 by Jim Rosenberg

Okay, time to break the political tension with another recipe. (One of these days, I’ll index all of these things, but not tonight.) I realize I get no points for plating on this one, but you can certainly work this into a nice-looking presentation.

Lamb is a real treat and it’s one of those things I like to get when I’m eating out in a nicer restaurant because I don’t often see cuts that I like in the grocery store and the rest of the family has never shared my love for lamb. But like a lot of other things, it’s not that difficult to prepare and you can serve four people for the price of similar dinner for one in a restaurant, so why not give it a shot? If your butcher can’t help you, I’ve found that Sam’s Club is a reliable source of very nice, frenched, New Zealand racks of lamb.

Here’s what you need:

  • One large, oven-safe skillet. (Sure, metal is oven-safe — but take a look at the handle for insulators that can’t handle high heat.) I have a 12-inch copper core stainless steel pan that is fabulous, but even if you find one on sale, it can set you back several hundred dollars. A good alternative is a nice, seasoned cast-iron pan.)
  • Aluminum foil
  • Two racks of lamb. (Yes, you can do just one, if that’s all you need.)
  • Extra Virgin olive oil
  • Garlic powder
  • Herbes de Provence. (This aromatic blend of spices includes rosemary, marjoram, thyme and savory.  It is worth having around the house for a lot of things, but it’s indispensable for rack of lamb.)
  • Sharp boning knife

First, take your frenched racks of lamb and rub them with garlic powder. Then coat them with a little olive oil and Herbes de Provence. I like to put them in a gallon Ziplock bag and let them marinate in the spices and oil for an hour or two, but it’s not really mandatory.

When you’re ready to get rolling, preheat the oven to 425 degrees and give it enough time to get there.

On a rangetop burner, heat your pan up with a thin layer of olive oil and brown the racks for about four minutes per side. (We’re not trying to cook them through, but simply give them a nice finish. Don’t put them in the pan until it’s hot.)

When the racks are done browning, take foil and cover the bone ends to keep them from burning in the oven.  Then put the whole pan with the browned racks into the pre-heated oven. It will take 20-25 minutes to bring them up to 130 degrees on the interior, which you will be checking with your meat thermometer. Once you’re there, remove the pan from the oven. Tent the racks with a piece of foil and let the meat rest for 10 minutes; then slice them into chops with your boning knife like the ones you see above. Voila, you’re done.

I like to serve them with something simple like a steamed vegetable and maybe some parsleyed, quartered little red potatoes. A bottle of red Bordeaux wine is a nice companion to this dish.

YOUR HOT TIP on this one is literally your hot tip: the pan is hot before you put the racks in to brown and the oven is hot before you put the racks in to cook.

Bon appetit!


Why you can’t afford Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan

Posted in Uncategorized on May 27, 2011 by Jim Rosenberg

Have you been watching the mental gymnastics that the Republicans have been engaging in since voting to pass Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget last month? This week, the solidly Republican 26th U.S. Congressional District in the State of New York rejected the GOP candidate and sent a Democrat to Congress in a special election. Some on the GOP side – including Congressman Paul Ryan – are saying it’s because they don’t understand his Medicare proposal. I’m saying it’s because they do.

Every year, many employees receive a statement from their employers that breaks down the cost of benefits, including the total cost and the share paid by the employee and the employer. Perhaps a lot of people don’t spend much time reading those things, but I always do – and it will tell you in black & white exactly why most people are going to lose a LOT of money under Ryan’s plan. And for most of them, it’s money that they won’t have.

First, while the Republicans have done everything they can to try to excise the word “voucher” from being used in connection with the program and their latest euphemism is “premium support,” it doesn’t matter what you call it. The problem is that it isn’t near enough to cover a decent health insurance policy. A really good health policy runs well north of $10,000 annually for an individual now – more than $20,000 for a couple. And that’s for working people. I’m not even going to get into the fact that the group we’re talking about is past retirement age and so the costs are much higher. I’m not even sure that many people know what the cost would really be in the private insurance market, since these folks are on Medicare right now and the policies that they buy are supplemental. Medicare doesn’t need to make a profit, but private carriers certainly do.

Ryan’s plan would give you a voucher – oops, I mean “premium support” — in an amount that falls short of the value of a Medicare policy and it is a gap that will only grow. Rises in the cost of health care have led inflation for as long as most of us can remember, but Ryan proposes that the value of the voucher should only track general inflation. There would be additional administrative costs and profit to the insurance carriers to consider, because they are inherent in Ryan’s plan. There’s also a fundamental issue and that is the problem of who wants to insure a group of people who are often sick and disabled.

Let me make this simple for you: the Ryan plan will leave you paying for at least half of your health care costs – via insurance or out-of-pocket – in your golden years, when your income is lowest and your health care costs are highest. If you don’t have an extra $182,000 to throw at these new costs that will be factoring in over the course of the average retirement span, then you are going to be in deep kimchi. (I didn’t make that number up. It was calculated by the Center for Economic Policy Research for a person born in 1957 and if you’re younger, you will need more than that.)

Ryan thinks you should care more about the federal budget than you do about your own, but he still finds plenty of money to extend tax cuts to the uber-wealthy because that’s what is important to people like Mr. Ryan. (In fact, most of Congressman Ryan’s budget cutting doesn’t go to reduce the deficit or the debt. It’s about tax cuts.)

Really rich people don’t care about this stuff because an extra $500, $1,000 or even a couple of grand a month is not a big deal. Dick Cheney says he ‘worships the ground that Ryan walks on.’ Congressman Sean Duffy – who is struggling along at $174,000 a year* — has already voted for this plan. (Things look different if it takes you less than six years to make a million dollars instead of most of your career.) Millionaire Tea Party Senator Ron Johnson voted for it, too. GOP Presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty says he would sign it, along with others in that cast of a dozen or so.

But stuff like this bankrupts middle class people and those further down in the food chain. Even Newt Gingrich characterized it as ‘radical’ and ‘right wing social engineering’ — until he got taken to the woodshed for that unacceptable moment of candor. And the people of New York’s 26th Congressional District didn’t even want to deal with a representative who might support it, so they sent a Democrat to vote no – even though most of them are Republicans, themselves.



New York Times: Rep. Ryan’s dubious sales pitch —

The Club for Growth takes out its Tommy gun

Posted in Uncategorized on May 22, 2011 by Jim Rosenberg

Worried that a once popular governor with a federal resume that includes serving as a cabinet secretary could derail their plans to install another hard-right U.S. Senator, the Club for Growth has fired a shot across Tommy Thompson’s bow in hopes of undermining him among Republicans. They rolled out an online anti-Tommy ad this week featuring President Obama and you can watch it here:

“Wisconsin Republicans should recruit a pro-growth conservative to run, not recall some big-government, pro-tax Republican whose time has come and gone,” Club for Growth President Chris Chocola said. (So how do you like them Apple Jacks, Cap’n Cruch?) But Chocola is with the national group. The WISCONSIN Club for Growth began looking for some distance pretty quickly, saying “While WICFG does not intend to issue statements or offer opinions regarding the positions of candidates for U.S.Senate, we recognize Governor Tommy Thompson’s significant contributions to improving Wisconsin’s economy and reforming government. Governor Thompson served the citizens of Wisconsin with distinction for fourteen years.”

Frankly, I found the ad pretty tame and pretty lame. I’m not sure that it would be a big consideration for me, if I were Tommy Thompson. But it does underline a problem that Republicans have and it’s that they’ve had a shrinking tent over the past few years when it comes to candidates who can pass their ideological litmus tests. Only a single-digit percentage of eligible voters are likely to cast ballots in Wisconsin’s GOP primary in the late summer of 2012, but it’s a hurdle that a Republican candidate must clear to get on the general election ballot.

Senator Kohl’s announcement that he plans to retire at the end of his term leaves the Republicans with the opportunity to try to paint another statewide office red. Kohl has held the seat for four terms. His ability to self-fund his campaigns and avoid the visceral negative reactions that more aggressive partisans can sometimes engender made him a safe bet. It’s hard to bash on a fairly low-key guy that is known as much for being a friendly philanthropist and successful businessman as anything else – not to mention the fact that trying to outspend him has never been a practical strategy.

Tommy Thompson is a fairly moderate fellow when he is compared to the current standard-bearer for Wisconsin Republicans, Gov. Scott Walker. Rumors have been rampant for months that the two don’t get along all that well. As the story goes, Thompson may feel that Walker has gone too far in pushing his agenda on a state that is really not as red as the current representation indicates. The Club for Growth, on the other hand, is all about pushing the Walker agenda (or maybe it’s all about Walker pushing theirs.) Embarking on a pre-emptive strike against someone like Thompson is vintage Club for Growth style. (It seems it’s not so much like a club that you join as it is like the kind that you swing):

Personally, I kind of like Tommy Thompson. I’m not saying that because I would necessarily support his candidacy, but just as a matter of fact. He was elected to four terms as governor and Walker may be lucky if he’s able to complete four years. Thompson governed as a moderate and if there’s one thing today’s GOP can’t stand, it’s a moderate. In addition to his ability to compromise, Tommy also had a great touch with people of all stripes. He was governor for so long that just about everybody who had even a passing interest in politics had some personal experiences with Thompson during his long career. While Walker has buttoned up the capitol and he sneaks in and out of media markets with closed-to-the-public events for credentialed media and supporters, Thompson and his staff would play softball games in local communities when they took government on the road.

Tommy was truly gifted at remembering people. A couple of months after he took office as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services in the Bush Administration in March of 2001, I ran into him in Washington DC, where he was speaking at the annual National League of Cities conference. He was only too happy to meet with some friendly faces from back home. It was clear that the Bush people had tried to remake Tommy with a new wardrobe and hairdo and frankly, the guy looked uncomfortable in his own skin early on.

Happily, he reverted to the more familiar Tommy within a few months. It was a good thing, because there really is no reason for Tommy to try to be anything that he’s not — a small town lawyer who became a legislator in his 20s and worked his way up. I ran into Thompson again in late August 2001 on a flight out to DC and he was back to looking like the Tommy we all knew. I was impressed when he not only recognized me, but also sent a follow-up note. Barely three weeks later, he was completely consumed with the September 11 attacks, along with the rest of the Administration.

Tommy has said more than once that he thinks he has one good race left in him. In 2008, he explored a possible Presidential run. It was a weak rollout and something he’s probably not sorry he abandoned early on, since it was a Democratic wave year anyway. Thompson then toyed with the idea of running against Sen. Russ Feingold last year, but announced he would not at the April 2010 Tea Party rally at the capitol. The ultra right crowd received him poorly and the event ended up being the launching pad for the candidacy of now-Senator Ron Johnson. Almost a year earlier, he had talked about a run for governor in 2010 and he had floated that idea just a couple of days after Walker announced. Walker and Johnson are Club for Growth boys. Thompson is not. It might be the same old Tommy, but it it’s not the same GOP.

A former Amtrak chairman, Thompson held out an olive branch by carrying some water for Walker when the governor-elect was turning down more than $810 million in federal high-speed rail funds. (The grant included $150 million in funding that Walker recently failed at trying to recover from the feds for the Hiawatha line between Milwaukee and Chicago. That’s about 20 years worth of the estimated state cost to operate the Madison-Milwaukee leg rejected by Walker; the money that the guv said he was trying to save.)

It’s still too early to tell how 2012 will shape up, but the summer recall elections may provide a bit of guidance and waiting until things shake out with that would still provide plenty of time for a very long campaign. The chips could fall in such a way that the old Thompson-Feingold matchup rumored a bit over a year ago could come to pass under an entirely new scenario.

If it turns out that Walker sent some GOP state senators out to fall on their swords over his uncompromising, radical right wing agenda, then Thompson may have far more steady ground to trot out a more middle-ground candidacy. But if he balks again, then the combination of pushing 70 years old and being a serial rumor instead of a bonafide candidate may finally mean that Tommy Thompson’s long and successful career in public office actually ended when he left Washington in 2005.


UPDATE:  August 17, a day after the last Wisconsin recall election, Tommy Thompson reads the tea leaves and announces that James Klauser and J.B. Van Hollen will co-chair his committee for a potential U.S. Senate bid. On the same day, Public Policy Polling release shows the rift in the GOP between moderates like Tommy and the hard right:

Stay tuned!

Don’t look now, but the 2012 election season has started

Posted in Uncategorized on May 15, 2011 by Jim Rosenberg

“I’ve always believed that it’s better to leave a job a little too early than a little too late,” said Wisconsin’s senior U.S. Senator, Herb Kohl, as he announced Friday that he would not seek another term in 2012. “And that’s how I feel today. The interest and energy I have for this job will find a new home at the conclusion of this term.”

By early afternoon, the first e-mail had arrived:

“Thankfully, there’s a progressive champion waiting in the wings to step up and keep this seat for the Democrats in 2012: Russ Feingold.”

It will be interesting to see what happens over the next few weeks. Former Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton told me she “won’t be coming out of the woodwork” when I asked her about Kohl’s announcement. It had seemed to me like the senator was gearing up for a run at a fifth term. He had put some money into his campaign fund at the end of 2010, picked up former Doyle northwoods representative Bryce Luchterhand to pick up his presence a bit, and I thought I was seeing more news releases. Perhaps Kohl was just assuming the position that the November 2010 elections had given him by default: that of the most prominent elected official in Wisconsin for the Democrats.  There was an interesting poll in March that took an early look at the GOP’s prospects.  It’s clear that GOP Congressman Paul Ryan would start from behind, with or without Kohl in the picture: 

But while speculation on a possible successor is rampant on both sides of the aisle, my early take is that it may behoove potential candidates to get a reading on things with the summer recall elections. The biggest winner so far: media companies that will reap additional millions in what is already shaping up to be a tremendously expensive cycle for both parties in the Badger State. With an open U.S. Senate seat up for grabs, two GOP freshman in Congress, the Presidential race and the politically-charged environment created by the Walker administration and the Fitzgerald brothers in the legislature, Wisconsin will be one of the biggest battleground states in the country next year.

Speaking of potentially big races and memories of Barbara Lawton, Kevin Shibilski may be angling for a shot at Congressman Sean Duffy in the 7th Congressional District. This will create an interesting dynamic, since Shibilski figured prominently in a snit with Julie Lassa back when Lassa was first running for the 24th Senate District in an April 2003 special election. It was a pretty big embarrassment for then Governor Doyle. Shibilski ended up leaving as Tourism secretary after a short stint – and that came after he was drummed out as a prohibitive favorite to be lieutenant governor on Doyle’s ticket in 2002; the spot that Lawton ended up taking. Here’s a little review of the Alex Paul brawl that many felt played a big role and there are more:

Here’s another:

Ironically, it was felt at the time that Alex Paul was trying to work his way into a position to eventually replace U.S. Congressman Dave Obey. Lassa ended up being the one getting the shot last year, but it turned out to be about the worst year ever to run as a Democrat for just about anything. With Shibiliski possibly returning to the political scene, it will be interesting to see if his self-imposed exile will be deemed sufficient. (My guess: probably not – at least for many. Lassa may not have energized the base, but Shibilski may energize them in a way that won’t be helpful to him. One possibility: change the spelling to the traditional “Pryzbylski” and it would make the whole thing a lot more difficult to Google.)

As for the 8th, freshman GOP Congressman Reid Ribble may be able to get a little feel for the red-blue backdrop with three state senate recalls coming up this summer in parts of his district. (Has anybody heard from Reid?)

In other mid-Wisconsin political news, State Sen. Pam Galloway and the Senate Judiciary, Utilities, Commerce and Government Operations Committee had a hearing at UWMC in Wausau this week on Galloway’s bill to allow concealed carry in Wisconsin. (Don’t ask what this has to do with any of the items in the committee title because I have no idea.) The event brought a lot of folks to the campus and not surprisingly, there was overwhelming support at the hearing.

Personally – and I say this as a person who has no particular problem with owning guns – I think this is a curious priority right now. I would also observe that for someone who thinks concealed weapons are a great idea for a signature issue, there sure were a lot of Wisconsin State Patrol members on hand for the hearing. (I don’t think they were there to testify, with Pappa Fitzgerald now being in charge of that agency and all.)

One version of the bill would require essentially nothing in the area training or paperwork. Paired up with new barriers that the GOP will be erecting to qualify for voting in elections, it will create a rather interesting picture of what they think about the administration of constitutional rights.

* * *

Finally, don’t you wish you could blog with the best and have influence over the political process? Well, your chance has come! The non-partisan, non-profit, totally educational and tax deductible Americans for Prosperity FOUNDATION is sponsoring “RightOnline” June 17-18 in Minneapolis. You’ll be able to hear from luminaries like Andrew Breitbart, Michelle Malkin, Michele Bachmann and more:

As always, bus transportation will be available (and also as always, you can thank the Koch brothers.)


UPDATE: Tommy Thompson expected to join U.S. Senate race: 

UPDATE: Public Policy Polling shows Feingold in strong position:

Madison and Trek Bikes hopping on a potential trend

Posted in Uncategorized on May 11, 2011 by Jim Rosenberg

A few years back in Paris, we noticed bicycle racks where people could access industrial-strength bikes to ride around the city. It seemed like a pretty good idea. I’m not sure how bike-friendly Paris really is, from the standpoint of a rider – but you couldn’t give me a car, either. I’ve never seen a city with more bicycle riders than Amsterdam and the streets are plenty narrow, too, so I’m guessing being bike-friendly has as much or more to do with driver attitudes than anything else. (Amsterdam has so many bikes that they have a bicycle-parking ramp at their central train station.)

So it was good to see that the City of Madison is picking up on the trend and if any city in Wisconsin can make something like that work, it’s Madison. Under the plan, around 350 bikes and 35 kiosks will be scattered around Madison through a program called B-Cycle, an arm of Trek Bicycle Corp. The bikes are stored in specially designed stations (and I shot a quick pic of one in Paris to show what something like that might look like.)

At first, it looked like it would cost Madison $100,000 annually to get things rolling, but the contract was renegotiated after Mayor Paul Soglin took over in April. Now, rather than the city sharing in the costs and potential profits of the B-Cycle program, the program would cost the city $1 per year and the city would receive no part of the profits, if any were produced from the program. The contract was also extended from three years to five, with an option to renew in 2016, according to the Capital Times.

Entry into Trek’s program may represent a first for Wisconsin, but this is an idea that is starting to catch on elsewhere in the U.S. A recent article in The Washington Post tells us that more than 300,000 rides have been logged since their bikeshare program launched last September and people were using the bikes an average of 3,000 times a day last month. That’s a lot of wheeling. People can join the program for 24 hours, five days, a month or a year.

It will be interesting to see if this thing catches on.


UPDATE: First locations now opening in Madison; rates:

Dems pick up a seat; things look tough for Kapanke

Posted in Uncategorized on May 4, 2011 by Jim Rosenberg

Just a few months back, things looked pretty good for State Senator Dan Kapanke.  Although he missed knocking off seven-term Democrat Ron Kind in the November general election for the 3rd U.S. Congressional District, he made a good showing.  It was a free shot in the middle of his Senate term and with the Republicans taking the Senate, the Assembly and the Wisconsin Governor’s mansion, there were worse things than hanging with his old job.

But that was then and this is now.

Kapanke doesn’t look so safe anymore and he may well be the most likely to lose of the three Democrats and half dozen Republicans marching toward recalls. La Crosse County Board Chair Steve Doyle convincingly won a special election in the 94th Assembly District May 3 to give the Democrats a pickup of the seat formerly held by Assembly GOP leader Mike Huebsch since 1995. It’s also a third of Kapanke’s district.

Conservative Supreme Court Justice David Prosser will almost certainly retain his seat following a recount that is underway, but he didn’t win in Kapanke’s district. Kapanke himself has a tough and experienced opponent, 95th Assembly District Rep. Jennifer Schilling.  (The only remaining GOP Assembly rep in Kapanke’s Senate District, Lee Nerison, was one of four Republicans in the Assembly to vote against Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-union legislation — something that remains tied up in court.) 

Whistling past the graveyard on election night, right-wing Milwaukee radio host Charlie Sykes said that, “as expected,” the Republicans took two out of three special elections to fill seats vacated by appointees to Walker’s cabinet. Sorry, Charlie, but that’s not the story. While it may be true as far as it goes, the net result was that the GOP lost a seat in the Assembly that they had held for a long time and only managed to successfully defend two in uncompetitive districts.  They spent plenty trying to retain the 94th and came up on the short end of a spread that exceeded 7.7 percent.  Sykes can call that “as expected,” if he wants to.  I certainly expected it, too.  But why blow hundreds of thousands of dollars on an election that you’re writing off anyway?  The answer is simple and it’s that in spite of everything, they still thought that maybe they could win.

While it’s too early to tell what the overall outcome will be in a host of recalls that are now tentatively scheduled for July 12, Mr. Kapanke appears to be climbing a steep hill in a stiff headwind.  He and Rep. Schilling will be voting and establishing a record in the runup based on the very same legislation and their votes will be starkly different.  Kapanke won by less than a three-point spread in 2008 and every indicator seems to be that standing with Walker is likely to cost a lot more than that in his neck of the woods this year.  (Just ask neighboring Sen. Dale Schultz, the only Republican senator to break ranks with his party on Walker’s so-called non-fiscal “budget repair” bill.  He could become the most popular fellow in the Senate with his swing vote, if the GOP can only defend two out of three in the upcoming recalls.)

On election night, newly-elected Assembly Rep. Steve Doyle  said that while going door to door, “I heard, over and over again, two words: Scott Walker.”