Archive for June, 2011

A splendid new square for Wausau

Posted in Uncategorized on June 30, 2011 by Jim Rosenberg

After many years of discussion, re-discussion, rancor, despair and hope, the City of Wausau finally completed its long-awaited city square project. While the first concert was actually held last week, the weather was not favorable and so tonight ended up being the first large-scale event on the new and improved 400 Block in downtown Wausau. It didn’t disappoint. Big thanks go to all who made it possible.


A chokehold on Wisconsin…

Posted in Uncategorized on June 28, 2011 by Jim Rosenberg

“Democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people.”

– Oscar Wilde

Speculation is running rampant about what may become of the charge that Supreme Court Justice David Prosser had fellow justice Ann Walsh Bradley in a chokehold a couple of weeks back after an argument about the court’s split 4-3 ruling upholding the legislature’s action on Governor Walker’s union-busting legislation. The incident took place in Bradley’s office, several others were present and Bradley had apparently asked Prosser to leave.

All of this is now being investigated by the Dane County Sheriff’s Department and the Wisconsin Judicial Review Commission. The story broke over the weekend and it has been drawing an incredible amount of commentary from readers in various state newspapers as developments appear. For Prosser, it comes on the heels of the story during the recent campaign that he called Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson a “bitch” and threatened to “destroy” her. Since he was forced to admit to that, it doesn’t provide a helpful backdrop to this more recent episode.

I have enormous respect for Justice Bradley and her husband, Mark, who serves on the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents. I’ve also met Justice Prosser several times. All of this seems a bit bizarre and it will be interesting to see how it plays out. So far, the assessment of the Wisconsin State Journal in a headline seems appropriate. It appears that the high court has hit a new low. Nobody wins with this stuff.

* * *

Governor Walker was greeted by hundreds of protestors at Devil’s Lake State Park on Saturday and hundreds more in Green Bay on Sunday, as he signed the state’s biennial budget at Fox Valley Metal-Tech in Ashwaubenon. The guv originally planned to hold the event at Badger Sheet Metal Works, but those plans were scuttled after it was learned that company’s CEO was convicted of tax evasion, for which he ended up serving jail time. (Avoiding taxes will now become easier.)

People will find out soon enough what this budget means, as millions of dollars worth of holes are left in local communities in the way of reduced state support and money extracted from local folks to pay for the governor’s priorities elsewhere. A lot of people will be left a little poorer and for those who are already poor, they will become a little more desperate. There will be goodies for Miller-Coors, road builders and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce. The real fun will begin as local governments begin trying to put together their budgets with those famous “tools” and then all of the confusing rhetoric over the past few months will begin coming into focus. And no, your taxes aren’t going down and Governor Walker isn’t spending less. Watch and learn.

And does anyone else find it curious that this governor chose to sign the public’s budget in a private setting? Walker had originally planned to introduce the budget at a Madison-area business, too, until he was told that he needed to do that particular piece of public business in the public’s building. I’m all for promoting the importance of economic development, but it’s critical for public officials to never forget who it is that they’re supposed to be working for.

In 2000, 26 percent of students who attended the Wausau School District qualified for free and reduced-price meals. This past year, 49 percent qualified. Based on the trend, it will be more than half this fall. Excuse me for being a bleeding heart, but I don’t think that is call for carving hundreds of millions out of school budgets and social programs or cutting capital gains and corporate taxes by self-proclaimed “family values” elected officials. If we want family values, then we need to value families. Promoting a system that is leaving half the families with school-age children in poverty doesn’t seem like a good way to do that.

* * *

Democratic State Senator Dave Hansen’s most credible Republican opponent in the July 19th recall election, Rep. John Nygren, lost his spot on the ballot for failing to turn in 400 valid signatures on his nomination papers. That’s really a sloppy mistake and it leaves David VanderLeest as the standard bearer for the Republicans in that race. (You can look him up on his essentially content-free campaign website or look him up at the more content-rich:

 * * *

Speaking of recall races, Democratic Sen. Jim Holperin will have his hands full in the 12th Senate District, where the Republicans will have a primary between Lincoln County Board Chair Bob Lussow and Tea Party organizer Kim Simac of Vilas County. Former Congressman Steve Kagen was at Holperin’s event Monday in Antigo. In addition to explaining where some of the out-of-state money is coming from to challenge Democratic incumbents in the recalls, it became apparent that Kagen will be watching how the dominos fall between now and early next year in anticipation of a potential return to politics himself. Stay tuned. If these recall elections turn out well for the Democrats, then it may not be the last of the recalls in Governor Walker’s young term of office. If Republicans do well, then they may be able to hold off the next set of fireworks until the fall of 2012.


Christian Schneider sums up the conflicting stories of “Chokegate” in the National Review Online:

Don’t worry, Senator, those bad, old, out-of-state special interests can’t vote!

Posted in Uncategorized on June 19, 2011 by Jim Rosenberg

So, I’m looking at a fundraising appeal from Senator Dan Kapanke today. This is always interesting stuff and since Kapanke is probably the most likely Republican Senator to lose his seat this summer, it’s especially interesting.

I was pleased to be able to get through the first two sentences and still find myself in complete agreement…

“My name is Dan Kapanke, a Republican State Senator from La Crosse. I’m urgently writing you because I am fighting for my political life and the future of Wisconsin.”

Well, Senator Kapanke, I know who you are – and I certainly agree that you are fighting for your political life and the future of Wisconsin. But alas, the letter continued…

The out-of-state special interest groups and liberal Democrats in Madison are leading a recall effort against me. And now, a Special Election will be held early this summer.”

Yes, I knew about the election. But there were 22,975 signatures on the petitions to recall you and none of them are from out of state – or even Madison, for that matter. And now, with your new shenanigans, the election won’t really be held “early this summer.” Details, right?

I will need to raise over $250,000 over the next 30 days… The out-of-state special interest groups and the liberal Democrats have virtually unlimited amount of cash to spend attacking me with false accusations and dirty tricks.”

Geeze, I’m not really sure that’s true. And what qualifies as a “dirty trick” these days, anyway? Would running a former member of the La Crosse County Republican Party executive committee as a fake Democratic candidate to force a costly primary qualify, for example? Because that’s what you and your pals are doing.

And what about all of that out of district money spent on Mike Huebsch’s Assembly seat that your party recently lost? Don’t you think Karl Rove and the same bunch that was plastering your ads all over the airwaves in your failed run against Congressman Ron Kind will be happy to bankroll another exceedingly negative campaign on behalf of you and your good friend, Governor Walker? I mean, really, it’s the least they could do after all you guys did for them in the state budget. Try the Koch brothers and WMC, maybe. I know they really like what you’ve been such a big part of making possible in Wisconsin this year.

“It’s all part of their plan for Democrat control of the state senate and to shut down Wisconsin government for the next two years.”

Well, based on what Governor Walker and enablers like you have been doing since I left the capitol at the end of last year, Senator Kapanke, I have to tell you that shutting down government sounds pretty attractive. (That was back when regular people could freely walk in and out of the building, remember?)

Tell you what, since I don’t live in your district anyway, I’m going to be content to see what funds you can muster up back home, from your constituents. It’s not that I object to people collecting campaign contributions from outside of their districts or anything. In fact, after reading your letter, I’ve decided to send a contribution to the 32nd Senate District, for the first time ever. It’s just that it won’t be for you.  (I thought it was only fair, since you and your friends are forcing a primary for Rep. Shilling and all.)


Politics Wednesday: We’ve got transparency now.

Posted in Uncategorized on June 15, 2011 by Jim Rosenberg

GOP presidential nomination observations… Remember Paul Tsongas? There are some interesting parallels between him and Mitt Romney. Both were ex-statewide officeholders in Massachusetts; Romney as a former governor and Tsongas as a past U.S. senator. Both had been out of office for awhile before taking a shot at the presidency (although it’s not Mitt’s first shot.)

Interestingly, Romney seems to be following the same strategy that Tsongas did: ignore the convoluted and corruptible process of caucuses and a straw poll in Iowa to go for it all in New Hampshire. A real vote would establish early momentum instead and once New Hampshire votes, nobody cares about Iowa anymore. It seems to make sense. As a small, northeastern state, a Massachusetts politician would practically be playing on his home field in New Hampshire. (In fact, Romney has a big house in New Hampshire — which is more than he can say about Massachusetts, where he reportedly claims to be living in his son’s basement.)

Well, Tsongas won the 1992 Democratic primary in New Hampshire, but most of us remember the person who came in second a lot better. It was Bill Clinton. And there’s one more parallel. In terms of charisma from the stump, Romney, like Tsongas, makes former Massachusetts governor and 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis – (a third place Iowa finisher who also won the New Hampshire primary) — look like Billy Mays.

* * *

Speaking of federal stuff, the Dems suggested recently that Congressman Sean Duffy hasn’t spent much time in Portage County because the Republicans were planning to move the Democratic stronghold out of Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District to improve Duffy’s re-election prospects. 

Duffy’s people denied it.  Then the map came out of the proposed reconfigured 7th District.  (That odd little notch in the southeast where Portage County used to be is just a coincidence.)

UPDATE:  How Wisconsin’s GOP redistricting plan is all about Duffy:

* * *

On a 4-3 vote, the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld the Wisconsin legislature’s GOP majority, with recently re-elected Justice David Prosser making good on his promise to be a “complement” to the Walker administration. Is anyone surprised? “The majority of this court now concludes that the circuit court exceeded its authority in prohibiting publication of 2011 Wisconsin Act 10. This is not a close question,” says Prosser, in a concurring opinion that is twice as long as the majority’s written opinion. (Well, 4-3 is actually about as close as it gets, isn’t it, Justice Prosser?)

* * *

With recall elections looming, the GOP legislature is doing some minor rearranging around the edges of Governor Walker’s budget. They’ve thought better of the attempt to give back tens of millions from the feds to support improvements to the state’s Internet infrastructure. UW Madison will not be breaking off from the UW System (and UW Madison Chancellor Biddy Martin, who promoted the move and was at odds with her bosses over it, is now on her way out of the state. Of course, there is no connection.) The GOP came up with a small fig leaf of improvement for K-12 education, but is still cutting it by hundreds of millions. Collective bargaining for public employees has essentially been outlawed in Wisconsin. Bottom line? Walker is getting just about everything he wanted and the chips will fall where they may – and a lot sooner than anyone was expecting back in January.

* * * 

People like to talk about transparency in government. Say what you want, but I can’t remember a time when state government has been more transparent than it is right now. There are hundreds of millions more for the road builders and corporations; hundreds of millions less for state employees, local governments, kids in school, higher education and the needy. Pretty soon, we’ll have people carrying concealed weapons with the blessing of the GOP majority — one heck of a priority for a group that limits access to the workings of government in the state capitol in a way like we’ve never seen before. The Republicans are even running fake Democrats in the recall elections. How transparent can you get?


Punishing the real job creators

Posted in Uncategorized on June 7, 2011 by Jim Rosenberg

The Republicans now have enough announced and unannounced candidates for President to field a football team – at least on one side of the ball. The problem is that when you look at the political landscape across the country, it’s almost impossible to tell which side they should really be playing on. Wisconsin provides a good example of the disconnect.

The S&P 500 stock index has fallen around 3.4 percent in the past month and much of it has to do with an economic recovery that appears to be stalling. Most of the drop occurred over the last few trading days, as employment numbers showed new jobs trickling out at rates far lower than what is necessary to keep unemployment rate from rising.

“It’s clear from this morning’s jobs report that the economy still isn’t creating enough jobs. You talk to job creators around the country like we have, they’ll tell you the overtaxing, overregulating and overspending that’s going on here in Washington is creating uncertainty and holding them back,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said. “If we’re serious about creating jobs in America, we can’t raise taxes on the very people who create jobs, and keep spending money that we don’t have.”

One figure bandied about is that an incumbent President has never been re-elected with an unemployment rate higher than 7.2 percent since Franklin Roosevelt. But Republicans might also want to take a look at what a bad economy means in statehouses and who the job creators in this economy really are.

In the economic malaise surrounding 2010 elections, Republicans took control of a majority of the state legislative bodies, with a net of 19 of the 49 partisan legislative bodies changing from blue to red. That wave may well prove to be the high water mark of the current cycle for the GOP – not the 2012 race that they are attempting to position for on the “strength” of a weak economy. If Republican incumbents end up having the kinds of issues getting re-elected that the Dems did in 2010, then it will not set up a winning backdrop for more gains in Washington.

Popular GOP dogma seems to be that anyone who draws a government paycheck is a drain and that the only place that virtuous money can truly be earned is in the private sector. I’ve even seen ratios that purport to compare the number of government workers against “productive” workers in the economy. This is bullpucky. Government workers are productive and they are a huge share of the U.S. economy, which is 70 percent consumer spending. But if all workers perceive are higher costs for gasoline, rising grocery bills, larger deductions for benefits, the threat of layoffs, lengthening periods of unemployment for displaced workers, co-workers bailing and a crappy future Medicare plan, then you’re not going to see people spending very freely. That’s what’s happening now.

Economists talk about a tame ‘core inflation rate, which excludes the volatile food and energy sectors,’ but people on the street tend to draw their own conclusions and it has an impact. The lower your income, the more of your income this stuff consumes. For those industries offering more discretionary goods or services, it’s a big problem. If the industry happens to be one in which these rising commodity prices play a large role in their cost structure and profitability, it’s an even bigger problem. One example: the passenger count at Central Wisconsin Airport in April 2011 was down around 20 percent from the same month a year earlier. That’s more than 5,000 less people boarding or arriving. Weather and cancelled flights account for only a single-digit percentage of the drop.

Whether I have a rummage sale or an airline, I don’t much care where my customers get the money that pays for my product or service. Cutting government budgets adds to the shortfall in demand and it keeps more people unemployed. In the May employment report that sent the stock market into a swoon, the private sector was estimated to have produced 83,000 jobs, but more than a third of that number was offset by 29,000 jobs lost in state and local payrolls around the country and unemployment edged up. More than a half million jobs have been shed from government payrolls in the economic downturn and forecasts are for 110,000 more to be shed in the third quarter. Moody’s Analytics estimates that each job in state and local government supports an additional 1.3 jobs elsewhere in the economy. See the problem?

The Republican plan? More tax cuts for the “job creators.” The problem? They don’t have to create any more jobs than they did under the hundreds of billions in tax cuts that are already in play. They certainly won’t do it if there isn’t sufficient demand, an issue that GOP economic prescriptions only exacerbate. While some may produce jobs, others hoard cash or get involved in activities that don’t put Americans to work — things like buying back their companies’ own stock, expanding overseas production to cut costs, speculating in commodities, day trading investment instruments or purchasing competitors that they can subsequently downsize. This time, it’s going to be different?

Take a look at this chart and then tell me that the people at the top of the income scale are the ones that need more help to get the economy moving. (Interestingly, the chart also shows that most people don’t understand how skewed things already are and they also have a different vision of the way things should be.)

It isn’t just me saying that tax cuts for so-called job creators aren’t going to work to bring down the deficit. Alan Greenspan has been consistently saying that the Bush tax cuts ought to be allowed to expire, along with a lot of other people who can view the situation without the burden of a dogma-drenched agenda paid for with campaign contributions.

Everybody knows that the debt and the deficit are too high. The problem is that austerity for the masses and tax cuts aimed at the top of the income pyramid will only make things worse. As Congressman Obey said of the stimulus bill, we need to put out the fire with the hose we’ve got and then deal with the leaks in it later. Republicans like to propose that everything be paid for, including offsets for disaster relief in Joplin. But they make one big, fat exception – (besides wars) — and it’s that they imagine that tax cuts are free or that they pay for themselves. They aren’t and they don’t. It’s a failed theory and its relentless implementation has played a huge part in bringing us to where we are today. If you want to run government more like a business, then you had better pay attention to the top line.

Give a working stiff or an unemployed person a few dollars and it will be recirculating in the economy almost immediately. Give a millionaire tens of thousands and you may never see it again. (Remember all that “death tax” talk? It’s about people who don’t even want to give any of it up when they’re dead.) People who don’t need to spend money sometimes don’t. So even if you cut the taxes of the rich and corporations even more than our Swiss cheese tax code already provides for, it’s way too inefficient of an approach to adequately drive a consumer economy as large as the one we have in the U.S. It simply takes way too much rain up there to adequately trickle down and we’ve more than proven it through practice. It makes the stimulus legislation look positively brilliant, in terms of near-term impact.

That is why moves like Gov. Walker is making are bad news for jobs and many businesses. When more than two-thirds of your economy rides on consumers, you can’t keep cutting their capacity and expect things to improve. It doesn’t matter if his numbers crunchers tell us his policies produce 250,000 jobs or a million if the net result is continued high unemployment and a lower standard of living for most people in Wisconsin.

Go back to your Economics 101 textbook. The factors of production are land, labor and capital. Following a significant crash, real estate is a lot cheaper than it was a few years ago. Labor is in oversupply. Capital? Take your cash to the bank and see what they’ll give you on a certificate of deposit. Less regulation, after inadequate oversight of the shadow banking system helped bring us to this point? We don’t need more supply side economics because these “job creators” that Boehner is talking about already have a better situation for pulling together resources than they could have ever imagined a few short years ago.  The real problem is a fundamental misunderstanding about who and what really creates jobs.  It’s like treating a broken leg with antibiotics.

So look ahead to next year. The very same stick of a sick economy that Republicans plan to beat President Obama with to recapture the White House is the one that GOP governors and state legislators can expect to feel when they can’t deliver on jobs promises that they have shown little inclination to advance. Their insistence on tax cuts that don’t find their way efficiently back into the economy coupled with jobs-killing budget slashing represent a huge drag that feeds a vicious cycle. And it’s one that they will have to answer for next year, just as surely as President Obama will.

Most people in business know that ultimately, the people who really create the jobs are not rich folks or corporations. Once the Republicans figure that out, we will be well on our way to a more productive approach toward meeting our economic challenges. Jobs are created by customers. Got that? Customers.


RELATED: Tax cuts push debt to new milestone:

RELATED: A corporate payroll tax cut won’t work:

The Battle of 1937:

Nick Hanauer explains why the rich don’t create jobs:

This week in politics: Brat Fest and Weinergate

Posted in Uncategorized on June 2, 2011 by Jim Rosenberg

The World’s Largest Brat Fest held last weekend in Madison was the subject of much advance debate and boycott talk over the political contributions of major sponsor Johnsonville Sausage’s Ralph Stayer. Just to poke another Slim Jim in everyone’s eye, Stayer sent $15,000 to the campaign of GOP Sen. Randy Hopper, a fellow who is facing a recall election with an interesting background story.

Well the results are in and it appears that alternative events and calls to just plain stay away probably had some impact. I’m not correcting for any impact of weather, gas prices, or the general economy. But after years of growing totals, the World’s Largest Brat Fest saw sales plunge by around 24 percent, or nearly 50,000 brats less this year. Being mindful of the opportunity for post hoc errors, I’m still going to stick my neck out and say that absent the brouhaha over Walker, Johnsonville and the GOP, the Brat Fest would have had a better performance in true blue Madison this year.  And I say that with some degree of “certitude.”

Speaking of tubular meat, Weinergate broke out over the weekend as firebrand liberal Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York was accused of sending a picture over Twitter of an occupied set of men’s briefs that was supposedly directed at a young lady across the country. This is a weird story because ordinarily, a fellow wouldn’t hit on someone he’d never met in the presence of thousands of people. Fresh off the special election in New York’s 26th over the previous GOP congressman’s shirtless photos to a Craig’s List acquaintance and the unending saga of Brett Favre, it seems like there are a lot of people who just shouldn’t carry cameras around with them all the time.

The tweet was deleted, but not before it was captured by political enemies of Weiner – of which there are many – and shared with the world.  Weiner said he was hacked; something that conjures up images of Lorena Bobbit, (except it’s a computer thing.) But the real corker is that Congressman Weiner refuses to say that the picture isn’t him (something you might think he would probably know. I mean, how many pictures of you in your underwear are out there floating around and if they are, you know about them, right?)

In general, I’m a fan of Anthony Weiner. He’s always been kind of a hot dog. And as a long-time PR guy, I also admire his willingness to step in front of the cameras to answer the questions. But if you were not going to answer the big one, then I would suggest simply putting out a statement and leaving it at that. The picture in question is a lot less spicey than what Favre supposedly sent along to a woman with whom he had also tried to set up a rendezvous. But the net for Weiner is that this is starting to come off like “I didn’t inhale,” or “I did not have sexual relations with that woman…”

Remember when the GOP Taliban came out with guns blazing on Meghan McCain for a Twitpic in October 2009?

Personally, I don’t much care about any of these things, but poorly handled is poorly handled (depending on how you define “is.”) And when your name is Weiner to begin with, you’ve just got to be more careful – especially if you also happen to be a congressman. As Jon Stewart of the Daily Show pointed out, “there’s really no way to cover this Weiner story in a non-adolescent fashion.”

Weiner will be speaking in Milwaukee tomorrow night at the state Democratic convention.  It would be great if they could have the racing sausages from Miller Park as special guests or something.  But if the past week has shown us nothing else, it is that linking sausages with politicians is not always a good business decision.



Friday, June 03, 2011

Weiner cancels convention speech

U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., has cancelled his planned speech tonight at the state Democratic convention in the wake of a flap over a picture sent from his Twitter account.

State party officials said they told Weiner he was still welcome to attend and address delegates tonight, and left the decision to speak up to him.

“He decided to spend the weekend with his wife,” said state chair Mike Tate.

UPDATE: Monday, June 6 —

Weiner admits to sending Twitter pic; won’t resign