Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Two Faces of Randy Hopper

As if getting bitch-slapped by the Northwestern earlier this week wasn't enough (and we should probably point out that the language used in the editorial condemning Hopper is the strongest the NW uses), Hopper is back in the saddle again today bragging about killing collective bargaining:
Further proof that the collective bargaining changes implemented in the budget are working, today the Fond du Lac School district announced that they will be able to eliminate an anticipated $4.4 million dollar deficit simply with the tools that they were provided in the 2011-2013 budget proposal. Following this announcement, Senator Randy Hopper (R-Empire) issued the following statement.

“This is great news for students, teachers, and residents of the Fond du Lac School District. They were able to eliminate a $4.4 million budget shortfall without laying off one teacher, without increasing the class size, and were able to replace 100% of teachers who retired (43). Parents will be happy to know that when their kids return to the class room in September, there will be no impact on their kid’s education.” 
I'm sure Hopper told the folks in the photo below the exact same thing the day this picture was taken:

Randy Hopper: He's lied to his wife, he's lied to voters -- is there anyone else out there he hasn't lied to yet?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Scott Walker's Free Fall Among Female Voters

We Ask America is one of those newish polling firms that shows up every now and then with a Wisconsin-related poll and it's most recent is probably the most interesting it's conducted to date. Here's a take-away from the poll:
As we’ve seen before, there are few sitting on the public-opinion sidelines when it comes to Walker or the president. However, there appears to be a pronounced gender gap, with men siding more for Walker and against Obama. This gap is wider than we’ve witnessed in presidential approval ratings in other states–but Wisconsin has always marched to it’s own drum beat. In past privately conducted Wisconsin-based polls, we’ve seen men’s shift of opinion precede those by  women, but there have been some exceptions to that trend so it is unclear that will happen here. Locals at least partially attribute the continued bad numbers among females to the governor’s war with unions representing teachers. [Emphasis in the original.]
And here are the numbers:

Scott Walker45.15%52.62%3.92%
By Gender


[Sorry for the crooked labeling -- copying and pasting these things are a pain.]

Walker is tanking with women and hard. This is an enormous problem for Walker since last fall he only lost Wisconsin women by 3% during an election when women accounted for only 50% of voters. (As we've noted before, women made up 53% of voters in 2006.) Walkers numbers with women are so bad that only a repeal of the 19th Amendment could give him a chance at surviving recall, even if the gender split among voters remains the same as it did in 2010.

We've been harping on the importance of women voters in Wisconsin for a few years now. We may have been wrong about specific female candidates, but we sure as hell haven't been wrong about female voters. If women show up to the polls, Scott Walker is doomed; as long as they don't, he has a better than fighting chance.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Randy Hopper's 18 Ways in 18 Days Campaign -- Day 1: I'm a Liar!

Here's a press release from the Randy Hopper campaign:
“With 18 days to go, I will call attention to the stark differences between me and my opponent each day through election day. The voters of the 18th district deserve to know the candidate’s position on the various issues facing their state and I look forward to providing the differences between me and my opponent."
Starting this gimmick on a day that the Milwaukee Jounral Sentinel calls you a "ridiculous" liar is probably not the best timing.

"Translation: You want to keep that national championship trophy and that $3 million-a-year job, big boy? Then stuff a wad of Bobby Lowder's cash in your piehole and shut up!"

I have very little sympathy for Auburn.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Proof that Juliane Appling is a Liar

"I love your country. The people are nice."
-- Juliane Appling, president of Wisconsin Family Action, to a reporter for the French daily Le Monde.

David VanderLeest: I Have Only Begun to Crazy!!!

DVL's dropped his last joint of campaign 2011 and it did not disappoint:
We received a higher percentage of votes in yesterday’s election than the Republican Party of Wisconsin’s endorsed candidate, in the 2008 general election against Hansen. We ran a clean campaign with no money to speak of. With these things considered, I am personally happy with the outcome of the general election results. Moving forward I am going to continue to work for the people of NE Wisconsin. I am going to launch a campaign to display the 10 commandments in the Brown County Courthouse. 
That last line was totally worth the price of admission. The good news is that we haven't heard the last from DVL. The better news is that he's decided to pick a fight that he knows full well he has no chance of winning, like Don Quixote tilting at courthouse-shaped windmills. That can only mean much more entertainment to come.

For those who need a reminder, a nativity scene displayed at the Green Bay city hall back in 2009 caused something of a stir (not to mention a lawsuit or two). The Supreme Court has also been explicitly clear this issue as well. Basically, DVL's press release is a pledge that he will remain a belligerent, cancerous barnacle on the hull of the ship of state.

Should be fun.

The Green Bay Police Department should Release it's Report into the Recall Hansen Office Break-in

Now that the charade up in Green Bay is over, the local press or, at the very least, the state Dems should push for the GBPD to release it's findings into it's investigation into the supposed break-in at the David VanderLeest-run recall office in April. DVL repeated tossed around wild accusations during his campaign that now make the break-in look dubious at best, such as this doosie:
As the election headed into its home stretch, VanderLeest made such statements as, "None of it's true. I don't smoke rocks, and that's the truth," and threatened to sue Hansen and various Democratic groups for slander. (He also claimed to have learned that there was an investigation against these groups for racketeering. The source: A complaint filed by a supporter close to his campaign.)
So he hasn't proved himself above planting controversies.

Dems are terrible when it comes to following up on shit like this. Every year there are hundreds of reports of voter intimidation and suppression that go unreported by the party because they simply throw their hands up after an election and say, "Well, it's too late now." The state Dems cannot let this type of bullshit slide anymore.

For the last decade the GOP has been peddling the falsehood about voter fraud in Wisconsin, and they've done it so well that it's basically become a teach-the-controversy-type issue for the state press. The state Dems need to attack these allegations with the same ferocity and aggressiveness with which they attacked suspect recall signatures these last few months. This will probably be a long and even expensive process, but it will be worth to bring attention to just how much dodgy nonsense occurs on a regular basis in Wisconsin.

I'm talking about mysterious fliers that show up on people's doorsteps informing them of the wrong polling place, rampant misinformation campaigns on every college campus in the state and God knows what else that occurs in minority voting wards in the greater Milwaukee area. In an ideal world, the robocalls sent out by Wisconsin Right to Life last week -- legal though they may be -- would still earn a strong rebuke from the GAB and guidance on how to avoid such stunts in the future. This never happens and it should start with the GB break-in.

Wisconsin Dems seem content with just putting "election protection" attorneys in targeted polling places. That's fine, and important, but the problem is that most of the shit elections need to be protected from occur outside the polling place. This out-of-sight-out-of-mind silliness, coupled with a general propensity to believe the statute of limitations that covers all the extralegal crap pulled during an election ends when the sunrises the day after the polls close, costs the Dems immeasurably. "Election mop-up" should be a full-time job at the party and it should be treated as just as important as communication or research, etc. This won't happen any time soon, of course, but it should.

And it should start with the break-in police report. The physical evidence at the scene -- that preposterous broken window -- and DVL's subsequent actions all suggest that this was less of a robbery and more of a sympathy stunt. I sincerely doubt the GBPD's report will point fingers at anyone given the sensitive nature of the incident, and an "inconclusive" conclusion is probably a safe bet, but casting further doubt on the original accusation is an important part of winning the message battle and it's a step that universally ignored by state Dems.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Worst Candidate Since Tom Reynolds

Congrats, I guess, to Kim Simac on winning her GOP primary. For her troubles she will now receive unrelenting horrible press, nonstop ridicule and continuous condescending blog posts from the likes of yours truly.

Simac is just about the worst possible candidate imaginable and is the personification of just how unseriously the GOP have taken these recalls. Anyone who thought Dave VanderLeest got it rough these last few weeks are in for a wonderful surprise. Simac is a raving lunatic and is completely oblivious to her position on the fringe of American life. This should be a pick-up district for the GOP -- instead they're watching it pass by like a slow floater through the strike zone. Well played ... if you want to hear wife-swapping jokes for the next 4 weeks.

The District 22 race was also a race to the bottom of sorts: less than 10,000 total GOP voters came out to choose their nominee. The average vote total for the victorious Dems over the fake Dems in last week's bullshit primary was 19,200. Throw in the fact that Johnathan Steitz is basically a FIP and this district is essentially a lost cause.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Dave VanderLeest's thinks he's Elliot Ness in his Final Press Release

We might get a couple more, but if this were the last then DVL would be going out on top:
Thank you all for coming today,
Seriously, that's how it begins. I don't know if this was the script he used for a press conference that never materialized or what, but the statement thanks the reader for coming without providing any context.
False accusations have plagued this campaign. False slander Chicago style mob politics must stop in WI. The buck stops here. We are not going to allow these tactics to destroy tangible debates on real issues which face WI. The people will stand not for it, and neither will I. I truth is I was never found guilt of Domestic Violence in the State of WI. I was given primary care of my child in a messy divorce, and was never found guilty of abusing anyone. For these reasons I will be filling a slander lawsuit against Friends of Dave Hansen, DLCC, Greater WI Political Fund, We are WI, Politiscoop, The Green Bay Progressive, and One WI Now.
There's just so much to love from this. "False slander Chicago style mob politics must stop in WI." False slander? As opposed to the true slander? Chicago-style mob politics -- like the kind that seems to be tailing the candidate in an unmarked van with Illinois plates? Good stuff!

"I truth is I was never found guilt of Domestic Violence in the State of WI." Is DVL suggesting that there may be states in which he has been convicted of domestic violence? And way to capitalize domestic violence, as if we didn't understand just how serious the issue was in the first place. Now back to the good part!
I was given primary care of my child in a messy divorce, and was never found guilty of abusing anyone. For these reasons I will be filling a slander lawsuit against Friends of Dave Hansen, DLCC, Greater WI Political Fund, We are WI, Politiscoop, The Green Bay Progressive, and One WI Now. 
So this press release has little to do with DVL's campaign, but everything to do with his lawsuit. Now, I ain't got me none of that there fancy legal learning, so correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't one sue another party for libel when malicious statements are made in the press, not slander? And wouldn't one's lawyer make that distinction for his client before said client issued a press release? Something tells me this lawsuit isn't going to go very far.

Yet with such a commanding understanding of the law, DVL marches forward with this bold accusation:
We have also learned today Friends of Dave Hansen (Dave and Jane Hansen), Greater Wisconsin Political Fund, Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC), We are Wisconsin, The Democratic Party of Wisconsin, Brown County Democratic Party, and One Wisconsin Now are being investigated by the Government Accountability Board, and The WI Dept of Justice for civil and criminal RICO violations stemming from coordinating campaigns, which violate campaign finance and election law in WI. For anyone to say all these slanderous mailings along with the various slanderous TV commercials ran against me were not coordinated would be a complete denial of the obvious. 
RICO? Really? Something tells me the GAB doesn't have much authority to investigate any entity under the RICO act.
Thank you, I will not be answering any questions, all questions can be directed to my attorney Robert Gerald Lorge. 920-739-8080 
Bob Lorge! His name is kinda like the Steve Holt of Wisconsin.

Anyway, it will be interesting to find out if this frivolous lawsuit is being paid for from DVL's meager campaign coffer's or out of pocket as a personal expense (there really isn't much difference, except for the important legal distinction, which actually makes the issue very important).

More to the point, this is now like the third asinine claim DVL's made since the infamous Recall office break-in back in April. I hope that Green Bay area Dems remain conscientious about that incident because the crazier that DVL's accusations get, the more likely it is that he was the one who committed the break-in to win sympathy.

MORE: Yup, totally right about the whole libel thing. TPM went to the state DOJ and actually got a copy of the complaint filed by DVL and it's amazing:
It is evidence [sic.] that these groups are working together, pooling resources, staff, and coordinating their efforts in Senator Hansen's recall race. I make this complaint in good faith, and will look forward to the outcome of your investigation into the matter. The coordination of these groups is not legal in WI. Any person with eyes can see after reviewing the material sent to homes, or from watching TV ads sponsored by these various groups, that a direct violation of campaign law has occurred.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Shorter Ron Johnson: What Should I Care if a Terrorist Kills Someone in New York? At Least it wasn't Me

Read the passage below, then, when you're done, read it again a little more carefully:

RoJo was recently on Bloomberg's "Political Capital with Al Hunt," a program that focuses on the federal government. Anyone who has followed Johnson knows the senator loves to say "Obamacare" is the single greatest assault on Americans' freedom in his lifetime. It is a Johnson classic; his "Stairway to Heaven."
For the record, in the senator's lifetime, America has endured segregation, the Cold War and the threat of terrorism. That fact was not lost on Hunt, who pressed Johnson about his oft-repeated refrain and asked him specifically about the threat of communism.
"I wasn't threatened under communism," Johnson countered.
"You weren't threatened by terrorism?" Hunt asked.
RoJo paused, then said, "I'm talking about things that are imposed on me by this, by our government in America."

So far, Chris Walker and Xoff have both pointed this exchange out. Walker points out the absurdity of the statement, something that Johnson clumsily tries to gloss over by restricting his statement strictly to domestic policy. But there's really something more astonishing about Johnson's tacit claim that he wasn't threatened by terrorism that worth exploring: namely, how unspeakably

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Must be a Full Moon

Man, what a weird fucking day.

The returns are rolling in from Scott Fitzgerald's $500,000 Fake Primaries and it looks like the whole ordeal was a pointless as it was from the very beginning, despite a concerted effort on the part of the GOP to fuck with the Dems.

How to interpret the returns is anyone's guess. The closest race was in the 10th where Shelley Moore seems to be holding off Isaac Weix. This is also the district with the highest volume of voters and by a long shot. Unfortunately, that district is on the other side of the state from we here at the Chief, so it's hard to say too much about it. What we do know is that Weix ran for the Assembly in 2010, so all he had to do was pull his old campaign out of the mothballs and dust off some of his residual name recognition and he was off to a good start. The same can't be said anywhere else.

The lowest voter volume was about 20,000 ballots, which is enormous. Coincidentally, there were also six senate primaries last fall, but the vote totals weren't as consistent: ~32,700, ~14,700, ~12,800, ~17,200, ~13,100, ~22,100. So despite the fact that these elections are being held in the middle of summer, more people are voting this time around than last. That's either a testament to the various get out the vote drives being waged, the awareness of the voters or a combination of the two.

Given the deluge of advertising the state's in for in the next month, it's entirely possible (albeit unlikely) that we could see some districts cross the 100,000 ballots cast threshold, which would be extraordinary.

David VanderLeest is being Followed!!!

He may be dead in the water, but, boy, does VanderLeest put out some awesome press releases:
Once again I have been a victim of theft. Last night my car was broken into, window broke, etc. My Computer was stolen along with the list of recall circulators. My bet is, it was the thugs that have been tailing me with Illinois plates for the last three weeks. This is just one man's opinion. This is the second break in. I was a victim once during the recall, and now again during the campaign. [sic.]
Wow. This is just wonderful stuff. Thugs with Illinois plates? What an evocative image!

Technically speaking, the first "break-in" didn't actually target VanderLeest, but the Recall Hansen office; but it's still interesting that this guy seems to always have his lists stolen in rather dramatic break-ins a couple of days before some deadline or event.

Note how the the press release doesn't mention anything about a police report being filed.

TOTALLY UNRELATED ASIDE: This bit in a recall primer by Abe Sauer in the Atlantic:

District 2 Democratic Primary: Nancy Nusbaum vs. protest candidate Otto Junkerman to face Republican Senator Robert Cowles.

Trivia: A one-term Republican state representative in the 1980s, octogenarian Otto C. Junkerman called the police on his own son for drug use. Junkerman's wife promptly divorced him.

Fuck You, Jonathan Krause, Vol. XLVI

After reading Johnathan Krause's account of "dealing" with a local homeless person you will have nothing but contempt for this dickless swine

Is there any other way to Look at this other than the GOP Completely Absolving Itself from Deficit Reduction Responsibilities?

That's just an initial reaction, mind you:
Under McConnell odd plan, the President could get a clean, no-strings-attached debt ceiling increase of $2.5 trillion, but he would have to endure three politically treacherous votes that would allow upwards of two-thirds of the Congress to be on record disapproving of his actions. In other words, the President would get his debt ceiling increase and Republicans would score political points, but there would be no guarantee of any spending cuts.
In terms of actual budget reduction, how can this scenario possibly be preferable to the so-called "grand bargain"? Obviously, this makes a lot of political sense, but almost cravenly so. McConnell's plan completely absolves the GOP from any budget-cutting until after the 2012 election -- and the deficit is something that we're told we must address now!

It's almost ingenious how much buck-passing is going on here.

MORE: Well, shit: even the folks over at RedState seem to agree with me on this one:
Mitch McConnell is right now talking about making a historic capitulation. So fearful of being blamed for a default, McConnell is proposing a compromise that lets Barack Obama raise the debt ceiling without making any spending cuts at all.


And now Mitch McConnell wants to make it even easier by allowing Congress to go through a dog and pony show of feigned cuts that never get cut while allowing escalation of our national debt. So much for accusing Barack Obama of smoke and mirrors.

2014 cannot come soon enough to destroy the political future of this weasel.
EVEN MORE: Here are some more takes. Notice that each one of them ignores the possibility that Obama might not come back and ask for the second or third debt ceiling increases (for whatever reason). If that did end up happening, it could only be interpreted as enormous victories for the President.

Ron Johnson, the Laziest Senator

For a guy who's been bitching about how little gets done in the senate lately, this is embarressing:
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who defeated Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) last fall, has not brought any bills, amendments or resolutions forward for consideration. 


Meanwhile, Johnson, another Tea Party favorite, said, “I have spent a fair amount of time working with House members, in particular on the Cut, Cap, and Balance legislation that I hope will pass the House. It will actually cut spending, cap it over a period of years to lead to a balanced budget and lift the debt ceiling — contingent on us passing a constitutional amendment to limit spending and balance the budget.”
So he's working on legislation that doesn't mean shit unless a constitutional amendment passes first. Perhaps it would be wise to not put the cart before the horse and work on the constitutional amendment first.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Fate Worse than Death

I don't know how this guy did it:

EVEN frequent flyers get their 15 minutes of fame. Thomas Stuker, a car salesman from Chicago, has just completed 10m miles of flying with United Airlines, an achievement for which he has been roundly feted ( see video). It took him 29 years and 5,962 flights, but he has a plane named after him, he will never have to queue and, most remarkably perhaps, his wife hasn’t left him. (They do go on four or five honeymoons a year.)
Mr Stuker admits to feeling restless if a week passes and he hasn't flown anywhere. His skill with plastic cutlery must be superhuman, and he once had 23 consecutive meals on planes. Fly as much as Mr Stuker does and you should get an invitation to join Global Services, the slightly secretive top tier of United's frequent-flyer programme. This gives perks only dreamt of by the average flyer:
Fliers like Stuker arrive at special check-in areas where agents greet them by name and whisk away their bags. Their boarding passes are already printed, and at some airports an agent simply opens a hidden door, leading them to the very front of the security checkpoint line.
Most people have seen these passengers boarding planes before everybody else. They also get first choice of meals before the airline runs out of either beef or chicken, and there is even a special team dedicated to finding and delivering their lost luggage.
This was, of course, one of the plot devices used in the fairly over-rated movie Up in the Air ... but the thing that impresses me the most about this milestone isn't the outrageous number of miles the dude's logged, but the fact that he did all of them on United Airlines, which exists on the Great Chain of Customer Service Being somewhere between the iron maiden and having electrodes from a car battery attached to one's genitals.

Maybe I just haven't flown enough miles on United for them to start treating me with an ounce of human dignity (I assume this occurs right around the 1,000,000 miles mark). I was, however, happy to learn that even United's high rollers sometimes get their baggage lost, which is evidence that the airline hasn't just been singling me out for some twisted, Kafkaesque mind game enjoyed by employees over the airport's security cameras.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

"Beat Sweeteners"

Toby Herndon, the London Telegraph's chief America watcher, wrote a pretty spot-on assessment of the American press and it's relationship to power today:
A press like there is here in Washington, where reporters stand for the president and feel puffed up with pride when he calls on them to ask a question (very often a pretentious, look-at-me three-parter that has little to do with getting a decent answer).

How nice it would be if, like the US, the press would dutifully write “beat sweeteners” to ingratiate themselves, where stories are not written for fear of the journalist falling out of favour, where the political and media elites attend the same cocktail parties and envelope themselves in the same stultifyingly comfortable consensus about what is happening and what should be reported on.
No sooner had I found myself nodding in agreement to this piece then did I find this monstrosity of a "beat sweetener" on Sarah Palin in Newsweek. Go ahead, start reading and see how long you last.

Ignore the Wine and Focus on Paul Ryan's Voting Record

I don't see much point in lambasting Paul Ryan for an appreciation of fine wines, even expensive ones. Ryan's congressional pay makes a bottle of Jayer-Gilles 2004 Echezeaux Grand Cru affordable, and his future earning potential once he leaves office makes the expense trivial.

But this really isn't a discussion about economics of oenology: it's about the symbolism of extravagance in a time of austerity, and what is consistently missing from every account of Ryan's night on the town is that is why Ryan is susceptible to charges of fiscal hypocrisy.

Ryan has built his reputation in Washington as a fiscal conservative who advocates a small government approach that "doesn't pick winners," but he also voted for TARP and the auto bailout. He frequently waxes on the need to keep taxes low, but voted to tax executive bonuses at AIG after the insurance company joined TARP. He is the author of a plan to decimate Medicare over the next generation, but also voted for Medicare Part D, the largest expansion of entitlements in a generation (even though it had a dubious funding mechanism).

Ryan's explanations for these votes range from ridiculously nuanced to outright apologetic, were all, to a very large extent, votes that placed political calculations over the economic virtues he frequently promotes in public. To date, and to their credit, bloggers on the conservative side of the Cheddarphere have actually called Ryan out on these, shall we say, inconsistencies, but their criticism was short-lived and quickly forgotten.

Wine shouldn't be the reason people are piling on Ryan, his track record of folding when the chips down should be enough. Alas, explaining the ins and outs of legislation and economic policy is far more difficult than pointing to a $350 bottle of pinot noir and yell "Hypocrite!"

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Ron Johnson Really doesn't Know what He's doing in U.S. Senate, does He?

Oy vey:
Senator Ron Johnson is frustrated with inaction in Washington. The freshman Senator from Wisconsin is dissatisfied with the glacial pace of the Senate. He’s been in office six months, during which just six laws have been passed. “We spent 16 weeks debating three bills. The total dollar amount of those bills is $20 billion. That’s about half a percent of what this federal government will spend this year,” said Johnson, an Oshkosh business owner who campaigned on the need to reign in federal spending and reduce the deficit.

Johnson’s comments on the floor came as Senators engaged in ‘colloquy’, or conversations, over a non-binding debt reduction bill. “This week we’ve spent 15 hours debate. We called it a ‘sense of the Senate resolution’. It really should be called the nonsense of the Senate. That’s what’s been occurring this week, and it’s a tragedy.” Johnson noted that, as of Friday, it will be 800 days since Congress last passed a federal budget. Johnson’s comments came as President Obama began meeting with congressional leaders on a deal to raise the debt limit.
I don't know how fast Johnson expected things to move in the Senate, especially while he's in the minority and the House is is under different majority leadership.

I've heard that one of the smartest things new members of any legislative body can do is to start boning up on parliamentary procedure the morning after election to the point that one is a black belt on legislative rules by the time the oath of office is taken. Johnson clearly has not been given this advice. This is the second time in as many weeks that he's come out in public all doe-eyed at the mention of a senate rule: last week it was the concept of consent, and he he gives his audience the obvious "nonsense of the Senate resolution" joke. Perhaps he should study the Senate rules on his own time and save the parliamentary punchlines for the Capitol Steps.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Recall Finance Reports

The campaign finance figures for the recounts that were released today really are eye-popping. I don't know what's more impressive: that Dan Kapanke has raised $725,000 or has already spent $600,000 of it.

The Journal Sentinel made a big deal about the GOP incumbents out-earning their Dem challengers (Headline: "Two GOP senators raise more funds than six Democratic challengers combined"), but that's dramatically under values the fundraising situations in the other races and the big picture.

Yes, Kapanke and Darling brought a boatload of money -- but all of that money doesn't seem to be doing Kapanke a damn lick of good.

In fact, there are only two GOP candidates who seem to be in relatively good positions. Sheila Harsdorf has a lot of cash on hand against a newby opponent with zero name recognition, but still only a 5 point lead in one poll. Alberta Darling has a ton of cash and no public polls forecasting doom ... yet.

But it's next to impossible to look at the remaining three GOP senators and not be gravely worried about their prospects for defeat. How can Bob Cowles get out-raised as badly as he's been by Nancy Nusbaum? Nusbaum is not someone the Dems plucked out of obscurity: she's a former Brown County executive who ran for congress in 2006 (and lost in the primary), so this ain't her first rodeo. And poor Luther Olsen getting trounced by Fred Clark? It's difficult to look at these two incumbents and not think that they are either not taking the threat against them seriously or underestimated their opponents.

This is particularly odd for Cowles, who ran unopposed in 2008, but whose senate district went slightly for Obama that same year. That could e an anomaly, but one would imagine being recalled would inspire him to prepare for every possible contingency. Olsen, on the other hand, seems to have been out of sorts from the very beginning of the recall process. It almost feels like he's a moderate being left for dead by the right wing of the party in some ways.

Then there's Randy Hopper. He's spent a lot of money and I haven't seen or heard a single campaign ad (though I have gotten a mailer or two). Hopper is on the wrong end of a cash-on-hand gap, down a few points in the polls, and, most importantly he appears utterly demoralized:

Frankly, Hopper said, he would prefer to have his election as soon as possible. He would hope that neither he nor his likely opponent, Jessica King, has a primary race.

"Let me freakin' be done," Hopper said.
So right now there seems like the GOP could lose up to four senate seats, and within the realm of possibility that they lose all six (absent more data from Darling's district, who knows?). Things seem so close in every district that, absent precedent, there's really no way to make a reliable prediction.

Except for one. Right now, there seems to be little chance that the GOP will pick up any Dem senate seats. Dave Hansen will likely coast against Mike VanderLeest after John Nygren's monumental signature fuck-up and it's probably a safe bet that Jim Holperin will have to contend with an equally serious candidate up North. Meanwhile, Bob Wirch will probably have to deal with an opponent who lives in Racine, but works as a corporate attorney ... in Chicago, so he's basically a FIP.

The lack of seriousness with which the GOP has treated the recall is really astonishing. If the Dems succeed in taking the Senate, you can bet your sweet ass they will go after Walker and the remaining senators come January, and they will have created the apparatus and infrastructure to do so successfully.

Of course, the third party nonsense hasn't even begun yet, so all of this talk could be for nothing.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Ron Johnson's Radical Policy Shift that's Hijacking the U.S. Senate

[So this post is pretty much a stream of consciousness reaction to the op-ed Sen. Johnson published today. Skip down to the graph below if you want to get right down to the good stuff on Johnson's ridiculous new budget policy. It's so absurd that even Johnson himself was talking trash about it just two weeks ago. No time for editing, 'cuz there's drinking to be done this weekend.]

The BizTimes has an op-ed submitted by Ron Johnson that tries to explain the temper tantrum he threw on the Senate floor earlier this week. Turns out that was just the beginning of a week-long celebration of the filibuster:
Earlier, Johnson objected to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's call to take up a resolution authored by Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and John McCain, R-Ariz., that would allow the U.S. to continue its military support of the NATO-led effort against Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

He also thwarted the Senate Finance Committee's attempt to meet Thursday on trade agreements. And on Tuesday, he blocked a request for unanimous consent to let senators speak without a quorum call.

In a floor statement, Johnson said the debt is "the single most important issue facing this nation" and the economy "is in a coma" because lawmakers have failed to tackle the issue.
So, clearly this is all part of so kind of roll-out to brand Johnson in the same vein as a Jim DeMint-style obstructionist (and has nothing to do with Johnson's recent financial disclosure issues -- wink, wink).

But back to the op-ed. So far as I can tell, this is the first opinion piece Johnson's released since hiring former Journal-Sentinel book reportist Paddy Mac, so one would guess the results would be a marked improvement over earlier efforts. Alas, no.

The style is informal, even conversational -- an odd tone to use in what is a regional trade magazine. It doesn't fit the audience and looks like it was originally written for publication in the State Journal or Journal-Sentinel, but was refused by the editors, likely because of line like this:
The President's budget - the one he presented several months ago to great fanfare, remember that?
Yeah, dude, remember that!?! Maybe I was wrong: this could very well be the speech Johnson planned on giving to his 40th high school reunion.
It was 4 ¼ inches thick, 2,400 pages long. Who knows how many thousands of man hours that document took to produce? It was going to be the solution to our fiscal problems.
Yes, bills are long, feature many numbers and difficult legal language. This is the job you signed up for.
But it was so unserious, it would have added over $12 trillion to our nation’s debt.
$12 trillion? Really? The total budget deficit is about $14.3 trillion -- and somehow an annual budget that includes $3.7 trillion in spending is going to nearly double the deficit? In fact, the figure Johnson cites is additional debt over the course of the next decade (though it certainly sounds like all that debt is gonna us all at once) and the $12 trillion figure is actually debatable. The CBO puts the figure at just under $10 trillion. Ezra Klein puts the number closer to $7 trillion (though I think this was before the CBO revised their initial estimates), which is a lot close to the additional $6 trillion dollars in debt Rep. Paul Ryan's plan would accumulate during the same time period. Of course, Johnson supported Ryan's plan, so what's a few trillion dollars among friends?

But no one wants to hear bad sales figures! The point of this communique isn't Budget Deficit = Bad, it's Washington = Broken, which becomes apparent right around these graphs:
Instead of rolling up his shirt sleeves and personally tackling the number one problem facing this nation right from the beginning, President Obama delegated his role in sporadic negotiations to Vice President Biden.

Now that those talks have broken down, the President is finally getting personally involved in this process. But what kind of process is this – a few people, talking behind closed doors, far from the view of the American public? Is that the process that is going to decide the fate of America’s financial situation, of our financial future? Is this how our government is supposed to work?

I don’t think so. Of course not.
And this is coming from the guy who's threatening to shut down senate business without making clear what it is he's demanding. This article would seem like a pretty good place to outline those demands, wouldn't it? But it's apparently too much to ask Johnson to suggest televised meetings, releasing minutes or even letting a pool reporter sit in on negotiations. A hallmark of Johnson's missives to the masses has been an utter lack of solutions to the problems that concern him. This piece is no exception.

In fact, the vagueness of Johnson's complaints suggest that he's not so upset about the openness or seriousness of the budget talks so much as he is by his exclusion from them. If that's the case, then Johnson will surely be the first freshman senator ever to have his genius stifled by the archaic rules of a body that operates on seniority. Might as well take the ball and go home, because who needs solutions when there's folksy wisdom to dispense!
As a manufacturer, I know if the process is bad, the product will be bad. Business as usual here in Washington is a bad process.

Business as usual is bankrupting America. It must stop.
I may be projecting here -- OK, I am completely projecting here -- but Johnson's retreat to his bona fides as a manufacturer are starting to get so repetitive that they remind me of the classic "Tom Foley, Motivational Speaker" SNL skit, only instead of "living in a van down by the river" we get a "manufacturer from Wisconsin" as the appeal to authority intended to end the argument. Actually, the influence of early '90s sketch comedy is pretty apparent in this whole section of the op-ed, because Johnson really turns up the folksy with his Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer impersonation:
America is simply too precious* to subject our financial future to Washington’s “business as usual.” Now I'm pretty new here, and I don't pretend to understand everything that makes the Senate work (or maybe more accurately, doesn’t allow the Senate to work). But I do know the Senate runs on something called unanimous consent.
Now, if you're thinking that the only thing missing from this mise en scene is the image of Joe and Mrs. Tax-payer sitting around the kitchen table, eating some apple pie and balancing their checkbooks, you're in luck!
So unless we receive some assurance from the Democrat leadership that we will actually start addressing our budget out in the open, in the bright light of day - I will begin to object. I will begin to withhold my consent.
The Senate needs to pass a budget. It shouldn't be that difficult. Families do it every day. A husband earns $40,000. A wife earns $40,000. Their total family income is $80,000. That's their budget. That's what they can afford to spend. American families figure out how to live within their means.
Wank, wank wank...
The federal government should be no different. A budget is a number. We should first pick one number, and then a set of numbers, that won't let America go bankrupt.

So let me start the process by throwing out a number: $2.6 trillion. This is $800 billion more than we spent just 10 years ago. That is the amount that President Obama, in his budget, says the federal government will receive in revenue next year. If we only spent that amount of money, we would be living within our means.

What a concept, huh?
There's really nothing like punctuating a poorly explained thought with a condescending huh? to make the reader feel like he must be retarded for not understanding what was inadequately detailed in the first place, huh?

We've touched on this proposal before, albeit briefly. Johnson made this recommendation on the august bandwidth of the Daily Caller a couple of weeks ago. It's about as unserious a policy suggestion as he mocked the Obama budget for being at the very beginning of the op-ed. I mean radically unserious. Even Johnson himself couldn't help but marvel at the length, girth and impressive number of hours devoted to the creation of Obama's budget. What does Johnson offer as a rebuttal? An incomprehensible chart:

Johnson's budget calls for reducing the total amount of spending by the federal government by close to 30%. OK, so what gets cut? Are we looking at a 30% across-the-board reductions (even in Medicare)? Are we just going to eliminate certain programs, cabinet departments and the like? If so, which ones? And how much money is the state of Wisconsin going to lose with this plan? We're already a donor state, sending close to $7 billion worth of federal tax dollars to other states every year -- how much more is it going to cost the very people Johnson represents? None of this is explained in Johnson's graph.

And none of it has to be because Johnson has come up with a brilliant solution to his problem of determining what stays and what goes: divert the burden of proof:
If we want to spend more than $2.6 trillion, Members of Congress and members of this Administration should go before Congressional committees and openly justify what they want to spend, how much they want to borrow, and how much debt they are willing to pile on the backs of our children, our grandchildren, and our great grandchildren.
This sounds a lot like a kind of earmark reform in the shape of a hybrid C-SPAN/reality show -- call it "Groveling for Dollars!" or whatever. This should scare the living hell out anyone interested in seeing the United States Senate, you know, work. Johnson seems to be equating cutting the deficit with ending earmarks when the dilemma is entitlements, which his nifty little chart doesn't seem to cut at all. The big green block representing Social Security isn't any smaller in his "Debt Ceiling Budget" than it is in any of the others; and what was once four separate orange, yellow, blue and purple blocks, each representing four different spending areas, is now one giant red block essentially signifying "everything else." Even if we eliminate all of the discretionary spending to the tune of $500 billion, there's still another $400 billion Johnson needs to cut from somewhere.

At least I think that's what the chart is saying. Again, it really must be one of the least helpful visual aides I've ever encountered.

But before we get too thick in the weeds of budget numbers here, let's take a step back and look at the big picture here because something very interesting has happened in the twelve days between Johnson's article in the Daily Caller and his piece in the BizTimes -- and if you blink you might miss it.

Here's the key graph from the DC. Emphasis added:
President Obama’s FY2012 Budget estimates the federal government will receive $2.6 trillion in revenue next year. This is $800 billion MORE than the $1.8 trillion President Clinton spent in his FY2001 Budget. $2.6 trillion would easily cover all interest on the debt ($256 billion), 100% of Social Security ($760 billion), and still leave almost $1.6 trillion (only $200 billion less that Clinton’s ENTIRE FY2001 budget) to be allocated among essential defense, security, health, and safety spending. It would not be pleasant operating under a “Debt Ceiling Budget,” and no one is recommending it, but it would not have to be a crisis if we develop a “Plan B” (See chart).
Johnson doesn't really have much to say about what his "Plan B" is. This seems like a pretty significant omission, but one we'll have to save for another day because Ron Johnson is now advocating a policy that just two weeks ago he said "no one is recommending" and "would not be pleasant operating under."

This is a radical shift in policy. Johnson is basically planting his flag on a hill he dismissed as unrealistic just days earlier. If this is what he's demanding, then that's some pretty big news, both in terms of the absurdity of the demand and the infantile nature of his presentation. Rather than doing the hard work of meeting with colleagues on both sides of the aisle, winning allies, building a consensus and adjusting desires on the basis of realities, Johnson is just throwing a fit.

So there's a lot of irony in Johnson's office these days. He calls the President's budget unserious, then offers his own proposal in the form of a sketch made by an intern on the back of a cocktail napkin. He says the opposition party isn't willing to "roll up it's sleeves," but seems to think that grinding the work of the Senate to a halt by refusing to offer consent is putting in a good day at the office. Give me chastity! Give me constancy! ... But not yet.

The question that arises from all of this is: what changed?

There are two obvious answers to this question. The first is that Johnson has a new ghostwriter who's fingerprints are all over this piece. Compared to earlier op-eds, this one actually has a logical structure that flows from point to point, uses subtle imagery without merely recite numbers roboticly. The paragraphs are compact and frequently single sentences, the calling card of a recovering journalist. The condescension is vaguely familiar even in it's subdued form. Welcome aboard the U.S.S. Ron Johnson, Paddy Mac!

The second are the recent financial disclosure issues Johnson's been negotiating. There's a tendency to attribute a Wag the Dog-esque conspiracy to such circumstances -- that Johnson's recent theatrics are merely a diversion to distract the public from ethics concerns -- but I don't really buy this theory so much.

I'm more inclined to believe Johnson's recent rhetoric is a symptom of impatience. The Senate runs on a slow burn, which requires a lot of patience and a genuine love for deliberation. Johnson was definitely not known for either of these traits when he served on the local PIE Council, where he (allegedly) appeared uninterested in opinions that did not jive with his own and frequently solved impasses by cutting checks, thus leading to Charles Murray's memorable visit to Oshkosh.

Time is such a funny commodity in politics largely because there's never enough of it, except when you're in the U.S. Senate when there's frequently too much. If you read the histories of the great Senators -- from Calhoun and Clay up to LBJ and Ted Kennedy -- they all seemed to be experts at killing time in a constructive fashion, usually by building relationships with colleagues, while letting the senate move at it's own pace. It's part of what's referred to as "respecting the institution of the Senate."

I can only imagine the collective "What the fuck?" that dropped from the elder statemens' mouths when they heard the news that a freshman would not be offering his consent.

Johnson is staking his political fortunes on his ability to cut the deficit, or to at least have a hand in doing so, but the tactics he's using to get his way are so radical that the risk in using them vastly outweighs the reward. His "Debt Ceiling Budget" is a fantasy and his petulant posturing is embarrassing. It's entirely possibly that 18 months from now, he'll find himself in the majority party and in a position to move things along on a more agreeable time table. Now should be the time to build the relationships that can hep push through an agenda during the next Congress.

Acting like a diva on the Senate floor isn't going to do that.

* Again with the use of the word "precious" to describe American abstractions -- am I the only one who finds this choice of words really weird?