Thursday, June 30, 2011

David VanderLeest: "Fear my ability to Polarize the Public!" *

This degree of candor is almost admirable:
Crooked public officals [sic.] like this do not deserve the public trust. They fear my ability to polarize the public and expose true corruption that takes place at the hand of public officials who have different political views then me.
By the way, do you think the Green Bay Police Department has finished the paperwork on the "break-in" at the recall office VanderLeest was operating in April by now? It'd be interesting to read what their conclusion are.

* I'd be interested to get other folks' takes on my rather shamelessly edited title. My impression is that VanderLeest isn't calling his political opponents paranoid so much as he's suggesting that they sure as hell better fear him. If I'm wrong to think so, let me know.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Ron Johnson, Obstructionist

This is sorta out of the blue:
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) ground the Senate to a halt on Tuesday, threatening to block "business as usual" until Democrats submit a budget.

Johnson began his broadside by objecting to a quorum call, blocking the Senate from proceeding with a vote. Quorum calls, like many basic Senate procedures, are approved by unanimous consent and Johnson threatened in a floor speech to wreak havoc on these uncontroversial motions.

"Business as usual is bankrupting America," he said in a floor speech. "It must stop."

Elaborating on his scheme, Johnson warned that "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."


Johnson will have to remain on the floor to make good on his threat and it's not yet clear whether he has more lawmakers helping him out. He was reportedly spotted talking with Rand Paul and Jim DeMint on the Senate floor after his announcement, two Tea Party lawmakers known for tying the Senate in knots with filibusters and other procedural roadblocks.


Majority Leader Harry Reid could offer up popular bills and dare him to block them or try to call his bluff by forcing a cloture vote, a cumbersome and lengthy procedure. But as per Johnson's threat, "business as usual" is an impossibility unless he can be convinced to stand down.

Did Ron Johnson Bribe Himself?

Hey, if John Fogerty can (allegedly) plagiarize himself, anything's possible, right?

I may have been wrong when I called the $10 million dollar bonus Johnson gave himself a "minor" deal the other day. In fact, it's looking more and more like a rather major deal or at least on the way to becoming one.

Talking Points Memo seems to have taken on the story and they have reputation for not letting go of stories like this. In the meantime, Johnson office is doing exactly the wrong thing here by going into a communications lockdown:
So far Johnson has not produced a written deferred compensation agreement that was signed and dated before he launched his campaign. Absent such an agreement, Johnson could face serious charges that he violated campaign-finance laws barring direct corporate funding of federal candidates, election law experts tell TPM.


Johnson spokeswoman Mary Vought did not return several inquiries from TPM Monday. 
And now with allegations that Johnson may have shuffled money around so as to avoid paying taxes, it's all adding up to a very uncomfortable situation. This is the kind of nagging story that can destroy Johnson's time in the Senate before it really has much of a chance to get started.

Anyway, If there isn't a "written deferred compensation agreement," Johnson would be wise to come out and say "Yeah, we did write an agreement down. It was a mistake on our part. Here's the money back." The longer trying to explain away the situation by calling it "complicated" goes on, the more likely Johnson's going to find himself in a Anthony Weiner situation (sans the sexlessness, of course) wherein the obfuscation becomes worse than the actual deed itself.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Banner Weekend for Conservative Leadership in Wisconsin

Bravo, Wisconsin GOP et al! You certainly know how to keep things interesting:
  • And, finally, David Prosser had to continue to sully his legacy with whatever seemed to happen in Judge Bradley's chambers last week.
When it rains, it pours -- am I right?

The Johnson thing is relatively minor, but is emblematic of the guy's closet elitism and obliviousness to how his own financial situation reflects upon him and his office. Did he really not think that Ron Johnson, business-owner, could give Ron Johnson, U.S. Senator-elect, $10 million and no one would notice and/or care? I don't know of there's ever being a case in which someone has essentially bribed himself, but Johnson is a man of Gumpian fortune (and, according to many who know him, intellect) and would seem like just the kind of guy to trialblaze new ground in that area.

The Walker matter is also minor (at least in the grand scheme of things -- it's not like poor advance work is like a massive campaign finance violation or anything), yet also seems indicative of small administrative screw-ups by Walker's staff that seem to occur frequently. It does not provide a picture of a competent or well-managed office.

And David Prosser. Most guys his age spend time obsessing over their legacies, but Prosser seems hellbent on pissing his away. Whatever happened -- and I doubt anyone will ever know exactly what really did happen -- Prosser has been, once again, caught up in an unseemly incident. I'm sure their are a number of cause to the current acrimony on the state Supreme Court, but Prosser really is going out of his way to embody all of them and in so doing it's only a matter of time before he starts to earn a good deal of the blame.

Prosser has admitted to verbally threatening a female colleague in the past and has also owned up to breaking the law while in the state assembly, so he's lied about professional misconduct before. He also has a history of letting his temper get the best of him:
[W]hile serving as Republican minority leader, [Prosser] went ballistic on the Assembly floor because a photographer was there to film our legislators in action. He suspected the photographer, who was in the visitors gallery, was working for the Democrats - and even though Assembly rules permit cameras, Prosser made sure that everyone knew he didn't like it.

In the process, he got into a heated argument with the acting speaker at the time, Milwaukee Democrat Tim Carpenter, and wound up rushing the speaker's podium screaming and shouting irrationally, pounding the podium and accusing Carpenter of being a liar.
Then there was the contentious Supreme Court administrative hearing in 2009 when he not only blew up at Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, but launched into a tirade against witnesses who were there advocating tough rules for judges to recuse themselves when principals in a case had contributed big bucks to their election campaigns.
Prosser's temper is well-know around Madison and has been for years. His track record certainly seems to fit the accusations, or at least make them more plausible than they would be otherwise.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Ron Johnson takes the McKinsey Survey Bait

Ron Johnson made the centerpiece of his run for the U.S. Senate last year his opposition to Obamacare, so it was something of an event when he took to the pages of the Washington Post last week with former CBO director and GOP in-house economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin to foresee doom and gloom on the healthcare horizon:
The other of us [i.e. Sen. Johnson], as a former businessman, knows what it’s like to purchase coverage for employees. There are many employers who would happily get out of the practice of providing health insurance, if they could do it without hurting their workers. Obamacare will encourage them to do so. In the current system, most employers are highly reluctant to drop health coverage for employees because they don’t want their workers to be financially exposed. But under Obamacare, instead of paying $15,000 for family coverage, an employer can choose to pay a $2,000 fine, pay more in cash wages, make his employees eligible for a huge government subsidy and come out ahead. Confident that their employees are also gaining, millions of employers will follow this logic. 
There are at least two enormous problems with this argument. The first is that it's the employer that seems to be saving $13,000 ... and yet still complaining. (The insinuation is that the $13,000+ difference would be picked up by the federal government, thus plunging the country further into debt or necessitating a rise taxes -- I think, it would have been nice of the authors to have explained this point in detail.)

The second is that it might not be necessarily true. Here's Steve Pizer:
Start by asking why employers sponsor health insurance for their employees at all.  The answer is that employer-sponsored health insurance is not taxed, so a dollar contributed to health insurance premiums buys a dollar of insurance while a dollar devoted to wages translates to less than a dollar of take-home pay.  As an employer, if I devote a portion of my compensation budget to health insurance and my competitor doesn’t, the dollar value of total compensation at my company will be greater than at my competitor’s.  I’ll attract the best workers.  So employers sponsor health insurance because the labor market is competitive.  They might wish they could cut these costs or drop health benefits entirely, just like they’d like to cut wages, but they have to consider the realities of the labor market or they won’t be able to hire.


Predicting the effects of the [health care] exchanges is harder, but the fact that access will be limited to those without employer offers simplifies things somewhat.  Most workers will not be eligible for subsidies if they had access to exchanges and the tax benefit is a major factor, especially for higher income workers, so a firm that drops coverage will be cutting compensation significantly for most of its workers.  It’s not likely that many firms will be able to do this unilaterally.
So why does Johnson and Holtz-Eakin think otherwise. Because:
A recent employer survey by McKinsey & Co. found that more than half of all American companies are likely to “dump” their workers into the government-run exchanges. If half of the 180 million workers who enjoy employer-provided care wind up in the exchanges, the annual cost of Obamacare would increase by $400 billion by 2021. If the other half eventually follows suit, and all American employees wind up in the exchanges — which we believe is a goal of Obamacare — then the annual cost of the exchanges would increase by more than $800 billion. Like Medicare in 1965, this would be more than nine times the original cost estimate of $93 billion each year ($893 billion vs. $93 billion).
The survey was really the only piece of empirical evidence cited by Johnson and Holtz-Eakin that backs up the central contention of their op-ed. The problem is that the way in which the authors use the survey is flawed:
McKinsey and Company has finally released the methodology of its study finding that many businesses are likely to drop insurance for employees (typo fixed) as a result of the Affordable Care Act.

There will be a lot to dig through here, but what’s immediately of interest is that in its statement, McKinsey repeatedly concedes that the study should not be seen as a predictor of future behavior. While McKinsey says it stands by the study’s methodology, the statement repeatedly stresses its lack of predictive value.
Why is this a big deal? Because the McKinsey study was being questioned well before Johnson and Holtz-Eakin used it as the centerpiece of their argument against Obamacare. I don't imagine we'll see a retraction any time soon, but it does seem worth while to point out shoddy work when we see it.

And speaking of shoddy work, do please check out Johnson's op-ed at the Daily Caller. To be perfectly honest, I'm not even sure I understand what point he's trying to make. The piece starts off explaining that he's against raising the debt limit and then concludes with a confusing and convoluted graph that raises more questions than provides answers. In between Johnson seems to say "We should just limit our spending to the revenue we take in" -- something that may prevent the deficit from growing, but does nothing to put a dent in it (to do that, you'd need to raise taxes, which is anathema to Johnson).

Left unmentioned in the DailyCaller piece is the fact that the debt limit will be raised regardless of what Johnson says or does. This has less to do with economics than basic political risk assessment: if the U.S. defaults on it's debt and the consequences are truly as bad (or, really, anywhere near) as some economists predict, then any elected official who helped usher in the default will find his proverbial head on a metaphorical spike.

This kind of sloppiness is likely why Johnson's office hired Paddy Mac recently, but it will have to do much better then this to effectively communicate the Senator's agenda, which, to date, has been little more than confused policy arguments punctuated by unending reminders that Johnson was a small business owner.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Show Me Proof

Here's wind up to a NYTimes/JSOnline piece on unemployment benefits:

The Times story suggests that some states have held back on changing the law to allow the extended benefits for ideological reasons.

In Wisconsin, it is the job of the Unemployment Insurance Advisory Council to make recommendations ot the Legislature on changes to jobless pay, including the decision on whether to approve extended benefits. Those benefits ended April 16, according to the Department of Workforce Development.

The Wisconsin panel has not yet considered the measure, and could not even summon a quorum for its May meeting. Its April meeting was canceled.
And here's the Huh? moment:

In the Times story, Jim Buchen, vice president of government relations for Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and a member of the advisory council, questioned whether there was a need for extended benefits.

"The management side is not inclined to approve this anyway absent concessions on their part. The real question is whether there is still a need for extended benefits. We are increasingly hearing from people that they are having trouble hiring workers who are on unemployment because they want to wait until their benefits are exhausted," Buchen told the Times.
Buchen's anecdotal aside seems patently ridiculous to me. Why would anyone pass up long-term employment income and job stability, especially in the current economy, for the sake of short-term unemployment benefits?  It would also seems to make little sense that these moochers are actively going out and speaking to the management types that would be hiring people if they are, indeed, waiting out the rest of their unemployment benefits. How, then, did "the management side" -- Buchen's phrase, not mine -- acquire this information?

I really wish news organizations would call PR shills out on shit like this. Where is the data backing your claim up? How was it gathered? Can provide the name of someone who is refusing employment to instead take unemployment benefits? Just one name, that's all we're looking for. Why not make it easier: how about the name of one employer who is having a hard time finding employees because the entire potential workforce has been rendered immobile by unemployment benefits?

Buchen's rhetoric is pretty standard: manufacturers are out their trying to create jobs that people are too lazy to fill. The problem -- and the reason why groups like WMC rely on the old "laziness" talking point -- is that there is seemingly no way to quantify the claim. But that doesn't mean further evidence shouldn't be requested way confronted evasive dodges like Buchen's.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Meet Your Sham GOP Candidates

Do check out Abe Sauer's portrait of James Smith, the fake Democrat running against Jen Shilling in La Crosse. I imagine it will not be something Smith saves in his scrapbook:
Born in 1985, it's not difficult to see how James Smith got himself into this mess. A Republican groupie, Smith is painfully willing to please the Republican party he fetishizes. Smith's real—as in, private—Facebook page features photo after photo of him standing alongside Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, Newt Gingrich, Senator Ron Johnson, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen and Governor Scott Walker. And there he is next to Dan Kapanke, the recalled Republican Senator that Smith resigned his local GOP post to register as a Democrat to run against.

James Smith worked on Governor Scott Walker's election. He was a delegate to the Republican State Convention. It was a week ago that he resigned his position on the La Crosse County Republican Party Executive Committee and filed as a Democratic candidate for partisan state office. Smith admits that the candidacy was arranged by the state party. The fake Facebook page, Smith said, was done by himself, "for the fun of it."

The most generous possible way to describe him is naive. James Smith is what would happen if Lennie from Of Mice and Men somehow became involved in All the King's Men.


A lifelong resident of La Crosse, James Smith's name is mud. The local newspaper has a steady stream of letters to the editor, such as June 10's "Smith should be ashamed of actions." At 25, he's a local villain in a town of 50,000, the kind of small place where people traditionally try and keep a low profile. A Willie Stark who never quite figures out what Tiny Duffy is up to, Smith's future political career, whatever he imagined for himself, is ruined—and Smith's unmistakable physical stature makes it impossible for him to blend in anywhere.
I have no sympathy for this guy whatsoever.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Your 2012 GOP Nominee will be Mitt Romney

Might as well get this out of the way now. It's been my gut feeling for months now and seeing him at the New Hampshire debate tonight pretty much confirmed it for me.

Romney seems a lot looser this time around. He's actually discovered how to stick to his guns (kinda, in his own Romney-esque way) with regard to his health care plan. He works his balls off. It's his turn. Iowa isn't as important to Republicans as it is to Democrats. He's doing very well in South Carolina. He can raise more money than Croesus. Name recognition. All the usual reasons, for better and for worse.

That will be all.


The Journal-Sentinel's Patrick McIlheran is taking a job on Ron Johnson's staff -- one assumes as a speech/article-writer.

PaddyMac specializes in a lazy brand of commentary that amounts to little more than translating things he reads in national conservative opinion magazines like the National Review or the Weekly Standard into Wisconsinese with a condescending and snotty tone. Occasionally, he dabbles in the exception-proves-the-rule hysterics, but mostly he eschews original thought for ideological gate-keeping and being a dick.

Which is exactly what someone like Ron Johnson, who would be lost in this world without the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal to guide him, needs. Unspeakably awful op-eds have been a hallmark of Johnson's time in public life since his campaign last year, a problem indicative of poor communications across the board. There's really no way PaddyMac's addition can make this any worse.

Plus McIlheran now has to give up a good portion of his assholery.

Everyone wins.

This is a welcome development for nearly everyone in Wisconsin.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Sanity Prevails

The Wisconsin Dems are not going to run sham candidates in GOP primaries.

It sounds like part of the reason for the delay in rejecting We Are Wisconsin's advice late yesterday was making sure all of the Dem candidates were on the same page:
Tate said every Democratic challenger running against a Republican incumbent opposes running fake Republicans in the primaries. Democrats planning to run in the Republican recall elections on July 12 are Fred Clark, Jess King, Shelly Moore, Nancy Nusbaum, Jen Shilling and Sandy Pasch.
If that was the case, then the delay was worth it considering the the recent fumbling Luther Olsen has had to explain.

Friday, June 10, 2011

We Are Wisconsin's Idiotic Call for Democrats to Run Sham Candidates in GOP Primaries

If someone asked me what the stupidest thing the Democrats could possibly do in the face of the sham primaries the Wisconsin GOP is forcing with fake candidates, I would say to run fake candidates of their own, but they aren't that stupid, are they? Maybe not, but We Are Wisconsin sure as hell is:
In a major development, the group argues that the strategic and on-the-ground implications of the GOP tactics are far more complex and serious a threat to Dem chances than has been publicly explained. They argue that if Republicans do this and Dems don’t, the GOP will be able to dictate the election calendar with a free hand, deciding which general recall elections happen on July 12th and which on August 9th — a huge strategic advantage for Republicans. 
WAW's argument is, at best, spurious bullshit. Their reasoning is so thin that what they are suggesting amounts to nothing more than "The Republicans are doing it, so we have to too!" The recalls are not arms races. This is not an issue of bringing a gun to a fight when you know you're opponent is carrying a knife. This is an example of trying to out asshole the other side. It's the kind of too-cute-by-half maneuver that backfires and the Dems would be foolish to go along with it.

WAW thinks that the Dems need to have some "control" over the election calendar, but this seems to mean determining whether the general elections are held on July 12th or August 9th. It shouldn't really matter what date the elections are held: the Dems know what they have to do and as long as they do what they need to do they will either win or lose. Regardless of what happens this summer, no one will say "The Dems would have won if only they ran fake candidates like the GOP."

Some one has to act like an adult in this mess. Tit for tat acts of childish retribution will not help the Dems. I'm a bit disappointed that DPW didn't dismiss this idea out of hand yet. The Recall Season is already confusing enough as it is.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The First Round of Wisco Newspaper Editorials are Predictably Unkind to the Whole "Fake Candidates" Thing

The Journal-Sentinel:

We don't favor the recall elections, which are largely driven by union anger over a policy issue - the effort to limit collective bargaining for most public employees. Disagreeing with a legislator over policy does not justify a recall. It's a misuse of the recall option. The recall elections are a distraction from the important business at hand and a waste of time and money - lots and lots of money.

But if there must be recall elections, there should not be phony candidates and sham primaries. Let's keep it real.
The Post-Crescent:
There's nothing in election rules or state law that prohibits this. A year ago, a fake Republican candidate ran in an Assembly race against incumbent Bob Ziegelbauer of Manitowoc, who switched from a Democrat to an incumbent, and a Democratic challenger.

In fact, it's that case that Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, cited as a precedent for his party's actions now.

At the time, though, it was called a "nasty, cynical ploy" by none other than the head of the state Republican Party. Apparently, nasty and cynical is OK now, as long as the political purpose is their own.

It's particularly discouraging that the party that has made such a big deal about the integrity of elections, passing a voter ID law, is turning these elections into a farce.
The Sheboygan Press:

Republican lawmakers have cried for years now that there is rampant voter fraud in Wisconsin elections. So much so that they have been pushing for a law to require people to show an ID card with their photo on it before they can vote.

And, now that they are in power, have passed just such a bill to give people confidence in the election process.

But Republicans appear willing to carry out a little election chicanery of their own by putting up fraudulent candidates in the recall elections against six Republican senators.
If elections are so sacred that we have to make sure people carry a photo ID with them when they go to vote, the people who are seeking their votes should at least be honest and respectful of the process.

And remember, too, that Republicans are cutting state aid to local governments but think nothing of forcing local taxpayers to fork over more money to pay for unnecessary primary elections.
We will say this: All of these tricks and tools are creating more problems than they've solved so far. It's not just the ideologues in Madison who are tearing each other apart. Bitter politics has become an epidemic in Wisconsin. It's hard to have a rational conversation, especially one where both sides feel like they've been heard and respected.

Political shenanigans might be an effective instrument in the short-term, but we wonder about the long-range effect on state leadership. Will we ever be able to trust these folks with the powerful tools voters gave them when they were elected?
La Crosee Tribune:

It’s one thing to run for office on principle and to fully engage in the issues, giving voters a clear choice to vote for a candidate of their choice. And it’s legitimate for candidates to switch parties when they are truly compelled to do so.

It’s another to run for office and temporarily switch parties just to cause further confusion and commotion in a process that already has enough of that with outside interest campaign spending and the entire recall turmoil.

The only thing that will be spoiled by these candidates is the public’s interest and participation in the democratic process.
Instead of using election parlor tricks, Republicans would be better suited to change the law that allows for recall elections. They have the political control — for now —  to do that.

But perhaps they’d rather publicly complain and silently keep their options open for when the recall process becomes a political tool they can use when it’s their turn.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

WI GOP Hands the Car Keys Over to Tom Reynolds

Remember Tom Reynolds - the lunatic Republican state senator who started Clean Sweep Wisconsin PAC? The WisGOP must have pulled him out of the mothballs to develop the strategy for these ridiculous bullshit primaries Jeff Fitzgerald is providing his full-throated endorsement.

Only the the state GOP apparently did this without considering the cost to tax payer:

La Crosse County Clerk Ginny Dankmeyer estimated costs to the county and various municipalities would total $50,000 for a primary in Kapanke's recall election.
Dankmeyer said a primary election would cost just as much as the general recall election. The costs of the recalls would include paying poll workers, printing ballots, using supplies and other paperwork.
A spot check of other communities in the recall districts found municipal costs ranging from $2,000 in Kaukauna to $15,000 in Fond du Lac. For counties, the check showed costs ranging from $2,200 in Dodge County to $18,500 in Outagamie County.
Fond du Lac County Clerk Lisa Freiberg said the county alone would have to pay $10,000 to cover primaries in the Olsen and Hopper recall elections, and that the city of Fond du Lac would have to pay $15,000 for the two potential primary elections.
Remember, folks: this is the party that has insisted the state is broke ... and yet not broke enough to jerk around local election boards.

The GOP seems to be doing everything it possibly can do to hand control of the Senate back to the Dems. When you start seeing headlines with the word "sham" appearing next to your candidates' names -- you're doing it wrong. It's an absolute testament to just how far the GOP has fallen in Wisconsin that it now makes Tom fucking Reynolds look like a goddamn visionary.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

You're Not Helping

This nonsense needs to end:
The disruption started just as the meeting began, with three men who oppose Gov. Scott Walker's plan to strip in-state tuition to UW System and state tech schools for children of undocumented immigrants commandeering the front of the room as the session was called to order.

The men refused to leave or stop reading their statements, and at least one was carried out by state troopers.

After that, the floodgates seemed to open, with protesters coming to the front of the room to berate the committee members. Assembly Co-chair Robin Vos, R-Rochester, tried to conduct the meeting over the disruption, putting an omnibus motion on the table on shared revenue. His voice could barely be heard among the din.
Whatever point these folks are trying to make is completely obscured by the open mic night amateur antics. Furthermore, these folks who would happily risk going to jail by committing a childish act of performance art usually do so for the sake saying they "fought the man," but are usually no where to be found when it comes to doing the heavy lifting of reaching out to voters and community organizing. It's selfish bullshit. If you'd like to make an ass of yourself, just throw a hat upside down on the State Street sidewalk and start your rambling: you might even make some tips.