Saturday, April 28, 2012

Ron Johnson's Curious Snub of the Tea Party

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the line-up of next week's Tea Party for Scott Walker wank-a-thon is one glaring omission: Sen. Ron Johnson. The party is right in his back yard and this is the kind of pliant and doting crowd to which he usually restricts his public appearances. Not making an appearance would be stunningly dumb. He'd get statewide media attention for next to no effort and little gestures like this go a long way toward keeping in the good graces of activists and colleagues alike. I guess he's got better things to do, but it still looks like a snub.

It's another in a series of puzzling scheduling moves that really demonstrate just how adept Johnson is at alienating people he is supposed to be accommodating. Last month Johnson gave the keynote speech at the New York GOP annual convention, but the question remains: why? Usually a Senator does something like that as a favor to a colleague that can be cashed in for one of his own at a later date or to increase his national stature, but in this case there really was nothing to be gained. New York is a solidly blue state. There are no GOP Senators from the Empire State. The New York GOP is famously dysfunctional. It's one thing to make a weekend of it in Manhattan, but the convention was in Rochester. The speech won him no media exposure back here in Wisconsin. Johnson would have been better served doing just about anything else.

I have a sneaking suspicion that Johnson will find time in his schedule to make a drop-in. After all, the secretary of the  Rally in the Fox Valley PAC is also the receptionist of Johnson's Oshkosh office. If he doesn't, then it really will feel like slap in the face.

The "Rally in the Valley" will be Emceed by (Possible) Fraud Jake Jacobs

So the local Tea party is having a little shindig next weekend and all the big guns are going to be there. Just look at that line up: it's only a lunatic radio talk show host away from inducing a pulmonary embolisms in every last one of the elderly folks who will spend the afternoon in their lawn chairs. If you're like, you probably looked through the list and and asked yourself, "Who is this Jake Jacobs fellow?" Well, funny you should mention that...

Jacobs is an evangelical zealot who recently a teacher at Winneconne High School before deciding to pursue a life as a professional asshole, by which I mean someone who sells himself as an authority on pretty much everything. Unfortunately, there are all sorts of strange inconsistencies with Jacobs story. Here's how he describes his education:
Concerned about the ACLU & NEA’s attempt to revise America’s Judeo-Christian Foundation Jake earned a Ph.D. in Early American History from North-West University with his Dissertation titled; The Influence of Biblical Ideas on Early American Republicanism and History.
OK, but there isn't a "North-West University" in the United States. There's one in South Africa. There's a "Northwest University" in Washington state, but it seems strange that someone would misspell the name of his alma mater. And if you think that's a typo on the part of the web site, think again: it appears on his LinkedIn page too, which one assumes Jacobs had more editorial control over.

More to the point is the little matter of his dissertation: "The Influence of Biblical Ideas on Early American Republicanism and History." I couldn't find a record of it in ProQuest database of Dissertation and Theses. It's possible that I was searching incorrectly or that it's just not listed, so if I'm wrong, do please correct me in the comments. It's also possible that Northwest U. doesn't make it's dissertations available, since I couldn't seem to find any theses available from the school. Some schools do this and it's bullshit. Even for-profit online schools like Northcentral University include their dissertations in various databases.

Jacob's "book" Mobocracy doesn't exactly lend itself to be the kind of serious scholarly work that a PhD would produce. It's really just a long, shrill blog post written by a partisan lunatic. We would know: we write them all the time. Making matter worse are all the strange inconsistencies the make up the marketing of the "book." Here Jacobs ends his description of the book with the cri de coeur "Semper Fi to the Republic!" Yes, that sounds extravagantly melodramatic, but Semper Fi is usually something of shibboleth uttered among veterans of the Marine Corps. There's nothing in Jacobs resume suggesting military service, but he clearly wants his readers to believe as much. The "reviews" of his book feature three dead people, a word of thanks from former governor Jim Doyle completely unrelated to the book and the kind words of a former student. (Before he took his song and dance to Marquette, Ethan Hollenberger was active in the UW-O college Republicans where he won a well-deserved reputation for using public displays of shallow jackassery to advance his causes. Now we know where that came from.)

Jacobs says he teaches at Lakeland College, but there's no record of him in the faculty directory. Then again, the directory is rather open about the fact that it might not include every staff member. There's also the possibility that Jacobs did teach their (or one of their satellite campuses) some time in the past

Then there's the issue of how long he's been teaching. On LinkedIn, he says it's 23 years and just in Winneconne. On MeetUp, he says it's 25 in both Wisconsin and Arizona. This begs the question, well, which one is it?

There's question about why Jacobs is no longer teaching. On his MeetUp page, Jacobs claims to have "been teaching Conservative Values for 25 years in AZ/WI Public Schools," which is a no-no. 23 or 25 years is also an odd time to leave the teaching profession voluntarily. Usually teachers ride out another 5-10 years before retirement, but that's not a word that appears anywhere in Jacobs various CVs, which leads one to believe he just quit.

Jacobs also calls himself a "historian," thought he does seem to have produced any academic works of history to back that claim up. I'm not even talking about peer-reviewed history, I mean any history. What few writing that appear online are all polemic works of opinion. Aside from his idiotic book, Jacobs seems to have authored three articles, only one of which has anything remotely to do with anything historical.

He claims to be the "president of founder" of something called the Politically Incorrect Institute, which doesn't seem to have a web site, a brick and mortar HQ or staff of any kind. In other words, it seems to exist only in Jacobs' mind.

On Mobocracy's Facebook page (at least his "book" has a web page) Jacobs claims to have been "awarded the MOST politically incorrect public school teacher in Wisconsin and America," but doesn't say by whom. He might as well claim to be the world's greatest juggler.

Basically, Jake Jacobs appears to be a fraud. There might be answers that clear these inconsistencies up, but they don't seem to be available online. Not that this will stop him from peddling his tripe in front of tea party circle jerks. Nor will end his frequent appearances on VCY radio, the batshit insane zealot shitshow from Milwaukee. Jacobs seems to be going out of his way

Jacobs will be joined by a whole slew of compatriots with similar creditability problems. There's Kim Simac, the nutcase birther who ran one of the most incompetent campaigns in recent memory for state senate last year. Her acquaintance with the facts is famously tenuous. Then there's Mark Block, who's back running the state chapter of AFP after running Herman Cain's circus into the ground earlier this year. Cain Himself might make a cameo too. There will also be a couple of fringe candidates for U.S. Senate and perennial congressional also-ran Dan Sebring.

It sounds like it's going to be a wonderful time.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Ron Johnson's Crass Vote Aginst the Violence Against Women Act

Yesterday the Senate passed an extension of the Violence Against Women Act. Ron Johnson voted against the extension and here's his explanation as to why:
“I believe it’s critical to ensure that laws are in place to prevent and deter crime – against both women and men. Regrettably, the debate over the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act was completely politicized by the Senate Democratic leadership.

“Republicans offered very reasonable alternatives to extend the Violence Against Women Act. Senate Democrats today defeated proposals to provide U.S. Marshalls the tools they need to track sex offenders across state lines. They voted against legislation to establish an interstate database for DNA evidence, to ensure sex offenders are brought to justice regardless or the jurisdiction in which they commit their crimes. And they rejected legislation to provide additional funds to allow law enforcement to pursue justice for hundreds of thousands of women – women whose cases may depend on the results of DNA tests from rape evidence kits currently caught in a backlog that stretches to the hundreds of thousands.

“The partisan bill pushed through by Senate Democrats today does nothing to address these.”
The vote and was anything but partisan and passed 68-31. That's 15 Republicans voting in favor of the extension.

It's very tempting to dismiss the omissions from the bill Johnson cites above as being little more than rhetoric to cover his vote against what should be a no-brainer. Each of the provisions Johnson notes above cost money and are expansions of the federal government, so at least according to one of the guiding principles of his governing philosophy, Johnson appears to be contradicting himself.

What's more likely is that Johnson voted against the bill for the same reasons every other Republican who voted against it did:
But other Republicans objected to a number of the measure’s new provisions. One would add language barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in programs funded through the measure.

Another would let law enforcement issue up to 5,000 more visas each year to battered illegal immigrants who agree to participate in the prosecution of serious crimes. The 2000 update of the bill set aside 10,000 visas annually for that purpose, which advocates believe encourages victims to report crime. All 10,000 are being issued each year, and advocates say more are needed.

A final area of contention would provide the government new authority to prosecute non-Indian men who abuse Indian women on tribal reservations.
It's this last area that is of particular relevance to Wisconsin. Wisconsin has one of the largest Native populations in the country; by this measure it's #9 at about 41,000. The Domestic violence epidemic among Native Americans isn't a well-kept secret and it's further complicated by the byzantine nuances between the intersections of tribal, state and federal law:
There is an epidemic of domestic violence on Native American reservations. According to the National Congress of American Indians, a Native American rights advocacy group, about 40 percent of Native American women will face domestic violence. But more than half of Native American women are married to non-Native American men, which means that when cases of abuse arise, the local tribal authorities can do very little because they don't have jurisdiction over non-tribe members.

State and federal prosecutors have the authority to prosecute domestic violence on reservations, but for geographic and logistical reasons, it often goes unaddressed. "A federal prosecutor is not going to be able to expend the kind of energy on misdemeanors that local police officers would spend energy on," says Paulette Moore, vice president for public policy at the National Network to End Domestic Violence.

As Mother Jones reported last year, local authorities' inability or unwillingness to deal with domestic violence cases in Native American communities has contributed to an underground industry of vigilantes for hire who take matters into their own hands. The current version of the Violence Against Women Act would allow tribal authorities to prosecute non-Indians for domestic violence cases on Indian reservations, but Republicans are opposing it because they don't like the idea of Native American law applying to non-tribe members.

"For the first time, the Committee would extend tribal criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians," Grassley said in his floor speech. "I do not believe the Committee has a good understanding of what the consequences would be of doing so." The bill contains language that affirms non-tribe members prosecuted receive the same due process protections they would be entitled to under the US Constitution.

The bill's supporters expressed confusion at Grassley's logic. "Suppose your sister was with you in Washington, DC, and her husband beat her up," Moore says, "but because he was from Virginia, Washington couldn't do anything about it."
This is a problem that disproportionately effects Wisconsin, but that doesn't seem to matter to Johnson whose only motivation for voting on bigger issues in the Senate seems to be spite.

Or maybe it's fear, which is usually a much stronger motivator. It frequently seems that Johnson only seeks to appease the core elements of his support, the revanchist wing of the conservative movement. because if he loses their support he has none. That's the corner Johnson's painted himself into and he's apparently so afraid of drawing their ire that he's willing to lay abused women on their alter. That's pretty discomforting.

To be sure, Johnson is not mistaken by believing that the vote on VAWA was politicized. Then again, the votes of every bill are politicized. This is politics, after all.

Luckily, should Johnson choose to run for re-election he will certainly hear about this vote.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Don't Call it a Comeback (No, Seriously, Please Don't)

So the big local news this afternoon is that Paul Esslinger will be running for state assembly.

Esslinger spent eleven years on the city council, the last two as mayor, and during that time he provided voters with countless examples of just how uniquely unqualified he is to conduct public affairs. Here are just a few examples from his disastrous first year as mayor. The only real aspiration, plan or vision for the city he ever stated publicly was the creation of a Bay Beach-like amusement park at Menominee Park. His only accomplishment of note was his small role in the renovation of Pollock Pool.

More often than not Esslinger used his office to air personal grievances. He will campaign as a small government conservative on a mission to cut spending, but this is the same guy who demanded the city pay his legal bills when he got into a scuffle, and was subsequently investigated by the DOJ, with a fellow council member. He pretty much demanded the city pay for the fire truck he bought as a "donation." Then there was the Great Sidewalk Debate of 2007 in which Esslinger basically forced the residents of a subdivision in Oshkosh to install sidewalks in their neighborhood and pay for it too. We could go on, but suffice it to say that ideological consistency usually plays second fiddle to his own sense of entitlement. Here are a couple examples: 1.) Esslinger changed his tune on various "pub fees" once he started running his own tavern. 2.) At the around the same time, Esslinger flip-flopped on a proposed downtown parking lot from which several competing pubs down the street from his own establishment stood to benefit. These are indicative someone who lacks the ability to thinks about the ramifications of his actions beyond himself.

Esslinger has a habit of even screwing up good-natured gestures, like the time he gave his friend and council member Dennis McHugh an envelope full of cash as a "retirement gift" during a council meeting and provided a very poor explanation as to why. Even McHugh looked a bit uncomfortable accepting the gift at the time. This wasn't just an instance of Esslinger being very oblivious. The cash was the leftover money collected by McHugh's friends to pay for a full-page ad in the local paper thanking McHugh for his years of service. There are very serious and legitimate questions as to the legality of the gift. There was no question that the whole episode looked sketchy.

He has a habit of watching opportunities to provide leadership pass him by. At times he's misused his office for political purposes. He has an inability to choose his battles. His relationship with the local media is abysmal. He has a habit of executing political duties vindictively and without class.

But Esslinger's most troubling quality is his almost pathological craving for acceptance. It's his defining characteristic. Rarely did a meeting go by during the decade he was on the council when Esslinger did not give a speech or cast a vote that appeared to beg for the approval of his friend and political mentor Dennis McHugh. People with business before knew that the quickest way to win Esslinger's support was to flatter, stroke his ego and, above all else, make him feel important. A lot politicians suffer from this desire, and in some this appetite for validation can be an asset that motivates them to do big things. But in others, and Esslinger definitely falls into this camp, it's a liability that leaves them susceptible to manipulation from folks like lobbyists and party leaders.

McHugh retired at the end of Esslinger's first year as mayor and in the second half of his only term Esslinger actually showed signs of maturity. There were far fewer distractions, much less grandstanding, and actual moments of genuine reflection and courage. Take, for example, his vote to approve a use permit for Oshkosh's first mosque. Even though the council meeting at which the vote took place was packed with very vocal supporters of the measure, it's hard to image those who did not voicing their opinions to any other council member. A lot of people attribute this evolution to Esslinger becoming a small business owner, and that may have certainly had a lot to do with it, but don't underestimate the impact McHugh's absence had on someone who is so impressionable. (Just to be clear: I'm not necessarily suggesting McHugh wouldn't have supported the mosque permit had he been on the council at the time. It's just a rare example of Esslinger not giving in to some of the more lamentable instincts of his base.)  

Instead of continuing his evolution after leaving office, Esslinger went back to the Well of Bad Influences when he teamed up with his friend Ben Schneider to create Oshkosh Area Politics, their execrable public access TV show. The conversations on OAP offer little insight except into the minds of two recovering politicians who were marginalized to the point of impotence and now blame everyone but themselves for their own failures in office.

Schneider now serves as McHugh's surrogate. It's not a step in the right direction. McHugh was more of a curmudgeon than an ideologically driven conservative, and not without his charm (recall the touching story he told about visiting the Grand Opera House with his wife before vote to authorize renovation funds). Schneider treats anyone who is not in perfect lockstep with him ideologically with condescension and derision. His inability to work with people he disagrees with is the stuff of local legend. Watching Esslinger and Schneider work themselves into a Berserker rage frenzy on OAP it's easy to see just how much of Schneider is rubbing off on Esslinger.

Needless to say, Paul Esslinger is the last thing Madison needs right now.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Ron Johnson's Political Career is Over

If you haven't read the damning Roll Call article on the dysfunction plaguing Ron Johnson's Washington Senate office, here you go. It's a masterpiece of the process genre of political reportage, which is a highfaluting way of saying it's juicy as hell.

A couple of thoughts on the implications:

1.) Ron Johnson's staff doesn't respect him.

The "big picture," over-aching theme that ties all the details of the Roll Call piece together is that Johnson's office is a terrible place to work. A legislator who gets pinned with that label enters into a slow motion death spiral: the good talent flees in the opposite direction and all that's left to hire is the marginal and/or inexperienced staffers. The Leftovers don't get the job done, which leads to more intra-office strife, more resignations/terminations, further damage to an office's reputation, etc. Wash. Rinse. Lather. Repeat.

2.) It's clear that word on Capitol Hill is that Johnson's office is a dead end career-wise:
Though candidates don’t necessarily bring their entire campaign staffs with them once elected, it is very rare to have no carryover from the campaign, sources said. GOP sources not affiliated with the campaign or Johnson’s office said former staffers had indicated the Wisconsin Senator was frustrated with his operation in the days following the election and informed his staffers they would not be coming with him to D.C.

According to a Roll Call review of Federal Election Commission disclosure filings and the staff salary database LegiStorm, only four of the 42 salaried campaign staffers working in the last quarter of Johnson’s 2010 Senate campaign got jobs with the Senator. Johnson retained his state director, deputy state director, a caseworker and a receptionist from the campaign — all of whom are based in Wisconsin.
Actually, all of them are based here in Oshkosh ... and it's safe to say that none of them were part of the brain trust that navigated Johnson to victory. Either Johnson chose only to reward his close friends with jobs or he grew an ego and thought the hard part was over. Neither makes him look good and sends a message to potential staffers that career advancement is not based on merit, but Johnson's arbitrary whims.

Just look at Robert Duncan, who plays a supporting role in the drama:
[T]he situation in Johnson’s office has escalated in recent weeks. The top brass of the Senate Republican Steering Committee — the Conference’s conservative hub — have connected at least one Johnson legislative aide with another GOP Senate office, and sources indicated they may be helping others find jobs before they are asked to permanently clear their desks.
It's implied later in the piece that that staffer was Robert Duncan, who got a a $30,000+ raise when he jumped ship from the Senate GOP Secretary's office to become Johnson's legislative director. Where's he working now? Back at the Senate GOP' Secretary's office as a floor assistant, and not likely at the same salary he had as a senior staffer with Johnson.

Why would he jump ship? Because Johnson has no interest in crafting or advancing any legislation at all. Johnson spent his entire first year in the Senate drifting shiftlessly from one issue to the next, trying to find something to latch on to only to discover that doing requires substantial expertise which both the Senator and his office lack. There are usually two ways to remedy this situation. The first is putting in the work to become an expert on a given issue. Johnson's done nothing to show he's capable of this. The second is to use one's interpersonal talents to develop allies who do the dense policy work for you. This is usually called "basic workplace etiquette." Stunningly, Johnson seems incapable of even this:
While top Republican sources expressed exasperation at the internal turmoil in Johnson’s office, they also noted that the Wisconsin freshman has not been diligent in building relationships with other Senators within the Conference and has alienated himself by not reaching out more frequently to colleagues.

“He’s an interesting case study of someone who has talked more than he has listened, lectured more than he has developed relationships with his colleagues, and now he’s having a tough time because of that behavior in advancing his policy goals,” one senior GOP aide said. “It’s kind of like watching a temper tantrum by a 2-year-old in the middle of the grocery store.”
“The Senate is still about relationships, and he doesn’t seem to get that,” the aide continued.
Now that's a pull quote. From this we can infer:

3.) Johnson is not respected by his colleagues:
The Wisconsin Senator said recently that he would like to refocus his efforts on political messaging, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) has asked him to help coordinate strategy with the eventual GOP presidential nominee.
Translation: Go over to the kids table and leave the heavy lifting to the pros. It's as tactful a dressing down as you're ever going to read. It's polite and it excludes Johnson from real leadership responsibilities by including him in something much less important. What's even better, it gives Johnson a gig that he actually wants to do (see nos. 4 and 5).

And coordinate strategy...? There's a meaningless phrase if ever there was one! And yet it sounds important because it involves the GOP nominee. No one who has any clue how Washington really works would be bragging about this non-assignment to a reporter.

If Johnson thinks he's going to have a seat at the Romney strategy table this fall, he's in for a big surprise. In presidential election years, even Senators are nothing more than surrogates who either follow orders or don't get a ticket to the party. Shhhhhh! Don't tell Johnson this: it'll be much more fun when he finds this out the hard way this fall.

4.) Why the hell is Johnson answering these questions himself?

The playbook for stories about office dysfunction is pretty easy to run: the press secretary simply issues a statement dismissing the rumors as spurious and says that will be the last comment on the matter. The end. Johnson actually goes on the record here, which means if he does end up sacking any of his staffers in the near future he gets caught lying ... about firing people. That's a pretty silly thing to do when part of your messaging strategy is tying the President to unemployment.

Johnson's insistence on taking questions can mean one of two things: The first is that his staff thinks so little of him that they're willing to put him in a potentially damaging situation just to screw with him. The second is that Johnson thinks so little of his staff that he doesn't think they're competent enough to handle even the simplest of damage control chores. Either way, the office looks bad, and since no one's apparently leaving any time soon the problem is likely to persist.

5.) Johnson's delusional about his messaging skills. Johnson claims he wants to focus more of his office's attention on messaging, but that's really all he did last year in lieu of actual legislative activity:
Sources indicated that when Johnson came to Washington, he put a staff together like “any other Senator” but quickly realized that the day-to-day grind of legislating was not his forte. Johnson said last week that he wanted more of his office’s focus to be on building an effective messaging operation. Johnson’s legislative director, Robert Duncan, has already left the office.
Jesus, that's a damning indictment.

The problem is that Johnson is terrible at messaging. Just look at some of his greatest hits from last year. The very first thing Johnson did in January was take to the pages of the Wall Street Journal and announce his America's Choice program. Any idea what that was all about? No? Exactly. It was a substance-free messaging strategy designed to drive the national conversation during an election year. Did it work? Well, if you're just learning about it from this web site, then no, of course it didn't work.

Successful messengers are able to connect with media folk. If Johnson can't connect with his GOP colleagues, who are naturally disposed to sympathize with him, then he will have no prayer with the media, who are naturally disposed to treat men in power, like himself, with deep skepticism.

Johnson's desire to get more pub shouldn't come as a surprise to any Wisconsin voter. This is precisely what he was referring to during the 2010 campaign when he "committed himself to a 're-education of America.'" But Johnson confuses "messaging" (or possibly "re-education") with the rote recitation of talking points that demonstrate his depth of understanding on any issue is shallow at best. (See, for example, his "debate" over Obamacare with Zeke Emmanuel on Morning Joe in which he seems convinced that the length alone is an a priori proof that its absurdity.)

6.) Johnson is making the wrong friends.
Still, Johnson also has high-profile backers in GOP campaign circles. Foster Friess, the billionaire who until recently was a major backer of the presidential campaign of former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), told FOX News on Wednesday that Johnson should be on GOP presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney’s short list of vice presidential candidates.
Now this graph is an example of how something's absurdity is self-evident.


So what's it all mean? It means that Ron Johnson is being marginalized by his own party and doesn't even realize it. He's being pushed aside  by the party leadership where his voice will only be heard by the GOP fringe. Oh, he'll still get these silly puff pieces in conservative rags, and jokes like Freisse will talk him up like he's the Second Coming, but the reality is that Johnson is rapidly becoming one of the least effective members of the Senate.

It means his political career is essentially over. His awful first year has given him a well-earned reputation as someone who just doesn't understand how to play the game and is unwilling or unable to learn. Sooner or later, even the sycophants will stop kissing his ring and start ignoring him all together because they'll understand one important thing:

Ron Johnson is a lame duck Senator, effective today.

Johnson has no hope of winning a second term. Eventually, even he will realize this and just opt out of re-election. Or, and what's more likely, he'll just grow tired of being a Senator and choose not to bother.

But here's a third option: Johnson has essentially staked his career on the failure of Obamacare, though he's done little more, so far as we can tell, than a segment on Morning Joe denouncing it. If the Supreme Court does strike down ACA, there's little reason for him to hang around the U.S. Senate. Don't be surprised if Johnson resigns before the end of his term, especially if there's an opportunity for a Republican governor to appoint another Republican to fill the remainder of his term.  It would be a fitting end to what's proving to be a completely wasted Senate term.