Jumbotron envy

Giant screens used for political speeches generally have an Orwellian quality. Not always, of course. Newt Gingrich? Orwellian. Steven Colbert? Not so much. Saturday in Madison the best seat for the Sarah Palin/Americans for Prosperity/Koch Brothers/Andrew Breitbart speechifying was at home following the Channel3000 livestream. The Channel3000 camera was fixed on a high platform and focussed on the podium so the only obstruction was the snow that was being driven horizontally past the lens by the 30 mile per hour winds. The microphone was wired directly into the Flash unicast servers so there was no audio interference, regardless of the efforts by the people to drown out the voices of corporate ickiness. It was a good remote set-up.

Locally, there were challenges for the right wing “great communicators.” The big screen displaying images of the speakers seemed better positioned to communicate with the thousands of protesters on the Main Street lawn than with the few hundred teabillies on the King Street sidewalk. The left wasn’t giving anybody slack. Bells, drums, and roaring voices drowned out the sound system. The Americans for Prosperity carpetbaggers-Palin, Breitbart, et al.-were impossible to hear unless you were at the front of the gathering. Even so, at least one local lefty lamented the fact that the Koch brothers could afford better Audio/Visual gear than we can. In truth, this was the first time I’ve seen a big screen mounted on the Capitol wall. I hope they didn’t damage the building.

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Today is the opening day of the farmers market on the square and the day that ill-informed whiners have called “tax day.” Supposedly, if you had to pay all your taxes before you could keep any of your take home pay, today would be the day you would finally be free of the 2011 tax obligation. Coincidentally, Sarah Palin has been hired by the local teabillie faction to share a few of her political insights early this afternoon. It’s thirty-seven degrees Fahrenheit, there’s a constant drizzle and a twenty mile an hour breeze blowing. I hope the teabillies don’t catch cold. They are of course a hardy lot, coming in on buses from all over the state… from places where the snow hasn’t melted yet, from hillsides where today’s 20 mph breeze is the merest zephyr. They’ll be wrapped warm, some in camouflage hunting gear and some in heavy coats adorned with Green Bay Packer NFL licensed logos.

Earlier in the week I saw a Facebook posting suggesting that people avoid a counter-rally and work locally to gather petition signatures to recall the six remaining Republican senators. Good advice, I think, but there will be lots of people who can’t avoid gawking at a train wreck.

I’ve already missed opening day at the farmer’s market so if there was any asparagus on hand, I missed it. As for La Palin, I’m not missing a thing, although I’ve heard that if I can avoid vomiting, I can see her live around 1:30 on this link: http://www.channel3000.com/localvideo/index.html?v=live

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Walker’s testimony before Issa’s committee embarrasses Wisconsin

Wisconsin recently saw the passage of a controversial funding bill that addresses the state’s $3.6 billion budget deficit. [On April 14, 2011], a House Committee called Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) to discuss his approach to crafting the budget bill.

Along with Gov. Peter Shumlin (D-VT), Committee members and Walker studied what difficult choices individual states must make regarding state and municipal debt.

In a hearing titled “State and Municipal Debt: Tough Choices Ahead,” Committee members looked into states across the nation on how their government officials can tackle debt while increasing employment in the region.

The three hour C-Span recording of this hearing is well worth watching. The two governors could not be more different in terms of intellect, leadership ability, goals, or the willingness to let ideology drive their responses to the committee. At every turn Walker is willing to sacrifice truth for ideological commitment. His self serving rhetoric and the lies he tells are so transparent that he is a caricature, a political weasel. Shumlin doesn’t betray his commitment to a liberal ideological perspective, but his answers paint him as a civil, honest, effective leader who cares for people on a personal level.

Representative Dennis Kucinich questions Walker on collective bargaining provisions of “budget repair” bill:

Representative Gwen Moore informs Walker of the ramifications of his ill conceived budget bills:

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Driving that train

A day doesn’t go by without a misstep by Governor Scott Walker. Today’s revelations by the Government Accountability Board and the Milwaukee District Attorney that William Gardner, a huge Walker donor and the owner and president of the Wisconsin & Southern railroad, will plead guilty to two felony counts of campaign money laundering is merely the latest embarrassment.

The investigation found that Mr. Gardner, the owner and president of Wisconsin & Southern Railroad, directed the railroad company to reimburse 11 political contributions totaling $53,800 from himself, a number of railroad employees, an acquaintance of Mr. Gardner, and his daughter. The investigation also found that Mr. Gardner specifically directed or requested the individuals to make the contributions. The contributions and reimbursements were made from November 2009 through April 2010. Except for two contributions totaling $4,000 to former Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan and the Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee, the remaining contributions were made to the Friends of Scott Walker committee.

Gardner himself will get two years probation, no jail time, and his corporation will be fined $166,900. Sound like a big fine? Maybe it’s not so much when you consider that Walker’s Department of Transportation provided grants and loans totaling $15,533,591 to Gardners company since Walker assumed office this year. On March 11, 2011, the Dept. of Transportation announced:

  • The Wisconsin & Southern Railroad (WSOR) will receive a total of $3,647,149 in grant funds to cover 80 percent of costs for emergency rehabilitation and reconstruction work on system bridges in Rock, Dane and Green County. A WisDOT loan of $455,894 will also be provided to cover 10 percent of the project costs. The remaining 10 percent, $455,894, will be provided by the WSOR.
  • The Wisconsin & Southern Railroad (WSOR) will receive an additional $8,867,515 in grant funds to pay for 80 percent of the total $11,084,393 remaining costs of Phase II rehabilitation work on the Madison to Milton, Wisconsin rail line in Dane and Rock County. WisDOT will also provide WSOR a loan of $1,108,439 to cover 10 percent of the cost of the work. Total cost of the three-year project is $19,645,893. Of that, $15,716,715 is WisDOT grant funds, $1,608,439 is WisDOT loans to WSOR, and $2,320,739 was provided by WSOR and the WRRTC.
  • The Wisconsin & Southern Railroad (WSOR) will receive a grant of $1,454,594 to cover 80 percent of the $1,818,243 total cost of rehabilitate 1.8 miles of rail line in the Waukesha area. The remaining 20 percent of $363,649 will be provided by the WSOR.

The Government Accountability Board and the District Attorney haven’t linked Gardner’s campaign contributions to the Walker administration’s pay-back suggested by the DOT grants and loans to Gardner’s company, but the whole thing stinks. The odor is particularly offensive when blown in the breeze of Walker’s mishandling of Federal high speed rail funds. When he took office in January, Governor Walker returned $810 million to the Federal government and shut down the project to establish a high speed passenger line between Milwaukee and Madison. That line would have cost the state about $750,000 a year and it would have provided between 5,000 and 10,000 permanent jobs.

Driving that train, high on cocaine
Scotty Walker better watch your speed
Trouble ahead, trouble behind
And that recall notion just crossed my mind…

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Prosser’s victory

I’ve experienced JoAnne Kloppenburg’s defeat three times. On Tuesday night I was following the AP county by county reporting, watching vote totals see-saw as each county closed and an AP reporter added data to the complete report they were compiling. I kept a running total of unreported precincts by county and put a wet finger in the air from time to time to see which way the wind was blowing. It was a close race, but by bedtime I was pretty sure Prosser had it in the bag. I texted my friend at 11:33pm, “She’s gonna lose… Waukesha will provide a steam roller finish for prodded” “Prostate” “Whatever” “A real heartbreak” (I was having problems with my iPhone’s automatic spelling correction feature).

At that time there were ninety precincts in Waukesha County and two in Milwaukee unreported to the AP. The race was a dead heat. Waukesha County is largely right wing. It didn’t matter which of those precincts hadn’t reported. I was convinced they’d swamp Kloppenburg.

Amazingly enough, when I woke up, Kloppenburg had won! AP claimed that all of the Waukesha County precincts had reported and the totals showed a razor thin margin for JoAnne Kloppenburg. Clearly there would be a recount, but based on the AP story the Kloppenburg camp was in high spirits. Who knew that the AP report was wrong? It didn’t matter. The news quickly spread that Prosser had hired Ben Ginsberg, the attorney who spearheaded the Bush recount efforts in Florida in 2000:

This was bad news indeed, and my sense was that Ginsberg, working his magic here in Fitzwalkerstan, would out-class any hired gun that Kloppenburg could bring in. For me, this was the second defeat. Later I learned that Marc Elias, who headed up the Franken recount efforts in Minnesota had joined forces with Kloppenburg, but that faint candle was quickly snuffed out. The Waukesha County Clerk reported that the canvas revealed that Brookfield votes had not been posted. Instead of a razor thin margin of 200 or so votes separating the opponents, Prosser now had a comfortable margin of 7,000 votes.

I’m quite confident that the Brookfield numbers as finally reported are correct, because the BrookfieldPatch reported those numbers on election night. I’m also confident that there’s something rotten in Waukesha County because the County Clerk has worked directly for Prosser and was granted immunity during the caucus scandals a few years back. Deke Rivers has a good blog post on the welter of issues that, regardless of the Brookfield botch-job, make it impossible to trust the Waukesha County results without an independent investigation. He says,

This error seems more than fishy given the past working relationship Kathy Nickolaus has had with David Prosser. For thirteen years Nickolaus worked for the Wisconsin State Assembly Republican Caucus as a data analyst and computer specialist. During that time Prosser served in powerful elected positions in the State Assembly.

Before Kathy Nicklous resigned in 2002 from her partisan job she was granted immunity to testify about her role in the caucus. The Republican Caucus was under investigation for using state resources (tax dollars) to secretly run campaigns.

There is no way that I buy into Kathy Nickolaus’ near-tearful explanation of how Brookfield was misplaced when counting and adding the numbers.

I do believe her when she says that the Brookfield numbers were somehow omitted from the initial reports. I also think that it’s likely that the whole Brookfield thing is a red herring and that the Republicans are using it to distract our attention from some other shady manipulation of the process that they’ve concealed. But if we find evidence that they’ve stolen votes from Kloppenburg, or added votes for Prosser, or some other way abused the process it seems unlikely that it will matter. Seven thousand votes is a pretty big deficit to overcome.

State Senate Minority leader Mark Miller says,

It stretches the bounds of credibility to think that over 14,300 votes were somehow “overlooked” until two days after the election.

Based on the partisan, political history of Ms. Nickolaus and the serious concerns that have been raised, by other Waukesha County officials, about the quality of her election administration and the possibility for fraud, an independent investigation of her conduct and the county’s election results is not just warranted but urgently demanded to protect the integrity of our electoral system in Wisconsin.

Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca says,

The partisan, political history of Ms. Nickolaus and the serious concerns about the quality of her performance found in an audit raises the question of whether an investigation is warranted. The public deserves to know that the votes were counted properly.

County Clerk Nickolaus, who worked in the Assembly Republican Caucus under then Minority Leader and Speaker David Prosser, has a history of clashing with county officials over her election responsibilities. She has drawn criticism from the County Board Chairman and other County Supervisors as recently as January for her unwillingness to adhere to audit recommendations. Internal Audit Manager Lori Schubert indicated that after last fall’s elections that Nickolaus needed to improve security and back-up procedures. Director of Administration Norman Cummings late last year indicated that they have not been able to verify that her system is secure.

Her approach raises questions about the integrity of the election to the highest court in our state

Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin tweets, “To assure public confidence in our election process, I have asked AG Holder to investigate the handling of vote records in Waukesha County.” So I guess it isn’t over until it’s over and even we pessimists must hang-in until the bitter end. The Kloppenburg for Justice Committee is accepting contributions to fund a recount.

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The Dignity of Work

Last night in Chicago we saw a moving performance of “Working,” the musical based on Studs Terkel’s 1974 book. One of the themes that emerges centers on the hope we all share that our children will do better than we do. An iron worker’s son disappoints his dad by not going to college, but rather becoming an iron worker just like dad. A hotel maid whose mother and grandmother had both been housekeepers sings of her hope that her infant daughter will have a better life. In a wry turn, the son of a hedge fund manager enters the world of finance, perhaps better equipped than his dad because he “had an ethics course in college.”

Many of the workers also express their willingness, indeed their obligation, to sacrifice to be sure their kids are well provided for and in their own time well launched into the world of work.

Cleaning women and caregivers, stone masons and iron workers, burger flippers, receptionists, and tech support people, a waitress, a retiree, a hedge fund manager, a UPS delivery man, a prostitute, a fund raiser, a press agent, a housewife, a student, a fireman, a school teacher, and a flight attendant… like us they all have stories to tell, they’re all human, they all work.

One aspect of finding a job and keeping it that isn’t examined in “Working” are the ever so human practices of nepotism and croneyism. I would have been sorry to miss it, so I’m feeling lucky that a musical comedy number played itself out over the last few weeks in the offices of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. There’s a kid, Brian Deschane, a college drop-out. No shame in that, Governor Walker himself was a college drop-out. The kid’s got a couple of drunk driving convictions. No shame in that. The last Republican President of the United States had a few youthful indiscretions under his belt. They didn’t hurt his job hunting prospects. But Governor Walker has been under a lot of scrutiny since he devalued the work of all public employees in the state. So things didn’t work out too well for young Brian. Yet. I’m sure he has a great future ahead of him, though.

From the Huffington Post: “In the young man’s lack of management experience and two more drunk driving convictions than college degrees, Walker saw untapped potential. Another thing he saw in Deschane was the way his father — Jerry Deschane, the executive vice president of Wisconsin Builders Association — skillfully managed to stack dollar bills in the amount of $121,652 for Walker’s gubernatorial campaign.”

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The Kloppenburg Referendum

Wisconsin’s Supreme Court is an embarrassment. But the clouds began to clear away this morning. The sun is peeking through. Today JoAnne Kloppenburg won the seat of the court’s angry conservative, David Prosser. The sexist Prosser is best known for calling his boss, Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, a “total bitch,” and threatening to “destroy her.”

Prosser’s attempt to buy his seat failed this week, although he’s quoted as saying that he’s putting a legal team together to explore “unrecognized opportunities to gain a victory.” The corporate court, known for the recent expensive wins of conservatives Annette Ziegler and Mike Gableman exercising their clients’ right to convert money to corporate free speech, may have lost one of its own today. Almost a million and a half Wisconsin voters turned out yesterday to vote in what could only be called a referendum on the roughshod governance of Scott Walker and his Republican cronies. JoAnne Kloppenburg and the State of Wisconsin won. Walker and the Fitzgerald family and their toady Supreme Court Justice David Prosser lost. Let’s hope they don’t jam a rigged recount down our throats!

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Ten years after

One would think that after ten years blogging and flogging I would have improved. One would think. Sadly, the last three years barely count. I’ve cranked out the obligatory post or four most every month but I’ve wasted an awful lot of online time in the so-called social web, twitter and Facebook and so forth. Partly my dissatisfaction stems from an inability to chart a steady course through the sea of online (self) publishing. This week I’m ditching one WordPress theme for another and I’m beginning a series of tweaks to this website that may provide a consistent look and feel for the foreseeable future. or not. Let’s just see how it goes.

In the middle of the front lawn is an enormous pile of oak leaves recently raked from the flower bed at the west end of the round-about. The lannon stone wall has suffered from frost heave and root pressure of a fierce encroachment of hollyhocks and mulberry seedlings. There’s some work to do out there to get it all back into shape for spring.

The white trim on the house needs repainting and the woodlot needs to be cleaned up.

There’s a machine shed full of small internal combustion engines and the machines they power just waiting for annual maintenance, and-in the case of the larger tiller and the brush cutter-major repair.

I have a couple of GB of memory I need to install on the older Dell in the office. I’ve successfully procrastinated around this simple task for almost a year. Work on the farm is never done!

So this blog has suffered while I’ve watched streaming Netflix-you can devour an entire season of MI5 in an evening if you put your mind to it-and read trash novels, good novels, and minor treasures of fun writing like the books of Sarah Vowell. What do I mean by “this blog has suffered?” Well, the writing around here hasn’t improved much, and the coverage of exciting political events fell off, and fewer cat pictures have been published, and the list goes on. I’ve finally fixed the RSS feed though. You can again subscribe to Listics and/or to Listics’ comments and feel assured that what’s being posted will find its way into your feed reader. So let’s see what happens next.

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