Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Mother's Milk Indeed

Sometimes others say it so well you just have to step aside and let them do the talking. The following is a letter to the editor that appeared in the small-town Cumberland Advocate on October 17.

Money not the “mother’s milk” in politics

To the Editor:

Last week’s editorial noted money to be the “mother’s milk” of politics. Money is not the “mother’s milk,” but the heroin of politics. As heroin twists all addicts into morally ravaged, brain addled, fully compromised whores to the drug, money corrupts the entire political process. Apart from independently wealthy and self-financed candidates, no one seeking office can ever effectively represent voters’ interests which conflict with corporate profits from the same issue. This is true of military policy controlled by and for Halliburton, AIPAC and General Dynamics, of health care policy determined by and for Aetna and United Healthcare, of agricultural policy determined by and for ConAgra...right on down the line. Campaign finance reform – the removal of all heroin, er, private source bribery from politics – is the essential issue without which none other will be resolved in the best interests of the citizens of the USA. Online, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign and the Center for Responsive Politics offer ample documentation of this issue.

Steve Hart

Monday, October 22, 2007

Casualty Of The Backlash

Bill Kraus is a Republican, the kind who used to run the GOP. He's also the kind who's been figuratively if not literally excommunicated from the party. Part of his problem is that he believes politics should be about more than bumper sticker slogans. An even bigger part of Bill's problem is that he actually believes government should work. There was a time – pre-Iraq and pre-Hurricane Katrina, mind you – when Republicans were known for being able to run things.

Some of the insurrectionists – I call 'em rewinders (and explain why here) – who overthrew the likes of Bill Kraus and took over the Republican Party want gays to stay in the closet. Some want women barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. Others want blacks at the back of the bus. Still others are, in Michael Kinsley's words, "loners . . . convinced that they don't need society." Quite a few are probably all of the above.

Even the health care issue has fallen victim to backlash politics and the money that fuels it. The health insurance crisis is undeniably a top concern of working stiffs. The cry for reform is coming increasingly from corporate boardrooms. Yet any movement on the issue is being stymied. Wonder why? Follow the money. And then follow it some more.

The Healthy Wisconsin reform plan costs about $15 billion. But it would replace a patchwork quilt of a system with a thousand middle men that is costing us more than $17 billion. So let's get this straight . . . we could spend $15 billion and cover everyone instead of paying $17 billion for a system that leaves a half-million people uninsured? And this is a bad idea? No, it's an idea that is being sloganed to death.

Often by the same people responsible for throwing Bill Kraus out of the club.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

What A Long Strange Trip It's Been

It's day 109 in the state budget stalemate. A day after the Assembly rejected a revised budget plan in a special session called by Governor Doyle, the Assembly speaker called for an extraordinary session of the Legislature to deal with the budget crisis. Sorry, but it's just impossible at the moment to imagine any session of this Legislature qualifying as special, much less extraordinary.

Over the noon hour today, a corporate-sponsored group called Americans for Prosperity staged an anti-tax rally, presumably to try to put a scare into any legislative Republicans who might be toying with the idea of straying from the no-budget-is-a-good-thing camp. AFP is hardly homegrown. . . . It is on the front lines of a national crusade against health care reform and pretty much any other initiative that might require a tax dollar to support it. Wisconsin just happened to be AFP's battleground of choice for today.

AFP paid to bus in a crowd estimated at between 350 and 500 for the rally, and they were met by about 800 counter-demonstrators. Cameras and microphones and reporters with notebooks were everywhere. Evidently, political paralysis is news.

On the other end of State Street from the Capitol, there was another rally. On the University of Wisconsin's library mall, a dozen students and passersby, maybe two, listened while representatives of the ACLU and Progressive Magazine and student activists tried to raise awareness of the Military Commissions Act and what it's done to the right to habeas corpus. There wasn't a camera crew or tape recorder to be seen. News, suspending civil liberties is not.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Judgeship Follows Gifts To Governor

Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate Michael Gableman contributed $1,250 to former Republican Governor Scott McCallum two months before McCallum picked him to fill a vacant Burnett County Circuit Court judgeship in 2002.

Gableman's contribution was among $4,073 in campaign contributions he made to candidates for statewide office and the legislature from 1998 through 2002.

Those contributions included $2,500 to McCallum, $600 to former Republican Attorney General candidate Vince Biskupic, $500 to former Democratic Representative Greg Huber, $173 to Republican Assembly candidate Connie Loden, $100 to Republican Assembly candidate Ted Nickel and $100 each to Supreme Court candidates Ed Brunner and Pat Roggensack.

Gableman made two contributions of $1,250 each to McCallum on December 13, 2001 and June 18, 2002. McCallum appointed Gableman August 20, 2002 to serve the remainder of retiring Judge James Taylor's term. Gableman was elected to a full six-year term in 2003.

Charles Schutze, a Sun Prairie attorney who is also vying for incumbent Louis Butler's Supreme Court seat this April has contributed $550 to two candidates. He gave Supreme Court Justice Patrick Crooks two $100 contributions in 1995 and a total of $350 to Republican legislative candidate Hariah Hutkowski in 2002 and 2004.

WDC could find no large individual contributions by Butler to candidates for statewide and legislative offices since 1993 other than the $7,099 he gave his own unsuccessful campaign for the high court in Spring 2000. Butler's wife, Irene, contributed $100 in 2006 to Democratic legislative candidate Cory Mason's campaign.

Butler was appointed to the Supreme Court by the governor in August 2004 to fill a vacancy when Justice Diane Sykes was appointed to the federal bench.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Snarling At Online Court Access

CCAP. It's a foul four-letter word to Wisconsin Rapids Democrat Marlin Schneider. To me and many, many others it spells open government.

CCAP is an an acronym for "Consolidated Court Automation Programs." It's a system that allows the public to gain access to court records via a Wisconsin circuit court Web site.

This invaluable service is now under attack. The threat comes in the form of legislation proposed by Schneider to allow only police, judges, prosecutors and reporters to log on to CCAP. Members of the general public would have to get permission from a district attorney or court clerk, who would have to determine there's a "reasonable need" for disclosure before granting access to the site.

The man known as Snarlin' Marlin says allowing unsupervised public access to criminal records is ruining people's lives. Perhaps a paragraph near the end of an August 2005 article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel sheds light on why CCAP really rankles Schneider so. It says, "CCAP shows that the lawmaker had a $65,000 judgment against him as the result of an auto accident. 'The jury chose to believe the woman who looked frail,' he said about the jury trial."

Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is no fan of Schneider's bill and calls CCAP “a model for the distribution of public information.” In a letter to the chairman of the committee reviewing the legislation, Van Hollen wrote that he believes "the exclusion of the general public...is not appropriate and frustrates the state’s compelling interest in accessible government."

To which Schneider responded, "Big deal. I should care?"

Yes, you should care.

The Democracy Campaign used CCAP to research cases Annette Ziegler handled as a circuit court judge that led to our formal request to the state Judicial Commission for an ethics investigation of Ziegler's financial conflicts of interest. With CCAP, we were able to identify the problem cases in a single day. Without access to CCAP, we would have had to travel to the Washington County courthouse in West Bend and comb through volumes of case files. It would have involved weeks of tedious inspection of court documents, looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. And there's no guarantee we ever would have found all of what we were looking for.

The public deserved to know that Judge Ziegler was engaging in judicial misconduct. CCAP was instrumental in making that happen.

The public deserves – and the interest of open government demands – continued unfettered access to CCAP.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Your Union. Delivered.

Back in May, we posted an item about state Democratic Party chairman Joe Wineke signing on as a lobbyist for AT&T to push for a cable TV franchising bill the company desires. The firestorm that Wineke's dual roles created eventually forced him to put an end to his lobbying work for the telecommunications giant.

Now we learn that AT&T's stable of lobbyists includes none other than Communications Workers of America Local 4611 President Michael Goebel.

Questions abound. . . . Would Goebel know a conflict of interest if it bit him on the backside? Would he care? How many rank and file members of CWA Local 4611 know that their union president is paid to shill for AT&T? How many will stand for Goebel's divided loyalties when all this becomes widely known?

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

NEWSFLASH: Governor Returns Tainted Donations

Pennsylvania's governor, that is.

A few days ago, Governor Ed Rendell announced he is returning $7,000 in campaign contributions from two associates of Norman Hsu, the former fugitive now in custody and facing federal fraud charges. That move came some three weeks after Rendell decided to get rid of a larger sum that he got from Hsu himself.

National politicians from one coast to the other have been busy the last month dumping campaign money that has anything resembling Hsu's fingerprints on it.

Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle, on the other hand, took $2000 from Hsu back in July 2005. And he continues to hold on to it. Tight.