Friday, October 30, 2009

Best State Supreme Court Money Can Buy (Again)

Seems to me I’ve written this story before. Several times. Just a couple weeks ago, in a story titled “Dueling Justice(s)”, I wrote about the unprecedented dueling news conferences two factions of our state Supreme Court held. That was all about whether or not Justice Gableman should sit in judgment on criminal cases. He made it clear in his campaign he’s seldom met an accused person he thinks is innocent.

Then there was the similar story I wrote before that, about Gableman’s campaign, and how it was bought and paid for by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. And the story I wrote before that one, about Justice Ziegler’s campaign being paid for by the same outfit.

And just a few weeks ago there was the story I wrote about how the “gang of four” on the highest court decided to make it easier than ever before for Wisconsin businesses to enforce no-compete clauses in employee contracts. Another victory for big business.

Now, the gang of four (Justices Prosser, Roggensack, Gableman, and Ziegler) have voted this week (it was a 4-3 vote again) to allow themselves to hear cases involving their biggest campaign contributors.

The new rules may as well have been written by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, and the Wisconsin Realtors Association. These two powerful business groups proposed the additions to the judicial code, and the two justices they paid to put on the bench came through for them again.

Evidence, as if more were needed, that the four million bucks Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce spent - give or take - to put Ziegler and Gableman on the highest court, was money well-spent.

The other three members of the state Supreme Court, Justice Bradley, Justice Crooks, and Chief Justice Abrahamson, were supporters of a different set of rules, proposed by retired Justice Bill Bablitch and the League of Women Voters, which would have required them to step aside in cases involving people or companies that were major contributors to their campaign.

Oh, I forgot….the United States Supreme Court still can’t seem to figure out if corporations are the same as people.

OK, that was snarky.

But I’m not being snarky when I point out that Justice Ziegler’s ethics are questionable, since she’s already run afoul of ethics rules for sitting in judgment on cases involving her multi-millionaire husband’s bank. And Justice Gableman is up on ethics charges right now, for all that horrid crap his campaign ads said about former Justice Louis Butler.

It’s enough to make you think John Grisham’s novel “The Appeal” is a true story, based on events surrounding the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

It’s looking (and acting) again like the best state Supreme Court money can buy

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Trusting Your Sources

Jerry Bader and I go back a long way. He made a horrible mistake on the air this week at WTAQ radio in Green Bay, where he’s been a very popular talk-show host for several years. He’s the guy who “broke” the story - which turned out to be completely inaccurate and false - about the “real reason” Barbara Lawton dropped out of the race for governor.

I’m not going to repeat the story here. If you’ve heard it, you’ll know why. It is simply so astonishing and shocking, that to repeat it would be, I think, unethical and wrong. Suffice it to say it was sensational and lurid. And it appears there was not a scintilla of truth in it. He's been suspended for two weeks, and after that, the station will decide if he still has a job.

Those of us in the biz…as I was for 30-some years…have plenty of battle scars and emotional bruises from mistakes we’ve made on the air - things we said or should have said and didn’t - that ended up doing real harm, and hurting people.
What Jerry said about Barbara Lawton was deeply personal, entirely false, and hurt her horribly. I think Jerry got “spun” by some Republican operatives, who fed him a line of BS and he unfortunately believed them, and aired it. I can’t believe he would have gone on the air with the story if he didn’t have confidence that his sources were telling him the truth.

I gave Jerry his very first job in broadcasting in the Fox Valley over 30 years ago. He was finishing up at UW-Oshkosh and his professors told me he was a very smart kid who worked hard. I hired him to come in to work at 4 AM and make the police and fire beat calls and gather news from sources around the Fox Valley.

I wrote my own newscasts for my morning radio news anchor shift back then, as I always have, but Jerry understood that if HE made a mistake, I made a mistake - but it was me that would “take the fall”. I came to completely trust his thoroughness, judgment, and instincts. What I wrote was based on his notes, and he understood he had to be 100% accurate. He always was.

I would be stunned to learn that he’d abandoned those principles in the Barbara Lawton story he aired earlier this week. I think he believed his sources, and they burned him.

And in so doing, caused great emotional pain to the Lieutenant Governor and her family, embarrassed his radio station, lost his credibility, and may have ultimately ended his career. I trust he has personally apologized to Lawton.

I cannot believe that Jerry aired that story just to be sensational or to “hype ratings”. I taught him, just as I have all the young people I’ve worked with through the years, that there are some mistakes you can recover from - and some you can’t.

When you are dealing with ANY person’s reputation - whether it’s just some guy working third shift at a manufacturing plant, or a candidate for the highest elected office in the state - you have to be extremely careful and completely certain that what you’re going to say about them is true.

Talk show hosts are given wide latitude in saying outrageous things. News people have always had different, and I’d like to think higher standards. But the lines are so blurred these days. The braying ass calls himself “America’s Anchorman” as if he were reporting news on his show. A lot of people think it’s “news” and don’t understand that it’s entertainment. Rush pretends he’s “the news” and denigrates the “state-controlled drive-by media”.

Jerry Bader’s mistake earlier this week should be a cautionary tale for anybody who sits behind a microphone or talks to a TV camera. Your sources have to be airtight and 100% accurate, and you need a healthy dose of skepticism when listening to them. And, you have to understand clearly that in a case like the one this week, if you’re wrong, you’re toast.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Charter: On The "Rise" Again

The letter came in a standard-size business envelope, with a bulk-mailing-permit stamp, and no return address top left. It looked for all the world like a piece of junk mail. After I opened it and read it, I know why the folks at Charter Communications were probably hoping I’d discard it before reading it.
It was notification of another huge increase in charges.

They cut in half the amount of “discount” I get in my broadband internet rate, effectively increasing my total internet access cost by 12%, and they upped my modem rental charge by 167% - from $3 to $5 a month. I’m now paying $60 a year to rent a piece of plastic four inches deep, three inches across, and half an inch high, which contains about ten cents worth of Chinese electronics.

Nice. If the price of gas went up that much, there’d be panic in the streets. Oh, wait - it just did. 12%, not 167%.

I pulled the plug on Charter Cable TV this summer because the cost finally got to the point where it was throwing money away NOT to go to satellite TV. So I have a south-facing dish on my roof and I now get about double the number of channels cable offered, and about five times the number of hi-def channels, which are essentially the only ones I watch, for half the price.

But, like many folks in the suburbs, my only source for broadband internet is Charter, so I was essentially forced to keep Charter as my Internet Service Provider. Since the radio microphone was taken away from me a year ago, my livelihood depends on having broadband internet access. (And I hope the IRS is reading this!)

Remember when the politicians were going to save us all from higher cable rates by enacting that law a couple years ago? The one AT+T spent so much money getting passed? The State Journal yesterday editorialized that it’s really paying off.


My friend Barry Orton, a UW Telecommunications guru who is a national expert on this stuff, and also edits Paul Soglin’s blog “Waxing America”, wrote a post for the blog Monday giving evidence that what he warned us was going to happen - higher rates and less service - is happening.

Don’t tell me I should check out AT+T “U-verse”. My sparsely-populated suburban neighborhood is served with twisted copper pairs of wire, and AT+T can’t even give me a date when they “think” they “might” run fiber-optic to us. So it’s a phone modem at 56K - maybe - or 10 meg from Charter.

I’ll give Charter this: I speed-test my connection regularly, and they do deliver 10 meg. And in the past five months, it has not been “down” one time. They’re delivering exactly what they promised. And yes, when it rains hard, my satellite TV signal DOES go out - sometimes for a couple minutes. So there are trade-offs.

But what’s with the huge “fee increases” from Charter? Who do they think they are - my bank? Or the government?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Bob Griese: FAIL

Saturday afternoon during the ABC telecast of the Ohio State - Minnesota game, the network did one of those annoying plugs for some other event it’s carrying. In this case, it was for the NASCAR race Sunday. They showed the pictures of the top five drivers. “Color” commentator Chris Speilman asked, “where’s Montoya”, referring to NASCAR driver Juan Pablo Montoya.

“Out eating a taco”, said “color” commentator Bob Griese.

Montoya is out eating a taco. I see. Bob Griese should be out of job, but the network forced him to apologize for the stupid, tasteless, racist remark several times during the remainder of the telecast. So it’s all good in ABC-land, I’m sure. I’d have loved to heard what some ESPN exec told Griese when he called the booth, though. He got a week's suspension.

Griese is one of the many former jocks who are now overpaid to bring “color” to sports broadcasts. As a quarterback, he was pretty good; as a TV sports guy, he’s average or less. He’s done it for decades and he’s there because of his athletic ability, which did not translate to television football analysis. He’s about as good at announcing as his son Brian is at quarterbacking. But his name is Griese, he’s “The Thinking Man’s Quarterback”, and he’s in several jock halls of fame.

This is the same Bob Griese, born in Indiana, who refers to our state as “Wes-consin” on football telecasts. I’m sure the mispronunciation was pointed out to him scores of times, but he’s Bob Griese. Hall of Famer. That ancient Brent Musberger still does it, too. The Wes-consin Badgers. But Musberger turns 93 next month, and can be excused.

I’m also sure that the “Thinking Man’s Quarterback” isn’t well-informed enough to know that Juan Pablo Montoya is from Colombia. Bogota, to be specific. Not exactly the home of the taco. Mr. Hall of Fame no doubt assumed that with a name like that, this Montoya fella must be from Mexico. Them Mexes like tacos, huh? Gimme some beans with that, willya?

There are so many bad sports announcers. The name Joe Buck comes to mind. He has a job for one reason, and one reason only: his dad, Jack, was a great broadcaster. Joe constantly mispronounces ballplayers names (he obviously does no “homework”), often misses significant strategic shifts during the course of a game, and fancies himself a comedian. (His HBO show “Joe Buck Live!” failed miserably and was taken off the network.)

And that McCarver guy who works with him should have the common decency to either retire or get a prescription for Aricept.

I know, I know. Harsh. But sports broadcasting, which has given us some of the most colorful characters around (Harry Caray to name one) and some of the most literate and insightful practitioners (Vin Scully to name one) is now driven by the cult of personality that America is obsessed with.

Jon and Kate. Balloon Boy Family. Octo-Mom. Their popularity seems to be in direct proportion to their distance from normalcy. Chris Berman, who was once really good sports announcing, now seems to be part buffoon, part Chris Farley wannabe.

By the way, whatever happened to Barry Alvarez’s career as a Fox Sports “color analyst”?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Global....Warming? Cooling?

Jim Ott is a republican politician who represents an area of suburban Milwaukee in the state legislature. He’s been putting out what he calls “The Hot Air Report” every so often, in the form of an e-newsletter to his constituents. The one that escaped from his office last week is a dandy.

Jim takes the Governor’s Task Force on Global Warming to task for wanting a strict enforcement of the 65 MPH speed limit. State Troopers say the average speed in a 65 zone in Wisconsin is 69.4 MPH, and the guv’s Task Force thinks we should not only have strict enforcement of the 65 MPH law, but that we should study future speed limit reductions.

As a veteran commuter, I know where THAT idea is going to end up. Right smack in the middle of one of Rod Blagojevich’s - wait - Pat Quinn’s open-road-toll booths. As I sail through the open-road toll areas on the Northwest Tollway at 75 miles an hour, the electronic thingy takes half a buck out of my wallet with a barely audible “click” on my I-Pass.

Jim’s Hot Air Report - and the guv’s Task Force - both acknowledge there may be a wee bit of public pushback on lowering speed limits in the Badger state.
But the most curious part of Representative Ott’s Hot Air Report was his discussion of the Task Force’s recommendation that Wisconsin adopt California’s vehicle emission standards. Not just the present California standards, but any future changes that California makes to its emission standards.

The Task Force figures that would add about 800 bucks to the cost of a vehicle by 2016. Ott claims the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers says it will add three thousand bucks to the cost of a car by 2016.

Holy different set of numbers, Batman!

The best sentence of Ott’s entire Hot Air Report is “As you turn up your car heater extra early this fall, ask yourself if you want to pay $3,000 more for your next vehicle, just to try and make Wisconsin even colder.”


Even if you’re skeptical, like me, about Global Warming or Global Cooling or Global whatever, you have to chuckle at Jim’s rhetoric, and complete oversimplification of a very complex issue. The latest “news” is that fewer people now believe in “Global Warming” or “Global Climate Change” - as if whether or not we “believe it” has anything to do with whether it’s real or not! Science has nothing to do with consensus.

I suspect the folks in Mequon, who sent Jim to the legislature, aren’t thinking too deeply about global climate issues when they fire up their Lexus or Benz or BMW and motor to the store for a gallon of milk - heater turned up or not.

Good thing Jim is on this global warming issue for us. He’s got it figured out and under control.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

What's In A Name? (or, an address.....)

Vander Blue, the talented basketball player finishing up his “studies” at Memorial High, calls the Head Coach of the Marquette University Men’s Basketball Team “Buzz”. As State Journal sports columnist Tom Oates pointed out earlier this week, not “Coach Williams”, just “Buzz”.

So what?

So what the heck happened to a little respect? If I would have called my high school football coach “Bob”, I would have been running wind sprints until I fell over. My dad insisted his children address their elders with appropriate respect. He wouldn’t even let me call our family doctor “Doc” Towne, although everyone in Hortonville did. It was DOCTOR Towne.

If I ran into one of my high school teachers today - not likely, since most of them are probably long gone - I could never summon the chutzpah to call them by their first name. It was too deeply ingrained in me.

As a master’s degree student at UW-Oshkosh, one of my teachers was a Professor Emeritus, John Taylor, Ph.D. Early on in the course, one of the students made the mistake of referring to him as “Mister Taylor” in class. Dr. Taylor froze in his tracks, did a slow burn, his eyes bored laser-holes into the offending student’s torso, and he thundered “MISTER Taylor? MISTER Taylor? WHY DON’T YOU JUST CALL ME JOHN!!!!!” Point made.

Some folks are more sensitive than others about their title. My current physician insists that I call him Adam. Can’t do it. It’s Dr. Rindfleisch.

If you were raised like I was, there’s a point in your maturation where you begin to think it’s no longer necessary for you to use titles like “Mr.” or “Mrs.” when your talking with people who are older than you. Your parents’ friends, for example. At some point, and sometimes it’s not obvious, it’s OK to call them by their first name.

But the elderly - that’s a different story. At least it used to be. It seems we tend to use “Mr.” or “Mrs.” with someone who’s over 70 or so. People of that age aren’t likely to ask you to call them by their first name, either. They enjoy that added touch of respect when you say “Mr.” or “Mrs.”.

Back to Mr. Blue. So he calls his soon-to-be coach by his first name. I think that’s VERY unusual. Oates writes “can you imagine one of Bob Knight’s recruits calling him Bob?” Nope. Coach Knight, if you please.

I can recall only a single time I’ve ever heard a pro athlete refer to a current or past coach by their first name. In the news conference where he was introduced as a Vikings player, Brett Favre called Coach Brad Childress “Chilly”. Once. If you watch ESPN or a football pre-game show and the topic comes up, those multi-millionaire pro athletes almost invariably use the title “Coach”.

Even Michael Irving refers to Mike Ditka as “Coach” when they’re together on the ESPN pre-game show. So does “Jaws” - Ron Jaworski. Both Jaworski and Irving are certainly Mike Ditka’s peers….but they call him “Coach”.

I could be wrong, but I’ll bet next year, when he’s playing for him, Vander Blue will call Buzz Williams “Coach”. No more “Buzz”.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

This Budget, County Deputies Are Counting On Us

Start talking about the county budget with somebody, and odds are strong their eyes will glaze over. Not very exciting stuff. Tell somebody that 19 Dane County Sheriff’s Deputies might get laid off, and their ears will probably perk up a bit. We can always count on the Sheriff's Department to be there for us; now, we need to be there for them.

Anybody who’s lived around here for a while realizes that with the way things have been going for the past decade or so, more and more of the county’s law enforcement duties have fallen on the Sheriff’s department, particularly in the vast expanse of the county outside the urban core. Townships and villages that once budgeted for a few cops are now relying more on the Sheriff’s department to patrol their turf. Meth labs. Drunken drivers. On and on.

Tonight (Thursday) at 7, the Dane County Board has a public budget hearing, and it’s likely to get very interesting.

County Exec Falk has been saying since Labor Day, to anyone who’ll listen or stick a mike in her face or point a camera at her, that this is the “toughest budget since the great depression”. Since our county exec is in her 50’s, she wasn’t around during the great depression, so she’s making a weak analogy.

The budget battle lines are being drawn on many fronts, but perhaps none more critical than funding for the Sheriff’s department. Falk wants the deputies to take ANOTHER pay cut of 3%. What she doesn’t mention is that the deputies union in June took a 5% pay cut through the end of the year, to help the county during these hard financial times.

Now, Falk wants more. And understandably, the deputies say “we already gave”.
The deputies union is running radio ads which you may have heard, pointing out that it’s not just as simple as swallowing another pay cut. It’s about the way the county does business. In their ad, they say it’s time for a county government that saves for a rainy day - and doesn’t spend like crazy when it’s sunny out.

It comes down to priorities. Anybody who’s been through tough financial times - and with unemployment where it is now, that’s a lot of folks - knows you have to decide what’s really important and what’s not. I guess the deputies are saying there might be a frill or two here and there which we just might be able to live without, until times get better.

There’s not much government does that’s more important than protecting its citizens. The botched 9-1-1 call in the Brittany Zimmerman murder made that point clearly. If you don’t take care of business when it comes to emergency responders, you’ll hear about in a big hurry.

It’s not all on Kathleen Falk’s shoulders. The formula the state uses for property taxation has not been very kind to Dane County, and with the economic downturn, people are spending less so sales tax revenue is down. She’s asking for a nearly 8% hike in county property taxes.

According to the deputies’ math, keeping things the way they are now, with no cuts, will mean about 50 cents more a month on the average home. Six bucks a year.

Depression or not, seems like money well-spent. Or budgeted.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Should We Bail Out the "Journalism" Business?

You know newspapers are on their last legs when two of the most prominent voices in “journalism” say the very profession is at risk, and we must act now to save it.

Or not.

Len Downie, former editor of the Washington Post, and Columbia University Journalism Professor Michael Schudson, say the government should step in and stop the decline of newspapers. They want Congress and the IRS to allow local “news outlets” - in other words, newspapers - to operate as not-for-profit entities.
Most of them already are. They’re barely scraping by.

You’ve heard the reasons before. The internet, specifically sites like Craig’s List, took the profitable classified ad business away from newspapers years ago. Auto manufacturers tanked, relators put up their own websites to sell properties, and on and on. The revenue base was shriking at the same time a lot of chain newspapers were expanding - and adding huge debt to their balance sheets.

But if these lead voices in newspaper journalism like Downie and Schudson are singing the bailout song, you know their problems are a lot bigger than the effects of the downturn we’re in now. The problems of newspapers are systemic. Loss of advertisers and readers to the web, and an infrastructure that’s hugely expensive. Even Downie and Schudson admit it’s time to find an alternative to “newspapers”.

You’re reading one right now.

What I do isn’t “journalism” as most people would define it. True journalists have a very strict code of ethics and conducts, standards and practices. Watch the movie “All the President’s Men” and you’ll see a popular representation of how tough their standards are. (Then, watch one of my favorite movies, a 1981 Paul Newman flic called “Absence of Malice” to get another view of “journalism”.)
Just as the Washington Post exposed the corruption of Watergate, our own hometown paper The Wisconsin State Journal exposed the depth of corruption that existed in our own state capital. I’m not sure if those days are gone, but they’re fading.

Bloggers and online news outlets have been doing their fair share to keep a wary eye on people and institutions of power, and in many cases are driving the daily news cycle. But entirely too many people don’t realize bloggers, talk show hosts, and similar sources are often agenda-driven, not objective.

If ever there was a time the henhouse needed watching, it’s now - but I’m not sure who we should trust to be the watchdog. I’m pretty sure it would be a bad idea to “bail out” the newspapers, though.

As the old saying goes, when you’re up to your butt in alligators, it’s hard to remember your mission is to drain the swamp.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Sausage Man Must Move!!!!

My late friend and former editor of Madison Magazine Jim Selk delighted in calling Madison “the city of the perpetually offended”. I was seated at the wooden bar in the old Fess Hotel (now the Great Dane Brewpub downtown) many times, when Jim would launch into a philippic about how the city fathers try to mind everybody’s business.

Jim is rolling in his grave.

Tuesday night the Madison City Council takes up the issue of James Davis and his itinerant sausage cart. I’ve sampled the fine fare at his cart, which is often parked at State and Broom. Five bucks gets you a very decent sandwich and another buck gets you fries. You may have had James’s fare on your way to a Badgers football game. He usually sets up shop on Regent at Jefferson.

Lately, Mr. Davis has been parking his sausage-wagon in front of Memorial High, on South Gammon Road. I know this only because George Hesselberg wrote a great article about it in Saturday’s State Journal. The last time I was in Memorial High was when my daughter played varsity hoops for LaFollette High around the turn of the century.

But it seems the alder in that neighborhood, Paul Skidmore, has determined that Mr. Davis’ sausage cart is a safety hazard, and by God he’s going to close the loophole that lets him vend his comestibles right there in front of Spartan Headquarters. Memorial Principal Bruce Dahmen told Hesselberg he’s concerned about safety.

Students are “milling around” the stand at lunch time, and motorists are pulling over - right on that four-lane racetrack called Gammon Road - to grab a quick sandwich for lunch.

This milling around and pulling over must be stopped.

Skidmore’s resolution prohibits street vending on public property adjacent to or across the street from any school, without permission. Apparently, the fate of Mr. Davis’ sausage cart, as a going commercial entity in front of Memorial High, will be determined by the city council. If it closes the “loophole”, and passes Skidmore’s fix, the Madison school board will have the yea or nay on the sausage-vending in front of Memorial High.

Alder Skidmore, Principal Dahmen, and the school board have plenty of problems to deal with at Memorial High, but James Davis’ sausage cart is not one of them.

They could start with trying to explain why Vander Blue has decided to play college hoops for Marquette, rather than Wisconsin, if they really want to do something that will have an impact on the community.

But they’re busy being offended by sausage salesmen.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Dueling Justice(s)

If you think last week was fun, wait ‘till this week is over. Usually, following the actions of our state’s highest court is not really a spectator sport, but lately it’s been pretty interesting. And Wednesday should provide some additional fireworks.

Wednesday, oral arguments are scheduled in one of the cases the Wisconsin Supreme Court has decided to hear. It’s a criminal case, involving a fellow named Patrick Carter, but the details aren’t important. It’s full of legal-ese about how sentencing credits are counted.

The fun stuff centers around our newest Justice, Michael Gableman, whose seat on the highest court was essentially purchased for him by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the outfit that bought Justice Annette Ziegler her seat. Gableman’s campaign, like Ziegler’s, was so dirty that both campaigns were brought up on ethics charges.

Justice Gableman is the guy who accused his opponent, then-Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler, of finding loopholes to set criminals free in Wisconsin. “Loophole Louie” was the degrading and insulting (and misleading) catch-phrase.

Just as that braying ass Rush Limbaugh learned in his failed quest to buy an NFL team, your words and deeds can come back to bite you.

Mr. Carter’s lawyer, Assistant State Public Defender Ellen Henak, has asked the state Supreme Court to put off arguments - arguments that are supposed to start the day after tomorrow - until they decide whether or not they’re going to force Justice Gableman to sit this case out, given his well-documented (and highly advertised) bias against criminal defendants.

Late last week we were treated to the extremely unusual spectacle of a clearly divided state Supreme Court airing its internal strife in public. Thursday, three of the Justices issued a statement saying the Wednesday arguments should be delayed until they decide the Gableman issue.

Friday, three other justices issued a competing news escape, saying the one put out yesterday by their colleagues was unprecedented, and that the public ought to be given a quicker decision on whether or not Gableman should hear ANY criminal cases.

This argument about Gableman and criminal cases has been going on for SIX MONTHS now.

This is great stuff!! If newspapers still had reporters working in their newsrooms, they’d actually be covering it - and not taking the two-paragraph summaries from the Associated Press.

Gableman ran on a get-tough-on-the-thugs campaign that made his position on criminal defendants abundantly clear: the cops and prosecutors are right until they’re proven wrong. That sort of attitude may be hard to disguise or change when you’re now a sitting state Supreme Court Justice.

Like a grizzled desk Sergeant used to say to me (jokingly) decades ago when I was a still-wet-behind-the-ears reporter covering cops, crime, and courts: “Yah, we caught the guilty bastard. Now it’s up to the court to give him a quick, fair trial and then hang him”.

Stay tuned.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Letter From Mr. Attanasio

There it was, big as life, in my e-mail in-box. A letter from the principal owner of the Milwaukee Brewers, Mark Attanasio. He took the time to write ME and give me the inside scoop on the team?

Me and about three million other people, who passed through the turnstiles at Miller Park this past season, and are “registered Brewers fans” like me. Attendance of three million puts the Brewers ninth-highest in Major League Baseball, and this season was the second in a row that the team broke the three million mark.

Mr. Attanasio informed me he did not take my support for granted, which I appreciated hearing. It’s no cheap date to take your wife - or your wife and family - to a Brewers game, and it was nice of Mr. Attanasio to recognize that and pledge that he’ll do what he can to hold the line on ticket prices and other costs.
He talked about some of the significant accomplishments of the team this year, and about the great season Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Yovani Gallardo, Casey McGehee, and Trevor Hoffman had.

But the best part of his letter was the statement that 80 wins this year is not acceptable performance, and that neither he nor the organization are content with that. I know, it should go without saying that not making the playoffs this year was not acceptable, especially after that great start to the season, and then the horrid collapse in mid-season. But I’m glad he officially acknowledged it.

Attanasio went on to talk about his commitment to develop homegrown talent (thank the Lord he didn’t mention the name “Ben Sheets” in his letter) and pledged to work diligently to improve their roster. Maybe he can go out and buy another pitcher like C C Sabathia for us!

His second-last paragraph talked about how the team gives back to the state. Adding up the cash and in-kind contributions from the team, the players and their wives, and the corporate sponsors, he says they did a million and a half dollars worth of good stuff for Wisconsin organizations in 2009.

And he closed with a paragraph about his passion for the franchise and the game, and his commitment to success for the Brewers. He promised to work hard.

How can you not like a guy like that!

Being married to a Cubs fan, I suppose you could say I’ve learned that hope springs eternal. I was not a happy camper in the second half of the season, but I can’t wait to hit Miller park next spring, smell those hot-dogs cookin’, grab a cold brewski, and wait for the P-A system to blare out “Hell’s Bells” and see Trevor put a cap on another Brewers victory!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Highly Addictive; Extremely Dangerous! (Again....)

The longest and most expensive non-military “war” this nation is involved with is the ongoing “war on drugs”. By any definition, cost-benefit analysis, or similar metric, this endeavor has been a huge and costly failure. It’s been going for nearly five decades, and any cop will tell you illicit drugs are more available now than ever before.

Especially when you’re talking about highly addictive and extremely dangerous marijuana, a gateway drug which almost always leads to heroin addiction and death.

I’m being sarcastic, of course. But that’s the definition of pot, espoused a couple years ago by a county sheriff just north of Madison, in proudly announcing he’d eradicated about thirty bucks worth of ditch weed. He and a phalanx of deputies pulled the ditch weed up by the roots and proudly displayed a card-table laden with it, to the media.

They gave it an absurdly high “street value”, but nobody would try to sell ditch weed, much less smoke it. In return for a negligible “high”, you’d get a crashing headache.

Two days ago, 78 law enforcement officials from eight agencies, including the feds, spent the day slogging through the Navarino Wildlife Refuge up in Shawano County. They started at first light - 6AM - and claim to have uncovered “one of the largest marijuana grow operations ever discovered in Wisconsin”. I quote from Attorney General J.B. VanHollen’s press release, which escaped from his office yesterday afternoon.

Some hunter who’d wandered into the pot patch phoned in an anonymous tip, and the bust was on!

The narcs involved in the operation included regular cops from the Oconto, Waupaca, and Shawano County Sheriff’s Department, the Clintonville Police Department, the State Patrol, the state Justice Department, the DNR, and the DEA.

Holy overkill, Batman!

They laid waste to thousands of marijuana plants at a dozen separate “grow sites” in the refuge, and dismantled campsites and worksites they believe were related to the operation.

One small fly in the ointment.

By their own admission, most of the highly addictive and extremely dangerous gateway drug from this king-sized operation had already been harvested. It’s the middle of October, fellas; we’ve had a hard freeze; the growing season is over; but I’m sure there was plenty of low-quality weed left to seize and destroy.
The good stuff is probably already on the streets in Wisconsin cities, bending minds and causing madness. And the munchies.

78 cops, 624 man-hours, eight federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, plus their vehicles, gas, and hard work, to do away with a few crappy encampments and some left-over weed.

You decide if it was worth it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Crankiness Abounds

Anybody who knows me knows I do not have a great deal of patience, particularly when I have to deal with the boneheads you encounter in so many “customer service” situations these days. But yesterday, while running errands and transacting routine business, I was in line behind somebody who was impatient to the point of being downright rude.

I actually felt sorry for the young lady who took the abuse, and told her so after the jerk left.

This guy, a well-dressed man who appeared to be in his early 40’s and driving a high-end luxury car (at least, he got into one when he left the store), was angry because the young lady asked for some ID when he proffered his credit card to pay for the transaction. Sheesh. I have written “ASK FOR PHOTO ID” instead of a signature on the back of both my bank debit cards.

Apparently, the young lady was supposed to know who this guy is.

It’s no secret that there’s a lot less happiness in the world these days. We live in a country that’s deeply divided politically. We’ve been involved in two seemingly endless foreign wars that seem to have no mission, no goals, no clear purpose, and which have drained our treasury and mortgaged our kids’ future.

We “won” the Iraq war in about five minutes of “shock and awe” years ago, and have been dallying there since. We set up a government in Afghanistan which appears to be composed largely of crooks and ne’er-do-wells, led by a man who wears a silly hat and apparently isn’t really a friend.

Anybody who’s over 45 or 50 years old - maybe even the rude man at the store - has seen their retirement “plan” become a retirement “guess” with the collapse of the economy last year.

Anybody who travels by airplane has seen that experience go from bad dream to nightmare in the past few years, marred by experiences like the absurd removal of footwear presided over by people who by and large should never be put in a position where they have to interact with other human beings.

We’ve been pounded by gasoline prices that soared to over four bucks a gallon for no apparent reason a couple years ago, and now anybody who pays attention to agriculture knows that our local farmers are on the ropes with the crappiest milk prices ever, while we pay through the nose at the store for a gallon of moo juice.

Never has the lunatic fringe been given more play in the media, as if it were normal to walk around with a gun on your hip carrying a sign saying the President is a Nazi. Round-the-clock news channels do so little fact-checking that anybody’s wildest statement is unchallenged, and regarded as “truth”.

The names “Glen Beck” and “Rush Limbaugh” come to mind. Network news broadcasts actually use clips from these blowhard clowns to “balance” their news! God forbid some lefty’s assertion that health care reform is a good thing be left “unbalanced”!

Now, before I descend into the mood-set of that horribly rude man at the store this morning, I’m going to head out into the 52-degree sunshine this afternoon with my dog, and enjoy what’s left of this gorgeous day before global warming or global cooling kills us all.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Gaming The System

The same folks who brought you the recession and the bailouts of companies “too big to fail” are at it again. The newest brainchild of these casino-style speculators is known by various names, the most common of which is “life settlement securities”.

The very fact that “securities” is in the title is profoundly ironic.

By now, even folks who don’t follow the money-changing industry closely have come to understand that a huge part of what got us into such deep trouble was speculators who packaged mortgages into “securities” and sold them to pension funds and money-market funds that grossly underestimated the risk of these “securities”. In far too many cases, these “liars loan” mortgages were based on properties which were grossly overvalued, and obtained by borrowers who lied about their income.

Then they sold “credit default swaps” on top of the extremely risky “securities” - and it all collapsed.

Now, they’re doing essentially the same thing with life insurance policies. Right now, 27 trillion dollars worth of life insurance is in force, and that’s too big a market for the speculators to leave unsoiled. Just as they did with mortgages, speculators are buying these policies, packaging them into huge “investment packages”, and selling them to institutional investors.

And nearly none of it is regulated in any way. They just dream this stuff up and sell it.

While there are plenty of bloggers moralizing about the basic wrongness of selling and re-selling life insurance policies to make money on somebody’s death, to me it’s simply another bubble about to burst. It’s a bet on top of a gamble based on a wager. It’s another example of how naked speculation is allowed to masquerade as “investment”, with nobody looking over the money-changers shoulder.

No standards, no regulation, no accountability.

The banking, or investment, or securities, or whatever-you-want-to-call it industry felt no real consequences from the collapse of all the risky stuff they were doing. We bailed them out because they were “too big to fail”. So, nothing changed.
Look at the bonuses being handed out to the fund managers here in our own back yard at the state investment board - 1.7 million dollars worth. In the cases of a few of the top managers, their bonus payments are nearly equal to their annual salary! That’s the way that industry works. They collect those bonuses because of the way their contracts are written - even though the retirement fund has huge losses in the past couple years, and state retirees are getting smaller checks.

The entire system, from top to bottom, needs a complete overhaul and a whole lot more oversight. When pay is based on taking risks - or “generating fees”, if you’d like to put it that way - they’ll keep taking big gambles with other people’s money.

Just don’t say I didn’t warn you about “life settlement securities”.

Monday, October 12, 2009

How "Interest"ing

A couple years ago, Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan thought a 36-percent interest cap on payday lenders was a good idea. He co-sponsored a bill that would do it. Now - not so much. He now thinks the bill “goes too far”.

Payday loans can cost you 500 percent - even more - in annual interest, if you keep rolling them over because you can’t make the bi-weekly payments.
So what’s “fair”, Mike - 33 percent? 29 percent? What would YOU pay?

In the past year, owners of payday loan companies have cranked up the pressure on the politicians. They’ve paid for thirty hired guns (lobbyists) and dumped no less than 140 grand into the campaign coffers of politicians who are suddenly “on the fence” about regulating payday loans. See any connection here?

Did I mention that Wisconsin is the only state in the union that does NOT regulate payday loans?

As with any story, there are two sides. The payday loan folks say a 36-percent cap would put them out of business. I would imagine such enterprises have a fairly high rate of customer loan default. Then again, if you’re gonna get a 500 percent return, you gotta have a substantial amount of risk.

The lenders say they didn’t create the problem of poverty, that it was there long before they opened their strip-mall outlets, and capping their loan rates won’t make poverty go away.

Sheridan has now done a nearly complete about-face on the issue, recently telling the cable TV political channel Wisconsin Eye “there’s a lot of jobs that are impacted if you just eliminate the industry”. There are 542 payday lenders in Wisconsin, who wrote $723 million dollars worth of loans last year. Lots of lenders, lots of money.

What’s the rate? Twenty bucks per hundred borrowed, due in two weeks. That’s 520% annual interest. Most banks will gig you 30 dollars or more if you bounce a check, even if it’s for only ten bucks. My TI Business Analyst calculator freezes up when I try to calculate APR on THAT.

There are some other proposals floating around, up there under the Big Top. One would ban car-title loans, one would limit fees for late payments, one would put restrictions on rolling over the two-week payday loans. And one would create a database to ensure people don’t borrow money from one payday lender, to pay off another.

Sort of like the credit-card shuffle that got so many folks into trouble when the economy crashed. Now, since you can’t get a credit card that easily, apparently a lot of folks get payday loans instead.

And with the best lobbyists money can buy prowling the capitol on behalf of the payday lenders, and dollars flying freely into the campaign warchests of the politicians, things aren’t likely to change.

There are plenty of crooks on both sides of this issue.

Friday, October 9, 2009

NewsSpeak - It's Kinda Like English

I think it started last year, around Christmas time. The local electronic media began using the word “closure” instead of “closing”, when doing stories about the Janesville GM plant. In a January blizzard, they talked about “road closures”. And this week, these same folks talked about flu-related school “closures” in Wisconsin Dells.

Presumably, they’ll change the tabs on their websites to inform us about weather-related school “closures” this winter - rather than school “closings”.

The latest jargon to creep into news writing is “Officer-Involved Shooting”. My YourNews colleague John Karcher, the former Channel 3 news anchor, and I have had a few good laughs about this latest example of “NewsSpeak”.

From 1971 until 2008 I was paid - and often paid very well - to try and teach news broadcasters and writers how to use the English language. After nearly four decades of ramming my head into this wall, I have drawn a couple conclusions. First, it’s a fool’s errand. People who are poor writers and speakers almost never think they are. Second, broadcast news writers who are poor at their craft almost always aggressively defend their poor writing, when it‘s pointed out.

I’ve left newsrooms from California to Florida shaking my head, pocketing a large check, and knowing that my hard work and best efforts accomplished very little. Now, with the slow death of local news, budgets for training and coaching have dried up.

This week it also became apparent that far too many of our local broadcasters don’t know that “postpone” and “cancel” mean two different things. One local radio station informed us that the big football game scheduled for tonight between Wisconsin Dells and Adams-Friendship had been “cancelled”. Nope. It was postponed. They’ll play the game when the kids feel better.

Same thing with the big monster truck show that was supposed to be here this weekend. One local TV station said the event was postponed - and then, in the very next sentence, said it was cancelled because of poor ticket sales. Actually, the newscaster said it was “due to” poor ticket sales, but teaching newswriters the correct use of “due to” and “because of” is another fool’s errand.

Broadcasters say “drunk driver” 99% of the time; while print folks say “drunken driver” 99% of the time. (The latter is correct.) Print folks still have editors who catch these things. Broadcasters don’t, and even veteran anchors who should know better, simply recite what’s on the prompter. Like the one a few months ago who said a robber “ran off on foot”. Is there another way to run?

At least she didn’t say “fled on foot in an unknown direction with an undetermined amount of United States currency” - the way cops write these things in their incident reports.

A doctor knows what acute postprandial eructation is, but they’ll still call it a loud belch.

And there’s the Lennox commercial running on TV now which informs me I can contact them “for all my comfort needs”. I’ll notify my wife and the Guinness Brewery that their services are no longer needed.

You don’t want to be anywhere near me when the local news is on. I’m obnoxiously critical.

And if that ESPN announcer welcomes me IN to SportsCenter tomorrow morning, I’ll reach through the TV screen and wring his neck!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Stand By For Higher Taxes

Since Labor Day, County Exec Kathleen Falk has been calling it “the toughest budget since the Great Depression”. Her mouthpiece, Josh Wescott, echoes the depression line, and adds another cliché - “the perfect storm” of declining revenues. Falk has proposed a 7.9% property tax increase and is hoping for a 3 percent wage cut from county employees.

Mayor Cieslewicz calls his plan “a budget for hard times”, and says “the primary theme is steadiness”. He’s proposed the lowest spending increase in the past fifteen years. His operating budget will increase taxes 3.8% on the average Madison home. He’s hoping other city employees will join the firefighters, who’ve agreed to no raises for two years, and then 3% at the end of the two-year period.

Meanwhile, a couple weeks ago, Madison teachers hauled in a 4% raise in each of the next two years - a quarter of it in salary increases (1%) and the rest in other bennies, mainly insurance. They get a small pay increase, while county workers may take a cut, and city workers will likely get nothing.

Moral of the story: you want John Matthews on your side of the bargaining table.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t begrudge the teachers’ tiny raise one bit. I’m proud of the firefighters and any other city employee group which is willing to stand pat in these tough times. And I feel the pain of the county workers. My income this year is substantially less than last year, when the radio station threw me under the bus after 30 years with the company.

The teachers union deal is done; it just has to be rubber-stamped by the school board a week from Monday, the 19th. But the city and county budgets are far from set in stone, and there will be weeks of debate ahead. We’re just seeing the broad strokes now. The County Board is gonna have some “interesting” discussions ahead. And Alder Thuy Pham-Remmele may provide us with more YouTube moments in the city’s budget debate.

Most folks, I’ve learned, after 30-some years of covering local news, don’t pay too much attention to budget announcements, discussion, or debate. They mainly give a hoot about how it’s going to personally impact them financially. Unless, of course, you draw your paycheck from the city or county.

So, although I don’t have anywhere near solid numbers from all the entities that make up the property tax bill - the state, the municipality (which in my case is an urban township, not the city), MATC, and the school district, my first wild guess is your tax escrow will go up about twenty bucks a month next year.

That is, if the budgets settle anywhere near where they’re talking now, and given that you own an “average” home in Madison, worth about a quarter-million dollars, and given that you send a check to some mortgage company 12 times a year. I’m guessing taxes on the “average” home will go up a couple hundred bucks.

It’s only a guess. Since I follow this stuff, I’ll be glad to let you know in a few months if my crystal ball was clear - or cloudy.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Swine Flu.....meh....

Conventional wisdom is that things - trends, ideas, fashions - start on the west or east coast, and then move toward the center of the nation. If that’s true, we’re apparently not too wound up about the Swine Flu - or, H1N1, as the politicians here want us to call it.

Californians as a rule are far more laid-back than their east-coast opposites, and the San Francisco Chronicle reports that half the people in the Golden State are either “not very concerned” or “not concerned at all” about the virus.

Typical of the responses to the newspaper’s poll was that of a San Jose woman, who said “I think it’s just a big old massive media hype and it’s kind of ridiculous”.

What? Media hype? From the folks who brought you SARS and Alar in apples?

I’ve said many times before that the media’s default position is “excess”. What story made the “A block” in every local TV newscast Monday, right up there with the Packers-Vikings game? The Swine Flu death in Rock County. First death this fall. We had 8 Swine Flu deaths this spring.

I’m not saying the local news media shouldn’t have reported the Swine Flu death; it’s legitimate news. Just like the flu outbreak that hit the UW campus when the kids all came back after summer break. Many news outlets also carried stories about how the first doses of vaccine, in the nasal spray form, have arrived here and are being administered to health-care workers.

And I have no problem with all the news stories about school closings (which the TV folks have all decided to call “closures” for some odd reason) in Wisconsin Dells. Legitimate news, not even sensationalized, from what I picked up last night.

If people aren’t concerned about Swine Flu, they’re not likely to get the vaccine. But nearly three-quarters of the people in the California newspaper poll said they’d be somewhat or very likely to get the vaccine if doctors or public health officials recommend it. That’s encouraging. I guess it means they trust their public health officials.

My wife works for the largest health care outfit in the county (the one with two initials in its name, and nearly seven thousand employees). Without violating any confidences, I can assure you her employer…and the thousands and thousands of professionals working at the other big health care outfits in Dane County…are working very hard to make sure they’re prepared for any foreseeable eventuality concerning Swine Flu.

The media isn’t fond of covering meetings, conferences, discussions, or nuts and bolts preparation for a possible pandemic. Not very exciting stuff, I’ll grant you.

But it’s good to know that those people we will rely on the most if this Swine Flu thing hits us hard later this fall and winter, are diligently getting ready for what MIGHT be.

If lots of people are laid low by the Swine Flu, the media will be there to report it. And they’ll do their usual good job of telling us how and where we can get vaccinated. Even if they don’t seem to be too interested right now in how our health care professionals are preparing for it.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Poynette.....Pumas?

I’ve been tough on Poynette in the past, particularly last spring, when a handful of dweebs up there decided to stop fluoridating the water because an item on the internet said it was bad. Well, the fluoride is back in the water, and that nasty “Indians” nickname is gone from Poynette High.

I speak with forked tongue.

The nickname “Indians” never bothered me a bit; to me, it spoke to the great pride, prowess, and traditions of the indigenous people who owned Wisconsin long before the white man came. But, as a graduate of Hortonville High, where the mascot is the Polar Bear, I am in no position to criticize anybody about their choice of mascot or nickname. “Poley The Polar Bear” just doesn’t strike fear into the heart of the opposing team.

Pumas are sleek, fast, powerful cats, sometimes called cougars, panthers or mountain lions, cousins to the jaguar; and a fine choice for a team mascot and nickname. “Poynette Pumas” has a nice, alliterative ring to it. I wish them great success. Puma Pride, and all that.

Universities and colleges often have deliberately unusual mascots and nicknames. We all know about Cal State Santa Cruz, where Sammy The Banana Slug is the mascot. Texas Christian has Super Frog, the Horned Frog. Scottsdale Community College has Artie, the Fighting Artichoke. Delta State in Mississippi are the Fighting Okra, and North Carolina School of the Arts is home to the Fighting Pickles.

I’m not making any of this up.

The level-headed folks in Poynette have it all over the West Plains, Missouri “Zizzers”. I’d never heard of a zizzer until I started researching this rant; but their website proclaims that a zizzer is an expert in any activity. New Berlin, Illinois, just west of Springfield, is the home of the Pretzels. Itasca, Texas, along with four other high schools in the US, has the “Wampus Cat” as a mascot and nickname. This fierce beast is a six-legged critter, four for running, and two for fighting.

Ojai Valley High School in California is the home of the Spuds. It’s a small, private school and they play 8-man football. They lost their last two football games (against Pinewood and Thatcher) by identical 46-0 scores. Not too terrifying, those Spuds.

A Catholic Girls high school in St. Hubert Pennsylvania has chosen to be the Bambies. And there’s the Sidney Lanier High School Poets in Montgomery, Alabama. While the Bambies and Poets probably don’t strike fear into the hearts of their opponents, consider John Marshall High School in Cleveland, Ohio - home of the Lawyers. Imagine a squad of lawyers, suing you left and right.

Poynette could have done a lot worse than deciding they’re going to be the Pumas. It may not be unique, but then who’d want to be the Unicorns? Nobody - except the folks in New Braunfels, Texas.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Dreaming of a Packers Win

Packers fans all over America have looked forward for months, with considerable relish, to tonight’s contest with the hated Vikings. The local paper even dubbed last week “Favre Week” and did a countdown to the game, on the front page, every day. Some guy wrote a letter to the editor Friday pointing out that the paper’s sports columnists had mentioned Favre about a dozen times, but not a word about Aaron Rodgers.

The local electronic media’s websites carried queries on whether or not we’d still be “rooting” for Favre, and social media like Facebook were filled with posts and replies with strong feelings, both ways, about Brett.

It wasn’t all that many years ago Jim McMahon, Super Bowl-winning quarterback of the arch-nemesis Chicago Bears, put on a Packers uniform in 1995 and won a Super Bowl ring with the Pack, in 1996, in a deep backup role. So this sort of quarterback-controversy-friend-or-foe thing is not without precedence in Packers history.

I was thinking about old Jimbo, and about what Packers defensive lineman Charles Martin did to him when McMahon was quarterbacking the Bears against the Pack in 1986, as I dozed off in front of the TV yesterday afternoon.

In my dream, it was late in the Monday night game between the Pack and the Vikes. Deep into the fourth quarter, tied at 21. A see-saw battle all the way. Less than a minute left in the game. Minnesota was on offense, on their own 34 yard line. Favre called for the snap, out of the shotgun formation. He dropped back to pass. Johnny Jolly, the Packers’ huge and speedy defensive lineman, slipped a block and laid a tremendously violent sack on Favre.

You could hear a pin drop in the MetroDome. Favre wasn’t getting up.

But then, as the trainers rushed onto the field, Favre stirred, got up, and waved the trainers off. It was third and 27 on the Vikes’ 27 yard line. Everybody knew the “hail Mary” pass was coming. Favre was still woozy from the sack Jolly had laid on him, and he drifted back to pass again. His head started swimming. He saw the green and gold jerseys downfield…the ones he’d thrown to all those years…and found a man in green and gold open, and lofted a pass to him.

As his head began to clear, Favre realized he’d been picked off! Omigod, he forgot he was a Viking, and was throwing to a Packers defensive back! Charles Woodson was running toward the Vikes’ goal line with the ball; but the Vikes pushed him out of bounds on the 22 yard line!

First and ten, Packers, on the Vikes’ 22. Rodgers breaks the huddle. 14 seconds left. Everybody thinks it’ll be a safe handoff up the middle, then a field goal to win it, with just a couple seconds left. Rodgers takes the snap - he’s back to pass!!! What?!?! He’s scrambling! Eluding a tackle here, dodging another man there…and with four seconds left, he sees Donald Driver in the end zone, lofts the pass….Driver hauls it in - TOUCHDOWN GREEN BAY!

Time expires as Crosby’s point-after kick goes through the uprights, and the Pack wins, 28-21.

Nobody, except Brett Favre, ever knew that it wasn’t really an interception that determined the outcome. In his dazed state, he was just doing what he’d done so well for so many years - making a last-minute pass to a man in a green and gold jersey.

I woke up when the dog started barking at a squirrel in the back yard.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Secret Government

I’m not sure if State Senator Bob Jauch drives to Madison from his home up in Poplar - a tiny little burg on HiWay 2 up in Wisconsin’s far north woods - but I suspect he does, and that those long drives give him plenty of time to think.
But that can sometimes be a dangerous thing.

A few days ago, he decided it was best to table his “secret successors” bill. It would allow each state legislator to pick three to seven successors, to take their seat, should (God forbid!) there be some sort of natural disaster, pandemic, or otherwise apocalyptic event that decimated the ranks of the politicians. And the names would be kept secret.

The pundits, of course, had a field day.

They opined that this gang of ruffians up there under the Big Top would pick their deer hunting buddies, their big-money contributors, their in-laws, their bookies, their spouses, their mistresses, or lord-knows-who. After a week or so of ridicule, Senator Jauch pulled the bill.

I, of course, have other thoughts.

No matter who the 33 Senators and 99 Representatives put on their secret successor list, we’d probably end up with a group of folks who could get along better and make more progress than the chumps in office now. Perhaps they’d even have the insight to take up only things that really matter, and meet once every couple months for a day or so.

I’m thinking of those cell phone commercials on TV where lumberjacks run divorce courts, delivery service people run the schools, and particularly the one where firefighters run government. No foolishness, straight to the point. Git ‘r done!

I’ve also been involved scores of times with news coverage of events where emergency government agencies take over - blizzards, ice storms, chemical spills, things of that sort. And the last thing emergency government needs is 132 politicians arguing about what should be done. If it’s a true emergency, it’s time for action, not political debate.

Any event that would trigger a scenario where Senator Jauch’s secret successors plan would kick in, would render the legislature useless. There were other things in Jauch’s bill the media didn’t talk about, like the provision to allow the Legislature to meet at a “temporary capital” of its choosing (something which is now the purview of the Governor) and a provision to allow the legislature to hold “virtual” meetings if they couldn’t physically meet.

A real doomsday scenario.

In which case, we’d be better off calling Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Indiana Jones, G.I. Joe, or the Fantastic Four.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Snarlin' Marlin To The Rescue

Marlin D. (for Democrat?) Schneider earned his nickname “Snarlin’ Marlin” a long time ago, for his often vociferous exchanges with other politicians on the Assembly floor. Schneider has been snarlin’ up there since first elected in 1970, which makes him the longest-serving Assembly member in state history.

Born in November of ‘42, he’s long past retirement age, but he’s still feisty as ever. At a Tuesday news conference he proposed giving newspapers a break by exempting their buildings from property tax. Ironically, according to my former colleague and fellow blogger Dusty Weis, not a single newspaper reporter was there. Sign of the times.

Newspapers already enjoy a tax emption for their printing presses, along with a sales tax exemption on advertising and subscriptions, and other small assorted goodies. Perhaps Schneider should ask the broadcasters if they’d like a tax exemption for their buildings and transmitters. The Snarler apparently hopes his gesture will help the struggling newspaper industry, as he mentioned specifically the Madison and Milwaukee newspaper scene. Once, both cities had morning and afternoon papers; now, each city has a combined paper, and the huge and ongoing downsizing of their news staffs is common knowledge.

The newspaper folks, who weren’t at the Snarler’s get-together Tuesday (an Associated Press reporter was), seem to have no interest whatsoever in his tax-break offer. The head of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, Peter Fox, says they’re not looking for any special privileges. And the Wisconsin State Journal’s editorial page carried a “thanks, but no thanks” item, and suggested the Snarler should drop his proposal.

Across the hall on Fish Hatchery Road, the Capital Times suggested a better idea might be for Schneider to drop his quest to restrict public access to the popular so-called “CCAP” website, maintained by the court system in Wisconsin, where anybody with a computer and an internet connection can look up court records on anybody.

The Snarler sees that as a bad thing, claims there’s too much snooping going on, and his stance on the matter earned him the Wisconsin Freedom Of Information Council’s “No Friend of Openness” award last year.

This morning, just after ten o’clock, the Assembly holds a public hearing on the Snarler’s bill to slap a user fee on the CCAP site and restrict what kinds of records can be posted on the site.

Wisconsin has been a national leader in public access to court records, but Schneider says it’s led to denial of housing and employment from landlords and businesses that log onto the site and check up on people. If you look me up on CCAP, you’ll learn that I filed a will in 1990, and that I was divorced in 1996. You’ll also find that at least one other person with the same name and middle initial as me has apparently had financial issues. But that guy lives in Oak Creek and was born in a different year.

I’m OK with that stuff being on the Circuit Court website. And, if you get caught doing bad stuff, as the young folks now say “you gotta own it”. I’m with the public prints around here: Representative Schneider, thanks but no thanks on the newspaper tax breaks, and let’s keep our court records open.

As Mikhail Gorbachev said back in the 80’s, “glasnost“. Openness.