Saturday, January 31, 2009

Media Fumbling Facts for Koschnick

After watching the first debate between Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson and Jefferson County Judge Randy Koschnick, I was shocked at how most of the reports in the media simply restated Koschnick’s empty talking points and illegitimate attacks. With all of their “outrage” over the nastiness of the last race, one would think that the media would actually do their job – report the facts. They can complain about nasty campaigning all that they want but if they don’t hold candidates accountable, they themselves are part of the problem.

During the debate Koschnick repeatedly threw around the old meaningless “activist” label. The press seemed to take his name calling and run with it, printing it in most of their stories about the debate. Yet, given his repeated use of the word “activist” none of the reporters saw fit to mention one of the most compelling moments in the entire debate. The Chief Justice started reading off several cases where Judge Koschnick had been reversed by the court of appeals. There seemed to be a common theme from the higher court, repeatedly saying that Koschnick exceeded his authority and ruled in ways that ignored statutes. If there is a definition of an “activist” judge, some of the appeals courts descriptions could have served as such. Somehow this pot/kettle moment was either totally missed or deliberately ignored by the press.

In addition, the media has known for a while that Koschnick was going to wave around the bloody shirt from the infamous Knapp case. He brought it up repeatedly during the debate and the media reported his comments. What neither he nor the media did bring up was the fact that in the very same case, he himself ruled that a pair of bloody shoes should not be allowed as evidence. The only thing that the media had to do was search their own past reporting of the case and they would have learned about Koschnick’s ruling on the shoes. They didn’t do that and settled with simply carrying his one sided and disingenuous commentary.

In the absence of real reporting and basic fact checking, bloggers quickly began to point out the whole picture about the Knapp case. Only then did the state’s largest paper finally run an online item reporting about Koshnick’s ruling on the bloody shoes. But even after finally reporting the fact, they still could not get the information completely correct, making a very fundamental mistake in its reporting which later had to be corrected.

The idea that no one at this newspaper association debate was familiar enough with the basic facts of the Knapp case, when they knew it was going to be used, is irresponsible. Equally troubling is that reporters simply repeated Koschnick’s name calling without making him answer for his own record. Not only did the media completely abdicate their responsibilities in the reporting of this debate, but they showed a disturbing propensity to completely and totally fumble the facts.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Paul Ryan’s Expensive Nursery Rhyme

Yesterday I watched the Republican House leadership explain their opposition to the stimulus plan. Included in the press conference was Wisconsin’s own Congressman Paul Ryan. After stepping up to the mic he showed us that he could rhyme, when he said that the Republican Party was “not an opposition party, but a proposition party.” He said this even though he knew full well that every single member of his party was planning on voting as a bloc against the stimulus package. That kind of behavior is almost the very definition of an opposition (and obstructionist) party. Ryan may as well have stood in front of the press and recited his favorite nursery rhyme, because it would have been just about as factual as the tall tale that he tried to tell.

Paul Ryan’s blind support of failed Bush policies have been bad enough for this economy, but his antics now only compound the severity of our problems. Like the nation as a whole, Ryan’s home state and his constituents are suffering tremendous economic hardship. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that this economic stimulus bill could “pump billions of dollars into Wisconsin’s economy through funding for highway and water projects, food stamps and unemployment benefits and education and law enforcement grants, among other things.” If Ryan and his partisanship-first approach is successful, these billions will never get to his constituents or at least will be unnecessarily delayed. That is an expensive proposition and it makes Ryan’s opposition and obstruction all the more abhorrent.

It would be humorous if it wasn’t so tragic that Ryan and Company are partially objecting to the stimulus plan because of it increasing the deficit. He can’t be serious can he? After eight years of being the living definition of a rubber stamp for George Bush? Apparently someone has to remind him about what they inherited in 2000, what they have done with it, and what they have now passed on to President Obama. Suddenly he cares about deficit spending now that a Democrat is president? Again his ever shifting values are the very definition of hyper-partisan, obstructionist, and opposition. Paul Ryan can tell as many nursery rhymes as he likes, but the realities of our situation require honesty, swift action and adult supervision.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Get Back to Me in April

Wispolitics is reporting that Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce is planning to “sit out” this spring’s race between Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson and Jefferson County Judge Randy Koschnick. Forgive me if I’m not dancing in the streets just yet. It would probably be best to check back in April. Chances are high that this is simply a conservative shell game.

The report says that the big biz lobby, that so tarnished the last two elections for the state Supreme Court, plans to only provide “background” on the two candidates this time around. We will see what they mean soon enough. Will they pay another Federalist Disciple to produce a “white paper” that serves as little more than a conservative hit piece? Will they launch a strategically timed series of press releases for “background only” that end up unfairly attacking another sitting justice? Will that “background” turn into front page stories?

If they really do “sit out” this one, we should pay even closer attention. What will likely happen is that the corporate cash will just go to the many shameless conservative groups that have been perfecting the smear campaign. That could serve as another Christmas for groups like All Children Matter, WIL and others. If the cash flows in that direction, then this new announcement will mean very little. Many of these groups have already shown that they have no problem with ratcheting up the sleaze factor and keeping us from a real and substantive debate. That has also been the corporate lobby's calling card, whether WMC's name is on the TV ad or not.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Public Defenders of Right Wing Hypocrisy

It was only months ago that all of right wing Wisconsin was frothing at the thought of a former public defender being retained on the state Supreme Court. Even though Louis Butler is a giant legal mind, they used his distinguished career against him, most often his work as a public defender. By the time they were finished they had all but indicted him for the alleged crimes of his former clients, reduced our most basic rights to “loop holes” and exploited tragic cases by use of gross distortions and flat lies. Now their shamelessness has come full circle as they are beginning to fawn over the next right wing activist-in-waiting, Randy Koschnick.

Even though they were condemning the necessary and noble work of public defenders only months ago, now they find themselves in the strange position of lauding the position. Clearly they are changing on a dime because Randy Koschnick spent most of his legal career as a public defender. During those 14 plus years he represented many people charged with many terrible crimes, including one very infamous one. Many of the same right wingers that were condemning Butler are now praising the legal career of Randy Koschnick, twisting themselves into shameful pretzels in the process.

The only right wing ideologue that I am aware of that has actually managed to stay somewhat consistent is Milwaukee-area talk show host Mark Belling. Although I vehemently disagree with his vile approach to criminal law (among many other things), he at least has not sold his soul on this specific issue. Early in the process he voiced his opposition to Randy Koschnick as the conservative candidate for the high court. Most of the others have already begun falling in line, checking any remaining credibility at the door.

Most right wing bloggers and others have shown no shame in supporting something that only bred contempt in them mere months ago. One can only assume that the right wing sugar daddy types that funded last year’s slander are not far behind. With their sudden love for public defenders they will also find themselves publicly defending something else: right wing hypocrisy.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Words Really Do Matter

Last Thursday I blogged about the conservative organization Wisconsin Institute for Leadership (WIL), and its Executive Director Brian Fraley. I openly wondered if it was appropriate that he forwarded a campaign email including his own note that Department of Public Instruction candidate Rose Fernandez is “worthy of your support”. As the head of a 501c4 nonprofit, this came dangerously close to crossing some important lines in my opinion. In that blog I also wondered if this was a sign that he was preparing to go to work for the Fernandez campaign. Later that same day we learned that he in fact was taking leave from WIL to become her campaign manger. Fraley responded to my blog in the comments section but didn’t fully address the issue.

Fraley seems to be suggesting that his forwarding of the Fernandez Campaign email and commenting that she was “worthy of your support” was personal. I am frankly surprised that he would not see the importance of his words whether his email was technically personal or not. His own business website states the following:

"The words you use to convey your thoughts can make or break a political
campaign...At the Markesan Group, one of our first tasks for clients is to
develop lists of which key words you should use, and which killer words to

Words do matter and that idea does not just extend to political campaigns or to his own private clients. It also extends to him, in his position as WIL executive director. I would suggest that the words “worthy of your support” when talking about a candidate for public office are “killer” words in this context. Now that he has actually gone to work for that campaign, the importance of his words while acting as WIL Executive Director should be amplified ten-fold.

Fraley’s December email is not the only area of question between WIL and the Fernandez Campaign. Also in December and again last week the Daily Takes Twitter account mentions Fernandez and promotes her campaign’s You Tube video. Although this Twitter account is named after Fraley’s blog, it also bears a WIL logo at the top. Even if we are to explain away the email (which I assume didn’t include a WIL logo), exactly what is the explanation for this?

At the very least these issues blur some very important lines. In this specific case the blurred lines should call into question any advocacy from WIL surrounding the upcoming Department of Public Instruction election and Rose Fernandez in particular. Given the entire context, how could WIL be taken seriously? I agree with the Markesan Group that words really do matter, and that includes the use of the word “independent.”

Thursday, January 15, 2009

WIL Fraley’s Virtual Independence

In September right wing blogger and political operative Brian Fraley announced that he was taking a new job as the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Institute for Leadership (WIL). This organization is supposed to be “independent” complete with a 501c4 non-profit tax status. At the time Fraley described on his Daily Takes blog that the new organization was “nonprofit, nonpartisan and issue-focused.”

Oh really? If WIL is actually “nonpartisan and issue focused”, then why did Brian Fraley, forward Rose Fernandez announcement that she was running for Department of Public Instruction? According to a recent report by the Capital Times, he did not just forward that announcement but also included a very supportive note about the candidate. According to the report, this happened sometime in December. The obvious question here is should the head of an “independent” 501c4 advocacy organization be advancing a candidate’s campaign in this manner? Exactly what contact has Rose Fernandez or her representatives had with WIL Fraley and when did they have it?

On January 1, the WIL blog notes that Fraley is taking leave from his position there until April 15, which is obviously after the general election for Department of Public Instruction. Could the executive director of this “independent” 501c4 advocacy organization actually be taking leave to work for the Fernandez Campaign? Perhaps someone should ask Fraley…perhaps they should ask Fernandez. Even if he is not going to work for Fernandez directly, is he going to work for someone else on her behalf? Is this appropriate? Even if WIL and Fraley had any credibility about being “independent” in the first place, how could anyone take them seriously now?

At this point we don’t know if Brian Fraley is taking leave from WIL to work for the Fernandez Campaign, but his pattern of behavior is interesting. When he took the job at WIL he posted on his Daily Takes blog exactly why it had gone on hiatus. At that time he explained, “Daily Takes doesn’t help pay my mortgage. My real jobs do.” Low-and-behold, Fraley just announced on his blog today that it is once again going on “hiatus”! If he is being true to form, then it must be because of one of his “real jobs.” We know that his “real job” at WIL can’t be to blame this time, so what/who is the culprit now?

Brian Fraley has openly commented on his work for the virtual schools lobby and with Rose Fernandez in particular. Whether or not he eventually goes to work for her actual campaign, his actions supporting her recently should make things crystal clear. Any claim from Fraley or WIL about being “independent” are completely virtual and have no basis in reality.

UPDATE: Can someone say BINGO?

The part that is most problematic to me is that Fraley's email (as reported by the Capital Times) includes the following: "...she is worthy of your support." Independent groups and their agents cant "support" or "oppose" candidates. Based on today's announcement, it looks like he wont just be "supporting" the Fernandez Campaign now, but actually running it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

No Longer a Judge, But Still Getting Reversed

Way back in September of 2007 I blogged about how conservatives had to settle for “a D-List Judge with D-List Grades” to run against then-Justice Louis Butler. That blog focused on Michael Gableman and the frequency with which he had been reversed as Burnett County Judge. Even though Gableman no longer sits in that position, he apparently has not lost his propensity for rejection.

In November he asked the three-judge panel that is handling the ethics complaint against him to stop the Judicial Commission’s pursuit of the matter. Apparently he believes that the complaint interferes with his right to lie. The three-judge panel considering the ethics complaint dismissed his request on Tuesday. Even though he is no longer a circuit court judge, it looks like Michael Gableman is going to find new and creative ways to continue his tradition of being dismissed, over-ruled and otherwise “reversed”.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Big Biz Bandwagon on Paid Sick Days

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel jumped on the Big Biz bandwagon today railing against Milwaukee’s Paid Sick Days ordinance. They almost dedicated the entire editorial section to attacking the will of nearly 70 percent of Milwaukee voters. Naturally they also suggest that those voters are idiots and that they were somehow fooled into voting for paid sick days because of the wording of the referendum.

In the first of their two editorials attacking paid sick days, they completely and totally tow the corporate lobby line. They talk about “substantial legal questions” but these would be more accurately described as manufactured loopholes by high priced corporate lawyers. For the right fee, you could probably find someone to raise “substantial legal questions” about just about anything, but that does not make the argument legitimate or “substantial”.

The editorial board once again falls back on the centuries-old lie that if you ask big business to raise their minimum standards that it will result in lost jobs and a worse economy. Opponents use this familiar theme while rarely looking at the municipalities across the country that have already enacted similar policies. Clearly they have no interest in what happens in reality.

The first editorial goes on to comment that “sick pay is a great benefit – if employer and employee are free to negotiate the terms in a flexible way.” This comment truly reveals just how out of touch they are with many of the working poor in our community. If they are not represented by a union, many are not in a position to realistically “negotiate” about benefits with their employers. They desperately need their jobs and they have very little leverage and may even fear retribution for even asking.

A community of people have the right to decide on the minimum standards that they will accept. In an absolute landslide, the voters of the City of Milwaukee have established one such standard on November 4, 2008. They decided that no person working here should have to choose between a job and the health of their children. They decided that public health is an important priority and that it should not take a back seat to big business bottom lines, even if that big business is their hometown newspaper.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Schizophrenic MJS Can't Decide on Walker

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has treated County Executive Scott Walker with kid gloves for a very long time. The county infrastructure is falling down all around him and they can barely muster the courage to hold him accountable. There are so many ways that they have abdicated their responsibilities regarding Walker that it is almost pointless to make a list.

After universally being panned for refusing federal money for Milwaukee County, the MJS was actually able to critique Scott Walker. The humorous part of their editorial, at least for me, was how it began. The headline read "Just plain wrong" but then the very first sentence started, "Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker is right..." If nothing else, it encapsulates the paper's unhealthy love affair with the disaster on the third floor. Unhealthy and apparently a little schizophrenic.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Scott Walker Boards Crazy Train to Bankruptcy

At Governor Jim Doyle’s request, the Wisconsin Counties Association has asked all counties to quickly submit projects that might be funded by the coming federal stimulus plan. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is reporting that County Executive Scott Walker is refusing such federal assistance. The only possible explanation for such an irresponsible statement is that Walker is anticipating a primary in is never ending quest to be governor and is trying to score points with the most extreme elements of the Republican Party. As usual, Milwaukee County taxpayers take a back seat.

Apparently Scott Walker doesn’t know that Milwaukee County residents also pay federal taxes and that they deserve and expect a local return on their investment. The stimulus plan is going to happen, and the money will be distributed, if not to Milwaukee County then certainly to Waukesha and others who likely won’t refuse the cash.

Scott Walker doesn’t seem to understand how important a quality infrastructure can be to a community and a region. While he has been County Executive we have witnessed the crumbling of that very infrastructure in countless areas. This is detrimental to the individual taxpayer and also to the larger economic development of the county. If his 2009 budget’s elimination of the Economic Development Director position did not send the signal that he doesn’t really care about this stuff, then his current actions certainly make that point very clearly.

Another sign that he is pandering to the rabid right wing is that he once again is talking out of both sides of his mouth. Milwaukee County accepts federal funding every single day on a broad array of programs and services. Is Scott Walker really saying that this is all terrible and we should no longer accept it? Why does Milwaukee County still have a paid lobbyist working in Washington, D.C. if Scott Walker has some problem with bringing as much federal dollars back home as possible?

In the last Transportation and Public Works Committee meeting it was revealed that Scott Walker was planning on applying for a federal Small Starts grant to help fund his Bus Rapid Transit plan. That FEDERAL program could pay between 50 and 80 percent of the costs of that program, which would translate into some $25-40 million. If Scott Walker is suddenly so opposed to accepting federal help, why was he planning on asking for it himself just a short time ago?

Given his record, you have to question every decision that Walker makes and whether it is really about his never ending quest for higher office. This latest irresponsible comment is certainly no exception. Although Walker may be trying to get on a campaign bus to the governor’s office, he actually just boarded the crazy train to bankruptcy. Milwaukee County is the economic engine of the state and represents some 20 percent of its population and that unfortunately means that all of us could be in for one scary ride.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Bad Cop, Worse Cop and Crazy Cop

The Wisconsin State Journal is using space on its editorial page to plead with the state GOP. The editorial asks them not to “isolate” themselves now that they are so deservedly out of the majority. State Republicans could probably heed any random advice at this point and do better for their constituents than they have in the last number of years. Perhaps they are simply in total disarray right now, but it appears that their early strategy is a weird twist on a classic one. Rather than play the old “good cop, bad cop” they seem to be implementing a “bad cop, worse cop and crazy cop” strategy.

First you have Senate Republican leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) putting out a press release today sounding the same loser note that we hear every year, “cut, cut, cut!” Given the tough circumstances, difficult decisions will surely have to be made, but Fitzgerald does not approach the situation with any new ideas, just more right wing talking points and narrow ideology. His only solution appears to be cutting important programs, many of which are even more important now, because more people are in need.

Two of Fitzgerald’s outrages are very telling and so is the fact that he lists them first. Naturally, both are related to very powerful special interests. He bemoans the proposed Hospital Tax even though it is supported by the hospitals themselves and will at the very least pay for itself. He also takes time to advocate for the interests of Big Oil in opposing a proposed tax on their obscene profits. If Fitzgerald were really concerned about the average taxpayer’s burden, he wouldn’t trample them in his rush protect the powerful from paying their fair share. Scott Fitzgerald appears to be playing the role of “bad cop” right out of the gate.

Conveniently filling in the “worse cop” role is Scott’s brother, Representative Jeff Fitzgerald (R-Horicon). Just last week he commented to the Associated Press about the State’s budget challenge by saying, “I don't have to solve that problem. Obviously, that's the Democrats' problem." The Wisconsin State Journal was correct to point out his partisanship first approach to governing. This is how his party has managed all of the years that they have been in the majority, so it is certainly no surprise to see such a response from one of their key “leaders”. Unfortunately this kind of approach to such a challenging situation makes an already bad situation ten times worse.

Then you have the reliably “isolated” Senator Glenn Grothman chiming in by begging the federal government not to help the states. He says it as if he has a vested interest in total disaster for the People of Wisconsin. This is particularly galling because much of the situation that we find ourselves in is due to the market-tested failure of right wing policy. Now that the grown-ups are in charge, Glenn apparently doesn’t know how in the world to respond. Whatever his “reasoning,” his early reaction certainly fills the GOP role of “crazy cop.”

I don’t know if this is by design or by disorganized default, but the GOP reaction to governing is a disaster right out of the gate. That is not good for anyone, especially the hardworking people of the state who expect more from their elected officials.