Saturday, February 25, 2006

Praise the Lord and Pass the Nomination Papers?

So what happens when politicians start giving public money to churches and preachers? In a recent report by the IRS we find one answer, some of the churches and charities overstep into politics. This should be no surprise at all since the Bush Administration has blurred the lines between church and state with his “Faith Based Initiative”. I all but predicted this kind of result in my first report on the subject, “Is the Faith Based Initiative a Fraud?” I have also drawn attention to the fact that Congressman Mark Green had indicated that he will follow the Bush model.

Here are a few important excerpts about the IRS report:

IRS exams found nearly three out of four churches, charities and other civic groups suspected of having violated restraints on political activity in the 2004 election actually did so, the agency said Friday.

Most of the examinations that have concluded found only a single, isolated incidence of prohibited campaign activity.

In three cases, however, the IRS uncovered violations egregious enough to recommend revoking the groups' tax-exempt status.

The vast majority of charities and churches followed the law, but the examinations found a "disturbing" amount of political intervention in the 2004 elections, IRS Commissioner Mark Everson said.

"It's disturbing not because it's pervasive, but because it has the potential to really grow and have a very bad impact on the integrity of charities and churches," Everson said in an interview.

As I have already stated, Mark Green promises to bring a Wisconsin version of the “Faith Based Initiative” to Wisconsin if he is elected Governor. He has also been endorsed by Milwaukee Bishop Sedgwick Daniels. Sedgwick Daniels is featured on my blog in a long series of investigative reports starting with the aforementioned “Is the Faith Based Initiative a Fraud?”

In the run up to the 2004 presidential election several stories in the media pointed out the fact that Sedgwick seemed to be a reliable Democrat but then decided to endorse Bush. As we reported, Sedgwick applied for and received over $1.4 million in federal dollars for programs at his church for both 2003 and 2004. Sedgwick has since applied for and received additional federal funds for various programs. Did this money have anything to do with his apparent political turnaround? I don’t know the man’s heart, but for me it creates a terrible impression.

During the time of the above described events, Sedgwick had Bush over to his church repeatedly. He served as a delegate to the Republican National Convention and even was featured on a GOP flyer suggesting that you vote for Bush. Here take a look at the flyer for a moment. He appears to be wearing his pastoral robe and holding his Bible. I have only been in his church once but it appears that this photo may have even been taken in his church. Could this be considered the same kind of “overstepping” that the IRS has found abundant recently? I only ask the question, which I feel is still my right. I will allow readers and those smarter than myself to come to their own conclusions about that.

The bottom line is that when you blur the line between church and state, both of the vital institutions become tainted by each other. The trend that the IRS has found should be no surprise to anyone. Religious institutions have survived and even thrived without being mingled with the state. It is my opinion that we should allow government to do it’s job and the church to follow through with it’s mission. To mix the two will only create ethical doubts and cynicism regarding motives. If we truly value both institutions then this is something that we should avoid at all costs. Even if that cost is a few votes.

Friday, February 24, 2006

The Family Values Crowd Fails Average Families

Since the Republicans are in control of every branch of the federal government, they are responsible for everything as well. They keep talking about how great this economy is doing but for whom? When I look around at my own situation and that of the hard workers around me, times are very hard! Times are pretty good for those who are privileged. Corporations, the wealthy, and the entire investor class are having a grand-old-time. The average worker and American Family? Not so much. A Few Excerpts from yesterday’s report by the Federal reserve:

Average incomes after adjusting for inflation actually fell from 2001 to 2004, and the growth in net worth was the weakest in a decade, the Federal Reserve reported Thursday.

Top of Form
Average family incomes, after adjusting for inflation, fell to $70,700 in 2004, a drop of 2.3 percent when compared with 2001. That was the weakest showing since a decline of 11.3 percent from 1989 to 1992, a period that also covered a recession.

The average incomes had soared by 17.3 percent in the 1998-2001 period and 12.3 percent from 1995 to 1998 as the country enjoyed the longest economic expansion in history.

The median family income, the point where half the families made more and half made less, rose a tiny 1.6 percent to $43,200 in 2004 compared with 2001.
The median family net worth, the point where half the families owned more and half owned less, stood at $93,100 in 2004, a rise of 1.5 percent after adjusting for inflation from 2001.

The report showed that the slowdown in the accumulation of net worth would have been even more sizable except for the fact that homeowners have enjoyed big gains in the value of their homes in recent years.
The gap between the very wealthy and other income groups widened during the period.

The top 10 percent of households saw their net worth rise by 6.1 percent to an average of $3.11 million while the bottom 25 percent suffered a decline from a net worth in which their assets equaled their liabilities in 2001 to owing $1,400 more than their total assets in 2004.

"This is the continuing story of the rich getting richer," said David Wyss, chief economist at Standard & Poor's in New York. "Clearly, the gains in wealth are going to the top end."

So times are not so great for the average family huh? Then Governor Doyle tries to offer us some relief from record high heating bills and the Republican controlled state legislature stalls like we are asking them to sacrifice their first born? Those are some "family values" you have, when you clearly don't value the "average family."

Take Action Against Discrimination Today!

The Wisconsin State Assembly is set to vote on the Discrimination Against Gays Amendment on Tuesday. Please contact your legislator today! You can send a pre-written online message through Action Wisconsin or you can Find Your Legislator online and get their contact information. Wouldn’t it be nice to surprise everyone and stop this amendment before it ever reaches a ballot?

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Green Aides Mentioned in Jenson Trial, Green Not Taking Calls

Yesterday Eric Grant testified for the prosecution in the Scott Jenson (R-Town of Brookfield) trial. Mr. Grant was a graphic designer for the Republican Assembly from 1995 to 2000. According to a report today, he testified that “virtually 100%” of his work during the 1998 election cycle was on campaign materials. At the time of this work Scott Jenson was the Speaker and ran that house.

Although Congressman Mark Green pretends that he suffers amnesia, one of his senior aids in 1998 was mentioned in yesterday’s testimony. Eric Grant spoke about a specific form that was used at the time on which candidates, aides, and campaign managers had to list their requests of the designer along with deadlines and the name of a contact person. This from today’s story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Grant identified as campaign materials a list that included this notation: "Graul - 7/10 - Green stuff." That was a reference to Mark Graul, Green's campaign manager and a Green aide in the Legislature.

Green campaign spokesman Vernon said Graul was not available for comment Wednesday night.

Graul was Green’s aide when in the legislature, Chief of staff while in Congress, and now his campaign manager in his run for governor. Now we find out that Graul’s name shows up on the graphic designer’s records, yet Green knows nothing. According to this same Journal Sentinel story, Wednesday was “the second day in a row that Green did not take calls about the matter.” The silence is deafening.

Campaign Finance Questions for Scott Walker

We recently learned that Scott Walker’s campaign planned on hosting contributors at a Kohl Center suite in Madison. Questions were raised by Madison’s Channel 27 about who was sponsoring the campaign event. The Walker Campaign refused to reveal the identity of the donors involved. Channel 27 also reported that 35 of the 36 luxury suites at the Kohl Center are leased by corporations. This is of interest because Wisconsin law prohibits corporations from making direct or indirect contributions to political candidates. Channel 27 News is now reporting that the Walker Campaign has now dropped it’s plans of hosting contributors in the Kohl Center luxury suite.

This is only the latest in a series of campaign finance questions for Scott Walker and those that run his campaign. I personally feel that these are questions that deserve answers.

First let me deal with Tuesday’s Audit results of two awarded contracts that I raised. To refresh your recollection, I asked questions about two contracts that were awarded to a company whose executives contributed to Scott Walker. You may recall that one contract was a no-bid contract and the other was a very large contract awarded to the company while higher scoring companies got much smaller contracts.

I have not yet seen the details of this audit, but I intend to give the auditors the benefit of the doubt. I do not regret reporting on this issue, because these were legitimate questions that deserved definitive answers. Obviously I was not alone in wanting answers to my questions. The Finance and Audit Committee and a large majority of the County Board also wanted the answers. In addition, the Walker Campaign felt that the perception was significant enough that it gave back some of the contributions involved here. The remaining question for me is the following: Shouldn’t have someone at the Walker Campaign or in the administration found this before me?

It seems that I am not alone is asking questions of the Walker Campaign. Even in a very cursory look into his campaign finance records, one can see many instances of questions and incomplete reporting. Here are some examples just going back to 2004:

  • In a June 16, 2004 Milwaukee County Election Commission meeting the Scott Walker Campaign was on the Agenda. In this meeting it was mentioned that they were having “reoccurring problems with the reports” and that “if he (Mr. Hiller) could give us more information in the future, I won’t have to spend hours doing this follow-up.” It seems that the specific reoccurring problem was “vague explanations of the expenditures.”

  • In a letter from the Election Commission, dated June 25, 2004, the Walker Campaign is asked to answer a large laundry list of questions. Some of the issues were regarding missing entries for employers of contributors, incomplete name listings, and one entry where a contributor was listed as giving an “anonymous donation.” In the upper right corner of this letter, there is a hand written note that presumably the campaign would have answers to these questions by the end of the week. Then there is a note that the issues were still outstanding after the end of the week passed.

  • In a September 22, 2004 letter from the Election Commission, the Walker Campaign is asked to provide the proper amendments to the Commission by October 6, 2004. To which the Walker campaign asks for an extension of the filings until October 15, 2004.

  • Then in a letter dated December 1, 2004, the Commission sends another letter to the Walker Campaign. In this letter the Commission warns them that if the updated finance reports “are not filed in this office by Thursday, December 9, 2004 by 5:00pm., “ you will be called before a special meeting of the Commission.” Then in the lower left hand corner of the letter, there are hand written notes. The notes state that Chairman Haag extended the deadline to December 14, 2004 but that deadline was also missed.

  • The Scott Walker Campaign once again appears on another Milwaukee County Election Commission agenda for January 24, 2005.

  • He also appears on a special agenda dated April 28, 2005 regarding sending emails about his pension-borrowing plan. Also on the agenda for that date was a review of his use of campaign funds regarding the 2005 budget.

  • According to an August 8, 2005 letter from the Milwaukee County Election Commission, Walker’s Campaign failed to provide information that it promised to get to the Commission.

  • In early August of 2005, the state Election Board fined the Walker Campaign regarding campaign style calls it funded. According to the Board, the Campaign failed to disclose that it paid for the recorded phone calls.

Scott Walker has been a vocal critic of Governor Doyle’s campaign finances, almost single-handedly convicting him of everything under the sun. He is also the same guy that recently introduced his “ethics reforms.” So why this long list of campaign finance issues? This could all be one big list of coincidences or innocent mistakes, it could be utter incompetence by those surrounding Walker, or it could be something more. I don’t know, but given his history, someone should continue asking questions. Perhaps the first question could be asked by Scott Walker.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Cathy Stepp's Casting Call for DNR Haters

Outgoing State Senator Cathy Stepp (R-Yorkville) is a member of the Senate Select Committee on DNR Regulatory Reform. She has called for citizens to come and bitch about the DNR next Monday.

First, as an aside, let me just point out something. Does anyone else find it odd that we have a State Senator on this committee that is also a contractor/developer? Is it possible that Stepp has a natural dislike for the DNR? I don’t know this, but I’d sure like to know if any of those pesky DNR regulations ever cost Stepp’s business money. I’d also like to know if her company had ever been cited by the DNR for any violations. I don’t know this to be true but I think the possibility is worth looking into even if she is on her way out.

Anyway, so Stepp invites citizens to join in on this DNR bitch fest. Does this mean that people who appreciate the work of the DNR can’t come? Does this mean that I am not invited if I disagree with her apparent disgust with the Department? According to a recent piece in the Racine Journal Times, some pro-DNR groups and individuals feel like they get rail-roaded when they come to such events.

Rebecca Katers, who is pro-DNR and a member of the Clean Water Action Council of Northeast Wisconsin, attended one of the committee's public hearings in Green Bay on Jan. 10.

"They knew I was a local environmentalist, so they held my name until dead last," she said. "Their mind was made up."Katers said she signed up to speak at the beginning of the meeting, only to watch as Committee Chair State Sen. Alan Lasee, R-Rockland, walked up and down the auditorium rows, calling one DNR opponent after another to speak among the hearing's 100 attendees.

When it was all said and done, Katers spoke before a near-empty auditorium after 6½ hours of waiting."This was a clear manipulation of a public process. It was not honorable and it was not balanced," she said.

DNR policy adviser Paul Heinen, who has attended several of these hearings, said he's seen examples of what Katers went through in Green Bay."I've seen it at all the meetings I've went to. Pro-DNR people are cut off or forced to wait," he said. Heinen went on to say that while committee members call for complaints from area residents, "they certainly aren't sending out messages to people who like the DNR."

Immunize Yourself from GOP Spin on Malpractice!

Republicans in the state legislature are doing their best to protect big insurance companies again. Once again they are trying to limit the awards that victims of malpractice are allowed to collect. The cap that they had imposed in 1995 was struck down by the state Supreme Court as unconstitutional last July. Here are a few points to remember as they begin the spin cycle on this issue:

  1. This has nothing to do with frivolous lawsuits. People being awarded in these cases have had their day in court and have WON THEIR CASE!
  2. Please don’t claim that the caps will keep medical costs lower. We’ve had your caps for 10 years and Wisconsinites pay some of the most inflated medical costs in the country.
  3. Since the state Supreme Court struck down the original caps, there has not been the predicted flood of frivolous lawsuits.
  4. It is rare for a Wisconsin jury to actually award over $1 million for non-economic damages.
  5. There is more than enough money in the Patient’s Compensation fund to cover any of the few awards that do go over $1 million.

If an imposition of caps on these awards were part of a balanced approach, I think that we could have a meaningful discussion. For example, why don’t we hold some of the insurance companies accountable for gouging doctors? Why not make that a part of an overall package? If Republicans continue to only focus on caps as being the singular solution, then we will all know their true motivations. They only care to score political points and protect their big insurance contributors.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Green Bay Smackdown of John Gard

Last week we learned that Assembly Speaker John Gard was more interested in D.C. fundraising than in keeping Wisconsinites warm. It looks like others in the 8th Congressional District were less than thrilled with Gard’s time in D.C. This from the Green Bay Press Gazette:

So why are two candidates for the 8th District seat traveling to fundraisers in Washington, D.C., almost 700 miles away? It's certainly not because district voters are there. Or because people on the East Coast give a hoot about what goes on in Northeastern Wisconsin.

No, the stakes in this year's 8th District race have nothing to do with electing the best candidate to represent district residents. It's all about national politics and which political party will be in power when the November election is over.

That's why Republican hopeful John Gard, speaker of the state Assembly, was able to raise cash for his Wisconsin congressional campaign at a $1,000-a-plate Washington dinner. The high-end feed on Tuesday was at the Finemondo restaurant on F Street NW — within walking distance of the powerful K Street lobbyists and business trade associations that dump millions of dollars into federal elections to gain access to members of Congress. Some obviously think Gard has potential.

In fact, Vice President Dick Cheney will be in the Green Bay area in March to raise cash for Gard. It would be silly to believe Cheney cares about Northeastern Wisconsin. What he does care about is the Republicans holding onto the seat that Mark Green is vacating to run for governor.

In the piece Gard is quoted as saying that the 8th Congressional District race is the “centerpiece campaign in the nation.” Gard also says that “We call this Ground Zero in the battle for the house.” To which the Green Bay Press Gazette responds:

No, John, first and foremost this is an election to choose the most qualified person to represent more than 670,000 Wisconsin residents in the United States House of Representatives.

You mean that if he is elected, John Gard should be representing the people of the 8th District? But what about all of those poor and needy party bosses and K Street lobbyists? If Gard is elected, it looks like we can look forward to more of the same from that seat.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Official Wisconsin Recall of Bush Bologna

George W. Bush is visiting Milwaukee today. Looks like the guy pictured above is not the only one rejecting George Bush's agenda. As Xoff reported last week:
President Bush narrowly lost Wisconsin in 2000 and 2004, but when he comes to visit Badgerland on Monday he will find the populace is nowhere near 50-50, the latest SurveyUSA poll says.The Feb. 6 poll has his job approval rating at 38% positive and 59% negative, for a net of minus 21. Could be worse, though; in Rhode Island it's 25-72, a 47 point gap.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Budget Cut Suggestion for Mark Green

Since Congressman Mark Green enjoys cutting programs like student loans, Medicaid, Medicare, and others, I have a suggestion for the next round of cuts. How about cutting the recently reported $1.6 BILLION that the Bush Administration has spent on propaganda? This from Adweek:

The Bush administration spent $1.4 billion in taxpayer dollars on 137 contracts with advertising agencies over the past two-and-a-half years, according to a Government Accountability Office report released by House Democrats Monday.

The story goes on to report that Bush spent $1.1 BILLION just to spin us on his war with Sadaam. If you are so sure that your taking us to war with a country that had nothing to do with 911 then why the need for the propaganda? I can thing of 100 different places to spend that money which would actually make the everyday lives of Americans much more tolerable. No, Mark Green and the rest of the neo-cons would rather spend BILLIONS propagandizing our own people.

This is not that surprising since this is the same administration that paid conservative commentator Armstrong Williams $250,000 to whore himself for the “no-child left behind” fiasco. As most of us know, this was not an isolated case. The insecure Bush Administration has bought more media whores (no I’m not referring to Jeff Gannon/Guckert) with our hard earned tax dollars.

In a recent editorial, the National Catholic Reporter proclaims that a budget is not just a financial issue but a moral one as well. In the piece, they refer to a proposed Bush cut in childcare for low and moderate income families of $1 BILLION dollars.

How strange are the priorities when we will spend $1.1 BILLION on propagandizing our own citizens into a unnecessary war, but cut nearly the same amount from caring for the most vulnerable?

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Believe Their Actions, Not Their Words

In his state of the state address, Governor Doyle asked for a special session to address helping families with their heating bills. The Governor wanted to use $6 million in extra funds to help more working families this year. Families of 4 that earn under $40,000 could get between $200 and $300 a piece to offset the drastic rise in heating costs.

The session was held earlier this week but only a couple of Republicans showed up. Rather than act quickly on the Doyle proposal, the Republican led legislature decided to postpone discussion on the issue. I personally believe that this is simply a stalling tactic. They say that they will address the heating assistance issue next week. Some of them are actually complaining that the Doyle proposal helps too many people. If they are really willing to discuss this issue next week, what are the chances of any relief before winter is all but over?

Are Republicans in the legislature so out of touch with working families that they do not realize what a help this aid would be? Perhaps they were simply busy with things that they considered more important. For example, we know that Assembly Speaker John Gard (R-Peshtigo) was busy during this time in Washington D.C. What was he doing in D.C. that could be more important than helping working Wisconsinite families? Raising money for his run for Congress of course! Yes that cold and calculating John Gard was wining and dining D.C. big shots at Finemondo, an expensive downtown D.C. restaurant. So while he’s balking at immediate help to working families back home, he’s playing fancy pants at his $1,000 a plate shindig.

Gard is not the only one that can be cold and calculating. So can Wisconsin voters. Particularly the working types that are struggling to pay extra high heating bills this winter. We may be left in the cold this winter, but these Republican legislators may be left in the cold on Election Day.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Scott Walker’s Scary Use of Phantom Money

Once again Scott Walker’s leadership has brought us a huge parks deficit. It seems that 101 excuses have been given for why this has happened. Try to ignore this diversionary tactic and let’s keep it simple.

Take a look at a side by side comparison of the Parks budgets from 2004 to the present. In the 2005 budget the Walker Administration cut the tax levy supported portion of the Parks budget by over $2.8 million. He then added a whopping $3.4 million to the total revenues. What great thing happened in 2005 that justified such a jump in money coming in? Nothing, it’s just a shell game. It seems that he was hoping to hide his cut to the Parks Department by over inflating the revenue numbers. So when the inflated revenues didn’t come in, his drastic cut is revealed in the form of a $2.3 million deficit.

Think about it in everyday language. Pick an item from your family budget, auto maintenance for example. Let’s say that you spend $1,200 a year on maintaining your car. You decide that you don’t want to spend that much in real money so you cut that budget item to only $200 a year. Now say that you don’t want anyone to easily notice that you drastically made this cut to auto maintenance. So you just dream up some scenario where somehow your car starts bringing in a huge amount of money. Who knows how this happens and who cares, it makes your budget look nice on paper! This is not real money, it is simply a wild prediction. Now you use this wild prediction to replace the real money that you just cut from your auto maintenance for the year. BUT when those chickens come home to roost and your car doesn’t magically bring in that huge amount of money, you either don’t take care of your car or you run a personal deficit. Tada! Welcome to the wonderful world of a Walker budget!

It appears that the Parks Department did do better in 2005 in terms of bringing in revenue. But it was only enough to lower the probable deficit from $2.8 million to the $2.3 million one that we now have.

Scott Walker’s line has been that he would not allow an increase in property taxes. Since he has his eyes on higher office, he can’t allow that to happen for any reason. So even if he must cut real money from the budget and replace it with phantom money, so be it. When the fake money disappears he can just blame someone else and allow the shell game to continue. Let’s hope that voters will look beyond the spin and buck passing. Let’s hope that they look at Scott Walker and ask one question. If his political aspirations lead him to do this to Milwaukee County’s budget, what will happen to the state budget under his control? Scary thought.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

ACE Finally Drags Gard to the Negotiating Table

There is a false perception out there concerning school vouchers and Governor Doyle’s position. We can thank talk radio, deceptive commercials and spinning Republican press releases for that. Governor Doyle has never stated that he wanted to eliminate the school choice program. I defy any lurking conservative to direct me to that quote. Another important point to remember, is that the current cap of 15,000 students in the school choice program was a Tommy Thompson era cap. This is not Doyle’s cap and I don’t recall Scott McCallum ever raising or totally lifting that cap. Was he also "standing in the schoolhouse door?"

All reports that I have seen, show that Doyle has wanted to increase the amount of students in the school choice program. He has also wanted to impose some sort of accountability so that we can ensure that the students are getting a good education. I will never understand why that appears to be such a crime to Republicans. Doyle initially suggested increasing the program by 3,000 students. What is the Republican response to a reasonable offer? Assembly Speaker John Gard (R-Peshtigo) has all but said he will not accept anything but a total elimination of that cap. He must have failed Negotiations 101 since I thought that a key in that class was that BOTH sides concede a little and try to meet in the middle.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports today that Doyle met with Gard and other school choice advocates yesterday. It appears that Doyle (ONCE AGAIN) is the one trying to negotiate in good faith. The story reports that he is now willing to increase the program by 5,000 students. The story also reveals that Gard may actually be willing to finally compromise. It appears that he may be willing to give up his all or nothing approach to this issue and settle on an increase of 10,000. Gard’s sudden desire to compromise might be because a key choice proponent (ACE) has said that it would drop it’s advocacy for a total removal of the caps in exchange for an increase of 10,000.

There does appear to be some confusion as to whether the Governor has committed to the 10,000 student increase. ACE believes that he did make this promise based on second and third hand information. Doyle’s spokesperson states that the Governor has not made that offer to anyone. In any case, Governor Doyle has been clearly negotiating in good faith all along.

It seems that when ACE advised John Gard that it would support the 10,000 student increase, that he finally decided to give up his all or nothing approach. Let’s hope that ACE continues to be a reasonable voice in these negotiations. Republicans want all or nothing on this issue so that they can use it against Doyle politically. If the goal is really to increase the choice program, then I hope that ACE will continue to negotiate in good faith, thus forcing Republicans to do the same. Doyle has increased his offer at least twice at this point. He has shown willingness to resolve this issue. If ACE is willing to negotiate between the 5,000 and 10,000 student figures, there is a very good chance that everyone can benefit.

Friday, February 10, 2006

The Tale of Two Agendas

Try to forget all of the neo-con talk and Republican spinning. Who is dealing with the issues that matter most in your everyday life? Really take a look at some of the issues side by side.

Governor Doyle: Wants to hold a special session to expand heating assistance to more Wisconsinites that are struggling with their bills.

GOP Controlled Legislature: They can’t bring themselves to call for the special session.

Governor Doyle: Announces $3 million in tax credits for Quad Graphics, creating 750 new jobs. Announces $3.5 million in incentives for Bucyrus Erie creating 150 jobs and keeping the company in South Milwaukee.

GOP Controlled Legislature: Force a Constitutional Amendment discriminating against gay and lesbian families in Wisconsin.

Governor Doyle: The Medicare Prescription Drug benefit almost eliminated Wisconsin’s often superior SeniorCare. When the same Medicare program left many poor elderly Wisconsinites without much needed medication. Doyle made sure that the state covered them until the Feds were able to fix the glitches.

Republican Mark Green: Voted for the Medicare prescription drug program that cause all of these problems for Wisconsin Seniors.

Governor Doyle: He wants to create a new refundable income tax credit for full-time working families so they aren't forced to live below the poverty line.

GOP Controlled Legislature: Crafts and re-crafts legislation encouraging every man women and child to carry a concealed weapon.

Governor Doyle: He wants to guarantee a full financial aid package for tuition and fees at a University of Wisconsin school for students who maintain a B average in high school.

Republican Mark Green: Votes for a budget that drastically cuts student aid while giving more tax cuts to the rich.

These are only a few examples of how Doyle’s agenda has a positive impact on the everyday lives of working Wisconsinites. The GOP agenda is all spin on wedge political issues with no substance. When they do act on substantive issues it seems to always benefit corporations and the extremely rich. Before you vote for another Republican in Wisconsin, ask “what have they done for ME lately?” If you are an average working Wisconsinite, the answer is ZERO.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Breaking With Bush: The Pigs Fly Edition

For a long time I have thought that Wisconsin Republicans in Congress will never deviate from the radical course set by Bush and other GOP bosses. I have had good reason to think this due to their lockstep voting, even when it harms Wisconsinites. Perhaps it is because we are in an election year, or maybe they have even had a crisis of conscience, but they are starting to deviate.

In Bush’s recent budget proposals he plans on increasing taxes on dairy producers. Not a very popular idea in the Dairy State is it? Perhaps that is what finally gave Congressman Mark Green the courage to disagree with Bush on something . Green put out a short press release earlier this week saying that the Bush plan was a “terrible idea” and that he would do everything he could to “defeat it.” Now all we need is for Green to take a stand against the Bush attacks on Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and student loans. Or is that asking for too much?

Now we have also found out that F. Jim Sensenbrenner sent a 14 page letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. F. Jim, the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, sent over 50 questions in the letter regarding the administration’s eavesdropping on American citizens without warrants. F. Jim has been rather sheepish about the entire ordeal but apparently has been forced into action by a very vocal and bipartisan outrage. Many have pointed to the Senate Judiciary Committee and their hearings on the matter only to hear crickets on the House side. Today’s Journal Sentinel says that F. Jim is often dismissive of arguments against the eavesdropping in his letter. At the same time he asks Gonzales to respond to the questions by early next month. Could this actually be the first time we are seeing what appears to be oversight by F. Jim? Amazing!

There has been nothing but lockstep voting and lack of oversight with these Republicans. Why the sudden trend to question or even “defeat” Bush proposals and plans? Is it because they are facing elections this year? Is it because Bush’s approval ratings are pretty low? Are even these textbook loyalists becoming uncomfortable with the extreme Bush agenda? Whatever their true reasoning, we should all be happy that critical thinking MAY be replacing blind loyalty. That can only be good for all of us.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Double Trouble for Green in Journal Sentinel

If Congressman Mark Green is trying to make a play in Milwaukee in the race for governor, he can’t be happy about today’s Journal Sentinel. Granted they are not front-page headlines, but there are two separate references to him that are less than flattering.

Regarding legislative aides campaigning on state time in the 1990’s:
Green, who couldn't be reached Friday, said this week that he, too, did not know what campaign work staffers for the Assembly Republican Caucus were doing.

"I just didn't have that sort of involvement," Green said.

Green, of Green Bay, was in a leadership post at the time, serving as caucus chairman for the Assembly Republicans.

Then at the end of the Spivak and Bice column today, they include the following:
What motivated U.S. Rep Mark Green to cast his vote last week for Ohio Rep. John Boehner - love or money?

Green, a Republican candidate for governor, backed Boehner over two other candidates for majority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives. On the second ballot, Boehner narrowly defeated Missouri Rep. Roy Blunt, who had been the front-runner and former Majority Leader Tom DeLay's choice.

In interviews, Green said he went with Boehner on both secret ballots because he wanted a change at the top.

What the Green Bay Republican didn't say was that he has been the recipient of more than $35,000 in campaign donations since 1998 from the Freedom Project, a political action fund led by Boehner. Green's most recent contribution from the group was $5,000 in September 2003.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Can I Have a Cappuccino with that Green Space?

It has been my personal opinion since 2002 that Scott Walker was only using the position of Milwaukee County Executive as a political stepping stone before running for governor. Does anyone else remember how that argument was dismissed when he first ran? Yet that is exactly what happened. Perhaps that is why he seems to act on issues that will only solve rather short term problems. Trying to solve Milwaukee County's long term problems would require too much sacrifice, and could cost him and his political aspirations.

The latest example of this was in yesterday's school choice rally...oh excuse me, Walker for Governor event....oh my...I meant to say the state of the county address. What is the big solution that Scott Walker has for the troubled parks department and county at large? He wants a caramel apple latte. What? According to the story in today's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, it appears that Scott Walker's most immediate goal is to bring private companies into our parks. Coffee shops was the most prominent example in the story. Again here he goes with the privatization solves everything mantra. Tell that to the person that just donated $150,000 to Whitnall Park's visitor center to keep it afloat. That project was a collaboration between the County and a private group, which has run into financial problems. This is only one example of how privatizing everything is not always best.

According to the story, Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic believes that this is "the beginning of privatization of the parks." Commenting on private companies eyeing a park in her district, she also termed this kind of thing "pimping off the parks system." Although I don't think that private partnership is always wrong, I think that Supervisor Dimitrijevic is correct in her assessment in this case. I think that Walker has one hell of a mess on his hands while he is trying to convince voters in the state that he should be Governor. He seems to be looking for any short term band aid solution so that he can just squeeze by till his exit to Madison (god forbid) or the private sector (he did promise not to run past 2008 didn't he?).

I have an idea for Scott Walker. While we are starting to sell off the parks system, why don't we make sure you go out in style? Let's start selling naming rights to the parks and other county assets! WE Energies Park, the SBC House of Correction, or how about the Artisan Partners Courthouse? Those all have a nice ring to them don't they? Then you could put a very nice temporary band aid on the county's financial problems and forget the long term substantive issues. All of this while you ride off into the sunset, warm cup of java in your hand, leaving the rest of us to make the tough decisions.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Look For Feingold to Blast Alberto Today

The Senate Judiciary Committee is set to hear from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales today regarding the administration conducting warrantless domestic spying. I am hoping that I can listen to the testimony today. In particular, I am interested in hearing Senator Russ Feingold’s questions of the Attorney General. It was Feingold that pressed Gonzales on this very issue during his confirmation hearing.

During that January 6, 2005 hearing Feingold asked specifically if the President has the authority to “authorize violations of the criminal law when they are duly enacted statutes simply because he is commander in chief.” Gonzales clearly tried to duck the question by saying that it was “hypothetical”. Although it must have been like pulling teeth, Gonzales finally stated, “it’s not the policy or the agenda of this President to authorize actions that would be in contravention of our criminal statutes.” Now we know that at that very time of his confirmation hearing, Gonzales knew that the President was authorizing this illegal spying on American citizens.

Near the end of last year’s Feingold/Gonzales exchange, Russ asked the Attorney General if he would “commit to notify Congress if the president makes this type of decision and not wait two years until a memo is leaked about it.” To that Gonzales responded, “I will commit to advise the Congress as soon as I legally can, yes, sir.”

Can someone explain to me why Gonzales cannot be charged with lying to Congress for these things? He clearly knew about the domestic spying that Bush had authorized, yet at the same time he said that it was not the President’s policy to “authorize actions that would be in contravention of our criminal statutes.” The FISA law is very clear. No domestic spying without warrants. They conducted operations without these warrants. That is in “contravention to our criminal statutes.” Gonzales knew that they were doing this at the time of his testimony and in my opinion lied to Congress.

Feingold really called this one. In hindsight, he asked all of the right questions. Senator Feingold has since sent a letter to the Attorney General about his apparent “contradictions” in which he asks Gonzales to be prepared for some very tough questions.
There is no one better to press the Attorney General and this Administration. Give him hell Russ!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Scott Walker Welcomed an Audit... Now He Gets One.

As we reported last week, Milwaukee County Supervisor John Weishan suggested that the Finance and Audit Committee authorize a formal audit of two contracts that were awarded in 2004 to Phoenix Care Systems/Bell Therapy. Two executives with this company have also been frequent contributors to Milwaukee County Executive and candidate for governor Scott Walker. We first raised questions about these two contracts in our post, "Contract Questions for Scott Walker." A few weeks after we posted that report the AP picked up part of the story, while the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ignored it.

As frequent readers will recall, in the aforementioned post we included copies of scoring sheets. This was called "competitive bidding" in a letter that we received from the Behavioral Health Division. Although Bell Therapy scored much lower than several other agencies, they did get the large contract. Some have tried to dismiss our questions because some of the higher scoring companies were also awarded contracts that year (2004). That is true, BUT they were awarded much smaller contracts. Why would the lower scoring company get the higher paying contract?

The other contract in question was a no-bid contract given to Bell Therapy/Phoenix Care Systems. This is the contract that the AP story addressed. The AP also confirmed in that story that Scott Walker personally signed off on that contract. There was an attempt to justify the contract because it was an emergency situation, but the AP demonstrated that one of the higher scoring competitors could have met that need also. So why no-bid? Why not choose the higher scoring company?

In last week's Finance and Audit Committee meeting, John Weishan's proposal to audit these contracts was approved by a vote of 4-3. It has been said that those who voted "no" in this meeting were concerned that having an audit would suggest that someone did something wrong. Let me address this issue. I don't believe that I have ever accused anyone of breaking any laws. I have only made public what I feel are contracts that should be questioned and looked at closer.
I have also said that since many are looking into contract questions for Gov. Doyle, that they should also look into these questions.

Today the full County Board voted on this recommendation from the Finance and Audit Committee. They overwhelmingly voted for the audit as only a handful of supervisors voted against it. I understand that one of the supervisors that did not want the audit stated that it should not be given because (at least in part) it first surfaced on "a blog." This makes me wonder that if I posted that the sky was blue that someone would discount that assessment simply because it was found on a blog.

In any case, Scott Walker said that he "welcomed" the audit and now he will get it. The audit will be led by County Auditor Jerry Herr who has been working at the county for a long time. He does not work for and is not accountable to Scott Walker, so there does not appear to be any conflicts of interest. From what I hear, he is a trusted man and I am happy that he is going to look into this matter. Perhaps this will turn out to be one big coincidence or perhaps will turn out to be something more. I will wait for the results with everyone else.

Gee, I wonder if the Journal Sentinel will report on this now....I'll check the paper first thing tomorrow morning.

Who Really Speaks for YOU in Congress?

Forget all party affiliations and loyalties and just answer these questions:

Do you have kids in college?
Do they have student loans?
Would it help you or them if the interest rates go up?
Do you believe that our country is a “Christian nation”?
Do you believe in the Christian value of aiding the poor, sick, and fatherless?
Do you think the burden of reducing our national debt is a responsibility for all citizens?

All recent polls show that this Republican led Congress has very low ratings in the eyes of the public. If questions like the ones above were answered honestly, those ratings would be even lower.

Yesterday the House of Representatives passed a measure to cut more programs that help regular Americans. Under this measure, college students would pay more in interest rates, poor people and seniors would have to come up with more to pay for medical bills, and getting deadbeat parents to pay for their kids is no longer a priority. All of this in the name of debt reduction, while at the same time advocating more irresponsible tax cuts that vastly favor the super rich.

If the real goal was to reduce debt, then why not make everyone pay their fair share? Why do they require those who are struggling the most to also carry most of the burden? What burden have the super wealthy paid under this Republican led Congress?

How long will the masses keep voting against their own best economic interests? Here is a case in point. Some cotton farmers will take a big hit in this proposal. Most cotton farmers are in red states that reflexively vote Republican. Why would you do that when you now see what they have done to you? They have made your life more difficult while they hand out cash to the richest of the rich.

Wisconsin Republicans in Congress once again voted in lockstep obedience to their political and corporate bosses. In the mean time they will come back to Wisconsin and ask the “peasants” for their votes. The longer that this scam goes unnoticed, the further the average person will fall into a big black neo-con dug hole. When you hit the bottom just remember to thank Green, Ryan, Sensenbrenner, and Petri.

"My Checkbook is Bigger than Your Checkbook!"

This week the candidates running in the GOP primary for Attorney General began a press release war. Was it a back and forth about some grand legal policy? No. Was it about plans for improving law enforcement in the state? Nope. How about consumer protection, was it about that? Not really. It was an argument over who had the larger checkbook.

Paul Bucher put out a press release on Tuesday entitled, “Bucher has three times more money; Van Hollen Campaign Runs in the Red.” In the press release he elaborated as follows:

New figures revealed today that Attorney General candidate J.B. Van Hollen has only $44,161 cash-on-hand, raising serious questions about Van Hollen’s continuing viability as a statewide candidate, according to electronic filings posted by the State Elections Board Wednesday.

In addition, Van Hollen spent almost $40,000 more than he raised in the last six-month campaign finance reporting period, according to documents his campaign filed with the State Elections board show.

Then Van Hollen shot back at Bucher with his own press release yesterday saying:

Attorney General candidate and former U.S. Attorney JB Van Hollen believes in telling the truth. So he's clarifying misconceptions regarding fundraising totals between the two Republican candidates for attorney general.

On January 31, 2006, Van Hollen's primary opponent, Paul Bucher, issued a misleading statement saying they "raised nearly $248,000" by the December 31st filing deadline and they raised "$124,959" and "$25,000 more in the period" than the Van Hollen campaign. Bucher further alleges the Van Hollen campaign is having financial difficulty.

These statements are not accurate. Furthermore, finance reports filed with the State Elections Board indicates that roughly $55,000 of the funds Bucher claims to have raised is nothing more than a personal loan to the campaign and were not contributions from individual donors. Van Hollen said he was disappointed in Bucher for intentionally misleading the media and voters.

“When you’re running to be the state’s top cop I think it’s important to shoot straight. Issuing misleading statements is not the kind of leadership we need in the office of attorney general,” Van Hollen said. “I’m proud that people have put more faith in my campaign and we actually raised the more in donations than my opponent.”

Doesn’t this sound like that childhood argument over who has the bigger dad? I can envision it now. Little Paulie Bucher and JB on the school playground.

Paulie: “my daddy is bigger than your daddy.”

JB: “No he’s not, my daddy is bigger than your daddy.”

Paulie: “Oh yeah, well our checkbook is bigger than yours.”

JB: “No it’s not, our checkbook is bigger than yours!”

Paulie: “Well, your in financial trouble!”

JB: “I know you are but what am I?”

As this 3rd grade drama unfolds, the adults running for Attorney General are talking about real issues that matter in the every day lives of voters.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Pardon Me Paul Ryan, Could You Spare $25,000?

Does anyone remember all of the excuses that Congressman Paul Ryan gave for not giving back the tainted money that Tom Delay gave him. Well, since his arguments kept changing and many of them were found to be completely inaccurate, I thought that perhaps he just REALLY REALLY needed the money. Over the weekend I found out that my assumption was wrong. It was actually reported that he has more money in the bank than any other candidate (that is not running for statewide office). He has over a cool $1.5 million! Wow, you don’t sound like a charity case Paul. That amount actually rivals Senator Herb Kohl ($1.7 million) and he has to cover the entire state. Over $329,000 of Ryan’s money came from Political Action Committees according to the weekend source.

Since today seems to be “Write a Letter to an Elected Official Day” on my blog, I’d like to direct a few questions to Paul. Your closest opponent in terms of cash only has just over $1,000. You are running in one Congressional District where many say that you are a slam dunk to win (for the life of me I can’t figure out why). So honestly, why do you need that kind of cash? Planning on making a move upward sometime soon? Feeling insecure because of your voting against the best interests of most in your district? If your answer is no to all of these, then I suggest you do the noble thing and get rid of the tainted Delay cash. It’s not that Delay is already guilty, that is not the point. It is the very APPEARANCE of the matter. Come on, you could even do a good deed with the money (like donating to the keep Cory out of Bankruptcy and Foreclosure Fund).

Well, I have given it my best effort. I can only say that if you still refuse to get rid of the tainted Delay money, then I really doubt what kind of representative you are. I think that you should expect your constituents to do the same.

Dear Senator Herb Kohl...

Dear Senator Kohl,

As I made an attempt to watch the State of the Union speech last night, I happened to notice a new face sitting with the other justices of the Supreme Court. Samuel Alito. Now please understand that I like you...I really do like you. greatly disappointed me in that you did not support the attempt to filibuster this nomination.

Now I'm assuming that since you voted twice against Alito's confirmation, that you realize that we are dealing with a very ideologically extreme person. There is his belief in the "unitary executive" theory which would bestow king-like powers to the president. It would also weaken the other branches of government. He almost always has dissented from the majority opinion, even disagreeing with clearly conservative justices. That means that he is extreme. He also seems to always rule against the average citizen in favor of the big corporations or the big government. Then again, I don't think that I have to tell you any of this information. Obviously you agree, he would be bad for the court and bad for the country.

This leads me to a big question. Why not support other Dems and vote to support the filibuster? I hope that this was not some cynically political calculation. You don't even have a legitimate candidate opposing you yet (with less than a year before the election). You have much more money than any of those that have been mentioned as possible challengers. You can't be accused of being an obstructionist because you did vote for Chief Justice Roberts. So what's the problem? Waiting for a more serious situation to filibuster? Sorry this was THAT situation.

Many Democrats are really upset with you right now. Many are talking about voting for someone else. Some suggest finding a primary opponent for you. I personally think that you are unbeatable at this point and such an action might be a valid symbol of protest.

I think that Bush and the neo-cons are big insecure bullies. Did you ever get bullied when you were young Senator? I did. The best way to deal with a bully is to stand up to him. Neither you nor your party will ever garner the respect that you deserve if you don't stand up for what you purport to believe. You and some of your colleagues had a chance this week. A chance that was wasted in a moment of weakness. I hate to be the one to tell you this, but citizens have their responsibilities also. Thanks for your time Senator.

Cory Liebmann