Thursday, December 29, 2011

Meet Judge J. Mac Davis

As we all know, Scott Walker's campaign filed a frivolous lawsuit against the Government Accountability Board because they opted to actually follow the law. Apparently Scott Walker's campaign wanted them to do their work for them and at taxpayer's expense. So thanks to a new court shopping law passed by the radical majority in the state legislature, Walker's campaign filed suit against GAB in the most Republican county in the state, Waukesha.

Lisa Mux at Blogging Blue gave us a good report on what transpired in the courtroom today. What stood out to me most was Lisa's descriptions of the judge in the case, J. Mac Davis. At this point it seems prudent to provide some of the following background information on Judge Davis.
  • Son of a former Republican Congressman
  • Republican State Senator (1982-1990)
  • Ranking Republican on the Joint Finance Committee for 5 years
  • Unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 1996. He lost in the Republican primary to Tom Reynolds (yes, that Tom Reynolds)
  • Testified for former Speaker Scott Jensen, during his first criminal trial
  • At the end of George W. Bush's last term Davis was nominated to the Western District of Wisconsin bench but was never confirmed

Now don't get it twisted. I'm not saying that a judge with this kind of long partisan background can't make a sound legal decision. But I am wondering what kind of pressures he will face with such a politically charged case in a totally toxic environment. But just in case Judge Davis decides to go all Republican activist on us, (maybe he has already) I just thought that you should at least meet him first.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

(Reality) Check Yourself

Prior to Wisconsin passing a free-for-all concealed carry law, proponents constantly used the same shtick. Whenever there was a report of a crime anywhere, they would make the inevitable and overly simplistic comment that it never would have happened if we had concealed carry in Wisconsin. I'm wondering what these same people will say when crimes continue to occur now that Wisconsin does allow the legal carrying of hidden handguns. If their past arguments carried an ounce of weight, we should see a dramatic drop in crime because now criminals are suddenly rational and are they are cowering in a corner somewhere. The entire "if we only had concealed carry" argument is built mostly on faulty assumptions and pure fantasy.

The first assumption is that the person carrying the concealed weapon actually knows how to use it. The Wisconsin concealed carry law originally required at least four measly hours of training. However when the gun lobby cried about it, the requirement was quickly tossed. Now there is no real requirement that you even know what you are doing with a gun.

A firearms trainer from Wisconsin recently shot himself in the leg. And he was in a controlled environment on a firing range not trying to quickly engage a criminal. Then there was the recent story about a veteran police officer in a mall that accidentally fired his gun. This is someone with decades of experience and intense training yet the public is supposed to feel safe with a bunch of newly armed know-nothings?

Although there seems to be a lot of fantasies about people carrying concealed weapons and using them to stop crimes, there doesn't seem to be a lot of data to back it up. For example, there were over 1.3 million violent crimes (13,000+ of them were murders) in 2009 but only 215 of them ended with the criminal being killed by a private citizen using a firearm. As much as some people replay the scenario in their own imagination, it just doesn't seem to happen very often in reality. In fact one study suggests that you are 4.5 times more likely to be shot in an assault if you are armed than if you don't have a gun.

It is important to realize that being in the middle of a violent crime in progress is not going to play out like a scene from a movie. In the tragic shooting of Gabrielle Giffords and others in Arizona, the scene was absolute chaos. In fact one of the legitimate heroes was armed but his handgun very nearly became a horrible liability. He admitted that when he first came on the scene that he was very close to shooting the wrong person. He saw a man with a gun and didn't realize that it was an unarmed bystander that had just wrestled the gun away from the actual shooter. Eventually he decided not to pull his gun because he worried that some other armed person might make the same mistake and shoot him. Thank goodness that none of that happened during the terror and chaos. But the example should certainly teach us a few sober lessons.

Some people also insist that they are safer because they have a full arsenal in their homes but that also doesn't always turn out as imagined. In fact sometimes that can make you even more of a target. Just last month a criminal targeted a man in Hudson, Wisconsin. He kicked open the door and had his gun on the victim before he could even get to his multiple guns, brass knuckles, butterfly knife and an "electric weapon". In fact the armed intruder tied him up and stole both his money and his household weapons.

A vocal minority in Wisconsin continues to celebrate the careless and deeply flawed pieces of gun legislation that passed the state legislature this year. While they are rushing to fully arm themselves I hope that they also take a moment to assess the actual facts. I also hope that they are operating on careful reality rather than on some romanticized idea of what it means to carry a deadly weapon and (God forbid) to actually use it.

This post is written as part of the Media Matters Gun Facts fellowship. The purpose of the fellowship is to further Media Matters' mission to comprehensively monitor, analyze, and correct conservative misinformation in the U.S. media. Some of the worst misinformation occurs around the issue of guns, gun violence, and extremism, the fellowship program is designed to fight this misinformation with facts.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Is Walker History Repeating Itself at Dodge?

The Fond du Lac Reporter is drawing attention to the alarming increase in prisoner attacks on guards at the Dodge Correctional Institute in Waupun. Union officials are saying that it is at least partially due to a combination of low morale, unfilled vacancies and an exodus of experienced staff. Marty Beil, executive director for AFSCME Council 24 offered the following observation:

Working in a prison is not an easy setting even at the best of times, and now with the morale and vacancy levels being where they're at, it becomes a much more difficult place to be. You’ve got long-term correctional officers moving out and less seasoned officers moving in. The inmates understand what’s going on and see the changes. This is already a manipulative environment, and this just enhances that

A spokesperson for the Department of Corrections comments that "there is no staff shortage" and that "all posts are being covered with regular staff or staff on overtime." (keep track of the word "overtime" below)

This phenomena shouldn't really be a surprise to anyone that watched Scott Walker's train wreck of an administration in Milwaukee County. This current story in fact seems to be perfectly consistent with it. Consider some of the following from his failed administration of the Milwaukee County House of Correction:

But wait! That isn't the only situation that parallels the Dodge Correctional issue. There was a similar Walker pattern at the Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex.

So when I now hear about increased attacks on workers at Dodge, low morale coupled with high overtime and 37 unfilled positions at the facility, I can't help seeing a very long pattern being continued. I also can't help but remember Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett's words in at least one of his debates with Scott Walker. In it he said (paraphrased), "If you can't run your own House of Correction, how are you going to run the state's Department of Corrections?" It was a great point then and it turns out to be a very relevant question now. I think that we are unfortunately starting to see the clear and most unfortunate answer.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Smear Machine Mission Accomplished

Two weeks ago right wing front group Media Trackers made wild accusations against Senator Lena Taylor for which they provided no real evidence. Most informed observers instantly approached it with extreme caution. Unfortunately too many divisions of Journal Communications Inc apparently didn't see that clear fact and they ran with the story. To their credit, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is reporting today that the primary point of Media Tracker's smear against Senator Taylor was not accurate after all.

This and other recent examples of Media Tracker's false claims reveals that they are all about smearing the opposition and getting negative stories in the media about their political opponents. It seems clear that they have no concern for facts or reality as long as they accomplish those goals. You can really see how this pattern played out in the baseless smear against Senator Taylor.
  • They played some twisted version of "Six Degrees of Separation" by trying to somehow link the Senator to voters that temporarily lived at her mother's ministry to the homeless.
  • They found one homeless guest at the ministry that had a felony on their record and that voted in the spring elections.
  • They rushed to promote the smear on Senator Taylor, feeding it to their friends at Journal Communications Inc without taking the time to confirm that the man in question wasn't actually eligible to vote.
All of these steps show you that the real intentions of Media Trackers was not to do honest research. It was only to find something, ANYTHING that they could even remotely tie to a political enemy. If they really wanted to find out if the primary person that they focused on in this smear was actually eligible to vote they could have easily done so and without much effort at all. They could have clearly read his sentencing information such as his Judgement of Conviction. They could have called Probation and Parole to find out if/when he was on "paper". They could have also placed a simple call to the Milwaukee County Sheriff's office. Given the dishonesty that they were promoting through Journal Communications Inc, they clearly didn't bother to do any of those very basic checks.

This very clear smear job of Senator Taylor comes on the heels of their lying attacks on two African American women who signed recall petitions in Milwaukee. The same basic Media Trackers pattern applies.
  • They take video of the two young women signing the recall petition in Milwaukee.
  • Someone at Media Trackers apparently fancies themselves as an age expert and determines that these young women are underage.
  • Rather than taking the next logical step of a responsible investigator (trying to actually confirm the age of the women), Media Trackers again uses their friends at Journal Communications Inc to quickly perpetuate the lie.
In both of these smear jobs Media Trackers essentially followed the same irresponsibly disingenuous pattern. More problematic is that Journal Communications Inc was so easily and/or willingly drawn into both baseless smears and served as the primary promoter of them.

In both of the aforementioned cases critics were immediately skeptical of Media Trackers smear and once someone actually bothered to look at the actual facts, those critics proved to be correct on all counts. However even after Media Trackers false accusations and innuendo-based efforts were fully debunked they remained unapologetic. The likely reason? Because their goal was never to illuminate, objectively report or to properly investigate the issues that they raised. It was to simply find any possible hook (real or imagined) to smear their political opponents and to use the larger media as an "accessory" to the baseless smear. Whether their accusations were eventually debunked is immaterial because for many people on the right it has already become conventional "wisdom".

Mission Accomplished.

UPDATES: One Wisconsin Now's Response
Senator Taylor's Response
New logo for Media Trackers?

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Jacque following in some wacky footsteps

The Bible Belt state of Mississippi rejected a radical personhood amendment recently. But that didn't stop a legislator from proposing something similar here. State Representative Andre Jacque (R-Bellevue) recently proposed a personhood amendment for Wisconsin. Once again a radical Republican wants to tinker with the state constitution to make it fully comply with his own rigid dogma. The amendment that he is proposing wouldn't only outlaw all abortions (including in the case of rape, incest and the life of the mother) but it would likely jeopardize things like contraception, in vitro fertilization and embryonic stem cell research.

I certainly hope that people are not surprised that Andre Jacque is this radical because that much was clear long before he was elected in 2010.

He was a supporter in 2000 of perpetual presidential loser Alan Keyes. You remember Alan Keyes don't you? He is the guy that threw out his own daughter and stopped speaking to her when she came out of the closet as a lesbian. He was so extreme that he eventually left the Republican Party and joined the Constitution Party. Even they refused to make Keyes their presidential candidate in 2008.

Alan Keyes came to UW-Madison in 2001 and berated a gay student during a Q&A session. But that certainly didn't deter Andre Jacque who said at the time that Keyes "embodies the conservative principles that a number of people like myself share." [Capital Times, 2/14/01]

As if Keyes isn't enough, Andre Jacque later became a staffer for wacky former state Senator Tom Reynolds. He is the guy that reportedly questioned potential staff about whether they were born-again Christians and whether they would remain virgins until married. Reynolds also attended the rabidly anti-gay International Conference on Homo-Fascism in 2003. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Reynolds scares his own party", 9/18/05]

Right now we have Andre Jacque's personhood amendment, but I'm sure that this won't be his last radical proposal. He seems to be following in some rather wacky footsteps and I'm sure his mentors are very proud. But none of those mentors will get a vote when he tries to run for reelection for the first time. Jacque has apparently decided that he will be running on a record located somewhere on the furthest legislative fringe. We will have to wait and see where that wacky path actually leads.

Monday, November 21, 2011

A reoccurring fraud on the media

Almost without exception, when we approach a major election in Wisconsin, Republicans trot out phony accusations of fraud. They make over-the-top unsubstantiated claims and feed the lies to each other via elected officials, their radio propagandists, blogs and special interest front groups. So the proper question is never, "will they make these kinds of false accusations?" Instead the important questions are "when will they" and "how badly will the traditional media fall for it this time"?

In the face of a statewide grassroots effort to recall extremist Scott Walker, all of the usual suspects are out making unsubstantiated accusations of fraud. Recall petitions, I might add, that are being signed at a blindingly fast pace (over 105,000 in four days). So naturally we have to endure the right wing's phony "fraud" claims.

Again, this kind of thing is totally expected because they run the exact same libelous drill every single time. What is always much more disappointing is how many in the traditional media give a measure of credibility to such unproven (and usually false) accusations. For example,I've already seen at least two Milwaukee-area TV news departments reporting on allegedly under age people signing recall petitions. They have raised these right wing questions without providing a proper level of evidence (no, a simple video obviously does not suffice).

Apparently some tabloid prone members of the media just can't help themselves. At some point you would think that they'd learn. We certainly know that there is a long history of these kinds of baseless accusations. The media rushes to report them and then later it is discovered that the accusations were dubious at best.

Who can forget the wild right wing accusations of voter fraud that were actually squashed by the Bush appointee and former U.S. Attorney Biskupic? He investigated hundreds of the Republican claims at that time and found "no widespread voter fraud" (much of the same result that was found nationally). The hyperbolic voter fraud rhetoric was simply not backed up by facts or by reality. Wisconsin Republicans only relied on innuendo, right wing urban legands and wacky conspiracy theories. Yet their false accusations were reliably reported in the media at the time.

There was also the epic example of false accusations that actually took place in the form of a press conference in front of the residence of the falsely accused. The libelous press conference included Wisconsin Republican officials, operatives, elected officials and others. As it turned out, the falsely accused was a young man that was studying for the priesthood and he had not committed voter fraud. None of that stopped the over-the-top and libelous accusations from the right wing who didn't even bother offering as much as an apology.

Wisconsin's recent history is filled with such false and over-the-top accusations of voter fraud. Yet it seems that many in the mainstream media just keep falling for the right wing shtick every single time. It seems that if there is any significant level of "fraud" happening it is the reoccurring right wing "fraud" that is occurring on unquestioning members of the media.

UPDATES (from Journal Communications Inc):

Charlie Sykes, ex post facto equivocator

Jeff Wagner Makes Outrageous Claim on TMJ Radio Today

And then there is @TodaysTMJ4 still promoting the original lie

Monday, November 07, 2011

FDR: I welcome their hatred

ht: Armando at Daily Kos

From an FDR 1936 campaign speech in Madison Square Garden:

"For nearly four years you have had an Administration which instead of twirling its thumbs has rolled up its sleeves. We will keep our sleeves rolled up.

We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace—business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.

They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.

Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred.

I should like to have it said of my first Administration that in it the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said of my second Administration that in it these forces met their master."

Friday, November 04, 2011

Are gun extremists ever satisfied?

The one thing that we have learned this year is that nothing ever seems to be good enough for the truly gun obsessed. They are apparently never happy and always seek the most extreme "solutions" to problems that often don't actually exist. Just when you think that they have achieved what they want, they just keep pushing for the furthest fringe. Exactly how far do they want to go with fully arming our entire society? Are there any limits at all and are the rest of us willing to let them drag us to such a dangerous place?

In Wisconsin the gun lobby has been unsuccessful in pushing concealed carry legislation for years. This year they finally got what we thought they wanted as concealed carry legislation was passed into law and recently enacted. However that wasn't good enough for the gun lobby because they didn't want any permit process whatsoever in the law. When their own ally, Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, presented very modest rules for the concealed carry process, they even attacked him. Apparently their constituency can't even handle the idea of having a whole 4 hours of "training" with a deadly weapon. I'm fairly certain that we can look forward to them trying to undermine the handful of weak requirements in Wisconsin's concealed carry law. Perhaps they will try it through additional legislation in Wisconsin's legislature or perhaps they will try to do it through big government legislation that they are trying to work through Congress.

As soon as the ink was dry on the enacted concealed carry legislation, the extremist gun lobby proceeded to the next item on their wish list, the so-called Castle Doctrine. It might be more accurately described as the Shoot First Doctrine. Feeding an apparent Dirty Harry obsession, this legislation would allow people to become judge, jury, and executioner if an intruder enters their home or business. In fact they seem to keep trying to extend where this law would apply (to things like the porch, driveway, and even adjoining sidewalks). It wouldn't matter if the intruder was unarmed and it wouldn't matter if they were not an actual physical threat.

Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm opposed the legislation saying the following:

Wisconsin, like most states, doesn't need a castle doctrine because current law, refined over the last half century, provides more than adequate protection for anyone legitimately acting in self-defense. "The statute in place right now is actually a very good standard, very workable, functional definition of self-defense," he said. Chisholm called the current bill a solution in search of a problem, one that "seems to introduce ambiguity that will make it difficult for law enforcement to make fine distinctions."

The Criminal Law Section of the Wisconsin State Bar also opposed the Castle Doctrine legislation.

"AB 69 changes Wisconsin law by providing a defense for irrational people armed with deadly force. Under its provisions, malevolent, reckless, or paranoid people who shoot trick-or-treaters or repairmen on their porch will be presumed to be acting in self-defense."

" provides a solid defense, and a favorable jury instruction, for any man who kills his wife in the family home and lies about it in court."
Nevertheless the Wisconsin Assembly quickly passed the bill earlier this week. In fact they did it so quickly that they failed to include proper protections for people like police, firefighters and other first responders. So after the legislation passed the state Senate the Assembly had to pass the new version. On Thursday the Castle Doctrine bill passed the legislature and awaits Scott Walker's signature.

But once again, passing the so-called Castle Doctrine is still not good enough. Earlier this week, just as the state Assembly took up this flawed legislation, the chairman of Wisconsin Carry Inc. suggested that this was only the beginning. He admitted that the home is the safest place that a person could be (so why the need for the Castle Doctrine then?) and that it is more important to have the "protections" of the Castle Doctrine law outside of the home. He is referring to the next leap to the fringe which is known as "stand your ground" provisions. It looks like vigilantism really is on the agenda.

This brings us back to my initial set of questions: Exactly how far do they want to go with fully arming our entire society? Are there any limits at all and are the rest of us really willing to let them drag us to such a dangerous place?

This post is written as part of the Media Matters Gun Facts fellowship. The purpose of the fellowship is to further Media Matters' mission to comprehensively monitor, analyze, and correct conservative misinformation in the U.S. media. Some of the worst misinformation occurs around the issue of guns, gun violence, and extremism, the fellowship program is designed to fight this misinformation with facts.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

I've got Ryan's class war right here, Part 2

The following graphic comes from Citizens for Tax Justice. It identifies 30 large corporations bringing in large profits but paying no total income tax in 2008-2010.

When I see this kind of thing I often wonder: How is it that these massive corporations paid less over several years than a guy flipping burgers did in one paycheck? I also wonder exactly why I'm supposed to feel sorry for these big corporations and why I shouldn't expect them to pay their fair share. By the way is that WE Energies on the list?

ht: Think Progress

This is what a jobs bill looks like

This is really very remarkable isn't it? Walker calls for another special session of the legislature to focus on jobs legislation. Then his rubber stamps in that body proceed to address every crack pot right wing piece of pet legislation that they can imagine. With this crowd that is to be expected but one may have also expected at least one actual jobs bill during this alleged special session on jobs. Instead we have witnessed a bum rush of extremist agenda items including some of the following:

  • Feed more Dirty Harry obsessions by introducing the Castle Doctrine (which actually takes away the jobs of Judge, Jury and Executioner).
  • Mandating abstinence "education" in public schools
  • Ignoring painfully obvious disparities by removing race as ONE factor for a scholarship program that serves disadvantaged college students.
  • Attempting to break the law (that Republicans already passed) by changing the gerrymandered redistricting maps. Nothing but a naked attempt to thwart the recalls to come.
  • Failed attempt to rush through legislation that would require a notary for each individual recall petition. Even though Walker and the author of this legislation both voted for the current system in the late 1990's.
  • Finding new ways to scapegoat and otherwise punish teachers.
The list goes on but you get the idea. We can certainly argue about these absurd legislative proposals. However there is no debate that none of them are designed to actually create jobs. And yet this is all that we have seen during another sham of a "special session on jobs". Give me a break, who do they think that they are fooling anyway?

If you want to look at what actual jobs legislation looks like, the Assembly Democrats introduced an entire package of bills that are clearly focused on creating jobs. They have named it the Make Wisconsin Work jobs package. You don't have to like the various bills or maybe you can find ways to improve them but at least they are on the actual topic of JOB, JOBS, and JOBS. Those Democratic bills include some of the following examples:

  • Workforce Growth Program - A grant program created under the Wisconsin Technical College System. It would address capacity issues at local technical colleges allowing them to partner with high growth/high demand industry sectors. It would create a better pipeline of newly skilled workers for the industries and businesses that most need them.
  • Extending the Transitional Jobs Program which helps people across the state gain the proper skills to reenter the workforce.
  • Apprenticeship Requirements for State Projects.
  • Business Match Training Grants which again partners local businesses with local tech colleges.
  • Wisconsin Agriculture Corps which connects youth with farm work and farm life in Wisconsin. The goal is to create long-term working relationships with those corp members and the farms with which they work. It will help create an entirely new group of skilled workers in our state's agriculture industry.
  • Entrepreneurial Assistance Grant Program - Provides grants to new small businesses for the costs of paid internships. It also gives funds to colleges and universities to establish a curriculum around the internship program.
UPDATE: Now read Rep. Mark Pocan on this "Anything But..." special session on jobs.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Fatally Out-of-Touch on Health Care

Scott Walker has had the luxury of receiving taxpayer funded health care for a very long time. Like so many other "anti-government" Republicans, other than a very short period, Walker has lived off taxpayers for his entire adult life. Because of the generous benefits provided by Wisconsin taxpayers, Walker and his family never had to seriously worry about health insurance and medical care costs. His personal hypocrisy makes his extremist policy positions on the issue all the more repugnant.

There are many people in Wisconsin that don't find themselves in such an envious position. In fact all too many hard working Wisconsinites find themselves caught in the middle and falling between the cracks of our dysfunctional health care system. They are working hard but don't earn enough to cover rapidly increasing health insurance costs. Costs that have greatly increased but at the same time have covered much less. The expansion of the BadgerCare program during Governor Doyle's administration provided a solution to more of these people. Because it met such a real need it was certainly not a surprise that it became extremely popular. Naturally Scott Walker plans to mindlessly and carelessly cut from this program, leaving real working Wisconsinites to totally fend for themselves in a hostile environment once again.

The Walker administration apparently isn't content in simply throwing thousands of those Wisconsinites to the wolves. Apparently they want to further protect the predators in this situation, the big health insurance industry. The Affordable Care Act requires insurance companies to spend at least 80% of premiums paid to them on actual medical care. If insurers don't meet this requirement then they have to give rebates to their policy holders. Recently the Walker administration filed for a three year waiver regarding this new rule. If that waiver is granted it will cost Wisconsinites operating alone in the predatory insurance market some $14 million. All to protect a handful of the largest insurance companies. Apparently some insurance companies are ready to actually follow the law and others are not.

As a self-employed person I have personal experience with trying to fend for myself in the predatory health insurance market. In fact I have had a very direct experience with one of the big insurance companies that the Walker administration is now trying to protect. To make a long story short, they may as well have just held me up at gun point and taken my money the old fashioned way. The best that I can do is to chalk it up to a very expensive learning experience.

Although the Affordable Care Act doesn't go as far as I would have preferred, my own personal experience with its provisions have certainly been more positive than the totally unchecked dysfunction that proceeded it. There are many provisions of the law that are helpful to different people for different reasons. For example, here are the items that I have either come to appreciate personally or that I eagerly anticipate once they are fully implemented:

  • 80% of the money that I am paying my insurance company each month will either go to actual medical care or a portion of it will be refunded.
  • Small business and other health care TAX CREDITS
  • Preventative services that were not covered in the past that are now covered specifically because of the new health care law.
  • Health care exchanges (which as far as I can remember used to be a Republican idea) that will give individuals and small business owners more leverage and will help foster a more competitive environment.

Most people are not asking for a free pass when it comes to health insurance and medical care. I certainly know that there has been nothing "free" about my own personal experience. Most hard working people are just asking for fair treatment in an environment that has been dysfunctional and predatory for far too long. Now that the individuals who are on their own are starting to actually get some help, Scott Walker has decided to defend the predators. He has made the choice to defend them rather than the people that have quite literally been paying his (health care) bills for his entire adult life. For once, he should be forced to actually live in the dark dysfunctional world that he is constantly trying to perpetuate. Maybe he will actually get that opportunity very very soon.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Where are Wisconsin's concealed carry loopholes?

On November 1st Wisconsin's new concealed carry law will go into effect. I am wondering how many loopholes we will later find in that law? How many will public officials unfortunately notice only after problems arise? Will they get past their Dirty Harry complex long enough to correct mistakes? There are at least a few areas where we should probably be looking for loopholes after November 1st.

When the Wisconsin Attorney General's office released the rules related to the new concealed carry law, it listed a fee that would be charged to cover a background check. That fee was listed as being $13, which tells me that they plan on using their own Crime Information Bureau (CIB) database to do that check. That database is a great tool for identifying any adult arrests and resulting court actions in Wisconsin. However it only gives you a record for adult arrests in Wisconsin. What if a person applies for a concealed carry permit and they have a record in another state that might otherwise disqualify them? How will the Department of Justice know if they only use a Wisconsin database to do the background check?

Recently we also learned that Wisconsin will honor concealed carry permits from at least 25 other states. This is another area where we should watch for loophole related problems down the road. Essentially we are owning the process in all of those 25 states including every lax rule. It will take time to discover the various loopholes that will open as a result of honoring permits from those 25 states.

Wisconsin is set to honor permits from Utah for example. Even the relatively gun happy state of Nevada decided to stop honoring Utah's concealed carry permits because of the lax rules. Some have actually described Utah's concealed carry law as being a mail order approach that has attracted applicants from all over the country. Wisconsin's choice to honor their permits forces us to also honor all of their loopholes and any problems that they might bring.

Last week Milwaukee's Shepherd Express ran a story about the new concealed carry law. In that story they reported several concerns that Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn had concerning it. He said that thousands of career criminals who have pleaded guilty to misdemeanors would qualify for a concealed carry permit because they are not convicted felons. They can carry a hidden handgun even though they are a literal menace to public safety. Flynn also said that almost half of those convicted of homicides in 2011 would have been eligible for concealed weapons permits because they had not been convicted of a felony prior to committing murder. For the same reason he further said that about 75% of convicted robbers could get a permit at the time of their crime.

The bottom line here is that Wisconsin legislators were in such a frenzy to pass concealed carry legislation that they failed to fully address these and other concerns. Unfortunately they were more concerned with pleasing a political base than they were concerned with carefully forming sound public policy. The various loopholes in Wisconsin's new concealed carry law will eventually become clear. Hopefully that clarity will not come at too great of a cost and hopefully our legislators will have the courage to make the necessary changes.

This post is written as part of the Media Matters Gun Facts fellowship. The purpose of the fellowship is to further Media Matters' mission to comprehensively monitor, analyze, and correct conservative misinformation in the U.S. media. Some of the worst misinformation occurs around the issue of guns, gun violence, and extremism, the fellowship program is designed to fight this misinformation with facts.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Bad Actors, Lax Gun Laws and Loopholes

We are unfortunately well aware of the lobbying efforts of groups like the National Rifle Association. They have a clear history of lobbying for some of the most extreme policies related to guns. Part of their legislative agenda includes a free pass repeatedly given to even the most problematic gun dealers. There probably isn’t a better local example of this than Badger Guns located in Milwaukee County.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is reporting that the current owner of Badger Guns is planning on surrendering his license. The owner has said that he is only giving up the license because he lost a yearlong fight with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to renew it. This most recent fight with authorities is no surprise because Badger Guns and its predecessor Badger Outdoors have been the top sellers of crime guns for the past decade. In 2005 Badger Outdoors was actually listed as being the top seller of crime guns in the nation.

The highest profile crimes committed with guns purchased from Badger involved six Milwaukee police officers being wounded in less than a two year span. Badger Guns currently faces a civil lawsuit from 4 of the police officers that were severely wounded by guns sold at their store.

The current violations that have encumbered Badger Guns’ license are only the most recent in what seems to be an endless cycle. That cycle is clearly perpetuated by lax gun laws. For example, in 2006 when then-Badger Outdoors ran in to similar problems, the previous owner sold the business to his son who changed the name to Badger Guns. Even though the father and former owner of the business still worked at the store, the store was given an entirely clean slate. Use of that loophole essentially erased all of the previous violations. There is speculation that a similar maneuver could be in the works again.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has done an excellent job of highlighting these kinds of loopholes and other unnecessary problems faced by law enforcement. All-too-often law enforcement agencies like the ATF are largely powerless because their ability to actually regulate problematic gun dealers has been greatly crippled by Congress.

The current owner of Badger Guns can take any remaining guns, transfer them to his “personal collection” and sell them at gun shows without even doing a background check. He is already saying that although he is giving up his license that he will still continue to work at the store. He says that he will run the shooting range at the store which has been used in the past by felons. He will also sell ammunition and accessories which don’t require a federal license.

No wonder Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn commented on the owner’s getting out of the gun-selling business by saying, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” He knows more than anyone about the long history of violations and the selling of crime guns from that store, including those that were used against his officers. Unfortunately the lax gun laws and various loopholes created by the gun industry and their rubber stamp legislators serve only to perpetuate such problems.

This post is written as part of the Media Matters Gun Facts fellowship. The purpose of the fellowship is to further Media Matters' mission to comprehensively monitor, analyze, and correct conservative misinformation in the U.S. media. Some of the worst misinformation occurs around the issue of guns, gun violence, and extremism, the fellowship program is designed to fight this misinformation with facts.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Avoid Uninformed Knee-Jerk Decisions

On Sunday the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ran a story about the venture capital legislation that was passed in Wisconsin in 1999. The story focuses on the one company that appeared to game the system and exploit the loopholes left by legislators and a governor that didn’t fully understand how to implement a venture capital (VC)program. In fact some of the same legislators involved in 1999 currently have an influence on the new venture capital legislation.

Sunday’s story focuses exclusively on one bad actor that took advantage of legislator’s lack of understanding in 1999. What concerns me is that legislators today seem to be positioning themselves to make even worse mistakes. Many of them seem to believe that by simply picking a different VC program that they will magically avoid such complications, bad actors and other problems. As a result some seem to be fast tracking what is known as a “fund of funds” based program. But there are serious questions that need to be asked about this venture capital approach and we shouldn’t rush into this or any specific program without having a full understanding of its risks and history.

Over the last few months I have repeatedly focused on the venture capital program in Oklahoma. That state has had a “fund of funds” program since the 1980’s. In fact “fund of funds” programs are sometimes referred to as the “Oklahoma Program”. What I learned about Oklahoma’s venture capital program was certainly alarming and legislators should certainly take note and avoid their mistakes.

Here are a few of the alarming details that jumped out at me:

Sunday’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story also highlights the fees involved in the previous VC program in Wisconsin. But it didn’t mention that all venture capital funds collect a 2.0-2.5% (even higher in Silicon Valley) management fee per year and that is not exclusive to just one specific kind of VC program. If legislators have an aversion to such fees, I certainly hope that they fully examine the subject. I especially hope that those who are trying to fast track the “fund of funds” approach actually check the level of fees often involved in that kind of program. They can end up being double the cost of fees in other programs. In fact in many “fund of funds” programs the fund managers end up collecting just as much in fees as the underlying VC firms that are actually doing the work.

As I have said in previous blog postings on this subject, I am not particularly dogmatic about the exact venture capital program that Wisconsin chooses. But I am concerned that some legislators don’t appear to have all of the information and yet they seem ready to rubber stamp one specific approach. Right now it appears that they are planning to fast track a “fund of funds” program without fully doing their due diligence. Legislators need to slow down, fully understand the details and the possible motives of those trying to influence them. They also must study what has happened in states like Oklahoma so that we don’t make the same costly mistakes. Venture capital policy is a complicated issue and what we certainly don’t need right now are uninformed knee-jerk decisions.

Friday, October 07, 2011

NRA Lobbying for the Extreme

Finally after many years of Wisconsin rejecting their radical agenda, groups like the National Rifle Association finally got what they've wanted in Wisconsin. The new concealed carry law will go into effect on November 1st. But as is typical for people operating from such extremes, the new law apparently doesn't go far enough for the NRA. Earlier this week we learned that the NRA is now complaining because they don't like how Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is interpreting the new concealed carry law.

The main problem that the NRA has with the Wisconsin AG is that he apparently plans to require at least 4 hours of training. According to various polls, the majority of Wisconsinites don't even support the idea of people walking freely around carrying hidden handguns. One can imagine that those same people would probably support such a common sense measure that at least requires some sort of training. But that would be the reasonable approach and based on the NRA's lobbying efforts in Wisconsin over the last few legislative sessions, they have hardly been the voice of reason.

For example, here are some of their extreme positions as listed in Wisconsin's Eye on Lobbying database:

  • Not only have they been pushing extreme versions of concealed carry for years but they have also promoted and are currently lobbying for so-called "Castle Doctrine" legislation. Feeding an apparent Dirty Harry obsession, this legislation would allow people to become judge, jury, and executioner if an intruder enters their home or business. It wouldn't matter if the intruder was unarmed and it wouldn't matter if they were not an actual physical threat. You can still shoot to kill with few questions asked afterward. The latest version of this legislation continues to expand this license-to-kill. Apparently it now even covers someone "breaking into" your driveway. Recent reports also show that this free pass could continue expanding even further to adjoining sidewalks, business parking lots and farmland.
  • They have repeatedly lobbied against legislation that gives law enforcement more investigative tools, such as requiring microstamping. This opposition continues with a bill in the current legislative session. Mircostamping is a technology that imprints identifying information on bullet cartridges.
  • They oppose a current bipartisan bill that would treat a criminal the same if they use an actual firearm or a "facsimile firearm" during the commission of a crime. A "facsimile firearm" includes things like a replica, toy, starter pistol or anything else that could be reasonably perceived as being a real firearm.
  • They opposed legislation to prohibit a person convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence to possess a fire arm. Under the legislation, a person that violated that prohibition would be guilty of a felony and subject to a fine of up to $25,000 or up to 10 years in prison or both. This bill sought to create both a new state crime and a revised penalty for an existing crime.
  • The NRA opposed legislation that sought to extend the definition of domestic abuse to include harm or the threat of harm to animals that are owned by the petitioner of a domestic abuse restraining order.
  • They opposed legislation that required a record search before a handgun was transferred between two individuals (when a firearms dealer was not involved). The legislation only applied to the transfer of firearms in Milwaukee County.
  • Opposed bipartisan legislation that increased the penalty for discharging a firearm near a public park, square or an enclosure owned or controlled by a municipality. The legislation sought to increase the fine from up to $25 to up to $1,000. It also sought to increase the possible jail time from 60 days to 90 days.
  • The NRA supported legislation that sought to prohibit officials from exercising certain emergency powers during "emergencies resulting from an enemy action or natural or man-made disaster." This legislation specifically sought to limit officials abilities to restrict the possession, transfer, sale, transport, storage, display or use of firearms or ammunition during an emergency.
Given the extremists that lead the NRA, it shouldn't be a surprise that they would also lobby for the extreme in Wisconsin and in other state legislatures all across the country. What should be a surprise is how all-too-often obedient legislators and other officials dutifully bow to their extreme pressure.

This post is written as part of the Media Matters Gun Facts fellowship. The purpose of the fellowship is to further Media Matters' mission to comprehensively monitor, analyze, and correct conservative misinformation in the U.S. media. Some of the worst misinformation occurs around the issue of guns, gun violence, and extremism, the fellowship program is designed to fight this misinformation with facts.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Is this what you signed up for?

Wisconsin has a proud hunting tradition that is embedded in the DNA of our state. So it shouldn't be a surprise that we also have hunters and others that have memberships in various groups that are supposed to focus on their issues. However, I have to wonder if the majority of Wisconsin hunters ever meant to sign up for some of the extremist rhetoric that has been coming out of the National Rifle Association in particular.

The wild and paranoid rantings of many NRA board members has been on the record for some time but thanks to the new website "Meet the NRA" we have much of it posted in one place. Whether it is vigilantism, politically violent rhetoric or other extremist statements, I simply don't accept that the average Wisconsin hunter signed up for any of it.

Now the NRA board seems to be going further in the direction of paranoid conspiracy theories. Recently the National Rifle Association's Wayne LaPierre got all conspiratorial about President Obama. Check out the video below where he actually cites the President not pushing gun control as the very reason that he's anti-gun. Confused? Yeah, you should be, because it is baseless and it makes no sense. But LaPierre ignores reality and boils it all down to some imagined "conspiracy". Is that really the kind of thing that Wisconsin hunters signed up for?

This post is written as part of the Media Matters Gun Facts fellowship. The purpose of the fellowship is to further Media Matters' mission to comprehensively monitor, analyze, and correct conservative misinformation in the U.S. media. Some of the worst misinformation occurs around the issue of guns, gun violence, and extremism, the fellowship program is designed to fight this misinformation with facts.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Scott Walker's "High Ethical Standards"

Recently Scott Walker was pressed on what exactly he knows about the John Doe investigation that seems to be engulfing his campaign, current and former staff and at least one contributor. In a blog item Dan Bice describes Walker's response as his "firmest defense yet of what he described as his high ethical standards." Let's take a walk down memory lane shall we?

I wonder if those "high ethical standards" include some of the following:

  • When Walker was first running for Milwaukee County Executive, he promised to end cronyism but shortly after being elected he began a long history of perfecting that dark art. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Walker has rewards in mind for backers", 5/9/02]
  • Remember the reports of Scott Walker shaking down various lobbyists in Madison when he was preparing to run for Milwaukee County Executive? He wanted them to contribute to his campaign and the report suggested that he was threatening them that if he didn't win he would still be in the state legislature and would have an influence on their issues. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 3/10/02]
  • In 2005 Scott Walker earned what at the time was the second highest ethics fine in state history. It was related to his questionable use of robo calls [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 8/4/05]
  • During his first run for governor Walker had a fundraiser using tickets and a suite for a sold-out UW basketball game. All kinds of ethical questions were asked at the time because the suite access and tickets appeared to come from a corporation, which at the time was not allowed. Once the news became public Walker's campaign ditched the fundraiser plans [WKOW-TV, 2/22/06 & 7/25/06]
  • Walker has at least a decade plus of consistently careless campaign finance reporting. After a while it makes you wonder if they were being incompetent, devious or both. Various media outlets, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, Milwaukee County and others have repeatedly reported on missing information for major donors. [Capital Times, 5/14/02]
  • In 2007 Walker got rid of a veteran member of the Milwaukee County Ethics Board. The chair of the board thought it was because she dared to question the ethics of some of Scott Walker's actions. Walker proceeded to replace her with a young attorney that was recommended to him by a partner in a law firm that included major campaign donors.
  • Remember Scott Walker's annual self promotion tour? Remember when his thinly veiled campaign event included corporate sponsorship? How can anyone blame his critics when he repeatedly used both campaign and county staff for the planning of it? It repeatedly drew ethics and other complaints but by that point he had already stacked the elections board with pals. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 7/9/05]
I could keep going for a while but hopefully you get the point. Feel free to include your favorite example of Scott Walker's "high ethical standards".

UPDATE: Also read Capper's "Walkergate: One for the Ages"

Monday, September 26, 2011

What’s with the “Fund of Funds” Fast Track?

When the original venture capital legislation was introduced, opponents of it repeatedly called for the legislature to slow down and more deliberately evaluate the various options. That is certainly a notion that I agreed with because this is an important issue and regardless of the exact approach we must proceed in a thoughtful manner. But now that the focus of many has changed entirely to a “fund of funds” approach, suddenly some are ready to take a fast track. This is the exact kind of blatant inconsistency that makes me wonder about what is going on behind the scenes and what motivations lie there.

Let me be clear. I’m not saying that a “fund of funds” approach shouldn't be a part of our venture capital planning but I am saying that we better make sure that we do things right the first time. A few weeks ago I gave the Oklahoma example to show that using a “fund of funds” approach should not be looked at as the Holy Grail of venture capital programs. Oklahoma has had the “fund of funds” program the longest and in fact it is frequently referred to as the “Oklahoma program”. After using this program for decades, recent reports and audits in that state are hardly inspiring.

Since my last blog posting about the venture capital complications in Oklahoma, a bipartisan group of state officials have written an editorial about their flawed system. In it they highlight the fact that 85 to 95 cents of every dollar that Oklahoma invested through its program was invested in start-up companies located outside of the state and at least one was outside of the country. A state audit in 2006 found “$31 million in debt and more questions than answers.” While the private fund managers in that state have collected generous fees for years, state officials described it in the recent op-ed as a “failed program that has become too costly...”

Surely Oklahoma originally thought that their program was a good one but due to its complexity, problematic issues remained relatively hidden for years. That is until the state faced paying multiple millions of dollars to cover losses. Since a private entity was allowed to run the program it took public officials longer to detect such problems. In fact the entity that ran the program was not even subject to public records requests, open meetings laws or to the inquiries of state legislators.

The State of Wisconsin certainly shouldn't be rushing to replicate these kinds of mistakes; rather we should take the time to learn from them and carefully arrive at a solution that fits our specific needs. We should also ensure that all entities associated with our venture capital program are open and fully subject to public scrutiny.

Scott Walker has assembled a venture capital commission to apparently advise the legislature on this issue. However even this commission seems to be moving very quickly. Apparently they have already had their first meeting and I’m still trying to find out who exactly is involved. Some reports have given a few names but it would be nice to have a full listing before this commission goes too far too fast. For example, I think that we should know if any conflicts of interest exist on the commission. I further think that its deliberations should be made fully available to the public.

Bringing in a much larger share of venture capital dollars is certainly an important goal for our state but we should plan it carefully and with full disclosure. We certainly shouldn't repeat other state's mistakes whether it is on a “fund of funds” fast track or on some other overly rushed route.

UPDATE: I just happened across this News from West Virginia, which I believe uses the "Oklahoma Program". They started it in 2002 and a recent audit has revealed a $20.8 million loss.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Walker & Cronies Live Large, Workers Get Shaft

Yesterday Representatives Mark Pocan, Brett Hulsey, Terese Berceau and Chris Taylor wrote a guest blog posting on Blogging Blue. In it they go into some detail about how Scott Walker has given irresponsible and unjustified raises to his political cronies. This while he is calling for "shared sacrifice" from front line and more modestly paid state employees.

I highly recommend the item as must-read material but as I read it I also wondered how many people across the state know that Walker has a long history of doing this kind of thing? As with almost everything else that Walker is doing in Madison today, he did (or tried to do it) first in Milwaukee County. For example, while he was threatening layoffs, proposing drastic cuts in critical services and calling for "shared sacrifice" in Milwaukee County, he was also planning to give his closest cronies huge raises. Remember this story?
Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker wants a 26% pay raise for his chief of staff, former Ald. Tom Nardelli, while bypassing traditional County Board approval in quietly issuing large pay raises over the summer to several other top aides.

Nardelli would get the biggest pay increase of top-tier county officials, a nearly $20,000 raise to $95,000 a year. Seven county administrators also scored increases of up to 12.5%.

Some supervisors are upset about being left out of the decision-making process for many of the raises and say Walker's timing couldn't be worse. Heavily rewarding a few top managers while Walker puts final touches on a 2009 budget that's expected to call for scores of layoffs of union workers sends a message of callous disregard, critics of the raises say.
We should certainly be outraged at Scott Walker's disturbing double standards in Madison but we certainly shouldn't be surprised. He has shown us a long pattern of giving workers the shaft while he and his cronies live large.

Friday, September 23, 2011

This is becoming an unfortunate pattern

Believe it or not, I very desperately want to believe that the audiences at the last few Republican presidential debates do not represent the majority of their party. Even in the face of the wild accusations during the health care reform debate and even after reading all of those horribly offensive tea party signs, I still want to believe that the majority of Republicans are not this nasty and hateful.

The allegedly "pro-life" party wildly cheering record numbers of executions in Texas.

Yelling to affirm that a young man in a coma should be allowed to die simply because he can't afford his own health insurance.

And now the party that pretends to have cornered the market on patriotism, actually booed a solider CURRENTLY SERVING IN IRAQ, simply because he is gay.

Yes, I desperately want to explain away these nasty reactions but this is becoming a most unfortunate pattern. What may be much worse than the nastiness itself is the lack of convincing and universal condemnations of it.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

House Bill Targets Local (Gun) Control

Conventional wisdom tells us that conservative policymakers greatly value the idea of "local control". However we increasingly see elected officials proclaiming allegiance to that philosophy while only choosing to actually practice it when it is politically convenient. The latest example of this can be seen in a bill currently making its way through the U.S. House of Representatives. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has accurately named HR 822 as the "Packing Heat on Your Street" bill.

This extreme legislation would force states to allow the carrying of loaded, hidden guns by untrained, out-of-state visitors, even by persons legally barred from possessing guns in the state where the carrying occurs. So much for the sacred conservative idea of "local control". Many legislators that are pushing this bill have tossed aside their normal "local control" mantra and have instead adopted a big federal government one-size-fits-all approach. It is clear that this legislation is more of an appeasement of extremists like those running the NRA than it is about making good public policy.

For many years the State of Wisconsin wisely resisted allowing the concealed carrying of firearms. Unfortunately concealed carry legislation finally passed in Wisconsin earlier this year and the law becomes effective on November 1. While the new law is a major mistake and doesn't have nearly enough protections built into it at least it was only a modified version of the original. That version was even more extreme and promoted the inappropriately named idea of "constitutional carry". Essentially allowing just about everyone to carry concealed weapons anywhere without background checks, training or limits of any kind. Even though the new Wisconsin law backed away from that radical notion, that fact could be rendered mute if HR 822 is passed in Washington, DC.

The new Wisconsin concealed carry law allows local municipalities and businesses to ban concealed firearms in their buildings. They would do this by posting signs declaring that firearms are not allowed. As the November 1 deadline approaches many Wisconsin municipalities, including the state's largest , are quickly establishing those local limits. Likewise the entire University of Wisconsin system and Marquette University are moving to prevent concealed weapons in their buildings.

Businesses are also quickly learning the best way to proceed given the many questions that still remain. Advocacy groups such as the Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort (WAVE) are asking concerned members of the public to request that businesses protect their safety by banning hidden guns in their establishments.

However, all of this local work in states like Wisconsin could be totally disregarded if the big federal government declaration that exists in HR 822 actually becomes law. While we wait for members of Congress to decide if they really want to target the allegedly cherished idea of "local control", we are certainly not helpless. The Brady Campaign has a wealth of information on this legislation and the problems that it would pose to our states and to our local communities.

This post is written as part of the Media Matters Gun Facts fellowship. The purpose of the fellowship is to further Media Matters' mission to comprehensively monitor, analyze, and correct conservative misinformation in the U.S. media. Some of the worst misinformation occurs around the issue of guns, gun violence, and extremism, the fellowship program is designed to fight this misinformation with facts.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Walker's Blurred Lines

We have heard a lot recently about the John Doe investigation that is being conducted in Milwaukee County. Apparently it involves Scott Walker's campaign and former Milwaukee County staffers including some that he brought with him to Madison. We've seen a lot of speculation on this subject over the last year. But that speculation has intensified after top Walker aid, Cynthia Archer, got a visit from the FBI recently. Although there is much speculation the one common thread seems to involve the alleged mixing of official work and campaign work.

If you paid attention to Scott Walker's past campaigns and to his Milwaukee County administration, none of this should be a surprise. The lines between campaign and county were repeatedly blurred during his train wreck tenure in Milwaukee County.

Revolving Door Between Walker Campaign and Walker Administration

  • Jim Villa worked for Walker's campaigns bouncing between them and taxpayer financed county jobs.
  • Robert Dennik, a former lobbyist and Walker campaign manager was appointed as head of the now nonexistent Milwaukee County Division of Economic and Community Development. Let's just say that his time there didn't go so well for him or for Milwaukee County.
  • Tim Russell has repeatedly bounced back and forth between Walker campaigns and taxpayer funded positions (including a recent promotion). At one point he even took over the train wreck that was the Economic Development job (with not much more success).
  • Walker wanted to give a county job to Chuck Grapentine even though he didn't even want to move to Milwaukee County. Chuck is the father of a former Walker aide.
Records Only Open for Political Pals

  • In 2004 when the Walker administration received an open records request from a political opponent, they obstructed it. In fact a complaint was eventually filed and an assistant attorney general sent them a scolding letter saying "...nobody honored to serve in public office out to manipulate public records in this fashion."
  • Contrast that with an extensive request sent to Walker's Administrative Services division(headed by Cynthia Archer) by Walker's political pals at Citizens for Responsible Government. In less than one month they received 188,000 accounts payable records for no charge. Later an audit was conducted of this incident because the information included sensitive data which CRG posted on their website.
  • Although the Walker administration regularly obstructed open records requests of critics in 2009 they responded to a request from their cult-like fans at the "ScottforGov" blog within 2 hours. They also provided the records to this anonymous person/group of people for free. Some have openly wondered if this blog was written by Walker administration officials, which would be remarkable because they would have been requesting records from themselves.

Campaign Donors and County Affairs

  • In 2003 Scott Walker's administration awarded a contract to Bear Stearns which was locally managed by Nicholas Hurtgen. Soon after that contract was awarded, Hurtgen helped arrange two fundraisers for Walker worth $25,000. A 2004 investigation about the contract found that it had been awarded improperly. When records were sought during that investigation, the media found that most were "lost" or destroyed. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 7/15/04 and 7/23/04]
  • In 2007 Walker removed an experienced member of the Milwaukee County Ethics Board and replaced them with a young attorney recommended by a member of a law firm that had given substantial campaign contributions to Walker. The then-chair of the Ethics Board suggested at the time that Walker must have been unhappy that the replaced board member publicly raised questions about Walker's actions.
  • Walker tried for years to privatize Milwaukee County's cleaning services. In 2009, when he finally accomplished that goal, the company of a major campaign contributor received the $1.2 million contract from Walker's administration.

Friday, September 16, 2011

More Disclosure Please

There is no doubt that Wisconsin must increase the share of venture capital dollars that it attracts. Elected officials of both parties, business leaders and activists of all kinds have known that for decades. I am not overly dogmatic about the exact method that we choose to accomplish that goal as long as it is done in a thoughtful manner that gives our state the best chance for long term success. But the last thing that we need is to just blindly accept any one approach without asking all of the hard questions and doing our due diligence.

It is also just as important to have this discussion openly. That openness should not only include elected officials but also the high profile individuals that have been most aggressive in trying to influence the eventual outcome. There are certainly people with financial and other interests that are publicly engaged in this policy debate. But what concerns me most is the strong agenda pushing that seems to be occurring behind-the-scenes.

When the initial legislation on this issue was first presented, former insurance company CEO Tom Hefty went on the attack. I read his comments in multiple media outlets and wondered if he was representing someone in particular. I went to the “Eye on Lobbying” website and was fairly surprised, based on his activity, that he was not listed as a registered lobbyist. Later I learned that Mr. Hefty was also writing regular emails personally pressuring a number of legislators. One legislator that does not actually represent Mr. Hefty got at least 7 emails from him in less than a month.

In his emails to at least some of the legislators Tom Hefty repeatedly suggested that the proposed legislation would specifically disadvantage New Berlin insurance company, United Heartland. Hefty goes on to state that he “…served as CEO of Blue Cross for seventeen years and we founded United Heartland in 1990.”(emphasis mine) In his previous comments in the media and in his public statements, I don't recall him specifically advocating for the interests of any one company much less one that he had a hand in founding. So why was he doing so via email to legislators? An explanation would be helpful because without one we are left guessing.

In 2002 the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel estimated that then-CEO Tom Hefty owned 30,000 shares in then-Blue Cross(Cobalt) stock. The report also said that he had options at the time to buy about 680,000 shares. Given his email advocacy, it seems fair to ask if a portion of that financial interest included United Heartland. In other words, does Mr. Hefty currently have a financial interest in that company? Obviously I don't know but perhaps that is another piece of information that he might consider disclosing. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 6/2/02]

My point here is not a statement on the details of the venture capital legislation itself nor is it a challenge of Mr. Hefty’s right to voice his own personal opinions about it. It is to simply state that Wisconsin deserves an open and fully transparent discussion. If powerful individuals in our state are trying to influence legislators in one way or the other, they should also give the public a clear and consistent understanding of their motivations.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Vigilantism on the Agenda

It is already mid-September and we have not seen a single jobs bill passed in the Wisconsin Legislature. Yet they rushed through irresponsible legislation enabling the concealed carrying of guns. In the legislature’s rush to arm the public they shot down most common sense amendments that sought to at least provide sensible limits. Now people can conceal and carry their firearms in places like city parks, the Milwaukee County Zoo and even in taverns and other places that serve alcohol.

The gun-obsessed lobby pushed concealed carry legislation in Wisconsin for years. Now we can all start packing heat but apparently it still is not good enough. Now a “castle doctrine” bill is getting some movement in the legislature. This legislation would allow people to use deadly force if someone breaks into their home or business. It would allow a person to use deadly force whether the intruder was armed or threatening or not.

If the Wisconsin legislature rushes through this new “castle doctrine” bill, what comes next? How far are they willing to go? Many members of our current legislature are clearly under the influence of groups like the National Rifle Association. In fact that powerful influence should perhaps worry us more than anything else. There has been real extremist rhetoric coming out of the leadership of that organization for quite a long time. How much of it will our legislators turn into Wisconsin policy?

Today a new website called Meet the NRA was launched by the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence. The site provides a plethora of information on the board members of the NRA. That information includes a disturbing amount of over-the-top vigilante rhetoric. One of the many examples listed includes the crazy rantings of NRA board member Ted Nugent. During Texas Governor Rick Perry’s 2007 inaugural ball Nugent declared, “Remember the Alamo! Shoot 'em! To show you how radical I am, I want carjackers dead. I want rapists dead. I want burglars dead. I want child molesters dead. I want the bad guys dead. No court case. No parole. No early release. I want 'em dead.”

Reasonable Wisconsinites should be concerned that each gun bill in our state legislature seems to be moving closer to the same “shoot ‘em” approach that is expressed in Nugent’s comments. Again, we should be asking exactly how far our lawmakers are willing to go in this dangerous direction? At what point does this become less about actual public safety and more about a base fascination with vigilantism?

This post is written as part of the Media Matters Gun Facts fellowship. The purpose of the fellowship is to further Media Matters' mission to comprehensively monitor, analyze, and correct conservative misinformation in the U.S. media. Some of the worst misinformation occurs around the issue of guns, gun violence, and extremism, the fellowship program is designed to fight this misinformation with facts.