2
August
2011

Darling Ads morphing to vicious attacks against Pasch as Recall Election Looms

State Senator Alberta Darling is upset that thousands of people signed a petition to recall her and the once mild mannered moderate Republican from River Hills is morphing into a vicious screaming banshee as her political career winds down. Democratic challenger and State Representative Sandy Pasch is Darling’s target and it is getting ugly.

One would think that Pasch, who was a nurse in the private sector, is a horrible human being. Darling is using her ads to allude that Pasch is even worse that Darling is so that Darling looks sweet in comparison. The reality is that the voters of this highly educated district have already started to tune out television commercials maligning Pasch because they know what Darling has really stood for.

Darling’s votes to support Governor Scott Walker’s tax cuts for millionaires will not be forgotten by her voters, even if she is busy making outrageous claims about her opponent.

Clearly Darling is desperate.

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18
May
2011

New times, Old formulas for determining the Economy

We’re over 3 years into the new recession and economic policy wonks are freaking out this month about why housing “starts” are way down.

Really now — who cares.

Are these wonks so seriously out of touch with the economy that they are incapable of understanding the dynamic of our recovering economy? The answer is yes. This is a recovery period — we shouldn’t be measuring ourselves against an impossible standard which was artificially created by a decade of bad lending practices.

Yes, it is true that “housing starts” were huge 5 or more years ago. Banks were giving away money to people who should have never qualified. At the same time, many of our urban centers were bulldozing established homes which helped create a need.

Now things have changed.

Rather than look to larger, more palatial estates that you could drive a car through, homeowners are looking to fix what they have. They know they will not get top dollar for their existing home if they sell it for a bigger home so they are turning to remodeling instead of building. Remodeling allows them to have many of the comforts, and even luxuries that they would have likely purchased with a newly constructed home a few years ago.

Small remodelers are doing well. Builders are struggling. But the economy is changing and many of the legitimate builders are now looking to the remodeling field.

It’s an easy call to say that a new house will need not only the services of the tradespeople to build it, but goods and services to furnish and decorate it. What is also true is that there is a large supply of existing homes for sale and home buyers can purchase more home today with their dollar than they can build one today.

It will take time — probably quite a while, before the housing market rights itself. The population must grow to create a need for all of the homes on the market today. Home prices will either continue to fall or will stabilize as inflation of salaries makes the American dream possible once again. New college graduates cannot afford the prices homeowners were asking and therefore existing home prices will continue to stagnate until they reach a point where those entering the workforce can afford a mortgage.

Times like this are opportunities to remodel — not build. Until the economists understand this simple fact, they will continue to play chicken little and offer little understanding and no value to an honest analysis of our current economic climate.

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22
April
2011

Unions must change, but not in ways you might think

The 40 hour work week. Child labor laws. Safe workplace practices. Unions rightly deserve credit for all of these changes. Unions have helped to make this a better country. But unlike what the Republicans in power now want the public to believe, there can be a valuable place for unions in todays workplace but not without change.

Unions have made tremendous gains and they have suffered devastating losses in the last several decades. Their problem is that they have been fighting the wrong fights and it is finally catching up with them.

Republicans have become very good at dividing the public. Union leadership and their stranglehold over rank and file members has led to the death of some unions and others feeling pain. If unions are to survive, they must reform their own structure but this is unlikely.

Union leadership is controlled by long-standing members with seniority. They negotiate contracts that are thought to benefit their membership, but disproportionately benefit more senior members. By now everyone has heard Republican Governor Scott Walker talk about the bus driver who made over $100,000 in a year. He is happy to drag out examples of the highest paid union workers and present them as though they were the norm. Understanding that many Wisconsinites who live outside of Milwaukee County look at Milwaukee with disdain, he has fueled that hatred and division by pointing to the most extreme examples in Milwaukee and suggested that Milwaukee is a drain on their tax dollars.

I say that reform is unlikely because those who are closest to retirement are unlikely to give up the gains they have made and are just as unlikely to retire early. Senior members have seen other senior union members enjoy the generous pay and benefits of their final years of employment and will believe it is their long awaited turn.

The real problem with most labor unions is that younger members are not given the opportunity to be in leadership. Therefore the more senior members decide what is best for the entire union. Although union members call themselves brothers and sisters, their family relationship is often contentious with the younger members not having a voice or way to express their frustration.

Case in point; when I served on the Milwaukee County Board, the Milwaukee County Deputies union was in negotiation with the county over a contract. County negotiators made it clear that there was only a finite amount of money that was on the table. Union leadership came up with a plan that would raise the top pay of more senior deputies while reducing the starting pay for newly hired deputies to about $23,000 per year. Milwaukee County was at that time seen as a great place for a young person to get their training, but they would often leave (and take their expensive law enforcement training with them) for better paying jobs in other communities. Had the County accepted what union leadership wanted, the County would have continued to hemmorage newly trained deputies while senior deputies said no.

A little full disclosure here — I believe in unions. One of my grandfathers was a union milkman, another was a teamster who worked his entire career at a freight company. They worked hard for their companies and didn’t switch jobs. Neither was in union leadership but they were both able to support their families in relative middle class comfort. While I am a successful self employed businessman, my customers are in the middle class.

But back to the County. I was on the Personnel committee at the time. What I am about to tell you was confidential information from closed meetings in which we discussed the best position for the county. I will admit that I was the Supervisor who was upset at the closed meeting when I was told what union leadership wanted. I was the one who said “no way in hell”. It did not make any sense to me that we would take the easy route and give even higher salaries to more senior deputies when we were losing new deputies because their union wanted to pay the new deputies a pittance. Many of these new deputies were college graduates. They knew that, at a minimum, they would have to serve 5 years of jail duty before they would be considered for other assignments. Many had student loans that had to be repaid. I was able to get enough votes from my colleagues to send the negotiators back to the table and tell the unions the minimum salary for a starting deputy would be at least $28,000. That was the minimum amount we figured would be necessary to keep other deputies from fleeing the county for other, higher paying communities.

I have no kind words for the man who was their union president at that time. He was greedy. I’m proud to say that he didn’t get what he wanted. He then led the deputies to vote against a generous pension plan which their entire membership later regretted.

The deputy’s union is not unique. Historically teachers unions have protected low quality teachers at the expense of providing our children a quality education. WEAC, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, deserves kudos for their recent reversal of their position where promotions and pay can be based on merit — not seniority.

Reforming unions means that younger members must be included in leadership. Younger members can no longer be used by senior members as a tool for better pay and benefits for only the senior members. They need to start treating each other as brothers and sisters who care about each other rather than treating each other like Cain and Able. In families a big brother looks after his little brother. Unions need to return to that model.

Right now we are experiencing the most polarized electorate I have seen in my lifetime. Republicans are attempting to build a powerful majority by building malice and division among the public. Making public employees and unions look greedy will help them do that. When unions negotiate contracts which allow their more senior members to have the best pay and all of the overtime opportunities, they give Republicans more fuel for their campaign fires.

They are eating their young.

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6
April
2011

Trounced! Abele delivers crushing blow to Stone, Walker

In a crushing blow to the Wisconsin GOP, Greenfield State Representative Jeff Stone learned that there are ramifications to being a rubber stamp for Governor Scott Walker. Philanthropist Chris Abele won a stunning 61% of the vote compared to Stone’s 39% in what was widely considered to be a referendum on the policies of Scott Walker.

Irony abounds in this race. Walker was the Milwaukee County Executive who won not just one but three elections in Milwaukee County before leaving the county post for the Governor’s mansion. But Walker’s was a classic case of over-reaching by thinking that voters gave him carte blanc to pursue the radical agenda he wasted no time in passing. Stone made the mistake of thinking that talk radio would deliver him the votes he needed to win the seat. After all, it worked for Walker, it should work for Stone, right?

Wrong.

Voters across the state had one of the most contentious Supreme Court races to choose from than they have ever had on their plate. Incumbent, and former Republican Speaker of the State Assembly, David Prosser was defending his seat against Assistant Attorney General Joann Kloppenburg. Prosser is part of the 4-3 Republican sympathizer majority on the court and if he has the chance, he will certainly uphold the Walker legislation stripping workers of their collective bargaining rights.

The Supreme Court race has been dominated by outside interest ads including those from billionaire David Koch‘s Americans for Prosperity PAC. Koch used his ads to smear Kloppenburg.

One of the advertised criticisms of Kloppenburg has been that she has never been a judge. This is true. However, David Prosser was never a judge before he became a Justice on the Supreme Court either. Kloppenburg and her allies failed to point this out in her ads and even as this is being written, the results of that race are within 1000 votes and it is too close to call. (It astounds the mind that a state Supreme Court race would come down to less than 1000 votes.)

State Representative Jeff Stone

Abele’s race however was anything but close. He played his cards very well. Although the GOP muck raking machine was as effective as they have ever been, Abele neutralized their claims by running a great ad which quickly dismissed the Stone mudslinging and identified Abele as a leader needed for changing times.

Stone took the unusual approach of touting his education and degrees which are impressive. He contrasted himself to Abele who has not completed a college. But this is Milwaukee County. Our blue collar roots run deep. Voters have already made it quite clear in the past 3 County Executive races that a degree does not matter. After all, Walker had been criticized for dropping out of college but it never affected his winning his Exec races. It was a poorly thought out calculation to claim he was more experienced based on a college degree that voters don’t care about.

This race was more than about whether Chris Abele or Jeff Stone were good guys. This race was also a referendum on Scott Walker. Never in the time that Walker was in office in Milwaukee County did he ever try anything as radical as killing the unions. He underfunded departmental budgets. He created a yearly fiscal crisis by understating expenses and overstating revenues. He borrowed heavily to continue to fund programs and infrastructure the local public holds dear. He even kicked privatization up a notch above and beyond the privatizing that his predecessor, Tom Ament, had already done.

But as County Executive, Walker never had the ability to attack all nearly all unions at the same time. When he did that, under an all too transparent guise of balancing the budget, the pendulum swung back to hit him. When Walker went on television and said that the protesters were dominated by out of state union representatives, anyone of the hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites who had traveled to Madison to protest were outraged. They felt belittled. They were correct in thinking that their voices were being ignored. Walker sent a very clear message to Wisconsinites who disagreed with him — they did not matter.

And then Jeff Stone voted with Scott Walker.

The public was enraged. Walker continued his policy of dividing people against their neighbors. Everyone has an opinion about this issue. Firefighters, who were hailed as selfless heroes in the aftermath of the 9-11 terrorist attack on the world trade center are maligned as overpaid and selfish. Teachers who dedicate their days to teaching children and their nights and weekends to grading papers are being portrayed by the Walker allies as being greedy and out of touch. Every public employee throughout the state has at some time in the last few months had Walker fanatics tease them or mock them for their pension or benefits package that is part of their negotiated compensation.

Walker made these public servants feel unappreciated and a target for malice and envy.

And then Jeff Stone voted with Scott Walker.

Walker’s use of class warfare has been effective in the past but many union members have still voted for him. This has emboldened the GOP and their funders to dial up the class warfare fight. They have made it clear that they want to tie public servants to greed. Even in the Supreme Court race, Joann Kloppenburg was called a “government lawyer”. In the past, being a prosecuting attorney or an assistant Attorney General would have great on a political resume. Since that would not serve the Prosser campaign, the Prosser allies attempted to tie Kloppenburg to those greedy government workers.

Clearly allying himself to Walker was not a wise move for Jeff Stone. He should have smelled his own blood in the water when two committees to recall republican senators turned in enough votes to force an election to toss out Walker’s rubber stamp allies. It is a monumental task to gather nearly 20,000 signatures to force a recall election and anti-Walker activists are close to filing against a third Republican Senator.

Abele, who ran a great campaign, was certainly a beneficiary of Stone’s alliance with Walker. This wasn’t just a small slap on the wrist for Walker. It was an uppercut that will daze the GOP and will likely force them to change their strategy going into the 2012 elections.

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31
March
2011

Extremists like Stone, Walker show the new face of Republicanism

The new face of Republicanism is coming into focus. Their agenda is clear — strip the middle class of their ability to make a living and make them pay for tax breaks for large corporations.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has instituted his policy of stripping public workers of their rights to bargain collectively. The republican controlled legislature has rubber stamped all of Walker’s policies. State Rep. Jeff Stone, who is running for Milwaukee County Executive, voted for the plan but then said he would not have proposed such a plan. Maine Governor Paul LePage has ordered removal of a labor mural on a building housing his states Department of Labor, because it appears to be pro-labor. The Maine legislature is poised to pass a bill to lower the minimum wage to $5.25 an hour and allow businesses to keep 16 and 17 year old students at work until 11pm on a school night. New statistics have come out showing that private schools under perform public schools even as Governor Walker wants to lift the cap on choice schools which take money away from public schools and give it to these under performing private schools.

How did we get here? Are Americans really that stupid that they would knowingly vote for people who would screw the middle class?

The answer is that the media perverts the facts in ways that benefit their advertisers. Our laws allow slander and misinformation in political commercials. Americans believe that if it’s on the news, or if it comes over the radio, it must be true. Even good people have been convinced that it is their taxes that will go up if candidates who would actually benefit them, were to be elected. The corporately controlled news media has it in their best interest to support large business tax breaks because their advertisers will stay with them if their bias is with them.

Republican candidates who endorse the corporate policies made to redistribute wealth from the poor and middle class, receive generous support from their corporate bosses. This Nottingham-esqe approach is the opposite of the Robin Hood approach of taking from the rich and giving to the poor. In the new Republican world order, it is the filthy middle class that wants to ruin everything for their hard working corporate bosses.

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18
March
2011

Sykes Kicks off Smear Campaign Against Abele

Well at least he’s consistent. Anytime a democrat is beating a republican in the polls prior to an election, WTMJ radio talk show host Charlie Sykes starts his aggressive smear campaign. This time his intended victim is Chris Abele, the Milwaukee philanthropist who is running for Milwaukee County Executive against Jeff Stone. Sykes is a big backer of Governor Scott Walker and his plan to kill collective bargaining and give big tax breaks to billionaire corporations. Abele is not. As a State Representative, Jeff Stone has rubber stamped the Walker plans.

For weeks now all that Sykes has had to attack Abele for has been the fact that Abele seems to rack up an average of 3 parking tickets each month. He pays them, but apparently Sykes believes this is akin to a crime.

In his lust for muckraking, Sykes is howling about an old OWI ticket. It turns out that 15 years ago, which incidentally is about the same time that Sykes left his wife and children to pursue an adulterous love affair with his now-wife, Abele got behind the wheel after having a few too many drinks. I’m not going to try to excuse it, and neither is Abele, but a little context is needed here.

Abele was in his 20’s.

Clearly it wasn’t the most mature thing to do, but it wasn’t like he was a mature man well into his 30’s running off with some tart while he had a wife and children at home. That would be Sykes.

It’s a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black.

Meanwhile, the candidate who Sykes hopes to benefit, Jeff Stone, is happy to chortle over the new found ticket. But really now — there are massive protests of 100,000 plus Wisconsinites marching at Madison to protest Governor Walker’s budget and Stone just rubber stamped the plan. Stone’s approval of the Walker plan wasn’t a bad decision 15 years ago, it was this month. There are several Republican Senators who are going to be facing recall elections within the next few months to pay for their complete and utter contempt for the middle class, but Stone doesn’t seem to care what his constituents thing. If not for a Wisconsin law that protects politicians in the first year after they are elected, Stone would be facing a recall himself.

So if we’re going to talk about credibility, let’s talk about what’s going on now, not something that happened when one of the candidates was in their 20’s.

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