Filed under: Education — Christian Schneider @ 10:36 am
Often times, you hear legislation derided as being aÂ ”special interest” bill.Â Implied in that designation is the notion that the public is left out of writing new laws, with only high-priced lobbyists having access to legislators.Â Recent news stories about “the public” make factcat special interests seem a lot more sympathetic.
AccordingÂ a recent Scripps Howard/Ohio University national poll, nearly two-thirds of Americans believe the U.S. Government ignored specific warnings about 9/11.Â (A 2006 poll by the same researchers found that 36 percent of Americans believe federal government officials “either assisted in the 9/11 attacks or took no action” because they wanted “to go to war in the Middle East.”) Furthermore, 42% Americans think the government knew about the assassination of John F. Kennedy in advance, and 37% of Americans believe the government knows that UFOs are real.Â They must have polled the entire Jetson family.
More concerning are the results of the poll dealing with economics.Â According to the poll, eight out of 10 Americans suspect oil companies are conspiring to keep fuel prices high and 50 percent said a conspiracy is “very likely.” Only 14 percent felt it was unlikely.
So companies trying to charge as much as they can as long as people still buy their product is a “conspiracy?”Â If so, then oil companies are a “conspiracy” in the same way that old people selling lawn elves on eBay are.Â Maybe we should investigate them – how dare they try to get the best price for their product!
This poll was followed by news of a brawl in a Waukesha K-Mart , where people applying forÂ a $4,000 line of credit thought they were getting “free money.”Â Apparently not knowing what “credit” is, the store was flooded with applicants thinking they were getting free cash – causing a fight that led to arrests and hospitalization for a store employee.Â (Do yourself a favor and watch the video clips attached to the story linked above – one credit applicant says she was caught in a “trampede.”)
However, before we criticize the people who though credit was free money, the whole K-Mart debacle isn’t all that different from the way Wisconsin state government has treated debt.Â The Governor and Legislature have increasingly been using the state’s credit card to fund ongoing state operations – the equivalent of taking out a second mortgage to throw a pizza party.Â So, in theory, K-Mart shoppers may be more fiscally conservative than state government.Â They are shopping at K-Mart, after all.Â The only difference is that when the state lines up for “free money,” it doesn’t result in a floor covered in hair and earrings.
Whether it’s voters or elected officials, there’s plenty of education about economics that has to occur. In the case of voters, these are the people that are asked to vote in referendums to determine how much debt school districts should incur to build a new school. Maybe school districts should just go to K-Mart: it is free money, after all.
Further evidence that even elected officials often don’t get it can be found in this article about the dispute between cable companies and the NFL Network.Â The two entities have yet to reach agreement on carrying the network, which is leaving manyÂ Packer fans in the dark for the importantÂ Dallas game on Thursday night.Â When asked for comment, Governor Doyle’s spokesman, Matt Canter, said “Both the cable companies and the NFL are making ridiculous profits, and this is nothing more than extortion from Packers fans.”
There is nothing Doyle’s spokespeople won’t blame on “ridiculous profits,” whether it’s oil companies, hospitals, drug companies, or cable companies.Â Perhaps Canter missed this article from just last week that shows cable companies are hemorrhaging customers, in large part because of their impasse with sports-related stations.Â If Matt Canter fell out of his bed, it’s likely he’d blame it on the “ridiculous profits” of mattress companies.Â
Any time government gets to decide what an appropriate profit margin is, it spells big trouble for business and jobs.Â Meanwhile, state government doesn’t seem the least bit bashfulÂ aboutÂ cashing in onÂ ”ridiculous profits” when revenue increases between 7% and 10% – a common occurence in the 1990s.Â That money is coming out of the same pockets as people who subscribe to cable television service – only paying the state is mandatory.
Filed under: Legislation — Christian Schneider @ 4:55 pm
Today’s Capital Times features an editorial from Madison attorney Fred Wade, a long time proponent of moving Wisconsin to an “item” veto. Currently, Wisconsin has a “partial” veto, which allows governors to take individual words from sentences and “stitch” them together to form sentences (and thus new laws) which the legislature never intended. Hence, the practice has been termed the “Frankenstein Veto.”
Wade would rather see an item veto, which would require governors to veto an entire “item” from an appropriation bill. In other words, a governor would have to approve or deny an entire section or concept, rather than having the ability to eliminate words or write down appropriations. Wade correctly points out that the current situation is an affront to the “separation of powers” concept.
What’s curious, however, is that Wade thinks the legislature should reject the current constitutional amendment because it doesn’t go far enough in correcting the problem. Keep in mind that constitutional amendments must pass two consecutive legislatures and be approved by the voters. Voting this amendment down would set the process back four years. So while this amendment solves a significant problem, Wade apparently thinks bad government should go on unabated until he gets everything that he wants.
Instead of urging failure of an amendment that moves the constitution much closer to his preference, Wade could simply begin lobbying for improvements following passage. It is true that governors would still be able to veto certain words from within sentences to change the sentence’s meaning. He should go on pointing that out. But it’s crazy to say that we should start from scratch, which would leave us with the current system. Who knows if the legislature will ever get this close to agreement on this issue again.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Wade throws in a reference to Nazis, to boot. He says:
In contrast, Adolf Hitler was frank when he wrote in “Mein Kampf” that the executive ought to “possess the authority and right to command” and that the Legislature ought to be reduced to “an advisory, but never a determining voice.”
In the final analysis, the “Frankenstein veto” is another chapter in the struggle between freedom, democracy and representative self-government on one side, and the alternative of one-man rule that was embodied in the divine right of kings, the “democratic centralism” of the Stalin era, and the “fuhrer principle” of Adolf Hitler.
So, apparently, if you support the current incarnation of the veto amendment, you also support Hitler’s “fuhrer principle.”
In the 1990s, the term “Godwin’s Law” was coined. It refers to the concept that the longer an argument goes on, the probability that someone will be compared to Hitler or called a Nazi increases exponentially. This is an almost unfailing occurence on internet message boards, where semi-literate interlocutors reach for the most offensive accusation to make without really having to consider what they’re actually saying. (Otherwise known as reductio ad Hitlerum.)
Many in the internet community have adopted a simple maxim: First to call someone a Nazi loses the argument. In this case, that is perfectly appropriate. If Wade wants to argue that the state would be better off for four more years without any constitutional change to the governor’s veto authority, he is welcome to do so. But invoking the Fuhrer in doing so is beneath him, and only serves to undermine his argument and personal reputation.
SIDE NOTE: If Wade thinks the legislature would go along with a full “item” veto, he’s kidding himself. Democrats had to be dragged kicking and screaming to agree to this minor check on Governor Doyle’s power. Taking away more of his authority would be inconceivable. Even with this change, Doyle would retain the most powerful veto pen in the nation – a point not lost on legislative Democrats.
Filed under: Legislation — Christian Schneider @ 10:04 am
One of my favorite things to do with my dog used to be playing “chase the dot.” We had a laser pointer which would project a little red dot on the floor, which Booker tried to bite. As you moved the dot around, he’d chase it around the house, almost jumping through cabinets trying to devour his elusive target.
This week, the Wisconsin State Senate will take up a bill that purports to provide competition to government-mandated cable television monopolies in the state. Yet somehow, the debate over the bill has morphed into some ridiculous side issues meant to appeal to the broadest common denominator. These side issues have all the philosophical underpinnings and intellectual weight of my dog chasing his red dot. They make one long for the level-headed debates during the recent budget impasse.
Several senators have suggested that an amendment to the bill should mandate that cable companies and new video providers carry the NFL Network and the Big Ten Network, both of which are caught up in acrimonious contract negotiations with cable companies. (For the most part, these are senators who will give long-winded lectures about the sanctity of labor negotiations.) These networks are carried by most satellite dish providers, but no cable providers in Wisconsin. Thus, if people want to see their beloved Green Bay Packers play the Dallas Cowboys this season, they either need to get a dish, go to a bar, or purchase an expanded package.
In steps your state government, to save you from the injustice of leaving your couch to watch the game. Naturally, mandating these networks be shown on a video provider will raise rates on consumers – that’s what the whole impasse is about. So when state government mandates higher cable rates on everyone in the state, you can look forward to follow-up legislation to cap video provider rates for the people that can no longer afford video service. In effect, mandating new networks could counteract the whole purpose of the bill – to save consumers money by providing effective competition.
Furthermore, how exactly is it that the NFL Network and Big Ten Network are so important that they merit legislative action? I pay extra to my satellite company to get the NBA Network. I occasionally watch the Golf Channel. That’s kind of how it works – if something is important enough to a consumer, they usually pay extra for it. But now apparently, whether you have a constitutional right to watch a certain sport depends on the shape of the ball.
And what about other non-sport channels? I enjoy watching “The Wire” as much as anyone – and I consider it to be must-see viewing for everyone. Should we mandate HBO, too? There are actually psychiatric procedures administered to child sex offenders that provide them with “appropriate fantasy material” (and yes, I understand that “appropriate porn” is an oxymoron) in order to steer them away from fantasizing about children. On that basis, it could be rationally argued that mandating the Spice Channel serves more of a real public service than the NFL Network. (I’m trying, guys.)
In fact, defending Wisconsinites’ constitutional right to watch the Badgers choke like dogs has become a veritable cottage industry at the Legislature. Bills are being introduced to provide binding arbitration for cable company negotiations with these networks. Essentially, it would be up to one arbiter to mandate higher cable bills in the state. In introducing their “Fair Access to Networks” (FAN – get it?) legislation, the bill’s authors wrote this unintententionally hilarious press release, which contains lines like:
“There is no reason that all Wisconsin fans should not be able to see the Wisconsin-Ohio State game or the Packers-Cowboys game in November….”
As it currently stands, cable-subscribing football fans living outside the Green Bay and Milwaukee media markets will not be able to watch the Packers play the Dallas Cowboys on November 29th unless of course they subscribe to AT&;T, DirecTV, Dish Network or a similar provider that has reached agreements with the NFL Network.
Incidentally, plenty of fans did miss the Wisconsin-Ohio State game this weekend, and for some reason, the earth didn’t open up and swallow us all. In fact, the game was well worth missing, given the final result. I actually couldn’t stay awake during the game, so I may ask legislators to provide me with caffeine pills to guarantee that I don’t miss the next one – since seeing the game live is apparently my right as a U.S. Citizen.
And you can see they even concede that there are, in fact, other ways to see the game. That’s called competition. If you want to see the games, get a dish. There’s a reason DirecTV pays the going rate for the NFL Network – because it drags people away from cable.
Following the partisan acrimony during the budget, it’s good to see that there’s a terrible issue that can embarrass members of both parties equally. It appears, however, that there’s enough of a bipartisan coalition to thwart these changes. As it turns out, the whole issue was summed up best by Democratic Senator Pat Kreitlow of Eau Claire, who said:
“Personally, I don’t think there is necessarily a legislative role… I’m a supply-and-demand person. If (cable companies) would like a better supply of customers, they need to work on a price.”
In the mean time, Kreitlow’s colleagues will continue to chase the red dot wherever it takes them, regardless of principle or philosophy. If a state government thinks it needs to legislate entertainment, then it literally believes it has a role in every aspect of our lives. Not a comforting thought.