Filed under: Smoking — Christian Schneider @ 10:40 am
In order to run a house of the state legislature, party discipline is a must. Certain members of your caucus aren’t going to agree with leadership on everything, but a lot of them will go along for the ride to achieve a greater goal.
In the Wisconsin State Senate, Democratic leadership is pushing for a smoking ban in virtually every business in the state. They cite the ban as a health issue, and have the backing of groups like Smoke Free Wisconsin and the American Cancer Society.
Until this point, Democratic Senator Roger Breske has been playing good soldier and working on a compromise bill for his caucus. Breske represents a district full of local taverns that just want government to leave them alone and make their own choices about what’s best for their businesses. As a result, Senator Breske is skeptical of the long arm of government reaching up into the north woods to micromanage the property rights of his constituents.
This week, Senate Democrats held a press conference to announce their economic “stimulus” package. During the question and answer period, Breske was asked about the smoking ban. He stammered a little, describing the process up to this point, and the fact that no agreement had been reached. Senate Majority Decker stepped in immediately to reiterate the caucus position that a smoking ban is needed.
Breske was then asked a follow-up question, at which point he dropped the “consensus builder” charade and told it like it is. He pointed out the fact that these taverns are often all the owners have in terms of investments, and a smoking ban could shut them down (a point Decker conceded in his comments.) He then bemoaned government “sticking its nose” in everyone’s business, saying, “why does the government have to tell everyone what to do all the time?”
At this point, the Senate Democrats behind him begin shifting nervously, their eyes darting around the room. Senator John Lehman cracked a smile.
Breske went on: “I just can’t believe this is what we’re here for. We should be doing something decent… instead of trying to put people out of business. I know that they say this is the greatest thing in the world, that it’s going to solve all the health problems in the country, but that’s hogwash. I was born and raised in a barn since I was that high, and I was tending bar since I was that high (holding hand four feet above the ground.) And there was only one light bulb in the bar. There was no fans, and everyone smoked. It was blue in there. Come on, I’m still alive, and I’m 69 years old. It’s sickening.”
(If you’re keeping score that would be Breske 1, science 0.)
Needless to say, Breske’s remarks are likely not going to make their way into the Democrats’ talking points when they eventually pass a smoking ban. While the media love nothing more than covering Republicans that criticize other Republicans, here’s an independent Democrat who deserves credit for exposing the wrongheadedness of a statewide smoking ban. Kudos to him.
Video of the press conference can be seen at the WisconsinEye website here. Breske begins at the 17:30 mark, but begins his breathtaking tirade at 20:00.
Filed under: Health Care — Christian Schneider @ 4:50 pm
Interesting article this week in The Economist, where they point out that increased Medicare funding, in the form of President Bush’s Medicare Part D program, might actually be harming seniors in the program.
While they concede that the program has been able to get seniors lower costs on prescription drugs, it has also faced damaging cost overruns that threaten to cut into other areas of Medicare spending. Specifically, if the prescription drug plan continues to grow, reimbursement to doctors for treating elderly Medicare recipients may be cut. As a result, many doctors would simply refuse to treat Medicare patients. Others would treat them, but pass the costs on to non-Medicare patients to make up for the reduced payments.
Doctors and hospitals already had a disincentive to take on Medicare patients, as cost-cutting laws enacted by Congress years ago were anyway hurting their margins. But in late December, Congress went further, and very nearly enacted a mandatory 10% cut in doctors’ reimbursements for Medicare patients. In the end, doctors got a six-month reprieve; efforts are now under way in the Senate to extend that reprieve for a further two years. If such cuts go through, most doctors will think again about treating Medicare patients.
Mr Bush’s Medicare reforms are popular today, but a backlash may be coming. Some private firms have been caught manipulating the elderly into signing up for inappropriate plans. Questions are being asked about why the public is subsidising the marketing expenses of pharmaceutical companies’ expenses that the public sector does not incur. Those doubts will turn into howls if Part D puts the rest of Medicare under the scalpel.
Filed under: Elections — Christian Schneider @ 11:04 am
The second biggest story of this weekend (behind Barack Obama beating Hillary Clinton in the South Carolina, which yielded an almost Saddam Hussein-style landslide) seemed to be the flurry of endorsements granted in the last couple ofÂ days.Â Desperate for anything newsworthy, national news outletsÂ stopped just short of cutting into “To Catch a Predator”Â to announce news that (gasp!) Dick Cheney’s daughter had endorsed Mitt Romney.
I’m not a big believer that endorsements mean anything.Â I mean, who really cares if Caroline Kennedy is voting for Barack Obama?Â Who says to themself, “well, someone who shares Dick Cheney’s genetic material likes Romney, that should pretty muchÂ counteract the fact that he’s switched his position on every issue that means anything to me.”Â Â And what’s the deal with presidential daughters that makes themÂ qualified to tell me who to vote for?Â Â Should we get Jenna Bush on record?Â (Breaking news: Jenna Bush endorses Beefeater gin to get your buzz on!)
They keep telling me what a big deal it is that Florida Governor Charlie Crist endorsed John McCain (Crist had previously endorsed spray-on tanning bronzer.)Â All that really tells me is that McCain sent enough Facebook messages to Crist begging for his endorsement.Â (Charlie Crist – You’ve been SuperPoked!)Â Honestly, who knows what kinds of deals are swung behind the scenes to garner endorsements – rarely do they have anything to do with philosophy or ideology. Let’s just say if elected President, McCain probably won’t have to wait long for a call from Crist asking if there might be any cabinet appointments available.
The biggest endorsement of all came when Senator Ted Kennedy endorsed Obama.Â Kennedy might actually be a big enough name to move some votes in Massachusetts – but I pity anyone who decides their vote based on the recommendation of anyone else, even if they are a Kennedy.Â Also, imagine the conceit involved in offering up an endorsement – thinking that somehow you have the expertise and moral authority to tell other people how to vote.Â I value the opinion of the guy who makes my sandwiches at Quizno’s more than I do any elected official.Â
This election cycle is bizarre in that campaign “strategy” seems to be deciding who will be the nominees.Â One thing I don’t understand is how voters tend to make up their minds on who to support based on a candidate’s physical proximity to where they live.
Take, for example, Rudy Giuliani, whose strategy has been to focus mainly on Florida, while campaigning lightly in New Hampshire, Michigan, Iowa, and South Carolina.Â Who are these voters that say, “Boy, I really like Rudy’s leadership and conservative economic values, but I just wish he had spent a little more time near my house?”Â What does where a candidate campaigns have to do with what kind of president he (or she) will be?Â In the internet age, you can get as much or as little information about candidates as you want.Â It’s not like people in South Carolina had never heard of Giuliani because he didn’t show up there very often.Â People weren’t saying “who is this bald man from the north coming to offer us prosperity?”Â They rejected him because he committed the sin of not kissing their behinds for a week straight.
I’m wondering how the “presidential proximity principle” will be applied in the future.Â For instance, Mitt Romney spent a ridiculous amount of time campaigning in Iowa.Â And Iowa is only a couple hours away from where I live in Madison.Â All that separates Iowa from Wisconsin is an imaginary line that makes some of us “Iowans” and some of us “Wisconsinites.”Â By that standard, should I vote for Romney because he spent more time closest to where I live?Â Or do I have to wait for the week of the Wisconsin primary to see who spends the most time in Wisconsin?Â Is John McCain’s stance on campaign finance reform suddenly going to become more palatable to me when he’s waving at me driving down West Washington Avenue?
It does appear that the GOP race is narrowing to a two-man race: McCain versus Romney.Â Naturally, both have significant downsides with traditional conservatives.Â McCain has taken unspeakably bad positions on important issues, but he’s most right on the issue that matters the most: the war in Iraq.Â Romney has flip flopped on so many issues, it’s hard to believe he’s the same person that held office in Massachusetts.
The bottom line with Romney is that it’s clear he had to take some of the liberal positions he held in order to be elected governor in a blue state.Â In the end, was Massachusetts better off with Romney as governor?Â Probably.Â He could have remained ideologically pure, but it would have cost him his election.Â For instance, I believe Romney has always been pro-life.Â But he had to support abortion rights to get elected, where he could then have the power to shape policy.
Yet some of these flip-flops look terrible during the current campaign, and they could cost Romney dearly in a general election.Â For conservative voters in the late-primary states, voting for Romney is like crawling back to an old girlfriend who cheated on you.Â But your pathetic life has become defined by Playstation, pizza boxes, and Victoria’s secret catalogues.Â So you cross your fingers, make the call, and hope she doesn’t do it again.
On the Democratic side, all sides involved want to make the race about things that matter the least – race and gender.Â Obama loyalists are decrying the Clintons’ use of “racial code words” to denigrate their candidate.
Personally, I think all the charges of racial manipulation byÂ Team Clinton are overblown.Â Basically, the media had the script to this campaign written well before it even started.Â It was RACE VERSUS SEX!Â And now that Bill Clinton has opened up his assault on Obama, it has to be about RACE!Â Somehow, Clinton calling Obama’s position on the war a “fairy tale” is a RACIAL CODEWORD!Â (If you don’t find anything racially insensitive about Hillary Clinton giving LBJ credit for his work on the Civil Rights Act, then you haven’t been properly trained in the fine art of perpetual grievance.)
Granted, Bill Clinton made the point that “Jesse Jackson won South Carolina” in an attempt to downplay theÂ primary’s significance.Â But comparing Obama to Jesse Jackson isn’t an insult because Jesse Jackson is black – it’s an insult because Jesse Jackson is a clown.
Barack Obama’s speech after his victory Saturday night gave me chills. He doesn’t say anything philosphically that hasn’t already been said, but he is a rhetorical mastermind. He uses wonderful examples, and his cadence and command of his audience are stunning.
How ironic is it that Hillary Clinton is now the victim of the same traits that her husband used to vault himself into the presidency? Obama’s charm, good looks, and forceful speaking are the very tools Bill Clinton used to separate himself from more practical candidates like Paul Tsongas. Effectively, Obama has turned the script around on the Clintons – ironic, since nobody actually believes Hillary would be in this position without that very strategy in the first place.
One of the ironies on Obama’s side is how he has to go out of his way to proclaim his love of Christianity and of Jesus Christ. These moments in debates seem to get lost, but they are fascinating. Obviously, the rumors of Obama’s religious leanings are out there, so he has to make a point of giving some love to “JC” when he speaks. And it seems completely out of place. It’s as if he took some time in the middle of a debate to discuss his love of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. On the other hand, when Republican candidates express their love of Jesus during debates, they are roundly mocked.
As a final word, anyone who utters the term “Barack Hussein Obama” is an idiot. There are no exceptions to this rule. You all know why.
(That being said, after the events of 9/11, I would have put $1,000 on the fact that someone named “Murderer Pedophile Terrorist” woud be elected president before someone named “Barack Hussein Obama.”)
For those of you looking for easier access to WPRI’s products, we have good news: WPRI has now moved into the 21st century and added a feed to our main page, wpri.org.Â Just click here and add the feed to your feed reader, and you’ll beÂ instantly updated when a new WPRI commentary or report becomes available.Â You can also access the feed from the RSS link on the main page.
Also, keep an eye out for new features at the WPRI site as we roll them out.
Milwaukee recently decided to further its quest in becoming yet another municipality to allow electric cars on streets with speed limits at 35 mph or less. The first such vehicle that seems to be a candidate is the Canadian manufactured Zenn. This car is a very good idea. It will be able to travel up to 35 miles on a full charge, which takes about 8 hours to complete or just 4 hours to get a nearly full charge. According to the manufacturer, it costs only 1 or 2 cents per mile to operate whereas a conventional car costs 8 to 12 cents per mile. It maintains a car frame with all of the convenient features of a car such as air conditioning and power windows. The Zenn is great for the environment giving off no harmful emissions at the automobile level.
But there is one problem I can foresee. The Zenn cannot travel faster than 25 miles per hour. Since it is allowed on streets with speed limits up to 35 miles per hour, I do not personally look forward to getting stuck behind a Zenn while driving on busy streets in Milwaukee. While it is true that disobeying the speed limit causes many accidents, it is also likely that driving too slow causes accidents as well, especially on hectic streets in Milwaukee.
It is my humble opinion that 25 mph is too slow of a regulated speed for the Zenn and should not be allowed on city streets with stated speed limits of 35 mph. For some people, driving in Milwaukee is stressful enough. Looking out for unreasonably slow cars is one more headache I would like to avoid.
Filed under: Budget — Christian Schneider @ 4:00 pm
Lately, we’ve been talking a lot about the possibility of recession and what that could mean for the state’s finances.Â An economic slowdown would harm Wisconsin far more than it would other states, since our state doesn’t have any kind of meaningful budget reserve on which to draw.Â And if you don’t believe me, I have 18 pages to prove it.
Naturally, it’s going to be hard to set money aside when the state is trying toÂ plug the shortfall that is almost certain to come.Â As the old saying goes, “you don’t fix your roof when it’s raining.”Â It would be much easier to set money aside during the good times – but since the state has never really recovered from the deficitsÂ caused byÂ the 2001 recession, there really haven’t been any “good times” recently.
As it turns out, the Legislature has recently contemplated the need to set money aside.Â State Representative Eugene Hahn, who has announced he’s not running for another term, has introduced Assembly Bill 329, which would dedicate one percent of state expenditures to a budget stabilization fund.Â Apparently, responsible budgeting is reserved for people who don’t have to worry about running again – which may be a decent argument for term limits.
In the grand scheme of things, Hahn’s bill is fairly modest.Â As the WPRI report points out, nationwide rainy day funds had reached $62.1 billion, or 10.9% of expenditures, by 2006.Â Hahn’s bill merely appropriated 1% of expenditures to assist in future budget crises.Â Given, Hahn’s bill has no chance of being signed into law as separate legislation – any money set aside would almost have to be done as a larger budget package.Â But it is instructive to smoke out members of the Legislature who refuse to think ahead and save money for future downturns.
In May of 2007, the Assembly Committee on Ways and Means heldÂ a hearing on Hahn’s rainy day fund bill.Â Naturally, Hahn showed up to testify in favor of the bill.Â Curiously, the “nonpartisan” League of Women Voters showed up to oppose the bill.Â In their testimony, they compare the bill to the now-defunctÂ Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) and say they “oppose it as the antithesis of the real need of the State to increase its revenues.”Â They said that the bill “contrasts with purpose of the ‘rainy day fund’ which is to ensure revenues are available despite shortfalls in tax and other revenue collection which are due to swings in the economy.”
(To see an actual copy of the League of Women Voters’ testimony, click here.)
Trying to parse such incoherence is impossible.Â Basically, they’re saying that the state’s biggest problem is that they don’t collect enough in taxes.Â Yet even if they achieved their “high tax utopia,” (we’re already there, incidentally) there would still be substantial deficits in times of declining revenues.Â In fact, the more the state relies on taxes, the bigger the crash will be when a recession hits.Â It appears that rather than using money saved up, they would much rather increase taxes during an economic downturn, which would further punish people who are out of work or making less in salary.
(By the way, ladies, Â aren’t you glad the League of Women Voters speaks for you? Apparently, a requirement of being a “woman” in Wisconsin is to push for more income and more spending.Â Something Wisconsin husbands figured out years ago.Â Am I right guys?Â Hello?Â Is this thing on?)Â
Despite the fact that their position will likely send the state careening into economic discord, it appears they were convincing to a number of members of the committee.Â Â When the committee voted on the bill in July, Â it passed by an 8-to-5 margin:Â Republicans Kerman, Lothian, Hahn, Jeskewitz, Wood, Pridemore and StrachotaÂ were joined by Democrat BobÂ Ziegelbauer in favor.Â Democrats Steinbrink, Fields, Hebl, Toles and Kessler all voted to protect Wisconsin’s standing as the worst-budgeting state in the nation.
In other news, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau today estimated a $300 to $400 million shortfall in the current biennium.Â My paper assumed a $408 million shortfall this biennium, based on the length and depth of the 2001 recession.Â So it appears my estimates may be pretty close.Â (In fact, the LFB memo essentially says they’ll get back to us in February – so my $408 estimate may be enough to get me to the Showcase Showdown.)
In Governor Doyle’s State of the State speech last night, he bragged that the state had “cut spending, cut taxes, and deposited $50 million in a rainy day fund.”Â Set aside, for a moment, the laughable notion that this past budget cut taxes and spending.
In fact, Doyle was required to deposit that $50 million in the budget stabilization fund by a little-known law passed in Governor McCallum’s 2001 budget.Â The provision, tucked away in the 2001-03 budget, required half the state’s unanticipated revenue be placed in the rainy day fund.Â Had that provision not existed, I think we all know what the chances are that Doyle would have set that money aside.
So thank you, Governor McCallum.Â Your assistance in writing Jim Doyle’s talking points is duly noted.
Filed under: Courts — Christian Schneider @ 11:16 am
I’m just about finished with Jeffrey Toobin’s “The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court,” which purports (as the title suggests) to be an inside look at what makes the U.S. Supreme Court tick.Â It’s an entertaining read, but can hardly be considered a serious examination of the Court, given the baseless opinions Toobin offers, and the factual errors even I was able to pick out.
For instance, on page 234, Toobin criticizes Justice John Paul Stevens thusly:
“His intense patriotism prompted the most out-of-character vote of his judicial career, when he sided with the conservatives in the famous flag-burning case of 1989.Â In his dissent in that case, Stevens said burning the flag was not protected by the First Amendment, because ‘it is more than a proud symbol of the courage, the determination, and the gifts of nature that transformed 13 fledgeling Colonies into a world power.Â It is a symbol of freedom, of equal opportunity, of religious tolerance, and of goodwill for other peoples who share our aspirations.’”
Naturally, Toobin thinks that “out-of-character” for the reliably liberal Stevens means “wrong.”Â Fair enough.Â But he is actually incorrect in saying that Stevens “sided with the conservatives” in the case.Â (In fact, since he acknowledges that the Texas v. Johnson case is a “famous” case, he should have figured people could easily look it up.)
In Texas v. Johnson, the majority opinion was written by the liberal Justice Brennan, who was joined by justices Marshall, Blackmun, Scalia, and Kennedy.Â Dissenting were Chief Justice Rehnquist and justices O’Connor (the hero of Toobin’s book), White, and Stevens.Â Of the “conservatives” on the Court, Scalia and Rehnquist split (I, personally,Â happen to agree with Scalia).Â Even the moderate Republican appointees, O’Connor and Kennedy, split.Â So in his rush to paint conservatives as willing to suppress free speech rights, Toobin gets his votes exactly wrong.
There are a number of these errors in the book that intend to make the Court’s conservatives look likeÂ intellectual lightweights, guided solely by partisanship.Â Toobin’s treatment of the 2000 Bush v. Gore case is particularly troublesome, as he repeatedly asserts that the Court badly mismanaged the case – without even paying lip service to the arguments for the Court agreeing to take it up.Â It’s almost as if he forgot the national circus that the repeated voteÂ counting in Florida caused, and he can’t conceive of the Supreme Court’s role in wanting to rectify the situation.Â And he broadly asserts that the reason the Court took it up was purely partisan – without offering even a shred of evidence.Â Justices Scalia and Thomas are particularly portrayed as buffoonish, while much more ink is given to the “deep thinking” and “thoughfulness” of Breyer, O’Connor and Souter.
A number ofÂ Toobin’sÂ errorsÂ have been chronicled in depth on otherÂ blogs.Â
That all being said, it is a good read,Â especially if you want a perspective on the big cases of the past 15 years.Â But I hate being stuck in a situation where I have about 100 pages of a book left to read, and I’m not exactly sure whether I’m going to be getting factual information the rest of the way home.Â I feel obligated to finish, since I’ve invested the time to get this far, but I’m skeptical of what I’m being told (from what I understand, I’m about to learn how Samuel Alito is the root of all evil in the U.S. judicial system, so I’m bracing myself.)
SIDE NOTE:Â Toobin advances the tired and commonly-used idea that conservatives on the court are exercising their own brand of “conservative judicial activism.”Â I would suggest reading Rick Esenberg’s Wisconsin Interest piece on “activism” versus “restraint” if youÂ inexplicably have found yourself making this argument.
Filed under: Budget — Christian Schneider @ 10:41 am
Last week, I released a report that showed how woefully unprepared Wisconsin will be for an economic downturn.Â In fact, if Wisconsin were to see a recession that matched the length and depth of the 2001 recession (a fairly mild one, by comparison), legislators and the Governor would have to come up with $4.2 billion in cumulative spending cuts or tax increases over a four-year period.
As it turns out, this report ended up being fairly timely.Â As the Washington Post reported last week, state governments all over the country are dealing with the prospect of falling revenues.Â Also last week, the Wisconsin State Journal editorialized in favor of more sound budgeting practices, using the WPRI report as a basis for their recommendations.
This week, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel began looking into the prospect of increasing deficits brought on by a sluggish economy.Â In the article, Governor Jim Doyle recognizes the possibility ofÂ a slowdown, saying it could be “tough” on state finances.Â As the WPRI paper argues, it didn’t have to be so “tough,” if Wisconsin legislators had been willing to fulfill the minimumÂ requirements of fiscalÂ planning (that virtually every other state hasÂ been able to do.)Â
As many of you may have noticed, last week’s post on Jeri Ryan brought our servers crashing down. Links from some popular national blogs sent an avalanche of readers here and melted down our server.
In response, we have now upgraded our server. The site should run a little more quickly and more reliably. Also, we are planning some new features both here and at wpri.org - so keep an eye out for those.
Filed under: Elections — Christian Schneider @ 11:25 pm
With Barack Obama’s meteoric rise topping the news these days, many people have forgotten the bizarre series of events that paved the way to his stunning ascendance. It’s especially interesting given that some personal and minor details, thought at the time to be insignificant, could now eventually shape the world we live in – given that Obama has a realistic chance to win the presidency. In retrospect, Obama’s presidential run was the candidacy that almost never happened.
Back in 2004, Barack Obama was an Illinois state senator with some modest accomplishments on his resume. He spearheaded welfare reform in the Illinois statehouse, and took the lead in passing a law that required interrogations in murder cases to be videotaped.
After unsuccessfully challenging strong Democratic incumbent Bobby Rush in a Congressional primary in 2000, Obama returned in 2004 to run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Republican Senator Peter Fitzgerald. Obama emerged from a crowded Democratic primary that included multi-millionaire Blair Hull, who spent $29 million of his own money in the primary alone (including paying homeowners $75 a day to keep his signs in their yards). In an 8-candidate race, Obama garnered 53% of the vote, routing his opponents.
Yet despite running away with the primary, Obama still had a formidable challenge in Republican Jack Ryan. Ryan was an impressive candidate – attractive and wealthy, with law and business degrees from Harvard. After making a fortune at Goldman Sachs, Ryan left to teach in an inner city school.
Yet Ryan had a problem – during the campaign, he was going through a messy divorce from actress Jeri Ryan, of “Star Trek: Voyager” fame. Details of Jeri Ryan’s testimony contained lurid details about Ryan forcing his wife to go to sex clubs in Paris. These details were toxic to Jack Ryan’s campaign, and he saw his poll numbers plummet – eventually, Republican leaders pressed Ryan to quit the race, fearing he was toxic to the statewide ticket.
Eventually, Ryan bowed out, leaving the Illinois Republican Party to find a candidate to run against Obama. This led to the national embarrassment of Alan Keyes moving to Illinois to run. Naturally, Obama won 70%-27%, buoyed by his keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention.
The rest is history. Certainly, Obama deserves all the credit for the way he has excited Democratic crowds around the country – leading to his rout of Hillary Clinton in Iowa. And he may have beaten Jack Ryan on his own. But it’s fascinating to think that the salacious testimony of a woman scorned could one day fundamentally alter the path of the world in which we live. Without it, Barack Obama could still be sitting in the Illinois statehouse, planning his next political move.
UPDATE: Charlie Sykes discussed this post today on the air.Â Listen to it here.