Thursday, September 5, 2013

Things I Learned From Star Trek: Episode I

Mr. Spock was a Liberal Elitist

"Logic is the cement of our civilization, with which we ascend from chaos, using reason as our guide."
Vulcan proverb

"Act, and you may eat dinner. Think, and you may be dinner."
Klingon proverb

The Star Trek character of Mr. Spock is a cultural icon. His recurring theme is one of an intelligent technocrat capable of the most amazing acts of mental discipline and knowledge but one devoid of human feelings and emotions. Over the course of the series and films Spock more than any evolves as a character in search of the human condition and that emotion and feeling are at least as important as the pure logic he values.

One of the best examples is the one titled “The Galileo Seven”. Spock, Bones and five others become
The humanization of Mr. Spock
Leadership is as much about emotion as knowledge
stranded on a planet inhabited by giant spear throwing troglodytes who start killing off the crew one at a time. Spock decides that a show of their weaponry will cause them to reconsider attacking them which only causes them to attack in force bashing the shuttle craft with rocks while Scotty and the others desperately try to repair the ship and escape.

Spock becomes unhinged by this and expresses his shock that his logic did not work. Bones on the other hand berates him saying, “You assumed that they would behave logically. You never anticipated that they might react emotionally!” Spock's Vulcan philosophy had no answer to the illogical reaction of the creatures. In the end Spock makes the necessary adjustments by himself reacting emotionally and committing an act of illogic resulting in their rescue.
When logic fails
Speak the language of emotion

Like the Vulcans, modern Liberals evolved out of more chaotic times. The labor movement was born in riots and death. The strikes of the late 19th and early 20th centuries are hallmarks of a more violent and confrontational time.  The outrages of Joe Hill, the Pullman and coal strikes of a hundred years ago are just the grainy photos in a history book.  The civil rights and anti-war movements were at the zenith for those still living. The images of troops and corporate thugs beating and shooting down strikers and the four dead in Ohio were an easy message to get. It was as much about the emotion of the times as it was the all too real issues of the day.

Progressive leaders like Bob Lafollet were passionate advocates
Fighting Bob
Never lacking for passion!
for bridling the trusts and action on behalf of the common worker. Lafollet was known as “Fighting Bob” and is often seen in photographs with a stern expression and his fist upraised ready to take on the opposition. It was a populist movement built on the emotion of desperate people trying to survive and hungry for the symbolism and leadership to help them.  Lafollet often said that it was "... necessary to be aggressive for what is right.  Modern Liberals like to attend the event known as "Fighting Bob Fest" to feed on the red meat thrown by Liberal luminaries who breath the fire of moral outrage.  But, when they return home revert to old patterns leaving the emotion on the convention floor.  The message falls flat.

The TEA Party is essentially a populist movement too. It gets many things right. It is angry at Wall Street, is suspicious of corporate personhood and knows by their gut that their fortunes are threatened. It is all about the passions that survival invokes. So, why cant we talk to them?

A Progressive friend of mine pointed out that “we” just can't put our complex ideas into short simplistic sound bytes. Consider this for a second what that means. It says that we are so smart and our ideas so profound that we cannot even attempt to communicate in simple terms or consider the possibility that words are not the entire solution.  At the same time it says that we are NOT smart enough to be good word smiths, communicators or actors when on the political stage. I don't buy that and neither would Bones.  If we are really that educated where are the authors and English majors?  Where are the sociologist and the anthropologist and the behavioral psychologists that permeate our overly educated party?

I suggest that the real problem is that like the Vulcans we have forgotten how to talk to ordinary rank
An image we just learn to understand
and avoid
and file working class blue collar or farm populations. We are too far removed, our habits too altered to be recognizable in the worlds they inhabit. The facilitator of that has been our own white collar success which has become our greatest obstacle to communication with that world. Who do we most resemble if not the very corporate bosses that oppress them daily? We play golf and tennis, dress in nice clothes, drink wine or the pricey beer, drive nicer cars, live in better houses and as teachers and government workers are quite capable of leveling the same sort of oppressions upon them as any SOB plant manager. In short, you cannot tell the players without a program.

Meanwhile they fish and hunt, play league sports for bars, drive older cars and drink the cheap beer in cans – and on sale. More often than not they get dirty for a living. White collars shower in the morning so as not to take their odors to work. Blue collars shower at night so as not to take the filth of their jobs into their beds. We do not live in their neighborhoods or see their lives. But worst of all we do not speak their language.

At the same time that plant manager holds much greater sway that any of us ever could. They hold in their hands the worker's daily bread so that any speech holding that SOB accountable is as likely to endanger hearth and home in ways no Liberal could. In fact, attacking the Liberal is likely to curry favor with the boss.  When they ask what we can do for them we are likely to offer the same answer - become educated like us!  Which is often heard as "You are stupid!".  

If we look the same and our solutions are no better what do we have to offer them?  At least the Republican businessman can offer them a job.  We are the easy targets, the ones without obvious consequences. And still we make it worse by mocking their spelling and and calling them dupes.
If we were the Liberal elite what would we look like?

We are the Vulcans. Too smart for our own good. Too sophisticated to see the simple. Too out of touch with our own emotional and violent past to remember what it was like to talk to rough people who are only trying to survive. Too arrogant and too comfortable to use our own skills to seek solutions that do not fit our modern self made molds.
The wrong message
So, what are the solutions? They will not come easy and if you were offended by the previous paragraph unlikely to happen at all. Its time to shake things up!

It has been suggested by some that we need to become less Liberal by shedding at least some values in order to salvage others. Which ones would you suggest? Worker's rights? The environment? Voting rights? Marriage rights? Civil rights? When Solomon ordered the child cut in half to settle the dispute only the true mother fell over it offering herself to defend it. So too would would the Liberal base exodus the Democratic party if that became the resolution.

Its also been suggested that working even harder at GOTV efforts will deliver us into the promised land. Getting out the vote is important but it cannot succeed on its own. Too many have become demoralized and cynical. Do this!  But do more!

But there is a caution here as well.  Raw emotion is not enough.  It must be directed at the right targets and not the seeming opponent standing before us.  He is the deceived victim and not the enemy.  A
A meeting of the minds
As well as cultures
misdirected attack or a raw shouting match does more harm than good.  The ire and the logic must both be directed at those responsible and the case must be made that takes up their causes in their way and their language and their manners.  There must be both a meeting of the minds as well as the cultures.

To do this we need to step out into the worlds of our fellow populists and rediscover the emotional language of our Democratic fathers. A little bombast never hurt anyone as long as it was made from the truths we hold self evident. And to those who's ears it will harm, I invite them to cover them. People who live by their gut respect strong leadership. We need to demonstrate some. By showing some of those old populist values and emotions that served us so well in the too distant past we can like Spock, rediscover our human side. May we live long and prosper.  A little chaos makes us human.

Star date 2013.08.05

Note: I recently came across this piece at Raw Story which I think supports this and other similar points that Ive made:
This is what he believes it would take to refashion the progressive mindset: the abandonment of argument by evidence in favor of argument by moral cause; the unswerving and unembarrassed articulation of what those morals are; the acceptance that there is no “middle” or third way, no such thing as a moderate (people can hold divergent views, conservative on some things, progressive on others – but they are not moderates, they are “biconceptual”);
Progressive linguist George Lakoff: ‘Liberals do everything wrong.’ 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

An Open Letter to Progressives on Syria

This is meant as some food for thought among my fellow Progressives who are unhappy with the move toward taking action in Syria.

It is ultimately true that alleging oppression and genocide have long been the excuses for otherwise unprovoked invasions with ulterior motives.  This is not lost on me as today is the 1st of September and the 74th anniversary of the German invasion of Poland. The pretense for that was the oppression
World highwaymen - Germany invaded Poland today
of ethnic Germans in Poland which of course was not at all true and eventually brought my father to this country after much pain and suffering. Here we remember all too well the great lies told by Bush and Cheney which created the great debacle in Iraq.

But let me also tell you that WW II itself was equally a demonstration that military force can and should be used as a force for good in the world. My father was a prisoner in the concentration camp Neuengamme in May 1945 when the NAZIs were trying to liquidate the remaining population. The following is an excerpt from his memoir about the conditions on the ground in those final days and what it meant for the survivors and how it affected their captors.

"It was a very beautiful day. The sun was was shining, only a light breeze stirring the air, the fragrance from spring flowers from the nearby fields was permeating the area. If it was not for the fact that the sun was beating very hard, it would have been quite pleasant. But the sun was so unmercifully baking that in no time it became almost intolerably hot. The fact that everyone was in such a weakened condition the heat added to the misery. The voices calling for water became louder and louder. “Quiet!” the Germans from time to time added their voices to the mix. At times even a burst of submachine gun could be heard with bullets whistling over the crowd's heads. This condition almost developed into a major problem, when one of the SS officers turned the water on nearby the [railway] station building. What prevented the outburst was the appearance of American fighter planes. They flew so low that the faces of pilots were visible.
Kostek almost exclaimed aloud, “There!” as he fixed his eyes on one plane. “This plane is the very same that I was waiving to while I was on the farm yet.” In fact, right after that moment, he realized where he was and quickly glanced around trying to assess if he did say something, but no one looked surprised and he cowered down.
The Germans, on the other hand, reacted with a mixed emotions. Some became so angry that they tried to shoot at the planes as they made passes. Others, noticing those aiming at them, shouted. Kostek listened attentively to the conversations. 
“Don't do it!” One of the nearby SS said to his friend. “Do you want them to shoot back?  Your bullet probably will not do much harm, but they will unleash their anger on us and will do a lot of harm."   
"Let them shoot!" replied another.  "Take a look at what you are guarding. Wouldn't you like to see them disappear?"   
The officer scoffed.  "Do you think they don't know who these people are? And don't you think they know where you are?  Look, you idiot. I just came from the front. While there I thought like you do, but it did not take me long to figure out that the pilots can zero in on a target and almost pick what they want. I have wounds to prove it!”
We need always to consider the motives of any leader who advances the idea of military action to protect the innocent. The question we must ask is, Do we trust this president at this time? Or must we cast each and every such claim as automatically false because it has been used for such insidious purposes before? I think we need to consider each and every event as new and unique and need to consider the merits as they stand. It all comes down to trust in the light of the one real truth which is that inaction can be as devastating as action and the difference lives or dies with the truth.  For my part he still has my trust.  Others, a good deal less so.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Paul Tittl's Little Shop of Horrors

Why Paul Tittl's business model is bad for Wisconsin.

Freshman Assemblyman Paul Tittl is a pleasant enough personable guy.  He has to be in the tough small retail business he has made a hardscrable living at for a couple of decades now.  He sells sewing machines and vacuum cleaners in an ancient general store in downtown Manitowoc.  You don't survive in small retail unless you develop some skills.  He is a fast talker who can reel off the virtues of the latest Hoover and leave you convinced that you got a pretty good deal.  He can never compete with the big retail stores like Wal-Mart that sell the same basic product  and if he can't sell it to you he will fix the big box unit when it breaks.  He takes what he can get.

His experience in his shop have trained him well for fiscal conservativism.  The notion of investment and growth has never occurred to him.  Instead, his spending is trimmed to what ever business walks in the less than inviting door.   The lack of investment shows.  Hard times or good, the spending determines profits or loss.  Never what lack of spending does to sales.  Never what lack of sales does to profits.   Success is defined as lack of failure.   He has not failed but has failed to thrive.

Paul Tittl's Vacuum and Sewing Center customer base is essentially women.  While this may rankle feminists who do not want to hear any statements tying women to domesticity.  Sewing is a gender dominated activity and while house cleaning may be a more level playing field these days (I do the vacuuming in our house) significantly more vacuum purchases are made by women than men.  Retailers ignore gender at their own peril.

And then of course, there are the politics.  With abortion and guns at the top of the list and the shop often doubling for Republican HQ, inhabited by a collection of gruff TEA Party men even a more moderate male customer would rather avoid.

A self fulfilling anti-customer agenda
Any politics can be bad for business but his support for so called "personhood" amendment and the much hated "ultra-sound" legislation are seen by many as anti-woman, a customer class a sewing shop cannot afford to alienate.  Certainly  there are conservative women.  But successful businesses spend a great deal of time trying to attract customers and avoid controversy and alienation of their key demographic.  You will never see Fleet Farm supporting PETA.

But, Paul cannot see the customers he does not have so the dire nature of the economy is confirmed.  If customers do not come into the shop it must be because of the government and high taxes. Tight spending is validated.  The downward spiral is business as usual.  He is a survivor of hard times of his own making.

Tittl's shop is the perfect metaphor for the Walker economy.  Its just scraping by which means it has to be working because it hasn't crashed yet.  In reality,  our economy has lagged since Walker took over.  Just like Tittl and his shop Walker believes in his own mistakes and uses the outcomes to validate them.  Just like Paul, Scott fails to acknowledge the commerce that could have been.

But in Tittl's case perhaps the shop is not his first priority?  In a past Legislative run he adopted the slogan "Your full time Representative"  expressly promising to close his shop if elected.  While he has back tracked on this more recently he still used the slogan in the 2012 race.  It is in fact the only full time job with benefits Paul has ever held.  With now frequent absences of the shop's key man the future of the shop will be interesting to watch.  Fifty thousand plus retirement and benefits can look like easy money to a guy used to just scraping by and the office space is maintained a little better.
Nice work if you can get it!
Campaign promise to close his shop still deployed in 2012

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Jim Brey's Fun House!

Because Jim Brey is just a funny guy!

The voters always love a good stunt.
Keeping his energy up.
Looming large!

Making a good impression in Chilton.
Dressing for success at the Valders Parade.

But sometimes Jim Doesn't seem so funny.

Sometimes he doesn't seem so funny.
"I have said all along that there were parts of Act 10 that were necessary for the long term stability of not only the State but local municipalities and school districts as well.  Most will agree with me that public sector employees needed to pay more for their health insurance and contribute to their retirement.  I think the employees affected by this also realized this.  Many of them have also told me so."
                        Jim Brey... on his campaign website.

Are we having fun yet?

Friday, May 10, 2013

Winds of Change Blow in Kewaunee County

The following is my letter to the editor published this week in the Herald Times Reporter:

The location with two miles of lake frontage
and 600 acres of mostly undeveloped land
makes it an ideal location for a dual on and off
shore wind farm.

This week Dominion shut down their forty year old reactor at Kewaunee. It will mean the loss of 650 jobs which will impact not just that town and Algoma but Manitowoc as well. In the 1950s it was promised that nuclear power would become so cheap that it wouldn't pay to send a monthly bill. Built at a time when that promise was already being questioned, in the end the irony of the plant's demise was that it was simply too expensive to operate.

Proponents of nuclear power point correctly to the short term environmental advantage of producing no green house gasses. And, new gas “fracking” which helped put the plant under has some extremely worrisome local effects well beyond the release of massive amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. Economically Wisconsin produces no gas so the money will be sent out of state to pay for it.

Despite all this an extraordinary opportunity stands before us if we have the vision to see it. The Kewaunee site consists of 600 acres of mostly undeveloped land with two miles of Lake Michigan shore line. It is perhaps the best location for a wind farm anywhere in the state. The power lines still stand waiting to transmit electricity into the grid and its relative isolation (not to mention contamination) make it unlikely to raise much opposition or competition for other uses. While it's true that even a large wind farm would not replace all 650 jobs, it can replace some as well as some of the lost property taxes.
The Blue Sky Green Field wind farm in Fond du Lac County

Wind produces no harmful gasses or long term toxic waste. It can and will produce competitive energy, jobs and revenue for decades to come. But the opportunity is now before it slips away making the losses permanent.

See HTR page here:

On May 16th the HTR printed a rebuttal from Jerome Hlinak - long time wind NIMBY and conspiracy theorist.  He wrote ... 

Letter: Wind turbines are not welcomed

"Bernard Starzewski’s letter to the editor on May 9 is clear indication of someone who believes in “We the Government” instead of “We the People” as written in the Constitution. Nowhere in the letter does he mention residents of the town of Carlton in Kewaunee County, where the nuclear plant is located, should have a say in what should happen after the decommissioning. Instead Mr. Starzewski pushes his pro-wind propaganda without facts backing his statements.
He claims the wind turbines can and will produce competitive energy, jobs and revenue for decades. He also claims it will not likely raise much opposition or competition for other uses. In fact, wind energy is subsided around $23 per Megawatt (MW) compared to 25 cents per MW for nuclear. Any revenue and job income is nothing but a tax burden and electrical utility rate increased expense. The global warming issue supported by pro-wind was not mentioned, as no one could defend that argument this year.
If Mr. Starzewski were to drive in the town of Carlton area he would see posted signs opposing wind turbine development. The majority of the 900 acres he would destroy are, and have been, rented to local farmers for cropping purposes. Agriculture is the backbone of our state economy. Due to the fact that there are high line transmission lines crossing various directions, it would be very limited where turbines could be placed, unless you disregard the engineering standards on debris thrown from blades.
Mr. Starzewski should attend a meeting at the town of Glenmore, Shirley Wind Project, where he can educate the people as a self-proclaimed expert from Manitowoc, with no life experience on wind energy. After he educates that crowd, I welcome him to Carlton. 

Jerome Hlinak
Tisch Mills
See letter here

 In response to Mr. Jerome Hlinak's accusation of distorted facts regarding wind power in the conversion of the Kewaunee plant site I offer the following rebuttal.

His own figures are grossly distorted. There is no direct subsidy for wind tower operation. The tax credits used to encourage their construction are largely accelerated depreciation which will be recovered over time. In fact they closely mirror oil and gas exploration credits. Because these are tax credits and not outright subsidies there is in fact no “burden” on taxpayers as he claims. And, Federal tax credits do not apply to local property taxes which would go a long way in replacing the lost revenue from the nuclear plant. Neither does it apply to payroll taxes or the property taxes their employees would pay.

This winter while Mr. Hlinak was busy promoting yet another wind moratorium to the county board in the same session the Town of Carlton also submitted a resolution to the board requesting help from Legislators in bearing the cost of services to the nuclear waste site located there, an all too real burden he chooses to ignore. Fortunately, the County Board voted overwhelmingly to support the Town of Carlton and not Mr. Hlinak.

His claims about the destruction of farming are false on their face. Anyone taking a trip through the Blue Sky Green Field at Malone where I have many friends and family will see farming and wind power living side by side with no apparent conflicts. Finally, contrary to Mr. Hlinak's bizarre conspiracy theories, no one is sick, their pockets are a little fuller and their taxes a little lower. That is all the “real life experience” I or anyone needs including Mr. Hlinak.

Editor's note:
Accelerated depreciation uses an 8 year schedule instead of the usual 30 allowing the normal investment deductions to be taken faster making it more attractive to investors.
Over the same 30 years the taxes paid by any tower will be the same.
During that time and from the first day, the units will pay the same rate of property taxes as everyone else.
The tax revenue from wind farms that are never built is ZERO.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

WEDC - Voucher School of Crony Capitalism

When I made the presentation of the first Manitowoc Dems Proxmire Golden Fleece Award I thought we had heard everything about the WEDC and that perhaps at least some steps would have been taken to staunch the bleeding.  But in the Walker administration presentation is everything and delivery is for schmucks.  The stories of confusion, incompetence and malfeasance just keep piling on.

Last week we heard that the new CEO lasted exactly one day after first accepting the job and then reneging taking the CEO position at his former employer instead leaving most to believe he was never serious and was probably using the Walker
people as a stalking horse to get the real job of his dreams.

This week we learn that the Legislative Fiscal Bureau has flunked the fledgling pseudo agency for a phalanx of gross mismanagement of public funds.  Their list of sins is long.

  • Had no policies in place to handle delinquent loans
  • Ignored State Statutes for financial verification of recipients.
  • Gave loans and tax credits to companies for ineligible projects, recipients and projects.
  • Exceeded set limits for awards.
  • Handed out awards for job creation when the jobs had already been filled prior to execution of the contract.
  • Sent awards to companies for investments without any verification of the incurred expense.
  • Used public funds for things like alcohol and Badgers season tickets.

In short is has been little more than a cash pipeline for the well connected.
See report highlights here:

But why is this any surprise?  Walker is noted for passing the loot to close cronies simply because they asked for it.  As Milwaukee County Executive he simply handed over their Purple Hearts fund to another crony Tim Russell who looted it for his own political and pleasure purposes and is now serving a stiff prison sentence.

The WEDC has become the voucher school of crony capitalism, funded by taxpayers, entirely unaccountable with no evidence of success.

Like voucher schools much was promised but we have not seen it in practice.  The Republican propaganda machine has achieved a great deal of electoral success in simply making wild claims of opportunities with little or nothing to back it up.  But in the absence of success after the election that can only last so long.  When the failures begin to pile up people learn and a well educated public even from the school of hard knocks is much harder to be sold on the same bill of goods again.  It is up to us, those who already learned those lessons to drive them home.  No outsourced agency is going to take up that curriculum for us.  The real vouchers are redeemed in the voting booth.


Current WEDC corporate logo

A more appropriate logo
The logo of the organization is a silhouette of Wisconsin inside a circle with the word "in" imprinted in the middle.
I have no bloody idea what this means!

I suggest that we expand that logo to "in like Flynn".  For the younger readers out there this is a reference to the actor Errol Flynn - star of swashbuckle movies like Robin Hood and Captain Blood back in the
40's who had a reputation to be able to bed any starlet he chose at will and was even accused of molesting a girl scout.

Errol Flynn
The Republican penchant for raiding the state's coffers has no less libido that Flynn's when it comes to money and how to get it for themselves and their friends.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Environmental Astro-turf - Strange Bedfellows of the Right

Last February I submitted the following letter to the editor of the Herald Time Reporter documenting the strange relationship between right wing industrialist Sheldon Lubar and the environmental movement who in some ways were duped into engaging in a competitive war ultimately seeking to benefit Lubar's business the Lake Express.
See htr article here:

What I didnt know at the time was that Lubar is an even bigger hypocrite than even I expected.
It seems that Lubar is heavily involved in the oil and gas industry and recently attempted to drill in a Michigan State Forest!

Sheldon Lubar (NASDAQ:HNRG)  owns a 45% equity interest in Savoy Energy, L.P., a private oil and gas company ...

Federal Judge Blocks Oil Drilling in Michigan Forest

A federal judge has overturned a decision by the U.S. Forest Service to allow oil and gas drilling near a forest and a river in Michigan's northern Lower Peninsula.
U.S. District Judge David Lawson of Detroit ruled Thursday the agency had acted "arbitrarily and capriciously" in 2005 by giving Savoy Energy LP of Traverse City a permit to drill an exploratory well near the Au Sable River's south branch.
The proposed wellhead would be located in the Huron-Manistee National Forest about three-tenths of a mile from the Mason Tract, a 4,679-acre wilderness area prized by anglers and other outdoor recreationists.

Read more:,2933,381254,00.html#ixzz2Ol108OwP

Feb 27, 2013 Letter to th editor.
During last year’s Assembly primary I attempted to raise the alarm over political meddling in the fortunes of Lake Michigan Carferry’s Badger. LMC’s application for a stimulus grant had already been shot down. So was its designation as an historical landmark. The EPA’s exemption for coal ash dumping was ending.Why? Now, a pending issue of Outer Boundary Magazine brings it to light. Lake Express owner Sheldon Lubar has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in lobbyists feigning environmental concerns while also blocking sensible government aid that could have corrected it in order to gain a monopoly on lake crossing services.From the article: “The SS Badger is a competitive threat to Lake Express and launching an expensive environmental campaign is a great way to eliminate competition without looking like an angry toddler, upset with someone else playing in the sandbox.”  Through it all freshman state Rep. Paul Tittl has ignored it. He touts his support for our crumbling transportation system by supporting a $6 billion road budget even while breaking his pledge not to raise fees or taxes. The Manitowoc to Ludington route has long been designated an extension of Highway 10, yet there is not a dime for the Badger.  
Republicans like Tittl call that “picking the winners.” This week while waiting to hear its fate LMC has optimistically announced its spring schedule, starting two weeks early in order to haul Manitowoc made wind towers to Michigan. At the same time Tittl has introduced a bill that proposes to reclassify nuclear power as renewable energy, effectively negating wind development in the state.
What district does Paul Tittl represent? The winners he has picked appear to live somewhere else. Without legislative support there is only one winner and that’s Sheldon Lubar of Milwaukee, the same place Tittl’s new taxes will be spent.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Golden Fleecing of Wisconsin

The late Senator William Proxmire was famous for presenting his "Golden Fleece" awards to government agencies guilty of waste fraud and abuse.  The Manitowoc Democratic Party has long held their fundraiser dinner in honor of Proxmire and so it seems entirely natural that this year we decided to reinstate the award.  I was particularly honored to present the first award!

The following are my notes for the presentation.
Golden Fleece traveling trophy
  • Where did the WEDC come from? The Republican legislature is always loath to levy new taxes so taking money out of one pocket and putting it into another has become a fine art!
  • The WEDC has a special herritage within this state and a connection to our fine Wisconsin environment. Under AB-35 WEDC's initial funding was “converted” from the State's RECYCLING FUND and derives its primary funding from THE RECYCLING SURCHARGE which was RENAMED the ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT SURCHARGE!
  • Yes, you heard that right! The State's newest quasi private agency was quite literally built on a pile of garbage!
  • We all know that a private entity can never lose money right?
  • creating a private agency to hand out cash to questionable start ups would be a FOOL PROOF plan!
  • Walker appointed as its head former Green Bay Mayor Paul Jadin because who knows more on running a private company than a man with a degree in political science and never held a job in the private sector? These things run themselves, right?
  • Jadin was the obvious choice.
  • After all, all of Walker's other top picks were already facing felony charges.
  • Time for some new blood!
  • Accompishments of Mr. Jadin
  • Offering special tax breaks to Skyward Software of Stevens Point IF Skyward won their bid on school software.
  • Too bad that's illegal huh?
  • Side note: Skyward lost that bid to a Minnesota company and is now threatening to leave the state! How's that for economic development?
  • On being notified that the WEDC had lost track of $8 million in loans Governor Walker called for a full investigation and radical changes!
  • Wait! I thought the WEDC was radical change??????
  • The investigation showed that the number was actually $69 MILLION! (Daoh!)
  • But where one door closes somebody jumps out of a window!
  • In evidence of a true meritocracy Mr. Jadin has now moved on to the Madison Chamber of Commerce economic development organization known as ---- THRIVE!
  • And he landed on his feet!
  • He has gotten a very substantial raise from his state salary of $120,000.
  • OH... those poor people..... :(

  • Having run out of cash the Republicans proposed that the state invest another $200 million in new funds because if a little is good, A LOT is better!
  • That 200 MIL was to be “borrowed” from THE STATE EMPLOYEE RETIREMENT FUND!
  • A ground floor investment opportunity in misplaced loans!
  • With garbage for collateral!
  • Nobody runs out of garbage!
  • Especially not the Republicans!
  • Why.... It could make up for Act 10!
  • Somebody tell Leehman Brothers!
  • Daoh!
  • When asked why the retirement fund – new CEO Reed Hall said “I THINK WE NEED TO RESESABLISH OUR CREDIBILITY...”
  • I guess the Milwaukee County Veterans fund was all tapped out, huh?
  • Daoh!
  • Then..... Republicans planned to continue the agency's environmental legacy by dumpster diving for 40% of the anticipated Penokee mine revenues.
  • Whenever that happens...
  • (yeah sure... right!)
  • However, it seems they decided it would be about as valuable as taking it out into the middle of Lake Superior and dump it there because that idea has been trashed too.
  • With a little luck maybe some day we can just recycle the whole idea.
Time to take out the trash!
Dan Ariens - charter WEDC board member now appointed CEO
Yeah, that'll fix it!  :P

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Its Still About The Biology

You cant fool mother nature.  Biology and doing herd counts still matter despite Dr. Deer telling us that opinion matters more.  Opinion still needs to be based on facts and science is the only way to obtain them.

Here are some notes I made after listening to the DNR presentation on the deer herd at Reedsville Sportsman's Club this week.

The notion that wolves live in Manitowoc County was pretty much debunked. While the biologist said that there is probably "not a county in the state that has not had a lone wolf passing through..." No wolf packs have been established outside of the northern range. The "northern range" was defined as north of highway 64.

In discussing deer ability to regenerate he said that deer in the southern range can explode their population by 70% in a single season.  Keawaunee County was sited in particular.  In northern ranges its more like 40%. Fawn mortality studies show that while about 38% die in their first year in the south in northern ranges as many as 70% are killed or die from starvation and such. Much of it has to do with harsher winters as well as predation but state wide coyotes remain the #1 predator state wide largely debunking the idea that wolves are decimating the herd. In the north the deer herd is in decline because the forests are maturing again after the total clear cutting of the northern forests in the 19th and 20th centuries. Deer do very well in young forests but not so well in mature woods where there is less cover and forage. (I see this in my own woods) Its also interesting that this was mentioned in the Krohl report which seemed to advocate increasing cutting of timber as a deer management tool. Never mind that the Krohl supporters have considerable backing from the Kochs who happen to own paper interests like Georgia Pacific. The herd in the south is by far the more numerous which is the total reverse of a century ago.  Farming practices that keep the land open and food available along with less severe winters were sited. 

The second thing that jumped out was that much of the recent count study has been funded by a windfall in revenue owing to the 11% excise tax on firearm sales because after Obama's election gun sales jumped yielding over 2 MILLION in wildlife conservation funding. The tax was put in place over 100 years ago by sportsman to fund such things which lead to the formation of the DNR and the ultimate resurgence of the deer herd in this state. The speaker smilingly speculated on a second windfall with all the new guns sales springing from the Newtown and other shootings.

 While the Krohl report discounts the value of deer herd counts a lot of count data was presented that showed why a lot of deer hunters might be convinced that there arent any deer. I.e. deer tend to localize. In one county example a helicopter count in a 1 mile grid of an entire county showed that in any given mile you could have as many as 146 deer while a bordering grid point could have none at all!  Yet the Krohl report says that opinion should trump counting in deciding deer policy.
Go figure!

What it all comes down to is that its still about the biology and opinion matters not at all.  However, if this forces hunters to consider the biology instead of making rash claims about how there "aint no deer" then maybe some good will come out of this in the end.

You still can't fool mother nature.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Mining For the Truth

UPDATE! March 18th WMC Meeting
Chinese Consul General Zhao Weiping in Madison
"The Capitalists will sell us the ropes to hang them with!"
Comrade Lenin
Updated 3/31/2013 (see photo and caption link)

When the Republicans came out with the new/old mining bill the reaction of Senator Bob Jauch in who's district the Penokee range lies called it a "hoax".  Much was being made over environmental issues, conflicts with tribal rights and Federal regulations but as time moves on a story has been developing that was not entirely made clear in the weeks leading up to the vote.

The first hint we got was a series of rumors that Gogebic Taconite (GTAC) - has no real intention of ever putting a shovel in the ground up there.  That's kind of a stunning claim given all the talk about investment and  high paying jobs.  The assumption many were working off of (including myself) was that it was merely a political stalking horse intended to distract from this Governor's stunningly bad jobs record.  By pumping the sunshine of thousands of jobs that would at best amount to perhaps 1% of the promised 250,000 jobs that have yet to materialize from Walker's worker's paradise it was possible for Republicans to posture themselves into the image job creation warriors.  Political straw men have their value.

Think about it.  In the last election Republicans pounded hard at the bad economy blaming Dems like Jessica King for worker's desperation.  Never mind the mine would have (and still will) take years to even begin.  Imagine the political gold that a passed State bill would yield that was then shot down by the Federal Government (EPA or Army Corp of Engineers) or worse yet - the tribes!  Heaven forbid a white man's fortune should be forbidden by a red one.  The political red meat would feed conservatives interests for a decades or more.  No mine.  No environmental damage.  But real profits none the less.

But, since the bill's passage a different motive has evolved and its a good deal more troubling.  It could well result in real digging and by forces that may well be out of reach of any sort of accountability even at the State level.  The first hint we got of this was from Esquire's politics blog about Walker's seeming winning streak.  It points out some interesting things about the mine...
Last year Walker travelled to Dallas to meet a contingent of Chinese investors, and he is scheduled to travel to China on a trade mission next month.  [...]
Quoting someone named Hansen (Dave?) it states, "China is the world's largest producer of iron ore and as one of the world's largest markets they have the ability to affect supply and prices. China has also recently begun expanding its mining operations outside of its borders, including opening the massive Sino Iron project at Cape Preston, in Western Australia's Pilbara region." 
Read more: Scott Walker Wisconsin Lawsuit Dropped - Wisconsin Gets What It Voted For (Twice) - Esquire
 A single blog does not a conspiracy make.  But there's more!  This showed up on the Minnesota public interest blog ...
Whether it's iron, grain or now airplanes, it's interesting to see how China, India and other emerging nations are shaping the future of northern Minnesota's economy.

India's Essar Steel is a large potential player in Iron Range mining. Chinese steel production and demand is now a central indicator in the global steel industry. One little hiccup and Hibbing Taconite, MinnTac or the others go on temporary shutdown. Or they hire 100 people tomorrow.
See article here

Finally a letter to the editor in the Rhinelander Star Journal points out some important information missing from the discussion to this point.  It seems that the land and mineral rights were previously owned by the biggest iron interest in the country, U.S. Steel which in 2003 had agreed to sell it to the Nature Conservancy which through the Forest Legacy Fund which would have committed the entire area to a logging and recreation in perpetuity.  Only the deal fell through for reasons no one has fully explained which eventually lead to the land falling into the hands of GTAC - a company which is a sub of another company which itself has never mined anything and the parent has never mined iron ore.

The letter asks...
In 2003, one of the largest steel-producing companies in the world was willing to sell a conservation easement for its 16,000 acres on the Penokee Range, knowing that mining would be prohibitive. Yet in 2013, our legislators insist there is profit and jobs to be had in those same hills. Facts suggest otherwise. We have been duped. To what end?
See full article here:

 To what end indeed?  What are we dealing with here?  We know that the quality of the ore in that deposit is low grade.  It is hard to get as because it runs deep,  And, it is close to the largest single body of water in North America and a good deal below its surface.  The amount of water that will have to be pumped daily to keep the pit dry is staggering.  To make a long story short - its expensive iron.

It makes sense that the Chinese could be involved.  They are the kings of cheap.  With no mores for their own environment much less ours its possible to imagine any sort of anti labor practices that would significantly water down the glowing images of prosperity in the north.  One might even wonder if the jobs themselves (certainly top jobs) might end up going to Chinese workers and not Americans. The bill already lays off millions in development costs on local towns that should be picked up by the company.  With the state already teetering on the edge of Right To Work pushed by Walker's owners, management will not have to be Chinese in order to act like it.  Its also open to question whether or not Chinese employees of a Chinese company would even be subject to US (much less State) laws.

In the end it is all about the money.  The interests that have invested heavily in the Republican Party are not fools. They do not part with their cash without expecting a return.  The question is:  Where is the payoff?  Is it in the mining of the ore or of public opinion?  If this is about finding profits in a high cost hole by going cheap then it could be just what it appears to be.  Cut labor, cut taxes and assessment, cut corners and dont worry about the filth.  But it if is a hoax like Jauch charges the real mining has been in political gold refined from the quick silver of false promises and ground from the hard rock of blame for its predestined failure.  That could well be where the real payoff is - in a vein of voter gold.

UPDATE:  3/11/2013 - The Manitowoc Herald Times reporter is today reporting on the pending Chinese trip and potential Chinese investment in the state.
From the article:  "Walker will also be on the hunt for Chinese companies interested in investing in Wisconsin companies, seeking to build on a meeting last fall when he hosted a group of more than 50 investors from Handan, a northern Chinese city. Scott Mosley, foreign direct investment manager at WEDC, said Chinese investors are seeking to invest millions with Wisconsin businesses."
 See full article here!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Villains, Scapegoats and Hypocrites - When politics and economic interest collide

Mike Howe is by all measure a successful man.  He owns Mike Howe Builders, Inc. , is prominent in his church and community, has run for State Assembly and is currently running for City Council in his home town of Manitowoc Wisconsin.  By his own claims he made a lot of money during the housing boom having "flipped" several houses that he built, lived in and then sold.  Those were the salad days when housing prices (in particular high end homes) seemed to jump monthly and every aspiring young professional was eager to get on the wealth elevator.  The art of extracting ever more equity out of homes had been perfected by Wall Street with their Collateral-ized Debt Obligations (mortgages sold as stocks).  Any common man (even the unemployed) could buy an expensive home so you could name your price because what ever it cost today - you could sell it for more tomorrow!  Never mind you couldn't afford it because it was a sellers market and AIG had it all covered with its Credit Default Swaps.

As a Republican candidate Mike stuck to the party line advocating less government regulation and lower taxes.  After all, he had earned the money and he felt he had the right to keep it.  Requiring him to give up a portion of it in his eyes meant he had charge more for the homes he built though charging more was what "flipping" his homes was all about.  Keeping more was the ultimate and obvious goal.

But when the home piggy bank market went belly up in 2008 things got a little lean.  Prices mattered again and like all good Republican businessmen Mike had to cut costs.  And again, like all good Republican businessmen in a labor intensive trade he looked to cut labor costs.

Inocencio Lara came here from Antempan Poeblo in Mexico looking for work.  He was what we now call an "undocumented worker".  He may have had a passport but no authorization to work in the U.S. that anyone can discover.  He (along with many others like him) worked for Mares Roofing of Manitowoc owned by Marcos Mares-Flores.  Mares was a sub contractor to multiple companies in Manitowoc including Mike Howe Builders, Inc.

Lara, like most foreign workers did not want to be identified to the government.  Neither did Mr. Mares.  His company had no federal ID number, no State contractor's license and no Workman's Compensation
Workman's Comp is the law in Wisconsin
insurance policy to cover his workers.  In effect, neither men existed for tax or regulatory purposes.  There are thousands like them here and in every state in the union.  The myth about them is that they work for less. In some cases that's true.  But the reality is that they probably receive comparable pay.  The great disparity is in the mutual anonymity both employer and employee enjoy by  evading taxes and insurance costs as well as other regulatory relief.  In many ways it is business as usual in the contracting industry.  Cash payments and layers of sub contractors are par for the course in that business.  Anyone who wants to see it need only ask for quotes and inquire about cash discounts.  It is that thin below the surface.

In any other normal July day the work would have continued.  The cash would have flowed even if the paper work didnt.  But on July 9th 2011 it stopped suddenly at a work sight where Mares Roofing (such that it was) was putting a roof on a house when Inocencio Lara - the non-existent employee of a non-existent company was pinned between a truck and a dumpster resulting in his death.

The problem with a dead body is that, unlike the fictional company and non existent workers in the undocumented trades, once they materialize they are hard to explain away.  Real people, citizens, legal workers have real rights and real protections.  Protections that cost money.  Costs that can be cut - as long as no one checks.  Corpses cannot be buried in paper work even when it belongs to a successful businessman, community leader and Republican candidate.  Even when it belongs to Mike Howe.

When a real worker is injured on the job the government has decreed that compensation is owed.  Insurance must be purchased.  When a phantom of the workforce is injured what insurance company pays that has not itself been paid?

How Law Suit
Case Number 2011CV00630
Click to expand
On September 21st 2011 Guillermina Serpio Toral filed a wrongful death suit against Mike Howe Builders, Inc., Mares Roofing and Marcos Alberto Mares-Flores.  It may not be possible to determine what the exact circumstances were in the accident.  Construction is in fact a dangerous business which is why the insurance rates are so high and (ironically) why they are so tempting to evade.  But since its obvious that no FICA taxes were paid there are no survivor's benefits for Lara's family.  With no WC policy there is no death benefit and nothing to defray medical and emergency  costs.  One has to wonder if the suit would have been filed if the protections were in place?

Libertarian Republicans like Howe like to play up the illegal immigration issue as their own.  They want to portray themselves as the defenders of American jobs and use the fear of foreign illegal/undocumented workers as a lurking menace and prescribe things like voter ID laws as the cure.  Only men like Lara are not at all interested in making themselves known to any government anywhere.  It is their competitive advantage. Yet without the blind eye the free market conservatives use to evade the realities of a hidden work force worker and their enablers like Mares would have to compete in a real labor market without the cash discount.

Who is responsible?  Is it the immigrant who comes here looking for work and finding an underground economy funded by cost cutting businessmen?  The black market in labor has willing partners on both ends but only one fully understands the risks and implications and that is the businessman who all too well understands the law and plays the risks like a roulette wheel.

As of this writing the DWD fines have not been satisfied
and I have not been able to determine the whereabouts of Mr. Mares
In a phone conversation with me Howe protested that "It's all the roofer's fault!"  Well the problem is that the "roofer" was a figment of Mr. Howe's creative business plan.  If you look at the corresponding court record for Mares Roofing the DWD has since fined "them" and now refiled the case in the personal name of Marcos Mares-Flores in effect stating that no such company ever existed.

Who is responsible for that?  Listen to what Wisconsin State Statutes have to say about it.

Independent Contractor Definition Under s. 102.07(8), Wis. Stats.
Under section 102.07(8)1 of the Wisconsin Statutes, a person is required to meet a nine-part test before he or she is considered an independent contractor rather than an employee. A person is not an independent contractor for worker’s compensation purposes just because the person says they are, or because the contractor over them says so, or because they both say so, or even if other regulators (including the federal government and other state agencies) say so. The nine-part statutory test set forth under s. 102.07(8) of the Act, must be met before a person working under another person is considered not to be an employee. To be considered an independent contractor and not an employee, an individual must meet and maintain all nine of the following requirements:
1. Maintain a separate business.
2. Obtain a Federal Employer Identification number from the Federal Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or have filed business or self-employment income tax returns with the IRS based on the work or service in the previous year. (See note below.)
3. Operate under specific contracts.
4. Be responsible for operating expenses under the contracts.
5. Be responsible for satisfactory performance of the work under the contracts.
6. Be paid per contract, per job, by commission or by competitive bid.
7. Be subject to profit or loss in performing the work under the contracts.
8. Have recurring business liabilities and obligations.
9. Be in a position to succeed or fail if business expense exceeds income.
Note: When requesting a Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN) from the IRS, you must inform the IRS that you are required by Wisconsin Worker’s Compensation law to obtain a FEIN. A social security number cannot be substituted for a FEIN and does not meet the legal burden of s. 102.07(8).

With multiple State websites available to verify all of this information it would seem rather self evident that the  it is the prime contractor's responsibility to follow the law.

Then there is the puzzling focus on roofing on the Howe Builders web site.

"Mike Howe Builders Inc specializes in roofing services in the Manitowoc, WI area. We go beyond the basics with our innovative maintenance programs, extended warranties, and great customer service ensuring our customers' satisfaction and their roof's long term performance."

Mike Howe Builders web site

One has to ask the obvious.  If Howe Builders specializes in roofing then what is it doing hiring a sub-contractor to do its roofing work?

Auditing by the DWD is virtually non-existent.  Unless sub-contractor credentials are checked laundering money through fake companies like Mares Roofing is scarcely looked at by the Department of Revenue making it a tempting piece of cake for construction companies to taste since it does not take a shaded visor tax expert to implement.  Money paid out to alleged companies is simply taken as deductible expenses without any determination as to the legal status of that company what so ever.  With payroll taxes around 15%, State and Federal withholding taxes at least that again and construction Workman's Comp Insurance over 20% at least (fully half!) a hiring company can save tens of thousands in labor related tax and insurance costs on a large job.

In most cases the risk is minimal.  When illegal workers get hurt they show up at the local emergency room.  Because they often can't pay and fear detection simply leave the area.  The bills are then absorbed by local hospitals which add to legitimate costs of other companies that do abide by the law as well as providing health care benefits.

This is not a small problem and I suspect it runs much deeper.  The business address listed for Mares is an apartment building owned by yet another roofing contractor in Manitowoc who is noted for his Mexican crews.

I do not care much how this case turns out.  The events that lead to the death of Mr. Lara are for my purposes here largely irrelevant.  Accidents do happen.  I am considerably more concerned about the political duplicity in on one hand deriding illegal immigration, exploiting unfounded fears of voter fraud and criminal activity while then enabling and profiting from those same scapegoated people.  Beyond that, calling his demands for lower regulations and worker protections make the hypocrisy too kind a charge.

Men like Howe are unfit to hold public office not just because of their duplicity but more so because of the direction they would take us in the name of their own self interest.  They are the smooth faced villains of our time.