Lies and Ignorance

Democrats have stated that their 2012 recall campaigns won’t be raising the collective bargaining issues that prompted the recalls in the first place, so we won’t get to say “thanks for bringing it up.”

Instead, we’ll bring it up ourselves. Because the documented results of the collective bargaining changes say something very different from the sob stories government employee unions were telling, back when they thought it was smart politics.

The real story of public employee benefits in context with last year’s changes? The union members didn’t know then and evidently still don’t know how good they’ve got it.

Earlier this spring, HCTrends analyzed taxpayer-financed health insurance benefits in Wisconsin and neighboring states and guess what? Even after the 2011 reforms that sent them into a rage, Wisconsin public employees have a considerably softer deal than their counterparts in Illinois, Iowa, Michigan or Minnesota.

Some highlights:

  • At nearly $14,000 per state employee, Wisconsin taxpayers this year will pay nine percent more to subsidize health insurance benefits than taxpayers in Michigan—the next most expensive state—and 21 percent more than the average for all five states.
  • Individual Wisconsin state employees will receive, on average, nearly $3,800 more in health care benefits than workers at large unionized private companies, and over $5,500 more than workers at large non-unionized companies.

Wisconsin state employees don’t know how good they’ve got it, and we have no doubt that in many cases, that is the literal truth. For union bosses, everything depends on the members not knowing.

A Democrat implosion

It’s been an eventful week and one Democrats may wish to forget. Union-financed advertising for Kathleen Falk’s gubernatorial campaign has disappeared, identifying the unions’ chosen and wholly-owned candidate as a sure loser and exposing the unions’ dwindling influence.

Could anything make matters worse for Democrats? Yes, and it’s already happened.  Moody’s Investors Services last week downgraded the City of Milwaukee’s bond rating.

That would be the same City of Milwaukee administered by Tom Barrett, the Democrat’s only viable candidate to oppose Governor Walker. And that would be the same Governor Walker praised last year by Moody’s for budget reforms that reinforce the State of Wisconsin’s positive credit rating. Nice contrast.

Alert readers will also remember Moody’s downgraded the State of Illinois’ bond rating in February, after Democrat Governor Pat Quinn chose tax increases to address public pension and benefit issues far worse than those Walker has confronted in Wisconsin.

This matters because a poor bond rating subjects taxpayers to higher interest rates on government borrowing. Barrett and Walker are taking Milwaukee and Wisconsin in opposite directions, and Barrett’s is a downward spiral. It also matters because Barrett has pledged to follow Quinn’s lead by raising taxes on corporations and homeowners if elected Governor in June.

You don’t get a Moody’s downgrade without earning it, and we can’t think of a better reason to doubt a mayor’s fiscal smarts than his insistence on spending over $100 million on a two mile trolley line hardly anyone will see.   Businesses will be ruined.

All told, a valuable week for differentiating between Barrett and Walker.

The State of the University

We confess surprise that conservative talk radio went wall-to-wall last week with the Carroll University fracas.  The topic was worthy; the surprise was that sophisticated people seemed to regard the situation as something extraordinary.

Then again, not everyone goes through the teacher preparation program in the college of education at a public university. For those who have, the Carroll episode is old hat.

If, against all odds, you missed it, Carroll invited students to cover a “wall of hate”—openly visible from a Waukesha street—with vulgar obscenities expressing humankind’s petty hatreds, so as to knock it down last Friday and symbolically exorcise the ugliness.

This is what our kids are learning for $25,000 a year in tuition?

The public trust, scorned

More than once, we’ve discussed the need to rebuild civil institutions that have been damaged by the political Left applying double standards and exempting itself from the rules others are expected to follow.  Prime examples are a justice system that can’t be trusted to give political conservatives a fair shake and a media that willingly blinds itself to misbehavior by the Left.

One civic leader, Milwaukee’s George Mitchell, has weighed in with an op-ed submitted to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.  The newspaper has not published it.

An Abandonment of Journalistic Standards

George Mitchell

Assuming a chest-thumping posture, the Journal Sentinel brags that it “has broken every story” about what should be a secret legal investigation by District Attorney John Chisholm’s staff.

Why the paper is proud is a mystery.   Its coverage mocks journalistic values.  For example, its reporting relies on people who likely have broken the law.  Given the stakes, including the possible impact on the gubernatorial recall election, the paper’s actions are the antithesis of journalistic responsibility.

For nearly two years, unnamed sources have selectively leaked information to the Journal Sentinel.   Resulting stories cast many individuals in a negative light.  Often those people are legally prohibited from comment.  And those free to respond would be fools to enter a “he said, they said” battle with unnamed sources — a battle moderated by Journal Sentinel reporter Dan Bice.

The people portrayed unfavorably by the selective leaks don’t know who has spread negative information to the paper.  For legal and practical reasons, they can’t effectively respond.  Consequently, readers receive a sliver of information — the opposite of transparency and balance.

Is there an overriding public purpose that justifies setting aside the traditional journalistic goals of transparency, balance, and fairness?  None whatsoever.  To the contrary, relying on unlawful release of selective information corrupts and erodes concepts central to our justice system.

The Journal Sentinel disputes that it has used information provided unlawfully.   But how can that be considering that the proceedings are by law secret and that key participants cannot comment publicly?

The apparent answer is that the paper uses intermediaries — that is, go-betweens not bound by the secrecy order.  Thus, says the Journal Sentinel, its hands are clean.

Really?  The paper’s sources, of course, got their information from people who were bound by the secrecy order – people who broke the law.  By doing so, and by publishing the results, they and the paper undermine the very foundation of the investigation.

Who are the intermediaries that have leaked information to the paper?  No less a source than reporter Bice lists candidates:

“FBI agents, friends of FBI agents, family of FBI agents, staff in the US Attorney’s office, friends of US Attorney’s office employees, family members of US Attorney’s Office employees, witnesses, friends of witnesses, family members of witnesses, judges, family and friends of judges, judicial aides, court reporters, friends and family of court reporters, lawyers involved in the case, lawyers formerly involved in the case, lawyers with partners involved in the case, friends and family of lawyers currently or formerly involved in the case, certain county workers, friends of those county workers, family members of those county workers.”

Bice’s list confirms that the supposed safeguards of the “secret” investigation are a sham.  His possible sources run the gamut of the legal system; Bice exempts virtually no one.

What might motivate the leakers?  Bice’s list encompasses 43 members of Chisholm’s staff who signed petitions to recall Gov. Scott Walker.  (Not identified by the Journal Sentinel, mind you.  No, an independent watchdog group called Media Trackers did that reporting.)   Yet Bice and his boss downplay the ramifications of widespread hostility to Walker among those working for Chisholm.

Supposedly, Chisholm is displeased that his investigation has been shredded by selective leaks.  You’d never know that from any public comment or any description of actions he has taken in response.  And where is Neal Nettesheim, the Appeals Court judge presiding over the investigation?  What has he done to restore a semblance of order?  If the judge and district attorney won’t protect the process, who will?

In an e-mail exchange with me, Bice said he wasn’t “aware” that any of his sources were breaking the law, adding, “Yet even if someone did, wouldn’t that be their concern, not mine?”  That flippant approach epitomizes the Journal Sentinel’s conduct.  It has turned a blind eye to motives of the leakers and the impact of reporting selectively leaked information.  Rather than pursue the source of widespread, illegal leaks, Bice and the paper are joined at the hip to that unauthorized activity.

All in all, this has been a sorry episode in the history of Milwaukee County jurisprudence and journalism.

It’s working for business

Wisconsin voters are being asked to turn Governor Walker out of office less than halfway through his term, evidently on whatever pretext the Left chooses to invent. Rather than waste time wondering what fraudulent premise they’ll make up this week, consider whether the Walker approach to governance is working, and whether it’s working better than what came before.

Wisconsin’s business community — the men and women who create the jobs and sign the paychecks—seem to think it’s working just fine.

The Business Journal reported last week that new businesses formed in Wisconsin increased more than 12 percent for the first quarter of this year, compared with the same three months in 2011. In other words, people are a lot more willing to take a risk and start a business in Wisconsin now, compared with the time last year when there was still uncertainty about what Governor Walker would be able to accomplish in improving the business climate.

The Business Journal story is based on data released by the state’s Department of Financial Institutions (DFI). That’s the agency that maintains corporate records filed when a business is created or dissolved or makes some other substantial change to its structure.

The DFI data shows more than 9,800 new businesses formed from January 1 through the end of March.  It also noted that March was the tenth month in the past 12 that business formation improved by comparison with the same month in the previous year.

Those who want to reject the growth of business and jobs and return to a hostile business climate will have their chance to try a couple of months from now.

At least WEAC’s numbers don’t lie

If anybody in Wisconsin is wondering why government employee unions attach so much importance to requiring employers to collect membership dues on their behalf, we now answer with another question:

Why would WEAC, the state’s behemoth teacher union, try so hard to conceal information it once made freely available?

We’re talking about the annual WEAC school district surveys, which tracked multiple trends including teacher layoffs, class-size increases, and extracurricular offerings.

The data recently disappeared from the WEAC web site. Fortunately, others have kept records.

For 2003, WEAC reported 69 percent of school districts laid off teachers, 68 percent increased class size, and 51 percent cut back extracurricular activities.

For 2005, WEAC reported 62 percent of school districts laid off teachers, 74 percent increased class size, and 54 percent cut extracurricular programs.

For 2006 WEAC reported 62 percent of districts laid off teachers, 75 percent increased class size, and 56 percent cut extracurricular activities.

For the next couple of months you can expect WEAC to go wall-to-wall with TV ads accusing Governor Walker of waging war on public education and, of course, Wisconsin’s children. What do the disappearing survey results for 2011 tell us along these lines?

For 2011, 31 percent of school districts laid off teachers, 59 percent increased class size, and eight (8) percent reduced extracurricular programming. Better in every category; much better both for the kids and for the teachers, since Walker took office.

Maybe that’s a clue as to why WEAC and other public employee unions don’t like the idea of their members being free to decide whether it’s in their best interest to pay dues.  Better for the members = worse for the union bosses.

Milwaukee Journal Conspires with DA

We’re long past the point of being surprised when some nerve center of Wisconsin “justice” turns out to be a nest of Liberal manipulators. Familiarity is no reason to put up with it.

So the latest revelation by the investigative reporters at Media Trackers is ample cause to scream bloody murder, and to place a call to Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm to ask what in Hell is going on.  (414) 278-4646.

Media Trackers has identified almost four dozen employees of the D.A.’s office as signers of the Walker recall petition. That’s the same D.A.’s office that’s been running a John Doe investigation of former Walker aides in Milwaukee County government—and others never associated with Scott Walker, though you’d be hard-pressed to learn that through mainstream media reporting.

Another thing you’d be hard-pressed to learn from the mainstream media is that Scott Walker requested the investigation in the first place.

But the D.A.’s office has been leaking confidential John Doe information like a sieve, to the benefit of Walker rivals and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter, Dan Bice (414- 223-5468).That makes them co-conspirators.

Now Bice and his newspaper are working overtime to defend Chisholm’s office with this backward headline and shall we say, incomplete interview?

DA’s office: John Doe prosecutors didn’t sign recall papers

“My understanding is that none of the attorneys in this office involved in politically related investigations has participated in the recall process,” said Chief Deputy District Attorney Kent Lovern.

Notice that Lovern didn’t say that no one involved in the John Doe investigation signed a petition. Nor did he say, no one with access to information about the investigation signed the petition.  A good journalist would have asked those specific questions, unless of course he didn’t want to know the answer.

Bice completely ignores the fact that Janet Oelstrom, a secretary in the Public Integrity Unit which oversees the John Doe investigation, signed the petition. Did Oelstrom have access to information about the investigation?

And what about Mary Ann Oronato who collected signatures from several of her co-workers in the DA’s office on two consecutive work days, Friday November 18th and Monday November 21st. Unless she traveled to all of their homes at a variety of addresses in 3 different cities, Oronato had to collect them while at work. This would amount to conducting political activity on government time, which is precisely what the DA’s office claims county staffers for Walker did.  Another point Bice might have made if not for his obvious conflict of interest in writing this story.

The smell emanating from the D.A.’s office is sickeningly familiar. We’ve seen leading conservatives railroaded by kangaroo courts before, and later exonerated.

There is more than sufficient reason to ask whether crimes have been committed by District Attorney staff leaking confidential information in an effort to smear the Governor and undo the 2010 elections.  We have seen enough rot in this state’s justice system to take seriously the prospect of its active involvement in a political coup.

If the word coup is too uncomfortable, try frame-up.  Either way, it’s time to demand answers.