Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Loose Ends, Words And Deeds

I know that I never finished with what I think of Blago's chances of again being governor of Illinois. In a sentence, neither the primary nor the election are gimme victories for Blago. Eisendrath is a shrewd politician who navigated the choppy waters of the Chicago City Council in the 1980's (remember Council Wars?) If Blago makes it through, he will most likely face (at least in my opinion) Judy Baar Topinka. Of the rest of the GOP candidates, Ron Gidwitz certainly is rich (as is Jim Oberweis) and he is trying to take the education issue away (which is not hard with Blago). Topinka is an old Springfield hack, having served as treasurer under both the GOP and the Dems. Look for crossover votes and also the "Chicago-area Republican" factor here.

Now, there will be more interesting and national morsels of political goodness to come, such as the Alito confirmation and the State of the Union address. Remember there that the context is far more crucial than the content. Think mid-term election year here.

So, join me now. The SOTU is tonight at 8:00P.M., CST. But don't just be there.

Play along with the SOTU Drinking Game.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Yes, That's Two Years From Now...

...but let's have some fun anyway.

I am going to post a list of names of possible presidential candidates from both parties. You, the reader, peruse them and then comment on your take on their possible candidacy, their stand on issues, why you think they are assholes, whatever. Also feel free to suggest other people. This is just a list of who I happen to think are possible contenders.

(the below are in alphabetical order)

  • Sen. Evan Bayh (Indiana)
  • Sen. Joseph Biden (Delaware)
  • Gen. Wesley Clark
  • Sen. Hilary Rodham Clinton (New York)
  • Sen. John Edwards (North Carolina)
  • Sen. Russ Feingold (Wisconsin)
  • Sen. John Kerry (Massachusetts)
  • Gov. Bill Richardson (New Mexico)
  • Gov. Tom Vilsack (Iowa)
  • Gov. Mark Warner (Virginia)


  • Sen. George Allen (Virginia)
  • Sen. Sam Brownback (Kansas)
  • Sen. Bill Frist (Tennessee)
  • Fmr. House Speaker Newt Gingrich (Georgia)
  • Fmr. New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani
  • Sen. Chuck Hagel (Nebraska)
  • Gov. Mike Huckabee (Arkansas)
  • Sen. John McCain (Arizona)
  • Gov. George Pataki (New York)
  • Sec. of State Condoleeza Rice
  • Gov. Mitt Romney (Massachusetts)

I have put these names into totally unscientific poll form. Click here to take the poll.

When you are done, come back here and post your comments here, not at MisterPoll.com.

There we are, let's have some fun with electoral politics, my favorite public bloodsport. HST was right when he said it's better than sex.

As ever, the Good Doctor brings it all together.

Judge Foust, You Shoulda Known Better

Well, I guess my gut feeling in my post "Convicted Felons Go To Jail, Right?" was right on (for once).

Judge William Foust, citing precedent, argues that he is powerless to intervene with the House of Corrections in Milwaukee County and force convicted felon Brian Burke to serve his sentence in a jail cell.

While I'd like to tell the judge to grow a pair and challenge this, I guess it is outside the purview of the judiciary to challenge the decisions of the executive branch (wait a minute, isn't that what judicial review is?)

Anyway, I guess there is nothing he can or is willing to do. What he should have known is what I suspected of those who thought he would actually go to jail. Being a judge, and part of the "system," Foust must have some innate trust that the system will ultimately work for all concerned.

A belief, apparently, that allows a politically connected felon to intervene with his old chums in the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Department and pull the ol' switcheroo on the whole sentencing thing. Foust, how deluded are you?

I think this almost goes without saying, but he never should have allowed him to leave Dane County. He should have been forced to serve his term in Madison.

Being a felonious ex-legislator and lobbyist, the state capital seems to me to be the logical choice.

Jim and Rod: Chasin' The Dream In '06

Last week, Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle (D) and Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich (D) both gave their State of the State addresses for 2006. In and of themselves, the speeches sounded like they always do. Both Doyle and Blagojevich looked back (I suspect to pat themselves on their respective backs) to their accomplishments and laid out the "legislative agenda" for the coming year. An agenda, incidentally, that will most likely be ignored by legislatures in each state that are controlled by the opposition party. Well, either ignored or compromised out of relevance.

The similarities between Doyle and Blagojevich do not end there, however. Each man, a first-term incumbent Democratic governor, faces re-election this year. When this is the case, the state of the state address is often seen as the unofficial kickoff for the re-election campaign. Both men also face a difficult road to re-election, but let's make a wild prediction before we get into a deeper consideration of each case.

Jim Doyle will have an easier time getting re-elected than Rod Blagojevich.

Why do I say this? In general, both men are not as popular as a supporter (which I am not of either) would hope with less than a year to election day. Both are facing mounting ethics questions concerning campaign finance, the cause du jour as of late. I believe ultimately that it is how each man has led and the persona that the electorate sees their leader as possessing that could tip the scales leading to a Doyle victory and a Blagojevich defeat.

First, Wisconsin and Jim Doyle. A disputed poll taken in October of last year showed Doyle in a dead heat with Republican challenger U.S. Representative Mark Green (R-Green Bay). The dispute, as the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel points out is the small number of respondents and the statistical model on which the poll was based. Even when it was redone, the results were still placing Doyle and Green at almost even keel, at least statistically.

To be sure, Doyle faces a tough battle to stay in office. A curiously timed ethics reform bill may seem to some like trying to sweep corruption and funding "mishaps" under the rug before the election. In a broader scope, Doyle, a Democrat, faces a re-election campaign in a predominantly Repuclican state. From my understanding, Madison and Milwaukee are the two biggest strongholds of the Democrats in Wisconsin. The rest of the state, with the exception of the Native American reservations in the north, seems pretty solidly Republican. Naturally, Green and the other GOP challenger, Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker will pull out a tried and true weapon out of the Wisconsin GOP arsenal. They will invariably continue to paint Doyle and his supporters as Madison and Milwaukee liberals who are out of touch with the concerns of the "real" Wisconsin.

Although Doyle has the benefit of being an incumbent, he cannot rely on crossover votes alone. It seems to me that there is little of the cross-party feelings for Doyle that there was for former Republican Governor Tommy Thompson, who served from 1987 to 2001 (making him Wisconsin's longest-serving governor). He, much like former Illinois Governor James R. Thompson (R) was a Republican who Democrats would vote for. There is no such feeling, it seems, for Jim Doyle.

What does Doyle have, you ask? Wisconsin's economy, especially the manufacturing sector, has done well since Doyle has been governor. I, however, think that this is a poor way to assess an executive's performance, as the economy is driven primarily by private individuals. I have always questioned this link, but people seem to think that it is important. The government can meddle in the economy, but growth and expansion mostly take place when the government backs off or removes hinderances to economic growth (anyone remember the 1992 Presidential election?)

He also has an asset that The Capital Times (Madison) oddly portrays as a weakness. They say that Doyle is an "effective, if unimaginative, leader" who has failed to inspire people to vote for him again. Granted, the shoes of Tommy Thompson are hard to fill. He made Wisconsin a model for welfare reform and school choice. The school choice program, incidentally, was mentioned by Doyle in his speech and he said it should be extended statewide.

Why do I and the Capital Times differ? Think of your political leaders. So what if they lack some imagination, especially a governor? Most of what the governor wants to happen gets diced up by the legislature anyway. There is never any shortage of ideas in and outside of the party. If Doyle is having trouble, I am sure that his party and supporters can fill his plate to overflowing with suggestions for legislation. "Effective," in this case, I take to mean that he fills the bullet points in the job description and dosen't break the rules (the jury is still out on this).

So the guy is boring. In my completely subjective opinion, Doyle seems mostly harmless. Typical disrespect for what I think should be the purpose of a state government and way to quick to throw money around but, hey, he's a politician. It's what they do. Doesn't make it right, though.

Would you rather boring yet effective or charismatic and ineffective? He is a bit underwhelming, but this is not necessarily bad. I am not sure how many people would feel this way.

That is the choice that faces Wisconsin voters come this November.

Next, Illinois, Blago and what I see as his more serious problem of re-election.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The State Of The State Of The State

I have a few things in the works regarding my (now) two states of interest and their governors and their respective state of the state addresses.

Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle (D) gave his last night. Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich (D) gives his tonight.

I will save most of the analysis for later, but I can wager a guess though the speech content might sound similar, the surrounding circumstances of an impending re-election campaign for both speakers changes everything.

I will also in the coming days, although I will indeed go to hell for it, make some observations about governor's races nationwide and the 2006 elections in general and their possible impact (descending further into punditry Tartarus) on the 2008 presidential election field.

Join me in the abyss, won't you?

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Convicted Felons Go To Jail, Right?

Wrong. At least if you are former Wisconsin state Senator Brian Burke (R-Milwaukee).

When I moved to Wisconsin, I was under no illusions that the state government was any less corrupt or back-handed than in Chicago, Cook County or Illinois. What I did expect, however, was that the corruption would (to steal a phrase from Studs Terkel) not be as "theatrical" as in Illinois.

Then comes the conviction and subsequent legal posing in the case of Burke.

The background of this case could have very well come from Chicago. Burke, who served as a Milwaukee County prosecutor and Milwaukee alderman before his 1988 election to the state senate, was once the front-runner to be the Attorney General of Wisconsin. It was during this campaign that he paid aides to solicit donations. When this matter came before the Dane County Circuit Court this year, it was also revealed that he altered documents that were subpoenaed by the prosecution in this case. Read this article from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel for further background.

On November 29, 2005, Dane County Circuit Court Judge William Foust convicted Burke of misconduct while in office (a felony) and submitting falsified documents (a misdemeanor). Accompanied by the requisite pleading of loved ones and influential cronies, Foust passed his sentence. When I heard this sentence, I thought that things would be different here in Wisconsin.

Foust actually sentenced Burke to serve six months in the Dane County jail and pay tens of thousands of dollars in fines. The judge made it clear that he was to serve the time in jail, and not on house arrest. Finally, I thought, one of these corrupt bastards would finally feel the sting of waking up for half a year behind bars.

It was at this point that my Chicago political upbringing snapped back into line.

Was I crazy? Did I actually think that a prominent state politico would find no way out of going to jail?

My gut feeling was right, apparently, and the legal posturing that has taken place would make an old Cook County machine hack proud.

Foust, while being clear on the jail time, allowed that Burke could serve his time in Milwaukee instead of Madison. When he was transfered home to Milwaukee, however, he was placed on home detention under the Huber Law. Big surprise there seeing as he used to supervise these people. He is allowed to go to his job as (get this one) a lobbyist during the day and return home at night. So rather that sitting in a jail cell in the Dane County Jail, he is at his doublessly plush home in Milwaukee still working and coming home at night.

Basically, therefore, the sentence for the felony and misdemeanor was merely a bookkeeping issue. Instead of Dane County and jail it is now Milwaukee County and loose house arrest.

This political sleight-of-hand, fortunately, did not go unchallenged. Yesterday, Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard filed a little used motion: a "request for clarification of sentence." This urges Judge Foust to send a letter to the Milwaukee House of Corrections and the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Department stating that the purpose of the sentence was to have Burke serve time in an actual jail and not his home. Read the story in The Capital Times (Madison) for more detail on these motions and Blanchard's request.

As the Capital Times story rightly points out, this is a difficult matter. It is standard procedure that, in a criminal conviction, once the judge passes the sentence, it is then in the hands of the sheriff to decide what constitutes the "jail." I guess that Burke's pals in Milwaukee decided that his home was close enough to the House of Corrections. Maybe we should ask the inmates at each facility about their living conditions.

What Foust needs to do is impress upon the Milwaukee County Sheriff that if he knew Burke would avoid actual jail time by being sent to Milwaukee, he would have never allowed it. This would just be an opinion, and one with no legal force at that. Still, Foust did make the ruling and was quite clear in his desire to see Burke behind bars.

There are several issues at work here that make for a typical case of influence politics and avoidance. Of course, the large issue here is the ability of a convicted felon, albeit a prominent one, to avoid the letter of a criminal court judgement. The Milwaukee County Sheriff knew full well that Judge Foust intended Burke to serve time but because of Burke's connection to the office, the term "jail" became instantly flexible. If the sheriff in Milwaukee wants to try and argue that the House of Corrections is overcrowded and Burke's house arrest was because of jail overcrowding, he should have sent Burke back here to Dane County where I am sure there is plenty of room.

Second, and perhaps more egregious, is the application of the Huber Law in this case. While the text of the law (read it at the above link) techincally allows any prisoner to leave incarceration to attend work, medical appointments or counselling, one must wonder about the spirit of the law in this case. I imagine that the law was instituted for those who could benefit from regular work and pay and who may be supporting a family on the "outside." I can also see allowing people, naturally, to leave custody for medical reasons or state-ordered counselling (although there is potential for abuse here). That seems, at least to me, to be the spirit of the Huber Law.

What it was not created for, however, was people like Brian Burke. It was not intended to allow a felon who betrayed the electorate and was convicted to go to a lobbying job during the day and return to his well-heeled home at night. Somehow I feel that when this law was first formulated in Wisconsin in 1913, the framers did not have a millionaire former congressman, convicted felon lobbyist in mind for the reformative and practical benefits of regular work during imprisonment.

I guess I should have known better than to think politicos in Wisconsin were any less connected than in Chicago, Illinois or anywhere else. This editorial in the Wisconsin State Journal typifies the response of people who actually expected Burke to serve time because he was sentenced to do so.

I don't want to be so jaded, but political developments make it a necessary defense mechanism against undue optimism.

Whoever coined the phrase "youthful optimism" obviously had no interest in politics.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Separation of Church And State? Not In Illinois.

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is currently being questioned about the legality of his $1 million pledge of state funds to rebuild Pilgrim Baptist Church in Chicago after a recent fire.

The questions involve the spending of state money to rebuild a church or its property.

The answer to this question should be obvious. The state should not give churches money to rebuild/improve their property. Yet this is exactly what Blago is doing.

How does he explain it? He says that the money from the state will go to rebuild the school and administrative buildings of the church and not the sanctuary itself.

If it was anyone else but Blago, I would think this was a joke.

I would think that no sane person, or at least one with a few neurons, would think that there is a difference between buildings owned by a church and their functions. Sure, the functions are differentiated, but this does not change the fact that THEY ARE OWNED BY A CHURCH!

What is really involved here is the fact that Blago is scared going into an election year. He needs to rally the base and part of this base is African-Americans in Chicago. By making this gesture of state money, he is showing that he will speak to community interests and that Springfield cares and so does he.

They care so much, in fact, that they are willing to ignore the Constitution of the United States and of the State of Illinois to show it.

This blatant indirect vote-buying by the governor shows, as the Jack Abramoff affair is at a national level, that money equals influence. This is not altruism on Blago's part. It is a savvy political move in an election year where he may face a contentious primary for the Democratic party. Granted, he is the incumbent governor. He cannot forget, however, that he is the first Democrat from the Chicago area to be governor since Dan Walker in 1973. Downstate may be laughable to most Chicago-area people, but it can decide elections.

As for the larger issue, this is a fine farewell as an Illinois taxpayer to have my money go to fund a political hand-out to a church that I do not attend in a move that abrogates a basic tenet of American government.

Churches, you are tax-exempt entities. Raise the money yourselves among the members of your congregation. Seek outside funding if necessary. Just not from the state.

Oh, and by the way, if you think that my objection is because this is an African-American congregation and I am a racist ex-suburbanite, you are too ignorant to understand my larger points anyway.

Sorry I couldn't simplify it for you.

Booze and Tobacco: Notes From The Front

  • There is legislation before the Missouri state legislature to ban the sale of cold beer. It is thought that this will reduce drunk driving arrests by making it less attractive for people to open beer in the car. This is one of the stupidest pieces of legislation that I have encountered recently (and I am from Illinois). It inconvienences people unnecessarily and has what may be considered as limited deterrent value. Granted, it will make people less likely to consume the beer on the way home. This will not, however, deter the truly desparate person who could care less at what temperature their beer is sold. I can see this piece of legislation failing for these reasons and through no small effort, if it makes it any farther, of Anheuser-Busch (the world's largest brewer who happens to be headquartered in St. Louis). What common sense might fail to prevent Gussie Busch might prevent by lobbying.
  • A judge in Virginia is tossing out DWI cases where guilt is presumed. Which, to my knowledge, is damned near all of them. Judge O'Flaherty makes some vaild points about the "small print" in the law that seems to be endemic to all such laws around the nation. First, by picking a limit of .08, it makes the term "intoxicated" artificially rigid. The breath test does not account for a myriad of factors, yet refusal to take one leads to immediate suspensions and consequences. Second, while the court does allow the defendant to challenge the fact that they were intoxicated, notice the legal sleight-of-hand here. The burden of proof, always on the prosecution, is now shifted to the defense. In a sector of the law where rights are suspended and legal certainties thrown to the wind, it is nice to see someone challenging these assumptions. Do I think people should be allowed to drive drunk. Not on your life. What I do think, however, is that the facts of the case in DWI cases need to be considered more than they are. The courts assume that all drunk drivers are the same and put the wheels of the system into motion. It is unfair and needs some serious reconsideration.
  • Elk Grove Village, IL, considering a smoking ban, is also considering a ban on tobacco sales. Smoking bans are unfair and anti-small business enough as it is, as we have began to see here in Madison, WI. Well, congrats to Mayor Craig Johnson of Elk Grove Village. You just did Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz one better. To say that you have become more anti-business than Mayor Dave is no mean feat indeed. What Mayor Johnson is forgetting in mulling over this concern is the fact that residents of Elk Grove Village CAN STILL LEGALLY SMOKE IN THEIR HOMES IN ELK GROVE VILLAGE! Here again, as with Missouri and beer, the convienence of the consumer and the profit of the businessperson is a great target for crusading moralistic neo-Puritans in government.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

One Year On: What Have We Learned?

As we are close to the anniversary of this blog, I felt it necessary to consider our place vis-a-vis the major issues of the day. Y'know, take everything into account from the past year and see if we have indeed become better people for considering and dealing with our world.

What a sad failure that exercise is.

The fact of the matter is that we have learned nothing and I doubt that we ever will. Look back at the year that we came through and it proves the assertion.

Hurricane Katrina and the response? Further proof that the government does not care about the people or their safety or lives.

The Karl Rove/Judith Miller/Robert Novak/Valerie Plame (and more) situation? Further proof that the "governing class" cares not for you or I. They scandalize each other and make each other look foolish for the benefit of whom? Nobody, that's who. Further proof, furthermore, that the "secret diplomacy" and government that people so readily assume is gone since the end of WWI is still the lingua franca of those who matter.

My piece on eminent domain of the past year? A shout in the dark as the forces of state development march on. Who ever thought that John Locke and his ideas would be dangerous again?

The basic rights of all Americans to do with their bodies (the most organic form of property) what they wish? Shot down by smoking bans, an ascendant neo-prohibitionism and the rejection of gay marriage. Americans are losing their basic rights daily. I have tried to stem the tide. I hope that all of you act similarly.

Where do we go from here? I guess, for my part, I will continue to try and give my readers a different perspective on the events of the day and give the reminder that rights are taken easily.

What can you do? Never stop feeling uncomfortable with the state of affairs. Question and it will become plain. Also, keep reading this space. I love writing for you. I hope I offer something that is worth reading.

Look forward to more commentary from me. As for you, keep a look out.

I close with the old Chinese curse:

"May you live in interesting times!"