Monday, April 30, 2007

The 33-hour workday

Here's what we learned through a 33-hour workday last week.

After the first 24 hours, an Egg McMuffin is the best food on earth.

After 33 hours, there is no appealing food.

After about 16 hours, simple tasks take. an. amazingly. long. time. to. do.

It is possible for some people to snooze on the office floor.

It is better not to have 33-hour workdays.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Steve Biskupic isn't that stupid, Part 2

If US Attorney Steven Biskupic isn't corruptly stupid, why did he prosecute Georgia Thompson? Esteemed readers have asked for an alternative theory. So here goes:

The most logical possibility is that Biskupic though Thompson was guilty of a crime. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals said emphatically she wasn't.

Biskupic alleged a crime where there was no crime. Now that the Seventh Circuit has spoken, lots of folks are rushing to slap Biskupic around and suggest that he railroaded an innocent woman just to please a seriously wounded Bush administration and hold on to his job two more years.

That's the part that doesn't make sense to me. That Biskupic would risk everything to continue working for people like John Ashcroft, Alberto Gonzales, and George Bush for two more years. Yes, there is political pressures in public jobs, but that does not mean that people cave to it. Political pressure works best when the pressuree doesn't have a good employment alternative, but that was not Biskupic's case. He's been around a long time -- he could have had his pick of jobs.

It's important to remember that Biskupic's charging decision did not look so bad until the Seventh Circuit acted. The case made it past US Magistrate Judge Patricia Gorence -- who actually worked for Jim Doyle in the AG's office -- and through the courtroom of (the very, very conservative) US District Judge Rudolph T. Randa.

And Gov. Doyle, after Thompson was charged and convicted, did not exactly rush to her defense. He got all righteous only when it was safe to do so.

My theory is that Biskupic a) thought Thompson committed a crime and b) really likes high-profile cases.

That combination shattered Thompson's life and blinded Biskupic to the case's weakness.

Does that make him stupid? I guess that depends on your definition of 'stupid.' It certainly points to something being seriously wrong somewhere. It doesn't demonstrate that he was sucking up to the White House, though.

Does it mean he should not be US attorney? Maybe. I just would like to know more about what happened and what the Appeals Court has to say in its written decision before making up my mind on that one.

Georgia Thompson's case was flawed and its high-profile nature made it particularly devastating for her. Being in the limelight now, though, is working to her benefit.

When some poor schmuck's conviction in a drug case gets thrown out, no one is clamoring for him to get his job back and to get back pay and reimbursement for legal fees. Certainly no one screams for the prosecutor's job.

When young black men get draconian sentences in crack cocaine cases, there is not an outpouring of rage over the inequity in federal court drug sentences.

When Sheriff Clarke was found in contempt of court for incarcerating mostly poor people in the county jail in deplorable conditions, nothing happened. The County Board didn't investigate, the state was silent -- Gov. Doyle just plain forgot to speak out on behalf of those people.

So: did Steve Biskupic absolutely screw up on the Georgia Thompson case? Yes. Was that terrible for Georgia Thompson? Yes. Should Steve Biskupic be US attorney? Don't know yet.
Do other prosecutorial and law enforcement agencies in Milwaukee and Wisconsin screw up? Yes. Sometimes deliberately and knowingly? Yes.

Does that mean that Biskupic should be given a pass? No.

Does that mean that he should be dealt with more harshly than law enforcement professionals who knowingly or erroneously unjustly mess up the lives of people who are not white, middle-class, and work for state government? Hmmm....

Monday, April 16, 2007

Steve Biskupic is not that dumb

Steve Biskupic is a smart guy, which is one reason some of the speculation about why he prosecuted Georgia Thompson seems extermely unlikely.

This is a guy who got his dream job when the Supreme Court appointed George Bush president in 2000. Steve Biskupic, aggressive young assistant US attorney, beat out other applicants for the top job in the Eastern District of Wisconsin.

It couldn't have taken him long to figure out that his bosses -- first John Ashcroft and then Alberto Gonzales -- were not particularly good to work for, and not particulary good for the rule of law.

Biskupic still is young. He has a long career in front of him and, until this fiasco, could have had his pick of posts. It makes no sense to me that he would launch a political prosecution to kowtow to the likes of Karl Rove and Alberto Gonzales in order to hold on to a job that he will lose in 2008 anyway if a Democratic is elected president, as seems a pretty good bet. When Thompson was indicted in January 2006, Biskupic -- just like everyone else in the world -- could easily see how badly damaged Bush and the Republicans were.

Did Biskupic overreach with the Thompson prosecution? Absolutely. He stretched the law to make it fit his case, and it snapped back at him hard. And yes, it seemed just a bit much that Georgia Thompson was packed off to prison immediately when many, many white collar criminals are allowed to remain free while their appeals are pending. Was George Thompson a flight risk? No. Was she likely to commit further "crimes?" No way.

Biskupic did not serve justice in the Georgia Thompson case, but that does not mean he launched a political prosecution to save his job. In fact, that seems a bit unlikely -- why would he risk his entire future to work two more years for a political hack like Alberto Gonzales?

Biskupic may well have been tripped up by his ambition and zealousness. It's just hard to believe the opportunity to work for two more years for Alberto Gonzales would inspire Biskupic to sacrifice not only Georgia Thompson, but the very ideals he was sworn to uphold.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Wolfowitz whirl at World Bank may be winding down

Paul Wolfowitz, whose incompetence as a Defense Department deputy was absolutely scandalous, apparently is not performing any better as head of the World Bank.

The bank's board is trying to figure out what to do with him and his own employees are booing him. The Guardian reports:

The unprecedented events, amid calls for his resignation, were the latest twist in the saga that saw Mr Wolfowitz yesterday repeatedly apologise for his role in arranging a promotion and pay rises for his partner, in possible violation of bank rules.

Mr Wolfowitz's position was further undermined by a tepid response from the Treasury, which deals with the bank for the US government. Asked if the Treasury had confidence in Mr Wolfowitz, a senior official said: "There is a mechanism in place, and I am going to allow that mechanism to work rather than inject myself into the middle of it."

Calls mounted for his resignation after revelations this week that Mr Wolfowitz personally intervened to secure a substantial pay rise - from $132,660 to $193,590, tax free - for his girlfriend Shaha Riza, a bank employee, when Mr Wolfowitz was first appointed president in 2005. Bank rules forbid couples from working together....

Mr Wolfowitz wrote a memo to the bank's head of human resources detailing salary increases for Ms Riza - contradicting earlier claims that the matter was dealt with by others.

Meanwhile, in Iraq, the war Wolfowitz helped create isn't going so well, either. The New York Times:

BAGHDAD, April 12 — A suicide bomber wearing an explosive vest struck deep inside the heavily fortified International Zone on Thursday, killing eight people when he detonated inside the Parliament building just a few feet from the main chamber.

In a separate and in some ways equally traumatic attack early in the day, a truck bomb destroyed the beloved, 60-year-old Sarafiya bridge across the Tigris and killed six people. The heavily traveled bridge has long been a symbol of Baghdad, illustrated on old postcards and drawings of the city from a more peaceful time.

The attack on the Parliament was the worst bombing to take place in the International Zone since the protected area was established four years ago, when it was known as the Green Zone. At a time when Iraqis are increasingly questioning the government’s ability to protect them, the bombing raised the troubling possibility that it cannot even fully protect itself, although it is at the wellspring of American and Iraqi military power in the city.

It isn't surprising that someone who used a war to shower cash on friendly corporations would use a job at a bank to shower cash on a friendly woman.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The slow reaction to Don Imus

This guy should have been fired immediately after he uttered those inflammatory, racist words. His downfall, though, is playing out in slow motion, and will occur, if it does at all, only as the final event in a chain that started with his unacceptable comments that at sort of bounced around here and there enough to get regular folks agitated, which motivated slumbering, happy-to-pay-for-hate-talk-unless-there-is-consumer-backlash corporate sponsors to shake off their lethargy for a few minutes and pull their ads , which finally got the attention of Imus' employers, who finally took action. Sort of.

His show was suspended for two weeks, but Imus, as if this writing, still has a job.

It took a full week for MSNBC to pull the plug.

Newsweek's staff regularly appears on the show, and the mag's editor says it doesn't want to "rush to judgment," on the matter. Says editor Jon Meacham, "At the same time, he's on serious probation here. It's a very big deal. We take this seriously."

This is all just too little, really late.


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The domed stadium is great: translation

It was a good idea for local taxpayers to pay for a roof on Miller Park so if it snows in Cleveland the Indians and Angels can play in Milwaukee, under the roof paid for by local taxpayers.

Yes! Levy sales taxes in metro Milwaukee so millionaires in Cleveland have a place to play baseball without actually having to schedule a double header in their own city!

And if a big snowstorm or thunderstorm hits Milwaukee during a Brewers home stand, local fans will still be able to sit under the roof that they paid for, sip grossly overpriced beer, watch the sausage races, and talk about how that roof didn't work right for the first several years.

Maybe, during a pitching change, they can even talk about how their unwillingly surrendered tax dollars built the stadium that increased the value of the then-hapless team by millions and millions of dollars, which allowed the Seligs to sell the team and walk away with huge, taxpayer-financed profits.

See how nicely that roof turned out for all the really rich people involved in the deal?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Why this particular study at this particular time?

There have been lots of studies of the Wisconsin Work program, better known as W-2. Most of those studies have slipped quietly into oblivion.

Today, though, the JS put a story about one of the dozens, if not hundreds, of W-2 studies on the front page. It is, in fact the line story. (The links to the story don't work at the moment-- sorry).

This particular study was published by the very conservative Wisconsin Policy Research Institute.

Why did the JS pick this particular report from this particular organization?

Monday, April 09, 2007

Why Tommy's running

It never seemed much of a mystery.

It's not just his ego and need for attention that is driving Tommy Thompson to conduct a sure-to-lose presidential campaign.

It's the money. He can't win with that amount, but it's nice to have and he did not have to work real hard to raise it.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Mark Belling: gross, rude and crude

And those are his good days.

Sometimes he seems like he needs a little professional help.

A customer service question

Why, why, oh why, when the JS fails to deliver the newspaper, does its circulation department then promise to "re-deliver" it?

Doesn't that imply that the JS thinks its paying customer is lying about not getting the paper in the first place?

Friday, April 06, 2007

Georgia Thompson, Steve Biskupic and Rudolph Randa

Georgia Thompson's long personal -- and very public -- nightmare is over.

Xoff is right -- the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals decision freeing her is a total humiliation for US Attorney Steven Biskupic. The decision also raises a number of interesting questions about US District Judge Rudolph Randa, a really, really conservative guy who has served on the advisory board of the local chapter of the ultra conservative Federalist Society. Randa usually handles white collar criminals rather gently, but he packed Thompson off to prison immediately and refused to let her remain free pending her appeal. In his decision denying her post-conviction bail, Randa said Thompson had no real reason to expect her conviction to be reversed.

What were Randa's motivation on that one? Biskupic overreached and will be beaten up good for this one, but nobody should forget about the guy in the robes.

Now the state needs to step in, pay Thompson's legal bills, and make her whole for her salary and fringes. Maybe throw in a couple of weeks of vacation and a massage.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

The money race

Barack Obama raised $23.5 million in the first quarter of the year; Hillary Clinton raised $26 million, according to ABC news.

After watching the well-funded and ugly Clifford-Ziegler brawl that was the Wisconsin Supreme Court race, this sign of a financially healthy new challenger to one of the most calculating, poll-driven, coat-tail riding people in politics makes me think only that $49.5 million buys a lot of mud.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Line of the week

Milwaukee Area Technical College Board member Peter Earle on Saturday retained his seat for another term, despite efforts by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce to replace him with a big business representative.

The MMAC's argument that big business deserves a seat at the MATC board simply by being big business is a little silly, but not nearly as silly as the answer the MMAC's candidate, Tramont Corp. CEO Sean McGowan, gave that might well have sunk his chances for the board.

As the JS reports:

But McGowan may have lost ground with the committee when, during questioning, he couldn't answer a question about the college's value to taxpayers.

"I'm not qualified to answer that question because I'm not informed," McGowan said. "But I'm a quick study."


Monday, April 02, 2007

Another cozy SEWRPC deal

Someone at SEWRPC needs to read a best practices procurement manual.

Here's another cozy, scratch-my-back-I'll-scratch-yours-let's-take-care-of-each-other deal under which a $50K consultant contract is handed without any ol' nasty competition, to Dan Boyce and Jon Wellhoefer, who just happen to be former deputy Department of City Development commissioners under SEWRPC Treasurer Bill Drew.

The two old friends are to study the central city's 30th Street Industrial Corridor. They are doing this from an office in the Milwaukee County Research Park in western Wauwatosa. SEWRPC is paying the rent. You'll never guess who the executive director of the Research Park is. Surprise! It's ... Bill Drew!

The stench from this one will take a while to clear.