Our Common Good

Thanks to Republican lawmakers, predatory payday lenders are back in business in Wisconsin, and worse than before:

Many of the lenders have shifted from payday loans that were good for as little as two weeks to what they call installment loans - high-interest loans that don’t fall under payday lending regulations. Installment loans can have annual interest rates of 500% or more.


Thanks to Republican lawmakers, predatory payday lenders are back in business in Wisconsin, and worse than before:

Many of the lenders have shifted from payday loans that were good for as little as two weeks to what they call installment loans - high-interest loans that don’t fall under payday lending regulations. Installment loans can have annual interest rates of 500% or more.

In the last few years, conservatives have made significant contributions to political organizations that have pushed the state to the right on core economic issues, and explicitly pushed right to work as a top goal (see the graph above):

Americans for Prosperity–Michigan, the group founded by the billionaire Koch brothers, has a relatively new chapter in Michigan that has produced pamphlets extolling right-to-work reforms. This week, the group set up a heated tent outside the capital to support Snyder’s law and bused activists to Lansing to counter labor protesters.

The Mackinac Center is a right-wing think tank in Michigan that issues pro-“right to work” reports, sponsors an anti-labor legal foundation and produces an array of other content, from a Pininterest page to short videos explaining why Michigan should adopt right-to-work. The center has gone on a media tour, touting Snyder’s move this week on CNN, Fox Business and much of the Michigan press. Notably, the group recently started two of its own media outlets, Michigan Capitol Confidential and Watchdog Wire Michigan.

These organizations are part of a more aggressive political force that is adept at controlling the twenty-four-hour news cycle and managing coalitions. Unlike ordinary business lobbies that simply support right-to-work, these advocacy groups go out and shape public opinion through broad messaging and content development, which in turn is used for organizing around policies.

Both AFP and the Mackinac Center are backed financially by the billionaire DeVos family, which has sought to control public policy debates through state-level nonprofits. Donors Trust, the nonprofit foundation used by wealthy conservative donors to anonymously finance activism on the right, has heavily funded AFP and Mackinac in the last three years. Doug DeVos chairs a nonprofit that has mobilized influential executives in the state to support right to work in Michigan.

The model isn’t new. In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) relied heavily on Americans for Prosperity Wisconsin and a state-based think tank called the MacIver Institute to build political support for his effort to curtail union rights. In Ohio, Governor John Kasich (R-OH) worked closely with another business-backed group, the Buckeye Institute, for his attempt to crush local unions.

On the left, the only comparable group in Michigan is Progress Michigan. Progress Michigan, which is backed by several local unions, brought together a coalition of progressives to oppose right-to-work, and demonstrated at the capital in Lansing this week. Although Progress Michigan has leveraged a sizable local union membership base to make up for its small budget, as the chart I created above shows, it hasn’t been able to compete financially with the right.

Now that the right-to-work fuse has been lit, establishment groups on both sides of the ideological divide have entered the fray, including local chambers of commerce and the Tea Party on the right, and unions on the left. Working America, the AFL-CIO affiliate, has helped mobilize people for protests today. But in terms of shaping the ideological debate—it’s important to realize that the anti-labor forces have worked for years through groups like Mackinac and AFP to set the stage.

Another Walker crony is headed to prison…


A former associate of Gov. Scott Walker convicted of embezzling money from a veterans’ group has been sentenced to two years in prison.

A jury found Kevin Kavanaugh guilty of theft in October. Prosecutors say Kavanaugh stole more than $51,000 intended to help veterans and their families.

The 62-year-old Kavanaugh apologized in Milwaukee County Circuit Court Friday. Judge Michael Guolee called the apology “worthless.”

Kavanaugh will also serve two years of supervision after his prison sentence and must pay more than $51,000 in restitution.

As Milwaukee County executive, Walker appointed Kavanaugh to head the county Veterans Service Commission. Prosecutors say he skimmed money from phony withdrawals from a veterans-service organization.

Kavanaugh is the fifth Walker aide or associate to be convicted in a secret probe. A sixth is awaiting trial.


When Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) proposed repealing a decades-old state law that allows citizens to register on Election Day, he said his motivation was to make the process easier for the state’s municipal election clerks.

To Walker’s surprise, one of the first major groups to push back on his proposal is the Wisconsin Municipal Clerks Association.

In fact, the organization’s election communications chairwoman Diane Hermann-Brown said, eliminating Election Day Registration would actually make their jobs significantly more difficult.


Hermann-Brown pointed to a number of new election regulations that the state would be forced to adopt if it repealed Election Day Registration. For instance, clerks would be required to use provisional ballots, which can turn into a bureaucratic nightmare for election officials. State agencies, like the BMV, would be required to help register voters as well.


Two weeks after Barack Obama and Sen.-elect Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) carried the state of Wisconsin with the support of minorities and young voters, Gov. Scott Walker (R) announced one of his major policy proposals for the upcoming session: ending the state’s 40-year old law that allows citizens to register to vote on Election Day.

And with Republicans now back in control of the Wisconsin state legislature, Walker may well get his way next year.

In 2008, Wisconsin enjoyed the second highest turnout of any state in the nation (72.4 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot), due largely to the fact the Badger State law allows residents who aren’t registered or have recently moved to register at the polls. That year, approximately 460,000 people used Election Day Registration, 15 percent of all Wisconsinites who cast a ballot.

Walker pressed his case for ending same-day registration during a speech at the Ronald Reagan Library in California on Friday:

“States across the country that have same-day registration have real problems because the vast majority of their states have poll workers who are wonderful volunteers, who work 13 hour days and who in most cases are retirees,” Walker said. “It’s difficult for them to handle the volume of people who come at the last minute. It’d be much better if registration was done in advance of election day. It’d be easier for our clerks to handle that. All that needs to be done.

Wisconsin was the first state to enact Election Day Registration in 1971, followed soon by states like Minnesota and Maine. Today, eleven states have laws allowing citizens to register at the polls. These states enjoy the highest turnout in the nation not by chance, but because Election Day Registration boosts turnout by 7 to 14 percentage points. In addition, studies show that minorities, poorer voters, and students benefit the most from being permitted to register on Election Day.

This gutless punk thug, aka Scott “Fartknocker” Walker, needs to be voted out of office in 2014!

h/t: Scott Keyes at Think Progress Justice

Gov. Scott Walker and his top campaign and Milwaukee County aides were implicated Monday in a scheme in which they routinely commingled political and official county business.

The disclosures came during the sentencing of a former aide to Walker during his last year as Milwaukee County executive.

Kelly M. Rindfleisch, 44, was sentenced by Judge David Hansher to six months in jail and three years probation for a single felony count of misconduct in office. But the judge stayed the sentence pending Rindfleisch’s appeal to the state Appeals Court or the state Supreme Court.

In a lengthy presentation during Rindfleisch’s sentencing, Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf displayed numerous emails between Rindfleisch and key members of Walker’s campaign staff in which they discussed how to handle county issues in 2010, while Walker was a candidate for governor.

Landgraf said “The Campaign Group” included Walker, his campaign manager Keith Gilkes, campaign spokeswoman Jill Bader, campaign adviser R.J. Johnson. It also included several top county aides to Walker: Cindy Archer, who was county administration director; county chief of staff Tom Nardelli; county housing director Timothy Russell; spokeswoman Fran McLaughlin; and Rindfleisch.

Rindfleisch served as Walker’s policy adviser and later his deputy chief of staff at the county.

The charges against Rindfleisch stem from a secret John Doe investigation that included seizure of computers she used at her home and her courthouse office, some 25 feet from Walker’s. That happened on Nov. 1, 2010, a day before Walker’s election as governor, according to prosecutors.

Rindfleisch was supported by Walker’s campaign committee and the state Republican Party since then, Landgraf wrote in a sentencing memo.

A private email system had been installed in her office that she used to make contacts about fundraisers for Brett Davis, then a Republican Assembly member and candidate for lieutenant governor, and other political contacts, according to a criminal complaint.

Walker has said he’s not a target of the investigation, which has not been closed. He voluntarily met with prosecutors in April.


CHIPPEWA COUNTY, Wis. — Where County Highway A crests a knoll, Ken Schmitt pulls up to the edge of a farm and idles the car. Above a cornfield yellowed and brittle from a killing frost is a 100-foot hill with a wide section cut away, revealing bands of stone, clay and sand neat as a layer cake.

In time, 800 acres of farmlandwill be mined to feed an energy boom sweeping the United States.

No one is drilling for oil or gas amid the gently rolling farmland and wooded ridges of western Wisconsin. But the same battles over jobs, public health and the environment that have erupted in Pennsylvania, Texas and Colorado as part of the latest energy wave now echo through the small towns of the upper Midwest.

Here the particular types of sand vital to the controversial production technique called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, lie just beneath the surface. Ground zero for industrial sand mining is western Wisconsin, in counties like Trempealeau, Buffalo and Chippewa. At least 60 industrial sand mines are functioning or in the permit process in the area, up from five in 2010.

The rapid expansion of sand mining through the quiet of western Wisconsin has raised fears among some residents and hope in others, often pitting neighbors against one another, just as fracking has done elsewhere.

To get to the sand, companies must blast and strip-mine fields and ridges. Their trucks ply the two-lane country roads nonstop to haul the sand to processing plants and railheads, where it is shipped to far-flung oil and gas fields. Residents worry that when strong winds lift the fine, washed sand from outdoor piles, the dust could lead to respiratory problems.

“People here say this is an issue of property rights, that they can do what they want with their land,” said Schmitt, a cattle farmer and anti-mining activist from the town of Howard. “But individual rights end when you start affecting others’ health and welfare.”

Still, those who lease their land get royalties. Locals work at the mines and drive the trucks. When the companies build plants that wash, sift and dry the sand, they pay tens of thousandsof dollars in property taxes. A trade-off is needed, mining’s supporters say, if Wisconsin wants jobs and the country wants cheap energy.

“I liked the land the way it was before, but the country itself has to be more efficient one way or the other in the future,” said Jeff Sikora, who leased 50 acres of his land to EOG Resources, a Houston-based oil, gas and mining company. “Everyone wants the country to be more self-sufficient, but no one wants the effects of it. We can’t have our cake and eat it too.”

Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter’s recent statement that the Affordable Care Act will force the pizza chain to raise prices came as good news to Nick Martin.

Martin, a part owner of Ian’s Pizza, a pizza shop with four locations in Wisconsin, said his business has offered full heath care coverage to its 50 full-time employees for years, making it all the more difficult to compete with national chains like Papa John’s that pay workers low wages without health benefits.

"This may level the playing field for us,” Martin said of the Papa John’s price hike. “If they have to pay for benefits, and that pushes their prices up closer to ours, it will justify what we’ve been paying for and what we’ve been fighting to do the past few years.” (Ian’s knows a bit about fighting, having fed demonstrators free slices during last year’s protests in Madison.)

Like many of the 60 percent of small businesses that pay employees health benefits, Ian’s Pizza has struggled to compete with national chains that enter local markets and undercut existing prices. But Obamacare may give local businesses some breathing room as national chains lose the advantage they once wielded through not providing health insurance, according to Jonathan Gruber, a professor of economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


Still, small business owners who already offer employees health insurance reported feeling a sense of vindication upon hearing that large restaurant chains are now being forced to consider a cost that they’ve shouldered for years.

“I’d tell Papa John’s’ CEO, ‘Welcome to the club,’” Martin said. “We’ve battled the whole way giving health insurance to employees ever since we could afford to do it 9 years ago, as a two-year-old business.”

Add Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Maine Gov. Paul LePage, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to the list of Republican governors who are continuing to protest Obamacare by refusing to establish health insurance exchanges, in the process forcing the federal government to step in and create the exchanges itself. Starting in Oct. 2013, the exchanges will be the marketplace for individuals to obtain insurance if they do not have coverage through their employer, Medicare, or Medicaid. Beginning Jan. 2014, the new insurance plans will take effect, giving nearly every American citizen health care coverage.

I may be wrong, but it seems to me that these Governors are essentially helping create the “public option” the Republicans in Congress fought so hard against.

Even though House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has acknowledged that Obamacare is the “law of the land,” nine state lawmakers in Wisconsin are hoping to ensure that President Obama’s health reform law won’t ever be implemented in their state. The group of Tea Party-affiliated Republicans is backing a bill that would arrest any federal officials who attempt to implement Obamacare in Wisconsin. The state officials responded to a survey from the right-wing advocacy group Campaign for Liberty to confirm they would support “legislation to nullify ObamaCare and authorize state and local law enforcement to arrest federal officials attempting to implement the unconstitutional health care scheme known as ObamaCare.”

Note that she does not identify any cases of fraud by Democrats while we have news reports of Republicans who were arrested for attempting voter fraud and filling in ballots.


In his first interview since losing the election, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) wouldn’t admit that voters rejected his economic vision and instead chalked up President Obama’s victory to a large turnout of the “urban vote.” “I don’t think we lost it on those budget issues, especially on Medicare, we clearly didn’t lose it on those issues,” Ryan to local station WISC-TV. “I think the surprise was some of the turnout, some of the turnout especially in urban areas, which gave President Obama the big margin to win this race.”

Huh. I wonder what “urban” means? 

In an Associated Press interview on Wednesday, Johnson said he hoped he would be able to work with Baldwin in the Senate — as soon as he explained the “facts” of the budget to her.

"Hopefully I can sit down and lay out for her my best understanding of the federal budget because they’re simply the facts,” he said. “Hopefully she’ll agree with what the facts are and work toward common sense solutions.”

"I was a double major in college in mathematics and political science, and I served for six years on the House Budget Committee in my first six years in the House," Baldwin responded in an interview with The Huffington Post on Friday.

"And I am very confident that when proposals come before the U.S. Senate, I will be able to evaluate them as to how they benefit or harm middle-class Wisconsinites. A yardstick of ‘does it create jobs,’ ‘does it lower the deficit’ and ‘does it help grow the middle class’ is an important one. I’m quite confident that I have those abilities," she added.

Baldwin has served in Congress since 1999; Johnson took office in 2011.

Though Obama’s win was secured even without the state’s electoral votes, Florida’s results put all eight swing states — including Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, Virginia, Colorado and New Hampshire — in the president’s column.

Four Days Later, Florida Declares For Obama


Wisconsin Workers Call on Congress to Preserve Medicare, Social Security and End Tax Cuts for top 2%