Realtors and manufacturers plan to overhaul Wisconsin’s technical school system

cheeseheads against kochhead

Dear Readers,

It looks like the Wisconsin technical school system could be next in line for some of Walker’s patented “cares too much” treatment.

A special committee is looking to remove local control of technical schools in favor of state control and more funding from the state, not property taxes. The awkwardly named Study Committee on the Review of Wisconsin Technical
College System Funding and Governance committee meets July 24, 10:00 a.m. at the Capitol in Madison.

Readers will notice a heavy representation of manufacturer types on the committee list (see below). I expect “fix the skills gap!” talk at the upcoming meeting without comparable talk of paying skilled workers a competitive wage.

Readers should also note that Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC), Wisconsin Realtors Association, and the conservative Wisconsin Taxpayers’ Alliance are given the opportunity to speak at the first meeting.

I seem to remember learning that all documents shared between Eric O’Keefe and WMC (and lots of other groups) got subpoenaed by a certain John Doe prosecutor due to suspected illegal campaign coordination between those groups and Walker’s campaign 2011 – 2012. – source

And I seem to remember Eric O’Keefe whining that conservative “speech” was being taken away.

The John Doe investigations have done nothing to take away WMC’s megaphone. WMC has a special relationship with The Guv. The Guv also has somethin’ goin’ on with Wisconsin Realtors Association.

Something so special that an article on John Doe emails might disappear [as seen here] to be swiftly replaced by an article about Scott’s promise to Wisconsin Realtors Assn. –  a promise to freeze property taxes.

So expect that the goal of freezing and/or cutting property taxes (and the goal of pleasing Wisconsin Realtors Assn.) will be top priority at this meeting as well.

promise to keep property taxes flat

Please note that this special committee is just one in a slew of special committees looking to “fix” things in Wisconsin. Hamilton Consulting has a list of all of them (and they seem to be especially pleased that a couple of people from Wisconsin Economic Development Association were installed on the committee looking to overhaul TIF).

Committee Mission:
“The Special Committee is directed to review the current governance model of the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) in the interest of transferring governance responsibilities of local district boards to the state WTCS Board and examine the current funding model for the WTCS with a preference toward reassigning current local property tax revenue to a broader state tax source.”

Here’s the agenda:

“STUDY COMMITTEE ON THE REVIEW OF WISCONSIN TECHNICAL
COLLEGE SYSTEM FUNDING AND GOVERNANCE
Representative John Nygren, Chair; Senator Sheila Harsdorf, Vice-Chair
Wednesday, July 24, 10:00 a.m., Room 411 South, State Capitol
Organizational matters.

Presentations by invited speakers, including the following:
o Morna Foy, President, WTCS, and Andrew Peterson, President, WTCS Board.
o Joe Murray, Wisconsin Realtors Association.
o Todd Berry, Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.
o Mike Birkley, Wisconsin Property Taxpayer’s Inc.
o Jim Morgan and Jason Culotta, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce.
o Member of a technical college district board.
o Josh Dukelow, Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce. Discussion of committee assignment.”

SOURCE

Members of the committee:

Representative John Nygren (Chair)

Senator Sheila Harsdorf (Vice-Chair)

Bruce Barker – President of Chippewa Valley Technical College

Allen Buechel – serving a sixth term as Fond du Lac County Executive as of April 16, 2013 / On board of FCEDC Board of Directors

Dan Conroy – Vice President of Human Resources Nexen Group, Inc., a manufacturer of precision motion control components, power transmission and web tension control products

David Dull – President and CEO of Allis Roller as of 2009.

Stephen R. Kohler – Director of Human Resources at Pierce Manufacturing Inc. based in Appleton.

Representative Debra Kolste

Representative Cory Mason

Dr. Susan May – President of Fox Valley Technical College

Joseph Sheehan – Superintendent at Sheboygan Area School District

Senator Jennifer Shilling

David Stark – President at Stark Company Realtors

Dennis Treu –
Managing Member at Treu Solutions LLC
Trustee/Board Member/Treasurer at Western Technical College
Member Governance Council at iLEAD Charter School
Advisory Board Member at Juneau County Inventors & Entrepreneurs Club
Adjunct Professor at Viterbo University
Partner/Member at Reliable Title and Abstract Company LLC
Broker/Owner at Century 21 Gold Award Homes – source

Mr. Mark Tyler – Public Member of the Wisconsin Technical College System board and founder and president of OEM Fabricators, Inc., a contract manufacturer in Western Wisconsin

Representative Thomas Weatherston
source

Bonus footnote on Wisconsin Realtors Assn.:

I wanted to emphasize that the Wisconsin Realtors Assn. are not only getting their voice heard when it comes to technical schools, they are also getting heard at the state Supreme Court level and they also, I assume, have a direct line to the U.W. System through top level Friend of Walker, Jim Villa.

Jim “V.I.P.” Villa

Jim Villa was a lobbyist for Wisconsin Realtors Association and he was Governor Walker’s chief of staff during the time he was in the state Assembly and during part of Walker’s time as Milwaukee County Executive. source

In the midst of a highly scrutinized 2005 real estate bidding process with Milwaukee County’s Department on Aging, Villa returned to work with Scott Walker in his executive office.

Wrote Dan Bice, “Authorities have been looking for signs of bid-rigging or other misconduct as representatives of the privately owned Reuss Federal Plaza vied unsuccessfully in 2010 to keep the county Department of Aging in its office space. The offices had moved in 2005 to the blue tower in a $3 million deal [a deal that has been described as “a rushed five hour bid“].”

“[Andrew P.] Jensen’s firm helped spearhead the Reuss effort to win the lease for the county offices.” – source

In 2008, Villa took the job as President of the Commercial Association of Realtors-Wisconsin (CARW), where he worked with Board Chair Andrew Jensen.

In 2010, Jensen won the “Wisconsin’s Realtor of the Year” award.

There was much in the press and the blogosphere about Jensen not “cooperating with the investigation” when Jensen got detained by authorities for one night in December of 2011. No criminal charges were brought up on Jensen. By April of 2012 Jensen had received a “highly unusual” letter of exoneration from D.A. John Chisholm’s office.

Nonetheless, in 2012, the Wisconsin Democratic Party reminded reporters that Villa’s company Markesan Group lobbied on real estate deals that were connected with suspected bid rigging in Milwaukee County as is documented in this lengthy Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article.

In May of 2014 Jim Villa began a $178K job as University of Wisconsin System vice president for university relations despite “concerns” raised by two members of the Board of Regents.

Wisconsin State Supreme Court
March 8, 2013:
“The realtors group filed documents with the state in February saying it may spend $206,648 to support incumbent Justice Pat Roggensack, who is considered one of the court’s four conservatives, in her April 2 reelection bid against Ed Fallone, a Marquette Law School professor.

The realtors have not directly spent money on outside electioneering activities in a Supreme Court race until now.”

LA Times published bloggerel in lieu of journalism #HobbyLobby #notmybossbusiness

LA Times did worse than not cover last weekend’s protest of a Hobby Lobby store in their area (a new one in Burbank, CA).

Instead of offering coverage of the protest, it published a blog post by a conservative. To be specific, a D-list conservative who got all her “facts” by skimming a facebook event, presumably from her home in Washington D.C.

The paper featured the work of Charlotte Allen of D.C. (who maintains the “Stupid Girl” blog) and called it good. Allen wrote “Hey liberals, there’s a logistical problem with your Hobby Lobby boycott”.

To be perfectly HIT YOU OVER THE HEAD clear, I am not really angry that LA Times hosted a post that mocks something I care about. I am angry that the newspaper sees her mocking post as a substitute for actual coverage of the protest.

Really and truly that blog post is supposed to suffice. There is no other coverage of the protest at LA Times

If the reader is wondering why the F. this Wisconsin blogger gives a rip about a California newspaper, I would suggest he or she review this 2013 ranking of newspapers in the United States. Los Angeles Times is ranked 4th with a circulation of 653,868 which includes normal print editions, branded print editions, and digital subscriptions. – source

According to Alexa website rankings, LA Times ranks #12 among all news sites**.

los angeles times la times ranking

This isn’t just phone-it-in journalism. It’s contempt for the public and specifically for an issue that is rankling women across the USA.*

Is this poor performance just an extension of Tribune Company’s continuing slide into “bankrupt culture”?
(Tribune Co. owns LA Times, in case you’d forgotten)

Media journalist David Carr wrote a scathing (wonderful) piece in 2010 on the chaos and scuz that erupted at Tribune Company after Randy “Tits” Michaels was installed as the company’s top executive.

Mr. Michaels, a former radio executive and disc jockey, had been handpicked by Sam Zell, a billionaire who was the new controlling shareholder, to run much of the media company’s vast collection of properties, including The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times, WGN America and The Chicago Cubs.

After Mr. Michaels arrived, according to two people at the bar that night, he sat down and said, “watch this,” and offered the waitress $100 to show him her breasts. The group sat dumbfounded.

“Here was this guy, who was responsible for all these people, getting drunk in front of senior people and saying this to a waitress who many of us knew,” said one of the Tribune executives present, who declined to be identified because he had left the company and did not want to be quoted criticizing a former employer. “I have never seen anything like it.”

Go to “Journalism’s New Low: LA Times Uses Facebook Trolls for Protest Coverage” to read Lauren Steiner’s piece on the Burbank protest she organized and Los Angeles Times ignored.

Isthmus, Cap Times, and Occupy River West covered the Monona, Wisconsin protest.

*And atheists, and advocates for separation of church and state, and every person who’s aware of what RFRA is, etc. etc. In other words – a lot of people.

** Perhaps “all news sites in English” or “read by Americans”. Because I assume that we’re missing out on Indian, Chinese, Malaysian, etc news sites.

Updated: Oshkosh store wants your help tracking down a puppy dumper

Updating with more info Sat. 7/12 7AM:

There’s a comment on the store’s facebook page that the alleged puppy dumper has been turned in, however I just called the store and the man on staff says no news of that from the Oshkosh Police Department has been received. He told me that the store’s page will be updated accordingly with any news on the suspect.

The Global Conservation Group has put up a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible. – source: examiner.com

WBAY has a story on this.
An excerpt: “Thorp found the puppy in a black bag behind the Dumpster, just minutes before a garbage truck came through.

“It hurt. It was emotional. We all were,” Lamore said. “Somebody that can do that to something so innocent is so wrong.””

If you would like to donate to the care of the puppy, which is now named Hazel, visit the Oshkosh Area Humane Society’s “CUDDLES FUND”. Credit card and paypal donations accepted.

Here’s a video of Hazel that was uploaded yesterday:


———————————————-

And now for something completely different.

The Planeview Travel Plaza convenience store in Oshkosh, Wisconsin is requesting assistance in locating a man they believe dumped a puppy in a plastic bag at their site.

Here’s a link to their original facebook status update.

Here’s the text as copied and pasted and the accompanying photos are below.
“We Need your Help! This morning around 9:45 the man in the pictures dumped a 2 week old puppy in a black trash bag behind our trash dumpsters. He is driving the truck in the last picture, and when he left our property he was heading north on Hwy 41. Unfortunately we are unable to identify him or his truck. The puppy is being evaluated at the vet. If anyone has any information about the identity of this person or the company he drives for, please let us know.
Thank you and we will keep you updated on the puppy.”

You can go to their facebook page to get updates on the puppy which is getting veterinary care and may need a surgery for what looks to be a broken pelvis.

Planeview Travel Plaza
1500 Planeview Dr
Oshkosh, Wisconsin 54904
Always open
Phone (920) 426-2641
Email info@planeview.biz

Just click on the image to enlarge it.

10498121_10152547088483622_6093601764130733602_o

10275293_10152547088378622_7280958620541031423_o

10506586_10152547088068622_2802145018773660631_o

Updated: Oshkosh store wants your help tracking down a puppy dumper

Updating with more info Sat. 7/12 7AM:

There’s a comment on the store’s facebook page that the alleged puppy dumper has been turned in, however I just called the store and the man on staff says no news of that from the Oshkosh Police Department has been received. He told me that the store’s page will be updated accordingly with any news on the suspect.

The Global Conservation Group has put up a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible. – source: examiner.com

WBAY has a story on this.
An excerpt: “Thorp found the puppy in a black bag behind the Dumpster, just minutes before a garbage truck came through.

“It hurt. It was emotional. We all were,” Lamore said. “Somebody that can do that to something so innocent is so wrong.””

If you would like to donate to the care of the puppy, which is now named Hazel, visit the Oshkosh Area Humane Society’s “CUDDLES FUND”. Credit card and paypal donations accepted.

Here’s a video of Hazel that was uploaded yesterday:


———————————————-

And now for something completely different.

The Planeview Travel Plaza convenience store in Oshkosh, Wisconsin is requesting assistance in locating a man they believe dumped a puppy in a plastic bag at their site.

Here’s a link to their original facebook status update.

Here’s the text as copied and pasted and the accompanying photos are below.
“We Need your Help! This morning around 9:45 the man in the pictures dumped a 2 week old puppy in a black trash bag behind our trash dumpsters. He is driving the truck in the last picture, and when he left our property he was heading north on Hwy 41. Unfortunately we are unable to identify him or his truck. The puppy is being evaluated at the vet. If anyone has any information about the identity of this person or the company he drives for, please let us know.
Thank you and we will keep you updated on the puppy.”

You can go to their facebook page to get updates on the puppy which is getting veterinary care and may need a surgery for what looks to be a broken pelvis.

Planeview Travel Plaza
1500 Planeview Dr
Oshkosh, Wisconsin 54904
Always open
Phone (920) 426-2641
Email info@planeview.biz

Just click on the image to enlarge it.

10498121_10152547088483622_6093601764130733602_o

10275293_10152547088378622_7280958620541031423_o

10506586_10152547088068622_2802145018773660631_o

Scott Walker’s odds just got downgraded by Stu Rothenberg

Political prognosticator and syndicated columnist Stu Rothenberg just downgraded Walker’s chancing of winning in November to “Lean Republican”. Before he had him “favored” to win it.

It’s because “over the past couple of weeks, the campaign fight has been over whether Walker is the subject of a federal investigation into allegations of illegal campaign coordination. The public discussion has given Democrats headlines and local news clips to use in ads against the governor and has put more uncertainty into the race”. –source

As Lincoln might have said if he were alive and blogging today, you can work your mojo on some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not work your mojo on all of the people all of the time (especially if all of the people are figuring out you are a crook).

No backing down: Local UAW branch sets up at VW Chattanooga

Yay!

UAW International President Dennis Williams said Thursday afternoon the new chapter is being created in Chattanooga because “the February vote was a narrow loss — 53 percent to 47 percent — and the result showed strong support among workers, despite heavy opposition from outside groups and Tennessee legislators” and because the UAW already has “signed cards from a majority of the workers prior to the election, saying they favored representation.”

So all eyes will now be on the Tennessee Governor, I assume.

Is he still going to threaten to hold back that $300 million incentive package from VW because of his union hate (or that of his financial backers)? In other words, is he still interested in cutting off Tennessee’s nose to spite its face?

Industriall says this is the first time UAW has set up a local union branch with the purpose of representing workers in a single workplace.

Congrats Local 42!

Read more at The Tennessean or read the UAW’s press release below.

Published on Jul 11, 2014
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — The UAW today announced the formation of UAW Local 42, a new local union providing representation for employees at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga.

Organized by Volkswagen employees, Local 42 offers workers the opportunity for a voice in the workplace through the German automaker’s “works council” approach to employee engagement. Volkswagen’s business model is premised on employee representation, and Local 42 will represent any interested employees who join the local as members. No employees will be required to join.

“Earlier this year, the UAW was gratified to earn the confidence and support of many Volkswagen team members,” said Dennis Williams, president of the UAW. “At that time, we said we would not give up on these committed and hard-working employees. We’re keeping our promise.”

Gary Casteel, the UAW’s secretary-treasurer, who previously served as director of UAW Region 8 covering the South, emphasized: “Local 42 will be run by, and for, the employees at Volkswagen.”

“We’ve had ongoing discussions with Volkswagen and have arrived at a consensus with the company,” Casteel said. “Upon Local 42 signing up a meaningful portion of Volkswagen’s Chattanooga workforce, we’re confident the company will recognize Local 42 by dealing with it as a members’ union that represents those employees who join the local. As part of this consensus, the UAW is committed to continuing its joint efforts with Volkswagen to ensure the company’s expansion and growth in Chattanooga.”

UAW officials renewed requests for the State of Tennessee to extend the economic incentives necessary for Volkswagen to add a new product line at the Chattanooga plant, and said the union will continue advocating for increased investment. “State officials have assured the public and the Volkswagen workforce that the decision on incentives for Chattanooga is not related to whether workers exercise their right to join a union,” said Ray Curry, the newly elected director of UAW Region 8. “We are gratified by those assurances, and the state was right to give them.”

UAW officials reiterated the reasoning for recently withdrawing objections to the February election at the plant, which was tainted by outside interference. “As Volkswagen’s works council partner, the UAW’s role is to encourage job creation and promote job security so that Volkswagen employees can achieve the American dream and Chattanooga’s economy can prosper,” Casteel said. “We withdrew objections to end the controversy and put the focus where it belongs: obtaining the economic incentives necessary to ensure the growth of Volkswagen in Chattanooga and the addition of a new product line.”

Volkswagen employees formally announced Local 42 at an afternoon news conference, and immediately began communicating with fellow team members and with the plant’s management about next steps in advancing the works council partnership.

“Being part of the creation of an American-style works council is a chance to do something new and different,” said Michael Cantrell, a Volkswagen paint technician. “This is about securing good jobs for the future of the plant and Chattanooga, and building lasting partnerships between management and team members.”

Additionally, Local 42 members pledged to get involved in the community — as UAW members have done in other communities across the country — to support charitable causes, youth programs and other local needs. “I see Local 42 as an opportunity to give back to Chattanooga and southeast Tennessee,” said Myra Montgomery, a quality inspector in the Volkswagen plant. “As our membership grows, people are going to see us very active in this community.”

Local 42 members declared workforce development to be a top priority, and said they would work with Volkswagen and the UAW to organize job-training opportunities so that employees can continually expand their skills as new technologies emerge and manufacturing processes change.

“Having access to the UAW’s expertise and support will keep the plant competitive and will keep our workforce on the cutting edge of productivity and quality,” said Jonathan Walden, who works in the Volkswagen plant’s paint department. “The members of Local 42 are ready to roll up our sleeves and focus on the future.”

United Automobile Workers (UAW) has more than 390,000 members and more than 750 local unions across America. Since its founding in 1935, the UAW has developed partnerships with employers and supported industry-leading wages and benefits for its members.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, visit http://www.uaw.org/uawvw

Is the female American “an agent of her own ethical choices and preferences”?

Not in the eyes of the Catholic male majority of the Supreme Court she isn’t.

Oh how I do hope I can get you all to read “After Hobby Lobby” by Dahla Lithwick in full.

Here’s an excerpt:

“What is missing from the Hobby Lobby decision altogether—beyond the economic disparity and public health arguments I mention above—is the very notion of the woman herself as moral circuit breaker, as an agent of her own ethical choices and preferences, whose decision to obtain an IUD, or a condom, or a morning-after pill is a fully autonomous moral choice that supplants the spiritual choices of her employer. Again, it’s almost impossible to escape the conclusion that Hobby Lobby, McCullen, and Harris all rest on the idea that women are in effect children with (partial) paychecks, and that their choices are to be second-guessed and gently redirected.”

I’ve been too depressed to write much about this decision because I take it so personally since I am both an Atheist-American and a Female-American.

But I have been reading a good deal about the inception of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act. I guess its therapeutic to at least understand who set this 21-year-old snare that can be used to bring me down today.

I’ll be coming back to this topic on the blog soon.

100 Central American refugees possibly coming to Milwaukee

About 100 of the refugee children from Central America could come to Milwaukee for shelter, says Georgia Pabst.

 

Do the right wingers in the suburbs surrounding Milwaukee have enough hate to spare for some refugee kids from Central America?

Or will they remember that Jesus was a refugee too?

 

Exhibit A: Comment on Georgia’s post:

“Don’t even send them back to where they came from. Drop them back in the country from which they illegally crossed into the US.

If anybody thinks that’s cold, wait til they see what Mexico does with illegals.”

come for the hate stay for the hate

“Poor man’s polar vortex” coming next week. High of 67 next Tuesday in Madison.

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Image credit: wanko

Washington Post’s Jason Samenow is calling next week’s predicted drop in midwestern temps a “Poor man’s polar vortex”.

Excellent description.

It’s the poor man and woman who will feel the effect most acutely — whether it’s relief that the A/C can be shut down or it’s disappointment that the tomatoes will be late this year.

The richest will ALWAYS be able to seek comfort from ANY climate change. That’s the problem — isn’t it?

Uhh…Seeing some differences between forecasts

So I have to say that the Washington Post’s forecast for next Wednesday shows Dane County, WI with a high of 66 degrees F and a low of 49.

Meanwhile WKOW TV shows a high of 74 and a low of 52 for Wednesday.
Wunderground shows a high of 74 and a low of 54 for Wednesday.

Hmm. Not to say that they’re wrong about the jetstream issue, but why the discrepancies? The local forecasts see TUESDAY as a colder day with a high of just 67 on Tuesday.

Screenshots of next week’s forecast for Madison, Wisconsin follow at the links:
from WKOW
from Wunderground

Or go directly to the weather web sites for up to the moment info:
WKOW’s site
and
to wunderground’s.

Here’s a graph of July temperatures in Madison, WI during 2013 from wunderground’s database.

If you’d like to learn more about how the jetstream works and why it might be moving due to the warming Arctic Circle, check out this video by Dr. Jennifer Francis of Rutgers’ Institute of Marine & Coastal Sciences.

Scott Walker’s economic development agency helped two companies make jobs for foreign countries, not Wisconsin

Channel 27’s Greg Neumann has figured out that at least two companies that received handsome tax credits through WEDC took millions to help them create jobs. They then proceeded to lay off Wisconsin workers and create job overseas. The companies named are Plexus Corporation and Eaton Corporation.

We know that Walker callously “cares too much” to let the poor become dependent on the state government even during a bitter cold winter.

Now we know he cares TOO LITTLE to ween corporations off their welfare teat. Even if they’re sending jobs South of the border! I couldn’t make this shit up if I tried.

WEDC has by now given out at least $975 million in grants to corporations per One Wisconsin Now’s estimate.

See WKOW for the rest of the story.

For a partial list of the agencies foibles, see my October 2012 post, Walker’s corporate welfare sh*t finally hitting fan: WEDC.

Oh yay. Senator Ron Johnson will do a “Telephone Town Hall” on Thursday.

This is fresh from my email in-box:

Ron’s Telephone Town Hall THIS THURSDAY!

Ron will be hosting a telephone town hall Thursday, July 10, at 12:00 p.m. Central Time.
If you are interested in participating, email your name, phone number and city to: rjohnsonpress@ronjohnson.senate.gov.

Once you sign up, Ron will give you a call Thursday morning at 12:00 p.m. Central Time.
He will talk with as many callers as he has time to answer. All callers may listen to as much of the telephone town hall as they wish.

I suspect Johnson wants to talk about his baseless lawsuit against Obamacare.
I love how his Republican colleague Sensenbrenner is still calling it a worthless stunt.

More info on the lawsuit below. I also wrote about this back in January:

Ron Johnson’s Obamacare lawsuit gets hearing in Green Bay
Green Bay — A federal judge on Monday weighed whether to keep alive a lawsuit by U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson attempting to force members of Congress and their staffs to stop getting subsidies for their health insurance, one of the many flashpoints over Obamacare.

Johnson, an Oshkosh Republican, argues members of Congress and their staffs are required to get insurance on their own under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

He sued in federal court challenging a policy of President Barack Obama’s administration that allows members of Congress and their staffs to receive health coverage as they have for decades or to buy it through a federal insurance marketplace available to small businesses in the Washington, D.C., area.

After Monday’s hearing, Johnson said on the steps of the courthouse that he brought the case because he did not think the administration was implementing this aspect of Obamacare as Congress intended.

“Americans hate it when elected officials are exempt from laws,” Johnson said.

James Luh, an attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice, is seeking to have the case thrown out, saying Johnson doesn’t have legal standing to bring the case because he isn’t harmed by the regulation. Luh represents the federal Office of Personnel Management, which set the rules for how members of Congress and their staffs can get their health insurance.

U.S. District Judge William Griesbach said at the end of Monday’s hearing that he expected to issue a written decision soon.

The Affordable Care Act requires members of Congress and staff who work for their official offices to get their health care through insurance marketplaces set up through Obamacare known as exchanges.

Johnson argued lawmakers put that requirement in place so they would be more sensitive to the experiences of their constituents who use the exchanges to buy insurance. The provision means members of Congress are supposed to get their insurance through such individual exchanges, said Johnson and his attorney, Rick Esenberg.

“Congress decided it was essential that they be in the same boat as those most affected by the law,” Esenberg said.

Rules questioned

In a set of October 2013 regulations, the Office of Personnel Management established how members of Congress and their staffs could get benefits. It left it up to members of Congress to say whether members of their staff worked for their official office; if they did not, they would receive their insurance as an employee benefit, just as they had in the past.

Some congressional staffers are assigned to committees. However, the Office of Personnel Management left it up to individual congressmen to declare whether they had any official office staff.

Members of Congress and their official office staff can get their benefits through the small-business exchange. Johnson contended that’s preposterous because that exchange was created for businesses with fewer than 100 employees. Congress has more than 11,000 employees.

Johnson and an attorney in his office, Brooke Ericson, sued in January, alleging the personnel rules violate the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal treatment under the law.

Johnson argued the policies of the Office of Personnel Management — Johnson called them a “scheme” after the court hearing — make him complicit in violating the law no matter what he does. He also said his credibility would be hurt if he and his staff got their benefits in a way not intended by Congress.

But Johnson’s claims aren’t enough to confer legal standing on Johnson, Luh contended. Johnson and his staff are not getting worse benefits because of the rules, so they haven’t been harmed. Johnson also faces no penalties for how he designates which of his employees are considered to work for his official office, Luh said.

Luh also said Johnson and his staff could refuse to take the health benefits.

“The benefits they are claiming will injure them are ones that will not be given to them at all unless they claim them,” Luh said.

Johnson said he bought his health coverage directly from a private insurer, rather than going through an exchange or getting it from the federal government. He said he has a staff of about 40 and most of them are getting their insurance through the Washington business exchange.

Johnson and Ericson are being represented by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty. That public interest law firm usually provides free legal service, but Esenberg and Johnson have said Johnson’s campaign will cover the costs under guidance from the Senate Ethics Committee.

Johnson’s campaign has not disclosed any payments to Esenberg’s firm, but in a recent filing with the Internal Revenue Service, Esenberg’s firm said it received $10,770 this year for work performed on the case last year.

The liberal group One Wisconsin Now alleges the arrangment with the law firm is not appropriate and has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission. On Wednesday, the group amended its complaint because of the disclosure from Esenberg’s firm that some costs have already been paid.

The suit has caused a rift within Johnson’s party. U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner of Menomonee Falls has called it “an unfortunate political stunt” that will cause top congressional staff to quit if Johnson wins.

If Congress doesn’t offer health benefits and can’t recruit the best staff, it will ultimately weaken the legislative branch and increase the power of the presidency, Sensenbrenner has argued.

A few words on President Obama’s ramp to nowhere from America’s Frac Sand Land

The mustachioed futurist Thomas Friedman interviewed Obama recently.

Which gave Obama a chance to say this about fossil fuels,

We’re not going to be able to burn it all.”

“Over the course of the next several decades, we’re going to have to build a ramp from how we currently use energy to where we need to use energy. And we’re not going to suddenly turn off a switch and suddenly we’re no longer using fossil fuels, but we have to use this time wisely, so that you have a tapering off of fossil fuels replaced by clean energy sources that are not releasing carbon. … But I very much believe in keeping that 2 [degree] Celsius target as a goal.”

It’s very nice that he “believes” in it but the slope of his imaginary “ramp” isn’t very steep. U.S. output is at an all time high.

From the U.S. EIA’s July Short Term Energy Outlook: “U.S. oil output in 2015 will likely average its highest level in 42 years, while also raising its forecast for U.S. and international oil prices.

U.S. crude oil production is expected to increase from an estimated 7.4 million barrels per day in 2013 to 8.5 million bpd in 2014 and 9.3 million bpd in 2015. “The 2015 forecast represents the highest annual average level of oil production since 1972,” the EIA said.”

See if I were sitting there I’d have to ask the President if the fact that there’s a finite amount of oil accessible wasn’t making him nervous enough to ramp faster.

Because when I read the quote below in comments at PeakOilBarrel (Thanks Bobby) I thought, “I see. The oil-based economy is done by 2030”. Of course I know that such an assumption relies on no major global disruption between now and 2030. Political and economic shocks to the global system (that would either deplete reserves or cause a reduction in global use of oil) are not found in these sorts of models.

“…the projected rate of decline in the GNE/CNI Ratio puts us at a point in 2030 at which we cannot arrive, but the 2013 data will almost certainly show that we continued to slide toward a point at which we cannot arrive.”source

 

Meanwhile Wisconsinites are figuring out that this place is a Koch sacrifice zone. It’s mined for frac sand used in the shale oil boom and it’s a major thoroughfare for Enbridge pipeline 61 — which is getting more oil pumped into 40 year old pipes at high pressure. And that will means spills.

And then there’s rail.

Steve Horn has more on Wisconsin’s “Oil-by-Rail” routes at DeSmogBlog including the fact that oligarchs don’t have to be Kochs to make money from oil. Warren Buffet owns the Burlington Northern Santa Fe company which ships Bakken crude oil through Wisconsin. Buffet has been a key financial supporter of both Obama and Clinton.

Remember how we thought Buffet was such a nice guy for wanting to get taxed more like his secretary?

Hey! The blog’s open again PLUS a few of my thoughts on blogging, blog hosting, etc.

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Well, the blog is now operational again both here and at bluecheddar.net.

It really shouldn’t have had to go down at all but there was a mix up with name servers between bluehost, name.com, and wordpress.com. Wasn’t their fault. It was user error.

The Future of Blogging is…expensive?

I use bluehost and wordpress.org to deliver bluecheddar.net. Bluehost is running a special for newbies that’s something like $3.99/month for their basic level but you need to sign up for three years. Because I am not newbie they were offering me a deal if I did a 5 year sign up. (I formerly had a “pro” level account due to database seize-up but the cost doesn’t seem justified for my current much lighter post-recall traffic)

Can you imagine it? Five whole years and paid up front (with the promise of refund, prorated, if dissatisfied).

Is this just the way things are now?

Is this because there are too many ways to get your content on the web by now and the number of old codgers insisting on a unique url with a database is dwindling?

Or is a 5-year subscription time what bluehost needs now as it looks upon an uncertain business climate created by an FCC that’s threatening a fastlane/slowlane that caters to Comcast?

I really don’t know.
I can say that all the dire warnings about dial-up-speed lane coming for we the plebes doesn’t make me feel confidant about my own blog’s future. Unless FCC can be brought into line, we’re looking at a gated community-style internet something like AOL in the mail-a-CD era.

Despite those free social media systems, I still like having a blog

So, I really like blogs over all the other digital ecosystems that people stuff their content on (tumblr, facebook, twitter..).

I don’t like that the freebie companies can decide to change terms on a whim, as we have seen facebook do time and time again and I also do not like that users on those systems aren’t necessarily decent people, especially in the political world. They can and do gang up on you and can have your account frozen for from 24 hours to a couple of weeks or forever (for example, Root River Siren is forever banned).***

And what I have on my blog will never become as disorganized as facecrook. Did I say disorganized? Yes! It’s maddening that the freebie ecosystems are shuffling content down a feed and then when you want to locate something 5 months old, it’s pretty tough to do that.**

Redundant Systems

I’m going to mirror most content over at my bluecheddar.wordpress.com space (probably everything minus photos which I can host at flickr) both because bluehost on occasion has completely crashed for a day or two* and also because there are occasional interruptions on political blogs due to DDoS attacks.

It would be nice to formally load balance the blog, although seriously, I doubt this thing will come under heavy load until close to November’s elections and then after that it’ll be quiet again. So the complicated (and expensive) solutions I see at Rackspace are overkill and yes, bluehost has a way to load balance things for a monthly fee but then I’m paying for an overpowered blog 11 months of the year. Hmmmm.

The amateur blogger can, if time is available, distribute load in a pedestrian manner by having the blog mirrored on a couple urls and then putting one url on twitter, the other on facebook, and then copy-pasting the content to tumblr, for example. And if you’re putting something out there that’s really going to make fans of Tonette and Scott angry, you can also guest post at one or more other blogs.

Life Beyond Cheese?

Every time I have to futz around with this platform stuff, I wonder if it wouldn’t be easier to be an old school print writer who lets a publisher deal with all of this (as if there is somebody who’d take all this stuff I write? as if I welcome their censorship and control?). Then a writer is getting her name and picture out there and making a trickle of money for the trouble. But does making the writer bucks makes it all worth it when some right winger tells his friends to kill you because of your politics — while no District Attorney or Department of Justice gives a shit about it?

 

* On crashing: *ALL* the hosts crash for a day or two. This is not a unique feature/bug of bluehost.

** If you want to download a whole lot of stuff you stuck or are sticking on social media, you might want to check out these resources:

I tried the free trial of SocialSafe and it seemed very nice.

I haven’t tried Belkasoft Facebook Profile Saver but it has an 85% popularity on Tucows so maybe it doesn’t suck. And its free.

Facebook photos: PC Magazine has a how-to on that
Or you might like to use some freeware to help you. FYO has a 97% rating on Tucows. Fotobounce has an 80% rating on Tucows but it has a 5 Star rating on CNET.

Facebook video: There are several downloads to help you with that.

*** If you’re completely ignorant of the political gamesmanship on facebook and how anybody there can gang up on you then you either 1) never used facebook or 2) never said a controversial political thing on facebook or 3) nobody reads what you write there!

Let “the government” pay for “abortifacients”

Corporations that are “closely held” have a constitutionally protected right to exercise their religion, according to the latest U.S. Supreme Court decision.

In her dissent, Justice Ginsburg called the decision “an astonishing feat of intellectual dishonesty”.

She also wrote that,

“The court’s determination that RFRA extends to for-profit corporations is bound to have untoward effects. Although the court attempts to cabin its language to closely held corporations, its logic extends to corporations of any size, public or private. Little doubt that RFRA claims will proliferate.”

RFRA refers to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It’s a law signed in 1993 that overturns a 1990 Supreme Court ruling called “Employment Division v. Smith”.

“Let The Government Pay”

There’s a lot of buzz on the net about the possibility that the slew of RFRA-based lawsuits expected to come down the pike will force the federal government to provide various forms of medical care for free.

Sounds like a recipe for shutting down the federal government, to me. To put it another way, I think Alito said, “Let them eat cake” wherever there is a medical procedure covered by Obamacare that pisses off some corporate bosses based on their “sincerely” held religious beliefs.

In his majority opinion, Alito posits that the Obama administration could give away the contraception items* to Hobby Lobby, Mardel Inc., and Conestoga employees who will be denied it after this decision – in that way satisfying a “compelling governmental interest” in a “least restrictive” manner.

Ginsburg, in her dissent, asks “And where is the stopping point to the ‘let the government pay’ alternative? Suppose an employer’s sincerely held religious belief is offended by health coverage of vaccines, or paying the minimum wage [a 1985 case] or according women equal pay for substantially similar work. Does it rank as a less restrictive alternative to require the government to provide the money or benefit to which the employer has a religion-based objection?”

Learn more about the decision at Truthout

Wall Street Journal has more on what these “closely held” corporations are.

Audio and transcript of oral argument before SCOTUS from Oyez

Excerpts from oral argument provided by Alliance for Justice

Burwell v. Hobby Lobby majority decision and dissent – PDF format / Machine readable text

* I think these are the contraceptives that Hobby Lobby et al object to. They are 4 of 20 contraceptives covered by Obamacare.:

Plan B, Plan B One- Step and Next Choice (Levonorgestrel)

Ella (ulipristal acetate)

Copper IUD

IUD with progestin