Saturday, December 31, 2016

Fuck you 2016, and a review of where we are in the Funhouse

As this disastrous year is meeting its end, I wanted to take a look over the last year at the Funhouse and see what it all meant, if it did.

First of all, as much as I joke about there only being 5 people that read what I throw out there, a whole lot of you are checking in here. The middle of 2015 was the first time this blog broke 20,000 pageviews in a month, but only did it 3 times in that year. Since January 2016, there have only been 3 months where there HAVEN'T been 20,000 pageviews, including a record 32,888 in May, and over 31,000 in this month. It blows me away, and knowing that you're out there reading, reacting, passing the word ahead and (hopefully) learning something drives me to keep it going.

I also wanted to go over our 5 most-viewed posts, and I'll follow up with some comments that reflect what we know now.

1. Walker gaffe shows he will deform state employee health care, if given chance. Oct 25, 2016

This is easily the most-viewed post I have had on this blog, with over 5,500 pageviews in the 2 months since I sent it out. I based it off of a story in the La Crosse Tribune which had a story on another of Scotty's taxpayer-funded invite-only "listening sessions" in Sparta, where Walker mentioned that "savings from state employee health plans" would be the way that he could add funding to public education in the next budget.

At the time, I mentioned
What changes are we talking about, Scotty? Notice that he's not saying until after the election (Unintimidated!), but let's go with what we do know on that subject. The Wisconsin Department of Employee Trust Funds sent out a Request for Proposal in July looking for the following.
The objective of this RFP is to acquire health benefits administrators to provide Services that will accommodate the current Uniform Benefit plan design and enhance the value of the plan through the following changes: 

Transition to a self-insured health benefit program; 
Regional, statewide, and nationwide networks; 
Consistent administration of health benefits;
Value based plan design; and 
Data sharing and strategic coordination with other Contractors and/or third party administrators, such as the State’s data warehouse, PBM, consulting actuaries, wellness Contractors, etc.
Those proposals had a deadline of September 20, but conveniently will not be opened and shown in public by the Group Insurance Board until November 15- one week after the elections. Selecting one statewide vendor for self-insurance or even choosing a handful of private organizations to cover the various regions would be a major departure from the competitive environment of bidding that happens with state employee health benefits these days. And a new system is far from guaranteed to give savings to taxpayers....unless Walker has already planned to push off costs onto state employees through higher premiums, or by cutting costs through major reductions in covered services for those employees....

What Walker said in Sparta yesterday is the definition of a gaffe- someone telling a truth that they don't want the public to know, and one that makes the speaker look bad. Know that if voters in Wisconsin allow rubber-stamp Republicans to stay in power after November 2016, then this type of screw-job is coming. In a way, I guess we should thank Scotty for being so stupid as to give the game away.
And 2 months later, we still don't know who will win that contract or how state employee health care will change. The state's Group Insurance Board voted to delay a decision until at least January, and there is a lot to sort out.
A broad range of options were presented to the GIB, ranging from maintaining a version of the current program structure with improvements to contracting with one or two statewide vendors on a self-insured basis, as well as various scenarios in between.

Lisa Ellinger, director of the Office of Strategic Health Policy, provided seven scenario options in an open session presentation. The scenarios were based on the priorities communicated by the Board at the November 30 meeting. The scenarios also level-set the projected 2018 cost savings so the Board could focus on the merits and concerns of the proposed scenarios. Segal [Consulting] was available to answer questions about the scenarios.
And oh yeah, the state budget continues to deteriorate, with revenue shortfalls and DOT deficits seeming to grow by the day, so good luck getting enough money to add to public education. Stay tuned for the numbers (and the GOP lies) that are sure to come.

2. Fitz gets caught lying his ass off about John Doe. Sep 23, 2016

This post happened in the wake of The Guardian's revelations on the money-laundering scheme that kept Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP in power during the Wisconsin recalls of 2011 and 2012. WisGOP Senate leader Scott Fitzgerald claimed that he had no knowledge of how Walker and the Wisconsin GOP allegedly used the "social welfare" organization Wisconsin Club for Growth to funnel unlimited donations and hide donors' names.

I followed up from an article from the Journal-Sentinel's Patrick Marley and Jason Stein, and pointed out how ridiculous Fitz's claim was, including the notorious connection between John Doe money and the protection WisGOP gave to makers of lead paint.
Now do any of you think Fitz DIDN’T end up knowing that, after the millions of dollars that Club for Growth and other RW oligarchs dumped in the Summer of 2011 to allow the GOPs to hang onto their Senate majority through the recalls? Give me a fucking break. Hell, Fitz himself was recalled in 2012 and had to fend off a challenge from Lori Compas, and you think he didn’t ask for a few bits of help from Club for Growth and the rest of the GOP groups helping Walker and other GOPs that year?

After Fitz and Walker were retained in the 2012 recalls, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and other GOP front groups dumped large amounts of dark money to regain a GOP majority in the Senate in November 2012. This enabled Fitz to get back to work helping his friends. Marley and Stein’s JS article provides a link to a 2013 document that was discovered as part of a lawsuit against NL Industries and other lead paint makers. That document was sent to Fitzgerald from NL Industries lobbyist Eric Petersen with the words “NL Language” on them, with recommendations on how the language should be phrased to give the paint-makers retroactive immunity from lawsuits. That language was later part of a late-night “999” motion jammed into the budget by the WisGOP-controlled Joint Finance Committee in June 2013 with no prior publication or discussion, a law that was found to be unconstitutional by an Appeals Court the following year.
And even though the Supreme Court of the United States gutlessly failed to take up the John Doe case, I don't think we've heard the last of this one- especially as Attorney General/WisGOP hack Brad Schimel tries to do a one-sided investigation into the leakers of the John Doe documents to the Guardian (but not the Club for Growth oligarchs who lied to right-wing media outlets over what was going on). I bet there's a lot of "follow the money" that we can do in the coming months as the budget gets presented and debated.

3. Walker burned on UW salaries and staffing. But there is this one UW guy who's overpaid. May 13, 2016

This was in the wake of Walker and other GOPs pulling a bunch of BS on how UW faculty were allegedly overpaid and didn't teach classes, a clear case of these guys trying to drive up resentment of "intellectual elites" (and to defray criticism about UW budget cuts). UW-Milwaukee's chapter of the American Association of University Professionals destroyed Walker's claim that UW-Milwaukee professors averaged 6 figures, and noted that Gov Dropout "mistook" full faculty to somehow equal all UW instructors.
The Governor’s cited average salary figure of $101,700 includes only those faculty who have earned the rank of full professor. These are the most accomplished scholars and the top earners, representing approximately 29% of the UWM faculty. This figure may include the salaries of senior administrators who also hold the rank of full professor, such as UWM’s Chancellor, who earns $340,000 (though without access to the dataset used by the Governor’s office, it is impossible to know). [Update, May 12: Pat Schneider at the Capital Times has located the source of the figure cited above. The Governor’s press release linked to the corresponding document from 2003.]

The term “full professor” is not synonymous with “full-time professor.” The full-time faculty at UWM are those who hold the ranks of assistant professor, associate professor, and full professor. Assistant professors are those on the tenure track; associate professors are those who have earned tenure but not yet earned promotion to full professor.
Bad enough, but Walker was also making those comments at the same that Caroline Levine, the Chair of the UW-Madison English Department was quitting, and wrote an extraordinary kiss-off letter in the process.
I myself am now leaving the University of Wisconsin after 14 years. At my new university in another state, I will have stronger tenure protections than I now have here. I will earn about 50 percent more than my current salary for the same job. And I will be free from the strange crazy-making double-speak that on one hand demands that higher education deliver value like a business, and on the other hand, methodically prevents it from doing so.
And I noted the topper for all of this- that a longtime Walker crony was the one who was the real "overpaid UW taker."
Yes Scotty, I’m talking about your buddy Jim Villa, who was hired at $178,000 a year to be a hatchet man VP for “UW System relations” just 2 years ago. This was despite Villa having no experience working in higher ed or even having a UW degree (he’s part of the Marquette Mafia of College Republicans from the late ‘80s-early ‘90s that includes Walker and Bigoted Becky Bradley). Villa seemed to do nothing in that job other than work with other WisGOPs at the Capitol, greasing the skids for the $250 million cut to the System and eradication of tenure. Which has led professors like Levine to leave for states and universities that make the investments that lead to quality higher-education.

Oh, and did we mention that while Villa was pulling down that huge paycheck from the taxpayers, he was also acting as an “adviser” on the joke that was Walker’s presidential campaign, even being part of the group that was at the Governor’s mansion when Walker decided to pull the plug last September? And now, with his mission to screw up the UW being complete, Villa announced this month that he was leaving that VP spot to return to his prior industry - commercial real estate and "government relations". (gee, wonder if there’s some UW property Villa might have an inside track on?)
Amazing how we forgot all about this one, isn't it? Watch for it to come back in the coming months.

4. UW poverty stats show Wisconsin not so special anymore. Feb 26, 2016

This went off of a study from UW-Madison's Applied Population Laboratory that showed Wisconsin's poverty rate was the highest it had been in 30 years, and that 40% of our counties had significant increases in poverty between 2005-09 and 2010-14.

I broke the Census Bureau's figures down further, and noted that Wisconsin had a poverty rate well below the US when Walker was running for governor in 2010, and the fact that we started from a lower level meant that our poverty rates grew more than all of our Midwestern neighbors.
When you slice the increases in poverty that way, Wisconsin doesn’t look so good. In fact, we get the highest increase in poverty as a percentage of the 2005-09 total than any other state in the Midwest, and quite a bit higher than what the rest of the country saw.

Looking back over these stories, it amazes me how much of this went down the memory hole by the November elections, and how Republicans have not paid a price for their stupid ideas, bad policies and awful results. It illustrates just how bad the Democratic Party of Wisconsin (and their "expert consultants") were when it came to driving this information into the public's attention, and how they didn't stick with the message of "GOP failure" so that even the low-info rubes knew it. Instead, many of these voters fell for the GOP's BS, gave in to resentment of the educated and urbane, and voted for Donald freaking Trump and Republicans out of anger at "elitists" like Hillary Clinton and a desire to change their stagnant/declining fortunes.

I think a big reason 2016 became the worst year this country has had to go through in my 42 years on earth is because of the laziness of much of the American public to deal with reality, and in countering the propaganda of the evil forces that will use any means necessary to ascend to power. Combine that with the many deaths of great artists, and it seems like we are living under a dark cloud. It makes me want to follow John Oliver's advice, and blow it all away at midnight.

PS- And now for a half-serious, self-absorbed add-on to this year-end post.

I think this guy's death in January was what set the world off its axis, and we can follow Ziggy's words to get it back to balance.

JUST GIMME YOUR HANDS! You can do this too. The information is at your fingertips- all you need to know is where to find it. I highly recommend checking The Wheeler Report and the Legislative Fiscal Bureau websites for reports and news from around the state. It's not that hard, but many do not take the initiative to do so. All it takes is a bit of work and an ethic to keep pounding away and remembering enough information so that it doesn't fall down the memory hole.

It seems like those of us in the thinking world are shouting into the wilderness. But then I notice that posts like those above got well over 1,000 page views each, so it's clear SOMEONE is noticing, and passing the word ahead. And giving up at this point allows the bad guys to win, and I'll be damned if I let that happen.

Thanks again to you guys for dropping by the Funhouse, and I'll have more on the other side in 2017.


  1. I'm thinking we need to crowdsourcing a citizen's "State of the State" that goes out right before Walker's speech on January 10th. Are you in?

    1. Not a bad suggestion. I like the idea of a people's PAC called Wisconsin Reality, to try to break through the GOP-perganda that dominates Wisconsin media.

      We got the info and the right values. We just need a way to get it out into mass awareness.

    2. Greg Neumann seems interested in getting the whole story out to the public. Neil Heinen? Dom Noth, of course, but he has limited reach (though many contacts, I am sure). In Business? That's where business closings are listed, sometimes picked up by MSM.

  2. But Jake, thank you for your work in 2016. Truly invaluable to me and a lot of others.