Saturday, December 30, 2017

2017 in review- what you read and reacted to (Updated)

As 2017 ends in the Funhouse, wanted to give my annual review of what readers found most interesting in this year, and take a look back at what happened with this silly hobby of mine over the last 12 months.

Let's look at the 7 most-read posts from this year, based on the Google Analytics page-views stat. And you'll find the continuing scandals and sliminess associated with Lincoln Hills and the Fox-con well-represented on this list.

1. Lincoln Hills- even worse than you thought. And definitely a Walker failure. Nov. 12, 2017 (6,570 pageviews).

This is now the most-read post in this blog's 9-year history, and it started with me reacting to this excellent bit of broadcast journalism from Channel 12 in Rhinelander.

And in that piece, numerous current and former Lincoln Hills staff pointed directly to Scott Walker's union-busting Act 10 as a reason behind the numerous troubles and assaults on both staff and inmates at the state's youth prison near Irma.
"In my opinion, Act 10," said [youth counselor Stacy] Daigle.

"The brakes came off when Act 10 was enacted," said Doug Curtis.

"The Walker administration came in they came up with Act 10, they took our union rights away and next thing you know, everything started going downhill since then," said [youth counselor Kal] Tesky.

Act 10 was passed in 2011 to reduce a budget deficit. It took away collective bargaining rights and benefits for unionized public workers like the Lincoln Hills staff. That meant staff had less ability to negotiate for certain working conditions. Youth counselors regularly work 16-hour shifts...

Curtis retired a year ago after working for 20 years at Lincoln Hills. The dangerous environment was a major reason he left when he did. He still represents the prison's union workers and worries about them.

"It's only a matter of time before someone gets killed up there," said Curtis.
This post got picked up on Facebook and other sites, and even drew the notice of Bruce Murphy at Urban Milwaukee, who contacted me and reprinted it a few days later.

Scott Walker still hasn't visited Lincoln Hills (and avoids the subject as much as he can), and the WisGOP Legislature has refused to re-evaluate its failing strategy on juvenile corrections. This disaster stems directly from prior GOP political decisions to eradicate the bargaining rights of Corrections staff, and in sending juvy criminals to 1 large facility in the Northwoods, which is often hundreds of miles away from the youths' homes. That failure needs to be hung around the necks of Walker and WisGOP in these next 10 months.

EDIT- In case you thought this subject is going to fade away in 2018, take a look at what former Corrections Secretary Ed Wall told "Capitol City Sunday" on New Year's Eve.

The criminal, bumbling Schimel has earned a 2018 pink slip even more than Walker. But both have to be fired if this state is ever going to be decent again.

2. Senate GOPs pass the Fox-con, even as it becomes more bogus. Sept. 12, 2017 (2,213 page views)

I wrote this in light of the GOP-run State Senate passing the Fox-con package, and I included a link to an article in Belt Magazine by Wisconsin's Lawrence Tabak which featured interviews with workers in another Foxconn-connected plant in Indiana. It didn't sound good.
Indiana native Carl Williams spent a year and a half between 2008 and 2010 at Foxconn’s Plainfield facility as a quality technician and later a data analyst. He reveals that a majority of the 900 workers who were employed at the computer assembly factory during his tenure there were undocumented. “On days when word got out that Immigration [and Customs Enforcement] was coming,” he says, “most of the workforce would be missing.” Williams also describes a “wink and nod” attitude by management toward the use of undocumented workers as the facility declined to be certified as an e-verified workplace (an internet based system of checking worker identification). According to Williams, management acted on the pretense that they simply weren’t aware of, and certainly not responsible for, the documentation status of the bulk of the workforce. Williams added that management appeared to be more interested in rock-bottom wages, dodging the cost of expensive benefits, and maintaining their ability to lay off and rehire for seasonal demand.

Andre Morris, who was a Foxconn employee in Indiana from 2005 to 2013, confirms the large number of undocumented workers at the Plainfield facility and also recalls the sea of empty chairs when there were rumors of an impending ICE raid. While he admits to having some success there, working his way up to manager after beginning his career toiling on the assembly line, Morris feels his opportunity for advancement was limited because he was African-American, reporting that he saw only white and Asian people above him. “There’s just not enough opportunity,” he says, when asked if he would recommend working at Foxconn, adding that his most vivid memory was the endless, repetitive work in stifling summer heat in an airless warehouse without air conditioning.
I also had these observations of the Senate debate, which seem quite relevant 3 months later.
State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout and State Sen. Chris Larson both noted this problem, where those extra costs get paid for by homeowners in those cities who aren’t getting a TID) while Foxconn gets away with paying basically nothing. When you look at it this way, and when you combine it with the $252 million in borrowing to speed up work on I-94 South, the taxpayer costs of the Fox-con go well beyond the $3 billion that could be paid for the facility’s construction and the bags of cash that would be given to Foxconn for hiring people.

I also noted that during debate today, State Sen. Alberta Darling (R- Xanax/Vodka) claimed that the Foxconn bill wouldn’t change Wisconsin’s environmental laws, and she was rebuked by Sen. Jon Erpenbach and other Dems on the Senate floor. Anyone who has read the Foxconn bill knows that environmental rules are carved out for the “Enterprise zone” that the facility would be located in, and Darling presided over the Joint Finance hearing where that very issue was discussed. Bertie Dahhh-ling is either lying, or the senility has hit full force with her. Either way, it’s unacceptable.
And what do we have today? Estimates of the Fox-con being above $4 billion, and the WisGOP Legislature is now trying to screw up wetlands outside of the Foxconn enterprise zone.

3. When disaster strikes, Walker's here to help...his donors at Ashley Furniture. July 23, 2017 (1,961 page views)

The state was hit with serious flooding in late July in many areas, but I found it intriguing that our Fair Governor decided to go to Ashley Furniture in Arcadia to discuss disaster recovery efforts and future plans to mitigate damage from heavy rains.I not only mentioned that Ashley Furniture had to pay $1.7 million in fines in 2016 for OSHA violations, but also that they have strong connections to the Friends of Scott Walker.
Oh, and did we mention that Ron Wanek and his wife gave Walker maximum donations in 2014 right after the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) gave Ashley $6 million in incentives for the “expansion” that Walker just happened to show up at 3 months later.

And Scott Walker and Ron Wanek’s furniture company are still finding ways to be associated today, as we found out last month at another “it’s working” photo op in Trempeleau County, celebrating Ashley’s distribution center.
Much of the 500,000-square-foot facility will be located in a floodplain and part of it will sit on the filled-in former bed of Myers Valley Creek. Last year, the city rerouted part of the creek away from the Ashley plant, another business, neighborhoods, and bridges that constricted its flow and contributed to flooding. Ashley Furniture will raise the level of the new distribution center two feet above the 100-year flood level so that it is safe from both Myers Valley Creek and the nearby Trempealeau River, city administrator Bill Chang explained. Ashley donated $300,000 to the over $2 million creek reroute project. A $500,000 state grant and $1.3 million in city debt funded the majority of that project.

Walker praised that flood protection project and said he would support state funding for the city’s next, far bigger flood protection effort: a bid to protect most of the city from flooding on Turton Creek and the Trempealeau River by raising the level of dikes throughout the city. A roughly $1 million study funded by the city and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is underway to create a plan for that project, and Chang said it should be completed later this fall.
The connection between WEDC handouts and Walker campaigns stops going along with CEO campaign donations is something you can bet we will see a nauseating amount of between now and November. And we need to call it out at all turns and pressure our media to do the same.

4. Lincoln Hills disaster a natural outcome of Act 10, other Walker incompetence. Oct. 24, 2017 (1,837 page views)

This was earlier version of the topic I went after in the Number 1 post in November. It was written soon after a widely-publicized attack by inmates on Lincoln Hills staffer Pandora Lobacz, which included these graphic pictures.

While Scott Walker disgustingly blamed a court injunction reducing the ability of Lincoln Hills staff from using pepper spray and solitary confinement on juvenile prisoners, Lobacz pointed to Scott Walker's own crowning legislation, and Walker decisions on juvenile corrections.
"Your front line staff that's supposed to be protecting the other students and protecting each other are working 70 to 80 hours of overtime every pay period and that's within two weeks," she said.

She blames that on Gov. Walker's Act 10 and Right to Work laws for taking power away from unions Lincoln Hills staff relied on. She added Walker's consolidation of all the state's youth prisons in 2011 happened before Lincoln Hills could hire enough workers for the amount of juveniles they would hold. She said they have never been able to have enough workers since.
And as I noted, none of these Lincoln Hills problems should surprise us, and the people running state government must be held accountable.
Make no mistake, this mess at Lincoln Hills is a direct results of actions (and a lack of actions) from the Dropout in Charge. From the decision to close the two facilities in SE Wisconsin and relocate those inmates in order to save money for tax cuts, from lowering the value of work at Lincoln and Copper Hills through Act 10 wage suppression, to refusing to act despite being told of bad conditions at Lincoln Hills 5 years ago, this is all on Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP for not stepping up and dealing honestly with the situation.

5. Greedy Wisconsin CEOs and WisGOP politicians work together-and hold our economy back. Feb. 26, 2017 (1,705 page views)

This was after the GOP puppetmasters at Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce were trying to "update Wisconsin's image" to attract talent. I noted that it's the corporate community's own policies and the GOP politicians that they support that are a leading cause of this problem.
The greedy, "profit and power over anything else" mentality of the state's business lobby is equally perplexing to me. It's not like that mentality is leading to good results, as Wisconsin has had the worst economy in the Midwest over the 6 years that the WMC-bought GOP politicians in the Governor's Office and Legislature have been in power.

In addition, the WMC crowd is constantly whining about a "skills gap" at the same time that they have vociferously backed wage-suppression measures like right-to-work (for less) and the recent legislation against Project Labor Agreements, and have backed a governor and Legislature who won't even consider raising the minimum wage above $7.25. In addition, Wisconsin firms continue to pay among the lowest manufacturing wages in the Midwest, between $3.50 and $5 an hour lower than the neighboring states of Illinois, Minnesota and Michigan, on the average. It's like these business "leaders" have never taken an introductory Economics course where they mention that shortages in labor require THAT WAGES BE RAISED to encourage more people to want to enter the market.

And the business community's choices in the state school superintendent's race illustrate this foolishness. Instead of backing strong public schools to generate talent and strong, stable communities that businesses can utilize to grow, the state's business community wants to lower the level of public education in exchange for grabbing more money and influence for themselves. Look at how the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce shelled out $10,000 of its members' funds to pro-voucher candidate John "I'll say anything" Humphries, who promptly got 7% of the vote in last week's primary and was laughed out of the race. You know, the same MMAC that has backed Scott Walker for 15 years, have demanded school privatization for longer than that, and whose home area won this "honor" in 2016.
Over the year, nonfarm employment rose in 49 of the 51 metropolitan areas with a 2010 Census population of 1 million or more, and fell in Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, Wis. (-0.5 percent), and Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, Va.-N.C. (-0.4 percent).
And now? Pro-public schools Superintendent Tony Evers is a leading candidate to run against Walker for the Dems in 2018 after winning 70 of 72 counties in the the Superintendent race in April, and now our Governor and WMC want to shell out $6.8 million in tax dollars in a marketing campaign to encourage young workers to move to Wisconsin. Seems like the lines are being drawn for 2017 on different sides of reality, aren't they?

6. Fox-con is signed, but removing Walker could stop the bleeding. Nov. 10, 2017 (1,468 page views)

Foxconn article number 2. This time I wrote about the contract that the WEDC Board agreed to with Foxconn, one that was made secret for months and had to be constantly revised because it left the state too much at risk. When it was finally approved by the WEDC Board in November, it included the following threshholds that Foxconn had to hit for employment to avoid clawbacks- and they're well below the "13,000 jobs" that Walker and WEDC try to claim will be created.
Job thresholds, Foxconn
2018 260
2019 520
2020 1,820
2021 3,640
2022 5,200
2023 7,150
2024 7,800
2025 8,450
2026 9,100
2027-2032 10,400

That’s a pretty slow start, although the positive side of that is only $160.4 million of the $1.5 billion in tax write-offs for jobs can come in the first 4 years, with the bigger write-offs coming later.
I also noted that Foxconn could walk away from Wisconsin in 15 years without having to pay any penalties, but I also noted that next year provides an opportunity for the state to limit its costs with this Fox-con boondoggle.
But the contract also identifies yet another positive that would come with the removal of Scott Walker in 2018. You know Scotty and his WEDC lackey(s) would never admit the Fox-con isn't working out while he would be in office, but a new governor and new members in the Legislature could renegotiate this deal, and possibly cut out of it before the big costs hit (especially if the plant isn’t doing much). Any Democrat should put the Fox-con question to the voters over the next year, and remind them that they don't have to accept this anchor that will ultimately lead to service cuts and tax hikes in other areas.

7. Last on this list is a personal favorite. Sorry Charlie Sykes. You built that, you OWN IT. May 14, 2017 (1,421 page views)

We know what this guy is about.

Charlie Sykes wrote an editorial in the New York Times bemoaning how today's Trumpists only care about trolling liberals and have no sensible ideas of their own. The Driftglass blog responded with an excellent takedown of Charlie-tan.
Every day of these people's lives, their own leaders, their own words and Reality itself humiliates them by slapping yesterday's lies out of their mouths right in front of God and everybody. And because they have been rendered incapable of admitting error or self-reflection, every day for your basic American wingnut is like chugging salt water: the exercise only leave them ever more frantic for even Bigger and Better lies to slake their thirst and hide their shame.

This is why the Right's hatred of us grows exponentially more berserk, more unhinged. This is also why they have reached a point where they will eagerly follow anyone who will look them in the eye and tell them the gigantic lies the want the hear.

And, for the record, it's also why Both Siderism is the worst crime against truth of all: because "Both Sides Do It" is always the the universal, inexhaustible "Get Out of Accountability Free" card every wingnut has been trained to play when he or she does not have the next Fox-approved lie or excuse readily at-hand.

And now that the hellscape we warned them about for decades has finally arrived?

Well, that just so happens to circle us right back to Mr. Charlie Sykes who, like so many of his Conservative media confederates that were finally cast out of the Conservative freak-show they created, have found an equally rewarding second career just plain ripping off the very Liberals who Mr. Charlie Sykes spent his first career mocking and demonizing.
I also linked to an article by Bruce Murphy in Urban Milwaukee pointing out how full of crap Sykes has been in all iterations of his media career, and I reminded our readers of how not so long along, Charlie Sykes was credited with bringing to power the same right-wing nutjobs that are now degrading government and discourse at both the state and federal levels to the lowest levels in our lifetimes.

I haven't forgotten the act that Sykes sold to rubes in this state ("black people commit voter fraud", "Moochelle Obama", "John Doe is a witch hunt", "David Clarke is a good man"), and it disgusts me when he tries to come on MSNBC as some kind of "honest voice" that can leave behind the decades of damage that he and other race-baiting media slime have caused in this state. I find myself tweeting to MSNBC hosts and related hash-tags when Sykes is on to remind people of what Charlie-tan has done, and I'd love ONE TIME to see another panelist take Sykes apart on the air and make his history catch up to him in public.

Maybe I'll see that in 2018, along with real pushback to the GOPper-ganda and cover-ups of corruption that we are seeing in both Madison and in DC. Because as you can see in many of these top-read stories, these issues weren't one-time occurrences, but are ongoing developments that require us to remember what has happened in the past to recognize why things happen now and in the future.

I'll have more year-end thoughts tomorrow. Now it's time for Bucky to take care of da U.

1 comment:

  1. 2 days later, my Foxconn post from 4 days ago would now qualify for the top 5 on this list, at over 1,800 pageviews.

    This post noted that CNN, Vice News and other national sources are now recognizing the Fox-con as a massive boondoggle with a price tag going well over $4 billion at this point. Stay on it in 2018, folks.