The hardest fiction to write

Saturday begins National Novel Writing Month, along with National Blog Writing Month (motto: “No plot? No problem!”).

I’ve been doing the blog thing for nearly seven years between this and the predecessor blog, so I don’t have to enter the latter.

As for the former, that “no plot” thing, as you know, has been my downfall. The standard advice is to write what you know, which precludes me from what I’d rather write, detective fiction. My eyesight deteriorated below police levels somewhere in middle school (thus leading to poor hand–eye coordination and bad aim), so other than having covered crime of various sorts, and investigated none of said crimes, I have no ability to write detective fiction. If this were National Book Writing Month (“NaBoWriMo”?), I could just take a month of this blog, and presto! Instant book!

Since you’re probably wondering after three paragraphs: What prompted me to write this was news that author Ron Franscell’s book about a newspaper publisher/editor, Deadline, is being rereleased in early November by WildBlue Press:

A dying convict’s last request thrusts Jefferson Morgan, a small-town newspaperman into a deadly maelstrom as he explores a fifty-year-old case of child murder – a wound this town still isn’t ready to re-open. Amid threats from unexpected foes and under the most important deadline of his life, Morgan struggles with his own conscience to dig deep into the town’s past, tell the truth no matter the consequences, and unveil a killer who managed to remain unmasked for almost 50 years.

(Are not all maelstroms deadly?)

You may remember that I reviewed Deadline, and generally liked it (as did other reviewers), though I found a flaw with a subplot. One of the hero’s antagonists is the banker who is financing the newspaper’s purchase. The banker has to be there as a plot point (apparently because the bank isn’t a big enough advertiser; that should be enough of a conflict right there) when most purchasers of newspapers not by corporations are by seller financing. Had I written it, I would have made the banker a big advertiser who threatens to pull his advertising, but that’s just me. I have not read Franscell’s sequel, Obituary, but I will have to.

As you know, I’ve been underwhelmed for years with fictional depictions of journalists as heroes. (Perhaps journalists are not heroes.) One of the Deadline reviewers called it “newspaper noir.” I’m a fan of film noir and detective fiction, but I had never heard of newspaper noir. If you’re familiar with film noir, newspaper noir fits this description, though Deadline does not:

Perhaps the darkest of these is Ace in the Hole, a 1951 indictment of mass storytelling starring Kirk Douglas, who plays Chuck Tatum, an unforgivably dishonest newspaperman who knows what the people want. The people, mindless cattle that they are portrayed as in this film, do not necessarily want journalists to “tell the truth,” as the quaint needlepoints hanging in Tatum’s Albuquerque newspaper office instruct. They want, above all, a classic tale—preferably unspooled over many days, with heroes and villains and dramatic suspense and a thrilling ending. If that requires Tatum to keep a man trapped inside a mine shaft for six days so that he can spin a serial, proto–Baby Jessica yarn about a mountain that is cursed by ancient Indian spirits, a devoted wife who is praying for the man’s rescue, and a desperate multiday bid to drill a hole through the top of this cursed mountain (Tatum’s idea, the trapped man could have been pulled out in a day if other methods were used)—if that’s what is required to hook the people, boost subscriptions, and revive Tatum’s career, then so be it.

This being noir, everything ends badly for everyone involved, including the mindless cattle-people who, having read Tatum’s dispatches in papers all over the country, descend upon the dusty plain in front of the cursed mountain and while away their days of suspense with the help of speedily arrived circus entertainers and carnival rides. In one of the final scenes, Tatum stands on the mountaintop—a disheveled, alcoholic anti-Moses—and speaks his commandments to the people through a microphone. It will not spoil anything to say that these commandments are simple, grim, and ultimately not very likely to drive up newspaper circulation. There is no mass story, this film teaches, and therefore no credible mass media—only human frailty and mass manipulation.

Just as depressing, but far more entertaining, is The Big Clock, which features a rotund, time-obsessed media mogul named Earl Janoth (Charles Laughton), who presides with ruthless efficiency over a Hearst-like media empire. His building’s lobby boasts—in addition to the big clock itself—many smaller clocks telling the time in Janoth’s 43 foreign bureaus (bureaus that stretch “from Reykjavik to Cairo, Moscow to Buenos Aires”) as well as a statue of Atlas, weight of the world on his shoulders, muscles straining at the difficult task of carrying around reality as humans know it. But, oh, what a profitable task this carrying of reality to its proper destination can be! Style Ways, News Ways, Crime Ways—these and other popular titles have brought Mr. Janoth a considerable fortune, although a new “recession” in circulation is worrying him. “Dynamic angles!” he barks during a meeting early on in the film. “We live in a dynamic age, gentlemen, with dynamic competitors—radio, newspapers, newsreels. We must anticipate trends before they are trends. We are, in effect, clairvoyants.”

Murder and mystery ensue, and both are well worth the time it takes to resolve, but the most delightful part of the movie has already passed. It is, quite simply, the sad absurdity of the proposition that any lumbering, giant, Hearst-like institution, then or now, could ever be dynamic enough for a truly dynamic age.

I had a detectivish piece started for a previous NaNoWriMo, also called Deadline (an search of books with the word “deadline” in the title returned 2,851 matches), about a small-town newspaper reporter who finds out something nefarious. It is on a non-functioning laptop (when I started writing it Google Drive didn’t exist), but it wasn’t good enough to be upset about that. The premise of NaNoWriMo is that if you write around 1,700 words a day for a month, you will get a 50,000-word novel at the end of the month. Writing that much in a day isn’t difficult for me (what you’ve read so far is about 950 words), but doing that every day around the rest of your life is not easy, even if you’re not working. And if you miss a day, or if your day’s output doesn’t hit the daily word count, you have to make that up the next day.

I subscribe to The Rap Sheet blog, which covers detectives famous and obscure in print and in movies and TV. It’s a worthwhile read (as are The Thrilling Detective and Criminal Element), covering such subjects as writers of yore whose output would shame Stephen King and James Patterson, as well as creators of the lurid yet attention-getting covers of said detective novels. The Rap Sheet author throws out a few liberal snippets, which he’s entitled to do, but it’s a bit annoying for those expecting to read about detectives instead of slams upon non-liberals.

Which brings to mind this aside: The Rap Sheet’s author writes approvingly of detective-fiction writers who insert a liberal point of view into their work. There is, for instance, Stephen Greenleaf, whose lawyer/private detective John Marshall Tanner thinks ill of the Ronald Reagan 1980s. More recently, he wrote approvingly of a British author whose hero, an in- and out-of-work British reporter, investigates the disappearance of the daughter of a high Church of England official. (Hint: The father comes across very badly.) The theme of more novels than I can count features someone downtrodden by a rich and powerful antagonist, which seems a fundamentally liberal point of view. I’m not suggesting that every mystery should be as right-wing as Mickey Spillane’s work. It does make me wonder, though, if those writers are writing for their audience, or if they’re indulging their inner political/cultural commentator.

Back to the actual point of this piece: Irrespective of the fact that no journalist I know or have ever met is tough enough to be believable as a detective, private or otherwise, the fact is that watching journalism take place is as interesting as watching cars rust. Consider the job functions of someone working at a weekly newspaper:

  • Talk to people, either in person or on the phone.
  • Sit at government meetings while other people drone on.
  • Take photos.
  • Use a computer (email, looking for something on the Internet, writing, page layout).
  • Think.

Of those five, only the first might be interesting to watch. So since the journalism process is visually dull, you have to substitute plot, and not only do I have a problem creating an A-to-Z plot, creating an A-to-Z plot with a journalist with detective skills as a believable hero is beyond my limited creative abilities. Remember, unlike real life, fiction has to make sense.


Nostalgia time

Daylight Saving Time ends Sunday at 2 a.m.

Many people see DST as a pain. Some people apparently even see time zones as too much work. Recall the advocacy of “universal time,” which would base all clocks around the world on Greenwich Mean Time, regardless of what the sun tells you. We Central Time Zone residents would work not from 8 to 5, but from 14:00 to 22:00 (because eliminating time zones would also eliminate DST).

For those who prefer the old days, Slate should disabuse you of that notion:

Between the advent of railway travel and telegraphic communication in the middle of the 19th century and the establishment of standardized time zones in the 1880s, newly mobile people trying to do business from a distance were confounded by a wide array of local times. Charts like this one, which were intended to help, now show us how utterly confusing everything was.

The chart, which is from the 1874 version of Johnson’s New Illustrated Family Atlas (published in New York), uses Washington, D.C., as its standard. The clocks radiating outward are arranged in concentric circles, with Latin American cities on the interior, large European and Asian cities next, and American and Canadian cities and towns occupying the outer rings.

Because locations established time based on local readings of the sun and the phases of the moon, even towns as close together as Galveston and Austin, Texas, (located at about the 8 o’clock location on this chart) ran an annoying 11 minutes apart.

Look on the left of this calendar, and you’ll notice that if it’s noon in Washington, it’s 10:53 a.m. in Des Moines, 10:55 a.m. in St. Paul, 11:02 a.m. in Iowa City and Quincy, Ill., 11:08 a.m. in St. Louis, 11:09 a.m. in Springfield, Ill., 11:10 a.m. in Madison, 11:12 a.m. in Janesville, 11:16 a.m. in Milwaukee, and 11:17 a.m. in Chicago.


Presty the DJ for Oct. 31

Today in 1963, Ed Sullivan was at Heathrow Airport in London just as the Beatles deplaned to a crowd of screaming fans and a mob of journalists and photographers.

Intrigued, Sullivan decided to investigate getting the Beatles onto his show.

Today in 1964, Ray Charles was arrested at Logan Airport in Boston and charged with heroin. Charles was sentenced to one year probation after he kicked the horse.

Continue reading

Burkean lessons about business and politics

The right-wing blogosphere lit up yesterday because of Wisconsin Reporter‘s report:

In attempting to explain her two-year work hiatus in the early to mid-1990s, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke has said she was just burned out after an intense period of leading European operations for Trek Bicycle Corp., her family’s Waterloo-based global manufacturer.

In fact, Burke apparently was fired by her own family following steep overseas financial losses and plummeting morale among Burke’s European sales staff, multiple former Trek executives and employees told Wisconsin Reporter.

The sales team threatened to quit if Burke was not removed from her position as director of European Operations, according to Gary Ellerman, who served as Trek’s human resources director for more than 21 years. His account was confirmed by three other former employees.

“She was not performing. She was (in) so far over her head. She didn’t understand the bike business,” said Ellerman, who started with Trek in 1992, at the tail end of Burke’s first stint as a manager at Trek.

Ellerman said Richard Burke, Mary Burke’s father and founder of the family business, asked Tom Albers, Trek president and chief financial officer at the time, to fly to Amsterdam to evaluate Mary’s performance.

It wasn’t a pretty picture. The European operations were in disarray, Ellerman said.

Full disclosure: Ellerman is chairman of the Jefferson County Republican Party. As to the possibility that his accounts are politically colored, Ellerman said, “I was there. This is what went down.”

A former employee with the company told Wisconsin Reporter that John Burke, Mary’s brother and current Trek president, had to let his sister go.

The former employee, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal from the Burke family, said Mary Burke was made to return to Wisconsin and apologize to a group of about 35 Trek executives for her treatment of employees and for the plummeting European bottom line.

Managers in Europe used to call Burke “pit bull on crack” or “Attila the Hun,” one source said.

“She never made money in Europe when she was there … Germany was gushing blood and it would take profitability from everywhere else,” the former employee said.

“There is a dark side to Mary that the people at Trek have seen … She can explode on people. She can be the most cruel person you ever met,” said Ellerman, who started a consulting business after he was “asked to leave” Trek in 2004 over a difference in hiring philosophy.

As HR director, he said he heard plenty of complaints about Mary Burke, but he said she was “hands off and everyone knew it. She was absolutely bulletproof. She could do anything she wanted.”

To a point, apparently.

In her campaign against Republican incumbent Gov. Scott Walker, Mary Burke has bragged that European sales climbed to $50 million on her watch. She originally said the increase was closer to $60 million in a 2004 resume to officials in Gov. Jim Doyle’s administration, the Democrat who in 2005 tapped Burke to be his secretary of the now-defunct state Commerce Department.

Ellerman and the other employees tell Wisconsin Reporter that Burke’s sales boasts are lies, that the European division did significantly lower numbers — at least $10 million lower — during her tenure as director. Most of the sales increases, they said, were in Trek’s United Kingdom market, which was well established before Burke arrived, and in the Japan operations, which Burke had nothing to do with. Any growth in sales was well offset by the losses sustained in Germany and other European countries, according to the former executives.

Trek is a privately held company and does not disclose its sales or earnings figures. Mary Burke, too, has refused to provide documentation of the numbers. …

“She had a list of excuses, but the fact is she made fatal errors. She thought she knew everything,” the former employee said.

John Burke, who at the time was vice president of sales and marketing, was forced to “unravel” the mess his sister Mary made of the European operations,” the former Trek employee said.

The former employees’ recollection of Burke would seem to jibe with Burke’s predecessor at the Commerce Department.

“She’s a disaster,” Cory Nettles, secretary of Commerce under Doyle from 2003 to 2005 told one of Doyle’s top aides in a 2006 email, according to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story published earlier this month.

Nettles told the newspaper he didn’t remember sending the email, which the Journal Sentinel obtained in an open records request.

Regardless, he said he does not feel that way anymore.

The Burke family, publicly at least, has had nothing but smiles and accolades for Mary Burke, praising her business acumen.

John Burke’s book about his father, published in 2012, refers to Mary as “the brains in the family.” In the book, One Last Great Thing: The Story of a Father and a Son, a Story of a Life and a Legacy, John applauded his sister’s performance in Europe.

“I hired my sister Mary, the brains of the family, to move to Europe and run the business. Mary and her team opened Austria, Spain, the Benelux, and France the following year. Trek’s business in Europe took off,” John Burke wrote.

That’s revisionist company history, sources insist.

Following her forced apology, they say, Mary Burke left her family company in a huff in 1993, taking off for the snowy mountains of Colorado and Argentina — her “snowboarding sabbatical,” as some of the candidate’s critics have derisively put Burke’s personal work stoppage.

While Burke told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last month that she wanted to “resolve any inconsistencies” about her time away, the details and the timing remain foggy.

Burke told a Doyle administration official in 2005 that she was burned out from her European Trek stint.

“This had been a very demanding job, and as a result I decided I needed some time off,” Burke wrote, as quoted in the newspaper story. “I joined some Spanish friends of mine and moved to Argentina to snowboard for three months.”

Not true, according one former Trek executive.

“She made the statement that she was burned out. She wasn’t burned out. She was fired. (The firing) was definitely over performance issues and there were major people problems over there,” said the executive who also asked not to be identified because the source believes the extraordinarily wealthy Burke family will “destroy any individual” who brings such information public.

She did some other things during her two-year break from Trek, but full-time employment during that period wasn’t Burke’s scene.

Burke’s resume notes that she returned to Trek in 1995 as director of forecasting and strategic planning.

Not quite true, according to Ellerman and other sources.

“I remember (Richard “Dick” Burke) talked to (John Burke). I was there. Dick said we need to bring her on, so they put her in a marketing role and she worked for the marketing director for a while,” Ellerman said. It didn’t last. “She was creating dissatisfaction in the marketing world so John came to me and asked me, ‘What can I do?’ I said, ‘I can’t touch this.’”

Then, Ellerman said, Burke’s father and brother created the strategic planning role.

Another employee who worked with Burke confirmed Ellerman’s account. …

Ellerman claims that throughout Burke’s tenure with Trek, she showed that she was not a person who could bring people together.

“She is very divisive, very opinionated, but she’s not smart enough to have the right opinion,” Ellerman said. “But she’s a Burke, and she got to do whatever the hell she wanted.”

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel adds another named source:

“I’m not saying she was incompetent,” said Tom Albers, former Trek chief operating officer who left the company in 1997. “Maybe this job was too big for her.” …

Albers said in an interview Wednesday that he was sent to Europe by Richard Burke, the company founder and Mary Burke’s father, to look into problems with the European sales expansion that Mary Burke had been entrusted to head up in the early 1990s.

Albers said John Burke had concerns that his sister was not working out as the point person on the difficult job of switching from outside distributors of Trek bikes in Europe to a company sales force that spanned different countries, cultures and languages.

“I came back and pretty much reinforced what John Burke had told (Richard Burke) that this wasn’t working, and a change had to be made and a change was made,” Albers said. “I felt she was under water and it was going to be very difficult to turn it around.” …

Albers said that he spoke with Mary Burke when he visited Europe and could see why the challenges of the job might have left her frustrated or burned out.

“From my standpoint, there was some truth to that,” he said, citing the difficulties. “But I think there was more to it.”

Trek’s European operations were losing money and there were many people problems there because of Burke’s “my way or the highway” approach to managing personnel, Albers said. At the same time, Albers repeatedly emphasized that Burke faced an unusually difficult job in having subordinates in different countries with different backgrounds from her own.

Albers said that in his understanding Burke “was fired,” but noted he did not know how the decision was discussed within the Burke family.

Albers said he had resolved to answer questions if asked about Mary Burke but not to volunteer them himself. He said he was concerned that he would face criticism and attempts to discredit him and repeatedly said that he respected Trek as a company and was concerned about appearing to detract from it.

Albers’ statement might apply to how most business people feel about getting into politics — they have justifiable concern about how their political activities might hurt their business. Recall that during Recallarama such Wisconsin companies as Johnsonville and Kwik Trip were boycotted by Democrats because their employees dared to exercise their First Amendment rights to donate to political candidates. (Not that that appears to have hurt either, since conservatives quickly organized a “buycott” to support businesses that gave to Walker. For that matter, Maria’s Pizza, boycotted because its owner put a Walker sign on the front lawn of her house, soon found itself with … much more business.) At least one conservative I’ve seen on Facebook says he will never purchase a Trek bicycle. I’m sure that’s not what the Burkes had in mind when Mary thought about running for governor.

The important word in the term “family business” is “business.” Just because you have the right last name does not earn you a right to participate in company management. I’ve watched that lesson play out since I got into the business media two decades ago. (The corollary, however, is that in a family business the right last name might make someone untouchable, even if that person is proven incompetent. Fans of the Milwaukee Brewers found this out during the post-Bud Selig/pre-Mark Attanasio era.)

Reading this gave me more respect for the Burke family (not that I lacked respect for the business; as I’ve said before, the Republicans made a mistake attacking Trek Bicycle when Trek is a great Wisconsin business success story), at least until WITI-TV‘s report of Trek’s reply …

“This last-minute attempt to disparage Mary’s contributions to Trek is attributed to Gary Ellerman, Chairman of the Jefferson County Republican Party. Mr. Ellerman was fired from Trek in 2004. His politically motivated characterizations of Mary and her tenure at Trek are inaccurate. When Mary was in charge of Europe, she grew sales from $3 million to $50 million. In 1993, Mary decided that it was time for her to make a change and she left Trek. In 1995, John Burke asked Mary Burke to return to Trek to help with some key areas of the business. After she returned, Mary assumed the lead of Trek`s Global Forecasting department.”

… which really doesn’t deny Ellerman’s statements other than the sales figure. Trek as a private company (that is, a company whose stock is not available for public purchase; that is, 99.9 percent of U.S. companies) does not have to release public information about itself — financial information, who does what at the company, or anything else. The credibility of that statement is open to question, however, without more detailed information from Trek, though Trek doesn’t have to release that information.

Mary Burke herself didn’t exactly clear up things either. After she made the nonsensical statement, “This is the sort of nonsense, six days before an election, baseless allegations that are deterring from the issues, frankly that are really important here in terms of getting people out and making sure they understand the issues” (try diagramming that sentence, Madison English teachers), Wisconsin Reporter reported this Wednesday night, which too isn’t really the opposite of Ellerman’s claims.

Any father out there also can sympathize with Dick Burke’s telling his son to find a place in the company for Dick’s daughter, whether or not Mary should have been working for the company. I have a hard time believing the phrase “You’re fired, Mary,” would have been used in any sense. And I can see John Burke writing something nice about his sister because he’s his sister, whether or not it’s entirely accurate.

However, nearly all of Trek’s employees and all of Trek’s customers are not from the Burke family. If a family business fails, yes, the family members who participate in the company take a financial hit, but so do all its employees, all its customers (including all the bicycle stores that sell Treks) and all its vendors. That’s why the state of the business is paramount in a family business.

This is why family businesses transitioning to a new generation bring in outside consultants to evaluate the next generation and which of them (if any) are best suited to lead the family businesses into the next generation. Sometimes those evaluations leave hard feelings among the non-chosen ones, but the failure to choose the right leader(s) helps explain why so many family owned companies flounder after the founder’s generation exits. That also explains why some family businesses have family members who have an ownership interest, but don’t work for the company.

As it is, everyone knows that Mary Burke’s campaign is summarized in four words: I’m Not Scott Walker. So maybe no additional comment is needed, but a fair appraisal of Burke as the would-be governor requires it.

No one should care whether Burke is Miss Sunshine in her dealings with other people, unless you work for or with her. Voters should care, however, how competent she is in executive duties, since the governor is the state’s CEO. Notice sentences like “She was not performing. She was (in) so far over her head. She didn’t understand the bike business.” And “She had a list of excuses, but the fact is she made fatal errors. She thought she knew everything.” And “Maybe this job was too big for her.” No expert in business would consider any of that to demonstrate competent management or leadership.

Burke also brought this on herself by touting her business experience. At no point has she said what she did — strategic decisions she made, initiatives she led, or her product or service or marketing innovations — that created this 16-fold increase in European sales. We haven’t even heard what Trek employees working for Burke did, nor have we heard from those employees what a great boss she was. (We did hear those things about Mitt Romney two years ago, which should have convinced more voters than it did.) We’re all supposed to believe, just by her own claims, that she’s a whiz at business. (Which begs the question of if she’s so great in business, why isn’t she in business now?)

Irrespective of what she did at Trek (and mischaracterizing what she did at Trek), combining classless unpleasant rhetoric with advocating anti-business policies makes for a toxic stew. Burke is the candidate of the anti-business party, and she has done nothing to suggest that the views of her party’s mainstream are any different from her own. (She hasn’t said her own position on offshore outsourcing, which her party opposes and her family business does.) If you are honestly trying to win over undecided or nonpartisan voters, you have to give them a reason to believe that you don’t represent the bad people within your own party. (For instance, Bill Clinton, as well as Gov. James Doyle’s famous comment, “We should not, we must not, and I will not raise taxes,” a few years before Doyle raised taxes $2.2 billion.)

The evidence is that Burke as candidate is only parroting what Democratic constituent groups tell her to say. She wouldn’t be the only political candidate to be a puppet; voters have to decide if what a candidate says is what the voter agrees with or believes. It certainly makes you wonder what kind of governor she would be, though.


Stick it to Madison

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel picked up a comment of Gov. Scott Walker Thursday:

In the tightest race of his political career, Republican Gov. Scott Walker turned up the rhetoric Thursday by saying many voters in the liberal bastion of Madison are driven by anger and that his supporters need to counter that tide by showing up at the polls.

During an appearance in Pewaukee, Walker quoted former Gov. Tommy Thompson as saying, “Unfortunately, anger is a greater motivation than love.”

Walker continued, “There are a lot of people who love what we’ve done across the state. There are many people in Madison who are angry and they’re going to vote no matter what. We have got to make sure that people who love what we do understand they have to come out just as strong. If they do, we’ll win this election.” …

It’s not unusual for Republicans to attack the two biggest cities that support Democrats — Milwaukee and Madison.

But Walker’s aim was a bit more personal, since he appeared to be attacking voter motives as well as Madison, where Burke is a member of the school board. Madison was also the site of large protests against Walker and the Republicans during the battle over Act 10, which curtailed collective bargaining for most public-sector workers.

Walker quoted Thompson, so I will too: During the debate over state funding for Miller Park, Thompson at one stop encouraged people to tell their state legislators to “stick it to Milwaukee.” Hence the headline.

Walker’s statement shows, however, that he is certainly kinder and gentler than I am. I would have been using the “stick it to Madison” phrase every day starting with day one of my first gubernatorial campaign. Sticking it to Madison would be a great unifying theme for such initiatives as decentralizing state government — moving the Justice Department to Milwaukee, for instance (since Milwaukee is the state capital of crime and other social pathologies).

Walker also used an sufficiently strong word — “anger,” when the word “hate” is more appropriate. Remember when Ann Richards described George H.W. Bush as having been born on third base and he thought he had hit a triple? Replace Bush with Madison, and there you have Madison. Though not the highest point in Wisconsin, Madisonians look down on the rest of the state. Madisonians ostracize anyone with more conservative views than theirs. Consider the screed from Ruth Conniff, editor of Isthmus, when a lawsuit was filed against the Madison Metropolitan School District over its violating state law in its contract with Madison Teachers Inc.

And then there was the Recallarama embarrassment:

See, conservatives? Madison hates you.

We’re number 43!

This Tax Foundation study is inconveniently timed for Gov. Scott Walker, but I’m betting Mary Burke won’t take advantage of it:

The Tax Foundation’s State Business Tax Climate Index enables business leaders, government policymakers, and taxpayers to gauge how their states’ tax systems compare. While there are many ways to show how much is collected in taxes by state governments, the Index is designed to show how well states structure their tax systems, and provides a road-map to improving these structures. …

The absence of a major tax is a common factor among many of the top ten states. Property taxes and unemployment insurance taxes are levied in every state, but there are several states that do without one or more of the major taxes: the corporate tax, the individual income tax, or the sales tax. Wyoming, Nevada, and South Dakota have no corporate or individual income tax; Alaska has no individual income or state-level sales tax; Florida has no individual income tax; and New Hampshire and Montana have no sales tax. 

Where does Wisconsin rank? Let’s go to the map:

The states in the bottom ten suffer from the same afflictions: complex, non-neutral taxes with comparatively high rates. New Jersey, for example, suffers from some of the highest property tax burdens in the country, is one of just two states to levy both an inheritance and an estate tax, and maintains some of the worst structured individual income taxes in the country.

Wisconsin ranks 43rd because our sales taxes rank 14th, unemployment insurance ranks 27th, property taxes rank 31st, corporate taxes rank 33rd, and individual income taxes rank 43rd.

The Tax Foundation included this interesting statement:

Since the last edition, many states have experienced ranking changes largely because of the fundamental reforms made in a handful of states. The most exciting change occurred in North Carolina which experienced the largest rank improvement in the study’s history, jumping from 44th to 16th place due to a fundamental overhaul of state’s tax code. Nebraska, North Dakota, New York, and Wisconsin also improved their tax codes. Conversely, Maine was the only state that saw a significant drop in rank this year due to its increased state sales tax rate.

The Tax Foundation also reports this about Wisconsin:

Though Wisconsin’s overall rank did not change for this edition of the Index, the state repealed its inventory tax on rental property, improving its property tax component score from 36th to 31st (see Table 6), and conformed mineral depletion to federal schedules, improving its corporate tax component score from 34th to 33rd (see Table 3).

Since 2012, Wisconsin has ranked no better than 41st. And people wonder why not enough jobs are being created in this state. So why doing nothing to improve your ranking is an improvement is beyond my understanding.

Patrick Gleason thinks this is big news for Walker, believe it or don’t:

In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker has been chipping away at income taxes in recent years, and has made clear that he plans to continue reducing income tax rates if reelected. At Gov. Walker’s request, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch (R) has been traveling throughout the state on a listening tour, holding tax reform roundtables to get feedback from constituents in preparation for a second term push on tax reform.

While Wisconsin’s overall ranking did not change on the 2015 Business Tax Climate Index, its standing improved in two key index components: corporate taxes and property taxes. The labor and entitlement reforms enacted by Gov. Walker in the face of rabid opposition and protests that caused $11 million worth of damage to the state capitol have precipitated property tax relief across the state. In addition to that, Gov. Walker signed into law a bill earlier this year that eliminated the state’s rental inventory tax. This reform improved the state’s property tax system from 36th to 31th best in the nation. That legislation was sponsored by Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R), who is a Certified Public Accountant by trade.

On the corporate side, Gov. Walker also enacted a bill this year that conformed mineral depletion to federal cost recovery schedules. This improved Wisconsin’s corporate tax system from 30th to 25th best. While Gov. Walker inherited massive structural deficits and a poor business tax climate from his Democratic predecessor, he has taken significant steps over the last four years to move the state in the right direction, toward a less burdensome and more pro-growth tax code.

“Wisconsin’s reform efforts in the last two legislative sessions were positive steps in a state that has ranked poorly on our Index for many years,” said Tax Foundation Economist and Manager of State Projects Scott Drenkard. “As the tax reform debate heats up, I am looking forward to what the next session produces.”

The outcome of these elections in North Carolina and Wisconsin will have major tax policy implications. Federal tax reform is expected to be one of the top issues on the docket on Capitol Hill in the coming years. Tax reform is arguably the most politically difficult undertaking a lawmaker can pursue. By electing Thom Tillis to the U.S. Senate, North Carolina voters would send someone to Washington who has in-depth, firsthand experience in enacting pro-growth tax reform that reduces rates and simplifies the code. In Wisconsin, voters have a choice between Mary Burke, who plagiarized her campaign platform, or Gov. Walker, who has made clear he will continue and build upon the positive tax changes enacted during his first term if reelected to a second.

Kleefisch’s tax reform tour ended up in property tax cuts four times as much as income tax cuts. That’s great for homeowners (and unless you live in a student dorm, you pay property taxes directly or indirectly), but property taxes don’t have much to do with the business climate, as high as our property taxes are. Income taxes have a lot to do with our business climate, and they’re still among the highest in the U.S.

Wisconsin taxes are as high as they are not merely because of our state’s ingrained envy of those with money, but also because nothing prevents taxes from raising because nothing prevents spending from increasing. The lack of spending and tax increase controls in our state’s constitution is a major flaw in our state’s constitution, and the lack of interest among Republicans in doing that (which voters could have voted on Tuesday had Republicans started the constitutional-amendment process after taking over the Legislature in 2011) makes you wonder why you should vote for Republicans.

The reason, however, that Democrats won’t jump on this business tax climate comparison is that Democrats could not care less about a state’s tax climate. Democrats’ two coequal priorities are (1A) more money for their constituent groups and (1B) sticking it to non-Democrats.

This also would require Mary Burke to explain why the state’s business climate was so bad when her governor, James Doyle, was in charge and when she ran (if that’s what you want to call it) the state Department of Commerce, which did such a great job at business promotion that both Walker and 2010 gubernatorial candidate Tom Barrett called for, respectively, its replacement and a major overhaul.


Presty the DJ for Oct. 29

The number one song today in 1966:

Today in 1983, Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” spent its 491st week on the charts, surpassing the previous record set by Johnny Mathis’ “Johnny’s Greatest Hits.” “Dark Side of the Moon” finally departed the charts in October 1988, after 741 weeks on the charts.

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What happens after Nov. 4

You need not be the optimist Larry Kudlow is to see what Republicans need to do:

The Republicans are going to recapture the Senate, picking up more seats than most any forecaster expects. And the House GOP is going to add to its majority. But then comes the big story: The beginning of a new conservative revolution.

The idea that nothing much will change if the GOP captures the whole Congress is just plain wrong. The politics and policies in Washington are about to change in a major way.

Obama may still be president. But he is going to be immediately confronted with a flood of new bills that will change the debate on tax reform, energy, health care, education, international trade, and regulations.

Obama will no longer be able to hide behind Harry Reid, who has stopped all voting on these matters. And Mitch McConnell, as Senate majority leader, will be able to move forward the reform ideas of his caucus and House policy leaders like Paul Ryan, Jeb Hensarling, Kevin Brady, and many others.

Obama’s head will spin with all the new paperwork on his desk. He may even have to cut back on his golf game.

Of course, because of his left-wing ideology, Obama may veto everything. But if he does, he’s setting up a new Republican agenda for the 2016 presidential race. Either Hillary Clinton completely jumps the Obama ship, or she’s pulled way left by the Democratic party’s Bill de Blasio/Elizabeth Warren/Sandinista wing. Either way she’s in trouble.

And maybe some Senate Democrats vote to override Obama’s vetoes, with some even converting to Republicanism. An Angus King or a Joe Manchin may cross the aisle after the likely midterm GOP landslide.

Unfortunately, the current GOP never put together a clear national-policy election agenda. Not even a downsized Contract with America. But I suggest two Big Think thoughts for the first 100 days of the new Congress.

First is optimism: We know what the problems are, we know what the solutions should be, and we can make these changes quickly. Second is a re-energized evangelism by the Republican party for pro-growth, market-oriented, consumer-driven, pro-family policies.

“We all see this coming,” House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan told me in a recent interview. “Energy and tax reform are going to be at the top of the list.” And House Financial Services chairman Jeb Hensarling told me, “It’s time to put up or shut up for tax reform. Fairer, flatter, simpler, so the American people will at last know what the GOP would do for economic growth to rescue the country from the worst recovery since World War II.”

Hensarling also emphasized the need to expand the energy revolution and to stop the massive overregulation that has stunted growth. “The regulatory red-tape burden, which violates the Founding Fathers’ Federalist paper 47 by diminishing the rule of law and increasing bureaucratic power in the executive branch at the expense of the constitutionally mandated legislative branch, has got to be stopped.”

Let me weigh in on the first two bills that the GOP should put on Obama’s desk.

The Republicans should start with energy by legislating a Keystone Pipeline Authorization Act (this is how the Alaska pipeline was approved in 1979), and include energy reforms that would open federal lands to development and drilling and remove all restrictions to energy exports.

More energy supply means lower energy prices and more overall economic growth. Everybody benefits. Who loses? Our enemy Vladimir Putin and his client state Iran. And if Obama kowtows again to the left-wing enviros, so be it. It’s a 2016 GOP agenda item.

Second would be a business tax-reform plan that would slash the corporate tax rate to 20 percent, stop the double taxation of foreign profits, and allow small business S-corps (including unborn start-ups, which are America’s real job creators) to take advantage of the new lower corporate tax rate. This tax cut should also be scored with a reality-based economic-feedback model.

But the key here is that the GOP regains its footing as the party of optimism and growth. A new Republican Congress should message that they’re tired of obsessing about Obama’s mistakes. Everybody knows about those. The trick now is to focus on solutions. On change. On saying, “We can do this. We can fix this.”

Harking back to Ronald Reagan, Republicans should also remind everyone that a nation that’s strong at home is one that becomes strong abroad. Not only can we put people back to work in the U.S., with real take-home pay, but a new recovery will gather new respect from our allies, and new fear from our enemies.


I wonder what the Burke family thinks about this

The Daily Caller reports:

Hillary Clinton wants you to know she voted to raise the minimum wage, and she thinks that’s a good thing. She said that created “millions of jobs” in a speech she gave to a Democratic rally in Massachusetts Friday.

She then went on to, curiously, say, “Don’t let anybody tell you it’s corporations and businesses that create jobs. You know, that old theory ‘trickle-down economics.’ That has been tried, that has failed, it has failed rather spectacularly.”

Then Senator Hillary Clinton voted in favor of a minimum wage hike in 2007, under President George W. Bush. In 2008, the housing market collapsed and the nation went into recession.

Clinton didn’t elaborate on when those jobs created by her vote to raise the minimum wage occurred.

Message from Hillary to the Burke family, owners of Trek Bicycle: You didn’t build that.

Clinton is not the only Democrat who believes this (assuming any statement she makes is sincere). I had to endure a phone conversation with a Democratic Assembly candidate who actually said that small business doesn’t matter. This candidate is a state employee, so, small business owners, consider that when you’re voting Nov. 4.

So if corporations and businesses don’t create jobs, who does?

The Weekly Standard observes:

The aggressive tone and inelegant phrasing are meant, one supposes, to convey authenticity, which has never been Mrs. Clinton’s strength as a campaigner.  No news there.

But what of the content – such as it is – of the remark? Mrs. Clinton could be forgiven for thinking that corporations and businesses exist solely to provide big paydays for politically connected guest speakers.  But then, who does create jobs in the Clinton universe?  If, that is, any jobs are being created.

Well, maybe she should look to Texas.  Where, as this AEI report shows:

1.32 million new jobs [have been] added since the start of the Great Recession, compared to a net deficit of almost one million jobs for the other 49 states combined … The country, the president, and all of us individually owe a huge debt of gratitude to the state of Texas and to the oil and gas industry for helping support the US economy during and after the Great Recession. Without the energy-driven economic stimulus from the fracking revolution, and without the gusher of jobs in the state of Texas, there’s no question that the Great Recession would have been much worse and lasted much longer, and the jobs picture today would be much bleaker.

But don’t let anyone tell you so.