The Daily Spam Report 3/24: Janet Yellen is giving me $30 million

janet yellenThere’s been an awful lot of investors around the world watching the actions of the new head of the Federal Reserve, Janet Yellen. Her original remarks discussing the scaling back of the government’s stimulus package roiled the stock market, but politics aside, I have to tell you I love the monetary policies of the Federal Reserve.

I mean wouldn’t you be ecstatic too if you got an email from “Mr. John Mike,” ostensibly from the Federal Reserve Bank in New York, but I’m crediting Dr. Yellen with this, offering you a “long over due” $30 million. How awesome is this? I’m sure all I have to do is give them my bank account number, routing information, passwords and such, so they can directly transfer those funds to me. I mean, you really don’t want that much cash hanging around, right? Makes more sense to do an electronic transfer.

Unless it doesn’t. Unless you haven’t caught on to my sarcasm throughout.

Don’t fall for this, please. The Federal Reserve does not have $30 million, $30,000 or even $30 for you that is “long over due.” It’s just not going to happen. Sorry about that.

As an aside, if you’re going to make up a fake banker’s identity, I don’t know, but having two generic first names just doesn’t make sense. Make it something more clever like Mr. Cash Green.

Anyhow, if you have an email you want to warn your neighbors about, please send it to me: mailto:aschrager@wisctv.com and we can possibly pass it along to our viewers.

Take care and just hit delete.

Adam

From: john mike [mailto:john.mike2000@yahoo.com]
Sent: Saturday, March 22, 2014 9:15 AM
To: paymentdepartment@gmail.com
Subject: Federal Reserve Bank New York

FEDERAL RESERVE BANK NEW YORK
33 Liberty Street New York, NY 10045 – USA

Attn:

RE:   INSTRUCTIONS TO CREDIT YOUR BANK ACCOUNT WITH USD $30,000,000.00

The management of the Federal Reserve Bank New York writes to inform you of your long over due payment that has been lying wait in the treasury department of the Federal Reserve Bank  for payment. With regards to the approval of your payment as confirmed by the Legal Department of the Federal Reserve Bank New York;Upon the transfer of your total sum into your nominated  banking account, our Bank herein will be transferring this funds to you as was instructed, on the transfer.you are hereby directed to contact Mr.John Mike for immediate payment as your payment officer with the contact information below:

Contact Person:  Mr. John Mike
Federal Reserve Bank New York
Direct Email: john.mike2000@yahoo.com

Praise Where It’s Due

Flip around late-night cable some day and you’re likely to come across the film, and more importantly, the story which inspired a generation of people like myself to get into journalism. “All the President’s Men,” won numerous Academy Awards for chronicling The Washington Post’s efforts to cover the Watergate scandal which led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.

We’ve spoken to UW-Madison Professor Emeritus Stanley Kutler about the topic multiple times as he remains the foremost expert on Nixon today. In his book, “The Wars of Watergate,” he disputes the role of the media in bringing Nixon down, writing:

“As more documentary materials are released, the media’s role in uncovering Watergate diminishes in scope and importance. Television and newspapers publicized the story and, perhaps, even encouraged more diligent investigation. But it is clear that as Watergate unfolded from 1972 to 1974, media revelations of crimes and political misdeeds repeated what was already known to properly constituted investigative authorities. In short, carefully timed leaks, not media investigations, provided the first news of Watergate.”

However, to a slew of those of us who saw something magical in that story/book/film and in learning about Thomas Jefferson, who once wrote, “our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost,” the Watergate story stands as the greatest example of journalism in modern memory.

Yet, I’m here to also tell you its by-products have not always been pleasant. You see every journalist since has entered into the profession seeking their own Watergate, whether it’s at the city, county, school board, homeowners association, state or federal level. They are sure there’s graft, there’s  corruption, there’s a misappropriation of taxpayer dollars and their careers will be defined when they find it.

What’s happened is that the industry as a whole has begun to see the proverbial cup as half empty and not half full. We seek out the negative  rather than celebrating the positive.

This is a long set-up to the purpose of today’s post which is to highlight something going very right in Wisconsin. According to data from fiscal year 2010  gathered by the Pew Center on the States, “states were $1.38 trillion short of having saved enough to pay their retirement bills” and even more importantly for us, the non-profit reported, “In 2010, only Wisconsin had fully funded its pension plan.”

Now, this information came out a few months ago and that, by definition, contradicts the root of the word news, that being “new.” But still, that fact continues to be celebrated throughout the global financial community, with insights, in theory, to be gleaned from the what we’ve done right. Wisconsin’s success is celebrated in the cover story of Institutional Investor this month with the reporter writing:

“It turns out that the Midwestern state best known for cheese and beer also has the best-designed and best-governed pension system in the U.S. The WRS’s ability to balance employer and employee gains and losses has sheltered Wisconsin from the pension problems that are running rampant in other states.”

I know it’s not the sexiest of stories and that it won’t bring down a public official like during Watergate, but for the 424,000 people who use the Wisconsin Retirement System, or one in roughly every 6 people in this state, that ought to be worth a little more than a mention. Sorry, I’d been delinquent in not pointing that out sooner in this space.

POINT OF PERSONAL PRIVILEGE

To those of you who may have followed my, at times tangential, musings over the last couple years, I thank you. This will be my final post on this blog as I’m taking a position running a newly formed Investigative unit at WISC-TV, the CBS affiliate in Madison.

The goal there will be the same as it’s been here: to make a difference where we live. I’d like to think we’ve accomplished that by traveling across the state over the last couple years to find out what’s on the mind of Wisconsin residents and in the more than a dozen Fact Check workshops we hosted at libraries around the state to teach people how to investigate the claims from those seeking their votes.

It’s been my pleasure to work for you here at Wisconsin Public Television and I will remain faithful to that cause as I go forward in the future.

“I’m Just a Bill”

Wisconsin_State_CapitolAfter two years, numerous stops and starts, threatened lawsuits, high unemployment, fears of environmental catastrophe, and promises of economic opportunity, at some time today, the State Assembly will pass Senate Bill 1 that seeks to change Wisconsin’s mining laws to allow for an open-pit, iron ore mine along the Ashland and Iron County borders.

The Republican leadership in the Assembly has indicated it will set aside nine and a half hours to debate the measure today, including a substitute amendment from Democrats that does not have the votes to pass. Shortly, this bill will become a law. That’s what happens when the majority party in a Legislature want legislation and the state’s chief executive does as well.

Wisconsin’s legislature has an 18-page memo on the process of how this works that’s specific to our state, but I find the 3-minute Schoolhouse Rock video I watched as a kid related to Congress to be more enjoyable.

In this particular case however, no one’s digging up dirt and turning over rocks any time soon. The measure, when it’s signed into law, will be challenged in court. A judge or set of judges will likely determine what actually happens in that beautiful, jobs-challenged, mineral-rich area of Wisconsin.

We’ve covered the issue substantially here at Wisconsin Public Television, starting with a report I did two years ago on the issues facing the area. At the time, I told my wife, and I’ve told others since, in many ways, it’s a fascinating issue for a reporter to cover–in that, there are two completely genuine, honest, conflicting viewpoints at its core. We may hear manufactured hyperbole from some representatives today on both sides of the issue, but travel north and you find a community that truly values and prides itself on its natural scenery, but sincerely worries about the fact it’s lost 80 percent of its population over the last 50 years because there are no employment opportunities.

Today marks the end of one story and the beginning of another. Maybe some creative type will come up with another video cited for decades to come and call it, “How a Law Gets Challenged in Court.”

Order in the Court

“If the judicial ermine and gown in Wisconsin shall drop from other shoulders hereafter as pure and unsullied as from his, we shall have no cause to feel ashamed.”

Take a trip through the Wisconsin Court System website highlighting this state’s supreme court justices and you come across quotes like the one above from Justice Samuel Crawford at the 1859 memorial service for Wisconsin’s first-ever elected Chief Justice Edward V. Whiton.

Of Justice Crawford himself, who served just two years on the high court, from 1853-55, former Mineral Point Mayor Calvert Spensley said:

“Judge Crawford was a most genial and accomplished gentleman, chivalrous in his disposition, and of the strictest honor and integrity. He had a heart full of warm sympathies and generous impulses, and as a man and citizen was greatly beloved.”

Wisconsin's Supreme Court

Wisconsin’s Supreme Court

After hearing of yet another round of tumult on Wisconsin’s current Supreme Court, it’s worth wondering how the current justices will be remembered. Their legacy, if written today by this journalist of 25 years and every other in the state, would most certainly include phraseology similar to this: (Fill-in-the-blank) served on the state’s highest court at a time when personalities clashed and accusations of violence, partisanship and dishonesty prevailed.

The latest story comes from a memo Justice Ann Walsh Bradley wrote to the state’s Judicial Commission investigating her accusation that her fellow Justice David Prosser put his hands around her neck and choked her on June 13, 2011. It’s an accusation Prosser denies. In her memo, Bradley said the event was not an isolated incident, describing an ongoing threat before that event ever allegedly happened in which she reportedly obtained extra security to protect her from her colleague and said current conditions on the court are miserable.

That accusation was refuted by Justice Patience Roggensack, who is up for re-election to the court next week. She told The Wisconsin State Journal of the current court’s mood, “nobody’s edgy or yelling or doing anything inappropriately. … On a daily basis, we’re doing fine.”

Bradley’s memo reads like a scene from Law and Order and not a real-life Supreme Court, tasked with serving as a co-equal branch of government with the Legislature and the Governor from the birth of this state in 1848. Maybe in a day where we’re used to watching antagonistic and aggressive people called judges (e.g. Judge Judy, Simon Cowell, or Howard Stern), this back-and-forth soap opera of a tale doesn’t stun people any more.

It apparently has not stunned the current justices, any of them, to change their behavior. Our message to our three kids, whenever squabbles inevitably arise, is that they need to work it out, find an equitable way to co-exist. If three kids age five and under can figure that out, albeit they  need help sometimes, can’t seven of the most intelligent Wisconsin residents? Are they not collectively and individually embarrassed about their public image?

Former Justice Janine Geske once described the high court as being “like bringing all the new in-laws together at Thanksgiving, giving them a couple glasses of wine maybe, and then discussing the most controversial issues you can think of, and see if you can get an agreement by the end of dinner.”

No one’s discounting the heady issues and stressful situations they face, but there used to be a time when Wisconsin’s supreme court justices were remembered less for their personal squabbles and more as Justice Mortimer M. Jackson was at his memorial service in 1891 by Silas Pinney:

“In all his social, personal, and official relations, Judge Jackson was eminently a polite, courtly, dignified gentleman of the old school; treating at all times his associates and acquaintances with the kindest and most respectful consideration.”

What’s the old saying, if you don’t learn from history, you’re bound to repeat it? Maybe in the case of Wisconsin’s Supreme Court that wouldn’t be a bad thing.

Life is a highway… and so much more

My 3-year-old son loves Lightning McQueen.

He’s red. He’s fast. He comes on cool t-shirts. He’s never even watched much of the film, “Cars,” but he knows one of songs featured at its beginning.

“Life is a Highway” was originally written by Canadian Tom Cochrane in the early 1990’s as an ode to living life and enjoying every moment. They are qualities my little guy embodies.

For years, the title of the song though might have doubled as the mantra for transportation funding throughout Wisconsin. Dalliances with transit and multi-modal models were just that, dalliances, with the lion’s share of transportation money coming from and going to, highways. A 176-page report out this week from the 10-member citizen Transportation Commission shows our entire transportation system now needs even more help, specifically our roads.

My colleague Zac Schultz spoke with Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb about the report last week on Here and Now, but in case you missed it, the commission’s recommendations include, among other things, raising the gas tax by five cents a gallon, increasing the fee to get a driver’s license and eliminating the sales tax exemption you get if you trade in a car.

Overall, the commission is asking for an additional annual investment of $480 million over the next decade just to keep up with the increased use of the system. Keeping the status quo, a press release states “will result in serious worsening in the condition and safety of state highways, increased urban highway congestion and reduced service levels for public transit.”

It’ll be an interesting conversation at the Capitol over this as Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wisconsin) and many Republicans have indicated they want to cut taxes this  legislative session and not increase them. Without increased revenue coming from somewhere, it could lead to a scenario where lots of Lightning McQueens may be needed in the future to re-pave Wisconsin’s roads.

INTERESTING NOTES FROM WASHINGTON

In case you missed it this week, President Obama was sworn in to a second term in the White House. The New York Times has a fascinating interactive graphic to show who sat where during the inauguration. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin), Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin) and Rep.  Paul Ryan (R-Janesville) were among the Wisconsinites there.

And speaking of Sen. Johnson, he had a fascinating back and forth with outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over the deaths of four Americans during the attack on a diplomatic post in Benghazi. You can watch the video of that interaction here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2013/01/23/four-memorable-moments-from-hillary-clintons-benghazi-testimony-video/

Laws like Sausages?

sausagesI have a mea culpa to issue this morning.

For years, I have publicly made the comparison that the creation of television journalism was much like that of making laws and sausage: an often un-pretty process that can be uncomfortable to witness with an end result that is hopefully palatable for all involved.

The aphorism dates back, not to the 1930’s and former German leader Otto von Bismarck, but instead to 1869 and American lawyer-poet, John Godfrey Saxe who was quoted in a Cleveland newspaper saying, “Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made.” The more common quote, almost always attributed these days to the Iron Chancellor, is “Laws are like sausages. It’s better not to see them being made.”

I was planning on making the assertion again in describing the measure introduced in the current legislative session to streamline Wisconsin’s mining rules, but then I ran across this 2010 article from The New York Times in which, and I’m not making this up, a former CIA agent turned sausage maker, describes the process of preparation in a far more streamlined fashion than anything I’ve ever seen in newsrooms or legislatures. What he describes clearly articulates how my analogy for years has been flawed.

“I’m so insulted when people say that lawmaking is like sausage making,” said Stanley A. Feder, president of Simply Sausage, whose plant here turns out 60,000 pounds of links a year to The Times. “With legislation, you can have hundreds of cooks — members of Congress, lobbyists, federal agency officials, state officials… In sausage making, you generally have one person, the Wurstmeister, who runs the business and makes the decisions.”

Then again, as I consider a Republican majority in both the State Senate and State Assembly following the leadership of Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wisconsin),  maybe the analogy is more apt today than ever before. If the governor were to serve in this process as the “Wurstmeister” and the majority group of lawmakers as the assembly line creating the legislation, there won’t be hundreds  of cooks participating in this creation unless they want them there.

If you listen to critics of the proposed mining legislation, their main contention, besides that Wisconsin’s environment will suffer if it passes, is that they are not and have not been consulted in this process. So, for now, and in this particular instance, we’ll just have to wait and see if the correlation of sausage-making and legislating is fair.

All that said, if you’ve ever taken four hours of videotape and smushed it into a two-three minute story on television, you’ll know my original comparison to one of Wisconsin’s favorite foods remains spot-on.

Historical Advice for Lawmakers

The Wisconsin Legislature opened up its 2013-14 session this week with speeches of grandeur and promises of public service from its leaders. The first week lawmakers meet, there is never a shortage of advice shared with new members about how to do their jobs with a focus on things like keeping their word, maintaining their integrity.

Former Arizona Governor and Senator Paul Fannin (R)

Former Arizona Governor and Senator Paul Fannin (R)

In the process of researching a project on a former Arizona governor named Paul Fannin, I came across the Republican’s words of wisdom to his legislature more than 50 years ago when he was the state’s chief executive. It seemed germane today.

In reality, his thoughts were posed as questions lawmakers should ask themselves when considering a piece of legislation. I’d love to hear your thoughts about the list. Please submit them below.

Former Gov. Paul Fannin’s (R-Arizona) questions for state lawmakers to ask as they began their annual session and found proposed legislation crossing their desks.

1)      Is it necessary?  Or is it something that is not really needed, or perhaps being provided for already.

2)      Can we afford it? Remember, there is no limit to what we would like, but there is a limit to what we can afford.

3)      What will it cost ultimately? Many proposals are like icebergs—only a small fraction of the total cost is apparent on the surface.

4)      How will it affect basic liberties? If it imposes unreasonable or illegal restrains on your life or that of others, it should be vigorously opposed. Realize—a free society isn’t perfect. Yet, it is by far the best there is or ever has been.

5)      Is it in the best balanced interest of all? If it is designed to benefit a small group or special interest while taking unfair advantages of others, work for its defeat.

6)      Is it a ‘foot-in-the-door’ proposition? Compromising a little now may bring an oppressive burden later in more regulations or more taxes or a combination of both.

7)      Does it place too much power in the hands of one individual or group? Once decisive power is granted to a non-elected public official, a commission, board or council, the private citizens lost effective control.

8)      Does it recognize the importance of the individual and the minority? This is a cornerstone of our republic.

9)      Is its appeal based on emotional propaganda or facts? The farther a proposition gets away from the facts, the more critical one should be.

10)   Does it square with your moral convictions? If so, work for it; if not, oppose it.

Sen. Jefferson Smith and the Filibuster

011809mrsmith

Mr. Smith Goes to Washingon

Fictional U.S. Senator Jefferson Smith never had it so easy.

Back in 1939, when he was being played by Jimmy Stewart in the movie, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” Senator Smith created the image of the filibuster now seared into the majority of America’s brain. He spoke for nearly 24 hours in the film to defend himself against false charges and to aggressively decry graft in American society.

“Lost causes,” his famous quote goes, “are the only ones worth fighting for.”

But the reality of the filibuster over the last several decades in the Senate is far less glamorous. There have been no recent examples of senators actually having to show up on the floor of that august body to make their impassioned plea against legislation or a presidential appointment. Instead, they’ve simply been able to let the Majority Leader know they object and that would suffice.

Enter eight current senators, a bipartisan group, who are proposing filibuster reform that, has been described by multiple national media outlets as “watered-down.” Unlike what Jeff Smith had to go through, there will be a milder “talking requirement,” according to the main sponsors Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) and Sen. Carl Levin (D-Michigan). Their plan would mandate that senators actually have to appear on the floor of the Senate to voice their objection in person. Some critics though claim the proposal would actually create more potential obstructionism from the minority party and say they plan to work against it.

Here’s a link to the McCain-Levin proposal plus another link to the brief history of the filibuster. Below are quotes from the news conference from McCain and Levin introducing the reform right before the new year. Their proposals would still be required to get 60 votes from the Senate in order to be adopted.

The story tended to get lost due to conversations about the fiscal cliff, the milk cliff, the Clif bar… oh wait, the latter was just in our house as we were getting food ready for a long car ride with our kids.

By the way,  speaking of kids, I had totally forgotten how the minions of the local kingpin in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” rough up the kids trying to spread the truth about their senator. Interesting part of the clip shown above.

Scott Walker, Ron Swanson and Waffles

I don’t know if Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wisconsin) is a fan of the NBC program, Parks and Recreation, but I’m pretty sure he wants to channel his inner-Ron Swanson these days and take Wisconsin’s legislative Republican leaders out for waffles.

Ron Swanson

Ron Swanson

If you’re not an avid watcher of the show, please allow me to explain. The comedy features an Indiana city councilwoman and her struggles navigating the politics of her small town. A recent episode had the central character,  Leslie Knope, trying to figure out how to derail a co-worker’s plan to site a dog park where she had pined for years to build a park for kids.

She heads down the City Hall corridor to her mentor, the aforementioned Swanson, who runs the Parks and Recreation department where she used to work. In his typically deadpan fashion, he advises her that in the past, he’d simply give her busy work to divert her attention from a topic she was passionate about and if she were “really amped up about something, I’d take you (to a local restaurant) and distract you with waffles.”

Over the last few days, we’ve seen reports about Republicans in the legislature who, in the 2013 session, want to do things like removing same-day voter registration, changing the composition of the Government Accountability Board from retired judges to political appointees, and cracking down on illegal immigration with an Arizona-like law.

All the while, the governor continues to say, as he did yesterday to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, “My priority is about jobs, creating jobs.”

That’s by no means a new sentiment from the governor who echoes that refrain every chance he gets. However, as memories of his 2012 recall fade, he knows his 2014 re-election hopes depend on how he’s doing in handling the economy.

As he told me in an August, 2011 interview before he was ever recalled:

“I think in the end, what I’m going to be judged on whether it’s in 2012 or 2014, is how far have we gone down the path of the single biggest promise I made, which was to help the people of the state create 250,000 jobs.”

waffles    The governor knows conversations about anything besides the economy are bound to take attention away from the single issue he believes matters most to Wisconsin residents. He may approve of some of those legislative issues being discussed by Republicans,  in fact he was the one who first brought up the same-day voter registration issue in a speech, but he wants Wisconsin to know they’re not his priorities.

It’s likely why he’ll want to schedule a carbohydrate-heavy meal at Mickie’s Dairy Bar or some other great breakfast joint outside the Capitol for his Republican legislative friends.

Waffles, as Ron Swanson points out, are always a great distraction.

BUDGET CONVERSATION

Just as an aside, every time I hear a story about the fiscal cliff and sequestration and federal budget issues, I’m reminded of Charles Grodin in the movie, “Dave.” He’s the accountant that Dave, who’s pretending to be the President, invites to the White House to have a sandwich and to balance the budget.

What’s going on now in Washington is no laughing matter, but these scenes from the movie that show what they came up with, certainly are.

Just like waffles, levity provides a nice distraction as well.