Monday, March 30, 2009

Two Wisconsins Now

One Wisconsin Now and Greater Wisconsin Fund is paying for some political advertisements against Dane County Executive candidate Nancy Mistele. The advertisements distort Mistele’s record as a member of the Madison School Board and suggest that the listener call the Mistele campaign office and tell her we do not need her kind as Dane County Executive.

What are One Wisconsin Now and Greater Wisconsin Now? How are they funded?

One Wisconsin Now and Greater Wisconsin Fund are 527 Political Action Committees, PACs. It makes “independent expenditures,” so there is putatively a wall of separation between them and the campaign of Kathleen Falk, the incumbent Dane County Executive. I say “putatively” a wall, because 527s usually make the negative attacks so that a campaign can be positive. The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth is the most famous 527 and no one dos not associate it with the campaign against Senator John Kerry of President George W. Bush.

One Wisconsin Now is interlocked with the Greater Wisconsin Fund. Money given to one is sloshed over into the other. About half the money given to One Wisconsin Now comes from within Wisconsin and the rest from somewhere else. Only about one-third of the money given to the Greater Wisconsin Fund comes from within Wisconsin. Most of the money comes from national union, liberal and Democratic PACs.

If I can figure this out, why can watchdogs like Wisconsin Common Cause and the Wisconsin Democracy Project not mention them without criticizing contributions to right-leaning 527s? They only say, “A pox on both your houses.”

I suspect One Wisconsin Now and the Greater Wisconsin Fund is buying advertisements against Nancy Mistele for two reasons. One is that Mistele is gathering too much momentum against Falk for their comfort. More mainstream voters believe that Falk prevaricated or worse on the 911 center and supports raising taxes to pay for a commuter rail system that few will ride. The second is that re-electing Kathleen Falk buys time for her to run for another office, like U.S. Senate when octogenarian Herb Kohl retires or U.S. House of Representatives if incumbent Tammy Baldwin runs for the Kohl seat.

There will be no appointment for Falk in Madison or Washington and it is unlikely she could get a private sector job that pays as well as Dane County Executive. She has alienated many Madison liberals, including her defeat of former incumbent Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager before losing to Republican J.B. van Hollen and Governor Jim Doyle, whom she challenged in 2002 and was an early supporter of President Barack Obama. The best chance of Falk is by a campaign for a higher office.

There are two Wisconsins now. There is the Wisconsin of One Wisconsin Now, the Greater Wisconsin Fund, commuter rail, taxes and Kathleen Falk. Then there are the people who work hard to make ends meet, pay their taxes and support Nancy Mistele.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Obama’s Valentine to the Iranian People

Like a clock that does not run, President Barack Obama is only right twice per day. So his Persian New Year message to the Iranian people on March 20 was one of those times.

The Iranian government and especially Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad underestimated the ability of Obama to deliver a message directly to the Iranian people with Farsi subtitles. The timing was the beginning of the festival of Nowruz, a 12-day holiday that marks the arrival of spring and the beginning of the next year on the Persian calendar. Ahmadinejad and his advisors are not the first people to underestimate Obama and his communications ability.

“We have serious differences that have grown over time," said Obama. “My administration is now committed to diplomacy that addresses the full range of issues before us, and to pursuing constructive ties among the United States, Iran and the international community. This process will not be advanced by threats. We seek instead engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect.”

Obama is lucky to follow George W. Bush again, who labeled Iran a country in the “Axis of Evil,” but drew no distinction between Ahmadinejad’s nuclear ambitions and the people of Iran. Obama’s approach is both carrot and stick.

Obama said, “The United States wants the Islamic Republic of Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations. You have that right -- but it comes with real responsibilities, and that place cannot be reached through terror or arms, but rather through peaceful actions that demonstrate the true greatness of the Iranian people and civilization. And the measure of that greatness is not the capacity to destroy, it is your demonstrated ability to build and create.”

The response of the Ahmadinejad government was both immediate and extreme. Washington must stop accusing Iran of seeking to build nuclear weapons and supporting terrorism, charges Tehran denies. What they do not deny is Iran’s desire to destroy Israel.

"Obama has talked of change but has taken no practical measures to address America's past mistakes in Iran. If Mr. Obama takes concrete actions and makes fundamental changes in U.S. foreign policy toward other nations including Iran, the Iranian government and people will not turn their back on him," press adviser Ali Akbar Javanfekr told the state-run English-language Press TV satellite station.

The danger for Ahmadinejad is that the Iranian people may turn their back on him when they could vote again for reformers. That is the real value of the Obama message.