| Madison mayor: Government shutdown worse than 1960s leftist bombings

Findings from TUA’s Wisconsin pension project are featured in this story from

ayersBy Ryan Ekvall | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON — The 1960s and ’70s leftists who bombed government buildings and killed Americans were less damaging than the partial federal government shutdown – so said Madison Mayor Paul Soglin, introducing Vietnam War-era domestic terrorist Bill Ayers at a speaking engagement Thursday in Madison.

What Republicans did in legally shutting down a small portion of the federal government for a few weeks was far more painful “to the American people than anything that any of us were capable of doing in the late 1960s and ‘70s,” said Soglin, himself a 1960s radical turned political insider.

“The ramifications to our economy, the world economy, the consequences in terms of everything from nutrition to education, from the well-being in terms of health to employment is being calculated in the billions of dollars, the consequences of this act,” he said.

“And what are we going to do about it now? We’re going to revisit it in three months,” Soglin said, referring to a congressional budget deal reached Wednesday.

Soglin led peaceful protests in Madison during the war, where he was beaten by police.

Ayers is the former leader of the Weather Underground Organization terrorist group that bombed buildings to make political points.

He was catapulted back into the public limelight during Barack Obama‘s 2008 campaign for president.

Ayers was in Madison  to plug his new book “Public Enemy: Confessions of an American Dissident.” He recounted the link between him and President Obama that was brought up on a nationally televised primetime primary debate by ABC News broadcaster George Stephanopoulos that had been “percolating in the fever swamps of right-wing blogs for months” in 2008.

He was charming, disarming and even funny.

“I had my students over for a seminar in our living room (when a student turned on the debate) … I sat down and a student turned to me and said, ‘Oh my God that guy has the same name as yours,’” Ayers said to a roomful of laughter.

“Bernardine and I had hosted the initial fundraiser for Obama and uncharacteristically donated a little money to his campaign,” Ayers read from his book. “We lived a few blocks apart and sat on a couple nonprofit boards together. So what? Who could have predicted it would blow up like this?”

Interesting word choice.

In the early 1970s, the Weather Underground, also known as the Weathermen, set off bombs at the Pentagon, the U.S. Capitol and New York City Police Headquarters to protest U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

Six-thousand people a week were dying in war, he explained.

Deceased FBI informant Larry Grathwohl, who infiltrated the Weather Underground, said the group discussed “eliminating 25 million” Americans that couldn’t be re-educated to love communism after the communist organization overthrew the government.

Grathwohl told that Ayers lamented that Dohrn “had to plan and place the bomb at the San Francisco Park police station” that killed police Officer Brian McDonnell.

He testified that Weather Underground planned its attacks so not to injure people, except for a planned bombing on Detroit police headquarters where Grathwohl said Ayers intended to kill police officers. That bomb did not go off.

Ayers has dismissed Grathwohl as a “paid dishonest person.”

Still, former members of the Weather Underground robbed a Brinks armored car in 1981, killing a Brinks guard and two police officers, including Waverly Brown, the first black police officer on the Nyack, N.Y., police force.

Ayers went on the lam for a decade after three Weathermen died after a bomb exploded in a Greenwich Village townhouse. All charges against Ayers eventually were dismissed due to improper government surveillance.

He later became an early-education professor at the University of Illinois – Chicago.

Ayers, now 68 and retired, lives in Chicago with his wife Bernardine Dohrn, also a leader in the Weather Underground. He takes home a pubic retirement pension of $86,000 a year — estimated lifetime payout of $2 million — plus taxpayer funded health care, according to Taxpayers United of America.

His days of plotting bomb attacks behind him, Ayers and his wife, who once said “revolutionary violence is the only way”, agreed the 2011 protests at the Wisconsin Capitol rejuvenated their spirits.

“I think that the occupation of the Capitol, the resistance to the austerity and anti-democratic measures of your governor really sparked a tremendous spirit of resistance and excitement around the country,” said Dohrn. “We came up here a couple times during that period of time. Surely, we saw this echo in Occupy, in the teacher’s strike in Chicago.”

Tens of thousands of Wisconsinites, and others bused in from out of state, descended on the Capitol in February 2011 to protest Gov. Scott Walker’s Act 10, which limited collective bargaining for government employees to salary increases to the rate of inflation. Act 10 also required government employees to contribute to their pensions and contribute more to their health care costs. Prior to that, taxpayers, for the most part, were picking up the tab. The law has saved taxpayers billions of dollars since it passed in 2011.

A federal appeals court has upheld Act 10 in its entirety and the state Supreme Court will hear a challenge to the law in November.

As Judge William M. Conley explained in the federal court challenge to Act 10, government labor unions don’t have an inherent right to collective bargaining. That is a state-granted privilege. And the measure was arguably democracy in action: The elected representatives in Wisconsin passed a law that was re-affirmed by the people of the state in the 2012 recall election in which Walker, a Republican, beat back a challenge from Democrat Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

Still, Ayers said he tries to reach out to tea party supporters, especially when he’s picketed at speaking engagements.

“A section in the book is called ‘Talking to the Tea Party,’” he said. “I definitely have a lot to talk to the libertarians about. I feel very close to a lot of them.”

Ayers and the tea party, for example, share common ground on the Common Core State Standards for education.

“I have never been in favor of it. I think it’s a catastrophe,” he said. “On the right-wing blogs they say the Common Core was my invention but it’s not true. I did not ghostwrite Barack Obama’s book. I am not in favor of the Common Core.”

Instead, he said all students should have the education that children of “the privileged” are afforded. Ayers, for example, sent his children to the private, exclusive University of Chicago Laboratory Schools.

“They have a curriculum based in part on kids pursuing their own interests, and art and music,” Ayers said. “That’s what all kids deserve, that’s what the privileged have.”

He said education is not a product, but a fundamental human right. It’s not one-size-fits-all, but different students have different needs.

It’s some of the same language used by ‘voucher in every backpack’ advocates, though Ayers disparages the “privatization” of education.

“Are you a right-wing blogger?” Ayers asked Wisconsin Reporter. “I often ask that because I was stopped in the Washington airport by a woman who … broke the story that I ghost wrote Barack Obama’s book. And I said to her if you can help me prove that, I’ll split the royalties with you.”

“But guess who ghostwrote this book?” he asked. “It’s a scoop.”

“Was it President Obama?” Wisconsin Reporter asked.

“Ah, you know, amazing. I’m not going to confirm or deny,” Ayers said.

Shawano Leader | Group accuses Madsen of withholding public records

Findings from TUA’s pension project on Shawano County, Wisconsin, are featured in this story from the Shawano Leader.
shawanoleaderThe leader of a Chicago-based organization claims Shawano County Administrative Coordinator Tom Madsen is withholding public records. Madsen says a spam filter is to blame.
Jim Tobin, president of the Taxpayers United Alliance (TUA), said in a news conference this week that Madsen has engaged in a series of stalls following the organization’s request for county employee salary and pension information.
“Thomas Madsen of the Shawano County administrative office has refused to provide the salaries for county employees in a series of stalls and excuses, designed to make us give up,” Tobin said Monday at the Shawano School District annual meeting.
Madsen initially said Tobin’s claims were “patently false,” but has since blamed the county’s spam filter for blocking some of the group’s emails.
“I think it’s grandstanding,” Madsen said Wednesday. “He picked the meeting of the Shawano School Board (to hold a news conference), so he had a captive audience. He decided he was going to throw a match on a can of gas.”
Madsen said he found out later Wednesday that the email servers had tagged several of the TUA emails as spam and blocked them. He said on Thursday the county’s technicians have fixed the problem.
The information Tobin seeks was to have been part of a report TUA released Monday showing public employee salaries and benefits, along with estimates on what they would earn from their pensions once they retire. Tobin released the group’s assumptions on employee pensions for the city of Shawano and the Shawano School District at the same news conference.
Both TUA and the county provided emails between Madsen and TUA’s executive director, Rae Ann McNeilly, that show the process started with a phone call on July 7 by McNeilly requesting all full-time employees’ names, titles, departments they work in and wages for 2012.
Madsen sent an email to McNeilly on July 8 saying that the county would furnish what she had requested, but it would cost the county an estimated $100 to compile the information.
“This is just an estimate,” Madsen wrote. “You will be billed for the actual time it takes to put together the report with the information requested.”
In TUA’s documents furnished to the Leader, McNeilly sent a reply dated July 9 that said, “Please proceed with the open records request. Please advise of the fee and we will forward a check.”
Madsen claimed he did not receive that email or any further correspondence from McNeilly until Aug. 12, when she sent an email asking if Madsen had received the July 9 email and again authorizing that TUA be billed for the cost.
An email from Madsen, also dated Aug. 12, to McNeilly stated that he did not receive her July 9 response, and that he had let the matter go. He again asked if the terms were acceptable and when the county could expect payment, after which he would get the information to her “as soon as possible.”
McNeilly sent a reply on Aug. 13 that she had said the terms were acceptable multiple times and had been anticipating a bill with the final costs.
“If you are now telling me that you will not proceed until a payment has been received, then make that clear with a clear final cost amount, and a remittance process, and quit stalling,” McNeilly wrote. “Do you have the report ready? I would be happy to phone a credit card payment right now or us mail a check, but I would expect in good faith, and having my authorization in writing, 4 times now, that you would provide the data immediately and anticipate receipt of our check.”
Madsen said Wednesday that he never received McNeilly’s Aug. 13 email and was unaware of it until the Leader asked him about it.
After officials checked the spam filter, Madsen sent an email to TUA apologizing for the delays and saying the county would prepare the information requested.
“We will prepare the information and then send an invoice for the cost to prepare. As soon as we receive payment, we will release the information to you,” Madsen wrote. “I apologize for the mix-up even though it appears to have been out of anyone’s control.”
McNeilly told the Leader on Thursday that she hoped Madsen’s statement was genuine, but noted that TUA had previous difficulties getting the same information two years ago, when Frank Pascarella was administrative coordinator.
“I will hope that he’s being forthcoming, and we will finish the deal,” McNeilly said. “If we have to jump through hoops, that’s what we do. That’s what I’m prepared to do. That’s why we’re successful; we don’t back down.”

Wisconsin Reporter | Tax avenger takes message to small-town WI

Findings from TUA’s pension project on Shawano County, Wisconsin, are featured in this story from the Wisconsin Reporter.
taxavengerBy Ryan Ekvall | Wisconsin Reporter
SHAWANO — Jim Tobin is frustrated, and he’ll tell you so.
“It’s been so difficult getting the information from these lazy … bureaucrats,” Tobin said in a phone interview Tuesday.
Tobin is president of Taxpayers United of America, which organizes and mobilizes taxpayers to defeat tax increases. TUA is based in Chicago, where Tobin lives and works.
Thomas Madsen is Shawano County’s administrative coordinator, and he handles open-records requests.
The information Tobin wants — Shawano County salary data — and his struggles to get it underscore one of  his big battles in Wisconsin — exposing the costs of government employees and bringing transparency to government pension data.
That battle, in turn, is part of Tobin’s war — fight off taxes wherever politicians want to raise them.
Tobin describes himself as a “professional tax-fighter,” throwing down, so to speak, Monday evening at the Shawano school board annual budget meeting.
Tobin owns property and pays property taxes in Shawano.
“I think it’s unfair these taxpayer groups take on hard-working government employees when there’s so much other wasteful government spending,” Madsen said.
Tobin insists he’s just following the money.
“The main reason we were there (Monday) night was to let people know that 80 percent of their taxes goes toward salaries and pensions,” he said. “A system that pays so many millions of dollars to people who do absolutely nothing is unsustainable.”
Fighting for the data
Outside the gym, Tobin distributed lists of the 50 highest paid school district employees and the 30 highest paid municipal government workers .
But what about the county? Tobin would like to know, too.
Madsen told Wisconsin Reporter he’s happy to process the request, as soon as TUA sends a check for $100. Usually the county fulfills requests and then bills for payment, but he said it was “burned by a taxpayer group before, and we’re not going to be burned a second time.” Under state law, the county can require a prepayment of fees.
As of Wednesday, Madsen said, he hasn’t received a check.
But here’s what the city and school district data show:

  • Only four of the 80 employees listed earned less than $37,686, the median household income in Shawano, according to U.S. Census data.
  • Each of the top 50 earners at the Shawano school district took home more than Tobin’s $53,000 TUA salary, as revealed by TUA’s 2011 Form 990, the latest public data available.
  • According to TUA’s estimates, all but five of those 80 government employees will take home more than $1 million in pension payouts after they retire.

Tobin’s numbers, though, are probably inflated — in some cases severely so — because they assume the maximum possible pension payouts under the Wisconsin Retirement System and pad that figure with Social Security benefits.
But, again, Tobin would be happy to use actual retirement system data, if he could get it.
Personal pension information is considered confidential under Wisconsin Statute 40.07, and is “never a public record.”
In Illinois, where pension data is public information, 9,900 government retirees take home more than $100,000 a year in pension payments, according to TUA.
“Why isn’t the information public (in Wisconsin)?” Tobin asked. “ What are the politicians trying to hide?”
Professional Tax-fighter
Thirty-seven years ago, Tobin, a former economics professor at Elmhurst College in Illinois, founded National Taxpayers United of Illinois.
That became TUA in 2011 and, according to its founder, has more than 30,000 current and past members.
He said he worked at the Federal Reserve for nine years.
“While I was still at the Fed, I started the property tax strike in Cook County. I started working evenings spreading the seeds of rebellion,” Tobin said.
He persuaded thousands of people to not pay Cook County property taxes in 1977, which resulted in a massive tax strike that garnered national media attention. The New York Times reported that Tobin led the charge of fed-up taxpayers after property taxes increased for many homeowners 40 percent to 300 percent in one year.
Cook County taxpayers eventually paid their property taxes, but not until bureaucrats rolled back the rate.
Tobin boasts his organization helped defeat 198 referendums on property tax increases and 200 home rule attempts in Illinois.
In 2011, TUA expanded to a national focus. The organization works more now to expose the highest paid government worker’s salaries and pensions and advocate for pension reform, whereas it previously focused on fighting off property tax hikes.
Wisconsin Reporter long has been analyzing the state’s pension system, which has a sterling reputation for being among the best funded and most flexible systems in the country. These descriptors are both true and misleading.
The system is 100 percent funded based on government accounting standards, which economists say doesn’t match economic theory – that future liabilities of promised benefits should reflect the safest rates of return. The reason is that if the market crashes and the pension fund tanks, as it did in 2008, taxpayers will still be on the hook to pay those benefits.
In Wisconsin, the pension system’s supporters say the system is flexible enough to handle those losses. When the market tanks, it takes back the gains older retirees made in the good years. The result is recent retirees earn a full pension, while older retirees live on their pre-inflation rate payouts. It’s like robbing grandpa to pay dad.
Tobin advocates a 401(k) style pension for government employees, in which contributions are guaranteed, but not returns.
“The point I was trying to make (Monday) is, and maybe I didn’t do a good enough job, if they don’t support reforms, they will get hurt,” Tobin said. “Bankruptcies will come here to Wisconsin after they come to Illinois. I think something that helped us is the Detroit fiasco. They’re bankrupt, government retirees are going to get 10 to 20 cents on the dollar. As that kind of thing continues around the country, more and more people will learn we need to shape up.”
Hitting home
On Monday night, Tobin brought the fight to Shawano, population about 9,300.
Tobin said Wisconsin taxpayers will pay “millions for people who do nothing,” referring to the “pensioneers.”
John Granchay, a government retiree and former school board member, confronted Tobin, saying he worked hard for his pension.
“I’m still working,” Tobin answered. “I’m going to have to work until I drop to pay your pensions.”
“What did you do for a living that you earned your pension?” Granchay asked.
“I don’t have a pension,” Tobin said. “Don’t you get it? People in the private sector don’t have pensions anymore.”
One state employee brought Tobin’s Shawano-riverfront house property tax records to the meeting to expose what he called the tax-fighter’s “true” motive, an ax-to-grind with the city.
“Our property taxes here went up from $4,000 to $6,700 in one year. The schools went crazy with tax increases.”
Much like the events leading up to the Chicago tax revolt, his riverfront property was reassessed at a higher value, causing his taxes to jump.
Tobin organizes strikes and demonstrations, distributes fliers opposing all referendums to increase property taxes. He takes on politicians and government employees – whom he calls “bloodsuckers” and “special interests,” respectively.
“They don’t like it when we release the salaries. They don’t want folks to know who’s getting the stolen money,” Tobin said. “They expect us to keep working and working and paying and not complaining. They were upset (Monday) night – ‘Oh, you’re complaining, you’re so negative.’ Well, of course I am. (They’re) robbing us blind.”
The Shawano school board passed the preliminary budget Monday night with an expected tax levy for the 2013-14 school year of $12.93 million, a 1.5 percent increase from the 2012-13 school year.
Teachers and other staff will receive a 2.3 percent pay raise. The district has not yet decided on pay raises for administrators.
“A few years ago, I was up here 10 weeks and thought, ‘Well, maybe I’ll be retiring soon,” Tobin said. “But there’s just too much to do. I’ll fight taxes at least another five years full-time. After that I don’t know what I’ll do. I don’t have a million-dollar pension.”