Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for February 20th, 2014

WI Gov. Scott Walker in Trouble Again as 28,000 e-mails Released in “John Doe” Probe

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Folks, I have said this time and time again: Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) has a lot of explaining to do.

Why?

Well, last night 28,000 e-mails were released due to an Open Records request by several state newspapers due to one of the latest “John Doe” probes against Gov. Walker. (There currently are at least two and possibly three “John Doe” probes going on, but this one deals with former staffers convicted of electioneering on government time — basically, being paid to perform other duties, or doing election business on state time — a felony under Wisconsin law.) This specific “John Doe” probe was about Walker staffers who’d set up an illegal campaign network only steps from Walker’s own desk when he was still campaigning for the job of Governor and was serving as Milwaukee County Executive.

While my hometown newspaper the Racine Journal-Times buried this story for whatever reason, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and the Wisconsin State Journal — Wisconsin’s two biggest newspapers — came out strongly against what has since been found in the massive e-mail release.

The Journal-Sentinel was blunt in its assessment:

Daily calls. Walker was hands-on. In April 2010, Nardelli sent an email to top aides saying Walker wanted 8 a.m. conference calls between campaign and key county staff “to review events of the day or of a previous or future day, so we can better coordinate sound, timely responses, so we all know what the others are doing.”

Cover blown, no more laptops. In addition to running a secret email system inside the Milwaukee County Courthouse, Walker’s aides used laptops to perform campaign work.

After prosecutors seized a computer of Walker aide Darlene Wink, who spent a good chunk of her time on the county dime posting positive comments about Walker online, Walker sent an email and ordered his aides, “no laptops, no websites, no time away during the work day, etc.”

Note that this last point is a particularly big deal as Scott Walker has insisted throughout that he knew nothing about the fact his staffers were doing campaign work while being paid by the city and county of Milwaukee — in short, committing felonies.

But if Walker truly knew nothing, why did he say “no laptops?”

And if he didn’t know anything, yet was a micro-manager otherwise, how is this remotely credible?

As Dee J. Hall of the Wisconsin State Journal put it, Walker “must have known” about the “private e-mail, laptop system.”

Mind you, neither of these reports go anywhere near as far as reporter Ruth Coniff of The Progressive, who notes that Walker’s scandal is far worse than New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s “Bridgegate”:

But Bridgegate is minor compared to the “John Doe” investigations that have dogged Walker for the last four years, landing one of his closest aides and longtime political advisers in prison.

…Six Walker staffers and associates racked up 15 felony convictions and three misdemeanors in the first John Doe investigation, begun in May 2010 — a secret probe into illegal campaign work on taxpayer time while Walker was county executive of Milwaukee.

Walker started a criminal defense fund — an unprecedented move for a Wisconsin governor — in response to the first John Doe. In total, he paid more than $650,000 for lawyers representing himself and his campaign committee, according to Jason Stein of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The first John Doe investigation ended on March 1, 2013 with no charges against the governor.

A second John Doe probe, begun in 2012, focuses specifically on illegal coordination between rightwing groups and the governor’s campaign during the recall election, according to Dan Bice of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

I posted all of this to give those who don’t live in Wisconsin some idea of what we’ve been living through here in the state. We’ve never had a Governor do anything remotely like what Scott Walker has been accused of doing.

And when Walker got through the first “John Doe” probe without being charged, Republican radio commentators (including Charlie Sykes of WTMJ-AM 620, perhaps the most widely-listened to conservative radio host in the state) called this a “Democratic witch hunt” and said Walker had been “vindicated.”

So the release of these 28,000 e-mails has been a stunner — at least to the Republicans who have to discuss it.

Note that most of the sitting Republicans in both the statehouse and in Washington, DC, have been ominously silent. Two of them, U.S. Representative Paul Ryan of Janesville and U.S. Senator Ron Johnson, are particularly close friends of Walker and were the fastest to say Walker was vindicated last year when the first “John Doe” probe ended without the Governor getting charged.

As state Sen. John Erpenbach (D-Madison) said on Ed Schultz’s show on MSNBC this afternoon, “This probe is far from over.” The Progressive has had a number of updates today, including this one about a chief investigator insisting that Walker used the illegal communications network (written by reporter Matthew Rothschild), and this one written by the staff of The Progressive that reports one of the now-convicted felons who used to work for Scott Walker, Kelly Reindfleisch, knew what she was doing was wrong.

This evidence is so damning, the Journal-Sentinel — a paper that endorsed Scott Walker twice (once in the 2010 election, and again in the 2012 recall) — has written an editorial calling for Walker to give the state of Wisconsin some answers. Now.

As their editorial says:

Gov. Scott Walker needs to talk. He should hold a news conference to explain how much he knew about a secret email system as Milwaukee County executive. And he needs to let reporters ask as many questions as they want.

Why wouldn’t the governor want to clear up questions raised by the release Wednesday of 27,000 pages of emails related to a John Doe investigation into links between his county government staff and his gubernatorial campaign staff in 2010? State law bars public employees from working for political parties and campaigns while being paid by taxpayers to provide government services.

While I don’t often agree with the Journal-Sentinel about Wisconsin state politics, I am in full agreement here.

Scott Walker must answer these questions, fully and openly. And he’d best tell the truth.

Any other action does not befit the sitting Governor of Wisconsin.

———-

** One, final thought: thus far, Democratic candidate for Governor Mary Burke has yet to say anything about this latest scandal. This seems, at best, nonsensical on her part. (Where is Sen. Kathleen Vinehout when we need her?)

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 20, 2014 at 6:22 pm

Olympics Controversy in Figure Skating Again as Sotnikova “Wins” Gold over Kim, Kostner

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Folks, I have rarely been as upset about a result in Olympic figure skating as I am right now.

In fact, the last time I was this upset, it was over Johnny Weir’s brilliant skate in the 2010 Vancouver games being marked too low for him to medal (he started in sixth after the short and stayed there despite his brilliant long program).

But this time, it’s because one skater — Russia’s Adelina Sotnikova — was given marks that were far, far too high, allowing her to “win” the gold medal over two far superior skaters — South Korea’s Yuna Kim, and Italy’s Carolina Kostner.

This is a controversy of major proportions for two reasons: One, Kim, the reigning Olympic gold medalist, skated a clean, challenging program, but was not rewarded to the same level as Sotnikova. And two, Carolina Kostner’s program was perhaps even better than Kim’s and Sotnikova’s from an artistic perspective, yet she, too, was undermarked.

Here are just a few articles talking about the controversy:

Yahoo Sports columnist Dan Wetzel says:

(Sotnikova’s) score was through the roof, 5.76 points higher than what Kim was given on another flawless-looking program and 7.34 above what Kostner received for her own tremendous program.

The judging, because of the size of the gap between the scores, is likely to be analyzed and criticized for years to come. In fact, American Ashley Wagner wasted no time, saying “people need to be accountable.”

The Age, an Australian newspaper, was much more blunt in its assessment:

Russia’s Adelina Sotnikova rode a powerful wave of national emotion to win a controversial Olympic figure skating title on Thursday as the Sochi Games felt shockwaves from Ukraine’s bloody civil unrest.

Sotnikova, 17, captured Russia’s first ever women’s individual gold as defending champion and red-hot favourite Kim Yu-Na was dumped into the silver medal position.

The Age also points out that Sotnikova made at least one obvious error — double-footing a combination jump (this is when both feet come down at the same time, and is unmistakable) — when both Kim and Kostner made zero errors in their respective programs.

Kostner was gracious, being quoted by the Age as saying, “I just have faith that the judges made the right decision.”

CBS Sports quoted American Ashley Wagner, who alone among the three American women skated an error-free program to finish in seventh place, as saying:

“People don’t want to watch a sport where you watch people fall down and somehow score above someone who goes clean,” she said. “It’s confusing and we need to make it clear for people.

“People need to be held accountable. They need to get rid of anonymous judging. There are many changes that need to come to this sport if we want a fan base.”

Note that Wagner may be complaining more about the fact that Gold, who fell, was placed ahead of Wagner in the standings than the current controversy. But her point is still well-taken; if Kim and Kostner both skated difficult and clean programs, why did Sotnikova, who skated a difficult program but did not skate clean, get rewarded?

My own assessment is this: Sotnikova deserved a medal. Bronze.

Kostner should’ve won the gold, to my mind, but I’d have been OK with her winning silver and Kim winning gold because both skated clean programs with lyricism and heart.

I watched Sotnikova’s program several times. She actually double-footed two jumps (the last two) in her three-jump combo, and she also had a slight double-foot on one other triple jump. Those all should’ve had negative grade of execution scores that should’ve been reflected in her overall scores . . . but weren’t.

And while I enjoyed commentator Johnny Weir’s assessment immensely on NBCsn’s coverage — he did a fantastic job with every event alongside Tara Lipinski and Terry Gannon — I do not agree with him or Lipinski that Sotnikova deserved gold.

A few other final thoughts about the women’s figure skating event:

  1. Mao Asada had by far the most impressive skate in the long program, landing at least one triple axel cleanly and skating with a buoyancy I hadn’t been expecting after her disastrous short program. It’s truly a shame that she wasn’t able to get some sort of combination into her program yesterday, as she might well have medaled despite the bad fall had she done so. She ended her competitive career with grace and dignity; it was an honor to watch her skate for so many years.
  2. Ashley Wagner’s skate was clean; she had one under-rotation and one wrong-edge entry deduction (this is really tough to spot, but it’s when a figure skater starts the jump on the wrong edge and switches over just before making the jump in order to make it a little easier to perform), but these things happen. She looked good and validated her entry into the Olympics.
  3. Polina Edmunds had a fall in her long program and didn’t skate as well as she did at the U.S. Nationals, finishing in ninth place. (This is who should’ve been replaced by Wagner; Mirai Nagasu should’ve gone instead as I believe she’d have placed above Edmunds.)
  4. Gracie Gold had one fall that looked almost like a somersault on the ice (as she got up so quickly, you almost didn’t notice it was there). She’s a rising star.
  5. Julia Lipnitskaia had a nice free skate with one fall and was placed about where she should be in fifth place due to her incredibly difficult spins. Ashley Wagner is not happy about it (see this article by Yahoo Sports writer Martin Rogers), but Lipnitskaia’s marks were not anywhere near as wildly inflated as Sotnikova’s.

Ultimately, Sotnikova’s “gold” medal is yet another black eye for figure skating. And while I was sure as of last night that the judges would not do something like this — as they had to know a protest would ensue (Italy is not likely to protest, but South Korea sounded to me as if they’re strongly considering it) — the judges have exceeded my expectations . . . in a bad way.

Don’t be surprised if the IOC overrules this one and gives Kim a gold medal along with Sotnikova.

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 20, 2014 at 5:04 pm

Olympic Thoughts: Dance, Ladies Short Program

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Folks, the last few days have been hectic. So I’ve not had much time to discuss the latest doings in the world of Olympic figure skating.

But since I had a request from a friend to discuss a bit of the ice dancing, I thought I’d talk about that.

But wait — there’s more.

Because I managed to see every single one of the ladies perform their Olympic short programs yesterday, I thought I’d discuss a little bit about that competition as well.

First, let’s talk about the ice dancing. United States figure skaters Charlie White and Meryl Davis excelled in their short program, and skated a solid long program to a beautiful piece of music (Scheherezade by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov) with technical brilliance and a great deal of speed to win the first-ever gold medal for the U.S. in ice dance. (Note that Davis and White won silver in 2010, while Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto also won silver in 2006.)

I enjoyed White and Davis’ skating, and felt they were worthy of a gold medal.

However, in some ways I responded a whole lot more to Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. They, too, are excellent skaters with the whole repertoire of moves . . . they won gold in Vancouver, though, so it’s hard to feel like they’ve been cheated.

As for the women’s short program, here’s my take:

  1. The American women are in good shape, with Gracie Gold in fourth place, Ashley Wagner in sixth and Polina Edmunds in seventh. All skated credibly or better; Gold has a real chance to win a silver or bronze if she skates a clean long program.
  2. There’s no way in the world Adelina Sotnikova belongs among the top six. Her scores were wildly inflated.
  3. What a shame that Mao Asada wasn’t able to complete her triple axel or her combination jump. Her program was lovely except for the fall, but missing those required elements dropped her all the way to sixteenth place. She’d need several miracles to get within striking distance of the podium.
  4. My overall winner of the short program? Carolina Kostner of Italy. She skated beautifully to “Ave Maria,” and was every bit as good as Yuna Kim.

In case you’re wondering what I’m looking for in Friday’s long program from the ladies, here goes:

  1. Russian ladies’ scores will continue to be wildly inflated, but none will medal (as if they did, an international judging controversy would no doubt ensue).
  2. Mao Asada will land at least one triple axel and a three-jump combo (probably triple-triple-double).
  3. Gracie Gold will skate clean and medal.
  4. Podium (who I think should win): Carolina Kostner, gold; Yuna Kim, silver; Gracie Gold, bronze.
  5. Podium (who the judges will inexplicably pick): Yuna Kim, gold; Carolina Kostner, silver; probably still Gracie Gold, bronze, unless Mao Asada lands two triple axels cleanly (if so, she’ll win the bronze somehow, and deserve it).

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 20, 2014 at 5:20 am