Public Records Requests as Pre-Litigation Actions

Wisconsinites submitting public records requests under the law (Wis. Stat. §§ 19.31 et seq.) may do so for any number of reasons (and need not declare a motivation of any sort). Not everyone will have the same aims in mind.

For someone who’s a publisher (newspaper, magazine, blogger), however, a sensible way to look at a public records request is as a pre-litigation action. While no prudent publisher should court litigation, or threaten legal action without significant reflection, publishers would do well to understand that all public records requests are actions under the law. They’re not mere casual requests, side conversations, unsupported hopes, or even plaintive entreaties for information.

They are requests submitted in reliance on Wisconsin law. If they are not fulfilled as they should be, then public officials have disregarded the law. (One should say that as they should be is a matter of interpreting the law; here one is describing a sound, good faith interpretation.)

There can be no right without a remedy (ubi jus ibi remedium); a right without a remedy – that is an unenforceable claim for or against something or someone – would be nothing but a wish.

When requesters ask for something to which they are entitled under the law and don’t receive it, their rights have been violated. To do nothing is to allow officials to act outside the law, and in disregard of it.

These are matters to be approached carefully and deliberately. I’ve outlined some thoughts for bloggers on this. See Steps for Blogging on a Policy or Proposal. That post was written as an affirmation the need to be cautious and methodical. Threats, flamboyant claims, etc., have no place in this.

In my own case, I have never had to follow a public records request under the law to the next, rational step in escalation. And yet, and yet, I have never submitted a public records request without considering and committing beforehand to the prospect of a next-step, legal response. This not a matter of threats; it’s a sober and prudent consideration of one’s rights.

How very sad, then, that some other publishers – established newspapers – allow their public records requests to go ignored or fulfilled inadequately. These newspapers value their rights too cheaply, so cheaply that they’ll endure their own diminution. If this reticence involved themselves alone, then it would be bad enough; that their diffidence only encourages government’s disregard of others’ rights is a greater concern.

When rural publishers look at how small they’ve become, they might take a moment to consider their own unwillingness to vindicate their rights.

Daily Bread for 6.17.19

Good morning.

Monday in Whitewater will be partly sunny with a high of seventy-two.  Sunrise is 5:15 AM and sunset 8:35 PM, for 15h 20m 04s of daytime.  The moon is full with 100% of its visible disk illuminated.

Today is the nine hundred fifty-first day.

The Whitewater Unified School Board meets tonight in closed session beginning at 6:30 PM, with open session scheduled for 7 PM.  Whitewater’s Library Board also meets at 6:30 PM.

(A necessary condition of a good government is that it has sound policies.  A second condition is that it faithfully follows those policies, should they be sound.  Anything less is a provocation.)

On this day in 1673, Marquette & Joliet reach the Mississippi: “Here we are, then, on this so renowned river, all of whose peculiar features I have endeavored to note carefully.”

Recommended for reading in full:

Early birds awoke to a treat today at The Atlantic‘s website: William Langewiesche’s extraordinary Vanished: How Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 Disappeared (“The explanation lies not in the sea but on land—in Malaysia, where officials know more than they dare to say”):

1. The Disappearance

at 12:42 a.m. on the quiet, moonlit night of March 8, 2014, a Boeing 777-200ER operated by Malaysia Airlines took off from Kuala Lumpur and turned toward Beijing, climbing to its assigned cruising altitude of 35,000 feet. The designator for Malaysia Airlines is MH. The flight number was 370. Fariq Hamid, the first officer, was flying the airplane. He was 27 years old. This was a training flight for him, the last one; he would soon be fully certified. His trainer was the pilot in command, a man named Zaharie Ahmad Shah, who at 53 was one of the most senior captains at Malaysia Airlines. In Malaysian style, he was known by his first name, Zaharie. He was married and had three adult children. He lived in a gated development. He owned two houses. In his first house he had installed an elaborate Microsoft flight simulator. He flew it frequently, and often posted to online forums about his hobby. In the cockpit, Fariq would have been deferential to him, but Zaharie was not known for being overbearing.

The arrangement was standard. Zaharie’s transmissions were a bit unusual. At 1:01 a.m. he radioed that they had leveled off at 35,000 feet—a superfluous report in radar-surveilled airspace where the norm is to report leaving an altitude, not arriving at one. At 1:08 the flight crossed the Malaysian coastline and set out across the South China Sea in the direction of Vietnam. Zaharie again reported the plane’s level at 35,000 feet.
Eleven minutes later, as the airplane closed in on a waypoint near the start of Vietnamese air-traffic jurisdiction, the controller at Kuala Lumpur Center radioed, “Malaysian three-seven-zero, contact Ho Chi Minh one-two-zero-decimal-nine. Good night.” Zaharie answered, “Good night. Malaysian three-seven-zero.” He did not read back the frequency, as he should have, but otherwise the transmission sounded normal. It was the last the world heard from MH370. The pilots never checked in with Ho Chi Minh or answered any of the subsequent attempts to raise them.
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Happy Father’s Day

La Guardia Cross turns the daily into the hilarious. He’s the creator of New Father Chronicles, a weekly YouTube series that documents life with his two young daughters. Get ready for a hilariously heartwarming visit with a father who’s learning and loving out loud.

Daily Bread for 6.16.19

Good morning.

Sunday in Whitewater will see scattered showers with a high of sixty-five.  Sunrise is 5:15 AM and sunset 8:35 PM, for 15h 19m 48s of daytime.  The moon is full with  99.3% of its visible disk illuminated.

Today is the nine hundred fiftieth day.

On this day in 1832, Henry Dodge and his militia fight at the Battle of the Pecatonica:

On the morning of June 16, 1832, Colonel Henry Dodge led a party of volunteer militia on horseback in pursuit of a group of thirteen Kickapoo Indians. The militia cornered the party at a bend in the Pecatonica River in present-day eastern Lafayette County. In the quick and fierce battle that ensued, all thirteen Native Americans were killed and three militiamen wounded. This small engagement of the 1832 Black Hawk War marked an early success against Black Hawk’s band and served to enhance the reputation of Dodge, who became Wisconsin’s first territorial governor four years later.

Recommended for reading in full:

Colin Lecher reports Russia used social media to keep EU voters at home, report finds:

The report, an update on a continuing plan to battle disinformation, said some progress had been made in deterring malicious campaigns. Officials said plans to tackle disinformation campaigns through a task force had shown progress, and that work with tech companies had also stemmed the tide of false information.

The report said it could not “identify a distinct cross-border” attempt to specifically target European elections. But, the report also found, “evidence collected revealed a continued and sustained disinformation activity by Russian sources aiming to suppress turnout and influence voter preferences.” The activity included challenging the EU’s “democratic legitimacy” and exploiting controversial topics like immigration, with actors using images like the Notre Dame Cathedral fire “to illustrate the alleged decline of Western and Christian values in the EU.”

According to the report, the number of disinformation cases attributed to Russian sources doubled between 2018 and 2019, jumping from about 430 in January 2018 to nearly 1,000 a year later. While Russia was singled out for the efforts, the EU said “other external actors were also involved.”

(The most immediate threat to Western and Christian values in Europe comes from Putin’s Russia and Putin’s American admirer in the White House.)

Margaret Sullivan writes Sarah Sanders was the disdainful Queen of Gaslighting:

When Sarah Sanders said Thursday that she hopes to be remembered for her transparency and honesty, the first impulse was to laugh.

But lying to citizens while being paid by them really isn’t all that funny.

Sanders took on an impossible job when she became President Trump’s spokeswoman, a job that’s about to reach a welcome conclusion.

She would claim to represent the truth on behalf of a president who lies.

She did it disrespectfully and apparently without shame or an understanding of what the role of White House press secretary should be.

She misled reporters or tried to, and through them, misled the American people. And all with her distinctive curled-lip disdain.

Four Stories About Dogs:

Daily Bread for 6.15.19

Good morning.

Saturday in Whitewater will see scattered thundershowers with a high of seventy-two.  Sunrise is 5:15 AM and sunset 8:35 PM, for 15h 19m 30s of daytime.  The moon is a waxing gibbous with 96.6% of its visible disk illuminated.

Today is the nine hundred forty-ninth day.

On this day in 1215, King John of England accedes to the Magna Carta:

Recommended for reading in full:

Brian Faler reports Big businesses paying even less than expected under GOP tax law:

The U.S. Treasury saw a 31 percent drop in corporate tax revenues last year, almost twice the decline official budget forecasters had predicted. Receipts were projected to rebound sharply this year, but so far they’ve only continued to fall, down by almost 9 percent or $11 billion.

Though business profits remain healthy and the economy is strong, total corporate taxes are at the lowest levels seen in more than 50 years.

At the same time, overall taxes paid by individuals under the new tax law are up so far this year by 3 percent, thanks to higher wages and salaries, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Last year tax payments by individuals went up 4 percent.

The drop comes even as some Republicans, such as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, have claimed, dubiously, that the law will pay for itself.

(There’s no smaller government to be had from a system of deficit spending through tax redistribution that benefits the few.)

Carol D. Leonnig, Katie Zezima, and Tom Hamburger report Inside the NRA’s finances: Deepening debt, increased spending on legal fees — and cuts to gun training:

The National Rifle Association spent growing sums on overhead in 2018 even as it cut money for core activities such as gun training and political efforts, ending the year deeper in debt, new financial documents show.

The gun rights group’s 2018 financial report, which was obtained by The Washington Post, portrays the longtime political powerhouse as spending faster than its revenue rose.

The records show that the NRA froze its pension plan for employees at the end of last year, a move that saved it close to $13 million, and obtained a $28 million line of credit by borrowing against its Virginia headquarters.

Despite that, the nonprofit group, four affiliated charities and its political committee together ended the year $10.8 million in the red. In 2017, the six groups ended the year with a $1.1 million shortfall.

Brian Mittendorf, an Ohio State University accounting professor who has studied nonprofits, including the NRA, and examined the 2018 report for The Post, said it depicted “a bad year for them financially.” He compared the NRA to a person living paycheck to paycheck, leaning on credit cards with very little cushion.

(There’s no legitimate Second Amendment defense from wasting money and aligning with the ambitions of Putin’s Russia. See Investigators Are Zeroing in on Top NRA Leaders’ Russia Ties—and Challenging the Gun Group’s Story.)

Girl invents teddy bear pouches to hide IVs:

From Festival to Alleged Felony

One now reads – sadly, any normal person might have expected – that the promoter of Jefferson Wisconsin’s shabby Warriors & Wizards festival faces the prospect of felony charges for theft and misrepresentation.

See Warriors & Wizards Fest organizer Cramer charged with theft.

1. Unfortunate, All Around.  I’ve been a critic of this festival, and those who flacked it year after year to the detriment of families who were duped into attending a shabby show.  (I’ve experienced no loss; what matters is that no one else should have.). And yet, and yet – although families and vendors have collectively lost several tens of thousands, it’s also sad – truly – that the promoter has placed himself in this position.

2. Jefferson’s City Administrator.  Reporting now and in the past contends that “Jefferson City Administrator Tim Freitag has acknowledged being aware of the festival’s fiscal issues prior to the Oct. 19-21 event.”  One may be thankful Freitag’s not a heart surgeon.

3. Where Boosterism Leads. The latest story comes from a paper – and a former reporter for that paper – who wrote more than one favorable account of the festival despite problems that Jefferson’s own residents mentioned repeatedly on social media.  The former reporter – who was ironically the paper’s crime reporter, now writes of where this story has led: to an account of a criminal matter.  Perhaps if the paper had earlier been more skeptical (as residents were)  vendors wouldn’t have staked and lost as much.

4. Edgerton, Wisconsin Said No More.  Before this event was a shabby Warriors and Wizards Festival, it was a Harry Potter Festival in Edgerton, Wisconsin.  Two years of that proved enough for Edgerton, and that city’s administrator (Ramona Flanigan) passed on further sponsorship.  Smart, very smart.  Flanigan was sharp to say no mas, and she’s an uber-genius when put beside Jefferson’s city administrator.

These rural communities deserve much better than a debacle like this.

Previously: Attack of the Dirty Dogs, Jefferson’s Dirty Dogs Turn Mangy, Thanks, City of Jefferson!Who Will Jefferson’s Residents Believe: Officials or Their Own Eyes?Why Dirty Dogs Roam With Impunity,  Found Footage: Daily Union Arrives on Subscriber’s Doorstep, Sad Spectacle in Jefferson, WI (and How to Do Much Better), What Else Would a Publisher Lie About?, Iceberg Aside, Titanic‘s Executive Pleased with Ship’s Voyage, New Developments About Jefferson, Wisconsin’s ‘Warriors & Wizards’ Festival, and Roundup on Jefferson, Wisconsin’s ‘Warriors & Wizards’ Festival.

Hep the Hepcat (December 1946)

From the Library of Congress:

Caption from Down Beat: Probably no dance band ever has played to so many empty tables consistently as the Sam Donahue ork [orchestra] during the recent double booking with Lionel Hampton at the Aquarium.

The operators decreed that Sam should play afternoons, and the place isn’t open in the afternoon! A single customer, John Sorenson, who just got off a boat from Denmark, wandered in by mistake one day and was served by the entire skeleton staff of three waiters, a cashier, head waiter, cook and busboy. In one of these staff photos by got, Sam and the band are seen playing to an attentive audience, consisting of one cat, Hep.

Daily Bread for 6.14.19

Good morning.

Friday in Whitewater will see scattered morning showers on an otherwise partly sunny day with a high of seventy-five.  Sunrise is 5:15 AM and sunset 8:34 PM, for 15h 19m 07s of daytime.  The moon is a waxing gibbous with 91.4% of its visible disk illuminated.

Today is the nine hundred forty-eighth day.

On this day in 1777, the Second Continental Congress passes the Flag Resolution:

Resolved, That the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.”

Recommended for reading in full:

Cary Spivak and Mary Spicuzza report Some Wisconsin lawmakers double as landlords — and have passed laws that undermine renters’ rights:

A series of sweeping laws promoting the interests of landlords at the expense of renters, local governments and even public safety have been pushed through the state Capitol since 2011 by a group of lawmakers who moonlight as landlords.

Backed by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos — a college-town landlord with 23 properties worth about $3.8 million — the Republican-controlled Legislature enacted five major bills largely benefiting landlords.

The measures speed up the eviction process, eliminate some tenant legal defenses, limit the power of cities to police landlords and cap fees tied to building code violations. They also allow landlords to toss renters’ belongings on the curb immediately after an eviction, instead of placing the property in storage.

In all, about one out of five of state lawmakers who voted on these bills owns or manages rental properties, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel found in its review. At least five lawmakers who double as landlords sponsored the various measures, each of which passed on mostly party-line votes.

(This is a story about Wisconsin legislators, so it does not implicate local landlords who, for example, might have made a hash of development policy, leaving their communities in a low-income status, while promoting themselves at every turn.)

 Luke Johnson writes The Kremlin peddles a myth of Russia’s past greatness. No wonder it hates ‘Chernobyl’:

In the first episode of HBO’s miniseries “Chernobyl,” a Communist official suggests that the real danger isn’t the nuclear power plant that has just exploded, but the news of the tragedy. “It is my experience that when the people ask questions that are not in their own best interest, they should simply be told to keep their minds on their labor and leave matters of the state to the state,” says Zharkov (Donald Sumpter), a party member who seems to have been a young man during the Bolshevik Revolution. “We seal off the city. No one leaves. And cut the phone lines. Contain the spread of misinformation.” His suggestion is met not with horror, but with applause.

This speech might seem dramatic, but like the rest of “Chernobyl,” it represents a sincere attempt to convey the inhumanity, willful ignorance and lies that defined the Soviet Union in the 1980s. This quality has made “Chernobyl” a surprising must-watch summer hit in the United States. But in Russia, the series has run squarely into the historical revisionism favored by the Russian government and its amplifiers in the media, who treat critical explorations of the Russian and Soviet past as attacks on the country’s present.

Continue reading

The Fifth Columnist at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

While a fellow traveler – however detestable – is merely someone who sympathizes with an adversarial foreign power, a fifth columnist is someone who actively cooperates – colludes, one might say – with a hostile foreign state.

For all the talk of no collusion (styled as NO COLLUSION in a bigoted authoritarian’s tweets), Trump at last admits his willingness to collude with a foreign state against democratically-chosen American candidates:

Those who support Trump do so either despite of his desired collaboration with foreign (and dictatorial) powers, or because of it (hoping that they would benefit by the replacement of democracy with a herrenvolk). Either reason places their politics outside a traditional democratic order.

Trump isn’t merely another politician, and this isn’t merely another time. Towns, cities, states, and the country all face the same threat to the our democratic tradition.

Daily Bread for 6.13.19

Good morning.

Thursday in Whitewater will be mostly sunny with a high of sixty-eight.  Sunrise is 5:15 AM and sunset 8:34 PM, for 15h 18m 39s of daytime.  The moon is a waxing gibbous with 83.5% of its visible disk illuminated.

Today is the nine hundred forty-seventh day.

Whitewater’s Community Involvement & Cable TV Commission is scheduled to meet at 5 PM, and the Zoning Board of Appeals at 6 PM (update: the latter meeting was canceled).

On this day in 1966, the United States Supreme Court hands down its decision in Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), holding among other things that “[i]n the absence of other effective measures, the following procedures to safeguard the Fifth Amendment privilege must be observed: the person in custody must, prior to interrogation, be clearly informed that he has the right to remain silent, and that anything he says will be used against him in court; he must be clearly informed that he has the right to consult with a lawyer and to have the lawyer with him during interrogation, and that, if he is indigent, a lawyer will be appointed to represent him.”

Recommended for reading in full:

 Patrick Marley reports Pew drops plans for Wisconsin study after Robin Vos breaks with other Republicans over it:

Wisconsin has lost out on an opportunity to have a renowned nonprofit organization study its probation and parole system after Assembly Speaker Robin Vos declined to back it.

In a twist, top Republicans in the Senate sided with Democratic Gov. Tony Evers over the GOP speaker in trying to get the Pew Charitable Trusts to review the program that oversees more than 65,000 people on probation, parole and extended supervision.

Vos, of Rochester, refused to sign onto the request for help from Pew because he believed the state task force that would oversee the study was tipped in Democrats’ favor, according to staff emails obtained by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Evers agreed to work with Vos on the makeup of the task force, but Vos wouldn’t sign onto a letter to Pew requesting the study, according to the emails between the chiefs of staff for Evers and Vos.

Evers and top Senate Republicans — Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau and Senate President Roger Roth of Appleton — sent the letter in May.

(Fitzgerald, hardly a bipartisan guy, supported the Pew effort. When you’re farther out than Fitzgerald, you’ve fallen off the map.)

 Tory Newmyer reports Corporate confidence in the economy drops amid trade fears. But Republicans aren’t budging:

The Business Roundtable’s quarterly survey of top chief executives revealed a darkening mood about the country’s economic outlook. While still high, their sentiment registers at its lowest level since President Trump took office — a change participants chalked up to the chaos unleashed by his tariffs.

“They are going to do what they do. It’s not up to us,” JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, who chairs the Business Roundtable, said of the White House on Wednesday.

 Microbrewery Makes Biodegradable, Edible 6 Pack Rings To Reduce Ocean Plastic:

Forget Electability

Jennifer Rubin looks at the latest Quinnipiac Poll and concludes Dumping the ‘electability’ canard is liberating:

If Trump were not delusional, he would be panicked by the [poll] results. He loses to not only former vice president Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), but also South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.). What’s more, in no instance does Trump get more than 42 percent of the vote. If Trump has a ceiling of 42 percent, not only could almost any of the top six or so Democrats win, but they could win by landslide proportions.


And that brings us to the “electability” fetish. The only one among the major candidates with a severe electability problem is the nearly 73-year-old, out-of-shape, unindicted co-conspirator currently residing in the White House. (And if he does lose by double digits, you can be sure a slew of Republicans will go down with him.) If electability is a non-factor for Democratic candidates, then primary voters should feel free to pick the brainiest one, the policy maven, the political veteran or anyone else they like. No one should strain to divine whom other Americans will and will not vote for. (“I’m fine with a woman, but all those other people won’t be.”)

Primary voters should pick the one who will unify their own party, drive turnout and govern effectively.

Rubin’s advice is sound – in the end, one should choose from one’s highest standards and best hopes. There’s more than enough strength among Trump’s opponents to send him to the political outer darkness to which he should be consigned.

There’s a local lesson in all this, too. The cautious, careful position these recent years would have been to ignore Trump as best one could, from a reluctance to alienate his most committed supporters. To take that position would have been a moral compromise both wrong and – one may be as certain – unnecessary.

Men and women, having as children graduated from crawling to walking, have no reason to resume their former means of locomotion.

Better still, those who spoken most forthrightly against Trump have fared better in conscience and in standing.  By contrast, those who have chosen the supposedly sensible course of quiet accommodation have done themselves no favors: publications and officials who have sought appeasement have done nothing to arrest their long, slow decline.

There need be, and so there should and will be, no yielding.