Postscript Wisconsin (5×8 – 3/10/11)

Wisconsin: The documentary, Stewart on NPR, are there too many ‘heroes’, the snow emergency business, the end of coffee, and cats with thumbs.


It’s all over — at least for now — in Wisconsin, where Republicans did an end-around the missing Republicans Democrats and stripped public unions of most of their collective bargaining rights.

Coincidentally, it came on the same day the first citizen documentary of the protests was released. (h/t: Perfect Duluth Day)

How did you get to this point, Wisconsin? The associate editor of the Capital Times in Madison blames the New York Times. John Nichols says Gov. Scott Walker was smitten with a New York Times story about a Janesville auto plant work who was layed off from his job. The auto union member said it was time for everyone to sacrifice, including public employee unions.

That, according to the Capital Times, made Walker dig in. The problem? There was no such union man, the New York Times later acknowledged in a correction:

“A front-page article on Tuesday about reaction among private sector workers in Wisconsin to Gov. Scott Walker’s effort to cut benefits and collective bargaining rights for unionized public employees referred incorrectly to the work history of one person quoted, and also misspelled his surname. While the man, Rich Hahn (not Hahan) described himself to a reporter as a ‘union guy,’ he now says that he has worked at unionized factories, but was not himself a union member. (The Times contacted Mr. Hahn again to review his background after a United Auto Workers official said the union had no record of his membership.)”

“It is rare that we can so precisely pinpoint a moment when media made a difficult situation worse. But this is one of them,” Nichols claims.



“Has the word “hero” been so overused that it’s losing its meaning?” NPR’s Linton Weeks asks, noting the number of stories using the word lately. He quotes Alan M. Webber, a founding editor of Fast Company magazine:

I suspect that if the American public’s nerves weren’t quite so badly frayed by all the over-attention to bad behavior, if we weren’t all addicted to a culture of celebrity and extreme amplification of every news story, in other words, if the whole country were only a little bit more sane,” Webber writes on The Washington Post website, “then we’d have a more modulated reaction to most events, the good, the bad, and the ugly. And we’d reserve the word ‘hero’ … for actions and circumstances that actually merit their application.”

We throw it around too much? I would argue — and you can certainly argue right back below — that the problem is we don’t throw it around enough.

There’s nothing wrong that a few more stories about heroes won’t fix. This is Chanda Taylor, talking to the Washington Post in December about the death of her sister, and her desire to keep all eight orphans together:

How is it working out? Not easy. She needs $500 a week just for groceries. She’s a mail clerk. But she’s determined to keep the kids together. CBS’s Wyatt Andrews blogged about an update to the story he reported this week (see story):

From start to finish, I couldn’t get one question out of my head: who does this?

Who takes on this level of responsibility: nine children (8 plus her son) when your job barely pays $12 an hour– and when so many alternative choices, including foster care, or sending the children to willing fathers might have been reasonably made? Taking one, two or three children after a family tragedy would represent a sacrificial level of love and duty–but eight?

Who does this? Chanda Taylor.

Now tell me about a hero you know.


One third of the hundreds of cars towed in Minneapolis during snow emergencies this winter have come in neighborhoods surrounding the University of Minnesota, the U Daily reports today. It’s a target-rich environment. Students aren’t veterans of the convoluted snow emergency system in Minneapolis, and there’s not much off-street parking there in the first place. Is it a big profit business? The city says it makes about $8 a car in Minneapolis.


Well, swell! Climate change is beating coffee, the New York Times reports. Coffee beans, a finnicky crop, requires a particular combination of temperatures. The temperatures are changing, however. In Columbia Colombia, the annual production has dropped from 12 million bags of coffee in 2006 to nine million last year.

That, as you might expect, is pushing prices higher. Many coffee chains and smaller coffee shops in these parts are suffering and passing on the higher prices. So what’s the “tipping point” at which you start your day with something else? How much would you not pay for a cup of Joe?

Related: Starbucks is 40 today and is running a promotion with Foursquare check-ins.

Bonus: Cats with thumbs. (h/t: Mary Lucia)


Today a member of Congress plans to hold hearings on what he calls the radicalization of American Muslims. Critics say the hearings will fan the flames of anti-Muslim hatred. What do you think about the hearings on Muslim “radicalization?


Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: Gov. Dayton wants Minnesota’s snowbirds to pay more taxes. His proposal targets residents who fly south for the winter to pay a prorated portion of their income taxes to Minnesota. Is this a fair way to help balance the state’s budget?

Second hour: What if John Kennedy had been assassinated before he became president? What if Robert Kennedy had not been killed and went on to defeat Nixon in 1968? A longtime political reporter looks at how American history might look different.

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: Former congressman Tim Penny, co-chair of the Peterson-Pew Commission on Budget Reform, discusses the wrangling over the federal budget and debt.

Second hour: Live broadcast from Westminster Town Hall Forum with filmmaker Larkin McPhee, who produced the controversial documentary, “Troubled Waters.”

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: Myths and realities about public workers.

Second hour: Rachel Hadas talk about her new book, “Strange Relation,” documenting her husband’s decline into dementia.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – The House Homeland Security committee holds a hearing on radicalization of American Muslims. Minnesota DFL Rep. Keith Ellison is scheduled to testify. He’s angry about Muslims being singled out as the focus of the hearing. MPR’s Brent Neeley will be there.

Laura Yuen will sit with some Twin Cities Muslims who are gathering to watch remotely.

Some new research is out on the genetic impact of endocrine-active chemicals. MPR’s Dan Gunderson reviews it and will tell us about the impact on the rivers and fish around here.

  • mindtron

    re Wisconsin…I wonder if the bill that was passed could be challenged in court as it only strips collective barganing rights from some public employee unions (unless I have missed that they added in police and fire).

    seems like it should be all or nothing.

  • Lilly

    You are usually pretty good with facts here and your stories are great which made my jaw drop when in your coffee story you refer to the coffee production in Columbia. It is a common misspelling of Colombia which I cannot understand why is so prevalent in the US. Columbia is a brand and the District where our President resides but not a South American country. I know this may be petty but I expect much more of this blog.

  • GregS

    And so begins non-stop coverage of the issue from the standpoint of the public employee unions – thank you MPR for you continued “fair and balanced” reporting.

  • LK

    That’s a good catch, Lilly.

    Not to pile on, but the first story also says: ” where Republicans did an end-around the missing Republicans.”

  • jon

    “where Republicans did an end-around the missing Republicans”

    Shouldn’t one of those Republicans be Democrats?

  • Bob Collins

    I looked around for a documentary from the Republican perspective, Greg, but couldn’t find one. The closest I could find was Tim Pawlenty’s “stand with Scott” ad and i acutally had written that into the first draft, but that was before the issue was closed and the Republicans won, making the issue rather moot.

    From what I can tell from the story I linked to (which is frrom the AP), the governor’s statement was included (he didn’t make himself available), and the Republican leader’s statement was included (he didn’t make himself available either)

    “I voted my conscience which I feel reflects the core beliefs of the majority of voters who sent me here to represent them.”

    I also looked around for some editorials or columns in Wisconsin that might have something new for us to think about, but I couldn’t find any in the time I had this morning.

    There *is* a good followup to balance the incorrect NY Times mention from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. But, for the record, the JS didn’t post it until an hour and a half *after* 5×8 has already been posted.

    I mean, it’s OK with me if you want to keep posting message after message questioning my integrity, but I think I do a pretty good job referring people to all sorts of different news sources.

    I gather from your dozens of messages over the last 24 hours that you disagree and you’ve made that point. We’ve all heard it.

    Now feel free to provide links you can find from Wisconsin that you think would help the discussion about Wisconsin. I’d be happy to have the help and your expertise.

    Now then…

    Part of the difference between MPR and a lot of news organizations, is we actually consider reader comments to be PART of the editorial product. That’s why we encourage people such as yourself to engage us and everyone else, provide a forum to do so, and protect commenters from the character assassination that takes place on most every other news site in America.

    That’s part of fair and balance: Acknowledging that your views and expertise have an outlet and a prominence.

    I won’t be apologizing for that to anybody.

  • Tyler

    I’m not quite sure where I come down on this. From Wikipedia:

    According to Robert M. Costrell, professor of education reform and economics at the University of Arkansas, teachers belong to the Wisconsin state pension plan. That plan requires a 6.8% employer contribution and 6.2% from the employee. However, according to the collective-bargaining agreement in place since 1996, the district pays the employees’ share as well, for a total of 13%. Under the current collective- bargaining agreements, the school district pays the entire premium for medical and vision benefits, and over half the cost of dental coverage. This is partly because of Wisconsin’s unique arrangement under which the teachers union is the sponsor of the group health-insurance plans. The district’s contributions for health insurance of active employees total 38.8% of wages. For private-sector workers nationwide, the average is 10.7%. Health insurance for retirees is a benefit that is rarely offered any more in private companies, and it can be quite costly. This is especially the case for teachers in many states, because the eligibility rules of their pension plans often induce them to retire in their 50s, and Medicare does not kick in until age 65.

    Nice to see you trolling again, Gregs.

  • Bob Collins

    // I know this may be petty but I expect much more of this blog.

    Right. As well you should.

    To my considerable credit, however, I have to point out that I did not split an infinitive anywhere in this morning’s post.

  • MR

    I wonder if they left in the bill all the stuff about the state being able to sell off power plants with no bids. Has anyone actually seen what is in the bill yet?

  • Chris

    I stopped buying coffee when the price rose to $1.70 for a large black coffee served in my own cup.

    I bought a box of tea and am now paying ten cents a cup. Not ideal but unlike the cost of gasoline, this is an expense I can easily control.

  • Bob Collins

    The spending aspect of the bill is now a different bill and that still needs the Democrats to show up in order to pass it.

    BTW, if you want another example of just how much better Minnesota is than Wisconsin, just compare the Web sites of the two Legislatures. We’re very luck here.

  • Justin

    Thank you, Mr. Collins, for your reporting. While some on these comment boards would love nothing more than to hurl barbs at one another, the primary reason I keep coming back to MPR is that I don’t always agree with what you post.

    Thank you again, and I look forward to continued coverage of this and the other important news stories in the wake of this decision in Wisconsin.

  • Bob Collins

    // I don’t always agree with what you post.

    It’s important to know that News Cut is is not a story, nor is it — usually — “reporting.”

    It is a conversation.

    You don’t agree with stuff I write? I don’t even agree with some stuff I write — or link to, or quote. Why? Because my posting it doesn’t mean I agree with it. It means I find it interesting.

    Some guy blames the New York Times for the mess in Wisconsin, two weeks after it started. Really? I have to actually write that I think that’s nonsense?

    No, because while I personally feel it’s an oversimplification, I find the assertion interesting and I think you find the assertion interesting and if you find it interesting enough, you talk about it.

    THAT’S the point. If we’re driving down the street and I shout, “hey, there’s a guy dressed as a salamander,” it doesn’t mean I like salamanders or think dressing like a salamander is a particularly good idea. It means it’s interesting to me.

    That’s what this blog is; stuff I think is interesting because I think it’s interesting, and because the point of the blog is to show how people are intersecting with the news in some fashion.

    Every post should be considered an invitation for you to do the same.

  • Jeanne

    What I find is interesting, in my opinion, is how the actions last night by the Wisconsin Senators is not of greater importance to the media–i.e.-that it’s news. I thought there would be more of an outcry from the general populace (and not just those living in Wisconsin) about the tactics used to move a political agenda forward. Which brings me to my question: who drives the news cycle? How can you know what you don’t know.

  • Heather

    Bob, I suddenly have the urge to get you a salamander. Or a candygram delivered by a guy dressed as a salamander.

    I’ll be heading out tonight to sign a recall petition for my Senator. I am not a union member, but I object in a broad sense to:

    1) The idea that financial problems should be solved by attacking the livelihoods of middle-class people during a tenuous economic recovery (when they are likely to spend much, if not most, of what they earn). You can be as “open for business” (have you seen how chintzy those signs are?) as you want, but if nobody’s buying, good luck!

    2) The level of bossiness and under-handedness apparent on the Republican side, as opposed to leadership.

    3) The tactic of pitting people against each other over who makes what.

    4) The fact that my Senator has been conspicuously unavailable throughout this entire mess. Voice mail box full, not responding to letters or emails, remaining silent on position until last week. I did not agree with my Assemblyman’s vote, but he responded to my contact with a letter that at least made it SEEM like he’d been listening to both sides. My Senator has not even bothered to PRETEND to respect the other side.

    I can hardly wait to sign.

  • Josiah

    I am willing to pay more for coffee.

    Child slavery still exists today. Coffee and chocolate are two of the industries that have a very poor record of using child labor and/or child slaves in their production.

    I am intentional about purchasing fair trade/slave free coffee and chocolate. Slave free coffee does cost more, much like slave free sugar during the 1791boycott cost more. However, I can’t in good conscience contribute to slave produced goods.

  • Justin

    Well said, Mr. Collins. I too am going to Google “salamander candy-grams” to see what I can find. Love it!

    Heather, you go get ’em! I only wish that people from MN could come to WI to help recall those guys.

    There was a story the other day about legislation being proposed that would block the last WWI vet from lying in state at the Capitol building in Washington, and I called both of my Senators and my Representative, and all of their offices were happy to take my comment and forward it to them. I wish you luck, and hope that this can someday come to a positive resolution.

  • Bonnie

    Seem pretty obvious this Wisconsin debacle will end up in the courts. Open meeting law violations etc. etc. etc. Glad I’m on this side of the St. Croix. I would probably give up my car before coffee, I too am picky, and pay whatever it takes to get fair trade beans and chocolate. Chocolate I could actually live without. The cats with thumbs made my day.

  • bsimon

    GregS writes

    “thank you MPR for you continued “fair and balanced” reporting.”

    And I want to personally thank you, Greg, for your ongoing ‘fair and balanced’ participation in the blog.

  • Bob Collins

    //is not of greater importance to the media

    In our area, I’m not aware of any news organization that didn’t treat it as the lead story. Watching CBS this morning on TV, it led both the local and national news segments.

  • Jim Hart

    Yeah, Bob – I really don’t get the whole “this isn’t being covered by the MSM” thing that keeps getting trotted out. Maybe it’s that I don’t have cable, so I don’t see what CNN or Fox is saying, but everything I look at – Strib, MPR, local affiliate news, some national papers – everyone’s got a story on this.

  • Jamie

    // “…From Wikipedia:…” //

    I don’t know why you posted this, Tyler. Most everybody would agree (including Wisconsin union members) that Wisconsin union contracts are unusually generous (in terms of insurance and pensions, but not pay), compared with the rest of the country’s union contracts (I hear that California may be pretty generous, too, but I know less about them). But Wisconsin union members and leaders have said since soon after this battle began that they would pay more for their health insurance and pensions.

    That is not the issue, and it turns out that it never has been the issue, despite what Scott Walker and other Republicans have said about balancing the budget. We knew this even before yesterday but the despicable actions of Wisconsin Republicans yesterday confirms it.

  • Jamie

    Even if the battle were really about generous benefits, the facts often get lost in the debate (mostly because Republicans do their best to bury them). The facts about public sector employees’ pensions, for example, are that employee contributions and investment returns fund the overwhelming majority of the cost of public employee pensions. Taxpayers paid only 14.3% of all pension funding in the 11-year period ending in 2007. Most public employees — who earn an average of about $45,000/yr — pay a significant portion of the costs of their pensions in return for modest benefits. The average newly retired public employee receives a pension of just $19,000/yr. And one in four public service workers are not covered by Social Security.

    One of the big problems with pension funding is that politicians who run state and local governments often fail to contribute to the funds. Meanwhile, employees regularly contribute — it comes out of every paycheck for most.

  • Jamie

    I’m a little surprised by MPR’s and Bob’s characterization of this battle being over. Bob did add “at least for now.” But to me this doesn’t seem at all like an end of anything.

  • Jeanne

    @Jamie, the battle has just begun. And maybe I should have been more clear in my point… I thought the coverage was more about “it’s all done here, pack your bags and go home, media.” If that’s the case, then who’s zoomin’ who? Does the media show up when someone gives them a call? I’d like to know the story behind the decision to make last night’s Senate committee a closed meeting, convened with 2 hours notice. Who made those decisions and why? Isn’t there a story there?

  • Jamie

    Yeah, I haven’t read or heard about any reporter/s asking Walker or the Republican Senators why they did it the way they did. Of course, we know the answer to that question, but they should be held accountable. Hopefully, the legal action that has begun will get some answers.

  • Suzanne

    Re: Typos — For those coming down on typos, I’m usually right there with you, but to see Mr. Collins live-blogging news events blows my mind. I could never type that quickly and correctly. Bravo to Mr. Collins’ typing and spelling abilities, errors (