FOIA “request” in Wisconsin could be violation of whistleblower protection law

March 27, 2011

Wisconsinite Jean Detjen sent me a note correcting my misinformation:  Wisconsin does indeed have a whistleblower protection act.  The law protects Wisconsin state employees, against retaliation for disclosing information about wrongdoing.

William Cronon, Frederick Jackson Turner Professor of History, University of Wisconsin

William Cronon, Frederick Jackson Turner Professor of History, University of Wisconsin - University of Wisconsin photo

My reading suggests that, since professors are not specifically exempted, Prof. Cronon, at the University of Wisconsin, is specifically protected.

If the University of Wisconsin gives that answer to the Wisconsin Republican Party, however, the Party will argue that it is not a government official prevented from retaliating against a government employee.  That would be ample reason for the state to deny the FOIA request of the Party flatly and completely.

There is another, potentially more pernicious angle here:  The Republican Party in Wisconsin is, in this case, an agent of the Republicans in the state legislature, those whose tails are on the line for violating Wisconsin law, and as Prof. Cronon outlines it, Wisconsin tradition and historical norms.  It’s likely that the Party is acting at the direction of legislators.

In short, it’s kind of an organized crime action.  I think that the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO) would cover this sort of action — any retaliation for hire, or by an agent, which creates a pattern or practice of organized crime activities.  Worse for the Wisconsin Republicans, if there were an ambitious U.S. attorney out there somewhere, there is no scienter requirement on RICO actions — that is, there need not be a clear formation of criminal intent.  The mere actions of an organized crime group, even with no intent to break the law, can be a RICO violation.

Even worse for the Republicans, RICO is available for anyone to use.  Were I Prof. Cronon, and were the Republicans to press their FOIA request to court, I’d counterclaim in federal court with the RICO statute.

That’s a nasty escalation.  But in these days, in this case, where a state party organization has gone to the employer of a university professor to get his job after he merely reported history, I wouldn’t take chances that the Republicans would later play fair or nice.

Every step against Cronon, every press release, every statement from a legislator or party apparatchik, provides more evidence of the coordinated effort, and establishes further the “pattern and practice” of organized crime activity.

Maybe cool heads will soon prevail, maybe patriotism and love of the First Amendment will break out among Wisconsin Republicans, and they will retract their demand that Prof. Cronon deliver them all of his e-mails as a professor at  the University of Wisconsin.

Maybe badgers will fly.

“Badger” is supposed to be the mascot of Wisconsin’s top-flight university, not a tool of partisan politics.


Canada? It’s in North America? What?

March 27, 2011

And in other news that didn’t make most U.S. local newspapers today, the government of Canada fell yesterday.

Canada government falls, Politically-Illustrated

"The Conservative government in Canada was toppled on Friday after a vote of no-confidence passed in the parliament by 156 to 145." Cartoon at Politically Illustrated by Cam Cardow

You know:  Canada.  That nation north of North Dakota, the one that keeps Alaska stuck to the North American Continent.  Remember?   It’s got about 20% of the world’s fresh water.  Those guys who helped us whip Hitler on D-Day.

Oh, c’mon.  Google the place, will you?  It’s the nation where, when you go there, ‘those bastards with the drug problem south of the border’ is the United States.

No, no, it’s probably not important.  We buy a lot of our oil from Canada.  Canada is our biggest trading partner.  They buy a lot of the goods that we still produce here.

And the conservative government there, under a parliamentary system that kids in the U.S. are never tested on in Texas, lost a vote of confidence Friday, in Ottawa.

Ottawa?  It’s the capital of Canada.  No, Montreal isn’t even the capital of Quebec.

Oh, come on! Quebec.  Quebec! It’s the province of Canada with all the French speakers. Yeah, Quebec City is the capital of Quebec.

Ottawa’s in Ontario.  No, Ottawa is the capital of the whole nation, Canada.  Ontario’s capital is Toronto.

Lone Ranger?  No, Toronto has nothing to do with the Lone Ranger.  It’s the biggest city in Canada.

Anyway, to get back to the topic, Canada’s government failed.  Conservatives lost a vote because of ethics issues.

Ethics issues, conservatives.  No news there.  No wonder it wasn’t covered better.

Elections in May. You’d know this, if you read the blogs of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

As if anyone cared.

Hey, get this:  Ontario alone has more than 250,000 lakes, natural lakes.  In a good, very wet year, Texas has two, maybe three natural lakes.

You could look it up.

No, NATO won’t intervene.  Canada is part of NATO.

More seriously:

Energy- and environment-interested people should take note. Canada is our largest source of imported oil at about 2 million barrels a day — more than Mexico and Saudi Arabia imports combined — and we share two ocean coasts with the nation.  See what Susan Casey-Lefkowitz said at her blog:

Hopefully, whoever takes over next in Canada will be a bigger proponent of clean energy and fighting climate change than the Harper government has been. The Harper government has been a vocal proponent of tar sands oil expansion – pushing this dirty fuel in the United States and in Europe. In fact, the Harper government has been instrumental in undermining clean energy efforts at home and abroad all to promote the tar sands oil industry. A fresh approach in Canada gives the country a chance to get back to its green roots and to listen to its provincial governments such as Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba and British Columbia who have been developing innovative ways to promote clean energy and fight climate change. A fresh approach also provides an opportunity to lessen Canada’s dependence on the oil and gas sector and its heavy control over the Canadian dollar leading many to fear “Dutch disease.”

Clean energy and fighting climate change are critical issues now and in the coming decades. Hopefully, Canada can step forward as a leader on both in the future.

We can overlook the abuse of the word “hopefully” to extract important information, I think.  Did your local paper cover this story today?

More, resources:

 

 


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