Friday, April 29, 2011

Another attempt to gut government services meets federal pushback

Scott Walker & Co. are bent on destroying government, or as one infamous Repub, Grover Norquist, once put it: "I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub."  Now they're playing that game with poor people's access to food in this state.

Here's the story in today's Journal Sentinel.  The Feds are not happy with Walker's plan to centralize and privatize the processing of applicants' elegibility for food assistance. As the article notes, such attempts have been disasters in other states. This approach has a track record.  The suffering of poor people? Too bad. Some things must be sacrificed on the altar of a corporate driven, rightist ideology.

Public sector unions, educators, healthcare workers, students, writers, you know, all of us - are we prepared to join together to also defend the rights of the most vulnerable among us?  Will we all join together in this struggle to defend basic human decency and core human rights, to defend government programs that are meeting the needs of those under direct assault from the Walker administration?

Beyond each threatened group or sector is this broad assault on government itself, on the public realm. To defend that democratic 'space,' what is required is a strong broad-based movement to push back against this assault from the right.

They are determined; they are focused; they are well-funded; they will not stop. Only democracy from below can salvage government as representative and at the service of the people. Otherwise, 5-10 years from now, we will be reeling at the country that these people are trying to create.

For a couple of decades now, they have been playing working people and taxpayers for fools with their rants about government waste and how our tax dollars are taken from us to make lazy bureaucrats happy - until Alabama gets hit by scores of tornadoes and suddenly federal help is wanted and crucial. The right would love to privatize FEMA, too.

Walker has a scary determined unbending focus that shows me he is prepared to violate federal law (as in this case), to destroy as much government as possible, without any real sense of connection to the suffering that will follow. How do these people envision our society a decade from now, or two, or three?  I can tell you this - it will be mean, more people will be poor, more cities will be crumbling, education will be only for those who can afford it (they want to privatize education, too), and rich people will live well in their walled-off communities and summer vacation homes.

What they want, friends, is to take our public money and make it available to private investors to make profits, to make it available in the private sector for more corporate power over our economy with far fewer constraints in how big business operates (like environmental regulations, like worker rights, like child labor laws, etc. -- all these things about which we do have laws, rules, and regulations). They want access to our state and federal parklands.  They want our tax dollars for their pockets.

That's the agenda. I am not making this up or making baseless accusations. At least now these intentions are getting some airtime, some space in more newspapers.  Pay attention, because if we don't understand what we are really up against, we will not be able to effectively put the brakes on this agenda.

Photos: Margaret Swedish

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Will we fight for the right to vote?

I am waiting for the righteous outcry against the proposed voter I.D./voter suppression legislation that could be before our state legislature this next month. This is the one mentioned in yesterday's post: mandating that voters show a government issued photo ID when they vote, prohibiting the use of student photo IDs, and creating a significant hurdle for those without drivers' licenses (the poor, many elderly, new immigrant citizens, etc. - folks that tend not to vote for rightist authoritarian politicians like we have in our state government right now).

Added now to this bill is language that would sharply restrict absentee balloting and voter registration efforts, move primary elections from September to August when fewer people are around to vote, and end straight-ticket voting.

And you thought the threat to public worker collective bargaining rights was the big thing to worry about?  I mean, it's one thing to protest to defend those rights within the framework of a democratic system, but, friends, they are trying to take our democracy away from us, using all sorts of means to try to suppress the vote, decimate funding for the Democratic Party, and control election outcomes. This is scary stuff, and it is not only happening here. The NY Times addressed this in an editorial the other day, The Republican Threat To Voting. Please, please, read it.

A snippet:

...more than 30 other states are joining the bandwagon of disenfranchisement, as Republicans outdo each other to propose bills with new voting barriers. The Wisconsin bill refuses to recognize college photo ID cards, even if they are issued by a state university, thus cutting off many students at the University of Wisconsin and other campuses...

Many of these bills were inspired by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a business-backed conservative group, which has circulated voter ID proposals in scores of state legislatures. The Supreme Court, unfortunately, has already upheld Indiana’s voter ID requirement, in a 2008 decision that helped unleash the stampede of new bills. Most of the bills have yet to pass, and many may not meet the various balancing tests required by the Supreme Court. There is still time for voters who care about democracy in their states to speak out against lawmakers who do not.

Are we fully appreciating what is going on here yet? 

So I return to my question. I know that folks feel the threat to their livelihoods, their wages and benefits, the government services that are lifelines for our society (like public schools and universities, like Medicaid and BadgerCare and Social Security, trash collection and recycling, etc.). But have we become too complacent about democracy itself not to recognize when it is under severe threat? After all , most of us don't even bother to vote, so will we notice or even care when that right is gone for millions of us across the country, or severely restricted here in the state where we live - restricted enough that rightist authoritarian corporate sponsored groups can manipulate results and control our governments?

I wish I was not overstating the case. Wisconsinites, make your voices heard about this legislation which is about to come down on us while many of us are looking somewhere else. This is the issue that should bind us together like nothing else. Whatever our differences, we all share this democracy. It is in need of our defense - right now!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Republicans appear worried, but we best be as well

Little signs here and there seem to reveal that Republican state legislators are a bit worried about the political fallout from the Walker/Ryan bold plans for America and our state. Folks are getting a little feisty out there, shouting down the great deficit hero, refusing to allow the deceptions and obfuscations to go unchallenged. He came to lecture, and often got lectured.

Seems these bold plans to address the deficit not by returning tax rates to something more sane (like those of the 60s and 70s, or even just before the budget-busting Bush tax cuts), not by cutting defense and getting out of 2-3 wars loathed by the vast majority of the population and taking an enormous toll on soldiers and their families, not by cutting subsidies for ethanol and fossil fuels and industrial agriculture, but by attacking social programs that impact the most vulnerable populations - seems these plans are not exactly popular.  Medicare?  Yikes, Repubs, you must be reeling at the poll numbers!!!

Check this out from Ezra Klein of the Washington Post:

You know what’s not popular? Reforming Medicare such that beneficiaries “receive a check or voucher from the government each year for a fixed amount they can use to shop for their own private health insurance policy.” According to a new Washington Post-ABC News Poll, 65 percent of Americans oppose the idea -- about the same number who dismissed it in 1995. And if they’re told that the cost of private insurance for seniors is projected to outpace the cost of Medicare insurance for seniors -- which is exactly what CBO projects -- more than 80 percent of Americans oppose the plan.

...Cutting Medicare polls poorly even if you leave out the details. Almost 80 percent of Americans oppose Medicare cuts in the abstract, while 70 percent oppose Medicaid cuts.

Paul Ryan just received a lesson in democracy from a lot of older folks and many conservatives whom he forgot still read newspapers, follow politics, and are well-informed.  They can spy the intention to destroy Medicare when they see it, even if Ryan and others think they can pull one over on them.

Photo: Swedish
That and the successful recall efforts against 6 Repub State Senators who voted to bust public sector unions have some Repubs looking for a little negotiating room with their governor on some elements of his crash-and-burn biennium budget proposal.

Like mandating recycling but cutting funds to pay for it. Like intentions to turn the UW-Madison campus into an elite private-public institutions that only the rich can afford (and without the annoyance of union representation for the faculty and staff, but that's another issue).

Meanwhile, those outside agitators, the folks from the American Recall Coalition in Utah, have not had much success against the Wisconsin 14. Imagine thinking they could get enough petitions to recall Sen. Lena Taylor or the revered State Sen. Risser!! A little miscalculation there, doncha' think?  Should make for a fun summer.

Meanwhile, Repubs continue their assault on the most basic right of any democracy - the right to vote. In their proposed voter ID law, the intent to suppress the vote was already apparent. Now they have new proposals to put in place difficult hurdles for voter registration efforts and to move the primary election from September to August - when folks are on vacation and students have not yet arrived at university campuses.

My favorite line in the article is this one: "A hearing on the bill is slated for 10 a.m. Wednesday, and Republicans who run the Assembly will meet in private later in the day to discuss any changes to the measure." So many private meetings on so many essential things. Transparency is not a characteristic of the current character of our Repub legislators.

Interestingly, the guy pushing these proposals is Repub Rep. Jeff Stone who just lost decisively to Chris Abele in the election for County Executive, one of the local elections considered to be a mandate on the Walker regime. Didn't go well for him, and actually a number of Repubs could face difficult elections next year - so best to get measures in place now to make it harder for poor people, students, and the elderly to vote. Best to get measures in place now to make it more difficult to vote absentee or to carry out voter registration drives.

It's about their future
It's too easy to say it's just about a sore loser. In fact, once again, there are efforts to do similar things in several states, and, once again, you get that feeling that something else is going, like coordinated efforts to create one-party rule wherever possible. At stake are issues as basic as whether or not our democracy will survive these rightist assaults, whether there is intent to co-opt, manipulate, and control state and local elections to attain dominance for one political party.

I try not to get all hyperbolic about these things, but I've been involved in grassroots political work and advocacy all my life and I have never seen anything quite so threatening to our democracy as these recent efforts in Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida, Maine, and elsewhere to take away the right to vote from more and more people, the populations whose votes Repub governors and legislators cannot count on to keep them in power for their true agenda - to gut government, privatize as much of the public sector as they can, and make off with our future.

For more, I highly recommend you take the time to view this video, if you have not yet seen it. This is stuff we need to know - because it looks more and more possible that it is democracy itself that is at stake here.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Karl Rove, the ultimate outside agitator, shows up in Milwaukee

You know, when I hear the gov, Scott Walker, or others of the extreme right talk about outside agitators coming into the state to stir things up, union thugs and all that, I scratch my head because these guys would be nothing without outside agitators and their money. We know, for instance, that recalls of some of the Wisconsin 14 are being organized by a secretive right-wing group in Utah, the American Recall Coalition. We know that Walker received big contributions from the Koch brothers, whose Koch Industries is based in Wichita.  We know that the Koch-founded and funded Americans for Prosperity brought outside agitator Sarah Palin and organizers into the state to try to drum up some passionless reaction to the massive protests of February and March.

Karl Rove. Master outside agitator with lots of money to throw around. Spoke last night at UWM. This guy loves to stir things up. It's a voice we don't really need here in Wisconsin right now in a state where honesty, integrity, truthfulness, compassion, a toning down of nasty rhetoric, a calming of emotions, and all that, are needed if we are to carve a path through our political crisis - one brought to you by subterfuge, less-than-honest campaigns, ideological rigidity and hidden agendas, TV ads intended to stir things up and keep us from talking to each other.

Union thugs, one of his favorite terms for organized public sector workers. You gotta be kidding me. Show me the thugs, Karl!!! Rove loves to show images of these dangerous people. His organization, Crossroads GPS, sponsors ads on TV showing you these made-up thugs. Here's how the Journal Sentinel article describes these ads:

Crossroads GPS...launched a $750,000 national cable television ad campaign that portrays government unions as self-serving bullies collecting mandatory dues to influence liberals such as President Barack Obama.

Photo: Margaret Swedish
Wow! friends, what an accusation! I just didn't know that all those families and teachers and firefighters and students and farmers in the streets of Madison were such lackeys of these bully unions. I didn't know they were forced so jubilently into the streets by their oppressive union masters!! I didn't know that my fellow yoga student who works at UW-Waukesha, or my friend of 40 years who is a social worker at a public middle school, were such agitators of social disruption!!!

Good God, do people really believe this stuff?  Karl Rove need only look in the mirror to find a perfect example of the political bully, who deceives and lies and manipulates, and throws around millions and millions of dollars, to effect the strategy of the far right wing that has a great distaste for popular democracy. His version does indeed harken back to our founding days when democracy belonged to rich white landowners.

He defended Walker as "courageous" for busting unions. What in the world is courageous about using your power, achieved by misleading voters, to crush public sector unions?! Courage is what happens when 14 State Senators, not able to live with their consciences if they don't do something about this assault on worker rights, take off for Illinois having no idea what happens next, but putting their fate in the hands of the people.  That's real political courage.

And when, oh when, did 'agitating' for liberal policies become a matter of thuggishness, or come to have this taint of illegitimacy, while agitating for rightwing policies is somehow permissible and patriotic? That alone represents very well the kind of destructive, negative, nasty political discourse that Rove fosters.

Rove has become a multi-multi-millionaire doing this stuff, and that should speak volumes about how far to trust his politics. We know who he represents, and it ain't you and me.

Those in the cheerleading section for Scott Walker tell you a lot about what he has in store for this state.

Learn more about Crossroads GPS from the link in the JS quote above, and from here.

Photo: Margaret Swedish
The sad thing about having Rove and his operations, along with Koch Industries lobbyists, Ams for Prosperity, and their ilk coming into our state is that it bodes ill for the future of our politics. Look for election campaigns to get uglier and nastier, for discourse to break down even more (they intend this as part of their strategy since polarization serves their interests) - unless we reject these groups and their efforts to divide and conquer us for the sake of their corporate backers.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Oh, for a really smart, inventive, creative, non-ideological governor who is not also self-serving!

My headline is my op-ed, I guess. The more Gov Scott Walker is given a national platform the more he speaks and writes, the more we learn about his thinking and his approach, the more I worry for my state.

Of course, it has become clear that the guy has national ambitions, which is incredible for the small amount he has accomplished in terms of governance or financial smarts. He appears to me to be one of those creations of the right - like Michelle Bachman, or Sarah Palin, or Rep Paul Ryan, whose big draconian budget bill passed by the House the other week doesn't really balance the budget, but tries to play with the synapses of our brains to make us believe you can cut taxes on the rich even more and pay for them by cutting the tiny percent of the budget that pays for vital programs in our social safety net, things like unemployment insurance and food stamps. Meanwhile, the plan would eviscerate Medicare and Medicaid, threaten Social Security, and more.

The right is into magical thinking.

Top of the page in this morning's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Daniel Bice's column, 'No Quarter,' taking issue with Walker's claim to have created jobs that had already been announced by his predecessor, Gov. Jim Doyle, last Dec. Really, the hubris of this guy is something. I suppose he will take credit for those Dunkin' Donut jobs, too, but not for the thousands of jobs the state lost when he turned down $810 million of federal money to build high-speed rail - along with the jobs that economic development along the route would have created.

Photo: Margaret Swedish
Walker promised that his administration would create 250,000 jobs. Great. Only 249,875 to go. But will he continue using funny numbers and false claims? We have to assume that means 250,000 jobs more than now exist in the state.  Will he count the jobs lost under his administration, especially the good-paying ones, you know, like in the public sector which he intends to cut drastically?

More magical thinking: the NY Times gave the guy a platform over the weekend. Why I don't know. This time the issue was Medicaid and how he would like to see it 'reformed' along the lines of how TV networks dealt with "I Dream of Jeannie" and "Get Smart" (wish I was making that up). But there is nothing original in his plan; it has been a right-wing approach on lots of federal programs - replace today's Medicaid with block grants and let the states decide how to run their own programs.

This does not make me feel good about the fate of the poor in so many states that don't like the poor very much. Or even working families who have lost health care benefits at their jobs or are seeing their wages and benefits fall, the value of their homes slide or become stagnant, who are having trouble making it and must turn to Medicaid and other public health assistance programs for their medical needs.

The CapTimes ran an Op-Ed responding to the NY Times piece.

...the Times did Walker no favors by publishing his Medicaid screed.  There is no question that Medicare and Medicaid can be improved. But abandoning the values that underpin them improves nothing.

I agree. I also found the most illuminating part of Walker's 'screed' to come towards the end of his NY Times  op-ed. It's the part where we see what the real agenda is, the ideological framework of these right-wing Repubs as they seek to remake the meaning of government in this country. If it seems to harken back to something like the Confederacy, nullification, states' rights, and all that, well...
States are not merely “laboratories of democracy,” but also sovereign governments under our system of federalism. Unfortunately, the encroachment of the federal government in Medicaid threatens to reduce states to mere agents. 
This is the kind of language that reveals the real agenda here - to remove states as much as possible from the federal government's authority. We are back to the Federalists v. Anti-Federalists argument that goes back to our founding days, fueled the Civil War (which is being fought once again), and emerges every time the federal government recognizes new rights and responsibilities that states rights folks deplore (abolition, women's suffrage, civil rights legislation of the 60s, rights to access to health care, public education, worker rights, environmental protections, as just a few examples).

Well, Mr. Walker, Wisconsin is indeed a laboratory of democracy, one in which we see the reemergence of a debate over the role of government in defending and fostering the rights, dignity, and well-being of its citizens. We think those rights are broad and inclusive; we think they include everyone. We even think it is our responsibility as taxpayers and citizens to contribute our fair share for the common good of all. And we are bold enough to believe that the feds have a crucial role in ensuring that states do not encroach upon these rights, and that when those rights are in jeopardy at the state or local level, it is the role of the feds to enforce its authority over those levels of government.

And we think our state needs some better leadership than this, something more forward-thinking, more in tune with the challenges of these times in which we live, less ideological, less exclusive, less dismissive of workers, more committed to the quality of life of our people and the natural communities in which we live.

We think we need a bigger heart at the helm, and a more compassionate state government.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Budget choices guaranteed to cause more suffering - oh, and happy Earth Day

Well, not for road-builders. They make out like bandits in Walker's budget schemes. Too bad the poor and elderly didn't contribute more lavishly to his campaign.

I try not to be sarcastic and cynical, but just a short perusal of the bipolar Journal Sentinel sinks my spirits on this cold, damp, gloomy day.

Utility companies have started shutting off gas and electricity to folks who are struggling to pay their bills. This is allowed in what is supposedly the world's most advanced state. How we interpret what it means to be advanced apparently does not include providing heat and lights for people who have not a prayer of paying escalating food, housing, and other costs in a time of high unemployment and an economic recovery that seems only to ease the suffering of the very rich and powerful. So folks in our communities are lining up in search of assistance to keep the lights on.

How 'bout this one? Aurora Sinai Hospital, one of the most crucial health care safety nets for low income folks in our city, will lose $9.4 million in Walker's budget, funds that help pay for these services. There are a lot of wealthy, powerful people who don't think we all share a social responsibility to care for the most vulnerable among us. I have a dispute with that value system.

Then there are the political scandals that continue to taint the Walker administration. Yet another of his hires has been called into question, this time a campaign worker appointed to be register of deeds for Marinette County, a person with absolutely no experience to qualify her for this job, but who just happens to be the friend of Repub Rep. John Nygren. Renee Miller, the appointee who started the job last week, is also married to Nygren's campaign treasurer.

Just as in the case of Walker's aborted attempt to give a $81,500 per year job at the Commerce Dept. to the 27-yr-old son of Jerry Deschane, lobbyist for the Wisconsin Builders Association, a major campaign donor to Walker, several highly qualified, experienced people were overlooked for the register of deeds job, and now some of them are leaving in disgust.

Some clean government, right? And compassion? Nope. The poor and vulnerable populations are taking the biggest hit in these budget cuts while businesses get tax cuts, tax credits, loosened regulations, and an anti-labor environment.

Meanwhile, we will have a voter recount in the Supreme Court race, recall efforts continue, and it looks like the summer could be more interesting than usual as several of these efforts are likely to mean elections come June or July.

What I think about a lot is that, while we continue to vigorously defend the right of workers to organize and to collectively bargain - in both the public and private sectors - we also must vigorously defend the right of the poor and vulnerable populations to lives of dignity and basic well-being. The suffering out there is real even before this budget passes. I saw yesterday that Dunkin' Donuts is hiring, and I thought about how many of the people applying once had good-paying jobs, or how in the world someone could pay rent or mortgage, food bills, health insurance premiums, heat and gas bills, transportation costs, and clothes and shoes for their families on the kind of wages these jobs will pay. Of course, they could also apply at McDonalds. They're hiring, too. Just don't try to raise a family on the income.

What I also thought about is how Walker pretty much loathes the City of Milwaukee, how he and the Fitzgeralds and other Repub legislators tend always to see the city as a problem to be axed rather than a source of potential transformation that could impact the entire state - if we bothered to invest in the human beings who live here.

So let's end this discouraging post with this other bombshell  that you probably know by now - an insider with the law firm Foley and Lardner has confirmed that Walker is indeed working on municipal 'reform' legislation similar to Michigan's 'financial martial law' that granted power to the governor to take over municipal governments in the event of a financial crisis. The effort has already begun in Benton Harbor with scary effect. The law firm source says the Wisconsin version won't be as punitive as Michigan's; however, according to bdgrdemocracy:

In confirming this activity, it leads to the question of accountability which now begins. There is no stopping the lawyer/lobbyist from drafting such a bill on behalf of the group(s) who sign the paycheck. There is, however, a constitution that guarantees free, open, and honest debate over these “private interest” corporate pieces of legislation. Although I was encouraged the suggested language in this bill-soon-to-appear is less authoritarian than first presumed; I feel we must be more vigilant during its introduction. Now is the time for pre-emptive publicity and making our thoughts known on this topic – lest it be introduced and passed in 7.5 minutes in the dead of night; with amendments making it every bit as authoritarian as the Michigan Legislation. There are already laws requiring fiscal responsibility in Wisconsin, and municipalities ELECT officials to do just that. This legislation referenced here continues the overwhelming power consolidation to the Governor’s Office, and his Secretaries. [emphasis added]
Hard to believe these folks don't have Milwaukee in their sights. At the same time, I certainly don't believe the city and its residents will take this passively should an attempt be made to take over city finances.

So, it's Earth Day, another moment that has Wisconsin in the limelight. Founded by Gaylord Nelson, inspired by people like Aldo Leopold, maybe it can help us to dig deeper into our best progressive traditions here to help us find the focus we need to challenge this state government that was actually not elected. Oh, these people were elected, all right, but not these policies, which are proving to be immensely unpopular and shocking even to some of those buyers' remorse folks who are regretting their votes last November.

If this is true, then it is up to them and all of us to move this state in a different direction than the one suggested by Walker's agenda, one that restores to the core of our culture values like justice and decency, compassion and integrity, one that asks the most of those who have the most, rather than balancing budgets on the backs of the poor, the vulnerable, the struggling.

A sacred weekend for many. May all our risings encourage us in the days ahead.


"The ultimate test of man's conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard."
— Gaylord Nelson

Thursday, April 21, 2011

"If there is doubt, we must remove it."

JoAnne Kloppenburg
That, in a nutshell, is what this recount is all about. That is the main reason JoAnne Kloppenburg gives for requesting it. She is not saying she won; she is not saying she thinks she did and therefore wants a new tally to prove it. She is saying that the integrity of this Wisconsin election (and therefore previous elections that are now under a cloud of doubt) must be verified by a careful ballot-by-ballot recount - preferably by hand, the most foolproof method of establishing an accurate count.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel does not agree. Once again, our local paper proves unable to grasp the magnitude of what is going on in Wisconsin and all around the country where similar aggression against democratic rights is underway on the part of the newly emergent rightist, increasingly anti-democratic, Repub party.

What is it about this election that they don't want to know? Why do they think Waukesha County Clerk Kathleen Nickolaus keeps vote tallies hidden away on her private computer at home, and let's no one else have access to it? Why do they think that the 2006 election result in Waukesha County shows a higher vote count for specific races than the overall total for the entire election (check out this link folks, you won't believe just how funny these funny numbers are!!)? What is she doing, and don't we want to know? Shouldn't she lose her job immediately over this - like air traffic controllers asleep at the job? Aren't our lives and the well-being of our state at stake here?

Let's remind ourselves of the issues around this suspect county clerk. In sum, from the Buzzflash blog:
As the [Madison] Cap Times and other Wisconsin outlets have noted, Nickolaus kept election results on her personal computer, even though she had been formally warned not to do so. She was given immunity from prosecution in 2002 for campaigning for Republicans on taxpayer's time. Furthermore, as the CapTimes notes, Nickolaus is "a former Republican legislative staffer who worked for Prosser when he served as Assembly speaker and with Gov. Scott Walker when he was a GOP rising star." [emphasis added]

I mean, any issues here that we think ought to be investigated?

But Waukesha is not the only place where problems with vote tallies surfaced; it's only apparently the most egregious. We need to find out the extent to which polling problems exist in this state, and which of them are products of human error or incompetence, and which are products of outright fraud.

I hear a lot of complaints from the right about voter fraud, and they are using that old canard in efforts to suppress voting rights - targeting African-Americans, students, elderly, citizen immigrants, and other groups who tend not to vote Repub. Investigations show this to be a false issue, that the problem does not really exist. But far greater threats of fraudulent practices have emerged ever since the arrival of computer tallies, not least of which is the ease with which vote counts can be tainted by a little hacking here, a bit of data manipulation there - which is why we favor a hand recount of every ballot cast in the state.

If Prosser is such a great champion of the state Constitution, such a disinterested Supreme Court Justice, he should tell his campaign to stop the shrill rhetoric aimed at Kloppenburg and embrace fully this effort to weed out any tainted vote counts or procedures. He should call for the impounding of Nickolaus' computer, and a thorough audit of her methods, by outside federal investigators. Otherwise, we must ask ourselves just what it is these people have to hide.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

JoAnne Kloppenburg requests statewide recount

Okay, yes, thank you.  This is necessary - a ballot-by-ballot recount across the state because so many funny counts came in for the State Supreme Court election, not least of which is the atrocity in Waukesha County , an ongoing problem with the Repub County Clerk there who has put out some funny numbers for a few elections in a row now (really, why has Kathleen Nickolaus' computer not yet been impounded?!?!).

Read more here.

We need this recount (and it must be thorough and comprehensive) in order to feel like our elections are not being stolen from us. But more, really, we need to insist on an investigation of Nickolaus and her computer. We need to understand why she keeps her computer and her count under wraps at home.  We need to understand why she doesn't want anyone to look at that computer.

Thank you, JoAnne Kloppenburg, for defending the vote!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Authoritarian takeover of local government - next on the docket?

"Walker’s plans give further credence to the notion that the efforts of the GOP governors with Republican majorities in their state legislative bodies are part of a coordinated plan to enforce a right-wing agenda designed to not only destroy state, county and municipal employee unions, but to take control of  local governments by replacing elected officials with appointees, both corporate and individual, of the state’s highest executive officer."

Does that paragraph get your attention? If it terrifies you, it should. I think it is time to stop being afraid to state clearly what is going on. This is more than some grassroots insurgency that came out of nowhere, more than a campaign of Tea Party crazies on the right who hate taxes, African-American presidents, immigrants living in our communities, and who managed to accidently get elected in last year's throw-the-bums-out electoral atmosphere.

It becomes more and more obvious that we are in the midst of a swift, pervasive power grab at the state level, a campaign paid for by anti-democratic corporate interests with the intention to gain control over state government and, while they're at it, municipal government as well, to get control of tax policies, the regulatory regimen, state and local budgets, how business operates and under what rules. It is also apparent that these folks mean to diminish or destroy the ability of the Democratic Party to compete against the Republican Party that now represents their interests (it's certainly not the old Repub party of my parents' generation). One party rule. Not a good thing, except for those who control that party.

So the opening paragraph comes from Rick Ungar at Forbes. Here's the whole article, and I urge you to read it. We need to know this stuff. Ungar reports that Gov Walker wants to follow in the steps of rightist Michigan governor, Rick Snyder, by granting himself power to take over municipal governments if they fail to meet certain financial management standards.

What?!?!?!  In the United States of America?!! 

Rachel Maddow scared me to death tonight as she outlined the full frontal assault on our democracy by way of state government brought to you by Koch brothers money, ALEC, the Heritage Foundation, and that whole family of authoritarians on the right who see their moment to assert power over our lives, our resources, our future. Her show is not up on her website yet, but I urge you to take time to watch the first half hour once it is. It is terrifying TV viewing as she lays out the extent to which an aggressive, deliberate strategy is being implemented at the level of state governments to change fundamentally the social contract, the political culture of democracy, the very way the nation functions.

All of it is connected - the union busting, voter suppression in the guise of voter ID laws, demolition of public services, including public schools, as in, free education by RIGHT for all our children, nullification or overturning of local laws by rightist governors, and more.

Ungar updates his story to tell us that Walker has denied that there is a 'financial marshall law' scheme underway. We'll see. If the scheme was in the works and the exposure puts a damper on it, this would be a good thing.

Something scary is going on in this country right now, and what I don't know is whether my people are up to this struggle. We are very complacent about our democracy (low voter turnouts being one manifestation of that), but we sure will miss it when it's gone. And this reminder: once it's gone, it's very hard to get it back.

Monday, April 18, 2011

A few thoughts on my home state this morning

Until Thursday, I will have few opportunities to post, so I just wanted to share some thoughts today. Just went on line and read the Journal Sentinel's article about Prof William Cronon, the brilliant historian at UW-Madison who got into trouble with Repubs for doing one of the things that professors are supposed to do - share their knowledge, and in this case provide some background on the great Wisconsin debate so that the public might better understand it. Looks to me like Cronon is a treasure for the university and the state, the more we hear about his credentials and the kind of person he is.

But one of the political horrors of our time is the attempt by right wing groups associated with Repubs to put a chill over knowledge and speech that undermines their agenda. You have to wonder always why one party, or a well-funded conglomerate of political organizations, get so upset when more of their intentions, plans, schemes, the shadow groups backing them, the money behind them, get revealed - or even, as in Cronon's case, a suggestion is made that we need to know more about such things - for example, the role of the American Legislative Exchange Council which is writing legislation for the Repubs to push through Congress and state governments.

Don't we want to know where proposed legislation is coming from, the stuff that will determine how we will live in our state and our country?

Visit his blog to read more about the controversy and how the university has responded to the request from the state Repub party for his emails. From Chancellor Biddy Martin, this ringing defense of academic freedom:

To our faculty, I say: Continue to ask difficult questions, explore unpopular lines of thought and exercise your academic freedom, regardless of your point of view. As always, we will take our cue from the bronze plaque on the walls of Bascom Hall. It calls for the ‘continual and fearless sifting and winnowing’ of ideas. It is our tradition, our defining value, and the way to a better society.

Many on the right, like the Koch brothers, would not agree. It is far easier to operate your anti-democratic agenda in the shadows, as the brothers have for so many years - until the exposure in the New Yorker last year and then through the revelations about their ties with Walker, Prosser and other state Repubs here in Wisconsin. These ties have resulted in things like allowing Koch Industries' Georgia-Pacific to increase their pollution of our waterways.

Did anyone ask us if we wanted to allow this mega-corporation to dump more toxins into our beautiful state? I'd kind of like a say in that, you know? Gov Walker, how many jobs does that create - except maybe in the future in the health care field as more people get cancers and other diseases caused by pollution.

This thought, too. Among his credentials, Cronon is an environmental historian. Meanwhile, as Assistant Attorny General, one of JoAnne Kloppenberg's responsibilities is environmental prosecutions.

You know, I'm just saying.... both these folks becoming targets of the Wisconsin right. It has become clear in our state, and other states, sadly, that environmental regulations are at the top of the list of what all this corporate money would like to rid from our political culture, from the laws of the land.

Among many things that impact the corporate bottom line are two really big ones: the cost of labor and environmental regulations. It doesn't take much imagination to see why both labor and the environment, our precious natural resources, are in the bull's eye of the corporate/Walker/Fitzgerald brothers agenda.

And in the case of Prof Cronon and the millions spent to demean, attack, and defeat Kloppenberg (including a questionable election result that has me very nervous about what's going on in Waukesha County), you see how the right wants to create an atmosphere in which we are not supposed to even talk about these things, much less publish about them before a public that urgently needs to know.

Urgently, because the changes are coming fast and furious and secretly, before many folks even realize what is in store for them.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Must read - for whom do Walker and Prosser really work?

Friends, I'm on the move for a few days and will post only sporadically.  However, the article linked here is a must read! It shows just how much Walker and Prosser work not for you and me but for Koch Industries. This is not a political statement, it is what good investigated journalism is uncovering:

Walker and Prosser Crushed Regulations on Koch Industries Phosphorous Pollution in Wisconsin

Now please remember what Prosser's challenger, JoAnne Kloppenberg, has been doing for a living - she is assistant attorney general and her responsibilities include constitutional law, appellate law, civil litigation, environmental prosecution and administrative law.

Now you can understand why Koch, in the guise of Club for Growth, Americans for Prosperity, etc. would spend millions on campaign ads to defeat her - and another reason why Waukesha's questionable election, and the secret ballot counting tactics of County Clerk Kathleen Nickolaus is so disturbing, given her past connection with Prosser when he was in the Assembly, and the fact that Waukesha voting tallies have been suspect for several election cycles in a row.

One of the most crucial struggles of this era now is to take our democracy back from the corporations who have purchased it with their now Supreme Court guaranteed unlimited campaign spending. We are not just losing collective bargaining rights and the rights to a decent life; we are losing democracy itself - because the majority of us have stopped caring about it or participating in it a long time ago. In that vacuum, corporations are moving in, and they are changing the rules, regulations, and government itself to their ends.

Awfully hard to get democracy back once it is gone...

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Walker's budget will 'lead to degradation of quality of life'

Wow, Howard Fuller is ready to abandon the Walker ship. The long-time champion of school choice is vehement in his opposition to lifting the income caps for the program, calling the plan 'egregious' and 'outrageous.' Says if this plan flies, “This is when I get off the train.”  (See this article.)

Then there's Gov Walker's great job growth scheme - turn down federal funds for high-speed rail, gut government, cut corporate taxes, give corporations tax breaks, get rid of the Dept of Commerce and put in place one of those public-private agencies, ease environmental regulations, privatize, well, anything you can, and magically 250,000 jobs will appear.  Here's what a former Secretary of Development under a Repub governor, Chandler McKelvey, had to say about this plan: 

So what is Wisconsin doing now? For one, we are doing everything we can to demoralize our workers. It doesn't take a particularly wise person to see that the attack on public employees is part of an attack on all workers.

We also are taking steps to ensure that the quality of the education provided by Wisconsin schools and state universities is going to decline...

The only employers likely to be attracted by those blandishments are those whose primary objective is to make quick profits based on low taxes, feeble environmental regulations and the ability to exploit their employees. We would be foolish to think that those particular companies are the ones on which we want to build our economic future...

The current ideas about what's good for our state are totally alien to Wisconsin's cherished traditions and culture and surely will lead to a degradation of our quality of life.
Oh well, nice try, Gov.

So what kind of employers are we talking about? How about open pit iron mining Up North. Right. Job creation - at great cost to the environment. Because what Walker's approach really is about is not so much job growth but what kind of industries will operate here in Wisconsin.

May environmentalists win this one - please! We can certainly find other ways to help people get back to work, jobs that help enhance the quality of life rather than diminish it.

I listened to most of the morning's webcast from the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families on Walker's proposed budget cuts (you can view here). Scary, what's going to be happening to already vulnerable populations if this all goes through. These folks make clear that revenue could be found to avoid these cuts - but that's not Walker's program. The one he has in mind will do what McKelvey says, "lead to a degradation of our quality of life."

Need some real leadership to push back on all of this. It is a frightening time for our state.

Monday, April 11, 2011

What is it about Wisconsin?

What is it about my home state that produces such wild characters in our nation's politics? I mean, Paul Ryan?  Really, I don't understand why he is taken so seriously. His ideas are not that interesting - unless you like slash-and-burn approaches to our profound, complex national problems - and his 'radical,' 'revolutionary' budgets never quite match up with reality, never square with economic reality, never actually balance (quite the opposite), are not even sophisticated enough to be smoke-and-mirrors.  They are just straight out lies and deception.

For example, that you can sharply cut back tax rates on corporations and the wealthy to pre-1931 levels and ever, ever, ever cut the long-term deficits by doing it on the backs of those with so few resources - working poor, unemployed poor, children, elderly, you know, the usual crowd so disliked and disdained by the rich (reminding ourselves that most members of Congress are millionaires).

Or this - that you can help balance the budget by taxing wages rather than wealth, as has been the practice more and more since Reagan and right on through the Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama years, meanwhile busting unions, lowering labor costs by gutting wages and benefits meaning less wages to tax, which means more long-term deficits, oh, and meanwhile you slash more at the social safety net, cutting unemployment benefits, food stamps - well, you get the picture.

So what are they really trying to do? 
They are trying to privatize as much of the economy as they can; they are trying to take even more of our public funds and make them available to investors and corporations to make profits off them.
Example - convincing millions of Americans that it would be in their interest to move out of guaranteed pension plans into private 401(k) investments. Public money put into the hands of financial firms. You see how well that did back in 2008.  Millions of those millions of Americans will never fully recover their lost savings. Oh, and by the way, have you heard that investment firm executives are making record pay and bonuses now?

Or take the Obama-led health insurance reform. Everyone on God's earth knows the most efficient and cheapest way to deliver health care is in a regulated publicly funded single payer system. Our private health insurance system has created one of the most health-care-delivery-hostile systems in the western world, a case where even those who think they have insurance still must wage all out war sometimes to get their insurers to pay the costs of their surgeries and illnesses. I have to shop on the private individual market. My premiums are nearly unaffordable and God help me if I actually get sick!

What did we get from the reform? Yet another major transfer of wealth to an expanded private health insurance market - companies insuring us for the sake of their own and their shareholders' profits. Do you really think they care about my health or yours?

So - Social Security and Medicare. Just imagine how investment firms are salivating at the thought of getting their greedy hands on these enormous pots of public money. By most analysts' accounts, Ryan's budget would mean that seniors would one day be paying up to 70% of their health care costs. Translate: elderly folks will live lives of misery, pain, and earlier death because any sane person knows the vast majority of our seniors will not be able to do that. Meanwhile, since his plan involves giving seniors vouchers to cover some of the cost of purchasing private health insurance, well, gee, whaddya know? once again, health insurance companies would get that public money to subsidize their industry.

See, friends, a lot of this policy stuff from our corporate-financed Repubs (Dems, too, I'm sad to say, which is why our political engagement should not wed itself to either party) involves accelerating the transfer of wealth from the public sector to the corporate sector, from the poor and middle class to the wealthy.

Paul Ryan wants to make the rich richer and turn this country into a paupers' land, a United States we once knew in our earlier history when most people lived lives of misery and want while the rich had a great party.

What is remarkable to me is how much of this political energy right now, a focal point of the nation's great divide, of the vast chasm opening between the few rich and the growing numbers of poor and struggling, of the politics of corporate greed and right wing closed-mindedness v. the politics of expansiveness and inclusion, is centered right here in the State of Wisconsin.

We've always had characters - Joe McCarthy and 'Fighting Bob' La Follette, for example, the state could produced both these guys, or the German Bund and Father James Groppi, both possible here. Is it something in the drinking water that keeps our politics so divided and so lively? So maybe we are presented here with a great opportunity and even responsibility:
to take the eccentric, eclectic character of this state and use it to turn this time of crisis into a time when a new kind of democracy is born here, when we honestly grasp the stakes involved at this turning point where we face either decline and intense class struggle or a new kind of hope for a just and inclusive society.  It is time to answer the Paul Ryans and Scott Walkers and Fitzgerald brothers and Koch brothers and all who have an agenda of exclusion, of indifference to the suffering of workers and the poor, of greed and anti-democratic tendencies, with an agenda of inclusion, honesty, compassion, justice, integrity - all those things missing right now from these state and federal budgets, budgets that would mean vast misery and deteriorating quality of life for most of us if they are ever enacted.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Smells bad, doesn't it?

Friends, my computer was very sick the past couple of days. Bad timing!!  Imagine last night I'm sitting here with this stunning news breaking about the Supreme Court election and all I could do was stare at the empty space where my computer usually is!!!

Well, the phone lines were getting singed, as you can imagine.  I watched the live press conference from Waukesha with dismay and rage.  We are supposed to believe that this happened because County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus forgot to click 'save' for the Brookfield vote count. Why did she look so nervous?  Why such trouble looking anyone in the eye? Embarrassment? Or something else?

I won't reiterate what has been in the news for 20 hours now - her old connections with Prosser, her questionable practices in past elections, etc. I will, however, make note of how carefully the new count managed to just pass the threshold for the 0.5% margin that would have meant a state-funded recount. Not only did the election suddenly turn towards Prosser, but the new margin meant Kloppenburg would have to come up with the funds for a recount.

You know, right? that any faith in this election requires that authorities seize computers, records, ballots, vount counts - anything conceivably related to this disaster. Without that, we cannot trust the outcome and this state will really be in turmoil.

I have often said that with the computerization of the voting process now, a close election is getting pretty easy to fix.  My question it this: what happened to the Brookfield vote count during the time of its disappearance? How much do the new canvas numbers match up with the original numbers recorded at each polling place?

If we don't get satisfactory answers to those questions, this election will remain in doubt. And, friends, I would love to tell you that this is a unique event here in the state of Wisconsin, but in reality funny stuff has been going for many years all across the country with the birth of computerized voting. When I have written in the past that democracy itself is at stake here, I was not kidding.

Put this up against what is going on right now with the federal budget, and I will state as clearly as I can - there is an assault on our democracy, on our Constitutional rights, going on, swiftly and boldly on the part of rightist corporate powers that do not like the political empowerment of the 'masses,' the disenfranchised, workers and their families, poor people - powers that believe they should be ruling our economies and running our governments for their benefit. 

Walker, Boehner, Kantor, Kasich, and more will tell you that business ought to be free to invest as they want and with as few constraints as possible so that they can create jobs and thereby re-energize the economy.  But here is what they want - an abundance of unemployed workers who will take any job they can get at whatever pay and whatever conditions are offered, so no unions, please. Good paying jobs? Jobs that can support a family with a home and dignity?  Uh uh, friends - I give you MacDonald's plan to hire 50,000 new employees to sling hamburgers at minimum wage 24 hours a day.

Nothing saves money for big business like a cheap and abundant labor pool desperate for a job!  Check out the so-called Third World countries. They did it there first. Now it has come home to roost.

What comes next in this story of Wisconsin?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Historic, isn't it?

Like you, I am stunned by the Supreme Court election result - 100% of the vote in, JoAnne Kloppenburg ahead of Prosser by a couple hundred votes. Wow! This is amazing. I am completely intrigued by the whole thing, fascinated that this election became supercharged like nothing we have seen in this state in a long, long time. Kloppenburg comes out of nowhere to win a near dead-heat against an 11-year incumbent!

Thanks to Scott Walker and the State Senate Republicans who could not have done a better job of motivating this emergent movement! See what hubris can bring you - when you don't have anything near what you thought you had to back it up.

What it shows in part is the significance of the State of Wisconsin in the great awakening of people in the U.S. to the corporate takeover of governments all around the country, to the encroachment of a fiercely anti-government agenda over much that we hold dear, high on the list for me being decency and a bit of fairness in how this country is run, what services it provides, the necessity of its role in protecting the rights of those who are not wealthy, not powerful corporate CEOs, not hedge fund investors, but working folks, middle class, and the rising population of those living in poverty.

Take a look at the Paul Ryan budget proposal which he himself calls not a budget but 'a cause.' It is a cause all right - for an acceleration of the income disparities that are ripping this country apart, lowering even more the tax rates on the rich and on their privileged wealth, and shredding government programs that have made this country a decent place for most of us to live (though, to our shame, never all of us).

We are a wealthy country. The only reason we face a debt and budget crisis is because the rich have made off with the economy of the nation, leaving more and more millions of people on its margins, or not in it at all. They are using us and our nation's resources to become even wealthier and to control elections, politicians, and legislation.

So I am completely awed by what has happened in this Supreme Court race. Whoever ends up winning that seat, a strong, clear message has been sent to Gov Walker and the Fitzgerald brothers - their agenda is not welcome in this state.

Hang onto your hats!  With recounts and recalls, we have some interesting weeks ahead of us!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Voting Day - more about what's at stake

I vote. I always vote. Even when it seems to make no difference at all, still I vote. I remember from my youth what it means to not have that right. I remember the police dogs and hoses, the marches in Selma and elsewhere in the South, the beatings, even the killings, as folks struggled, organized, agitated for the right to vote.

Here in Wisconsin they are predicting a 20% turnout statewide for today's elections. Pathetic. We are voting for a seat on the State Supreme Court, the court charged with guaranteeing our constitutional rights. We have 2 candidates of vastly differing judicial and political philosophies and values. We have had millions spent on TV ads, several public debates, and lots of vitriol slung by ideologues, especially on the right.

Outside my polling place - not bad, eh?
Are we really going to behave as if this doesn't matter - not even enough for the inconvenience of taking a few minutes to stop at the polls?

Locally we also have a special election to complete the year left in Gov Walker's term as Milwaukee County Executive, neither candidate much to write home about. But one is closely associated with Walker, so the contest took on all sorts of extra weight, seen as an early referendum on the gov himself.

For local readers, you know what I'm talking about. Lots at stake here in terms of making a statement on Walker's intentions for the state.

Speaking of which, today's top story: Walker's great payback to the road builders who lavished such generous cash on his campaign last year: Walker beefs up transport funding.  One of the things that first gave Walker national notoriety was when he turned down the feds $810 million for high-speed rail that would have connected Milwaukee to Madison and eventually all the way to Minneapolis, part of Obama's plan to unite our major cities with high speed rail lines, a wonderful more planet-saving alternative to flying. But Walker and his road building guys don't like that idea. They want more pavement. They want wider freeways. They want more traffic and congestion.

Yesterday we highlighted the hiring of the 27-yr-old son of Wisconsin Builders Association lobbyist Jerry Deschane, Brian Deschane, a guy with scant credentials or experience, to a $81,500-per-yr job in the Walker administration. According to this report:
"The group's political action committee gave $29,000 to the campaigns of Walker and his running mate, putting it among the campaign's top donors... members of the trade group also funneled more than $92,000 to Walker's campaign over the past two years, bringing the contribution total to $121,652."
Now, of course, the job, the funding, has nothing to do with any of this. The kid is really, really qualified how? I mean, how stupid do they think we are?

On the other hand, if all that is at stake for us right now, if all we know at this point of the intentions of the Walker administration for our state, still does not get us to the polling booth - then how stupid are we? Will a just, uncorrupt, decent government simply fall from the sky?

The voter turnout today may be as significant a result for our state as the outcomes of the elections themselves. And it will certainly say something about the work we have ahead of us if we are to reclaim a government of, by, and for the people.

So c'mon, friends - prove them wrong. VOTE!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Returning favors, patronage, nepotism, and more

What kind of government has taken the reins here in Wisconsin? For all the moralisms and following God stuff, part of Gov Scott Walker's c.v., it is amazing how seedy some of this gets.

The latest example was the front page headline today in the Journal Sentinel, the column by Daniel Bice: No degree, little experience pay off big.  It's about a 20-something named Brian Deschane - "no college degree, very little management experience and two drunken driving convictions" who just got a cushy high-paying job in the Walker administration overseeing - really, it's hard to write it because it is so stomach-churning - "environmental and regulatory matters and dozens of employees at the Department of Commerce."

I am speechless. This is the kind of job that you work your way up for over the course of a career, one that requires plenty of knowledge, experience, and skill. Imagine the experienced employees of middle age who will be overseen by this guy. Imagine our environmental and regulatory matters being placed in such hands.

Oh, and the job pays $81,500-per-year.  Great work if you can get it.

But how do you get it? Well, it helps if your father is Jerry Deschane, an executive and lobbyist for the Wisconsin Builders Association, a major contributor to Walker's campaign.

Friends, really, how does the moral right wing justify these things? I will tell you this, though - it reveals the character of the Walker government and of Walker himself. 

Then there's the girlfriend of Repub State Sen. Randy Hopper - the affair busted up his marriage - 26-year-old Valerie Cass - just landed a job as 'communication specialist' in the state Department of Regulation and Licensing - at a $11,000 raise from the pay of the person who had the job before her. Her new pay: $43,200.

What is with this government? This is just wrong, friends. It's wrong. But it tells you something about the quality of government we have to look forward to until we can turn this mistake around.

I mean, we could also talk about nepotism. We could talk about the Fitzgerald brothers, Jeff who is Assembly speaker and Scott who is Senate majority leader, getting their father Stephen appointed to head the Wisconsin State Patrol.

This stuff is starting to give off a bad odor - an odor of insider government, of old political machine patronage, of government by payback to campaign donors who are setting the agenda for your government. I have a feeling God would not like this; I have a feeling God would come down on the side of justice and compassion, good honest government, would look with dismay on this kind of power politics and deception.

Wisconsin has long been known for good government, for ethical government.  How quickly things change.

Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce tries to buy State Supreme Court

Here's another example of what I mean by corporate purchasing of our state government:

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Vital programs, human & political rights, all lined up on the Walker/Fitzgerald chopping block - unless democracy takes the knife from their hands

What they want is to dismantle the public sector as much as possible and privatize whatever they can get their hands on. What they want is a world in which corporations are free to make as much money as they want, CEOs and shareholders, with as few constraints as possible (like freedom to pollute, to not pay taxes, to make profits in prisons and schools, freedom to pay workers as little as possible, etc.), to surrender the inner cities to poverty because there's nothing in it for them to create programs that would generate jobs, housing, good education for workers they will never need.

You get the idea. I don't usually do a blog post on Sunday but will not be at my computer in the morning, so here's my rant as this week begins. It took a whole lot of decades to make of this western industrial world something other than what is so aptly and horrifically described in a Charles Dickens novel. But that's where we're headed if the corporatist right gets its way. I wish I could say there is an effective political counter to this steamroller, but even much of the political left has been pretty ineffective in recent years.

Which is why the Madison story is so important - something emerged there that does not fit easily into anyone's attempt to stereotype the phenomenon according to the old political spectrum. What joined people together with such an amazing combination of rage and joy was the threat we all feel to our communities, our neighborhoods, to a culture in this state - flawed, yes, overly parochial, yes, tainted with all sorts of troubled history like racism and self-interest, and leave-me-alone sorts of sentiments, sure, that's all present - but a culture that in its best moments recognizes that Wisconsin is a good place to live and can be an even better place to live if we address these flaws.

Now we see a great unraveling. Look at the long list on the Walker/Fitzgerald chopping block: public education, threatened by many things, none more serious than lifting the income caps for the voucher program; voter rights, as manifested in the proposed voter I.D. law that would disenfranchise large numbers of students, poor people, legal immigrants, and elderly folks; rollback of environmental regulations and a direct threat to the Clean Air Act as enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency; lower corporate tax rates, or even the elimination of corporate taxes, despite the heavy toll they take on our resources and the services they demand (think Zoo Interchange reconstruction, as one example); intentions to privatize (out-source) more public services, meaning lower wages, no benefits, more working poor, fewer worker rights, sacrificed on the altar of defeating Dems at all costs; threatening what little public financing for elections we have now, turning them over to those with the most money to spend.

I could go on. You could each add to the list. Point is, our quality of life is under assault by the current regime, and the only counter I can see to that is the popular voice that exploded into the headlines these past couple of months. Even our Wisconsin 14 were very clear about this - they have said that they only stayed away because of the protests. They left the state not knowing what would happen, but once folks were in the streets day after day and weekend after weekend, they COULD NOT come back even though a few of them really wanted to.

Larson, Erpenbach, Taylor, Risser, and others said this - their strength came from us.

I think often of the moment when LBJ signed the civil rights legislation knowing that his Democratic Party would probably lose the South for a generation after that (prescient). But he did it because politically he had no choice; it was not only the right thing to do, it was the ONLY thing to do to save the nation from a real collapse into more chaos and violence.

The point being, it was a moment when a movement and the politics came together. The politics did not create that moment; the movement did. The movement shaped the politics and the politics had to respond. That's what happened in the weeks following the Wisconsin 14's flight to Illinois. A movement appeared, loud and raucous and energized by a feeling of popular empowerment, and the 14 determined their strategy on that basis.

And this spirit feeds the new political work - recall efforts and certainly the highest profile race for judge that we've seen in a long time, if ever; voter registration efforts; greeting the governor with protests wherever he happens to be appearing; or the record attendance at town hall meetings and community gatherings.

All of this to try to keep together what sits on the chopping block. A big knife hovers over so many programs and rules and regulations that bring quality to our lives, or at least attempt to do so, and the point is to simply take that knife from the hand that wields it.

Apathy, lethargy, lack of vigilance and participation on the part of citizens of this state are among the reasons why we are seeing our rights threatened by a state government voted in with only half of eligible voters exercising this right (and that was considered a high turnout). Now we are seeing not only what participatory democracy can do, but why it is so crucial to our well-being, to the common good and the good of the commons.

Oh, and BTW - Vote on April 5!

Photos: Margaret Swedish

Friday, April 1, 2011

Judge Sumi really, really means it

In just a little while, Dane Circuit Court Judge Maryann Sumi will hear arguments on the request by Dane County DA Ismael Ozanne to block the union busting law until she can consider whether or not Republican legislators passed it properly (this morning's front page article). I don't have to tell you why it is being challenged. We all remember with a bit of rage how Sen. Scott Fitzgerald rammed it through in violation of the state's open meetings law while 14 Democrats were 'on the lam' in Illinois to deny them a quorum on the notorious budget repair bill.

Yesterday for the THIRD time, Judge Sumi basically asked Repubs what it is about her temporary restraining order that they did not understand, at one point threatening sanctions if they continued to defy the court.  Now Guv Scott Walker is all polite on us saying he'll abide by the law because he has to, but doesn't really want to.

He really does remind me sometimes of the playground bully who thinks he has the ball and can run home with it if he feels like it.  Democracy - you run for governor, you win by withholding your real agenda from voters, you start implementing the real agenda, voters are outraged, but you think once elected you can do whatever you want, and now a court says, well, maybe not, meanwhile your approval rating sinks into a deepening abyss.

Democracy - really doesn't stop on inauguration day.

Democracy - you have to abide by the law (yes, King Scott Fitzgerald, that even means you), even when it means you don't get your way during your reign.

United States democracy - founded on a revolution against the king, founded on a revolution against tyranny from the crown, when rule by the monarchy felt a lot like a suffocating oppression.

All you protesters and fed-up public and private sector workers who have seen you labor rights eroded, your wages sink, your houses lost to foreclosure, your kids' education in jeopardy, your health insurance disappearing - please ponder this. We are only in a 'budget crisis' by design of the corporate backers of these politicians and these initiatives in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, New Jersey, Florida, Indiana, and elsewhere, by design of mega-corporations who want to get government - and you - out of their way. They have no intention of creating good-paying jobs because they don't need to and don't want to - except for the fewer workers they need at lower wages and benefits (a la Kohler, Mercury Marine, and Harley Davidson).

In the public sector, they want to outsource your jobs, our schools, our utilities, our airports, our flagship university, our prisons, and more so that they can run things for their financial benefit, so that they can make more and more of this country into a corporate state - a bit like England in the 1700s.

The more this happens, the more we lose access to the big decisions that effect all of our lives and the common goods (along with the good of the commons), the quality of our lives, our environment, our educational institutions, etc.  We can challenge government; it remains accountable to us. Corporations remain legally accountable only to their shareholders, or in the case of the very private Koch brothers, to themselves.

Once upon a time, writing like this would leave one vulnerable to accusations of being 'leftist,' or 'socialist,' or a crazy liberal. But now we know that what I write here is merely descriptive,  not polemical.

Republican appointee Judge Sumi is one great example of this. She is hardly anybody's liberal, but she is obviously pretty convinced that Ozanne has an excellent case and an excellent chance of winning. While no one can say yet how she will ultimately rule, or what pressures she is dealing with right now, the response of King Fitzgerald to the perfectly legitimate actions of Democrats to prevent quorum, the deceptive and hasty maneuver to get the union-busting law passed, and then the response from the Walker administration when Judge Sumi said, 'whoa, wait, not so fast,' again reveals the essential thing we need to know right now about this administration and it's Fitzgerald enablers in the Senate and Assembly.

Folks, stay very engaged in this. Don't give up or lose hope. Something special has been sparked here in Wisconsin. Democracy can overcome corporate monarchy one more time, this time before it has a chance to re-entrench itself. I want democracy of the people, by the people, and for the people, not for the corporate giants, their shareholders, and their wealthy investors. I have a feeling you do, too.