Thursday, March 31, 2011

Koch brothers buying our government

An editorial in today's NY Times really caught my attention. If you want a clearer picture of what is going on in our state, where Koch Industries opened a lobbying office in downtown Madison as Walker was being inaugurated, here's another example.

Koch Industries' home base is Wichita KS. Mike Pompeo is a new member of the House of Reps and, according to the editors, is known as 'the Congressman from Koch.'  The now-infamous brothers donated $80,000 to his campaign.  Now they are getting their payback.
"[Pompeo's] contributions to the House Republicans’ budget-slashing legislation included two top priorities of Koch Industries: killing off funds for the Obama administration’s new database for consumer complaints about unsafe products and for a registry of greenhouse gas polluters at the Environmental Protection Agency."
Remember, too, that the Supreme Court ruled last year in the notorious Citizens United case that corporations pretty much have unlimited 'speech,' meaning can spend unlimited funds trying to influence the outcome of elections. President Obama and many others rightly called this a threat to our democracy, a major unbalancing between the power of the richest, biggest corporations in the world and, you know, us.

Photo: Margaret Swedish
It has been suggested that a major reason for busting public sector unions is to remove one of the few organized voices of the folks, a voice with some considerable funds available to lift up an alternative to the corporate media blitz. Crush unions, corporate bosses crush a major opposition voice. Crush unions, crush a source of campaign donations for candidates who oppose their corporate agenda.

And you see from the actions of Pompeo what that agenda looks like, what the intent is - to gut the role of government to regulate the worst corporate practices, to protect citizens and consumers from their toxins and waste, from their bad products and threats to our environment. Also, to protect the rights of workers by defending their rights to collectively bargain over their contracts, basics like decent wages and benefits, working conditions, grievance procedures, and more.

In an article for The New York Review of Books last year, Ronald Dworkin wrote a long, disturbing analysis of the Citizens United ruling. He writes:
"Though the Court’s decision will do nothing to deter corruption in that way, it will do a great deal to encourage one particularly dangerous form of it. It will sharply increase the opportunity of corporations to tempt or intimidate congressmen facing reelection campaigns. Obama and Speaker Nancy Pelosi had great difficulty persuading some members of the House of Representatives to vote for the health care reform bill, which finally passed with a dangerously thin majority, because those members feared they were risking their seats in the coming midterm elections. They knew, after the Court’s decision, that they might face not just another party and candidate but a tidal wave of negative ads financed by health insurance companies with enormous sums of their shareholders’ money to spend."
We are seeing the results of this power grab by corporations now here in Wisconsin.  This is why I cannot say strongly enough: if organizations of all kinds all around the country do not get focused on issues like campaign finance reform, if taxpayers continue to resist public financing of campaigns, if we continue to appoint Supreme Court justices who believe that corporations have rights to speech as 'persons' under the Constitution, our democracy is in grave danger, indeed.

The political reform needed is becoming more urgent and profound. We are only beginning to realize the extent to which our democracy is being stolen from us by corporate money.

I urge you to read carefully all the linked articles on this post. Our futures are at stake. We need to know what's going on in order to meet the challenges effectively.

And vote on April 5!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Only democracy can stop the assault on democracy

What happened again yesterday - reiteration of the restraining order on the union busting bill, the assertion by the state attorney general's office that it will not abide by it - is just another expression of a broad and dangerous assault on democratic government here in Wisconsin.  Sadly, we're not alone.

I wish it was not necessary to sound so dire, but unless we fully understand this, and unless all of us who care about these things - organizers, writers, workers, unemployed, folks of all colors and backgrounds who are under threat of losing the rights we hold dear - recognize what is going on, these efforts will fall short.

Again, just to put this in context - there is an effort underway in states around the country to give government to corporations, to give them the benefits of tax credits, tax breaks, or, as in the case of G.E., no taxes at all, to assign natural resources to them for exploitation accompanied by weakened environmental regulations, while workers and unemployed are being consigned to the margins of the economy, if they have any place in it at all.

Here is one of the reasons that this corporate takeover has happened: low voter participation, and even lower levels of political advocacy on the part of citizens who have most to lose in this process.

But more is at work - read this article from yesterday's NY Times very carefully to get a sense of what I mean. The Supreme Court is reviewing an AZ law that provides matching funds to candidates who accept public money for their campaigns. Many fear that this will be Citizens United to the nth degree. If the court strikes down AZ's public financing law, it could have a cascading effect across the country. That would mean that corporate donors would become THE single largest source of funds for political campaigns.

Is this what the framers of the Constitution had in mind? Is this what you have in mind when you think about your right to vote to decide who will represent you?

Right now the Walker regime has more in mind than busting unions, and therefore a major funding source of the Democratic Party, as well as a strong grassroots organizing base for voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts. They are also trying to suppress voter rights. Why do they want to do this? Bet you can guess.

Before democracy loses any more ground, citizens need to get active in suppressing the participation of corporations and their money, reasserting a culture in which citizens carry the rights to decide elections, not corporate money, and reaffirming a culture of voter activism and participation.

Will voters turn out next week in this critical Wisconsin election? If not, we will have only ourselves to blame if we find our political rights swiftly eroding.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Battle over rule of law

Stunning, isn't it, how quickly Gov Walker and the Fitzgerald Republicans have shown the kind of anti-democratic ideologues that they truly are. When they meet opposition, they hit hard, and then they try to roll over you. If you're the Democratic opposition in the Assembly and Senate, they try to pass quick votes on legislation no one has had time to read, they schedule quick votes and then don't tell the Democrats, they tear away a big controversial part of a bill successfully stalled by the Dems breaking quorum and heading south of the border, then violate open meetings laws to pass it anyway.

Then, when taken to court, a judge issues a straightforward, clear, unequivocal temporary restraining order to halt implementation of the bill until the issue can be thoroughly argued before the judge - and they act as if the court simply does not exist.

So the judge, understandably perturbed, reiterated her ruling earlier this evening. Dane County Circuit Court Judge Maryann Sumi again pronounced today that the temporary restraining order is in effect, which means the law busting public sector unions and cutting pay and benefits is not.
"Apparently that language was either misunderstood or ignored, but what I said was the further implementation of Act 10 was enjoined. That is what I now want to make crystal clear,"  said the judge.

What does it mean to an authoritarian government when a court orders it to stop taking an action it wants to take? Well, nothing; it simply ignores it, of course. The Walker administration is going on as if the third branch of government has no authority. It does not recognize the rule of law.

I don't know how to communicate sufficiently the danger we are in here, and in the state of Michigan and other states where folks of Walker's ilk are taking direct hits at the very idea of democracy itself and the vital institutions necessary to ensure its proper functioning. It is not up to the executive or legislative branches of government to decide whether or not they will abide by the law when rendered by the third co-equal branch of government, the judiciary. If they get away with this, something far more disturbing will be blowing in our wind here in this state.

Powerful forces rooted in vast corporate wealth are at work here and around the country to gut government of the people, by the people, and for the people. The rightist politicians give away their real agenda when they refuse to submit to the rule of law when it challenges that agenda - to subvert democracy itself to their benefit.

Sec. of State Doug La Follette was on The Rachel Maddow show tonight and one of the points he made was apt - if the Republicans want to settle the matter, they could start over, resubmit the bill, and vote on it again. They have a majority in both houses. Is this mere stubbornness, "I will get my way or else?"

Asked to guess about their reasons for not doing this, La Follette smiled and then wondered out loud whether they are afraid it would not pass a second time.  With polls turning sharply against the Republicans and several enthusiastic recall efforts underway in Senate districts, maybe that's the case.

But I also wonder this - if the real effort here is to try to trump the court with a sheer power play, to try to weaken the rule of law by weakening the institution of last resort when rights are on the line - our state and federal courts.

The struggle for democracy is never finally won. Lack of vigilance, low voter turnout and apathy, disdain for government which has been all the rage in recent years, have allowed the corporate takeover of our public institutions to become a real threat to our democracy, while we were all looking the other way, or watching TV or playing video games while texting our friends.

Now we know - it is time to rivet our attention back into the political system in which we live and to hope it is not too late to wrest our government at all levels from the corporate billionaires who are making their bid to take power into their hands and put government at their service - to the detriment (and I really mean this, folks) of all of us.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Zoo Interchange - this is insane!

You know, the awareness just settles in at times - this realization that we are really crazy, that we stand before our mounting problems and crises like deer in the headlights, stunned and startled, paralyzed - and then we throw the very same 'solutions' at them that created them in the first place.

Source: DOT & Journal Sentinel
And so the new 'scaled-down' plans for the reconstruction of the Zoo Interchange.

The headline screamed off the front page this morning: "Interchange plan affects Tosa streets." Okay, maybe that's not a scream, maybe the screaming nature of these words is in the ears of the reader:

"What are you doing?!?!  Are you out of your mind?!?!"

Actually, I have been feeling that simmering scream since all the talk began about the UWM-anchored research park, the plans for development on the County Grounds, plans to put thousands more workers and supporting businesses into this already fully packed, dense suburban area.

I grew up in Tosa, so forgive me for having a somewhat personal stake in this plan. I mean, it is not a long walk from the interchange to the house in which I grew up - before Swan Blvd. was cut through, before the freeway and Mayfair Mall were built, long before that environmental disaster called 'flood control' that destroyed the community gardens and lots of beautiful woods.

Now they want to put thousands more cars and more air pollution and more and more commerce and a vastly heavier development footprint right there, adding directly to the already cramped density, trampling what is left of the green spaces and parks that made that area a bit of an island in the midst of upscale suburban sprawl.

Waukesha County officials want this. For a long time, they have wanted wider freeways and more traffic lanes to feed their own version of sprawl. They want to develop by way of cars and trucks and traffic.

So, here's the future - all this density and crush of traffic and people and commuters being constructed at the same time as we will begin to really feel the looming energy shortages, as gas prices go to $5-$6 per gallon and more over the next decade - because it does not matter what political party is in office, this is going to be a function of those shortages. Demand is up, supply is barely meeting it, and demand is going to continue to go up and supply will begin to decline.

Here's what you won't see either Scott Walker or Waukesha County officials support - an urgent beginning to the development of a light rail system to carry human beings when all those SUVs and cars and trucks are no longer practical or realistic. There was even federal money for this, and the potential for many, many jobs, but jobs are not really what these folks are concerned about. It's what kind of jobs and in whose service.

I live in Bay View and have imagined a world in which I could just take my monthly trolley pass and walk a couple of blocks to a stop on  KK and be downtown in 10 minutes, or in Tosa, say, in 15 or 20, reading my paper or my book, the car parked in the garage except when really needed.

Not in the world of the Koch brothers, Scott Walker, or the road-building lobby that contributed so generously to his campaign (see this article from the Journal Sentinel).

Sometimes I wonder where this state is headed. This is a classic case of operating out of the same mindset, the same consciousness, that created the problem in the first place (thank you, Albert Einstein). We are simply not getting how much the world is changing and that continuing to 'develop' like this is leading rapidly to TILT!

This is not innovation. It is, rather, expression of a profound lack of creativity in an increasingly crowded, crunched, ecologically damaged world combined with corporate interests who hope you will continue to want to live like an isolated individual - stuck in rush hour traffic while your vehicle burns gas at $5 per gallon spewing pollution into the air and wrecking more of what is left of our green spaces.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

This is getting crazy - the latest assault on democracy from Walker & Co.

Really, folks, you think these people would at least pretend that they honor democratic government, the three co-equal branches of government, the laws and rules of the political process.

But when they don't get their way, they just steamroll right over democracy itself. Even when a court slows them down, they go on as if courts, as if the judicial branch of government, is a mere annoyance, something to get out of their way.

They, of course, being the corporate-run and increasingly dominant wing of the Republican Party, the one trying not to govern our state but to rule it.

The latest trick is pretty enraging. A judge issues a restraining order prohibiting publication by the Sec. of State of a proposed law to take away collective bargaining rights from public workers, and so they publish it anyway - somewhere else.

Read all about it here. Now, the Walker/Fitzgerald administration is playing cute with the law, saying the order only mentions publication by the Sec. of St. in the Wisconsin State Journal and so now that it is published somewhere else, the law is now in effect. But here is what the order actually states:
I do, therefore, restrain and enjoin the further implementation of 2011 Wisconsin Act 10. The next step in implementation of that law would be the publication of that law by the secretary of state. He is restrained and enjoined from such publication until further order of this court.”
Okay, Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi who issued the order back on March 18 does stop the 'next step' in implementation of the law, publication of it by the Sec. of State - because that would be the next step. But the first sentence tells you everything you need to know about the intent of the order.

Meanwhile, Republicans are also trying to chill speech. The other day, as you know, Professor William Cronon of UW-Madison wrote an Opinion essay for the NY Times that rather unflatteringly compared the political style of Scott Walker to Joe McCarthy, in the sense that his tactics are causing profound polarization and demonizing of his opponents. He accuses Walker of making a radical break with our state's 'core values.'

In his recent research into the sudden emergence of similar and very well organized legislative campaigns in a number of states, Cronon had delved into the key role being played by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate-sponsored, secretive organization that is behind much of the agenda of gutting state government, slashing corporate taxes, busting unions, and privatizing public services that is all the rage in places like Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, New Jersey, Indiana, Florida...

You see, there is a plan afoot here, one that has been funded and pushed for decades and which now is having real impact on our local and state governments, not to mention that Tea Party crowd that worked their way into the House of Representatives with the intent to shut down government and create chaos.

From SourceWatch, an excellent resource if you are looking for background into all sorts of organizations, their sponsors, funders, and agendas:
"The organization [ALEC] has been semi-secretive (makes knowing its members difficult information to find), has been highly influential, has operated quietly in the United States for decades, and received remarkably little scrutiny from journalists, media or members of the public during that time. Superficially, ALEC’s membership is mostly made up of thousands of state legislators, each of whom pays a nominal membership fee to attend ALEC's retreats and receive model legislation. ALEC’s corporate contributors pay far more to gain access to legislators and distribute to them corporate-crafted legislation. Thus, while ALEC's membership appears to be mostly from the public sector, the groups funding is almost entirely private sector. In reality, ALEC's public-sector membership dues account for only around one percent of ALEC’s annual revenues. 81.7% of ALEC's income comes from corporations, while just 1.3% comes from legislator dues.
"ALEC claims to be nonpartisan, but its free-market and pro-business goals are clear. The result of ALEC's efforts has been a consistent pipeline of special interest legislation being funneled into state capitols across the United States... One of ALEC's primary funders are the trusts associated with the controversial Koch family, that includes David Koch, a billionaire and one of the leaders of one of the richest privately held corporations in the world, Koch Industries."

Anyone still think the real agenda here is about deficits and balancing budgets?  Anyone think that Walker really believes the state is 'broke' and there's nothing we can do about it except to gut government, pull the rug out from under the middle class, give our natural resources away, pollute our environment, and throw more of our people into poverty?

I urge anyone who reads this to click on the link to the SourceWatch page on the ALEC and then pass it on to your friends. It is vital that we know this - otherwise, we will be waging the wrong struggle.

As I have written before, the only way to effectively counter this kind of corporate power over the body politic is by mass democracy, cross-sector solidarity, a coming together of mutual interests across class and economic lines, a sense that we are all in this together, all threatened by the same forces, all united in our desire for a decent and democratic state government which priority is the well-being of all our citizens, with the broadest participation, especially of the poor and marginalized among us, those most endangered by the policies these budget bills seek to put in place.

BTW - Cronon has a terrific study guide on the ALEC and similar groups on his new blog. Click here.  And you may be interested to know that since the controversy lit up after his piece in the Times, his blog has had more than TWO MILLION visits. The ALEC is trying to tamp down the attention. In attacking Cronon and seeking to chill his speech and others who dare expose these things, the sun is shining brighter and brighter on their intentions.

Friday, March 25, 2011

100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire - and we're losing our memory

I've been sitting at my computer trying to get some work done with a live stream of the commemoration events at the site of the fire 100 years ago today in the background grabbing my attention over and over again - 146 young women whose lives were snuffed out in a moment of incomprehensible horror because their bosses thought of them as machines for their use and exploitation.

Wonderful website for the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition.

How quickly we forget. How quickly we relax into inertia and complacency believing that rights once won can never again be lost, as if the very fact that they were hard won doesn't mean that their defense calls always for vigilance.

I think now of eroding worker rights in the private sector (here in Wisconsin most recently with contract concessions at Harley-Davidson, Kohler, and Mercury Marine) and now in the public sector all across the country.  Bosses and bureaucrats want us to forget what working conditions were like before unions, and they hope that forgetfulness translates into apathy when 'other people's' rights are taken away.

The big surprise in Wisconsin last month was that this is not what happened. When the assault on the collective bargaining rights of 350,000 public workers (a number that means all of us know someone impacted by the threat) happened here, tens of thousands and then well over a hundred thousand people poured into the streets of Madison and many other communities around the state.

It is crucial now that public workers pay this back in support for the factory workers whose livelihoods have been gutted, in support for the unemployed and the poor, those who have diminishing hopes of ever again having a decent job to support their families. Without solidarity of great breadth and depth, the forces with endless resources to support them - corporations, CEOs, investors, politicians bought and paid for by corporate campaign donations - will steamroll over all of us.

The crowd in Manhattan is huge. This is gratifying. We are waking up. We are beginning to remember. We are beginning to reclaim this history.

Terrific essay in the Journal Sentinel today connecting the Triangle Factory fire to our struggles today, written by Nan Enstad, UW-Madison, The Triangle Fire and Its Lessons. She explains clearly what has happened to the evolution of the corporate world in this country and the connection between this and our swiftly disappearing worker rights:
People in Wisconsin now find themselves embroiled in this 100-year-old battle, opened on a new front. The Citizens United 2009 Supreme Court decision expanded the rights of corporate personhood in our political life, removing caps on corporate - and union - spending in elections.

The crisis in Wisconsin is occurring at just this junction of government, corporate power and workers' rights. Republican leaders respond strongly to distant corporate donors and ignore local polls of voters' views. The proposed budget threatens to privatize education and utilities while cutting benefits and programs that serve the poor, shifting profits to corporations and distributing costs downward.

The Triangle era provides us with an important insight: Corporations on their own lack local accountability. Politicians in the service of corporations will be tempted to betray their constituents. Local people have an investment in local accountability. Schools, faith communities, townships, workers, farmers and small business owners all must empower themselves and each other to participate meaningfully and creatively in guiding our path into the future.

Gratifying to see in today's crowd in the streets of Manhattan signs proclaiming, "We Are All Wisconsin."  That makes me proud to be a citizen of this state. But it is also a challenge to us all - to live up to those hopes and expectations.

Rep. Charles Schumer from New York just gave a stirring speech at the commemoration, and he held up Scott Walker as someone prepared "to undo your loved ones' legacy," speaking to garment workers and their union. We are at the heart of this struggle here in Wisconsin. We are being lifted up across the nation as an example of the threat and the hope that is in that struggle.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

April 5 - raising the stakes

Well, a state appeals panel just raised the stakes in the April 5 Supreme Court election.  The panel, which was hearing an appeal of the temporary restraining order that halted implementation of the union-busting bill, could be headed for the court less than 2 weeks before the election.

Doesn't mean the court will rule by then, but it sure does put this on the agenda when we go to the polls that day.

It's not so much that the election will decide the outcome of the case (though it certainly might), it just emphasizes the importance of the race between incumbent David Prosser and challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg for a 10-year term on the Supreme Court.  It is likely that many more of the governor's and state Republicans' policy moves could end up in the state's courts. That is what a third branch of government is all about, of course - to resolve constitutional issues, and to protect the interests and rights of citizens when threatened by the other 2 branches of government.

Putting judges up for election, rather than appointment and a rigorous confirmation process, has politicized our courts all across the country.  I still think this has turned out to be a very bad idea.  In any case - vote on April 5. If we don't exercise this right, we get the government we deserve. After the fact, buyers' remorse is of little use.

The economy is being restructured - and not in a good way

Understand this, please, because it is crucial. What is happening in Wisconsin is part of an inexorable restructuring of global capital over the past 3 decades or so. A broad middle class was built here after World War II on the foundations of a vast industrial expansion. That expansion ended long ago. Once this nation played a crucial role in manufacturing, then manufacturing began moving off-shore, in part to begin depressing escalating costs of labor - and you see how that has worked very well for corporations. Wages have plummeted as US workers found themselves competing with cheap labor around the world.

Then our crucial role was to consume, and boy did we consume! But when they needed us to consume more than our monthly income could pay for in order to keep driving up profits, they created a vast credit card culture so that we could buy things by going into debt. When we were maxing out our credit cards, they began a booming industry in mortgage refinancing and home equity loans, and we continued buying and going into debt, this time with our homes on the line.

They did some other things, too. They convinced us that 401(k)s were a better retirement benefit than guaranteed pensions. This gave them vast sources of cash now available for private investors to make more profits. Now millions of us became hooked into Wall Street and other financial institutions for our future, and they used our personal  investments, along with our bundled mortgage  loans, with reckless abandon until the great collapse of 2008.

Now they also want our Social Security money. They can't wait to get their hands on this enormous pool of public money for the enrichment of their investment firms and hedge funds.

In this new global economy, they need fewer workers, while they need or are greedy for our resources. They want to privatize everything, make more and more of our common good and the good of the commons available for commodification and profit-making.

Now put the Walker/Fitzgerald brothers/Koch Industries plan for the state of Wisconsin in this context, and you begin to understand what's going on here. I have followed these issues for decades, learned them in my work in Washington DC. We have watched the unfolding of this new global economy in stark terms in many poor countries, knowing it would eventually come home to us, and now it has.

I want to offer this link to one way in which this is now playing out here - the creation of a class of permanently unemployed, and therefore my friends, the immediate impoverishment of millions of us. This is happening at the same time as those making these policies in the House of Reps, in our state Capitol, in Michigan, Ohio, New Jersey, and on and on are attempting to shrink government services, gut the public sector, and hand more of our precious shared public wealth to the corporate sector.

If we are going to counter this trend, we are going to have to be brave enough to admit that an old economic way of life is over, that a new one must be created, and that the need for broad-based solidarity among us is critical if we are to counter this destructive economic trend.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Struggle in Wisconsin - "We will not lose our love for each other..."

Thanks to one of my Facebook friends for posting this video (below). It is sad, angering, disturbing, eloquent, fervent, and resounding with hope by its end.

Friends, we are in danger of losing something very special about this state. What this video does is list some of these potential losses, threats to our people and our state from Governor Walker's proposed budget cuts and radical changes to our tax structures. But what it also affirms is what can help us overcome this moment of real danger to the quality of our lives and our communities - a commitment to join together in a greater solidarity bound by the values expressed in this film, not least of which is love for one another.

I don't minimize the real chasms among us.  There remains racism and ethnic discrimination, there remains divides among classes and cultures, there remains a strain of individualism that resists seeing that we are all connected by the ecological, economic, and social relationships within which we live, there are tensions between rural and urban communities, and more. But there is also something that binds us, especially in moments of crisis and danger, our love for Wisconsin, our love for our families, our communities, and the state's magnificent natural beauty.

What many of us have experienced in the streets of Madison and among so many friends, family members, and neighbors impacted or threatened by the policies that Walker and rightist Republicans are trying to impose on this state, is a sense that we are all in this together - and that the only way to engage in this struggle is, therefore, together.

So maybe this difficult time will become a very special time in the State of Wisconsin. If what is communicated in this video remains the spirit of a new solidarity movement, if we keep this a work of the heart, then something special can be reborn here - out of crisis, a new beginning.

For those who receive this by email, if you don't see the video, click here for the video.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Walker and Joe McCarthy: "Have you no decency, sir?"

Column in the NY Times today by a UW-Madison prof, William Cronon, begs reading. He opens Wisconsin's political history, the dynamism of our tradition of progressive politics, and how some of the impulses of that actually came from the Republican Party - including broadening worker rights and the social safety net.

He compares Gov Walker to Sen. Joe McCarthy - many differences, but something disturbingly in common in "the style of the two men - their aggressiveness, their self-certainty, their seeming indifference to contrary views."

"The turmoil in Wisconsin is not only about bargaining rights or the pension payments of public employees. It is about transparency and openness. It is about neighborliness, decency and mutual respect."

Many Republicans left the party and joined the Democrats in disgust over McCarthy's harsh attacks and anti-communist rants. We hope the acrimony and divisiveness caused by Walker's and the Fitzgerald brothers' anti-democratic tendencies will spark a new progressive politics in our time, one that re-roots our political culture in the tradition of which Cronon reminds us.

Wisconsin: know who the Koch brothers are - this is crucial to our future

Hey, Wisconsin friends and advocates: there's been a lot of talk lately, protest, and more, about Koch Industries, and the Koch brothers, David and Charles, who helped bankroll the Walker campaign, then opened a lobbying office in downtown Madison when he took office in January.

Photo: Margaret Swedish
We know this about them so far: their economic interests in the state include the oil pipeline from Alberta and the planned extension, called Keystone XL, down to the Gulf of Mexico; the interests of their polluting paper and pulp manufacturing company, Georgia Pacific (see below); a governor and legislature willing to crush unions, lower wage scales and benefits, create a 'right to work' state and lax regulatory environment (for example, read about a new threat to the Fox River near Green Bay and more info on GP's polluting corporate practices in our state and elsewhere), a new state government willing to cut corporate taxes even more, allow more freedom to pollute, and privatize whatever they can manage to privatize.

But the more I learn about them, the scarier this gets. For instance, how many of us know that the roots of the family's wealth is in Stalin's Soviet Union, that after whatever break happened there, the patriarch Fred became a rabid anti-communist, leader of the rightist John Birch Society back in the 50s and 60s, known for their hatred of Jews, African-Americans, gays and lesbians, labor unions, etc?  How many of us know that a third brother, William, broke with his siblings back in 2000 to publicly accuse them of making a fortune through stealing and cheating?

Here's what you need to know, my friends, about these powerful corporate actors who operate in our state with intentions to destroy so much of what we love about our Wisconsin.

The Roots of Stalin in the Tea Party Movement

It is crucial that we get this. We are confronting a major threat to our democracy, not only in this state but nationally. These guys also want to bring down President Obama and purchase our government for their interests. Friends, their interests are not your interests, not the interests of your children, or the health of our communities, or representative and accountable government - which just gets in their way.

Friends of Wisconsin, understand who these power players are. Understand who represents their interests in our state government.  Follow this money - all around the nation - because it will help us not only understand what is really going on, but how to counter it by our advocacy, our community work, our votes, and our sharing of this info with neighbors, families, friends.

The only way I know to counter grave threats to our democracy is by way of our democracy. Democracy fails when citizens are not well-informed and engaged. So this challenge now lies in the laps of all of us. Are we up to it?

From Wikipedia: "Based on year 2000 data, researchers at the Political Economy Research Institute of the University of Massachusetts named Georgia-Pacific as the fifteenth-largest corporate producer of air pollution in the United States. In that year, Georgia-Pacific facilities released more than 22,000,000 pounds of toxic chemicals into the air. Georgia-Pacific has also been linked to some of the United States' worst toxic waste sites."

Monday, March 21, 2011

Budget cuts and the reality of decline

Get used to a deteriorating quality of life in this state, and in my city - because it is becoming clearer and clearer what Scott Walker's budget proposals will mean if they become law.

Let me just put this comment in some perspective: in September 2008, the financial world collapsed on the cracked pillars of financial speculation by enormous banks and Wall Street investors involving our home mortgages, mounting consumer debt, and deceptive loans provided to people who didn't know what they were signing. Throw in a couple of wars which costs will be in the trillions. A recession had already begun, but it got going in earnest following the collapse. Unemployment rose to 9.4%, remains very high amid growing signs that those who have not worked over the last 1-2 years may have joined the rolls of the permanently unemployed.

Two years later, in Dec. 2010, President Obama agreed to a compromise that extended unemployment benefits but also extended the Bush tax cuts another 2 yrs - cuts that many economists consider one of the biggest drivers behind the US's mounting deficit problem.

Throw these dymanisms on the fuel of disruptive major changes in the global economy over the past 3 decades - production moving off-shore, unions losing their clout to defend the old social contract of well-paid labor with benefits, robotics and other technology replacing more and more workers, rising poverty, unemployment and lower wages for those still working, meaning lower tax collections for cities and states - while still more taxes on wealth and corporations were being cut...

Now add into this mix the rising demand for government services because of these economic drivers - unemployment insurance, rising Medicaid costs as workers lose health benefits from their lost jobs, rise in demand for food stamps and other poverty programs, greater stresses within inner cities that feel the brunt of these changes which get translated into greater needs for services, and on and on... you get the picture.

Then along comes Gov. Walker whom people elect in a 'throw the bums out' pique of discontent, a guy who when asked insists on describing himself as a 'budget cutter' with little regard for those who will be most impacted by the cuts - the same people already impacted by the lower revenues from the combination of a fractured middle class and rising poverty with more and more tax benefits for the wealthy and for corporations - and what do you have?

Yes, decline. Decline in our cities. Decline in our environment. Decline in quality of life. Decline in any sense of the common good.

Is this really the future we want?

Today's paper had a front page article on what the cuts will mean for counties, where so many of the services on which we rely originate - like fixing the growing potholes and the streets falling apart, or trash collection, or mental health services, or upkeep of our parks and summer swimming pools, etc.  'Local counties hit hard in Walker budget,' screams the headline. At least it screams to me. It screams decline, a deteriorating quality of life.

Appreciate, please, that I do mean quality of life, not 'standard of living.' I work on ecological issues, and it is clear that the US cannot sustain in any rational way the 'standard of living' to which we became accustomed in our consumer society. I mean quality - things like breathable air, clean water, good food, decent housing, availability of quality health services, efficient mass transit, roads that won't eat your tires, neighborhoods where people care about one another and it's safe to walk down the street or sit on your porches in the evenings visiting with neighbors and friends, decent work and wages that make it possible to raise a family with dignity.

These things depend upon a strong concern among a population for the well-being of all, for the common good, and the good of the commons - the goodness of what we share as residents of our community by the simple fact that we live here. It means a commitment to folks paying their fair share in taxes so that all of us can have quality of life. It means regulating corporate behavior to protect our environment, the commons we share, the general well-being.

These are not the things that are in Scott Walker's calculations, or the Fitzgerald brothers, or those who think cutting budgets is the singular way out of our economic problems.

I still insist on this - we do not have a deficit problem. What is creating the budget crunch is not on the deficit side. We have a revenue problem. And since, for whatever reason, we no longer think that a progressive tax system is the way to go, that system which - and please make note of this - was the basis on which a broad middle class was built, we are leaving ourselves with few options to reverse the decline. The biggest cut to revenue in my lifetime has been the lowering of tax rates on wealth from 90% in the 1950s to the current 35%. And it is one of the drivers that has accelerated the concentration of wealth to the point where 400 people hold more wealth and assets than half our population.
In the United States, wealth is highly concentrated in a relatively few hands. As of 2007, the top 1% of households (the upper class) owned 34.6% of all privately held wealth, and the next 19% (the managerial, professional, and small business stratum) had 50.5%, which means that just 20% of the people owned a remarkable 85%, leaving only 15% of the wealth for the bottom 80% (wage and salary workers). ~ Wealth, Income, and Power, G. William Domhoff, Univ. of California at Santa Cruz

But now we have workers and unemployed fighting against one another and voting for more budget cutters, while folks like the Koch brothers laugh all the way to the bank, getting tax breaks to cut down our trees and pollute our air and water to their benefit, or agribusiness folks and chem-lawn type companies who make their profits off the greatest threat to the water that comes out our taps - runoff pollution.

We read last week that Walker wants to repeal new regulations put in place to control runoff. Who benefits? You and me?

So when I speak of quality of life, I do not mean weed-free lawns, or the rights of industrial farms to avoid regulations on fertilizers and other pollutants; I mean the health and well-being of our people.

Wisconsin is seeing numerous issues now being thrust into the light of day. We have to keep shining more and more light on the hidden places - so that we can make the decisions we need to make before we find ourselves unable to make any effective decisions at all about the future of our communities and the kind of life we want for our families, neighbors, and friends.

Photos: Margaret Swedish

Friday, March 18, 2011

Busting public sector unions is violation of international labor law

The International Commission for Labor Rights (ICLR) may not be a favorite of Republicans - who hate the UN, International Criminal Court, and other international bodies that might put any legal constraints on this country's behavior - but still, this is an important statement.  It is an assertion that collective bargaining rights are human rights, and that public sector workers are being denied legally recognized rights in our state - and in Ohio, and in Michigan, and in Indiana...

Collective Bargaining Rights Are Fundamental Human Rights-Denying Them is Illegal

Statement of the International Commission for Labor Rights.

As workers in the thousands and hundreds of thousands in Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio and around the country demonstrate to protect the right of public sector workers to collective bargaining, the political battle has overshadowed any reference to the legal rights to collective bargaining. The political battle to prevent the loss of collective bargaining is reinforced by the fact that stripping any collective bargaining rights is blatantly illegal. Courts and agencies around the world have uniformly held the right of collective bargaining in the public sector is an essential element of the right of Freedom of Association, which is a fundamental right under both International law and the United States Constitution.
 To read the entire statement, go here.

Court blocks union-busting bill - temporarily

So Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi issued a temporary restraining order earlier today blocking the law that busts collective bargaining rights for public sector workers.  Judge Sumi's ruling prevents the law from taking effect until she rules on the merits of the case.

An appointee of former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson, Judge Sumi seems supportive of the argument made by Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne, saying:
"It seems to me the public policy behind effective enforcement of the open meeting law is so strong that it does outweigh the interest, at least at this time, which may exist in favor of sustaining the validity of the (law)."
Of course, this doesn't mean the law will not eventually take effect. Republicans may appeal, or they may wait and then reconsider the bill, this time in a manner consistent with the law.  They still have the majority, after all - unless and until recall efforts months down the road.

However, it does constitute a legal reprimand of anti-democratic tactics in the State Senate, and especially for Senate Majority leader Scott Fitzgerald. It matters - it matters a whole lot - that we have courts prepared to challenge this type of shady procedure, to defend open democracy. That's what the third branch was created to do, part of our essential checks and balances. While some find the courts inconvenient for their intentions, it is incumbent upon all of us to make sure, given this era of elected judges (I have problems with that), that we elect people who intend to defend constitutional and political rights not only for the powerful and the rich, but also for the rest of us.

If Republicans do decide to appeal, the issue could eventually end up in the State Supreme Court, which only raises again the profile of the race between incumbent State Supreme Court Justice David Prosser, a conservative, and JoAnne Kloppenburg for a seat on the court. The election is April 5. In the past, an election like this would not draw a big voter turnout, but this time, things are different. It is now proving to be one of the highest profile races in the history of the state court, the beginning of a popular referendum on the barely-started Walker administration and rule of the right-wing of the Republican Party.

Prosser had been considered a shoo-in until Walker was inaugurated and his political program of draconian budget cuts for vital government services, assaults on worker rights, and support from corporate backers like the Koch brothers began to be clear.  Now the state is engaged in a serious race for the seat.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Closed government

Perhaps the most popular chant during recent protests was an old tried and true one: "This is what democracy looks like!"

Here is what democracy does not look like:

Building commission meeting closed to public

At this closed meeting, the Building Commission made decisions regarding $1.1 billion worth of bonds for the next 2 years. This bonding could include a controversial proposal for no-bid sales of power plants in the state.

Yesterday the Dane County district attorney filed suit in state court claiming that Senate Republicans violated the state's open meetings law in the manner in which it passed the portions of the budget repair bill pertaining to collective bargaining rights for public sector workers.  You know the moment only too well, but if you need a reminder and some background, go here.

Meanwhile, we have an election coming up on April 5 for a seat on the State Supreme Court. Given the legal challenges mounting over the way in which the new governor and Republican majority are trying to ram through their agenda, this latter election has taken on new significance.  In case you wonder about that, Republicans are making it perfectly clear.

This from the Wauwatosa Republicans:

"David Prosser is the only Conservative running in the State Supreme Court race. If he doesn’t win, the court will have a 4-3 liberal majority, and all of the reforms that Governor Walker is accomplishing, will be challenged and judged by liberal legal activists who believe that their opinions are more powerful than the Constitution."

Opinions more powerful than the Constitution... Does this mean that Joanne Kloppenburg, should she win, would not respect the Constitution? That's the accusation implied here.  I worry a lot when one group like this claims a special hold on the meaning and interpretation of the Constitution.

In any case, it's a pretty stunning development when a race for judge takes on this kind of significance.  Says a lot about where our democracy is right now. Are Republicans aware that many of the things they want to do might be challenged in court? Is this revealing of their intentions that they are feeling anxious about this?

It has occurred to me often in recent years that the new rightist Republican party tries to claim the mantle of patriotism and American correctness, as if more than 200 years of a 2-party system and a vibrant, often cantankerous, political culture, is not itself the heart of the democracy.

Closed government, closed meetings, hastily put together votes, not allowing the opposition time to debate, to even arrive in time to be able to vote, not being completely transparent about policies buried in line items in the budget proposals, and on and on - this, my friends, IS NOT WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE.

So why all this secretiveness and subterfuge? Well, it's in this press release from State Sen. Fred Risser and  State Assemblyman Mark Pocan. Scott Walker did not run on a platform that stated he wanted to crush public sector unions, and then he did just that. With the budget repair bill, he brought it to the state house then Republicans tried to ram it through with their majorities in a matter of days, before Democrats, or you and me, could find out what was in it. The Wisconsin 14 saved the day, if not legislatively at least in terms of giving us time to find out what was really going on, and the result is that Walker has found his poll numbers plummeting while the 14 were welcomed back as conquering heroes by the masses!

So, let's retreat back behind closed doors, shall we? Let's let the people find out what we're doing after we've already done it.  Democracy can make things pretty messy.

Why all this secretiveness and subterfuge? 

"Why is Walker so afraid of the public?" ask Risser and Pocan. In asking the question, they also answer it.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A glance at Scott Walker's Wisconsin

In Scott Walker's world, the elderly can no longer afford their medication, taxpayer money will go to vouchers for middle class folks to send their kids to private school, at risk kids will no longer have special programs available to them to keep them in school and help them survive the harshness of urban poverty, and folks on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder will have less and less transportation available to them for things like getting to work or to a job interview because bus routes will disappear and, of course, there will be no rail of any kind, not light, not commuter, not high-speed.

There will be plenty of money for road construction (road-building lobbies contributed to his campaign, of course), dirty industries will get anti-pollution regulations weakened or eliminated (payback for the Koch brothers and WI's new Senator, plastics manufacturer Ron Johnson), the wealthy who already don't pay taxes will still not have to pay taxes though the heavy weight of their industries and privileges will cost the taxpayer dearly, and wages will continue their trend downward, another boon for employers like Harley-Davidson and Mercury Marine and Kohler, but bad news for working families.

Photo: Margaret Swedish
Lots of folks will be kicked off BadgerCare rolls in an effort to 'save money,' which means more people will go to emergency rooms already very sick, which is a far more expensive way to get health care, and then we will all pay for that in higher insurance premiums for our private sector health insurance policies.

Also gone: any sense of, or commitment to, the common good and the good of the commons, to government at the service of its people whom it is supposed to represent and serve, any sense that to provide the services needed by all our people, we must all contribute our fair share of taxes to make this possible.

We are moving deeper into a time of vast inequities and unfairness in our society, a time in which the enrichment of the few will come at the expense of the most vulnerable populations and the growing number of struggling workers and their families.

Do we see where this goes?  Do we understand what is happening? Is this the Wisconsin we want?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

To the People of Wisconsin

Friends, two folks who helped out, supported, cared for our Wisconsin 14 while they were away have written an open letter to all of us in the state to tell us what really went on during the more than 3 weeks that these folks were 'on the lam.'  It is eloquent and will only make you prouder of our Senators.

It was a pleasure to host this group of dedicated and loyal people... Although we are very private people, we decided to write this letter because, just as you had a right to learn the contents of your Governor’s proposed bill, you have a right to know the truth of what happened during the three weeks your Senators worked in Illinois. We witnessed first-hand how these Senators never stopped working from the moment they made the heart-breaking decision to leave the state they love. They made many personal sacrifices because every week they received tens of thousands of messages from their constituents pleading with them to not return. 

"We are proud to be your neighbors," they write, and I just want to tell them that we are proud that they are ours!

Read the entire letter here.

Messiah complex

It's just never good when a politician has a Messiah complex. Things get scary because the motivation for certain decisions become impervious to exigencies like responding to actual needs, cries, crises, or the voices of the people one is elected to serve. Religion compromises politics for a reason.  And these days within the US political culture, religion is playing one terrifying role, being used to justify assaults on basic human and political rights, to set folks against one another, to excuse even lying and manipulation in the name of God's purpose as one defines that.

Photo: Margaret Swedish
Religion sets people apart, fosters certain identities around a set of beliefs. Government needs to bring together, to represent all the people and to serve their needs. Democratic government must not discriminate among religious beliefs, or to argue about who has a hold on religious, dogmatic, 'truth.' It cannot 'rule' based on religious beliefs if it is to remain democracy. Rather, in a democracy, government must struggle to hold a balance of competing interests for the sake of the common good. When a person governing claims an exclusive mission from God, danger sets in, hubris, arrogance, intransigence.

And so our governor, Scott Walker.  I had been wondering about this for a while now, about his personal motivations for setting himself apart from the people he is supposed to serve, then came upon these recent stories which reveal that this guy really does believe he is serving God by his intransigent political positions. Worse, he believes he was chosen for this - and that is the scariest thing of all.

Check out this story, Why Walker won't back down from the Wisconsin State Journal.  An excerpt:

The governor gave a hint at how he looks at the world, and his place in it, in a speech he gave to the Christian Businessmen's Committee in 2009. Talking about his first, unsuccessful run for governor, Walker summed up his approach to life as "trust and obey" God.

Walker, the son of a Baptist minister, relayed to the crowd two anecdotes that he credits with giving him political perspective.

One involved the story of Jesus and Peter. In the story, Peter walked on water with Jesus' help, until he lost faith and sank into the water.

The other story involved two sailors, one of whom made the mistake of watching the waves break against the boat. Seeing his colleague was getting seasick, the other sailor advised the man to ignore the water and focus at a point on the horizon. That, he said, would help him ride out the storm.

"Keep looking out at the horizon, to the path Christ is calling you to follow," Walker told the crowd. "Don't focus on the waves, and choppy water."

When people start making personal comparisons like this, the way they see their role in this world, well, let's just say this attitude is not democracy-friendly; it does not respond to the mere presence of throngs in the streets trying to get their grievances addressed. Once a person believes 'God is making me do this,' that they can walk on water, how can they make a decision to let God down?

There's a reason a healthy democracy, especially one as diverse as this one, separates church and state, seeks to avoid imposition of religious belief over the body politic.

This, too, from The Progressive, Scott Walker Believes He's Following Orders From the Lord.  I had no idea God was so involved in balancing public budgets. I mean, if Walker was trying to rule the world or command armies, but really, gov...

"Walker said that God has told him what to do every step of the way, including about what jobs to take, whom to marry, and when to run for governor."

Oh God help us. Really. This is all way too small for God, don't you think?

What is NOT small is the suffering this causes, real human suffering, to God's children, if you will. It is interesting to me that in these protestations of obedience to 'the Lord,' pretty much all of the Gospel is left out. Don't hear much of anything from Luke, for instance, often called the 'Gospel of the Poor.'

But there are stories like this - that Walker's budget proposals will kick thousands of elderly folks in our state off SeniorCare prescription drug benefits and force them into Medicare Part D plans, raising their costs exponentially. Really, I can see God now going after the most vulnerable among us, saying, 'Woe to you poor who want the rich to pay their fair share for the common good; but blessed are you rich for finding ways to avoid taxes and other social responsibilities.' I can hear God saying, 'Let the rich get richer, for that is the way to enter the Kingdom of God.'

Photo: Margaret Swedish
Now here's the thing: Walker says this change will save the state $15 million.  $15 million.  That's it. The Koch brothers, his benefactors, have a personal worth of some $43 billion. They could write a check for $15 million and it would be pocket change for them.  But they get tax breaks and an easing of regulations for operating polluting businesses here instead.

This religion stuff is offensive and dangerous.  So I await some prophetic voices from the faith community to speak on these things, loudly.

Meanwhile, another article to make one take pause about what is going on now in the governor's house: Has Walker Become Unrecognizable?

Something is going on here, friends, that is deeply disturbing.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Montage from the Madison rally

Friends, Saturday saw one of the largest rallies in the history of Madison, Wisconsin. The day was as remarkable for the climax that it was of more than 3 weeks of protests, of citizens of Wisconsin reclaiming their democracy, as it was for who was there - the folks, the people next door, the teachers, nurses, farmers, firefighters, cops, trash collectors, whole families with small children getting an excellent lesson in 'what democracy looks like.'

Favorite moment: my brother and I went from the tractorcade over to the Monona Terrace Convention Center to try to catch the Wisconsin 14 at their press conference there. So I go into the restroom and a mother comes in with her little daughter, maybe 3 years old. They go into a stall, and suddenly, out of nowhere, at the top of her lungs, the little girl chants, "This is what democracy looks like," and all the women in the packed restroom burst out laughing.

Scary people, these protesters.

The return of the Wisconsin 14 was triumphant. You could hardly tell that we had just lost the battle for collective bargaining rights in the state of Wisconsin. It felt like victory.

WI 14 make their unbreakable bond before leaving the state
My brother and I did indeed manage an intimate moment with 3 of our most famous 14. A crowd of 75-100 or so folks had come to the convention center and hung out in the narrow lobbyway hoping for a moment of encounter, a raucous "Welcome Home!" We were told they would not be leaving the building through the main entrance but then the doors of the meeting room opened and out came one of the staffers for Sen. Lena Taylor, needing a bathroom, surprised by the crowd. Someone asked if the 14 knew we were out here, and she said, no, but she would let them know.

Sen. Taylor is welcomed home
Then the chanting began, "Fab 14!" First out of the room came the cameras, right? because now we were the interesting thing, the great photo op. Then came Sen. Taylor, who walked right into the crowd and embraced them, then gave a sterling little speech: "We left because the bill was unfair, unjust... You created the movement!"

Sen. Erpenbach
Next came Sen. Jon Erpenbach, whom Rachel Maddow has made into a national rock star (and maybe our next governor?), who walked into the crowd shaking hands, waving, and thanking everyone. He gave all the credit to the protesters for giving them the strength to stay united: "You made us [the Democratic caucus] coalesce." They had to hang together because the protesters were hanging together. They could not let us down.

Sen. Larson with his clipboard
Then I turned and there was Sen. Chris Larson 2 feet from me.  "My Senator!" I said, and he held out his arms and I gave him a big hug. "I am so proud of you!" Larson also gave a little speech, referenced Ben Franklin, saying, "We have our democracy, if we can keep it." He said folks needed to get their clipboards and get to work (staffer then hands him his clipboard), says "This is all on you now," a challenge if ever I heard one. In other words, if we are going to defend and take back our rights, it really is up to us for the long haul.

So then off to the rally of some 150,000 or so folks. When the 14 joined it, they were led from the Capitol by a phalanx of firefighters and bagpipes, but the line did not hold long for the crush of people trying to see them.  When they arrived on the stage to a tumultuous cheer, one of them said, "Wow, you go away for a few weeks and look what happens!"  Big roar from the crowd.

Okay, this is long and there will be more to share, but just wanted to leave some impressions here.  What follows are a couple of videos and a few of my favorite photos (go to the end for a message from Erpenbach). And these final words from Sen. Mark Miller as he addressed the throngs at the rally: "The battle for Wisconsin is now joined!"  Indeed.

I don't either

Really good idea

Gandhi was there too

One of the scary radicals

More scary radicals

This one almost moved me to tears

Small portion of a big crowd

Photo of hands joined together: Sen. Chris Larson
All other photos: Margaret Swedish

Last word from Jon Erpenbach:

Saturday, March 12, 2011

What is being born in Wisconsin?

Something amazing is happening in the State of Wisconsin. Today saw one of the largest rallies in the state's history - a rally of the most marvelously ordinary folks with whom I have ever shared the streets. Can this be sustained? Is it the birth of something that can turn around this rightist assault on democracy and begin to shape something new?

Jury is out on this one. All I can say is that it was a glorious day to be in Madison.  Much more to come on this blog through the week - photos, thoughts, reflections on the weekend's events and hopes for how it might unfold in the days ahead. Stay tuned.

Photo: Margaret Swedish

Friday, March 11, 2011

Scott Fitzgerald spills the beans on Fox

If I said this, many folks would get mad at me, tell me I'm making reckless accusations. But there it was on Fox - Senate majority leader Scott Fitzgerald telling Fox News that the union busting measures just passed in the Wisconsin legislature and signed by Gov Walker are really about politics, about defeating Obama in 2012.  Ain't got nothin' to do with the welfare of our people here, or balancing budgets.

Now let's couple this budget debate facade with one of the other things going on here - an attempt by the Republicans in the two houses to suppress the vote. These guys are prepared to pass legislation that would impose the strictest restrictions on voter rights in the nation. The proposed voter ID law would impact groups like elderly, students, and the urban poor (tend to vote Democrat). It would end same-day voter registration, an initiative that has increased voter participation.

Here is how one reporter, DeWayne Wickham in USA Today, describes this campaign to crush voter participation:

Walker's bill is a shoot-the-wounded assault on the Democratic Party's base, which when combined with a voter ID law that's also being pushed through Wisconsin's Republican-controlled Legislature, could put the Badger State firmly in GOP hands for decades.

The proposed ID law would restrict the right to vote to people with military IDs, driver's licenses and a state-issued ID card. Passports and photo ID cards issued to college students (even those from state universities) would not be acceptable.
College students and public unions are pillars of the Democratic base. Wisconsin's ID law would suppress voter participation among students. A 2005 University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Employment and Training Institute study found that 82% of 18-, 19-, 20-year-olds did not have a driver's license in the ZIP codes for neighborhoods near Marquette University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The study also showed that statewide, the majority of college-age blacks and Hispanics lacked driver's licenses.
What Fitzgerald admits to Fox News ought to wake up anyone still sleeping in this state. The Koch brothers, the Karl Rove-funded gov and Fitzgerald brothers, are using anti-democratic, anti-Constitutional means to suppress voter participation at the same time as they attempt to gut the organized power of workers via their unions. It shouldn't matter whether or not you like public sector unions or what party you belong to; what ought to matter to all of us is this attempt to buy, manipulate, and undermine our democracy, even our elections, which ought to be held sacred, by Republicans in the state house and legislature beholden to the corporate interests that fund them, that make their political careers.

Wisconsin, do not let these people steal our democracy from us!

See you in Madison!

Let's name what this really is - racism and plutocracy

Okay, let's start with Jon Stewart's 'Moment of Zen' from last night's show:

That's for starters. Be careful who you claim to emulate - can come back to bite you. If Ronald Reagan is your hero, gov, how' bout you quote this? Guess you prefer what he did to PATCO. Sad history, really. Still reverbates.

So let's move on to this article from the Journal Sentinel local section today:

Bus system, county services threatened

If you want to destroy the city of Milwaukee, if you want to erode it's life, send it further into poverty, this is certainly the path to take - and Walker and the Fitzgerald brothers certainly do seem to want to do that.

The times are too urgent to try to avoid the blunt reality of what is going on here. 82% of kids in Milwaukee's public schools live in poverty. They are also overwhelmingly African-American kids.

Another way to accelerate the city's demise - get rid of residency rules for cops, firefighters, and teachers, also on the Walker/Fitzgerald legislative wish-list. This one got a big boost from Republican State Senator Leah Vukmir whose district includes Wauwatosa, the suburb where Walker lives (the one in which I also grew up, so I know of what I write here). As city life deteriorates amidst poverty and gutting of public services, losing more of the middle class to the suburbs will cost the city more in its tax base and a considerable constituency with a stake in the city's welfare.

The urgency of the times means naming this for what it is.  Here's a big part of that story:

From this article in the morning paper:  "...for the first time in the city of Milwaukee, blacks now outnumber whites, and minorities outnumber whites by roughly 2 to 1."
This is my hometown, friends. I know it really, really well. I grew up on Joe McCarthy and Martin Luther King being a scary communist and, when a mixed family dared look at a house for sale across the alley (man from the short-lived nation of Biafra, wife US Caucasian Montessori school teacher, kids beautifully brown), neighbors whispering in the backyards about what they could do to stop them from buying it. (They failed, and for a long time my Mother was one of the few on the block who talked to them).

I know it well. White flight has been going on in my town for a very long time.

And as life in the city deteriorates, what commitment will middle class folks have to rebuild hope in this community?

Let's name it for what it is: the father of the Koch brothers, that would be Fred, was on the governing board of the far, far, far, anti-communist fascist, anti-democratic John Birch Society. Frank Rich described the Koch family background in a column last year. Even if you are not a Rich fan, his facts are, well, facts.

Read more. Learn more - because we must if we are to save our democracy, not just here in Wisconsin, but in our nation. These guys are trying to buy it and bend it to their will. I try not to be extreme.  On the other hand, check out this blog post by a journalist in Florida:

Why is Scott Walker prepared to abandon the state's public schools? Okay, he's being bankrolled in part by the Koch brothers, and as we reported earlier, once he was inaugurated, Koch Industries opened a lobbying office in downtown Madison.  Now read this, from the link above to a blog called, The Reid Report:

When David Koch ran to the right of Reagan as vice president on the 1980 Libertarian ticket (it polled 1 percent), his campaign called for the abolition not just of Social Security, federal regulatory agencies and welfare but also of the F.B.I., the C.I.A., and public schools — in other words, any government enterprise that would either inhibit his business profits or increase his taxes. 
Where does the Walker/Fitzgerald agenda come from? Follow the research on the Koch brothers.

For those who don't know what the John Birch Society is, check out this link. You will learn here that the Society opposes income taxes and wants to repeal civil rights legislation (in case you still aren't sure what this is really about).  I am sad to say that the Society's home is in my state, home of both Joe McCarthy and progressive populist, Fighting Bob Lafollette. That is our cultural bifurcation - been there a long, long time.

We used to be slightly more civil about it - but it always seethed under the surface. The Kochs, Scott Walker and the Fitzgerald brothers are now trying to rule this state. And, friends, that is why the stakes here are so high.

As we just witnessed in the past 48 hours, they will use whatever means they think they can get away with to do to this state what they want to do. They are banking on our becoming riven, demoralized, frustrated, violent - they will try as they can to discredit us. We have only one weapon that can defeat this kind of power grab -

...democracy, our government taken back by the people - of them and for them. This will take great maturity and strength, a refusal to fall for their propaganda, trying to set private sector workers against public, unemployed v. employed, the poor against one another - as they continue to enrich themselves at our expense.

I have a proposal for balancing our budget, keeping government services at a high level, maintaining an experienced public work force, and supporting creation of jobs in local communities for local communities - tax these people who want to steal our state from us - tax them exorbitantly.  And if that means they decide to leave, wave good bye.