Tuesday, May 31, 2011

After holiday weekend, Walker is still governor

Did you have a good weekend? Personally, after 2 days of this heat and humidity, I'm starting to feel nostalgic for cold, wind, and rain.  Imagine! the rest of the week is supposed to be something resembling normal!

Which is more than I can say for our dinosaur era state politics. The race backwards continues, except the race forward to the strengthening of the corporate state.

If anyone still questions my contention that the heart of the rightist corporate agenda is to shift more public funds - those funds that are accountable to you and me and our elected politicians - to the private corporate sector for their profit, I could hardly have better evidence than the recent news - CAPCOs.

If you took time during these busy days to read the newspaper, you've been learning about them on the front page. Gov Walker, undoubtedly at the behest of his corporate backers (because he would not by himself even know what 'certified capital' companies are), has been planning to offer $200 million of your tax dollars (right, as most of us slip into greater insecurity and even impoverishment) towards a program called the Jobs Now Fund (this is getting really, really cynical, with names like that) as tax breaks to insurance companies, and control of a $250 million fund to outside management firms called 'certified capital companies' (CAPCOs).

I don't want to take space in a blog post to explain what these are so urge you to read this Journal Sentinel article which does it pretty well. Not only would we dole out these hundreds of millions of your money to these insurance companies, but it would allow the insurance companies to recoup 80% of their investment - in other words, they don't have to pay us back.

He says this is for job creation. But there is very little evidence that this program will create many jobs, and certainly few with decent pay, while there is a lot of evidence that these private companies will make out handily.

So loud was the outcry - even from some Repubs - that Walker's fearless spokesperson Cullen Werwie was forced to acknowledge that Walker may need to rethink his plan.

Here's another example: Repubs in the legislature are considering a bill to lower energy rates for big companies in the state - mind you, big ones, like Mercury Marine which has already used state funds and tax breaks as part of its profit margin, thanks to Gov Doyle), not small businesses or family farmers - to (really, it's actually hard to write this with a straight face or without tearing my hair out) help the economy grow.

Cynicism does not even say it. They want us to be stupid, to not get what's going on.

Who will pay the overall energy costs in this state when you lower them for the big firms?  Right - another transfer of public money to big corporations.

To put this in a larger context, a few days ago a federal judge in Virginia, appointed by Reagan, just ruled that corporations can spend unlimited amounts of money directly to political campaigns.

I cannot put write any clearer what is happening here than by simply reporting the news. Meanwhile, MPS is planning to cut 21 nurses from its schools, the JS reports that dental care for poor kids in this state is so woeful that we are among the bottom of the 50 states in delivering care. Private and public benefits have been cut or disappeared in recent years, wages are falling, and good-paying jobs are being replaced with MacDonalds. We are in a downward spiral in terms of well-being for all, aided and abetted by the policies of these rightist state governments.

Paul Ryan is trying to do this at the national level. This is not just Walker. He is a tool, one of many being used around the country to dismantle the public sector for the good of the corporate right.

We need to understand this. We are in trouble in any case, but if we don't know this, or refuse to know this, we are in big, big trouble indeed.

Friday, May 27, 2011

A lesson for Repubs on democracy and the three branches of government

It would be helpful if state Repubs would remember that courts exist for a reason - not to please them, but often as a crucial last resort when either the executive or legislative branches of government overstep constitutional boundaries, threatening our rights.

The judiciary is a third and co-equal branch of government. It does not exist to serve the interests of the other branches but to protect and defend the Constitution and to correct proposed laws and the process itself as needed when they are not consistent with democratic rights and responsibilities.

Dane County Circuit Court Judge Maryann Sumi's ruling striking down the Walker/Fitzgerald union busting bill is not a partisan decision on policy, on the content of the law; it is a legal ruling that what the Repubs did in order to pass that bill was a violation of our state Constitution. It violated the open meetings law by not giving proper public notice of the meeting in which the vote so hastily took place.

Judge Sumi, appointed by Republican Gov Tommy Thompson, is now being called an 'activist' judge and friend of the unions by our much-farther-to-the-right current Repubs.  Amazing how they demonize a Repub-appointee as soon as she dares to use constitutional law to put roadblocks in front of their steamroller.

Okay, Repubs, and especially you, Scott Fitzgerald, a lesson in democracy and the role of the three branches of government. In response to the ruling, Fitzgerald said this: "There's still a much larger separation-of-powers issue: whether one Madison judge can stand in the way of the other two democratically elected branches of government."

Um, Mr. Fitzgerald, yes she can. That is one of the crucial roles of the circuit court, to stand in the way when the legislature does something unconstitutional. That is precisely why we have 3 branches, a blessing from those founding 'fathers' at the federal level taken up by the states so long ago. This is what prevents that threat to democracy called 'tyranny of the majority,' because democracy is not represented by winners of elections doing whatever they want, but by how well the democratic rights of all citizens are protected and defended by whomever is elected.

Courts exist to ensure those rights. The most terrible thing would be having courts at the service of a political party and their agenda - a growing threat from the right in this country. As more and more judges get elected, more and more judges are being bought the same way politicians are bought by corporate campaign money.

Now, in contrast to Mr. Fitzgerald's erroneous understanding of democratic government, here's what Judge Sumi said in her ruling:
"The court must consider the potential damage to public trust and confidence in government if the Legislature is not held to the same rules of transparency that it has created for other governmental bodies. Our form of government depends on citizens' trust and confidence in the process by which our elected officials make laws, at all levels of government."

Now I ask you which statement better reflects the principles and values of a democracy? Which of the two, Fitzgerald or Sumi, can best be trusted to uphold the Constitution? Which one reveals the most basic understanding of the workings of our democratic system of government?

Friends, as we move into this Memorial Day weekend, one of those patriotic moments when we acknowledge those who fought in our wars, most with the motivation of defending our freedom, maybe we could pause a moment to reflect on the privilege of living in a democracy. Maybe we could give pause a moment to think about how under threat it is right now.  And maybe you could pass on this lesson to those legislators and governors who seem in urgent need of it.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Guns and fossil fuels - Wisconsin takes a few more steps backwards

What a sad front page. These two headlines: Guns in the Capitol? and, Advocates say wind projects in jeopardy.

One can get depressed reading the paper these days. Thanks to the 'rugged individual' element of the Wisconsin culture, fed and manipulated by the corporate interests that own the Repub Party right now, combined with low voter turnout - lots of folks who just don't care - we watch as step after step our state moves backwards into the 19th century.

Robber barons buying politicians and paying for legislation, gunslingers ready for the shootout at the O.K. Corral, dirty fuels fouling our air and our water - which means also our lungs, our bodies, increasing our contribution to the greenhouse gases that are heating up the atmosphere and causing climate change.

Add the N.R.A. to the list of groups running our state government right now, sitting at the table with Koch Industries, Club for Growth, Rove's billionaire-funded Crossroads GPS - oh, and Scott Walker and the Fitzgerald brothers.

Guns in the Capitol? People unlicensed, unregistered, and untrained? Can you imagine - in this contentious political climate?

Guns and fossil fuel dependence - looking backward for our future. The rightist wave against the tide of necessary change, against the tide of 'real' world realities (if you will), puts Wisconsin on a track that will lead to more decline in our quality of life, a bit more tragedy (the fantasy of pulling out a gun to save the day against the bad guys comes up against the reality that most deaths and injuries from these guns happen to families, loved ones, accidents in the home, etc.), and a lot more political and cultural animosity.

Well, friends, it will take a lot more creativity, passion, and commitment to light the fires under the depressed, demoralized, resigned, or disinterested citizens among us. And it will take years to turn this rightist, anti-democratic, rugged individual, gun-slinging culture back around to something more humane, compassionate, just, forward thinking, innovative, and inclusive.

"Forward" is our state motto. Maybe the Fitzgerald/Walker regime should try to change that, too.

As Sen. Miller said at the rally that welcomed back the Wisconsin 14, the battle for Wisconsin has been engaged. Yes. And more of us best get engaged before this becomes a permanent trajectory. The longer this goes on, the harder it will be to turn it back around.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Not a good time

Friends, sorry not to post yesterday, and struggling with time today.  I will get something together later, but just wanted to vent my fear and frustration. Voters last year put our state government in the hands of a solid majority of mostly rightist Repubs who can pretty much do what they want (because 14 State Senators really can't keep running off to Illinois, bless them all!!)  The biennium budget is a disaster for this state, as are the measures being passed to consolidate power in the office of our gov who sees himself as a servant of God in gutting our quality of life and increasing the suffering and disenfranchisement of the most vulnerable among us.

So why write this: please, don't give up!!  Because this bad time in our history is a bad time in our history and another time can be created. We can use this bad time to feel overwhelmed, depressed and defeated - or to get really angry and focused and motivated about what we care about, and to work for that in our lives, our families, our neighborhoods, our schools, our various community groups.

The way to defend our rights is by defending our rights - and the rights of those around us. It's the old adage about a threat to one being a threat to all. The only way to turn this back around is to make sure we don't get consumed by defending our own sector interests, but that we become part of the broad solidarity required to take back from the anti-democratic right-wing the values, hopes, and dreams of our democracy.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Courage, Scott? Really?

Sometimes when the gov is quoted, I just cringe. Really, it can be quite embarrassing.

Here's Walker speaking at the annual Repub convention about the coming recall elections: "I'm convinced this isn't just about the (Republican) majority in the state Senate. This isn't just about where the Legislature is headed in the state of Wisconsin. This is ultimately about courage."

Oh please, get a grip. This is no more about courage than it was to bust unions and open the state for business. Being a tool of the corporate right hardly takes courage. Standing up to them - and to you Repubs who are their tools - that does take courage in the face of the relentless money and media assault against those trying to mount opposition to your anti-democratic agenda.

The word 'courage' is reserved for those working in the face of extraordinary odds to provide a life of dignity for their families as you rip apart their social safety nets, their plans for retirement, their good-paying jobs, and replace them with, well, poor-paying jobs, as you make a fierce full-out assault on public education, mass transit, environmental regulations and a whole host of programs that have to do with our quality of life.

Courage is what it will take to win back the civil and political rights (including the right to vote) that you have put under assault with your mania to achieve power for the corporate right over our government.

When your Repubs in the legislature take away rights, close down debate on legislation, attempt quick votes sometimes in the dead of night, yell at your opposition and try to stifle their voices - what you show is cowardice, not courage. And you know what it's really about, gov? It's not about courage, it's about the Repub majority in the state Senate. It's about politics, gov. You know it, and we know it. It's about where power will rest in this state, in the hands of the corporate right and their paid-for politicians, or in the people who are the rock bottom foundation of any real democracy.

Stifling broad democratic participation reveals fear and cowardice, reveals awareness that what you are trying to do cannot face up to broad democratic participation. Courage - that's what it will take to win back the rights taken away by the fearmongers and those with dubious or hidden agendas.
Once again, the only way to win back what is being taken by the right not only in Wisconsin but around the country is by way of a new civil rights movement with an umbrella big enough to embrace all the vulnerable populations that are being marginalized, impoverished, and disenfranchised under the current regime.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Lena Taylor knows about voter suppression

I don't blog on Friday nights, and supposedly folks don't read blog posts over the weekend. But I was too much enraged by the voter suppression bill, and too much dismayed by how the white Repubs in my state's legislature, and my white rightist gov, just moved us back several generations in honoring the right of all citizens to have access to the voting booth, and way too moved - almost to tears - to hear Lena Taylor, only the second African-American woman to sit in the Wisconsin State Senate, list the many ways in which my state, my state, has turned its back on the civil rights and voting rights legislation of the 1960s, for crying out loud!

So over this weekend, please take the time to view these 2 videos. Lena Taylor nails it.  Lena Taylor knows what it means to take away all over again the voting rights won only 40 years ago in the civil rights struggle.

We will have to do it again. One day when we realize that rightist corporate anti-democratic white folks took their moment to attack the civil rights of so many of our fellow citizens, we will have to work again to win them back.  And that makes this day a sad one indeed.

Walker raises taxes on the poor

It's bad enough that our intransigent, uncompassionate gov wants to give the state away to corporations that funded his political career. It's bad enough that in a time of great financial pain for Wisconsin families he is lowering taxes on the wealthy and on corporations doing business in our state. It's bad enough that he gives these guys tax breaks, supports lowering wage scales by busting unions, handing a cheaper labor force and more of our natural resources to those same corporate backers.

But now he wants to help balance these giveaways by raising taxes on poor families. He tries to do this by stealth and denial, but even his fan base at the Journal Sentinel called him out on this one. You can read about it here.

Doesn't get much more cynical than this - or unjust, even immoral. Remember, this is the guy who says he has 'walked to Christ' and I am left wondering if there is some other Gospel besides the four I know where Jesus says, blessed are you rich, I shall take from the poor so that you can become wealthier.

Really, at least say what you're about without distorting the message of Jesus Christ, okay? without using him in a cynical fashion to try to justify your intransigent political agenda that is clearly hurting those 'blessed' and preferred by the guy you call savior, the guy who had a few things to say about the rich and powerful in his own day.

I'm saddened today - because I see what is happening in my state (I mean, put together this revelation on taxes with Walker today signing the bill that will disenfranchise many of these same people after last night's abhorrent scene in the Senate - see previous post) and I know that it means more pain and suffering for good struggling families, farmers, urban poor, etc. seemingly without striking the consciences of those creating this hurtful unjust budget. 

I see injustice deepening in my state. It is indeed a sad, sad period in Wisconsin's history. And sad, too, because we are a long way from the kind of broad solidarity among our people that can reverse this terrible anti-democratic, plutocratic momentum.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

It's bad enough they take our democracy away from us, but thus do they demean us all

I am speechless. This is how Repubs behave, nasty little boys who not only erode voting rights, but insult those who oppose them.

I can't believe it has come to this.

The budget as a moral issue

The Wisconsin Council of Churches has reminded us one more time that the state budget is not just a political issue. Indeed, it is essentially a moral issue since it impacts virtually everyone. For churches, the priority among that 'everyone' are the most vulnerable and marginalized among us. Budgets cut ought to impact first and foremost those who are doing just fine. It ought to impact the least those who have greatest need of various programs and services.
God’s call to us as citizens of a democracy is to tell our elected officials where Wisconsin’s heart is – and where its treasure should be.
For people of faith, this is a good reminder - and an essential one.

On Sunday, the front page of the Journal Sentinel had this screaming headline (well, at least it screamed at me, really made my head hurt): Average Wisconsin CEO pay rises 27%.  Read it yourself. I don't care what those corporate-sponsored Repubs say, this wealth should be taxed and then taxed some more. What this kind of concentration of wealth represents in this society right now is a profound moral and ethical failure.

We're supposed to be relieved this morning because Scott Fitzgerald and some other Repub legislators are saying they want to preserve SeniorCare. This is fine, though we don't know if it will hold in the end, but it hardly begins to address the harshness and questionable ethics of Walker's biennium budget proposal - and now the way in which some of those same vulnerable populations are in danger of being disenfranchised by the Voter I.D. bill.

So, whether or not you are a person of faith, I think this document very useful in laying down the moral argument for a more just, equitable, and compassionate approach to the great budget debate, in large part because it doesn't allow us to escape these moral issues with bogus slogans about fiscal responsibility or the state being broke. Make the state less broke by restoring some measure of justice and equity to the tax code. Raise some revenue from wealth to make sure kids get a good education and our precious natural resources are preserved and Koch Industries is actually NOT allowed to add more pollution to our state's waterways, and mining companies and developers are NOT allowed easier access to the good of the commons for their own profit-making interests.

So, click here for the WI Council of Churches brochure, Faith and Facts. No matter how bad the final version of this budget, the ground needs to be laid now for the recovering of justice and compassion to the political culture of this state- not to mention to the electoral debates that will quickly follow.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Repubs about to suppress voting rights, but approve dirty water

Good job, Senate Repubs!  Sometime this week you will approve a law to make it more difficult for poor people, the elderly, and students to vote - and for this you will spend millions of dollars.  Meanwhile, you just voted to overturn a DNR regulation requiring communities to disinfect their water because you do not want to create 'hardship' for local budgets. Presumably, the cost of getting sick from water contaminated with bacteria will only be paid by the one who gets sick.

Less access to voting rights; dirtier water. Sounds about right for these guys.

Me, too!
Paper this morning says the new Voter I.D. law will cost more than $7 million, much of that to cover costs of free state I.D.s for those without drivers' licenses. This measure was included because Repubs are trying to avoid a court challenge - making people pay for an I.D. in order to vote would indeed amount to a poll tax and would therefore be unconstitutional.

So they are willing to pay for this measure which will make it harder for some groups of folks to vote, but they are not willing to make communities pay to disinfect drinking water to stave off bacterial illnesses.

The priorities of these Repubs get clearer. From the JS article linked above:

"What you really want to do is suppress the vote of people who don't think like you or look like you," Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) told Republicans.

Yes. They know it; we know it. The underlying racism here is not all that hard to see. Repubs have wanted this law for a long time, but it was blocked by a Democratic governor. But the overwhelming support in this state for Barack Obama back in 2008 filled them with alarm. That support was bouyed by two groups whose access to the polls has just been made more difficult - urban African-Americans, especially the poor and unemployed, and students. The Repub victory of 2010 giving them control of both legislative houses gave them the opportunity at last to fulfill this great longing to suppress the voter turnout of those most likely to vote against them. These guys know exactly what they're doing.

Meanwhile, the fraud these Repubs are so bent on avoiding? Doesn't exist.

The measure could prevent people from voting in another's name, but not the most common form of voter fraud - felons voting while on state supervision.

The state Department of Justice and Milwaukee County district attorney's office have prosecuted 20 cases of voter fraud from the November 2008 election. None involves people voting in someone else's name at the polls.
I await the outcry from this state. I await the boisterous movement that challenges this legislation. I await the pushback, the fervent impassioned defense of the broadest possible voting rights which is the rock bottom core of our democracy.

I don't see it yet.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Kloppenburg's defense of the integrity of our elections should be applauded

The Journal Sentinel, Prosser and other Repubs, and lots of their supporters got it all wrong when responding to JoAnne Kloppenburg's request for a statewide recount. The April special election, like several elections before it, have revealed that there are some pretty serious issues with the voting process itself - and I don't mean the bogus voter fraud all the rage in the world of the Walker/Fitzgerald regime, the faux issue they are using for voter suppression in this state.

No, the real issue has to do with the integrity of the process itself, and the possibility that computers, vote counts, and even ballots themselves have fallen under a cloud of uncertainty raises the most fundamental issue of all - are our votes being counted accurately and securely? Are the clerks in charge of the count truly non-partisan and above all suspicion? And since it turns out that this is not the case - Waukesha County being the most glaring example right now, where a partisan former Prosser colleague, Kathleen Nickolaus, keeps the vote tally on a computer at home and allows no one to examine it - Kloppenburg has just done our state a great service by insisting on the full statewide recount.

I have been wanting to hear from her, felt we really needed her voice in this, and today we have. The woeful Journal Sentinel gave her space on their Op-Ed page and you can read her essay here. An excerpt:

This election was close, and there were many who have expressed doubts about whether it was clean. The right to vote is fundamental. It is a right that courageous people fight and die for every day. In America, that right carries with it a promise: that elections are fair and open, that election results are untainted by deceit or fraud and that the electoral process provides every eligible voter with an equal opportunity to privately and independently cast a ballot.
In order to make that promise real, there are appropriate and established steps that help make sure the outcome of elections, when in doubt, can withstand scrutiny. That, no more and no less, is exactly why this recount is so important.

Yes.  And then, YES! While JS and Prosser people lament the money spent, the time consumed, I can think of no more important function of government than to defend the vote against all possible assaults on its integrity.

Still, the fact that Nickolaus's computer has still not been ceased and analyzed by competent federal investigators - since the state refuses to do it - means that Waukesha County's vote count will remain under a cloud as long as she is allowed to operate in this fashion. The article in the JS about her the other day only increases reasons for concern.

Yes, Kloppenburg has done our state a great service. The importance of the recount was not about whether or not she wins in the end, it's about whether or not the result is accurate and trustworthy.

Since the advent of computerized voting, problems have arisen all across the country. Some programs have proven to be quite 'hackable,' and the companies making the machines have also been way-too-close to the Repub Party (one example, and here's another, and another). Now let's couple this story of the vulnerability of computerized vote tallies with Nickolaus's refusal to allow her computer to be examined, her practice of keeping it at home, and her old relationship with Prosser and other Repubs - and, sorry Repubs, if there are no problems here then let the Feds at it so that this can be proven and we all can be reassured.

As with the JS editorial board's opposition to the recount, you have to wonder who is really defending democracy here. A minority of eligible voters helped create a rightist regime in this state with what has turned out to be a deeply unpopular agenda. In the face of the mounting opposition, they are trying to ram through this agenda as quickly as possible. They continue to use undemocratic means to do so.

Again, the latest example - Senate Bill 95, which proposes sweeping changes in state mandates on education. You can read the substance here. For the purpose of this post, my concern is this:

Rep. Christine Sinicki (D-Milwaukee) noted that details about the bill were released only one business day earlier, on Friday, by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
"I'm pretty sure if there had been more notice on this, this room would have been packed," she said, looking at the meager crowd of about 30 people.

Once again, Assembly and Senate Repubs are trying to pass their agenda by stealth, moving things through so quickly and with the kind of timing that ensures no one can mount a meaningful pushback. This is an old nefarious practice of undemocratic players holding majorities in legislatures - put the stuff out late on a Friday and surprise everyone with hearings and votes on Monday.

The Walker/Fitzgerald regime does not want popular democracy to function, friends. They do not want it to function. The media - the JS and TV stations - are all complicit, virtually ignoring a rally of 10,000 folks on a cold windy Saturday called out in just 2 weeks time. They completely ignored the voices that spoke out there, from Sen. Jon Erpenbach to Mahlon Mitchell of the Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin to Sarah Lloyd of Family Farm Defenders to an undocumented high school student and more, but most of all the constituencies represented by those 10,000 people.

People operate in the shadows when they fear democracy, when they have hidden agendas, when they know they are viscerally unpopular but want to control us for the sake of that agenda. By requesting a recount, JoAnne Kloppenburg has helped put a spotlight on one of the greater dangers to our democracy - the threat to the integrity of the vote. I thank her for that.

Photos: Margaret Swedish

Monday, May 16, 2011

"The fight is not over" - even when it seems we're losing

I mean, there's just no getting around the reality that last November a small minority of eligible voters in this state voted for a complete rightist takeover of state government. The Kloppenburg/Prosser election probably cements that ideological stranglehold, despite the unprecedented voter turnout for a special court election that ended in a breathtakingly strong challenge from a relative unknown (who I believe would have made a fine judge - and may yet in years to come).

Mahlon Mitchell (ctr/left), prez of Professional Firefighters Assoc. of WI, and his colleagues lead march around the Capitol
But I needed a boost, so I went with my brother to Madison on Saturday for "The Fight Is Not Over" rally. I mean, if you can get 10,000 raucous, enthusiastic, democracy-loving folks out in the streets in 45 degree temps and winds gusting over 40 mph on just a couple weeks notice, well, for sure, the fight is not over.

There will be plenty of issues to comment on this week, but today I want to just point out the most glaring economic reality of our country right now, being played out here in our state - the rapid, vast, concentration of wealth over the past couple decades. Since economics is not taught in schools (it ought to be from K-12 and on), most folks may not understand how this wealth of the super-rich is being generated. Just to be clear, it is not because any new wealth is being created - it is because wealth is being transferred.

Right - from workers and the poor, from the public sector, from fake capital expansion (like those financial 'instruments' that brought down the economy in 2008 which is largely speculation involving our money, our mortgages, our retirement benefits, our consumer behaviors), and the global market - from the vast 'bottom' of the economy, in other words, to the tippy top.

Very good column in Sunday's JS Crossroads section, Income distortions affecting our democracy by Mike McCabe:

We have reached the point in which the richest 1% of Americans have more wealth than the bottom 95% combined, a sad truth verified in 2009 by PolitiFact.com. The 400 richest Americans have a bigger net worth than half of all Americans collectively, another harrowing statistic confirmed by PolitiFact earlier this year.
Such a grotesque redistribution of wealth from the many to a privileged few is inconsistent with any legitimate notion of economic justice, not to mention incompatible with democracy.

This condition is the product of a long series of deliberate policy decisions flowing from a corrupted political process. It also, in turn, reinforces the establishment of plutocracy - government of, by and for the wealthy.

As I have said many times in many places - societies with wealth this skewed do not do very well. And when 'free market' people (there is no such thing as a free market, only a market operating under whatever rules someone sets for them) say it is not time to raise taxes, as free marketer Brett Healy also wrote for Crossroads, don't believe them - because none of this wealth of the super-rich is going to bring about job creation, and those few jobs that may be created will offer wage scales that continue to bring working folks in this country from a middle class way of life to the ranks of the working poor.

In fact, the time of the broadest prosperity in this country came during the decades in which wealth was taxed at 70-80% - and what I remember is that the rich didn't complain too much about it, as they still could live in mansions and summer in Europe.

So while the fight is not over, we have difficult times ahead of us. Billions of dollars will buy you billions in influence, and this tidal wave of billionaire plutocrats' money continues to wash over the body politic. With Kohl resigning, you just watch as that tidal wave becomes a real tsunami, Koch/Rove/DeVos/Bradley and other money trying to consolidate this anti-democratic takeover of our state's political culture.

I hope folks can keep their spirits up for the long haul. Plenty of spirit in the streets on Saturday. We need to keep feeding each other this positive energy. Movements take time and unity. This one, too.

Madison's 'Forward Marching Band' 

Traditional counter-clockwise march around the Capitol before the rally

Si se puede - yes we can

Who would ever have thought it would come to this :)

All photos: Margaret Swedish

Friday, May 13, 2011

Damage piling up

It is hard not to be discouraged. The damage already done and about to be perpetrated by our state government is considerable and will have permanent ripples across our dear Wisconsin. Last November, by not telling the truth about what they were intending, by not having to disclose their billionaire and corporate backers (thanks to the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision), and with only half of voters exercising this precious right, we put in place a state government with no balancing opposition.

And until the Wisconsin 14 made their daring move across the Illinois state line, the Democratic Party could barely muster a credible opposing argument to NO NEW TAXES!! MORE JOBS!!  WISCONSIN IS OPEN FOR BUSINESS!! - that shrill cry of the right used to mask their true intentions.

This is what 'open for business' means. In January when Walker took office and Koch Industries opened their lobbying office in Madison, it meant Walker's people sitting right down with the Koch people to negotiate an easing of restrictions on phosphorous pollution from the Koch's Georgia-Pacific plants into our Wisconsin waterways. Controversial State Supreme Court Judge Prosser was in on this, another indication of the trifecta of rightist power we have in our executive, legislative and judicial branches. Today we also see that it means speeding up the environmental review process for construction of mines, a policy aimed directly at Gogebic Taconie of Hurley, a company bent on opening an iron ore mine Up North.

And just as Koch Industry lobbyists helped craft the easing of the phosphorous pollution restrictions, so, reportedly, did the owner of the mining company, Bill Williams, with the environmental review process. Is this who we want writing our laws? Did you vote for these guys?

This is what it means in Scott Walker's world to be 'open for business:' to allow corporate leaders themselves to write the rules and regulations under which they will operate. Good for their business, really bad for you and me and the quality of life in this state. In this case, in the professed cause of creating jobs - as if environmentally destructive industries are the only ways to create jobs in this state - ecological wreckage will come to yet another corner of our once beautiful state (still beautiful in parts, but that beauty is eroding thanks to these kinds of businesses, developers, golf course operators, industrial farmers, etc. - open for business indeed).

The Dept. of Natural Resources (DNR) is becoming a tool of industry under the Walker regime, certainly not a protection of our precious ecosystems under threat all over the place from road builders and developers, toxic industrial farmers, corporations seeking more nature to exploit for their profit.

Really, I hope this weekend's rally in Madison is about more than collective bargaining rights, more than the threats of the regime to well-compensated middle-class public sector jobs, important as that it. I hope it is about voting rights (about to be severely suppressed), about the gutting of public transportation vital to poor people to get to work, about the racism that underlies so much of this regime's policies, about what it will mean to destroy public education systems under threat by the broadening of the voucher program, about ecology and what it will mean if we continue to toxify and rip apart the ecosystems of our state, its waters, soils, forests, and more.

The ability to push back legislatively does not exist now, and much of the initial damage will be done before recall elections. So where is our leverage? Little in the immediate term. But even in the medium and longer term, in order to turn this course around, it means coming to terms with the rightist assault on our democracy, with the real powers and intentions of the people that put Walker and other rightist state governments in power in nearly half our states. And there is not yet anything approaching the breadth of a movement that is required to resist and overcome this kind of power.

It took 20-30 years for the civil rights movement to accomplish the end of legal segregation and recognition of voting rights for African-Americans in this country. What we lose will have to be won back. And that won't happen in one election cycle.

The great coming-together of all populations under threat right now from this regime hasn't happened yet - but it is the only real power the people have, or have ever had, to defend their rights and their dignity in the face of threats to those rights and to the common good and the goods of the commons, what safeguards the minimum of dignity and well-being for all.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Losing our democracy

Wisconsin's democracy was significantly eroded last night with the passing of the Voter I.D. law in the assembly (note to opponents of the bill: 2 Democrats voted with the Repubs. All assembly members who voted for this need to hear from constituents, but especially Peggy Krusick of Milwaukee and Tony Staskunas of West Allis).

Here's what I want to say about this: rightist racists in this country, some of them very powerful corporate political actors (yes, I do mean you among them, Koch brothers), some of them politicians in state and federal government, are stunned that we have an African-American president, that he remains popular no matter how much they try to demean or discredit him (the reaction to the appearance of Common at the White House is beyond revealing of the racist undertones of much of the opposition).

What I want to say is that this voter I.D. law and others like it around the country are intended to make sure something like this does not happen again. Two of Prez Obama's biggest constituencies are African-Americans and students. In our state, in part because of our long history of racism (I grew up with this, so I know what I am talking about), poverty has affected African-Americans most especially in this city of Milwaukee.

So, voter I.D. - make it harder for people who are poor to vote, and make it harder for students to vote.

And, really, this is about stopping voter fraud, that nearly nonexistent problem?

What do I say to my poll volunteers when I go to the same table with the same people and they have to ask for an I.D. and none of us believe in this violation of our voting rights?

I hear these Repubs say that it will make us all feel more confident in the voting process. Really, guys who are trying to weaken and limit democracy, you guys who try to pass laws by bypassing rules, quick votes when you hope no one is noticing or can create a ruckus, you who right now walk right around the overwhelming opposition to many of your policies now that people know what they are - and you care neither for this opposition or even for creating the spaces for it to be expressed - you're going to lecture us on trust in the democratic process?

I'm going to say this because it is true - certainly there are people who sincerely believe in this agenda thinking it might make a better world, but that is not what Walker and the Fitzgerald brothers are about. To understand what they are about, all one need to is a little reading and research on the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Cato Institute (another Koch-funded group), Americans for Prosperity, Heartland Institute - the list is long - rightist corporate backed groups who are trying to steal our public money, eliminate government, and undermine democracy itself in the cause of a global market running rampant and free for their benefit.

For a one-stop website to look at the background of these and other such groups, visit SourceWatch. You will find plenty here to unnerve and alarm you.

The first step in exercising one's demoratic rights is to be well-informed, well-armed, if you will, with information. The first step is to know what's really going on so that we aren't manipulated by media messages of the same people behind these rightist groups and their anti-democratic agenda.

The rally on Saturday needs to get to the heart of the matter. The assault on collective bargaining rights is symptom, not the fundamental cause. The fundamental cause is the attack on democracy itself so that the corporate right can have its way with the national and global economy - and trust me, friends, not for the betterment of the common good or the good of the commons.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Bad water and the end of public education - intentions getting clearer

What we will learn about the role and responsibility of government (since we have obviously forgotten our civics lessons) becomes clearer under the Walker/Fitzgerald brothers regime. They reject government's role in protecting us from bad, bacteria-laden water, and they reject government's role in guaranteeing the right to a free public education. And that's just today's news.

They also hope we are stupid enough to fall for the fake rationales for doing this real agenda - things like local rights or 'choice' as the mantra for what actually amounts to gutting government and replacing its role with the 'private sector' (translation: for-profit businesses with no accountability to you and me).

Privatization is the real agenda. Transferring our public wealth to corporations is the real agenda.

One example in today's paper: our anti-government government, the Repubs in control of our legislature, oppose state government regulations that require communities to disinfect their drinking water. There are fewer responsibilities more essential to government than protection of public health (my grandfather died here early last century of typhoid fever because of sewage seepage into drinking water pipes, so ask me how my family feels about government fixing this problem).

The argument that government should not impose on local communities' 'choice' in this matter is bogus, a fake argument to cover over the real intentions.  Let's state them one more time: to reduce or destroy the role of government in setting rules and regulations to protect the public, the common good, and the good of the commons.

Did you vote for that?  Did you stay home and not vote at all?

This agenda is not just a Walker/Fitzgerald brothers agenda. They are tools, instruments, of the agenda being set by extreme rightist corporate interests that have taken control of the Repub party nationally. I am not making this up, as you know. We have written here plenty, with links and all, about Karl Rove's GPS Crossroads funded by a handful of billionaires, about the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, Club for Growth, and Tea Party. These are major funders that make or break the careers of Repub politicians. Walker is at their service, as are the governors of Ohio, Michigan, Maine, New Jersey, Florida, etc. This is a national agenda being played out brilliantly at the state level.

Part of the scary nature of the power they have in controlling state governments now is the power they have, following the census, for redistricting, for resetting the electoral map. Watch this, friends, because this is where we will see more of the consolidation of their power taking shape in coming days.

And you thought we were fighting over school 'choice' and parental control of kids' education?

My segue to the other prominent issue of the week - the fight over school vouchers. I think we are missing the forest for the trees. While folks get engaged one more time in the emotional battle over how taxpayer dollars should be used for public education (like using them to subsidize religious schools), how wide the choice parameters should be, etc., I think these are all distractions from the battle that really needs to be engaged - resisting the agenda of the regime and its backers to end public education and privatize it. And that would mean the abandonment of the right to free education, it would mean ultimately the end of educational rights for poor communities all around the country.

Remember, the real agenda here is to diminish or disappear as much as possible the public sector.

Who wants this? Why rightist billionaires, that's who - and not just the ubiquitous Koch brothers. Try the DeVos family

Vouchers have always been a staple of the right-wing agenda. Like previous efforts, this most recent push for vouchers is led by a network of conservative think tanks, PACs, Religious Right groups and wealthy conservative donors. But "school choice," as they euphemistically paint vouchers, is merely a means to an end. Their ultimate goal is the total elimination of our public education system.

That, my friends, is the real agenda. However you feel about the voucher program, arguing it on its merits in terms of parental choice or as a means to create some competitive incentives for the public school system, these old arguments are missing the point - because that is not the point of the regime and its financial backers.

Feel used? Right.

Our government is being given away. Some people like that idea, the right has been so successful (since Reagan) at demonizing government. It has worked for a large segment of the population. Now we find what government actually does for us by what is being taken from us; we find out that at least government has accountability to us as taxpayers and voters and advocates, but the private sector does not.

Reagan once famously said that government can't solve our problems because government is the problem. That's cute, a great sound bite. It's also ignorant of what government really is. Government is often part of the problem - but when that is the case, it's a problem that can be fixed by public engagement in the process of government, at the voting booth, in the offices of legislators, in street protests, in advocacy campaigns, in running for election. When these rich people and their minions get control of the public sector and our money, where will we go to protest? Where will we line up to lodge our complaints, and who of these people will care?

This state regime right now is moving so fast in so many directions all at once for a reason - it makes it far harder to resist them, and thanks to low voter turnout and a whole lot of deception about their true intentions, we managed to elect a government that can ram through whatever they want. And they are ramming at high speed because the opposition to their true intentions is growing and could be manifested in a change in the State Senate majority come summer.

We are getting our civics lesson the hard way. We are going to find out what government can and ought to mean in our lives by what is taken from us in the way of our rights and our common interests in quality of life and a future for our kids. That is a sad way to learn.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The train of the future will be running elsewhere

The reverberations from the feds leaving Wisconsin out of $2 billion in high-speed rail money were on the front page of the paper this morning. Really, why would the feds invest money here when Gov Walker and the Fitzgerald brothers have made clear their disdain for rail as opposed to more roads, more cars, more congestion, more paved-over habitats?

Scott wanted it on his terms. Too bad, gov. This is what poor leadership and a dose of arrogance will do for you.

You want to look good by improving the Hiawatha, you know, the one all those business guys take every day to Chicago? Show a little commitment to rail itself as an alternative, cleaner, more efficient way to move people around in a world desperate for alternatives to cars - and even to airplanes. Because a high quality high-speed railroad connecting major cities around the country would be a step towards that future.

This for me was the most revealing statement in this article:
"The announcements we're making today are with the strongest partners in America," [US Transportation Secretary Ray] LaHood told reporters. "These are reliable people. These are people (who) have as one of their highest priorities the development of high-speed rail."
Walker is not a reliable partner, that's clear. And as the good-paying Talgo jobs move out of this state to Illinois, so will the promise of economic revitalization that high-speed rail from Chicago to Madison to Minneapolis would have brought along with it.

Hey gov! I thought you were going to attract all those Illinois businesses and jobs to Wisconsin, not the other way around!!

This is backward thinking in the extreme, and we will find our state being left behind by the old thinking of Walker's corporate backers.  It's sad, really. Lots of folks are on this ride with him, and lots of those folks are going to be among those left behind by not embracing the future, a future which, whether Walker, the road builders, Koch Industries, and the Fitzgerald brothers like it or not, will be weaning itself from cars and congestion and moving towards what is necessary for resilient sustainable communities in the near and long term.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The assault on our public life goes on - comes down to what kind of world we want, and for whom

It's hard to keep up. They come at us fast and furious, as if trying to overwhelm by the sheer volume of the assaults on our Wisconsin democracy and culture, such as it is in these days of the great polarizing divide. I believe that divide has been beautifully manufactured and manipulated by those with enormous financial resources and rightist courts that allow them to use those resources to purchase our political system - those who stand to benefit from the great divide.

We have family members, friends, neighbors that don't talk to each other anymore, while these guys continue to make off with our wealth, the wealth of the common good and the good of the commons. Trust me, people like Hannity, Beck, and Karl Rove love it when we don't get along. Political paralysis and unraveling of democracy suits them fine.

Anyway, a couple of stories raise these basic questions again of what kind of society we want. Competing visions are at work here, and one of them has a fierce hatred of the 'masses,' the 'common,' workers, the poor, the vulnerable and marginalized. And many of them don't like African-American presidents either, if we are honest about it.

Revealing, this unnecessary anti-Obama rant from one of Scott Walker's campaign donors, the now-infamous David Koch, who supports the gov on things like dismantling union rights and environmental protections in our state. Sarah Owen of New York magazine approached Koch at a fundraiser in Manhattan and he said he didn't understand why Prez Obama was getting so much credit for the assassination of Osama bin Laden.
"He just made the decision, it was obvious where the guy is...The real hard work was done by the intelligence and the SEALs."
Um, David, that's what presidents do. They set policy goals, in this case catching up with the 9/11 guy. They are given the options presented by the professionals who work for them and then they weigh those options and make a decision. Then they live with the consequences of those decisions. Takes a lot of guts, something you may not appreciate, protected as you are by your billions, your walled mansions, your many minions.

But the real attitude is barely hidden in this outburst.  From New York magazine: 
Obama is "a hardcore socialist," Koch told us, "and he’s marvelous at pretending to be something other than that, but that is what I believe he truly is, a hardcore socialist. He’s scary to me."
Scary, scary Obama. 'Uppity' of him to take so much credit, right?  C'mon, we all know what's going on here. The Koch family background with its roots in the John Birch Society, their funding of rightist, anti-democratic groups with clear racist tendencies (like the Tea Party birthers), makes this obvious.

Okay, that's my long aside. The real issue of this post has to do with the Wisconsin we want. On a smaller but culturally significant scale is Walker's assault on the arts. His budget calls for a 66% cut in the Wisconsin Arts Board budget.  I leave it you to read the details and consequences of this, well spelled out in a column today by the Journal Sentinel's art critic, Mary Louise Schumacher.

I want to emphasize one of her key points:  "Can you think of any great nation or civilization that did not support the arts in some way?" But, sadly, there are people who don't think of art and culture as public 'goods' to be fostered and developed for the good of all.

Again, what kind of society do we want?

Or this, about job creation. Now, creating jobs is not a project that submits itself to a single recipe, for instance: lower taxes on business, allow them freedom to use and exploit labor and resources free of government constraint, focus on projects that build roads and use of lots of fossil fuels, things that wreak havoc on nature, and, according to the gospel of these industries and Scott Walker, you carve a sure path to lower unemployment and greater prosperity. And if you don't do these things, we will not create jobs.

Really? Actually, creating work opportunities is another way of envisioning the world we want. You can create jobs that jeopardize the future, enrich the few, do more damage to the earth, guarantee lower wages, consign more people to low-wage work (like the 62,000 MacDonalds jobs that we are supposed to be celebrating as 'progress'), and in that process create one kind of society.

Or you can begin to create new work opportunities by addressing some of our key challenges. For example - how to move people around in a world growing more congested and more addicted to oil with every passing day. You can grow the congestion, you can pave over more of our Wisconsin countryside, or you can move to other cleaner forms of transportation.

So, here you go - just announced this morning: thanks to Walker's hostility towards federal money for high-speed rail, we have just been cut out of funds to upgrade the Milwaukee-Chicago Hiawatha.

We can create jobs making Highway 41 into a freeway, building more roads to satisfy the road-building lobby that backs Walker, or we can create jobs that will develop clean high speed rail. Jobs are also about the vision of the world we want. One path is sustainable and the other is not.

Another example: the headline in today's local section: Walker, GOP reversing green initiatives. You can create jobs by making the world dirtier, adding more and more toxic chemicals and other poisons into our air, water, and soil, make more of us sick (which helps grow the private health care systems), and jeopardize the future of our kids and their kids. Or, you can create jobs by building the new clean more locally based sustainable economies. You can create jobs in the effort to clean up the environment, to create the technologies for clean renewable fuels, for greater efficiency in how we use energy, etc., etc.  Lots of dynamism in that kind of economy, as other nations have already experienced - and we used to, or at least had hoped to.

This state and the current regime are bent on old technologies and economic development models that will be dying out this century as the world moves through this tumultuous time, the era in which the whole industrial/technological project begins to reach its limits. Sadly, this state is moving in a direction that will leave us ill-prepared.

What kind of world do we want? I don't like the direction this current state government is turning towards. It's getting uglier, less empowering, less human, less creative, more toxic physically and spiritually. It is bringing out the worst in us, not the best - racist sentiments on the surface, folks eager to carry more guns around, unwarranted fears being stirred up to set us against one another.

Or we can try something else, set a different course with a different vision of what our world could look like - if we could lay down the fears and realize that we are all in this together. Together in animosity and resentment in a diminished environment bent on our fierce individualism - that is one possibility.

I am looking for ways to create another...

Friday, May 6, 2011

Walker stays focused, whittling away at rights, quality of life, the common good

The heartlessness of some of this stuff Walker is doing I just find, well, heartbreaking. This photo spoke to me this morning. It's of the Gov looking proud of himself having just signed away the rights of workers to sick pay leave in Milwaukee, a right won at the voting booth in 2008.  We Milwaukeeans voted for this law, and now the Gov taketh it away.

What does that feel like? Most troubling for me about the Gov is this steely quality which I guess he must think of as some great virtue, some high character trait. But there is nothing at all to be admired in a kind of cold and unbending certainty that does not yield to the reality of the human world, to the reality of injustice, or to the ordinary struggles of workers and their families.

We voted for this - he has taken it away with the stroke of his many pens that he likes to use, as if all these laws have such gravitas, such great historical significance.  Much of what he is doing will fade away in the annals of history, written off as a nasty time in Wisconsin politics. I agree with our favorite local historian, John Gurda, on this point.

Anyway, this Walker/Fitzgerald regime is throwing so much at us all at once, it's hard to keep up. Walker is doing a budget assault on the Milwaukee County DA's office and DA John Chisholm has just had to order his prosecutors to work full time despite Walker's plan to slash their salaries by 20%. Said Chisholm: "I believe the Assistant District Attorneys are being treated dishonorably..." but what are you going to do with a heavy workload and a mission to serve the public?

Thus do we demoralize those who work for us. Is that fun? satisfying? I'm struggling with my dark sarcasm here, but, my oh my, does this regime call it out from me. But I'm not sure Walker is bringing out the best in any of us, just the most selfish among the white elite, and the defensive among those under attack or who see their futures threatened.

Plans to broaden the school voucher program also advanced yesterday, the Assembly budget committee signing off on a plan to lift the cap on the number allowed to participate and to expand it from the City of Milwaukee to the county, though students would still have to live in the city. Lots of controversy here, including the issue of using tax dollars to fund religious schools. And then there's the reality that this is one step towards a broader threat to the public school system - to also lift the cap on income, making this no longer a program targeting at risk populations. Imagine your tax dollars also subsidizing the affluent to send their kids to private schools!

Of course the real goal here is to destroy the Milwaukee Public School system. It would help if that system was providing a solid, empowering education for kids. It would help if the folks in the system, from the superintendent and board on down to the unions, had the welfare of the kids at the heart of this conversation, but it sure is hard to find that anywhere in this woeful moment for public education.

Really, if you want to defend your school system from the threat of these rightists, come up with a campaign to address the reality of poverty, racism, unemployment, and a host of issues of this poor city, because at the core of this problem is the neglect of these deep-seated cultural and social realities of Milwaukee and surrounding counties.

State Repubs want to to add photos to BadgerCare and FoodShare cards. Kind of like voter ID cards, we just can't trust poor people and African-Americans to be honest, right?  Really, friends, the racist attitudes behind so much of this is the real beam in the eye that keeps us from ever, ever dealing with the splinters, like how to balance a budget - that's just not the core issue here. It's not the reason for our blindness.

I loved Jim Stingl's column today in which he describes the reaction of public workers who are losing their collective bargaining rights to Walker's new plan to recognize their fine work. I laughed out loud - you know, and then you want to cry. The cynicism here is beyond the beyond.

A little reminder...
Okay, this is getting long, so last thoughts for the weekend. Let's remember, please, what is at the heart of the Walker regime - by their works you shall know them. Could not be clearer than this headline in the Wisconsin State Journal: Walker's proposed tax change: More money for corporations, less for state.

If I say this, some think I'm making a political statement. But it just is what it is. Walker is gutting government, destroying the capacity of public agencies to serve us, in order to free up our tax dollars so that more can be given to his corporate backers, the guys who paid for his campaign.

It is what it is, and it is tragic for this state. Meanwhile, as barely half of us voted in the November 2010 election, and therefore Walker got into office with barely a third of Wisconsinites' support, we have to remember what our lack of participation in democracy brings us - it can bring us rule by the few for the benefit of the few to the detriment of everyone else. And it can bring you a regime that is also prepared to whittle away at voting rights, to pass voter suppression laws, to make sure that when we wake up and decide to go back to the polls, many of us (students, the poor, the elderly) will be unable to do so.

I don't know what it feels like to be Scott Walker, but there is something very disturbing in this whole deal. I look for heart. I look for something other than stubbornness. I look for an ability to accept being flawed, making mistakes, being touched by the suffering of others, being able to put yourself in someone else's shoes, and recalling that government is needed not to protect the wealthy and powerful, but the least among us, the rights and well-being of the poor, of those who do real work, of families hit hard by a struggling economy - that government is intended not as a service to billionaires, not to enhance the power of corporations over government itself, but as a service to the people, to enhance the common good, and to defend the rights of the less powerful and the most vulnerable.

Come to Madison on May 14, 3:00 RALLY AT THE CAPITOL!!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Oh good, now comes the Wild West to a neighborhood near you!

Really, Wisconsin Repubs are nothing if not nervy.  While trampling the rights of citizens to vote, to decent wages and benefits, to a good education for our kids, to public transportation, to natural beauty and healthy air, water, and food, to collective bargaining, and more - they are about to unleash the gun whirlwind, a concealed carry law that, in the form promoted by real gun crazies, Jeff Mursau (R-Crivitz) and Pam Galloway (R-Wausau), would allow people to obtain guns with no mandated training in how to use the bloody things, and potentially without having to obtain permits.

Good thinking!  We sure wouldn't want to know who exactly is carrying these guns, or whether or not they have the basic competency we insist on for things like driving a car!

Some rights matter more to these Repubs than others.  How much N.R.A. support did these people get back when they were running for office? [This site is sick and very disturbing.]  This website states flatly that the National Rifle Association wrote this bill, another sign of outside groups writing legislation for us. I will search for another source for this info.

Well, why not? As life gets harder and harder in this state, in the philosophical universe of Ayn Rand where some of our politicians live (Ron Johnson being among them), the superior and the powerful get to look out for their own interests and the rest of us and the common good be damned!  Those concerns are only for the weak.  I wait for more scared people falling into insecurity, more anti-immigrant or racist fearmongers, to put themselves in the class of the superior, go into a gun and ammo store, and come out loaded for bear.

The O.K. Corral come to Wisconsin, to our beautiful Wisconsin.

As the JS article notes, hunters must show competence with their weapons. We do have in this state a hunter culture, even a gun culture, but in the case of hunters, with some care and consideration for the power of these weapons and the damage they can do. We saw what handguns can do in a shopping mall in Tucson last January. We saw what lax rules and regulations about handguns can do.

I am particularly entertained by the comments of gun-fan Galloway: "People who carry concealed as private citizens are responsible people." Ha ha! that's a good one!  Only very responsible people buy guns with the intention of concealing them.  Right!

This is what the Repubs want to bring to our state.  I don't want it.  Let them know you don't want this either.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Assembly Committee Repubs approve voter suppression legislation

The dismantling of Wisconsin's government and broad democracy continued yesterday in the Repub-dominated Assembly Committee on Elections and Campaign Reform. With Sen. Alberta Darling leading the way, the committee approved the new voter ID law intended to suppress voting rights, targeting students, elderly, and the poor, populations most likely to vote for Democrats.

This follows a national pattern in several states intended to bolster the power of Repubs at the cost of their opposing party and democracy itself.

Let's be clear: this is not about voter fraud, the great faux issue the Repubs say they are addressing. Voter fraud in this state is a problem being invented, one that barely registers on the 'dangers-to-democracy' radar. The real threat to democracy is coming from the right, funded by corporations and the groups they support, like Karl Rove's GPS Crossroads, the Koch brothers funded Americans for Prosperity, the Tea Party and Club for Growth, and the American Legislative Exchange Council.

For years, these groups have been trying to get a hold on the electoral system itself to manipulate it to their benefit. I need to remind myself over and over again that the Repub Party they are using as their tool, in this state, in Michigan, Maine, and elsewhere, is not the Repub Party of my parents' generation. This is a party that has been taken over by billionaires (Rove's group is funded almost entirely by billionaires' money), rightist corporations like Koch Industries and Exxon Mobil, for the purpose of reshaping our country to something that ressembles the days of the robber barons and Tammany Hall, back to the days when powerful white business groups ran corrupt political machines and controlled political parties and local and state governments without the restrictions of things like human and civil rights, labor unions, environmental laws, or broad-based popular democracy.

Again, as I wrote yesterday, I wish I was using hyperbole and exaggeration to get attention.

So, we were all in the streets over collective bargaining rights for public workers and the assault on the middle class. Will these same people be willing to go into the streets to defend the right to vote for poor people, inner city neighborhoods, African-Americans, students, and the elderly? I am just not feeling the same urgency that came with the assault on collective bargaining - and you can be sure they are counting on that.  It has been a long time since the people of this country went into the streets to defend the right to vote - and that came from the disenfranchised by way of the civil rights movement some 50 years ago now.

Source: New World Encyclopedia
Recall our history: most expansions of the right to vote - women's suffrage and the civil rights movement as our preeminent examples - came from persistent struggle, came from movements and protests. We had to struggle at every turn to broaden democracy to the point where it became that - democracy, not rule by the elite.

According to the morning paper, Darling and Leibham of Sheboygan were insistent on banning all forms of student IDs. They don't want students - with rights as profound and inalienable as theirs or yours or mine - to be able to exercise their right to vote. What they want, my friends, is the ability to dismantle government and hand the public sector over to the corporate sector without pushback or the inconvenience of organized political opposition.

Example? The other thing they did yesterday - the budget committee voted to repeal the regional transit authorities that were created to promote and build commuter rail from Milwaukee to Kenosha. They want them to go away. The road-building lobby which lavished funds on Walker's campaign want more cement poured, more traffic congestion, more neighborhoods and habitats destroyed, for their profit.

...while gas prices are approaching all-time records.

I can't say this strongly enough - our Wisconsin political system and much of the quality of life in our state is under threat from this regime. And I guess we are about to find out just how much we care about those things.
Okay, but is this true?

None of this stuff has become law - yet.  But we are running out of time. While all this anti-Walker regime energy gets focused on the recalls, the vote on Walker's biennium budget will take place before those elections. In fact, the Repubs will use every legal maneuver available to them to keep those elections from happening before the vote on the budget.  Sure would be nice to see some of the energy go where it needs to go now.  Sure would be good to see folks called back to the Capitol to reclaim our rights and our democracy.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

So, is destroying government a lot of fun?

I mean, as Scott Walker, the Koch brothers, the Greater Milwaukee Committee, the Bradley Foundation, the Fitzgerald brothers, plot the end of Wisconsin state government except as a service to business, the presence of federal programs in the state, the evisceration of municipal government through takeover schemes - are they having fun?  Do they sit around tables in dark rooms having a good laugh knowing the chaos and suffering to come?

Really - what are these people made of?

One example, the privatization of the food stamp program, a for-profit private business deciding who gets them and who does not, therefore, in many cases, who eats and who does not. This would also mean the disappearance of federal funds for the program. It would mean, really, the end of the program - which is what they want ultimately, the end of government programs, the demise of the public sector, the one accountable to you and me.

Second example, the evisceration of the public school system, including yet another transfer of tax dollars to wealthy families, this time to use for vouchers in the 'choice' program. They do this by eliminating the income cap for the program. Here we go again, another scheme to transfer more of our public wealth from the 'masses' to the rich. It is also a way of further abandoning Milwaukee, with well over a quarter of its population living in poverty.  Why waste potential profit-making dollars on the poor?

Third example, the evisceration of public transit, a vital element of any city's hopes to create employment options for the poorest among us. They have to get to work. They have to get to job interviews. They have to get to job training programs. A waste of money!  Poor people needing to get to work?! Business is moving out of the city's core and apparently doesn't care about the neighborhoods and the people who are being abandoned.

They don't care.

Fourth example, in secret they have been preparing a plan that would allow Walker to take over municipal governments whose financial practices do not meet Walker's standards (not his because he is not that smart, but the standards being written for him). They won't do this because they love our city. They will do this rubbing their hands with glee to finally pick on the city that picked on Walker, or that Koch and their ilk see as a drain on the economy and on potential investment income.

Oh, and they want to completely disband and eliminate county government as well, you know, while they're at it.

Friends, Walker & Co. are seeking to hand over our state government and its services to the private sector, to corporations - for profit. Not for you and me, not to deliver services, but to make a profit. What they are talking about is a massive transfer of our public wealth and resources to private business.

If this is allowed to happen, if it does not meet fierce resistance, then don't even worry about their assaults on voter rights and their voter suppression measures - because there won't be much left to vote for.  Once these services are privatized, another election won't reverse that process. You know, all those contracts that will have been signed. Once you eliminate government agencies and programs, getting them back is a monumental challenge, one that could take another generation.

Once again, I only wish I was using hyperbole and exaggeration to stir things up. I would sleep better at night if that was the case. The real battle for the future of Wisconsin has been engaged, as Sen. Mark Miller so famously said upon the triumphant return of the Wisconsin 14. Are we up to this battle?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Wisconsin's late winter

Actually, I don't feel like posting today. I lived in DC, and one of my sisters in Manhattan, back 10 years ago. I'm feeling a bit traumatized as memories, images, smells, grief all come pouring back into the present moment. I am feeling equally traumatized by the patriotic celebrations and the chants of "USA! USA! USA!"

I wish we could have mustered up that much fervor when the US was training and supporting death squads in Central America that killed the tens of thousands.

Nothing regarding 9/11 ever makes me feel triumphant or in need of vengeance, or justifies 2 wars that have killed the tens of thousands since 9/11 - it all just makes me feel so, so sad.

But back here in Wisconsin, I just returned from a great weekend in Merrill and Wausau, speaking at an Earth Day event on Saturday organized by Merrill Peace Study, preaching on Sunday at the First Universalist Unitarian Church in Wausau, and then meeting with a lovely Quaker group last night.  These gatherings are always a shot in the arm for me, a real morale booster - good people struggling with how to live their values, how to live authentically, how to create life anew, within this troubled culture.

The day I drove up it was 70 degrees, another blip in an otherwise brutal spell of late winterish weather. Saturday grew cool and damp, then downpours, followed by COLD and damp, some snowflakes floating around - and a lot of nervous farmers. Fields all through Central Wisconsin are wet, muddy, many with standing water. The organic farmers that participated in the various gatherings are concerned about their growing season since they have not been able to plant much yet.

Farming and weather. We in the city forget what it's like to live dependent on the weather, on nature.  We just assume that food will be in the stores when we want it. Very few US Americans think much about how the food is produced, whether factory-farmed or farmed sustainably and lovingly, or about the human beings that are linked to that food.

While I nurse my tumultuous emotions today, I just want to say this - support your local farmers!  And I mean, really support them.  Buy produce from stores and co-ops that sell locally grown, not factory-farmed food. Buy if you can from organic farmers.  Get behind your local farmers markets, promote them, help create more of them.  They will really need our support this year!

Meanwhile, there is political work to do - to fight the tax breaks and subsidies our government provides to factory farmers, to Big Ag, to industrial agriculture, that sector that is providing more and more of the foods that are making us sick and ruining our soils, poisoning our waters - so that these big producers are no longer able to price private, small, and/or organic farmers out of business. We pay way too little for factory food.

Here in Wisconsin, we are very fortunate to still have a strong family farm culture - but it gets harder and harder to hang on in this economy that favors the corporate producers. But that base is one of our lifelines for how we live now and in the future as we face growing economic and ecological difficulties. And these networks of farmers and farmers markets and co-ops and those of us who love this food and admire these people are also one way we begin to build and strengthen local, resilient communities that will help us not only survive the difficulties, but even create a nice life in the midst of them.

I have more to write about my weekend.  Stay tuned.