Friday, December 23, 2011

End of the year exhaustion

Hi friends - it's been hard to keep up this blog as the year ends and there is so much to do. I think this dark time of the year is supposed to be restful. Funny, right?

But listen, we have one heck of a year ahead of us here in Wisconsin. We really do all need the rest. And I have to think about what I want to do with this blog, if anything.
My eclectic meditation table

Anyway, I could be blogging lots of news. We've got more Gableman scandal and it seems we will always have Gableman scandal as long as he sits on the bench. His record keeps revealing to me that he does not deserve to be there. But neither does Prosser. Yet there they sit, making crucial decisions for our state.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Who authored the bill - take two

Two stories covered the top of the fold in today's newspaper, and both revealed something essential about who our state government is really working for. The erosion of our democracy continues. The rise of government of, by, and for corporations, government corrupted by the influence and manipulation of  corporate-sponsored lobbyists, continues.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Who authored the bill?

That was a question asked repeatedly at yesterday's hearing on LRB 3520, the bill designed to ease environmental protections and the permit process so that one out-of-state coal mining company can open a gaping wound in the North Woods to get iron ore to sell on the international market.

Democrats (and a whole lot of us) want to know who authored the bill and why the rush? These are begging questions, obviously, since we all pretty much know the answers. Most bills come to hearings with the author's name/s on it. The absence is a first indication that something about this bill really smells.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Come to the hearing on the iron ore mine this Wednesday morning!

Friends, a reminder that our woeful state officials will be holding a hearing on the mining bill, LRB 3520, this Wednesday morning, 10:00 a.m. at State Fair Park, Tommy G. Thompson Youth Center. The mining industry wrote this bill. That would be the same mining industry that contributed to Walker's campaign.

For more info on this issue, read my post from a couple days ago:

And for more info on the hearing, visit this page at the River Alliance of Wisconsin.

This is billed as a listening session. We know what that means. They listen, and then do what they want. At least, that is what they hope to do. They shout, "JOBS!!", and expect everyone to fall in line, or at least to drown out those who care about things like forests and clean water. But as we wrote before: how you create jobs and what kind of jobs are questions of political and economic priorities and values. We can create other kinds of jobs that don't tear up our beautiful State of Wisconsin. These are choices, and the choices made by politicians depends a whole lot on who finances their campaigns, right? Don't let Walker, state Repubs, and mining industry lobbyists try to tell you that this is the only way we can provide employment for workers in our state! That is political deception in the extreme.

Let your voices be heard, if not in person on Wednesday, then by sending messages to legislators by phone, personal visit, or email. The timing, unfortunately, is pretty urgent.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Repubs prepare way for mining industry to tear up our state

And it's not even a state company. Gogebic Taconite, the company that wants to open a deep wound in our Northwoods, is owned by a privately held coalmining company, called the Cline Group, based in Florida - into these hands state Repubs want to put a good chunk of the northwoods. [see: Assembly bill would ease environmental regulations on new mines]

This is the part of our vast mental disconnect that I don't get. Mining proponents (not least of which is Tim Sullivan of Bucyrus who looks forward to becoming richer off the machines and equipment needed to rip up the earth, from here all the way to China) say they can dig out this iron ore mine while protecting the environment. How do you dig down a thousand feet across 4 miles of our wooded land and say you are not destroying the environment. YOU ARE DESTROYING THAT ENVIRONMENT!! YOU ARE DESTROYING THE ECO-COMMUNITY!!! AND IT WILL NEVER, EVER BE THE SAME AGAIN - EVER!!

So let's at least be clear and honest about what they are intending to do.

Now read again how deceptive and devious the Repubs are being. Rep. Jauch is correct when he says that dumping a 183-page piece of legislation - drafted behind closed doors - on the public and giving us 6 days to read, digest, and figure out how to respond is insulting. But it is more than that: it is anti-democratic, it is autocratic, it is how nasty governments we don't like in other parts of the world operate.

You will see here just what it is in the legislation that so pleases the president of Gogebic Taconite. Among these things is the easing of wetlands protections. From the other side of his mouth, he says they can mine in an environmentally responsible way. If they can be so responsible, why do they need these regulations 'eased?'

Remember that this is the Walker administration that did Koch Industries a favor by easing pollution regulations, that re-wrote regulations on the construction of wind farms to make them almost impossible to create, that gives more and more permissions for giant livestock farms that pollute soil, waterways, and our bodies, that promotes more and more sand-mining for natural gas fracking in our beautiful western counties.

Hey, and they are even making us pay for it through corporate tax breaks!!!

Oh, yea, Gov Scott Walker and the Repubs are opening Wisconsin for business, all right.  They are offering up the beauty of the state to some of the most ecologically damaging industries around.

As if this is the only way we can create jobs here. As if this isn't really a political choice about what kinds of jobs in what kinds of industries you intend to try to create them. And to find out what those choices are, check out the campaign donations and the lobbyists making a steady beat to our State Capitol. Just to be clear about this, a quote from the third article linked below, by Al Gedicks:
"They were also worried that Wisconsin’s mining regulations would not allow such a mine to be permitted. GTAC executives discussed these concerns with several legislators and contributed more than $40,000 in 2010 campaign contributions to Republican candidates involved with the mining issue, including Gov. Scott Walker and Rep. Mark Honadel (R-South Milwaukee)"  

This analysis was published in September, and now, as promised, the Repubs have taken matters in hand. There is a reason they don't want you to know what's in this bill, and Gedicks gives us one example:
"Under the provisions of this bill (LRB 2035), which only applies to iron mining, the mining company will no longer be required to do a risk assessment of accidental health and environmental hazards associated with the mining operation. Existing water quality standards that protect water in the Great Lakes basin will be sacrificed if they conflict with 'the need for waste sites and processing facilities to be contiguous to the location of the iron deposits.'

"Just in case the authors of the bill may have overlooked some potential environmental obstacle, the bill states that, 'If there is a conflict between a provision in the iron mining laws and a provision in another state environmental law, the provision in the iron mining law controls.' In other words, the Iron Mining Law proclaims that the expansion of the mining industry is the official policy of the state and all other considerations are subordinate to mining." [emphasis added]

Thus do we see how our Wisconsin democracy is taken from the people and power handed to the corporations. This is a scandal, folks, and I hope you will make your voices heard about this - before it is too late. These guys are clever and devious. They are putting this bill out there just in time for the holidays when they hope we are not paying attention. Let's prove them wrong..

For more info:

The Enviromental Track Record of Taconite Mining
Permitting for Penokee Mine Shouldn't Be Rushed
Resisting Resource Colonialism in the Lake Superior Region 
Statement by Mike Wiggins, Jr., chairman of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Americans for Prosperity's successful campaign to create party of climate change deniers

Just this quick note today. Why is it so hard to get Repubs to say one intelligent thing about global warming and climate change? This was not always true. What happened?

This article explains: Americans for Prosperity Takes Credit for Bullying GOP Lawmakers Into Climate Denial.

Read that headline again, then just sit a moment and take it in. Think about what this means. AFP, founded by the Koch brothers, founders and funders of the Tea Party, have bullied their paid-for politicians into denying, obfuscating, ridiculing one of the gravest threats to humanity - ever!

Take it in on ethical and moral grounds. Take in what this means in terms of the common good, the good of the commons, and the prospects for a decent future for our descendents. Think about what these people are doing for the sake of their short-term interests, for profits and power.

Then, if you are a citizen of Wisconsin, think about the power these people have over our [s]elected officials. Remember that AFP and other Koch-funded groups put enormous amounts of money into influencing campaigns, running ads that do not tell the truth or outright lie, that manipulate people with conservative beliefs to deny what is actually occurring all around them. Think of the role of the propagandists, from Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck to our own Charlie Sykes.

Think about this. And if you are still looking for any motivator to get involved in citizen efforts to restore government with integrity, government that serves the real interests of its citizens, here is a really, really good one.

Then while you're at it, read this, from those wild liberal radicals at the journal, Nature.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Climate change in Wisconsin

Some of my readers here know that in my work life I am focused on the many ecological challenges facing our world right now, trying to raise awareness, trying to encourage people to engage these realities, trying to help articulate with others how we are going to live through some difficult times as ecosystems come under increasing stress from our industrial civilization. Among those stresses is the accelerated warming of our atmosphere caused by greenhouse gas emissions.

Right now in our state political culture, we are dominated by two sides of a bad coin: business people and politicians who are global warming deniers or who know it's happening but don't want to do anything about it; and then the way-too-many of our citizens here who are incredulous, skeptical, getting their info from political pundits like Charlie Sykes, as if he has read even one authoritative study on the issue.

I was with one such skeptic over the weekend and, really, it is amazing to hear deniers speak with such authority when they are not acquainted with the science, haven't read the experts, have had only one conduit of noise on the topic from the political right. I mean, I tried to mention the research I've read, the studies, the workshops by scientists that I've attended... Doesn't matter. Runs into the mental brick wall of all that punditry that confirms a world view, whether or not it is accurate.

And isn't that, after all, a central aspect of our dysfunctional political culture right now?

Despite all that, climate change resulting from human-induced global warming is impacting Wisconsin already, and these impacts are going to become increasingly severe with rising temperatures in the atmosphere.

So it's best to arm ourselves with good info. I recommend a great resource to you from the UW-system, Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts.  You will find some really good visuals and video that lay out the challenges and what to expect over the course of this century. Fair warning: it is more than a bit unsettling. These are not changes we can take back. We will have to learn to live in a new reality, which will mean many upheavals in all our lives.

At the same time, we have to decide how bad things are going to get - and that's about policy choices and lifestyle choices. We're all in this one together and so none of us can escape the impacts. But if we continue putting in office people who dismiss, disdain, obfuscate, or deny this reality, we only ensure that things are going to get a whole lot worse for our kids and grandkids.

This should not be a partisan issue, nor should it be in the hands of corporate lobbyists who profit from the very industries that are changing our climate. This is about simply being a human being, a species that, like all others, needs a habitat in which it can survive and thrive.

Wisconsin really needs some leadership on this stuff, and that has to come from all of us.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Milwaukee has a racism problem

Ya think?  Of course, saying that can get you into a lot of trouble, a lot of rage directed at you. "We're not racists! We just don't like those people! We don't want to live near them. They are all drug addicts and lazy, living off the government dole!And we are terribly afraid of 'them.' Their neighborhoods are full of crime and they don't have morals like we nice people with nice houses and neat lawns."

But we are not racists...

I've heard it so often growing up here. We pretend that our de facto segregation, disdain for poor people in the 'inner city,' our disdain for MPS, etc., is about something else. We know what it's about.

Yesterday's front page story saddened me: Racial gaps found in traffic stops in Milwaukee. Again, people can say what they want, from Police Chief Ed Flynn on down, but we all know what it's about. The stats show that it is not even explained by crime rates. Read the article and you will see that. And, yet again, Milwaukee has among the highest rates of racial and ethnic disparities in this business of arbitrary traffic stops, or pedestrian stops, than other cities keeping track of such things. Why are we always so high on these lists?

I grew up in Wauwatosa. I remember what happened if an African-American walked down my street. I remember as a young person how shocked I was by long-time neighbors when a mixed-race couple dared to look at a house for sale across the alley and then actually bought it - a man from Biafra married to a white Montessori school teacher, two young daughters. I remember how embarrassed I was that my Mother was one of the few long-standing residents on that block who would actually greet them and do some neighborly chat. She thought they were really nice people with adorable children.

It's not that nothing has changed, it's that the change has not been nearly enough. Laws changed, civil rights were enshrined on paper, but this is one of those realities not truly addressed until the attitudes deep within are addressed.

Sandra and I became dear friends for reasons beautiful and always-to-be-cherished. She had raised her kids in a tough neighborhood holding a 3-generation household together. She told me about her son, how hard he worked, going to school, taking part-time jobs. He saved money so that he could buy a used SUV and a gold chain. What did he get for this? He was stopped repeatedly by police and ordered to go spread-eagle while they searched his vehicle. His mother pleaded with him not to react. Of course, the consequences if he had tried to defend himself or even say something out of understandable anger could get him in a whole lot of trouble. This was about who had power, not who had rights.

He eventually got rid of the SUV and stopped wearing the gold chain.

Can Flynn or Mayor Barrett or my old neighbors even imagine what it is like living with that sort of thing every day of your life - that sense of vulnerability and powerlessness, the fear and rage that would simmer inside, that awareness of the message the world is giving to you about who you are and how you are thought of by society? I can't; Flynn can't; none of us who grew up in privilege can. And then we wonder at the results that come from growing up at the other end of racist attitudes. We wonder at the suspicion and anger. We wonder why kids feeling this in every part of their lives don't perform better on school tests, or feel they have any shot at a decent future.

And here's the other thing: what happened to Sandra's son and to those cases mentioned in this article also violate the Constitution. The ban on unreasonable search and seizure does not end at the color line or neighborhood boundaries. And one of the most disturbing trends in the culture right now is that so many people are willing to see the Constitution gutted for the sake of some ephemeral sense of security.

I met someone over the weekend who said this clearly, this time in relation to the threat of terrorism in the US - to save the Bill of Rights, sometimes you have to violate the Bill of Rights - that old 'destroy the village in order to save the village' metaphor that we learned from the Vietnam War.

What really are we trying to save when we do this? Because it's not the Constitution and it's not democracy. It is the dominance of one class of people over another. We want our rights protected, our property rights, our privilege, the racial and class identity of our neighborhoods. And, well, shucks, if you have to trample on the rights of others for that preservation, so be it.

We are a long way from the kind of vibrant racial, ethnic, cultural diversity and inclusion that is essential to vibrant, inclusive democracy. We ought not be accepting routine, even mundane, violations of the Bill of Rights for any of our citizens. This article makes clear that there is not much connection between this kind of arbitrary police action and crime rates. Crime rates tend to go down when neighborhoods do not fear or suspect the police, when a relationship of trust is established, when neighborhoods pull together and form community bonds that open up and protect safe spaces.

In this article, Flynn says: "Yes, of course we are going to stop lots of innocent people. The point is, do folks understand what their role is as a cooperative citizen in having a safe environment...That level of inconvenience, if it's coupled with respectful treatment, is something communities will accept to be safe. If the price of me walking down my neighborhood in safety is once a month (a police officer stops me), people are going to say 'That's OK with me, it's about time we saw the cops here.' "

You can't dismiss violations of rights this way, violating civil rights as a matter of acceptable inconvenience. Sure, in high crime neighborhoods, lots of residents love seeing the police around. But what are they doing while in their streets? What are they demonstrating? What attitudes do they communicate?

Yes, work with neighborhoods. Get people talking about what's going on, passing important information, getting to know one another, counting on the police to come when called, to take them and their concerns seriously. Absolutely! Have block meetings, invite the officers, build trust. Yes, and yes. But don't cross the line to racial profiling. Don't cross the line when it comes to civil rights - because that undermines the very trust you are trying to build.

And don't make it fearful for African-Americans to walk down the streets of white neighborhoods by giving in to the race-based fears of some residents. Work with them, too, so that we can overcome the fears and deep-seated old attitudes and build understanding across the barriers of racial fears until those fears are dissolved by recognition and incipient trust. Milwaukee can boast some great work in this regard over the years; we need to deepen it, do more of it.

To say racism is not at work in what is described in this article is defying reality. We know it is at work. A lot of good community policing is being done in Milwaukee now, especially compared with some really bad old days under chiefs like Harold Breier. Crimes rates are down. Applause, please; this is very encouraging. Kudos to the police department for their role in creating this trend, along with all the neighborhood groups, community organizations, churches, and others who are working together to help make our neighborhoods safer.

But we have to stop being afraid to talk about how much racism itself sets a trap for a whole lot of young people who get the message early on that white privileged society has no place for them except in their own neighborhoods where those harboring these fears so hope that they will remain, out of sight, out of mind. Now there's an incubator for some troubling behavior if ever there was one.

But let's be clear about who is responsible for it. We all are. And that means that overcoming this history buried deep inside our psyches is also the work of all of us. Let's create a city where everyone feels included and respected, and where everyone's rights are honored at the same standards set in the Constitution.


Photos: Margaret Swedish

Friday, December 2, 2011

The right to protest - if you can pay for it

I wish these guys would quit proving me right - that I don't think they believe in inclusive, vibrant democracy. Now the headlines screaming from the front page: Walker & Co. want protesters to pay to exercise one of the most fundamental rights of democracy, the right to free speech when that right is exercised as protest.

What could be more basic to our constitutional system of governance. We were founded on protest, for crying out loud!! The rights in our constitution are not commodities for sale to those who can pay.

I know these guys don't believe in democracy when it counters their intentions to remake government of, by, and for their corporate backers and billionaire donors. But still, let me give this a try, a lesson in what it means to be a governor.

Now, Scott, you proudly say, ad nauseum, that you are a budget-cutter. You think that a proud statement, rather than an empty statement. It means nothing at all until you put content into it - and your content is hurting the people who are suffering most from the recession, from poverty, from the concentration of wealth in this state and nation.  You also are proud of your slogan, "Open for Business," as if that means anything on its own. It is also empty - until you put content into it. And your content is eroding worker rights and well-being, putting yet more downward pressure on wages, compromising the health and education of our kids, threatening more and more of our environment, our quality of water, soil, food, forests, wetlands, and more.

And here's the other thing about being a 'governor,' as in one who governs (different from one who dictates or uses power to hurt people rather than enhance their lives and participation in the decisions that impact their lives): governors have to create budgets, this is true. Governors also have to defend democracy itself, not try to stifle it. In a real democracy, you would be happy to provide protection for the rights to vibrant protest, opposition, and debate. You would keep the spaces for democracy open. You would understand that providing protection and defense for all the rights contained in the federal and state Constitutions is your absolute mandate.

And if you believed your policies to be broadly in the interests of the majority of your constituents, you would not fear those constituents, their voices, their protests, their recall petitions, their presence in Madison.

That's my lesson on democracy for the morning.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Wisconsin's political struggles must address growing poverty

Yesterday's Journal Sentinel was very distressing, no? Front page headline - more than 4 out of 10 kids in Milwaukee living in poverty. This is a moral scandal of huge proportions.

You know, when I read about the need for testing standards and teacher evaluations in our public schools, I try to imagine what it's like dealing with over-crowded classrooms in which so many kids are hungry. When I read demands that parents must be more involved in their kids' education, I wonder if those making those demands can even imagine what it's like to be a family living in poverty, trying to scrape by on whatever work you can get, if you can get any.

Sometimes it feels like a complete failure of imagination - and compassion. So many privileged people feel they are privileged only by virtue of their cleverness and ingenuity, not by benefit of their class or race background.

But we're not supposed to talk about race, right? The unmentionable skeleton in the closet, along with gaps between rich and poor, the mere mention of which is considered 'class warfare' - by the rich.

Here's another mark of our shame: more children in this country are getting health insurance, an increase of a million from 2008-2010. Guess what? Obama's health insurance reform legislation, the Affordable Care Act, is a major reason for this increase. In many states, eligibility has been expanded through Medicaid programs and the process simplified.

Our peculiar shame? Thirty-four states had a significant increase in the number of children covered. We are one of the few states (including Kansas and Minnesota) that saw an increase in the number of uninsured children.

Good job, Scott Walker and all you Repubs in the state legislature! I guess I would say that your failure of imagination - and compassion - is more than grave. You are jeopardizing the health and lives of our state's children.

So, once again, my friends, I just want to say this: this struggle for democracy in Wisconsin, for a decent political culture and a government responsive to the needs of our citizens, has to expand to put poverty at the top of the agenda. If solidarity with the poor, the unemployed, the most marginal of our people is not at the heart of recall campaigns and occupations and protests in Madison, we will be failing this same moral test.

These two stories yesterday present us with stark reality that is simply not acceptable, not in a state or a country that is only suffering like this because of skewed priorities and the shredding of the social contract. We are suffering budget squeezes not because we lack the resources to provide necessary social services, but because of an insidious spirit that has come to corrupt our politics over the past two decades, one in which so many of the wealthy, the powerful, and secure feel no sense of social responsibility for the larger community of which they are a part - whether they like it or not. Extreme individualism has becomes the most corrosive influence on the political culture right now and its results are not pretty. Actually, they are pretty nasty.

Meanwhile, on the other end is real human suffering which these stats show is also getting worse.

A moral crisis is most definitely what this is, especially if you have the courage to actually put a face to it, especially if those faces belong to our children.