Days of unrest, continued

Reinvigorated by the idealism and fighting spirit on display right now in America’s heartland, the movement for “hope and change” has a rare, second chance. It can renew itself and become again a national force with which to be reckoned.
Van Jones

I caught the last half hour of Meet the Press yesterday, a segment that featured Southern Democrat and white supremacist Haley Barbour. NBC gave Barbour a nice boost, a moment of respect that legitimizes him. I think most young people have no idea of the enormous burden of shame that Barbour and many of his fellow Southern Democrats carry. The migration of white supremacists and racists from the Southern wing of the Democratic Party to the Republican Party following the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a kind of wholesale political laundering that shifted national political power from the Democratic Party to the Republicans and laid the foundation for Nixon’s “Southern Strategy.”

Something similar is happening today. Billionaires, oligarchs, and corporatists are exploiting the deep discontent felt by most middle class Americans and playing on fears that they have nurtured for the last eight or ten years in order to influence the middle class to vote against our own best interests.

In Wisconsin, the outcome of this corporate influence, the millions of dollars of slick advertisements, was to stick us with a Governor that only an out-of-state billionaire could love. How embarrassing for us all.

As it happens Wisconsin’s Governor Walker was the opening act on the Meet the Press show that Haley Barbour closed. I didn’t get up early enough to see Walker, but here’s what he had to say…

In the above presentation Walker lies and over-simplifies. The State of Wisconsin is NOT facing a 3.6 billion dollar deficit unless the Governor grants every request his own cabinet agencies have made for funds. Normally, the budget process is a matter of give and take, almost a poker game where agencies ask for more than they expect to get in order to be sure that what they really need won’t be cut. Also, Walker is sweating a fiscal deadline for refinancing the State’s debt. A prudent man would have addressed the refinancing as a matter separate from public employee collective bargaining issues in order not to miss the deadline. If we miss that deadline and lose $165 million in interest, the governor will have only himself to blame for his artless handling of the situation. The taxpayers, of course, will be stuck holding the teabag.

Walker is a teabagger, plain and simple. At River Falls, Wisconsin this weekend, Walker and Minneapolis teabagger Representative Michelle Bachmann were turned away from a rally. The pressure is on. They are now shamed and shunned most places they go. Tomorrow, Walker will finally deliver his budget speech and he will enter the Capitol through a steam tunnel in order to avoid the people he governs. In our two party system, Walker and his fellow teabaggers, unlike the morally bankrupt Southern Democrats of forty years ago, have nowhere to go as we the people return from that awful decade of fear and loathing, incivility and mistrust, back to our own moral center.

Days of unrest

The men and the women of the Madison Police Department train for crowd situations where an agitator or provocateur may try to create safety risks for citizens and officers. During recent demonstrations around the Capitol Square no such situation has arisen. Crowd behavior has been exemplary, and thousands of Wisconsin citizens are to be commended for the peaceful ways in which they have expressed First Amendment rights. – Madison Police Chief Noble Wray

I just watched Meet the Press for the first time since maybe 1961 when I was home alone with the flu with a limited number of Sunday morning broadcast channels available. I haven’t missed it. Today Haley Barbour, Governor of Mississippi, a Southern Democrat who will announce for the Presidency as a Republican on or about April Fools Day, evoked Sarah Palin and claimed that the workers of Wisconsin have circulated posters of Walker with cross hairs over his face.

And the lie went unchallenged while an evil meme was allowed to be sown.

The host, forgettable except for his clonal resemblance to Anderson Cooper (also forgettable, though perhaps a little less so), showed a clip of a demonstrator with a sign comparing Wisconsin Governor Walker to Egyptian dictator Mubarak and explicitly claimed that this was a dominant theme in the two weeks of rallies, protests and marches.

And the lie went unchallenged and another evil meme was reinforced.

People allow their opinions to be shaped by mainstream shows like Meet the Press (sponsored by Bank of America), but today’s coverage of collective bargaining and Wisconsin politics lacked objectivity–that’s as kind as I can be. As the story continues to unfold in Madison with possible lay-offs, strikes, and budgetary gridlock, it seems unlikely that anyone on the national news scene will get it right.

This afternoon at 4pm, the Capitol will be closed and protesters will be evicted. The decision comes down from the Governor through his Dept. of Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch to the Chief of the Capitol Police, Charles Tubbs. Chief Tubbs is a long time state employee, appointed to his position by a Democratic governor, and he must be feeling a little conflicted today. The police unions oppose his boss’s anti-union stance and his fifty employees are union members.

On March 1st, the Governor faces the third deadline for his budget address. The address is required by law to be delivered in January. The governor got an extension to February 23rd. When that day approached and his non-negotiable demands faced strong opposition, he was forced to ask the Republicans of the State Senate for another extension. He now intends to deliver his speech on March 1st in the Capitol, so it’s important to him that he clears the building well before then. He doesn’t want to hear any opposition.

The Governor’s one-way, non-negotiable intentions have forced local government across the state to address collective bargaining before the governor himself spoils the relationships between towns and their employees. So, in La Crosse County, Janesville, Racine, Sheboygan, Madison, and at the Milwaukee Area Technical College, new contracts have been made that include pay raises, pension contributions and health benefits for nurses, teachers and other public workers, benefits that the governor had planned to eliminate.

And the governor is a whiner. The unions told him they’d be willing to pay more for health and pensions and give up raises, but they needed him to agree that he wouldn’t eliminate public worker collective bargaining rights. He said, “No way, my way or the highway, I will not give an inch.” A week or so later he was moved to issue a whiny press release claiming “Union Bosses Say One Thing, Do Another.”

Well, duh-uh.

The month of March will be crucial. The Governor’s speech on March first will give him a chance to come to the table or end his political career. The absent 14 democratic Senators may get a chance to come home and help save $169 million of our money by re-financing existing bonds. The deadline for the re-fi is March 15th, so the absent 14 may have a few more weeks of pizza and motel cable-vision if the governor can’t learn to compromise. But meanwhile we’ll be organizing the recall elections for the governor’s Republican supporters in the Senate, canvassing for Kloppenburg in an effort to restore balance to the Supreme Court, and basically laughing at the noobie governor that Haley Barbour put in the cross hairs this morning on Meet the Press.

Coming up this week in Madison

Current law requires the Governor to deliver the biennial budget message to the Legislature on or before the last Tuesday in January this year (extensions are permitted). The Governor must also provide the Legislature with a biennial state budget report, the executive budget bill, and suggestions for the best methods for raising any additional needed revenues.

The governor requested and received a one month extension of the deadline for presenting his biennial budget. The presentation was scheduled for tomorrow at 1:30pm. Whether because he has become persona non grata at the Capitol, or because he wanted to curry even more favor with business, Governor Walker scheduled his address to the legislature for an off-site location at a local livestock feed manufacturing concern. The presentation has since been cancelled and the Republican members of the Senate were okay with his excuse (“the dog ate his homework”) so he’s been granted another delay. The speech is now scheduled for March 1.

Now many of my friends are calling the governor a manipulative SOB, but the situation is more nuanced than that. The governor is not the brightest bulb in the string, and he has a little schedule that requires him to pass the “Budget Repair Bill” before he will share his plans for the next biennium. He needs to pass that bill because it gives him carte blanche to destroy Medicaid funded services and the civil service. It is also a union busting bill and deserves to be killed for that fact alone, and the Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups points out that “…passage of the bill will give Governor Walker’s administration unprecedented authority to make sweeping changes to Medicaid programs such as SeniorCare Rx, Family Care, BadgerCare, ADRC’s, the Benefit Specialists program and services provided by OCI and the Board on Aging and Long-Term Care, without public input or approval from the state legislature.” It’s these sweeping changes that he requires to shape a budget that will most benefit his supporters and incidentally slash holes in the public program safety net that supports some of our most vulnerable neighbors.

So, we have our fingers crossed that the 14 Democrats in the Senate will stay away, the Budget Repair Bill will not be passed in anything like its current form, and the governor will be faced with doing some hard work to address our state’s fiscal issues over the next few years without a blank check in his pocket drawn on the account of the middle class and the working poor.

Here in the country we’ve experienced almost 48 hours of non-stop sleet and snow and freezing rain. The ground is covered with ice and it’s the end of a three day weekend. We needed this down time, but tomorrow morning we’ll be up and scraping the ice off the wind shield and heading into town. Beth will go to work. I’ll go back to lending a body in support of the organized protest against the Koch brothers fueled hubris of Governor Walker. Here’s what I think is happening. Drop a comment in with other information if you have it. (First time commenters are moderated, but the process is easy).

  • Tuesday at 8am… Jesse Jackson addressing the students at East High School, the very kids who walked out early last week and helped spark the protests. Deke Rivers writes:

    The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who spoke at the Capitol on Friday, will be back in Madison to speak at 8 a.m. Tuesday outside Madison East High School, district spokesman Ken Syke said.

    Just before classes start at East High School, Jackson plans to march from First Street and East Mifflin Street to the East parking lot for a rally.

    Then Jackson will speak to East students over the loudspeaker after the school bell rings. The idea is to both inspire and welcome students back, principal Mary Kelley said.

  • The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign promises a citizen vigil resuming tomorrow and continuing through at least the middle of March.
  • The Wisconsin Wave has scheduled picketing of the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce convention at Monona Terrace on Wednesday at noon followed by a rally at 4:30pm.
  • PR Watch at the Center for Media and Democracy is reporting live as the protests and demonstrations continue. Their latest update covers the Tom Morello concert ongoing now at Monona Terrace.
  • The revolution is being tweeted using hashtag #wiunion
  • Since teachers return to work on Tuesday, parents and “Friends of Wisconsin Teachers and Public Workers” will gather at the State Street entrance of the Capitol at noon to continue the vigil.

Other voices other brooms

Let me tell you about Ralphie the neighbour boy when I was six and seven and lived on Antrim Road always dressed in women’s clothing. Huge lobster, perhaps the hugest lobster ever, hung over the fireplace mantle in the playroom. Couldn’t tear my eyes offa it. It figured largely most likely to succeed probably. I feel like I am making this up. I can’t remember if he wore makeup. And another neighbour kid who later lost her arm. And her sister Kathleen … and a huge collection of Catholic memorabilia branding me for life. German last name. They drew on their genitals seems weird but it was true. I abstained. Use your arm while you got it I guess.

I don’t know how this emerged today. Stole it from a good friend and super writer five or six years ago. Stuffed it away so I wouldn’t lose it. Like this memory…

Once in Berkeley in the botanical gardens, I crossed a bridge over Strawberry Creek and there on the bank below me was a young woman with no arms gazing into a pool at a huge cray fish (Procambarus clarkii). I fixated on its claws. The irony, the contrast, was intense. The crustacean had powerful arms, huge pincer claws. The girl, I imagined she was as struck by the unfairness of it as I was, but that’s hubris. I can’t read minds, but I certainly can project.

Today in America it’s “Presidents Day.” We used to celebrate the birthdays of Washington (February 22) and Lincoln (February 12) separately, but Richard Nixon, assuredly deserving of no holiday of his own, combined the two and decreed the third Monday of February to be Presidents Day. Now we’ve diluted our heritage but we’ve added a three day weekend between the Super Bowl and March madness. That can’t be all bad.

Madison Protest

Wisconsin “Budget Repair Bill” Protest Pt 2 from Matt Wisniewski on Vimeo.


Anna Grindrod Feeny’s video (above) provides an objective framework for the rallies and protests. Here’s my take…

The State of Wisconsin is now a battleground. Tea Party conservatives and their corporate backers allied with the Republican party have taken a stand against organized labor. Wisconsin has a Republican Governor, a Republican dominated Senate, and a Republican dominated Assembly. Wisconsin’s Supreme Court justices are elected for ten year terms and during the last several election cycles corporate cash has flooded the state with predictable results. Wisconsin state government belongs to the special interests so it’s understandable why it seemed like a good idea to break the back of organized labor here.

For the last week I’ve watched the struggle play out on the streets and in the Capitol. Governor Scott Walker drafted a “Budget Repair Bill” that went far beyond the fiscal concerns that it’s nominally supposed to address. One of the many evil aspects of the bill is its effect on the ability of public employee unions to negotiate the terms and conditions of their members employment. Here’s the bill and the Legislative Reference Bureau analysis (pdf).

So the unions took a look at that and said, well… no. That’s not how it’s going to be. On Tuesday 13,000 people came to the Capitol to protest. On Wednesday there were 20,000, on Thursday–25,000, Friday–40,000, and on Saturday, seventy thousand people or more protested the Governor’s hubris. The Governor’s supporters appeared on Saturday too. About 2500 people gathered on the sidewalk at the King Street entrance of the Capitol to listen to speeches by a local Madison right wing newsy, Andrew Breibart, and famous political personality and pundit for hire Joe the Plumber.

I’ve been taking pictures and aggregating them in a couple of albums on Facebook (“This is what dogmocracy looks like,” and “Signs of spring”) as well as in a lengthy and by now repetitious stream on Flickr. It was probably a lot more fun to be there and take the pictures than it is to look at them. Leave a comment if you’re somehow blocked from seeing them, and I’ll try to get permissions sorted out. The whole Facebook thing is a black art from my perspective.

I only took one picture of the Tea Party people. I figured they’d generate their own news and with Andrew Breitbart and Fox news on their side, the spin would be too dizzying for me. In true Breitbart fashion, a couple of pieces of disinformation have already surfaced that have the whole right wing echo chamber simply in a tizzy. It seems that a Doctor has written fake sick leave excuses for teachers! Or not. When Breitbart’s involved the truth-meter buries the needle at zero. Michelle Malkin also came up with a photo of some creep-a-zoids carrying signs laced with profanity. Since I’ve spent hours and hours on site and saw nothing like those signs, I’d bet dollars to donuts that they’re part of the Breitbart team’s Saturday afternoon special disinformation service. Just guessing, you understand.

Tomorrow there’s a press conference at the Madison Senior Center addressing the negative impact the Governor’s Budget Repair Bill 11 will have on our elderly and disabled populations in Wisconsin, by pointing out that the passage of Bill 11 will give Governor Walker’s administration unprecedented authority to make sweeping changes to Medicaid programs such as SeniorCare Rx, Family Care, BadgerCare, ADRC’s, the Benefit Specialists program and services provided by OCI and the Board on Aging and Long-Term Care, without public input or approval from the state legislature. Weather permitting, I’ll be there and hope to share a blog post about this aspect of Governor Walker’s budget planning.

Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill Protest from Matt Wisniewski on Vimeo.