Saturday, February 19, 2011

What democracy looks like (times 70,000+)

And it's not like your typical short network news montage headlined "State of Chaos" (NBC Evening News tonight) and giving the pro-union demonstrators and the Tea Party counter-protesters equal time, even though there were 70,000+ of the former and maybe 2,000 of the latter at best.

I haven't been shooting much video at the rallies, since there are so many people there who have better equipment and a lot more experience. (Like Matt Wisniewski.) But I couldn't resist trying to document this moment, if ever so briefly. It was unbelievably moving to watch tens of thousands of Americans, an endless stream of people completely surrounding the Capitol Square, demonstrating their conviction about fairness, labor rights and democracy.

If Scott Walker couldn't hear them, he isn't listening!

Unions raise standards for all workers

Unions Raise Standards for All Workers
And when they try to take away union collective bargaining rights, it's an attack on all our rights. If anyone is still wondering why so many people have flocked to the Capitol, that's it in a nutshell.

So, have you actually read Walker's "budget repair" bill yet? You might be in for some surprises.

So, Have You Actually Read the "Budget Repair" Bill?
The bill makes for rather lengthy leisure reading. With the Legislative Reference Bureau's analysis included, it runs 144 pages. Here's a link to the text of the bill and the analysis.

I'd like to be able to say I saved you the trouble by reading all of it it for you, but that would be a lie. But I did skim it, and I read the LRB's analysis. The union busting is bad enough. There's also a bunch of financial stuff that involves a lot of borrowing. I'm not an expert, but I suspect that parts of it -- call me a cynic -- might not hold up all that well if real committee hearings were held on the bill. But the part of the analysis that caught my eye was this:
Currently, this state owns and operates numerous heating, cooling, and power plants that were constructed by the state to provide heating, cooling, and power to state facilities. The Department of Administration (DOA) determines the method of operation of these plants and may delegate this authority to any other state agency that has managing authority for a plant. This bill permits DOA to sell or contract for the operation of any such plant. The bill exempts such sales and contracts from the requirement for approval of the Public Service Commission (PSC) that may otherwise apply under current law. The bill provides that the net proceeds of any sale, after retirement of any outstanding state debt and any necessary repayment of federal financial assistance, is deposited in the budget stabilization fund. The bill also allows DOA, at any time, to petition the PSC to regulate as a public utility any person who purchases or contracts for the operation of any plant under the bill. Under current law, the PSC has regulatory authority over public utilities, including the authority to set rates for utility service.
My photo shows the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Charter Street heating Plant, currently undergoing conversion from coal to natural gas. You might have wondered what it would have to do with the deficit "crisis" and the "budget repair" bill. Now you know.

In addition to stripping public employees of their collective bargaining rights, the bill proposes allowing the state to sell some valuable assets in the form of state-owned heating and power plants like the University's. The idea, presumably, would be to save taxpayers money by buying back heat and power for public buildings from the new owners.

You can imagine how that would work out with this administration. Probably like Chicago selling its parking meters and then watching rates skyrocket. No wonder Walker wanted to pass it in the dark of night, or better yet, in a crisis atmosphere with no time for anyone to look at the fine print or hold hearings. And you kind of wonder what other goodies are in there.

This provision in the budget bill may also provide the real reason that Walker shut down the biomass conversion that was originally going to be part of the heating plant's upgrade. Folks attributed Walker's action to crude anti-environmentalism, but maybe there was another reason. Perhaps they simply figured that adding biomass capability, which is more expensive to operate, would make the plant less appealing -- i.e., less profitable -- for potential buyers (like maybe the Koch brothers?)

This is another example, in addition to the union busting, of why this bill is a perfect example of what Naomi Klein calls the "Shock Doctrine" -- using the urgency created by a natural disaster or financial crisis to ram through legislation that violates the public interest. And it's worth noting that wherever the Shock Doctrine has been applied, two of the things that happen most frequently are the passage of draconian anti-labor laws and the sale of state assets to corporate insider.

Walker's contrived crisis is such a perfect example that it has not escaped Klein's attention. Here she talks about with Chris Hayes, explaining why the Wisconsin protests matter to the whole country.

Friday, February 18, 2011

"Humans Unite!" -- I love this sign

Humans Unite!
I love this sign that was held up in the middle of the Capitol Rotunda..

It sums up what I've found the most moving thing about this outpouring of solidarity in Madison -- the way it has brought together such an incredible range of people who usually are separated by a variety of divisions between groups and orientations.. Ever since Nixon, with his "Southern Strategy" and "Moral Majority," the corporate interests have played divide and conquer by dividing Americans along social, ethnic, gender, economic, educational, religious and class lines. Whenever a distinction could be made between people to pit them against each other, it was made. Not any more. People are realizing we're all in this together -- that an assault on one group of working Americans is an assault on all Americans. Divice and conquer won't work anymore.

As someone who is old enough to have seen Madison in the Sixties, I am amazed and deeply moved by the tone of this demonstration. This is not one group against others. This is all for one and one for all.

A scene this afternoon on the Square that would not have happened in the Sixties. We were part of the huge throng that was marching around the Square on the street. A sherrif's deputy needed to get by with his squad car. The crowd cheerfully parted to let him through:

Deputy: "Thank you."
Crowd: "Thank YOU."

This is something new, and Governor Walker ignores it at his peril.

John Nichols with Jesse Jackson on the Square this afternoon

Jesse Jackson Is Here
Nichols -- of the Capital Times and the Nation magazine -- was great on the Ed Show on MSNBC last night. Very strongly pointed out that Walker's "crisis" is not about money but about busting unions. Corporations first attacked the private sector unions by sending so many of their jobs abroad through NAFTA etc. Now they're going after the public sector. But it's a united "divide and conquer" attack on all working people.

Jackson will be speaking tonight at the WEAC rally that starts at the Capitol at 5:00 p.m.

Still pictures are all very fine and well, but this Matt Wisniewski video really shows what it was like

Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill Protest from Matt Wisniewski on Vimeo.

I've posted a few photos of the protest and have written about how moved and inspired I was. Still pictures are all very fine and well, but words and photos just can't do justice to the spirit of something this big. To really get a feel for what it's been like, take a look at Matt Wisniewski's marvelous, beautifully photographed and edited video and its Arcade Fire soundtrack. And then head for the Capitol. (Thanks to Bluecheddar for the link.)

Birth of a new 21st century progressive movement in Wisconsin? Here's hoping.

The Birth of a New 21st Century  Progressive Movement in Wisconsin?
It's not surprising that Robert M. La Follette, Sr's sculpture was a focal point for demonstrators. Wisconsin's "Fighting Bob" La Follette was the great leader of the Progressive movement in the early part of the 20th century. (The T-shirt seems especially appropriate given the importance La Follette and his wife Belle attached to public education.) He has been called "arguably the most important and recognized leader of the opposition to the growing dominance of corporations over the Government." Today we are facing similar issues, and the people of Wisconsin are fighting back again. "Fighting Bob" would be proud of what 21st century Wisconson citizens have accomplished this week. Here's hoping that it's catching and inspires a rebirth of progressivism in the U.S.

This is what democracy looks like!

This Is What Democracy Looks Like!
Long, thrilling day, starting to sort out some of my photos. Even the superwide 10mm lens couldn't begin to encompass the size of the crowd in the Capitol. My lens was still a bit fogged up from coming into the crowded, humid interior from outside, adding the hazy glow. As the frequent chant went, "This is what democracy looks like!"

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

For budget message next week Scott Walker sets up Capitol-in-Exile on Fish Hatchery Road

Firefighters Show Up in Solidarity with Other Public Workers
Today's protest rally at the Capitol was a powerful expression of opposition to Gov. Scott Walker's "budget repair" bill and his high-handed, dictatorial approach to collective bargaining.

It also seemed to inspire Walker to abandon the Capitol, along with years of tradition, when his administration announced he would deliver next week's budget message off-site, not at a joint session of the Legislature in the Capitol, but at a private business, Vita Plus, an animal feed company on Fish Hatchery Road. Supposedly, this was planned in advance of the protests.
Walker says he is releasing his budget outside the Capitol to highlight the promise of his administration to create 250,000 jobs over four years.
But since the announcement was made during the height of the protest Tuesday, it's understandable that a lot of people thought the Walker administration just wanted to deliver the budget message in an out-of-the-way location where attendance could be tightly controlled. Wonder how that will work out for them?