Saturday, February 26, 2011

This Is What Democracy (+100,000) Looks Like

What an incredible day -- more people than last weekend despite the snow, despite the cold. They just kept coming, and coming and coming. I'll put up some stills when I get a chance, but here's a video from One Wisconsin Now that begins with a pan of the rally from up high and gives some idea of the scope of what has to be the biggest political demonstration ever held in Madison. And a lot of those people are just counting the days until they can start circulating recall petitions. (Hey -- if Ahnold could knock off Gray Davis in California's recall election a few years back, Walker should be easy. We're a much smaller state, and we have a lot more angry people right now.)

Lena Taylor thrills Capitol demonstrators when she calls in: "Don't let our lying Governor win!"

Thrilling Moment in the Capitol Rotunda
A thrilling moment in the Capitol Rotunda Friday afternoon: As the signal went up for silence, Senator Lena Taylor of Milwaukee (one of the Fab 14 Democrats who left the state) called in via an improvised cellphone-to-loudspeaker hookup with a message of solidarity. "Don't let our lying Governor win," she said, to thunderous applause.

Snowy Saturday in Madison: Busing to the revolution, no room for cars downtown

Snowy Saturday in Madison: Busing to the Revolution
With tens of thousands of people at the Capitol Square in what looked to become the biggest rally yet, despite the weather, and with parking virtually impossible to find, many Madisonians relied on public transportation to get to the Square. Good idea. This was at Monroe and Glenway. (Madison Metro, btw, stands to lose millions in federal aid if the union-busting budget bill goes through.)

What every desktop and mobile phone needs -- a Scott Walker Recall calendar and countdown clock

There's little more than 10 months to go until we can start to circulate Scott Walker recall petitions (until then we'll have to content ourselves with those Republican state senators who are already eligible for recall).

There's a great Scott Walker recall calendar and clock HERE. Don't know about you, but I'm going to keep this open in a window on my desktop and will bookmark it on my iPhone. I'll check it often -- since I'm not just counting days and hours, but seconds and minutes. Little more than 10 months to go, and counting . . . And I'll be sure to set aside some time to help circulate recall petitions next January. Hope you do too.

Friday, February 25, 2011

If you don't want to be called a dictator, don't have your people in the Assembly cut off debate

Wisconsin Assembly Ends Debate and Votes
Everyone knew the budget repair bill would be passed by the Republicans the Wisconsin Assembly last night, sometime in the early morning hours. Shortly after 1:00 a.m. this morning, it looked as if it would take about two hours for the remaining Democrats to be heard. Then this happened.
Debate had gone on for 60 hours and 15 Democrats were still waiting to speak when the vote started around 1 a.m. Friday. Speaker Pro Tem Bill Kramer, R-Waukesha, opened the roll and closed it within seconds.

Democrats looked around, bewildered. Only 13 of the 38 Democratic members managed to vote in time.

Republicans immediately marched out of the chamber in single file. The Democrats rushed at them, pumping their fists and shouting "Shame!" and "Cowards!"

The Republicans walked past them without responding.

Democrats left the chamber stunned. The protesters greeted them with a thundering chant of "Thank you!" Some Democrats teared up. Others hugged.

"What a terrible, terrible day for Wisconsin," said Rep. Jon Richards, D-Milwaukee. "I am incensed. I am shocked."
Would hearing the remaining Democrats have changed the result? Would they have changed anyone's mind? Of course not. That's not the point.

Free speech is our most important right in a democracy. Debate in our legislative assemblies is a symbolic recognition of our shared commitment to this democratic principle. Listening to people you disagree with is an essential component of the civility it takes to fight issues out with words rather than guns. This breach of legislative decorum was so shocking that four Republicans voted against it. A couple more did not vote.

Why did the Republican majority commit this act of political thuggery? To show that they could. It accomplished nothing except to further crank up rising tempers. In Wisconsin, February 25 will be a day that will shall in infamy. Shame!

You just knew there had to be something like this in the budget bill -- and it turns out that there is

Politicians love pension funds and other segregated funds like employee trust funds. They see them as piggy banks they can dip into when they get in a bind, saving them the hassle of raising taxes or cutting spending. That's the biggest reason a lot of states got into the binds they're in now. Politicians of both parties weakened the funds. Now the bill is coming due, and they either have to cut benefits or spend more and more of their limited operating budgets making up the shortfalls. Often the mess ends up in the courts, and they call the shots.

Wisconsin has been spared this trauma by a strong state constitution and by courts that upheld the constitution. Not that governors of both parties haven't tried. Tommy Thompson tried and was slapped down by the courts. James Doyle grabbed $200 million in segregated funds to fill a budget gap, but the courts said the money had to be put back.

So we've been in good shape. Until now. Sure enough, Scott Walker -- who campaigned against using segregated funds -- has a proposal to do just that in the budget repair bill the Assembly rammed through in the dark of night. The Capital Times found it on page 125.
Gov. Scott Walker has always dismissed the idea of using segregated funds to help balance the state budget.

But buried on page 125 of the budget repair bill is a proposal to take $28 million in reserves from the state's health insurance/pharmacy fund and spend it in the second half of this year.

The monies would be used to offset costs for providing health insurance for state employees from July 1, 2011 to Dec. 31, 2011.
$28 million isn't a lot. They probably thought they could just slip this through and set a precedent. Kind of a budgetary trial balloon. But if nobody questioned it, and if a compliant, conservative state Supreme Court agreed, they could open the floodgates later and start an all-out assault that would wreck Wisconsin's once proud and professional pension system.

Read today's Paul Krugman colum in the NYT. He compares Madison not to Cairo, but to Baghdad in 2003, when George Bush put a gang of inexperienced ideologues in charge and they wrecked the economy.
With looters still prowling the streets of Baghdad, L. Paul Bremer, the American viceroy, told a Washington Post reporter that one of his top priorities was to “corporatize and privatize state-owned enterprises” — Mr. Bremer’s words, not the reporter’s — and to “wean people from the idea the state supports everything.”

¶ The story of the privatization-obsessed Coalition Provisional Authority was the centerpiece of Naomi Klein’s best-selling book “The Shock Doctrine,” which argued that it was part of a broader pattern.
At first glance, comparing Madison to Baghdad may sound far-fetched. But the more we find out about what this gang has up their sleeve, it's not. The Shock Doctrine has come to Wisconsin. And if they can do it here, they can do it anywhere.

Look out when that golden Badger in the Capitol wakes up and smells the democracy

Look Out When the Golden Badger Wakes Up and Smells Democracy
If provoked, Badgers are tough fighters in defense of themselves and their families. The budget repair bill is an attack on all working families in Wisconsin. The battle in the Assembly ended early this morning when Republicans cut off debate in the marathon session and, to cries of "Shame! Shame!" -- passed the bill and sent it on for action by the currently quorum-less Senate (thanks, Fab 14.)

Thanks to the efforts of Assembly Democrats to hold hearings and extend debate there was time for a movement to arise that can't be stopped. Walker may have won this battle, but it was a Pyrrhic victory. This isn't the beginning of the end. It's the end of the beginning -- the beginning of the long, hard struggle in which we the people will recapture our state from the corporate interests that are wrecking it. Badgers are pretty tenacious when they wake up.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Until now, a lot of people didn't know what signs like this were talking about

Forbes Magazine Blogger Seems to Think So Too
Scott Walker has been so hard to get hold of lately it had become a joke that the only people who could get through to him must be the Koch brothers -- but most of Wisconsin had never heard of the Koch brothers (unfortunately). Then Walker's staff put him on the line with someone they thought was one of the billionaire Koch brothers, who are major Walker campaign donors. They're also the financial muscle behind the Tea Party and other right wing attempts to repeal most of the progressive legislation of the last century and take us right back to the Gilded Age and the days of the Robber Barons.

Turns out Walker had plenty of time in his busy schedule for a nice, chatty 20-minute conversation with someone who has often been accused of being his puppet master. Now everyone knows who the Koch brothers are. Here's the transcript, which makes for interesting reading if you're too impatient to sit through the whole recording.

The Essential Tom Friedman

Need a laugh? Amazing how easy it is to parody NYT's Tom Friedman just by editing out everything but the mixed metaphors and cliches.

The more we learn about the budget bill, the more reasons there are to make sure it's rejected

Scott Walker Turned Tomorrow's Healers Into Today's Protesters
A governor has to really screw up to provoke medical students to march on the State Capitol in protest. Can't recall that ever happening before, but Scott Walker is full of surprises. These medical students were there to demonstrate their support for Medicaid and workers' rights. (Note: There's a rally at the Capitol at noon today, Feb. 24, for BadgerCare and Medicaid.)

What Does Scott Walker hHave Against UW Hospital Workers?As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel revealed, another budget bill surprise concerns UW Hospital & Clinics, right in the students' backyard. UW Hospital & Clinics is home to American Family Children's Hospital and a world class treatment, education and research facility. Surprise -- it turns out that Gov. Walker take away even more rights from the 5,000 union workers at this great institution than from other public employees in the state.
University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics - which doesn't receive state money directly - would be barred from collectively bargaining with its roughly 5,000 union employees under Gov. Scott Walker's proposed budget-repair bill.

The provision surprised health system executives.
Other public employees would retain some bargaining power over wages. UW Hospital & Clinics wouldn't even get that -- even though the hospital is not funded out of general revenues, and there is no budget impact.

What gives? It's tempting to think that since he has wrecked so many other things, he's being destructive out of sheer orneriness. But there's probably more to it than that. I wonder -- just speculating, of course -- after he sells the state-owned power plants will he also try to put UW Hospital & Clinics on the market? And if so, does he think a union-free hospital would be more attractive to private sector buyers?

Just wondering.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

In his "fireside chat," Walker said he talked to workers, but he didn't talk to these workers

Walker Says He Talked to Workers, but He Didn't Talk to These Workers
Rich corporate interests have used a divide and conquer strategy to pit natural allies against each other for years. Attacking unionized public employees has always been a favorite tactic, and certainly worked well for Reagan when he broke the air traffic controllers union, PATCO.

Scott Walker gave it another whirl in his "fireside chat" last night. He refused to budge an inch, and instead once again defended his bill with the same old politics of divide and conquer.
Or the substitute teacher here in Madison, who wrote to me last week about having to sit at home unable to work because her union had closed the school down to protest.
She sent me an email that went on to say, “I was given no choice in joining the union and I am forced to pay dues… I am missing out on pay today… I feel like I have no voice.”

I assure you that she does have a voice.

And so does the factory worker in Janesville who was laid off nearly two years ago. He's a union guy in a union town who asks simply why everyone else has to sacrifice except those in government.

Last week, I traveled the state visiting manufacturing plants and talking to workers -- just like the guy from Janesville. Many of them are paying 25 to 50 percent of their health care premiums. Most, had 401k plans with limited or no match from the company.
He really should have talked to these guys. They could have told him what's disgusting is union-busting.

Walker Says He Talked to Workers, but He Didn't Talk to These WorkersIt doesn't seem that Walker talked to these building trades workers, either. They could have told him that he is replaceable. And they could have offered a suggestion that never seems to have crossed Walker's mind -- how about, if instead of destroying the middle class to give new tax breaks to the rich, we made the rich pay a fair share of the cost of our public services. Wisconsin has been good to them. Why can't they pay their fair share? And if they did, we wouldn't have much of a budget problem.

Tuesday's impressive show of solidarity brought private sector union members from all over the state to support their union brothers and sisters who work for state and local government. When they marched, it was a powerful demonstration of unity that stretched all the way around the Capitol Square. And it suggested that the tired old politics of divide and conquer may no longer be working as reliably as it once did.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Moving Forward with the Fab 14

Moving Forward with the Fab 14
The Legislature went back into session Tuesday without the 14 Democratic State Senators who left the state to prevent the passage of Gov. Walker's "budget repair" bill before the public could be heard from. Gov. Walker and other union opponents criticized the Democrats for being cowardly and not doing their jobs. The people weren't buying it. They knew exactly who was working for them and who really weren't doing their jobs. Everywhere there were signs thanking the Fab 14 -- without whose courageous act the collective bargaining rights of public employees in Wisconsin would already be history.

We Are Wisconsin

We Are Wisconsin
Why can't the Governor hear us? He must not be listening.

This is what democracy looks like -- and what democracy sounds like

While Scott Walker was talking to reporters Monday afternoon, the people were talking to Scott Walker. Their message was loud and clear. Fighting Bob La Follette seemed pleased to be surrounded by a sea of union supporters.

Monday, February 21, 2011

It's not just demonstrators saying "Walker Is a Koch Head" -- Forbes magazine blogger says as much.

It's not just people holding up signs in the Capitol saying this. Forbes magazine blogger Rick Ungar also seems to think Scott Walker is a Koch brothers puppet.
"What’s more, the plan to kill the unions is right out of the Koch Brothers play book."
At least people are beginning to understand who is pulling the strings.

Much of the "mainstream" national news coverage of the Wisconsin rallies has been "faux news"

There Was a Lot of Faux News Coverage of the Rallies
One demonstrator carried this punning reference to a certain "fair and balanced" news outlet that shall remain nameless. In a broader sense, most of the "mainstream" national media were also offering up faux news.

To be on the ground in Madison during the rallies, and especially on Saturday, and then take a look at the national coverage was like looking in a funhouse mirror -- and the result was not fun at all. I was really offended Saturday when NBC headlined their report "State of Chaos." This was in reference to the largest and most peaceful demonstration I have ever seen in Madison. The news peg wasn't "chaos." It was that a crowd rivaling Badger football crowds in size gathered peacefully on the Capitol Square and there were no arrests. Similarly, there was a lot of unsubstantiated talk about nonexistent "violence" and "union thugs." And even the Huffington post picked up an AP wire service story that was filled with faux facts -- that the Capitol was filthy from the debris left by all the people, and that the building "reeked" from all the people who had occupied it for a week.

Yes, Virginia -- they really do make stuff up.

PS: Compared to the national media, most of the local newspapers and electronic media have been doing a much better job of trying to get their facts right. But, then, they live here.

Minnesota governor's budget erases half their budget deficit by taxing the rich. Why can't we?

Budget Fix, Tax the Rich!
It was cold and wet Sunday, and demonstrators who wanted to carry signs on sticks around the Capitol (not allowed inside) had to deal with the weather. But this is Wisconsin. We're a hardy lot, and plenty of people did.

Walker supporters keep shouting "there's no money" as if it had suddenly just evaporated and there's nothing to be done but make massive and savage cuts in our public services -- and, now, strip workers of their collective bargaining rights. But we wouldn't be in this fix if we hadn't been cutting taxes for those best able to pay for years. There is another way. In Minnesota, Gov. Mark Dayton proposes erasing about half of their budget deficit by taxing the rich. Why can't we?

Walker has nothing against highly-paid public employees (if they're non-union and his buddies)

Far from it. As Milwaukee County Executive he even gave them big raises while dealing with a budget crisis in which hundreds of public workers would be laid off. And he bypassed traditional County Board approval to do so. That was two years ago last fall. Sound familiar?
Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker wants a 26% pay raise for his chief of staff, former Ald. Tom Nardelli, while bypassing traditional County Board approval in quietly issuing large pay raises over the summer to several other top aides.

Nardelli would get the biggest pay increase of top-tier county officials, a nearly $20,000 raise to $95,000 a year. Seven county administrators also scored increases of up to 12.5%.

Some supervisors are upset about being left out of the decision-making process for many of the raises and say Walker's timing couldn't be worse. Heavily rewarding a few top managers while Walker puts final touches on a 2009 budget that's expected to call for scores of layoffs of union workers sends a message of callous disregard, critics of the raises say.
When Walker was running for governor, critics warned he had wrecked Milwaukee County and would do the same to the state as governor. He seems to be doing his best.

Not enough voters paid attention in November. Now we're seeing the result, but people also are starting to wake up.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Charles & David Koch: We know who you are and we know what you're trying to do

Fighting Back Against the Koch Brothers
One of the good things to have come out of the rallies in Madison is the growing awareness of the role of the billionaire Koch brothers in Wisconsin poltics and in promoting the far-right agenda nationally.

Mother Jones puts it this way and backs it up with figures:
Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker, whose bill to kill collective bargaining rights for public-sector unions has caused an uproar among state employees, might not be where he is today without the Koch brothers. Charles and David Koch are conservative titans of industry who have infamously used their vast wealth to undermine President Obama and fight legislation they detest, such as the cap-and-trade climate bill, the health care reform act, and the economic stimulus package.
The growing awareness of how the Koch brothers' and their money are trashing traditional American political values is encouraging. So is Russ Feingold's new PAC, Progressives United. It's designed to fight back against the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, which greenlighted unlimited and unaccountable political contributions by corporations. Corporations are trying to buy our government on a scale that has not happened in America since the late 19th Century. But that Gilded Age came to an end with the Progressive reforms of the early 20th Century. It would be great if history repeats itself, but it won't happen on its own, without a lot of effort. Such as we're seeing right now.

We know who they are and we know what they're trying to do, and that's a start.