Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Why Does Marty Kaiser Want To Be My Friend?

I have written a lot of awful songs through my many years of amateur folk-rock pretension.  But one I wrote over 30 years ago seems to have some staying power, even though the subjects of the song have not.  It's an ode to the three network anchormen (yes -- men) who dominated TV news dissemination from their desks and chairs after the pioneering days of Walter Cronkite and Huntley/Brinkley had passed.

These were the days before Ted Turner's revolutionary CNN created the 24-hour news cycle, eventually leading to the current niche-ification of the news, where you can now browse per your preference for the trivial (sadly, CNN), the (sometimes) thoughtfully substantive MSNBC and the nut-right fact-and-attitude alternate universe of Fox News.  As helpfully instantaneous as these news outlets often are to the chronically vicarious  ("Let's go live to Los Angeles, where a car appears to be going the wrong way down a one-way street...wait, we are breaking away to Ames, Iowa, where Newt Gingrich's head is about to explode..."), more means less in a world where there is no longer a standard set of news-facts we can all argue about and work to change.

Anyway, my song -- "(Why Does) Dan Rather (Want To Be My Friend)" --  is about the three network news anchors as they existed in the post-Cronkite, pre-cable '80s and how they tried to sell themselves to a too-salable public. As essential rock critic Robert Christgau used to write (or still does), here are some Inspirational Verses:

Why does Dan Rather want to be my friend?
I can tell by the way he smiles right at the end...

Why does Tom Brokaw wanna get to know me?
If he's got some news, man -- I wish he'd show me...

Why does Peter Jennings want to read my mind?
I'm just a demographic -- I'm just a certain kind...

...and so on. These days, only Brian Williams on NBC maintains the traditional anchor gravitas, albeit with the occassional knowing smirk.  The revolving chair at CBS has made the Cronkite network irrelevant and over at ABC, former Nixon speech writer Diane Sawyer is still, well, Diane Sawyer. But the network anchor as cultural icon or anything but an occasional curiosity is over.

But, in this post, we are not concerned with TV heads trying to charm us (or, in the case of Fox and Friends, right-wing nobs providing us enough comic fodder for a month of Daily Shows).  We are immune to their supposed charm anyway, bombarded as we are with promotional shots of news show hosts posing in front of the Hoover Dam or in coffee shops. 

No, today, Journal Sentinel President/Publisher Elizabeth Brenner and Editor Martin Kaiser are the ones who want you to like them -- really, really like them. The newspaper, you see, is about to jump off the cliff of pay-for-content in its on-line offerings, starting January 4th.  To prepare you for this abrupt change of paying for the crap you now get for free, the paper ran a full-page ad for itself this morning [can't get a link to it], explaining (sort of) the change and trying to convince you how great it is. Details about how to give them your credit-card information to begin the extractions will follow in due course.

In the ad, er, "letter" (not available at JSOnline and, although there was no companion story in the business pages or anywhere else in today's paper, a story popped up on-line this morning), "Betsy" and "Marty" are featured in glossy pictures like the kind you would see in a Flomax or funeral home ad.   After patting themselves on the back for making themselves irrelevant by endorsing Scott Walker and fighting the recall campaign -- oops, I mean for winning Pulitzers and covering the Brewers' and Packers' playoff runs (tough job, that), they drop the bomb. "Now, it’s time to look ahead," they write.  Oh, oh.  Here it comes.  Hold on to your wallet or prepared to be less informed about the Journal Sentinel's version of Milwaukee and Wisconsin.

The pay-for-content scheme is branded as JS Everywhere -- who, after all, could argue with that, being everywhere, isn't that wonderful? The dwindling number of people who subscribe to the dead-tree version of the paper can be everywhere for no additional cost. And, like the current scheme at the New York Times, you can be everywhere on the website, until you've hit 20 links in a month, then ya-gotta-pay, somehow.  Wonderful apps are promised for all mobile devices "or whatever the next big thing is". Oh, that Journal Sentinel -- always looking forward, except when it comes to radical Republican governors who they could have predicted would run roughshod over Wisconsin tradition, progressivism and bipartisanship.  

I understand all legacy news content providers (i.e.: newspaper companies) around the country are stuggling with a new world where people no longer need their publications to stay what they consider to be informed.  And there is no substitute for the numbers of reporters built up over the years (even with the decimation of staffs at the J-S and everywhere else) to report on local, national and international events.  The economic model has obviously collapsed. 

But much of the Journal Sentinel's increased local coverage (encouraged by newspaper industry consultants to sustain relevancy) has devolved into simply providing hysterically sensationalized stories to give right-wing talk radio something to talk about.  This is especially the case when it involves the struggles of underclass African-Americans, whether it's co-sleeping or child-care providers.  Interesting information to a point, but there is nothing a racist like Mark Belling enjoys more than sneering at the failures of blacks in the inner city.

As long as Journal Communications Inc., through Charlie Sykes and its other wing-nut squawkers on the radio, the rest of their properties -- including the Journal Sentinel -- will always be compromised.  JCI also contributes to the poisoning of the airwaves in other parts of the country, sending the reprehensible J.T. Harris to its station in Tucson and former WISN part-time wing-nut Nick Reed to Springfield, MO.  The question isn't whether the Journal Sentinel will survive in its increasingly-digital form, but whether it deserves to.

As James Brown once said, Take it to the bridge:

I grew up -- with space shots and assassinations
Saw riots in the street -- I watched with fascination
I watched the revolution -- on my TV
Watching Walter Cronkite at my daddy's knee

There, on the floor while we watched Cronkite, were the afternoon Milwaukee Journal and the Sheboygan Press.  That was back when newspapers were newspapers -- not audience-seeking multi-media conglomerates, using consultants rather than news judgement to squeeze every last dollar out of their collapsing circulation.  The Journal Sentinel's pay-to-read experiment will rise or fail on the merit of its content, not because of Betsy and Marty's sugar-coating their own harsh reality.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

620 WTMJ Can Run But It Can't Hide

Democratic Spokesperson Graeme Zielinski is on to something with his direct challenge to the WTMJ radio station for its pathetic hosting and promotion of Charlie Sykes on their valuable airwaves.

If you haven't heard his excellent sandbagging of the hapless 620 news dweebs last week, take 5 minutes and listen to it now.

Here it is.

Zielinski digs in from the get-go, lumping news director Jon Byman and morning host Gene Mueller (who he repeatedly calls "you guys") in with Sykes, whose daily Walker Protection Show immediately follows them on the Journal Communications Inc. flagship biggest-stick-in-the-state radio station.  You can almost hear Byman and Mueller's eyes roll as they try to control the unexpected and badly-needed attack on their straight news credentials.  As the obedient Byman tries to promote the GOP-designed multiple-signature-and-Mickey-Mouse-signing meme to smear the recall effort, Zielinski was having none of it. "You guys are doing a great job hyping the case," he said. "You guys are running around 24 hours a day with this false narrative...promoted by your friends at the MacIver Institute..." The whole performance was a beautiful take-down of the TMJ brand, which has been forever tarnished by their association with the likes of Sykes, Jeff Wagner, and all of the other False Prophets of The Nut-Right.

Gene Mueller has been a welcome voice on Milwaukee morning radio for decades -- especially his many years teaming up with the legendary Bob Reitman on the late WKTI.  His everyman-from-Sheboygan shtick is still a welcome addition to the 620 morning show, but, as Byman tries to getting a word in edgewise with the on-a-roll Zielinski, Mueller says the stupidest thing in the segment.  "Graeme, what happens on this station after 8:30 is none of my concern," he said.  This from the guy who makes happy-talk with Sykes about his upcoming lies at 8:25 every morning.  This from the guy who often sticks around to provide supposedly straight news reports during the Sykes hours.  If the kind of poison Sykes spews into the air every day after 8:30 is really none of his concern, maybe he should make it of his concern.  Gene Mueller's formerly rock-solid reputation as a regular-guy-on-the-radio and a half-decent newsman is put in jeopardy every time he engages with or promotes the Garbage Within his own radio station.

TMJ radio honcho Steve Wexler -- who is responsible for much of the poisoning of the Milwaukee airwaves, from his days at WISN where he promoted, if not hired, the reprehensible Mark Belling, to today where he promotes Republican causes through Sykes, Wagner, (until recently) the ridiculous J.T. Harris, and runs national wing-nuts such as failed comedian Dennis Miller and the knuckle-dragging Michael Savage -- responded to Zielinski's hijacking of the segment by claiming "Our listeners are smart enough to understand that our news programs consistently present opposing viewpoints but that our talk programs have a different mission."

Well, no.  First of all, anybody who listens to Charlie Sykes and believes any of the GOP talking-points he drives on a daily basis isn't "smart enough" for anything, much less making a distinction between straight news and Sykes' blather.  And, what exactly is the "different mission" of the talk shows?  It must be the promotion of nut-bag radical Republicanism and the protection of the FitzWalkerstan.  Nowhere does the station provide a disclaimer, such as "Charlie Sykes' insipid reading and artistic rendering of Republican press releases does not represent the views of station management..." Which can only mean it does. 

On all the Journal Communication entities -- including and especially the newspaper -- talk-radio is the tail that wags the news dog.  From Byman and Mueller in the morning to John Mercure in the afternoon, the so-called "news" programs are only there to provide context and material for the Sykes show, setting up stories he wants to talk about to continue his Save Walker campaign. [Another great element in the Zielinski rant is his reference to "millions of dollars of in-kind contributions" that the station provides to the Walker campaign via the Sykes show.] Do you think, if they wanted to, one of the news guys (I'm looking at you, Gene Mueller) could get on the air and speak un-Sykes heresy or, god-help-us, do a PolitiFact-type fact-check on Sykes' daily lies? 

Don't kid yourself.  Sykes is TMJ's biggest asset in the angry-white-man demographic and is paid accordingly.  He is the Face of WTMJ and every other on-air personality is just his support staff.

As if to prove Zielinski's point, Scooter Walker himself visited the WTMJ studios this morning for a full-fledged love-fest with the supposed newspeople.  Hey, Governor -- you who destroyed careers and schools, drove your agenda like a bulldozer through a pliant legislature, who is about to kick tens of thousands of poor and working class children and adults off of BadgerCare, who is about to remove women's access to cancer screenings -- let's have some of those yummy frosted pecans of yours. After more than three minutes of this happy holiday drivel, the Sykes Support Group on the morning show set up a few softballs for their beloved Scotty, with no follow up to his deliberate lies about the source of the recall effort (out-of-state union "bosses" and blah de blah blah) or anything other questions worthy of a radical, damaged, beseiged soon-to-be former governor. 

After that, the morning team handed Walker off to -- you guessed it -- Charlie Sykes, who "interviewed" the governor in the same studio, with the extra enhancements, I would hope, of mood music, scented candles and flavored oil for the romantic encounter to follow.  I mean, I hope Sykes had the good sense to warm him up a bit instead of just diving right in.  He was hosting, after all.

Yesterday, the Democratic Party launched a brilliant fundraising effort based on the Sykes/TMJ pro-Walker team, encouraging recall supporters send in $6.20 to support the recall effort.  I think we can do better than that: how about $6.20 squared.  That would be $38.44. Graeme Zielinski, congratulations.  The check is in the mail.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Recalling Walker Against All Odds...and Journal Communications Inc.

The growing network of Koch-Scaife-Bradley-ClearChannel-funded media outlets in Wisconsin are in full defense mode to protect the radical regime of Gov. Scott Walker from the recall he has so richly earned. 

The complete stable of radio clowns on WISN aren't so funny anymore as they provide in-kind contributions to the Republican cause on every hour of every show every day, driving talking points generated by their GOP script-writers in Madison and Washington. 

New "organizations" have appeared from the depths of Republican hell, with pretty names like "MacIver Institute", "Media Trackers" and "Wisconsin Reporter". The phony fronts, following the lead of the fake-news pioneers at Fox News, are created of lies and whole cloth, all designed to poison the well of the straight media and to provide the radio squawkers with conveniently false and slanted content, propping up Walker and smearing the loyal opposition.

All of this is made possible by plenty of money from the various Monte Moneybags active in keeping the world safe for the Rich, desperate as they are to prevent reality from intruding on their shrinking privileged world.  From the dirty Koch Brothers to our own local source of national shame -- Michael W. Grebe of the Bradley Foundation and the Walker campaign -- these self-appointed Kings of Industry have radically politicized not only the media, but also traditionally non-partisan organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, into polarizing, Us-vs.-Them campaigners.  They were defending the 1% for years before anyone thought to point out that maybe the other 99% should, like, have a voice.

But, for all of the deliberate lies and ridiculous spin generated by the bought-and-sold other right-wing-by-design media conglomerates, the real Big Dog in the Protect Walker consortium is Journal Communications Inc.

The most obvious gift JCI gives to the Walker Survival Effort every day is their proud presentation of the Charlie Sykes radio show, in which the formerly respectable journalist wallows in the muck of his own filth for three-and-a-half hours every day.  Well-paid (as all the right-wing mouthpieces are) by not only JCI but the Bradley Foundation through his position as "editor" (heh) of a publication of yet another pretend think-tank, the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, and god-knows who else, Sykes uses his snarky "charm" to sell all manner of pro-Walker/anti-recall lies over the formerly respectable WTMJ-AM airwaves. The JCI radio station also recently took national consumer talker Clark Howard off the afternoon schedule in favor of an extra excruciating two hours of talentless local wing-nut Jeff Wagner, showing, if anyone doubted it, their firm commitment to the Walker campaign in the run-up to the recall.

But Journal Communications provides its most important support to the governor they refuse to apologize for endorsing in the pages of its flagship newspaper, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.  There, the newspaper that not only validated but approved and promoted the recall of Milwaukee County Executive Tom Ament for the sin of believing some bad accountants now stands opposed to any recall of any official associated with the radical Republican jihad that took power in January of this year. 

Earlier this year, the paper's editorial page officially stayed out of the Senate recalls.  Pooh-poohing and tut-tutting the constitutional process the whole way, the J-S refused to endorse in any of the recall elections that resulted in an important narrowing of the Republican margin to one seat (and soon to result in a Democratic majority after more recalls next year).

With the long-awaited Walker recall effort finally underway, the Kings of State Street have become a little more perturbed about their readers ignoring their anti-recall bleatings.  "Recall fever and other illnesses", they call it dismissively, concluding "We don't think Walker's opponents have made a compelling case to recall the governor." Well, that's easy for them to say, since they insist on getting the motivation of the recall effort all wrong. "And make no mistake," they claim in the same editorial, in words echoing Republican talking points, "the recall is proceeding over one issue: Walker's decision to sharply limit collective bargaining for most public workers."

No, the recall is not over a single issue or even about a number of policy differences.  It is about the entire radical Republican agenda, driven not by Wisconsinites, but by Washington think-tanks and Koch-type elites. It is about the way the Republicans drove through their attack on Wisconsin workers and the democratic process (through voter-suppression and gerrymandered redistricting), without review in committee, in the dead of night, without notice, without quorums and without shame. 

The Lords of the Journal Sentinel pretend not to understand the radicalism of the Walker Republicans or the legitimate outrage their actions and processes have produced.  But, like all of the radio talkers who are smart enough to know better, their feigned ignorance and pretended offense at those who would dare to recall is just a facade.  They know they made a big mistake endorsing Walker and refuse to admit (in the case of the Walker regime's forthcoming decimation of BadgerCare) the blood that will literally be on their hands.  So, they defend Walker by pretending to be anti-recall as a general policy.  But then there was that Ament thing...well, that was different.  Somehow.

Not satisfied with pissing on the recall effort in its editorial voice, the newspaper handed over some of its valuable opinion page real estate this past Sunday to the most insipid, childish garbage to run in the Journal Sentinel opinion pages since Patrick McIlheran went on the government dole to shill for our embarrassing Sen. Ron Johnson.  In the column, Tim Keane, the apparently delusional "Entrepreneur in Residence" (heh - really, check the link - it's hilarious) at Marquette University (makes you wonder about them, too) trivializes the very ability to recall. "And," he "writes", "if you're unfortunate enough to wind up in court, well, just get going on recalling those nasty judges. If they rule in ways we don't like, out they go." He goes on to compare the recall movement to "the path to the dictatorship...first plowed unknowingly but unerringly by Tiberius [Gracchus]".

It's a ridiculous, crap piece.  And, from what I can gather, he doesn't even get the history right.  "The killing of a tribune [Tiberius] by the senators was as much an illegal act as was the deposition of Octavius [by Tiberius]. Both parties had disregarded the law, and the revolution was begun."  What has that got to do with anything?  Nothing the recall movement is doing is illegal -- in fact, the process itself is ensconsed in the Wisconsin Constitution for just such circumstances as this -- an out-of-control, radical governor and legislature, doing real damage to Wisconsin itself.

But the Journal Sentinel runs Keane's putrid column to drive another part of the Republcian talking points -- that the recallers only want chaos -- not real, legitimate change.  If they keep trotting out people like Keane, I don't think the Journal Sentinel is going to stand on the sidelines on the Walker recall.  I fully expect them to endorse him -- again -- when the recall election inevitably occurs.  The newspaper has hit the bottom of its long slide, from community leader to obstacle.  It is yet another obstacle that we will overcome. 


OK. I'm back.  Miss me? No more Mondo Media -- back to Plaisted Writes. I'll try to write regularly.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Gun-Nutty Republicans Go Bananas

In the race to see who can be more ridiculous taking advantage of the radical Republican stranglehold on Wisconsin government, it’s hard to top the sponsors of the concealed-carry bill currently on its way to the Senate floor. 

Even the primary lobbyists for the manufacturers who would supply the killers and potential killers on the fringe of the gun-totting world, the NRA, have always supported some kind of background check and/or training and/or permitting before setting the twisted victims of Small-Man Syndrome loose in the general public with loaded guns in their pants. 

But not those Wisconsin Republicans, no-siree.  They aren’t going to be talking into half a bad idea when they can have the whole thing.  Permits are for pussies – do I get to carry my piece, or what?  I don’t need no stinking permit.  Churches, day care centers, domestic abuse shelters, the Capitol – no place of peace or protection is too good for a little hot lead at the ready, just in case. 

Naturally, the NRA has now has reversed itself on permitting and supports the anything-goes, Wild-West version that has made it through committee.  All the better to get more guns sold to more people faster, the safety of the general public and innocent bystanders be damned.  The out-of-state interests in the death industry driving the NRA even poll-tested a friendly label for the notion that nobody needs to review exactly who is walking around with itchy trigger fingers – “constitutional carry”.

According to the Cap Times, “A relatively new trend as far as gun-related legislation goes [read: a new way to sell a bad idea], constitutional carry is based on the premise that it is a citizen's constitutional right to carry a weapon. No training, permits or license are required to do so”. This is like saying there is such a thing as “constitutional speech” that you can use to cry “fire” in a crowded theater or maliciously libel someone for personal gain. 

It is amazing how quickly the phrase “constitutional carry” has crept into the discussion in the Journal Sentinel and other publications, without quotation marks and without peels of laughter at such a ludicrous notion.  Leaving aside for a moment the issue of whether the Second Amendment creates an individual right to own firearms (I disagree with the conservative wing of the US Supreme Court that ruled it did), any constitutional right can be controlled or restricted for a legitimate purpose.  It is not surprising that the thumb-sucking “I can do what I want” demand of the loud bullies promoting the bill has had such an effect on the Republican legislators who are spurred to action by supposed “purists”, lest they be labeled RINOs or, worse, reasonable.

After reading internal polls showing independents running away from the GOP in droves at the very notion of the completely unregulated arming of a particularly angry part of the public – much less young men in their 20s, who in Milwaukee County currently get 60 days to six months in jail, just for having a gun in their car – many of the well-paid Republican operatives polluting the airwaves, newspapers and blogs in Milwaukee are advising their fellow travelers in the legislature to come to their senses – on this issue, anyway. 

Radio clowns Charlie Sykes and Mark Belling are encouraging Republicans not to commit political suicide by permitting would-be civilian Dirty Harrys not to be permitted.  Rick Esenberg has taken a break from offering his bad advice to the Walker legal team fighting to bust unions in the state to issue his personal tut-tut (“a sound principle too far”, he says about the unsound taken to its logical conclusion). The bill is even more the Journal Sentinel’s in-house wing-nut. Patrick McIlheran, can stand.  The nut-bag state senator pushing the bill, Sen. Pam Galloway (R-Wausau),  is “right in principle and wrong in practice”, he says, admitting to the lack of adherence to principles he regularly berates in others. 

But the self-appointed monitors of radical Republican ideology can’t get off the hook that easy.  If Galloway is “right on principle”, as Esenberg and McIlheran say, then what is their problem with her following through on that principle?  Their encouragement for her to be unprincipled is simply borne of political expediency – they “know” she’s “right”, but following her there is just too much for the preservation of Republican power.  They are stuck with the people they have promoted to power and the logical results of their own sanctimony. 

Peace Through Music 2011

With the radical Republicans in Madison going gun-crazy, the 10th annual Peace Through Music benefit for the Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort (WAVE) and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Handgun Violence couldn’t come at a better time.  Join us at Linneman’s this Sunday night, May 29th, for a night of great local music, starting at 7 p.m. and going all night.  I will be hosting all night and playing with Fat Pig at 9.  In the words of my great friend Marcus Smith: Don’t meet me there – BEAT me there!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Recall the Journal Sentinel

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has obscenely served as handmaiden and enabler as the radical Republicans in Madison continue to take a blunt ax to state government and democracy.  The paper has sat on the sidelines, alternately cheering, offering encouragement and laughably trying to talk some sense to the nonsensical.  Having endorsed Scott Walker for governor, the Journal Sentinel will have nothing but blood on its hands as the Republican jihad continues to damage the middle class and the working poor, while lavishing supposedly scarce state funds on the rich and the road builders.

On its news pages, the paper has been bad enough.  Its PolitiFact project has run interference for Walker and his fellow travelers (not the least of which: would-be Medicare-killer Paul Ryan), “ruling” that black is white and red is blue on numerous occasions – always for the benefit of some Republican scheme or personality. 

When state school superintendent Tony Evers had the temerity to call out the school choice scam as the fraud that it is this week – especially when the public schools are taking an $834 million hit in Walker’s radical budget document – the news story on the entirely justified rant by Evers was staged as a point-counterpoint exercise where everything Evers said was allowed to be countered by some dweeb at the heavily-right-wing-funded School Choice Wisconsin prop “organization”. 

“Low-income students in MPS have higher academic achievement, particularly in math,” says Evers; “choice” “students” graduate at a higher rate, says the flunky.  “Choice” “schools” are dependent on public funding, says Evers; an “exaggeration”, says the Koch-funded mouthpiece.  It’s an amazing piece of slanted reporting, pitting the elected DPI chief with over 25 years in school advocacy and administration against a hired gun for out-of-state interests interested only in destroying the notion of public education.

But, if you expect bad from the increasingly talk-radio-inspired right-wing tilt of the news pages managed by George Stanley, you can expect the absolute worst from the pathetic editorials supervised by the new editorial page editor, David Haynes. 

The latest outrage among many for the editorial “we” in the sad Walker era is a “laurel” the paper bestowed on the governor in Saturday’s paper for an alleged “upswing” in the perception of Wisconsin as a “good place to do business”.  The excuse for this undeserved award was a new ranking of Wisconsin in the supposed “best states to do business” in Chief Executive magazine. Wisconsin jumped 14 places in the annual survey of 500 Monty Moneybags running businesses from the rarified air of their penthouse suites and mahogany-appointed offices around the country. 

Thus did Wisconsin (24) leap-frog over supposed business hell-holes like Oregon (33), Minnesota (29) and New Mexico (32) to join such august company as North Dakota (21), Kansas (25) and Alabama (26).  I mean, what state doesn’t aspire to be as attractive as Alabama? Still literally in the middle of the pack, Wisconsin has a ways to go to claim the same lofty heights as Texas (1), Indiana (6) and Georgia (5).  Be ye not too bold Wisconsin – with any luck, next year we can be as “good” as Oklahoma (11).

This is all nuts, of course. Nobody with any sense would choose any of those places over Wisconsin to live or do business.  The quality of life has always been the most attractive incentive for people to do business here.  The fact that Walker’s attack on the middle class and the environment might make the state more attractive to those who are only interested in raping and pillaging both is not a good thing.  Making Wisconsin safe for strip mining should not be anyone’s goal, regardless of how many dirty, dangerous, unhealthy temporary jobs it might create.

But the CEOs who casually position copies of Chief Executive on their office credenzas to read while their assistants fetch their lattes to read up on the best way to spend their perks of power (“the trick to buying second homes is always following your heart — and never having to pack”) are the last people to decide what is best for the state of Wisconsin.  As they fly over the dusty flat land of, say, Nebraska (20) in their private jets, they see – if the politicians are cooperative enough – opportunities not to make the world a better place, but to exploit resources and a weakened, powerless workforce without having to deal with the inconvenience of effective government.

For the Journal Sentinel to fall for this bullshit in a glossy niche magazine with a circulation of about 40,000 as evidence of anything is the height of deliberate cluelessness.  Unable to call the Madison Republicans out for the radicals they are, the Kings of State Street act as willing fluffers to Scott Walker as he prepares to wind up and deliver the next item on the Koch brothers’ agenda.  Their weakness, even when they have to disagree (“legislators need to think carefully” about throwing state money at the rich in the form of venture capital. Whoa, take it easy there, Haynes.  You wouldn’t want to be accused of having an un-talk-radio opinion) is pathetic.

“Perception isn't everything, but it does count for something” starts the ridiculous “laurel” to the radical governor. Yes, it does.  And the Journal Sentinel stands perceived as a ludicrous enabler of a dangerous, power-drunk Republican party in Madison.  Just like “my” state senator, the soon-to-be-recalled Alberta Darling, the paper stands by, makes excuses and, when push comes to shove, props up the wrong people and casts the wrong votes.  Darling will be recalled, fired and sent home.  The Kings of State Street deserve the same fate.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Darling Signs Up for Attack on Democracy

After sitting like a stump, glassy-eyed, while Scott Walker and her other radical Republican buddies used illegal legislative tricks to take a blunt ax to public employee collective bargaining and other important aspects of the social fabric, “my” state senator, Alberta Darling, is suddenly pretending to be independent. 

Threatened with now-certain recall, she has been given permission by the ruling junta to peel off on minor issues that Walker will win on anyway, such as looting the general fund for the benefit of wealthy GOP donors in the Roadbuilders Association (the state equivalent of the defense industry), the end of the state’s commitment to recycling and the attempt to throw seniors seeking prescription drugs out on the streets of the more expensive, less-adequate and Ryan-threatened federal Medicare program. 

But these issues are small, half-baked potatoes compared with the the overall gist of the radical Republican jihad still driving disastrous policies in Madison.  For all of her mild scratching at the thin veneer of FitzWalkerstan’s disembowelment of Wisconsin state government as-we-know-it, Darling is all-in for the Koch-driven Unfortunate Revolution.  Her handlers have even pulled out spin from the Nixon era, having her declare that a “silent majority” of Wisconsinites are supposedly all for tax cuts for the rich, union-busting, the decimation of BadgerCare, state control over local government decision-making, slashing school funding and shared revenue, giving handouts to the rich to supplement their kids’ attendance at Marquette High School, taking dozens of positions out of the civil service system to provide patronage positions for the sons of Walker contributors and the mistresses of also-recalled state senators, etc.

Despite all of this toadying behavior, Darling will try to flaunt her supposed independence in her upcoming, heavily-funded campaign to save her sorry ass from recall.  In fact, her campaign already has ads up on heavy rotation claiming just that.  The inevitable protection that will no doubt be provided by the right-wing Journal Sentinel notwithstanding, that should be a hard sell, as she continues to back the worst parts of the governor’s budget and is on-board with all other pieces of the Republican plan to decimate Wisconsin government. 

In fact, she has already signed up as a co-sponsor of yet another outrageous power-grab by the Republicans.  After a month of relative calm in the Capitol, the radicals roared to life this week, beginning the process of ramming a revised version of the vicious attack on Wisconsin democracy known as the Photo ID voting bill through the legislature.  Darling’s sponsorship of the measure designed to disenfranchise tens of thousands of eligible Wisconsin voters puts the lie to any notion that she is moderate, independent or anything other than a rubber-stamp for whatever Walker’s puppet-masters in right-wing Washington think-tanks want. 

With one of the WMC Four on the Supreme Court (apparently) just barely squeaking by in the April election, it is not a surprise the anti-democracy Republicans would move quickly to make sure that never happens again.  The new version of the Photo ID bill (AB7) contains some interesting post-Prosser attempts to disenfranchise potential Democrats far beyond the bad-enough photo ID requirement.

  • Student IDs were not included as valid identification in the latest bill, necessarily disenfranchising thousands of students who have no reason to run to the DMV while going to school at the various state campuses.  Now, the Badger Herald reports (this proud Daily Cardinal alum is quoting the BH, which started as a right-wing prop? Uh, yeah…) that student IDs are now included, as long as they have a current address on them.  I’ll leave it to you and your memories of your transient college days to decide how practical that is, assuming colleges statewide change their policies to include a campus address on the IDs.
  • In recent years, you have not had to declare a reason why you wanted to vote absentee before doing so. This has led to a dramatic increase in absentee voting – from 6% to 21%.  All this democracy run amok was apparently too much for the Republicans, who now would now only reinstate the requirement that a reason be stated but also reduce the absentee voting window from 30 to 7 days before the election.
  • You just moved to your new crib three weeks ago and want to vote in your new district? Good luck, pal – go back to where you came from and vote there.  The bill changes residency from 10 to 28 days before the election. Was that place you came from somewhere far away or out-of-state?  Aw, poor baby.  No voting for Democrats for you.
  • Hey, let’s take up the challenge of the new bad law and have a bunch of registration drives! Yeah – good luck with that.  The bill eliminates the age-old ability of advocacy organizations on all sides to get their members certified by county clerks to seek and collect registration cards.  No more.  You either go to the county clerk yourself or wait to register at the polls; a process that is retained only to avoid the federal requirement of motor-voter registration at the DMV, another too-much-democracy bugaboo for Republicans.

Alberta Darling is all for this attack on the very democratic process that elected her and that has worked well in Wisconsin to make it easy and effective to exercise our essential right to vote.  It is just one part of the radical Republican agenda that should be rejected in the upcoming recall elections and forward. 

The only difference between Photo ID and the rest of the radical Republican agenda in Madison is that we knew Photo ID was coming.  So much of the rest of it – from the union-busting; to the defunding of education and local government; to the seizing of control from local governments to the state – was not part of the Walker campaign or any of the other Republicans who took power in January.  Recall itself is a drastic measure – a re-do made necessary by radical overreaching and the abuse of unchecked power.  Lock-step Republican flunkies like Alberta Darling will feel the wrath of an outraged electorate this year.  Next year, it’s Scott Walker’s turn.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Recount, Schmecount–Bring on the Recalls

Alright, so it’s been a while.

A few belated thoughts about the Supreme Court election:

  • Imagine, if you will, the high-pitched squealing that would be going on right now if a Democratic operative had suddenly discovered 14,000 extra votes lying around on her hard drive, changing an excruciatingly close election into a squeaker win for Kloppenburg.  You could hear the shouting from here to Superior. Fitz Sr. would send his troopers over to take possession of the ballots and records. Rather than complaining about the recount process, the Republicans would be treating it like a sacrament. If Kloppenburg would manage to hang on to the razor-thin 7,000 vote margin, the talk-radio yahoos would be treat her as illegitimate and treat the entire election as the greatest example of election theft since the Bushies shut down the recount in Florida.  No, wait…
  • I still don’t know what happened in Waukesha County with the Jensen-tainted Republican stooge either innocently and incompetently not reporting the City of Brookfield on election night or somehow manufacturing enough votes in the dead of the night to give Prosser the win.  If I were Kloppenburg, I would have asked for a hand recount in Waukesha only, even if I had to pay for it.  Then, at least we can say we know who won without taking the word of a conflicted partisan hack like Kathy Nickolaus for it.  I assume it is going to end up being innocent incompetence rather than criminal behavior, but at least we’ll have that county’s votes counted in the light of day, with people watching.
  • Of course, that’s not what Kloppenburg did – she asked for a statewide recount.  Which is her right.  Frankly, I’d do it just to stick it to that two-bit blowhard John Troupis, who threatened the day before that he was going to “prevent” the legal recount from happening. That, and the whining from Prosser himself made it hard to resist just making them go through the process.  Whether it was a good idea or not remains to be seen.  It does seem that the GAB is pretty overwhelmed at this point and they are going to have to ask for an extension on getting the recall petitions certified, which is where the real action is.
  • Even if Kloppenburg ends up losing by 0.5 percent, her strong near-miss showing is still very ominous for Scott Walker’s radical right-wing agenda in the state Capitol.  I was never 100% comfortable with the Walker = Prosser equation, although I get that – this being the first statewide election after Walker “dropped the bomb” on public employees and the rest of the state – this was an opportunity to send a message.  And we did, almost winning a race with a less-than-stellar candidate.  One of the post-election wing-nut talking points was that “everyone” was predicting a Kloppenburg blowout.  Well, no one was saying any such thing and the fact is that we came this close to breaking the right-wing WMC majority on the Court.
  • I know candidates at all levels are told to go out and declare victory if they are leading in a close race to manage perceptions (one of the many miserable lessons of the Bush theft of democracy in 2000), but sending Kloppenburg out to plan Prosser’s retirement party with a 200-vote margin was ridiculous.  Prosser had already taken a slim lead by the next morning, before the Waukesha Surprise.  In doing that and announcing the decision to ask for a recount, Kloppenburg had this deer-in-the-headlights look in her eyes, as if events had overtaken her own common sense.  I’m not where my friend Tom Foley is in getting ready to join the Prosser recount team, and I’m sure she would make a good addition to the Court, law-wise, but, as the public face of her own campaign, she has not helped herself.  At all.

The Supreme Court recount will unfortunately be distracting background noise as the recall races get going in the next month.  That’s where the action is.  Scott Walker is betting the reaction to his radical shock-and-awe attack on state and local government in Wisconsin will die down and he’ll be able to get away with most of his Koch-based agenda.  That’s why he and his fellow travellers in the legislature have been laying low for the last month.

He’s wrong about that – people are not as stupid or forgetful as he thinks they are. And there is tons of bad stuff swimming around in his state budget proposal that affects a lot more people than public employees.  It remains to be seen whether rightfully threatened senators like my own Alberta Darling are going to sit there with glazed eyes and allow all this radical shit to continue to run downhill, as she and the other Republicans did back in February and March.  They’ll let her peel off on minor items like recycling, but, in the end, she’ll help provide the rubber stamp for all the really bad stuff.

That’s why the recall efforts throughout the state are so necessary.  The State Senate may well flip some time this summer, but the kind of damage they can manage before then is scary enough. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

So What’s It Gonna Be, Governor?

Tuesday, March 29th, and it’s time for Scott Walker and his enablers to put up or shut up.  Can the courts tell you and your lackey legislature what to do, or not?  Are you going to knuckle under to a pipsqueak judge in Madison? Come on, Big Boy.  Let’s see what you got.

This is our Florida 2000 here in Wisconsin.  This is the point at which those who pretend to have the Power see how far they can take it.  Will the Republican jihad in Madison have the balls to flaunt the clarified order of Judge Maryann Sumi that the temporary restraining order applies to them and all of them? 

The comments of the sputtering Assistant AG outside the courtroom were ominous: the legislation "absolutely" is still in effect, said Steven Means, words he will either live to regret…or not. And then there are the fine comments of DOJ mouthpiece Bill Cosh: “Whether the Department of Administration or other state officers choose to comply with any direction issued by Judge Sumi is up to them.”  Well, we’ll see about that.  For its part, the official administration position, apart for the DOJ dweebs, is unclear at this hour.  Will they comply or not?

No doubt, the great legal minds of the radical Republicans are working hard  in the country clubs and the boardrooms of the WMC at this very moment.  Pray tell, visiting Marquette law professor Rick Esenberg, what say you at this momentous time of our state’s history?  Are you and your fellow travellers willing to roll the dice that the Department of Administration can continue to ignore the judge’s TRO just because, well, she’s “just” a judge and, like, there is “separation of powers” and stuff? Good luck with that.

Oh, here’s Esenberg, quoted as some kind of impartial news source in the morning’s Journal Sentinel:

"There is applicable Supreme Court precedent that a court has no authority to enjoin the publication of a law," he said. "The state has repeatedly cited that law to her and as far as I know she has not only failed to explain herself about why she feels she has the authority, she hasn't even acknowledged there is an issue. That just leaves me speechless."

If only it did leave him speechless.

Before Esenberg or any of the other highly-paid lawyers in the Republican brain-trust put their increasingly vulnerable clients unduly at risk, they’d better think about the effect of their advice on their arrogant clients. How do you think Scott Fitzgerald will feel wearing the jail orange that Esenberg always wanted draped on the backs of your political opponents in the Brave Wisconsin 14? One more stunt like browbeating the LRB to “publish” the union-busting bill, and that’s just where the Fitz in FitzWalkerstan is likely to end up. 

And what of DOA Secretary Mike Huebsch? Is he willing to follow the advice of the brainianc that helped bring us Assembly flash-votes in the middle of the night, frivolous lawsuits in Oconto County, arrest warrants going out for political opponents, an illegal conference committee with illegally short notice, a Senate meeting illegally, without the constitutionally-required quorum for a bill with obvious fiscal implications or 24-hour notice, and a rushed Assembly vote that was also without adequate public notice? Does Huebsch look and feel good in orange as well?  Given the miserable track record of those like Esenberg giving the radical Republicans this wonderful advice, is he – or Scott Walker, for that matter – willing to roll the dice?

Well, it all depends on what happens a week from tonight, doesn’t it?  If partisan sexist hothead molesting-priest-protector David Prosser manages to squeak out a victory in his reelection campaign to the state Supreme Court next week, I’m sure the Republicans will feel perfectly free to thumb their nose at the Rule of Law.  The Forces of Evil in the Capitol will know then that they have four justices in the bag – and their benefactors in the “private” sector paid dearly for it. 

The last thing they want is an independent voice like Joanne Kloppenburg on the Court who might (I said “might”) put a spike on the tracks of their runaway train.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Walker’s administration tried to stall a declaration of compliance with the lawful orders of the judge until it sees how the election turns out.  They’ll either breathe a sigh of relief or go running for the hills.

Like the entire nation during the Stolen Election in Florida in 2000, we in Wisconsin are staring, mouths agape in horror, at the unfolding hijacking of Democracy by remarkably arrogant Republicans who fly with the Light of the Just as they try to destroy honest government in a state known for just that.  We can’t wait to get to the polls a week from now and in recall elections this summer and next year to, at least, put the brakes on the Walker Disaster. 

But first, let’s see what the brilliant Walker legal brain trust comes up with tomorrow in response to Judge Sumi’s orders.  You know they are going to be wrong – it’s just a matter of how wrong and in what way.  I fear a constitutional crisis is brewing in Wisconsin.  The radical Republicans in Madison don’t care what they destroy to serve their corporate masters.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Daddy, Why Does The Bad Man Lie?

OK, I don’t have a 6 year-old daughter.  But If I did, I could imagine her reaction after a ride around in my fictional minivan circulating Darling recall petitions, listening to right-wing talk-radio, or an afternoon surfing her favorite political sites on the web. Her big, trusting eyes would stare up at me, the slight hint of tears forming in the corners.

Daddy, why does the Bad Man Lie?

My heart sags under the weight of this difficult civics lesson. I have tried to shield my precious from the onslaught of Republican talking-point misinformation, but I can’t – it’s everywhere.  Even if I could avoid the 24/7 talk-radio hosts who, for reasons I still don’t understand, are allowed to conduct endless, unpaid advertising for right-wing causes and Republican candidates, there are still the issue ads paid for by shadowy out-of-state business interests.  Her innocence thus taken too young, I am forced to parent-up and explain the facts of life, too soon.

Because they have to, Sweetheart.

If the Wisconsin Crisis has taught us anything about the quality of discourse in the public arena, it is that the kind of radical right-wing Republicans that currently have a stranglehold on our state government cannot win by telling the truth.  They have to propagate lies to win elections and to remain in office. They cannot tell us – before, during or after – what they are actually doing and why.  How can you tell the Republicans are lying again? Easy – Charlie Sykes’ lips move.

The right-wing echo chamber was drowned out during the height of the Wisconsin Crisis, as the gruesome details of Scott Walker’s power grab became more evident every day and the organic and organized reaction, in the form of ten of thousands of protesters descending on the Capitol everyday, captured the imagination of the state and the nation.  As Walker’s Unnecessary Crisis unfolded in real time, polls showed (and still do) that the majority of the electorate supported the collective bargaining rights for public employees and the unions he sought to destroy. The polls also show the majority disapprove of the heavy-handed way that Walker and his lock-stepping Republicans in the legislature were steamrolling their extreme, Washington-think-tank-generated agenda through a now-declared illegal process.

During the time several weeks ago when the Wisconsin Crisis was leading the national news, the tinny voices of the radio squawkers were drowned out with the truth of what was happening before our saddened eyes. Now that the dust has settled somewhat, the Republican message massagers have regrouped and, no doubt with the help of the putrid Frank Lutz (who came in so the governor could sit on his lap at the height of the Crisis) and others, designed a campaign of lies and exaggerations in an attempt to discredit those who would dare object to Walker’s union-busting designs and to prop up an increasingly-unpopular governor in free-fall.

You can tell when the Republicans have settled on their talking points because literally everybody on talk-radio follows them.  From Sykes to Belling, on down to third-rate near-amateurs like Weber, Wagner and McKenna, the right-wing radio clowns are the most unoriginal radio personalities in “entertainment” history.  They are willing to give the entire substance of their shows over to the Washington think-tanks, driving the Big Lies into the heads of their blissfully-ignorant angry-white-male listeners.

This week, it was all about the “hate” and “mobs” on the left, attacking their poor, innocent politicians and fellow travelers.  Hate mail and hate nails supposedly sent to Republican legislators and an embarrassing (to me) blogger who also happens to be a professor at my otherwise proud alma mater, the UW Law School (see you at the 25-year reunion in September, y’all!).   And blah de blah blah.  All of these anecdotes are trotted out as supposedly representative of the broad-based anti-Walker movement in the state.

First of all, it is entirely likely that some of this is being generated by right-wing interlopers pretending to be protesters.  To the extent one or two or five of the protesters have gone off the rails, it doesn’t mean that any of the hundreds of thousands of others would support the threats or have anything to do with them.  One of the radio geeks – I forget who, since they all sound the same and say the same things – claimed on Friday that nobody on the left would criticize the threats because that’s how we operate and that’s what we want and that’s who we are and so on and so forth.  Well – although, as a target myself of some overheated shit in my comment section through the years, I think, if they are really offended by any of this (they’re not) they should stop being such big babies – those kind of threats, serious or not, are obviously wrong.  That’s easy. But they don’t have anything to do with anything in the larger picture, and the wing-nuts know it.  The entire “union mob/thug” meme is a smear and a deliberate distraction.

And then there is the “federal employees have less bargaining rights” Lie.  I discussed this in my last post, in the context of a post by Rick Esenberg – who, by the way, did not delete a comment I made on his blog (it went to spam, which says something about my status in the web-filter community).  In response, Esenberg backs up on his blog and tries to put the best spin on things.  But the Lie continues.

Esenberg misrepresents me as being “upset that I and others suggest that other states and the federal government restrict collective bargaining rights of public employess [sic]”. No, I never said the bargaining rights for federal employees were not restricted on wages and benefits. “Mike's point is that federal employees can bargain over things other than wages and benefits. Fine. I never said otherwise.”  Oh, yes he did:

  • March 9th: Walker’s bill “restrict[s] collective bargaining rights that don't exist for federal employees”. Wrong. The union-busting bill restricts all of the significant non-economic collective bargaining rights (hours and working conditions) that definitely do exist for federal employees.
  • March 10th: “Most federal employees are sunject [sic] to similar restrictions.” Wrong again.  Federal employee rights to bargain everything other than wages and benefits are not restricted in any significant way.
  • March 14th (comments): Esenberg writes the right to “bargain” over a sliver of base wages, which is all that’s left in the Walker bill, is “equal to or greater than that provided in roughly half the states and for most federal employees” and “still more robust than those enjoyed in half of the states or by most federal employees”. That’s crazy. As I have written before, all that’s left of bargaining under the union-busting bill is a small number that could just as well be written on a cocktail napkin and filed by a clerk with DER (after it gets stamped NO).  The only thing it is “equal to or greater” and “more robust” than is nothing, and federal employees retain many more bargaining rights than nothing.

At least Esenberg expands a bit on that last “point” in his most recent post.

“Well, Mike seems to claim, you shouldn't say that Wisconsin public employees would be left with collective bargaining rights greater than or equal to employees in half the states and most federal employees. Why not? It seems to me that, for most people, wages and benefits are the most important conditions of employment.”

In the real world, perhaps. But the public employees in Wisconsin universally agreed to accept the benefit, pension contribution and wage issues during the first week of the Crisis.  At that point, the important issues became job security – in the form of effective language and enforcement of discipline, layoff, transfer, contracting-out – and other traditionally-important aspects of a union contract.  Indeed, Walker has bragged about how there doesn’t have to be layoffs by seniority after the bill becomes law.  Hey, Rick, guess who still has the ability to bargain layoff language.  That’s right – federal employees 

The Big Lie about federal employees having less bargaining rights supports the Bigger Lie – that all the public employees cared about and what they and their supporters were marching about was the benefit contributions and wage restrictions.  That Lie is still being foisted by all the usual suspects, including the secretive (for funding) Club for Growth ad campaign, the one that claims everyone is the private sector is making sacrifices and public employees refuse to.  It deliberately misleads about what Walker did and what the outrage of the masses is all about.

But if they would just come out and just say they are using the elimination of virtually all collective bargaining rights for public employees, the annual re-certification requirement and the outlawing of dues deductions from paychecks in order to wipe out public employee unions entirely, we could have that conversation.  But that would be considered so radical that it could not be supported.  Even with their campaign of Lies, it’s not being supported now.

So, my dear hypothetical doe-eyed daughter, that’s why they Lie.  Because they know, without the Lies, their radical agenda cannot stand.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Being Esenberg Means Never Having To Deal With The Truth

One of the supposed intellectual stalwarts of the right-wing cabal currently trying to dismantle honest government in Wisconsin is calling out Ed Garvey for guessing that the usual suspects already have or will soon pour up to $6 million into Justice David Prosser’s effort to hold on to his WMC-friendly seat on the Supreme Court.

“Fighting Ed Garvey falsely stated that WMC had given six million dollars to Justice Prosser's campaign and ‘bought’ him,” harrumphs Rick Esenberg, Marquette law professor and part of the legal brain trust that brought us Assembly flash-votes in the middle of the night, frivolous lawsuits in Oconto County, arrest warrants going out for political opponents, an illegal conference committee (the Senate never passed anything for the Assembly to “disagree” with) with illegally short notice, a Senate meeting illegally, without the constitutionally-required quorum for a bill with obvious fiscal implications or 24-hour notice, and a rushed Assembly vote that was also without adequate public notice.  All brilliant stuff that I look forward to Rick discussing at his next conference at Marquette, or, certainly, at his next regular confab with the WMC political action committee.

Esenberg first called Garvey out on March 12th, huffing, puffing, and demanding that he “substantiate” his claim that the primary non-talk-radio poisoners of the public well in Wisconsin, Wisconsin Manufacturer and Commerce, “put about $6 million into his [Prosser’s] campaign”.  Apparently not satisfied with Garvey either ignoring him or providing insufficient support for his statement, Esenberg returned to needle Garvey again on March 14th,  headlining that “Being Garvey Means Never Having To Say You’re Sorry”.

Well, a million off here or there – what’s the difference? The thing is that we don’t know how much Esenberg’s fellow travellers driving the hard-right agenda of the WMC spend in time, energy and money propping up the justices of the Supreme Court that they think (with good reason) they have in the bag.  Due to Esenberg’s Federalist Society cohorts on the US Supremes and their infamous Citizens United opinion, anonymous corporate money is the most protected form of “speech” in history.

But, people in curved-glass buildings (have you seen the new Marquette law school palace?) shouldn’t throw stones.  With all the sanctimony of someone wrapped in an academic and corporate cocoon, Esenberg pretends to be holier-than-Ed.  “On this blog, if I get something wrong, I fix it,” he writes. 

Well, not exactly.

In the midst of defending his indefensible support of the notion that politicians should go around arresting their political opponents for the totally legitimate and historically-validated tactic of quorum-busting on March 9th, Esenberg lit after me for having the temerity to suggest that might not be a good idea, much less legal.  Accusing me of incivility and worse – I love it when people helping Scott Walker destroy the lives and careers of thousands of people get sensitive about being called out for their actions – Esenberg lurched, as he often does, onto a right-wing talking point he knows isn’t true. He said I was complaining about “restricting collective bargaining rights that don't exist for federal employees”.

This oft-repeated canard has been a favorite of those on talk radio, Fox News, and elsewhere where they know their audience doesn’t know any better.  Their tactic is to repeat the Big Lie until it is believed.  But I know – and Rick does too – that most federal employees enjoy the full range of rights to bargain hours and working conditions that are the essence of Walker’s union-busting bill and the protests against them.  Federal employees do not bargain on wages and benefits, but they have very effective unions that bargain and enforce contracts that include crucial language on layoffs, transfers, hours, safety, overtime, working conditions, and all the other traditional bargaining subjects that were just so brutally ripped from under feet of the public employees in Wisconsin.  To say that, because the union-busting bill allows whatever unions survive to bargain within a thin sliver of base pay, Wisconsin public employees maintain more collective bargaining rights than federal employees is an unfunny joke. UPDATE: And one that Scott Walker himself perpetuates in an op-ed in the Washington Post on Thursday.

Federal employee unions also, by the way, have their member dues deducted from their paychecks and don’t have to recertify themselves every year.

Noticing this and other things in his typically snooty post, I wrote a comment on it.  Among other things, I asked him about the federal employee bargaining lie and why he would claim something he knew wasn’t true.  In response [deleted bit about him deleting my comment -- he didn't, sorry, see update below] he told the same bald-faced lie in his next post, claiming that “most federal employees are sunject [sic] to similar restrictions”.   Then he repeated the lie -- twice -- in this comment thread to the March 14th post. UPDATE 3/18/11: In a comment below and on his blog, Rick says he found my comment in his spam file.  Not the first time I have been so classified. 

It may be that Ed Garvey’s claim was inaccurate or just premature.  But, if there is one person who shouldn’t be calling anyone out on accuracy, it is Rick Esenberg.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

How Bargaining Works Now–The State Prosecutors Get Theirs

Sunday, March 13th marked the end of state employee union contracts throughout state government.  On the same day it “dropped the bomb” on February 12th, the radical Walker administration notified all state employee unions that were working on extended contracts – which, since a couple of in-the-bag “Democrats” joined anti-union Republicans and refused to ratify long-delayed contracts in the lame-duck session in December, was every one of them – that it was invoking a clause in the contracts that allowed either side to terminate the extension on 30 days notice.  The clause had never been invoked before, but that was an easy one for the hard-working Walker legal team that has been looking for loopholes to screw working people and impose their authoritarian will since before he was elected.

Gone, at the stroke of midnight, were the entire contracts of every state employee union, some with historical language that went back 50 years.  Gone was language on discipline, layoffs, hours of work, transfers, contracting-out and that other traditional protections of an earnestly-bargained contract between consenting employer and employees.  Gone in a flash was an effective mechanism for resolving workplace disputes, up to and including a hearing before an impartial arbitrator.

If the union busting “budget repair” bill – rammed, as it was, through an illegal conference committee (the Senate never passed anything for the Assembly to “disagree” with) with illegally short notice; a Senate meeting illegally, without the constitutionally-required quorum for a bill with obvious fiscal implications or 24-hour notice; and rushed through an Assembly that was also meeting without adequate public notice and without a brain in its collectively Republican head – somehow survives court scrutiny and takes effect on March 25th, there will never be another state employee contract as long as the law survives.  State employee unions – without the ability to bargain more than a sliver of a base-pay increase; facing annual representation elections with oppressive, moving goalposts; collecting dues without deductions from its members’ paychecks; and sitting across the bargaining table from a drunk-with-power bunch of Walker greedheads who will give them nothing but laughter – may as well go into hiatus until Democrats come back into power in both houses and the governor’s mansion rather than dignify the charade.

There is one group of state employees, though, that seems to have made it through pretty well, at least in terms of achieving a long-held goal of, of all things, increased pay through a pay-progression structure.  At least financially, relative to every other group of state employees, the members of the Association of State Prosecutors are making out like the bandits they prosecute.

The ASP has a brief, but proud history.  Prosecutors in the district attorneys offices in Wisconsin’s 72 counties were employees of the various counties until 1990, when they became state employees.  Although they were in not in the classified service, effective lobbying gave them immediate bargaining rights with the state (something their counterparts – staff attorneys in the public defenders office – did not have until 1998).  The primary objective of the ASP has always been, as has that of all attorneys in state service, pay-progression – a way to move through the pay range based on years of service.  Neither they or any of the other state attorney groups could ever achieve it through collective bargaining – from Republican or Democratic administrations – although it has been at the top of their priorities since before the ASP came into existence.

Until now.  In a year when all other state employees’ pay raises will be limited to the rate of inflation, if that, the governor’s two-year budget proposal includes over $1 million in each of the two years for pay-progression for prosecutors.  Which leads to an interesting question:  How the hell did that happen?

The ASP did not endorse either Walker or Barrett in the governor’s race.  Speculation around the courthouse has been that the non-endorsement of Barrett was valuable enough to Walker to promise pay-progression in exchange.  The ASP has also been remarkably silent while everyone else in their union community’s ox is getting gored.  Others in the law enforcement community who have gotten special carve-outs in Walker’s union-busting scheme have stepped forward and lent valuable legitimacy to the pitched battle in Madison, with firefighter and cops even sleeping on the Capitol floor.  Prosecutors have always been sympathetic media figures and their voice would have put additional pressure on the law-and-order Republicans to come to their senses.

But, I guess you can’t blame the prosecutors for lying low and quietly taking what they have wanted for so long.  This is what happens when thugs like the people pulling Walker’s strings play groups of employees against each other.  The prosecutors know their new pay structure is as fragile as tomorrow’s news.  Because it is not locked into a contract, the new pay plan (as yet undefined – is the ASP going to be invited to bargain the details?) can get pulled at any time.  This puts the handcuffs and the gag on the ASP, in terms of any criticism of the radical Republicans or support for the broader labor movement they seek to destroy, indefinitely.

In the meantime, the prosecutors have lost all the protections of their expired contract.  As unclassified employees, they don’t even have the weak “protections” of the civil service system – no “just cause” for discipline, no layoff or transfer protection, no standards on hours of work – nothing.  They now serve at the whim and at the pleasure of 72 district attorneys –politicians  of various temperament and competence, and maybe with a few friends who could use a job.  Not every county has a fair, solid DA like John Chisholm.  It wasn’t that long ago that a clown like Ken Kratz was running an office in Calumet County.

Somewhere, sometime soon, some entirely-competent staff prosecutor will never get to enjoy progression through the pay range, because he or she will have lost his or her job for no reason at all.  And, in part, maybe, because they refused to join the fight of their brothers and sisters in the broader movement against the union-busting bill, the ASP won’t be able to do a damn thing about it.  But that’s what happens when you make backroom deals with sleazy politicians who are willing to play you against the broader union movement.  You got yours – congratulations.  What about everybody else?

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Scott Walker’s Flop Sweat

There is something up with the governor and the boot-licking Fitzgerald brothers.  They seem to be in a hurry about all this “budget repair” business.  The panic on their faces at their press conference on Monday betrayed the desperation of hack politicians who can feel the ground slipping from under their feet.  They have bit off more than they can chew with their radical agenda of union-busting, poor-bashing and rich-giving, and now they are faced with either swallowing a loss of control of the Senate through recalls this summer or spitting out their Koch-brained ideas and starting over.

For now, they are plowing forward into their self-imposed abyss, flailing their arms against the strong wind of an enlightened electorate.  On Monday, Gov. Scott Walker went after the mild-mannered leader of the Brave Wisconsin 14, Mark Miller, like he was some kind of raving communist, accusing him of being insufficiently grateful and for having the temerity to request a face-to-face meeting with His Wonderful Self.  How dare he ask for a meeting, he said, when I have conceded so much to others I have been trying to pick off in his caucus!  Just look at the e-mail exchange my staff has had with them.  How generous am I!

Yes, well, about those e-mails…It is the height of hubris and arrogance for the governor to release the e-mail exchange between his staff and several Senate Democrats and claim his efforts have been anything but superfluous and pathetic. Throughout the exchange, Sens. Cullen and Jauch make it completely clear that the retention of non-economic bargaining rights for public employee unions was a necessary component of any deal.  Throughout the exchange, Walker’s staff rejects any concession on this one essential item; the one that caused the Brave Wisconsin 14 to bust the Senate quorum in the first place and the one item that, if resolved, would bring them home.

Instead of seriously addressing this core issue, Walker’s staff relays offers on token bargaining subjects like overtime and hazardous duty pay, but only as “permissive” subjects of bargaining, meaning that management could (and, in the case of the State, certainly would) refuse to discuss it.  In the last “offer” Walker was bragging about during the press conference, his staff refused to include bargaining over anything but base pay; expressly rejecting bargaining over step (experience) and lane (education) progression raises that have been standard for educators (and which Journal Sentinel wing-nut Patrick McIlheran claimed would still be in place). The only other subject of mandatory bargaining in the staff’s last e-mail would be workplace safety, which is so tightly defined in the “offer” that it would restrict bargaining to only making sure the employer didn’t pour grease on the steps of the office building.

In other words, although the Democrats they were talking to conceded way too much in the exchange (recertification elections still required every three years; expired contracts could not be extended), they never backed off of retaining bargaining on non-economic items, such as discipline, layoffs, transfers, contracting-out resulting in layoffs, and the like.  They were talking, but were never close to a deal.  The governor’s position remained rigid and inflexible – he would not back off on his obvious union-busting agenda.  Neither Cullen, Jauch or anyone else in the Brave Wisconsin 14 had any reason to come back to take the measly crumbs His Royal Highness claimed he would let fall from the table.

Walker’s intemperate grandstanding about his supposedly Great Concessions was too much Sen. Bob Jauch.  He lit into the Boy Governor in a press release, accusing him of being “not seriously interested in achieving a meaningful solution”, which cannot really be news to Jauch or anyone else. “Any serious leader does not negotiate contentious issues by press conference. His public announcement of what were supposed to be confidential discussions is a serious breach of faith.” Yeah, well, get used to it with this gang.  Anyone that thinks Walker will deal in good faith to achieve the radical goals of his handlers is kidding themselves.

Meanwhile, Walker and his increasingly partisan Senate henchman, Scott Fitzgerald, continue to show their desperation by striking out in all directions.  Both Walker and Fitzgerald now claim that the only reason the Brave Wisconsin 14 haven’t caved in to their generous offer is because their strings are being pulled by labor unions and the Obama White House.  This is pretty funny coming from a couple of corporate tools who can’t let anything fly over their heads, lest their puppet strings get severed and they collapse in a heap.  Perhaps, having no principles themselves, they can’t understand anyone who consistently stand on theirs.  More likely, the baseless accusation is just another smear from people who, as usual, cannot win an argument on the merits.

Speaking of smears, on Monday Walker also sent out a list of anecdotal horror stories about the supposed effects of collective bargaining, which were dutifully reprinted verbatim and chewed-over by the right-wing echo chamber. Porn-watching teacher gets reinstated! Outstanding First Year teacher laid off! Bus drivers and correctional officers earning overtime!  The Horror…the Horror.  Anyone who is vulnerable to this kind of union “success” story cherry-picking has already heard or imagined all this kind of stuff before.  It says nothing about the daily positive impact of a contract in a workplace, where both workers and management benefit from an enforceable, consistent method of operating and resolving differences. 

Stand-up comedians know best what Walker and the lock-step Republicans are feeling now – it’s called flop sweat.  “Flop Sweat” is defined as “nervous sweat (as of a performer) caused especially by the fear of failing”.  Standing on a bigger stage than he ever imagined or deserved, Scott Walker is like a bad comedian in the middle of bad routine in front of a deservedly hostile crowd.  He can’t get off – he’s stuck with where he is because he put himself there.  Watching him squirm is entertaining, and the longer he stands out there, tilting at the windmills of an enraged citizenry, the more likely it is that the Senate flips later this year and he gets flipped out of office next year. 

Rachel Maddow pronounced on her show last night, only partially tongue-in-cheek, that Wisconsin had already won in its battle with the radical Republican agenda.  Well, not yet.  But we’re getting there.  You only need to see Walker’s flop sweat and obvious desperation to know that it’s just a matter of time.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

O. Ricardo Pimentel: The Winners Must Surrender

I was all ready tonight to dig into Patrick McIlheran and his hysterical screed ripping on historian John Gurda’s surprisingly brilliant piece in the Sunday Journal Sentinel’s Crossroads section.  Titled “Smashing Demon Government”, Gurda aptly compares contemporary tea-baggers with the prohibitionists of the early 20th century.  But he doesn’t stop there, plowing into Scott Walker for trying to take us “down a rabbit hole to the darkness of class conflict and civic suicide.” Walker “has touched off a bitter and utterly unnecessary war with his incendiary style of governing”, concluding that, even if he wins “it will be all of us who lose”.  It is the best locally-written piece that has run in the Journal Sentinel opinion pages in memory.

And it was all too much for the paper’s in-house wing-nut, McIlheran.  McIlheran is used to have the field of strong opinions to himself in the Journal Sentinel, and he wasn’t about to cede his apparent birthright to the uppity Gurda.  Paddy Mac apparently spent all day Sunday an most of Monday morning in a feverish rage writing a post on his vanity blog that included three color pictures and 1,500 words.  After mocking his fellow columnist for writing “vignettes about beer gardens or fur traders” – as opposed to the GOP talking points he regularly regurgitates – McIlheran tosses around his usual nut-right bugaboos like phony sick notes anarchists in the Capitol and makes up a few facts (teachers are going to retain their”annual raises for moving up the experience scale” without the protection of a union contract?  Sez who?).

McIlheran is too easy of a target.  The increasingly desperate screeches of he and his governor, who are losing in the court of opinion, are the rantings of paper captains with brightly-polished buttons who have lost control of their ship. But, I was all ready to spend some time paddling their sorry asses anyway, especially after Walker came out in a press conference and lost his robot-like cool because he says he thought he had a deal for an end to the standoff with a couple of the Brave Wisconsin 14 who he thinks are squishy. 

Turns out that they are not, and Walker can continue to go f*ck himself if he thinks any of them are showing up for a vote that would mean the end of public employee unions in Wisconsin.  I’d like to think that some of the Dems were sent out on purpose to string the Boy Governor along and then sandbag him.  He certainly deserves it. More likely, Walker and the incredibly toadying Fitzgerald boys are exaggerating any small concessions they were willing to just think about and flailing around trying to sow dissention in the Democratic ranks.  As have most of their stunts in the past couple weeks, it backfired. 

But I digress.  I am rather here to bury, if only I could, the short columnist career of O. Ricardo Pimentel. 

I don’t know how I missed it, but last Friday Pimentel, who is delusional enough to think that he is a voice for the working man and woman, posted the most horrendous assault on workers in Wisconsin.  Titled simply “It’s time”, Pimentel pronounces the Bus Filibuster of the Brave Wisconsin 14 over and calls for their quick return, so that they and Wisconsin public employees can more readily be kicked in the teeth.  Way to go, Ricardo.  Thanks for nothing.

The Journal Sentinel editorial board has been disastrously wrong about the Brave Wisconsin 14 ever since new right-wing editorial page editor David D. Hayes knee jerked on the day the 14 brilliantly lit out for Illinois, calling them names and disparaging their bravery and effectiveness since Day 1.  You would think that Pimentel – as close to a counter-balance to McIlheran’s scripted right-wing advocacy as the paper allows itself – might see the fact that all the bad stuff in the “repair” bill had not yet happened and worked within the board to bring the Kings of State Street a little closer to seeing the realities of the real world.  You would be wrong.

In his ridiculous blog post, Pimentel credits the Brave Wisconsin 14 with every accomplishment except the primary one – that the Bad Bill is not now and might not ever be law. “The absences have outlived their usefulness, though they have succeeded beyond wildest expectations in other respects – to Democrats’ benefit in purely partisan, political terms,” he writes, citing an increase in passion on the left.  He does not mention at all that the primary objective – to prevent the Bad Bill from becoming law and to force the radical Republican jihad to compromise and remove the blatant union-busting language from the bill – has succeeded wildly and complete victory is still a possibility. Instead, he encourages the Brave Wisconsin 14 to accept their dire fate – and that of the working men and women of Wisconsin – and accede to the evil designs of Republicans gone mad.

If Pimentel and the Journal Sentinel board had spent half the time beating up on Walker and the Republicans for what they are trying to do and the arrogant, thuggish way they are trying to do it (still, not a word from the editorial board about the flash-vote by the Republicans in the Assembly in the middle of the night), they might have gotten ahead of the voters who are firmly rejecting the Republican tactics and agenda.  But the board still can’t bring itself to accept that, by endorsing Walker for governor, they have made the biggest mistake a long history of big mistakes (see its continued support for the school “choice” boondoggle in today’s paper).  They continue to expect, with no reason to, compromise from those who have rejected compromise and reason from the unreasonable. 

For his sorry part, Pimentel is in a big hurry to get the Democrats back to Madison so the Republicans can finish the job of creating Alabama North in Wisconsin.  He insists that those winning the Battle for Wisconsin’s Soul must surrender. He urges the Brave Wisconsin 14 to grab defeat from the clutches of victory.  “…the outcome I desire – statesmanship-induced compromise from Walker because of a few changed GOP minds – is not attainable,” he concludes, so we should just roll over and take it.  What a pitiful position for a supposed progressive in Wisconsin to take.  Pimentel the columnist is a joke – and not a funny one.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Layoffs, Schmayoffs

So, Friday came and went, and Scott Walker’s layoff threat turned out to be as empty as his well of public support for his radical-right agenda.  He sent some 30-day notices to the various unions, a meaningless act without names attached.  No doubt there was a bit of nostalgia in the notice – it will, no doubt, be the last notice of any kind sent to a union by Walker’s union-busting regime.

Little noticed in all the uproar about Walker’s attempt to eliminate public employee labor unions in the future is the status of state employee unions in the present.  On the same day Walker dropped the budget-repair “bomb” he thought he was bragging to David Koch about, his administration sent out notices to every state employee union, all of them operating under expired contracts (expired only because a couple of Walker tools in the Democratic Senate last year – sell-out Jeff Plale and turncoat Russ Decker voted against them) that the state was giving 30-day notice that they were terminating all state employee union contracts.

That means the Walker administration is liberated from any obligations under the expired contracts, starting March 13th.  There was no way they were going to issue any actual notices before then, since any notices sent now would be covered by the contract and any grievances still in process when the contracts expired would still be governed by the contract.  So, the governor threatening to send out actual layoff notices Friday if the Brave WI 14 did not return was a lie.  All he sent were meaningless letters to unions whose contracts he terminated and whose existence he is trying to eliminate.  I bet they had a good laugh in the governor’s office sending those out.  Maybe they flew in a real Koch brother so he could lick the stamps.

That means that, if Walker has the guts to actually pull the trigger on any layoffs, they will look much different than they would under the state employee contracts.  For the classified service, that means the layoffs slip into being governed by the vaunted civil service “protections” of Walker’s propaganda campaign.  While some of the language tracks the contracts, the notice requirements are shorter (14 instead of 30 days) and the Walker stooges at the head of the various agencies get to exempt 20 percent of the group just for being their friend:

The appointing authority may exempt from the layoff group up to 2 employees or 20%, whichever is greater, of the number of employees in the layoff group to retain employees having special or superior skills or for other purposes as determined by the appointing authority.

So, Cathy Stepp, the anti-DNR DNR secretary, can exempt her friends and acquaintances, if she has any, at the agency. 

In addition, if any agency just ignores the layoff language of the administrative code and does it any way they want, who is there to stop them? Under a contract, it would be an independent arbitrator. Without a contract, it is the management tribunal known as the Personnel Commission, who will get any question of interpretation wrong, in management’s favor, and take forever to get there.

Oh, and then there are those in the unclassified service, like my friends in the Public Defenders office.  After their contract expires on March 13th, staff attorneys can be laid off in any way management chooses.  This would have been more of a threat to more senior attorneys about 20 years ago, when the (past) management of the agency was waging war on the Milwaukee and Racine offices. In fact, the first layoff language offered by management when we began bargaining the staff union’s first contract in the late ‘90s was “layoffs shall be conducted in the manner determined by management”.  That didn’t last long, and the SPD attorneys have been operating under seniority layoff language under the contract ever since.  Until March 13th, that is, when they will have to rely, again, on the kindness of what is currently a benevolent management.  Currently.

But Walker is not going to conduct any layoffs, now or 15 days from now.  Not while his poll numbers are in the tank and people are going to blame him much more than the Brave WI 14.  Besides, there is no emergency – if the failure to pass the financial parts of his “repair” bill actually cost the state some money, it can all be pushed off to the next two-year budget – it always has been. 

But, be sure of it – if the Walker regime succeeds in ramming through his “repair” and two-year budget (against public opinion, by the way -- remember how right-wingers used to throw around polling data during the health care debate, saying the Democrats were going “against the will of the people”?) and continues with a lapdog legislature for the next two years, layoffs will certainly come – but not because the state is “broke”.  The 500 lb. elephant is the room is the privatization of the work of state employees to sweetheart companies with political connections. 

The WPEC contract has this language preventing contracting-out that results in layoffs:

The Employer shall not contract out work normally performed by bargaining unit employees in an employing unit if it would cause the separation from state service of the bargaining unit employees within the employing unit who are in the classifications which perform the work.

This is especially important to WPEC because they represent over 1,500 IT professionals.  The Thompson administration was always hot to farm-out those functions of running the state’s massive computer network to his wealthy contributors in the private sector.  You can bet Walker is the same way – about computers and everything else that isn’t nailed down – regardless of how his scheme to outsource courthouse security in Milwaukee to his friends at Wackenhut was laughably and predictably reversed by an arbitrator under that group’s union contract. 

The two-year budget bill is remarkably silent on any overt outsourcing plans, but you know they are coming.  And, they they do, that will be when massive state employee layoff notices hit the mail.  With no union contract to protect them against the contracting or the manner of the layoffs, the radical Walker administration will run like a steamroller over the state employees he claims so insincerely to respect.  Then, Wisconsin will be “open for business”, alright.  And state employee jobs will be for sale, and not to the lowest bidder.