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.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Tonight There’s Going To Be A Jailbreak

You know, if Scott Walker could, he’d declare some kind of legislative martial law and just impose everything in his union busting “budget repair” bill by gubernatorial fiat.  Elections have consequences, after all, so he gets to do anything he wants, whether he campaigned on it or not. Right?

At least that’s what he’s been told by the finest nut-right legal minds, like Marquette law prof Rick Esenberg.  Esenberg has admitted on his blog being the brains behind the brilliant effort to have a Republican party official in Oconto County file a “writ of mandamus” to get his Democratic senator to the Senate chamber. The judge in the case summarily dismissed it in world record time (two days), always a proud result for an impact litigation attorney.

Esenberg also admits advising the Senate Republicans on their similarly awesome effort to get their eight-month pregnant colleague and 13 of her fellow Democrats arrested, should they make the mistake of being caught visiting friends and family in Wisconsin.  Esenberg, no doubt, was aware of the prohibition in the state constitution against legislators being arrested during a session, except for “treason, felony and breach of the peace”.  I’m sure Esenberg also reviewed with the senators that a finding of “contempt of the Senate”, by statute, can only be imposed by causing another member to be arrested; disorderly conduct; failing to appear as a witness or produce documents; or bribing – none of which is involved here.  But, the law is a mere inconvenience to these arrogant bastards.  And Esenberg is only too happy to facilitate their lawlessness.

Lester Pines appears to have nailed the relevant law in a memo.  For his part, Esenberg resorts to name-calling – “the scofflaws - and that's what they are” – which is a poor substitute for law, but, hey, professor spank.  I’m guessing Pines has kicked Esenberg’s legal ass before and certainly will again.  Esenberg claims to have worked both of these great legal efforts pro bono, which may be true.  You get what you pay for.

But the apparent possibility of the brave WI 14 senators being arrested reminds me of other extra-judicial action that has been taken in Wisconsin history in the face of illegal and immoral incarceration.  I think we need to prepare for a popular citizen’s jailbreak, in the spirit of Wisconsin hero Sherman Booth.

Sherman Booth had a newspaper back in the mid-19th century called the Milwaukee Free Democrat.  In 1854, Booth became aware of the imprisonment of Joshua Glover, a fugitive slave from Missouri, who was being held under the Fugitive Slave Act, a pitiful law that required free states to hold slaves claimed in slave states for their slave masters.  Booth ran through the streets of Milwaukee like Paul Revere and convened a mob at the county jail.  After asking nicely, the mob stormed the jail and freed Glover.  And, you can bet, standing right there, demanding that the mob be arrested and the slave be returned to Missouri, would have been the 19th century version of Rick Esenberg.  “The scofflaws - and that's what they are!”

I assume the Senate Democrats are traveling, if not sleeping, with their lawyers in the event that the long arm of the lawless somehow reaches across the state line (you can bet Esenberg and the fine Republican team is trying to find a way to do just that).  However, should one of them get caught visiting their grandchildren or hugging their child or going to church or to their obstetrician, they will have to be held in a jail somewhere before they get dragged, feet first, onto the Senate floor. 
In such a case, I suggest we organize a posse in each county between Madison and the Illinois state line.  When we find out where they are, we storm the building, like the brave Sherman Booth and his mob, and free the political prisoner from the clutches of his or her jailers.  Free the Senator! we will shout to the swelling encouragement of the surrounding citizens who have come to see their constitution and their laws restored and enforced, by any means necessary.

In the meantime, I think I found another opportunity to do my own small part through a little identity-bending, a brilliant suggestion by the Stop Scott Walker Watch on Facebook.  If I can find one of those "Hello My Name Is..." name tags, I'll be wearing one around the Courthouse this morning.  Hello, My Name Is...Chris Larson.  Arrest Me! I would hope the law enforcement officers who support the collective bargaining rights the WI 14 are making such huge sacrifices to protect would ignore such an illegal warrant, but, you never know.  As Elvis Costello sang: "I'll do anything to confuse the ememy".

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Working Together And Cooling Tempers With Scott Walker

Of all the steaming heaps of BS in a budget and a budget address full of it, the funniest line of Scott Walker’s stilted, Teleprompter-ed speech to three-fourths of the Wisconsin Legislature was this doozy:

“I have been asked a lot over the past week about what happens next. Well, I’m an optimist. I believe that after our budget repair bill passes, tempers will cool, and we will find a way to continue to work together to help grow our economy.”

What a load.  Even a script-reading tool like Walker must have struggled to stifle a chuckle over that one.  “Tempers will cool”?  “Continue to work together”?  Earth to Scott Walker:  You have burned your bridges with everyone to the center and left of Dale Schultz.  There is no way back – not that you were ever there.  Tempers will not cool.  No one other than your goose-stepping fellow radical Republicans in the legislature is going to work with you, or even pretend to talk to your sorry ass.  You have until the recall election in the spring of 2012 to wreak as much havoc as you can on the citizens and government of Wisconsin.  After that, I’m sure you’ll have a generous offer to serve as cabana boy for one of the Koch Brothers.

All Walker had to do is look to his left from the podium to see the brave and abused Assembly Democrats sitting on their hands when he was introduced, during all applause lines and when he left to see that any chance of working together with any Democrat, anywhere, is long gone.  It was as if the real world the Democrats live in and the alternative reality of Fox News and talk radio were side-by-side in the same room.  On the one side (and in a gallery strategically packed with Walkerites), the Boy Governor drew a standing ovation for every nut-right cliché.  Across the aisle, the Assembly Dems sat in sorrowful witness of the dismantling of the state, as quiet and dignified as the rightously-empty chairs of the Senate Dems.

And the Senate Dems might want to look into getting out of those hotels and renting a couple of cheap apartments in Illinois.  Governor Righteous isn’t budging anywhere soon.  Unless they manage to peel off a couple more GOP senators to go along with Sen. Schultz in voting down the union-busting bill, they can’t come back.  Walker’s chief henchman in the Senate, Speaker Scott Fitzgerald, found time – when he wasn’t hiding the Dem senators’ paychecks, signing the timesheets of their staff or sending his daddy’s (storm) troopers out to arrest them  – to try to back-door some of the exiled Dems to convince them to stab their fellow senators in the back by coming to Madison to give Fitzgerald his goddamn quorum.  No way, they said.  If anyone’s coming back, they will all come back together.  And then, only when the time and the bill is right.

And that may be – never, or at least not until the balance of power shifts in the Senate or Walker is recalled.  Even if the union-busting of the “budget repair” bill is resolved, it still leaves all the various radical bombs in the two-year budget to deal with.  And, once they get one Democrat in the room, the Senate will never adjourn. It may be that the Democratic senators will have to stay away for months to prevent all the bad stuff from happening – the Republicans being able to do nothing is definitely a better alternative than this band of reckless ideologues doing anything. 

The resulting stalemate is all on Walker and the Republicans. Until they realize that they can’t dictate every aspect of every piece of legislation for the next two years (or less, if recalls flip the Senate or the governor), we are all going to have one sorry mess on our hands. “The Republican-controlled Legislature can't just rubber-stamp this budget from a Republican governor,” says the ever-hopeful and clueless Journal Sentinel in a typically mealy-mouthed editorial Wednesday. Oh, yes they can.  And they fully expected to, until the small matter of the Bus Filibuster by Senate Democrats and hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in and around the Capitol reared their sweet heads. 

After what the radical Republicans have already done and what they fully intend to do, Walker is dreaming if he really thinks he will ever be able to be in the same room with any Democrat, much less “work together” with them.  But the line in his speech was just another lie – he knows he can’t and he doesn’t care.  He and the Republicans will ram through as much crap as they can as long as they can and they don’t care what you think. 

A year or four years or a decade from now, it will be up to the grown-ups in the Democratic leadership to pick up the pieces and repair the damage – just like President Obama has had to do after the Disaster that was Junior Bush.   In the meantime, anyone with the power to do so should stand in the way.  Unfortunately for those brave souls, the burden on the Senate Democrats to stay away as long as they can stand it just got that much heavier.