Thursday, November 08, 2012

An Even More Historic Victory

Barack Obama's election in 2008 was an obviously enormous event -- the first election of a person of color as president in the nation's history.  His message of Hope and Change after the 8-year nightmare of the worst president in U.S. history, Junior Bush -- whose damage to the country was starkly but only partly evident at the very end in the near-collapse of the financial system -- resonated with an exhausted public.  With an over-the-hill and over-his-head opponent in John McCain -- shown to be even worse by his irresponsible selection of the ridiculous Sarah Palin as his VP and his knee-jerk reaction to the financial crisis -- the stars aligned, destiny called and Obama answered.

But, as historic as 2008 was, Obama's stunning landslide reelection on Tuesday was even more so.  Never before has a sitting president -- or any candidate -- been subject to the kind of personal and political abuse channeled through more radical-right media outlets for four whole years.  No candidate has been bombarded with literally unlimited spending by selfish billionaires and dirty industries, all intended to fool people into voting against their interests.  Never has the mainstream media been more complicit in validating, excusing and distributing Republican lies. Not since Jim Crow laws in the South has there been such a systematic attack on the voting rights of American citizens by highly-organized Republican legislatures, designed only to suppress the votes of traditionally Democratic constituencies.

Bill Clinton managed to survive the first draft of the new-age Politics of Personal Destruction, supported every hour of every day by right-wing talk radio, then in its relative infancy.  The journalistic fraud known as Fox News did not exist until after Clinton's reelection in 1996, just in time for Newt Gingrich's House to make a historical fool of themselves with the partisan impeachment fiasco.  The new right-wing media found its footing playing defense during the dark Junior Bush years, with the added dynamic of pretend "independent" expenditures rearing their ugly heads, with phony front "groups" like the Swiftboaters carrying the Bush campaign's dirty water to save his ass from losing to American hero John Kerry in 2004.

But the radical right wing really had it all together and smooth, setting themselves up to (they thought) trounce Obama out on his offensively-drawn (by racist nut-right cartoonist Michael Ramirez -- a regular in the post-Doonesbury Journal Sentinel -- and others) big ears in 2012.  There was no doubt about this one.  Obama's supposed European socialist "regime" would be rejected in a landslide, and the entire structure of Fox News and talk radio was designed to affect just that result, with a script drafted by Karl Rove and the Republican National Committee.  Especially after the Fox-hyped FreedomWorks-funded astroturf tea party took credit for swinging the House Republican in 2010, the biggest anti-Democrat machine in history was ready to roll right over Barack Obama.

Consider the elements of the unprecedented Republican advantage:

Fox News: Never before has an entire television network -- laughingly declaring itself a "news" network in the first place, and "fair and balanced" to boot -- been committed to the defeat of one man and the promotion of one political party. For five years (the smearing of Obama began the day he announced his candidacy in 2007), the president was mocked, dehumanized, marginalized and criticized -- on both opinion and "news" programs (believe it or not, Fox insists there's a difference).  The pro-GOP/anti-Obama campaign really picked up steam after the hapless Mitt Romney made it through the hilarious Republican primary process. Fox propped up Romney and nitpicked Obama every day in every way.  For all the rich pigs who tried to buy this election through supposedly "independent" SuperPACs, the swinish billionaire who had the biggest role trying to destroy Barack Obama was a foreigner: Australian Rupert Murdoch, owner of Fox News.

Talk Radio: The nation's free airwaves were filled for five years with all sorts of lies and smears of Obama, from the loudest national voices to the tinniest local pipsqueaks.  In Milwaukee, former respectable corporate citizen Journal Communications Inc. turned over most of its non-sports daytime programming on WTMJ to heavily subsidized Republican mouthpieces like Charlie Sykes and Jeff Wagner, who gladly read GOP talking-points day after day after day.  (The company also runs nut-right local radio talkers in at least seven other "markets" across the country). Across town, mega-station behemoth Clear Channel runs out no less than three local right-wing talkers everyday on WISN, including veteran sexist and racist Mark Belling, to promote anti-Obama GOP tripe.  The balance of their day is devoted to three national Republican spokesmen, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Mark Levine.  There has never been anything like the kind of poison spewed into the political environment by the 24/7 talk radio industry.

SuperPACs: Fox News and talk radio are essentially free messaging for the GOP.  But, after the Citizens United decision by the right-wing of the US Supreme Court, the rich and their polluting corporations were also free to buy the commercials between the free programming.  Over the past four years, the anonymous rich spent billions trying to defeat the president through all sorts of ads lying about the president's record and intentions. Again, no presidential candidate has ever had to endure this kind of onslaught, even if the Dems were able to at least get close to parity on the airwaves in the weeks leading up to the election.

Voter Suppression: Republican legislatures and governors in various states have been on a tear the last two years, enacting Photo ID and other voter suppression laws that have been designed only to prevent vast  numbers of poor and minority voters from being able to cast a ballot.  Some of the laws, such as in Wisconsin, are held up for now by courts that have bravely upheld the Constitution's right to vote, unencumbered by unnecessary red tape.  But others are in place and are having just the effect for which they were intended -- although brave souls stood in long early-voting lines and went to court in Florida to stand up for their rights over the brutally anti-democratic machinations of Gov. Rick Scott.

Local Newspapers: The creeping demise of the local newspaper industry continues to facilitate the deterioration of the national discourse.  Some papers have ceased physical publication altogether, while most that continue to publish dead-tree editions are shadows of their former selves.  Locally, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel brags about Pulitzers won on mostly irrelevant topics while having its news, editorial board and opinion pages hijacked by a right-wing Republican think tank (The Wisconsin Policy Research Institute).  The paper played Romney's selection of radical right-wing congressman Paul Ryan as some kind of home-boy-does-good story, ignoring the damage his ascension would cause to the country.  In the last week of the campaign, the paper that endorsed the radical Scott Walker for governor -- twice -- announced that they would not make an endorsement in the presidential race.  They most likely did so because, in a series of candidates-and-the-issues columns, they mostly favored Obama's policies; but, being the right-wing shills they now are, would have surely endorsed Romney; and they could not stomach even their own hypocrisy if that happened.

And so the fates and stars aligned against Barack Obama like no other presidential candidate before.  Nobody had ever faced that kind of fierce, committed, coordinated, supposedly overwhelming opposition.  His victory this week is all the more incredible for that -- a truly historic event.

But, although he ran a great, well-funded campaign, the credit does not all go to Obama and his excellent team.  The credit really goes to the American people, who somehow saw through all the bullshit and did the right thing.  As a liberal and a progressive, it was easy for me.  But for many, it wasn't.  And they made the difference.  President Obama made history by winning reelection against unprecedented opposition. But it is those of us who voted for him who really made history, rejecting the campaign of Fear and Division, and voting again for Real Hope and Real Change.  Again.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Fox "News" and The Big Lie of Benghazi

Ever since the day he was elected in 2008, the Republicans and their various pliant, script-reading sycophants in the right-wing media have promoted an unprecedented stream of falsehoods and phony premises to try to prevent the reelection Barack Obama that, it appears, might occur on Tuesday.

For four years, they have set up straw men, lied, smeared, belittled, dehumanized and delegitimized the president -- or at least tried to. Although they managed to chip away slightly at Obama's well-earned stature and accomplishments in the face of the Historic Mess Junior Bush irresponsibly left for him to clean up, the frustrated Grand Boobahs of the Right will find themselves in the same place they did in 1996 after trying to pull the same shit on Bill Clinton -- on the outside, looking in to a White House controlled by Democrats for another four years, who will protect the country from their Evil Designs by fighting against their agenda and for their own every step of the way.

The Republicans have an increasingly sophisticated method to get even their most putrid, offensive anti-Obama messages into the mainstream of political discourse while maintaining what they think is a plausible deniability.  For instance, no self-respecting member of the GOP establishment would get within 100 yards of a drooling birther ranting in the public square or Fox News about Obama's birth certificate. And yet, you can bet the Dark Hand of Karl Rove or some other oily operative could be found, if only someone would look, slipping 10s and 20s into the dirty mitts of Orly Taitz to fund her demonstrably frivolous lawsuits.  Mitt Romney doesn't have to skip around the country calling President Obama a European socialist -- he's got hoards of talk radio stooges who do it for him every day.

And Mitt Romney doesn't have to spend any time trying to make the tragedy in Benghazi on 9/11/12 into some kind of political liability for the president.  He's got a fake news network that is more than willing to do it for him, 24 hours a day, for two months.

In the third debate, Romeny took the advice of his advisers to, well, not debate.  He rolled over and agreed with the president on numerous foreign policy issues, from Iraq to Afghanistan. Moderator Bob Schieffer set it up the Benghazi "issue" on a tee for him the first question of the debate -- and Romney passed, ignoring the question and rambling about "rejecting this kind of extremism" and other such blather.  Jaws dropped across the country as the astro-turfers in the tea party did spit takes in disgust because the guy they reluctantly hired to finish off Obama refused to take the bait.

But Romney knew what he was doing.  He didn't "go after" the president on Benghazi not for the right reason -- because there was nothing to "go after" him about -- but for the wrong reason: because he knew his surrogates on Fox News, talk radio and the other well-paid right-wing mouthpieces were going to do his dirty work for him.  He didn't say anything because he didn't have to.

And Fox News did not disappoint.  It's one thing for the Fox "opinion" show hosts like Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity to dutifully read their Rovian talking points like the obedient servants they are.  But, last I heard Fox was insistent that its "news" shows -- hosted by fake "journalists" like Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly and the like -- are to be taken seriously as "fair and balanced" news.  Serious viewers laughed that one off years ago (Kelly, who I watch at noon almost every day, leads every show with "new questions" that have arisen about some Obama action or other, real and imagined).  "Fox" is to "News" as "military" is to "music". One has nothing to do with the other.

But the entire network -- especially the fake news shows -- have gone way beyond what they have done in the past to support the Republican cause.  Literally every show on the network has led with some kind of feigned "outrage" about the Benghazi tragedy every day for the past two months, throwing out code words like "cover-up" and "Watergate" like they were candy from a Mardi Gras float.  It has not been a running news story; it has been a campaign, uninterrupted  even for Hurricane Sandy. When Fox talking heads were not breathlessly bleating Benghazi hysteria, they were bloviating about how the mainstream media was not following their lead, thereby engaging in an enormous pro-Obama cover-up of their own.  The network's fake news programs have promoted phony memes in the past, but, in terms of feigned passion and commitment to the "story" over all platforms, this is a new level of alternate-fact-universe creation, even for Fox.

This is especially the case since there is no there there. In recent days, real news reports have emerged, describing in detail the events of the Benghazi tragedy, including timelines provided by the military, the CIA and the White House.   None of it leads any credence and in fact puts the lie to the various fictitious versions of the events developed by Fox and its always-undisclosed "sources".  Saddest of all was the exploitation of (and by) the father of one of the murdered CIA agents, Tyrone Woods, who pitifully did the talk-radio/Fox News circuit in the past weeks, complaining about insincere and limp-handshake condolences offered by Obama and Secretary of State Clinton at a private meeting (nobody who knows Obama or Clinton would believe such a farcical version of their ability to express sympathy) and asking for "answers" about what happened to his son.  When the Fox host would helpfully offer him a chance to take a direct hit at the president, Charlie Woods said, oh no no no, he didn't want to politicize his grief.  Yet, that was just what he was doing.

And Fox News hasn't stopped. Yesterday on his Sunday show, Chris Wallace -- about as close as Fox News gets to a real journalist, which means "not close" -- started with interview with Obama campaign chief David Axelrod by grilling him on Benghazi for five minutes.  It continues today -- whenever the idiots on Fox and Friends took a break from their phony Romney optimism, they would lurch into some kind of Benghazi rant or other.

The naked politicization of national tragedy has been the GOP's stock-in-trade since before 9/11/01, which Junior Bush and Cheney used to drive the Stupid War in Iraq, the Patriot Act, and all manner of insane power-grabbing by that despicable regime. The same people are driving this last desperate attempt by the Romney campaign to turn around their doomed prospects.  It's way past time to resign these bastards to the dustbin of history where they belong.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Biden Rocks; America Wins

You know, it's not like I haven't tried to get this thing going again.  For instance, here is a piece of an abandoned post back in September:

"You say I got no feelings
This is a good way to deal with it."
                            -- "Lipstick Vogue", Elvis Costello 
I had this big plan to get back in the saddle and ride this thing [the blog, that is] in the run-up to the November elections.  I was going to the Elvis Costello show at the lakefront last Saturday [Sept 15th] anyway and thought I would work out some of the writing kinks from this blog's summer-long dormancy (but what a summer it was...) by doing a review of one of my all-time favorite artists in Milwaukee in a brand-new venue on a spectacular late-summer night.
But then, the unexpected happened. Elvis Costello and the Imposters came out and laid an egg.  He mailed it in.  Rushed and indifferent, it was as if he couldn't get off the stage and out of town fast enough.  Indeed, an off night with Costello -- like Springsteen, with his non-E Street Band on Election Night 1992, but not as bad -- is better than anyone else at their best, but, still. This is the guy, after all, who played Milwaukee with only keyboardist extraordinaire Steve Nieve 10 or so years ago and came out for four encores, including a brilliant acepella off-the-mic version of "Couldn't Call It Unexpected No. 4" that is still reverberating off the walls of the Riverside. That was an engaged, dynamic evening of some of the best songs ever written.  
This one had some of the same songs, but none of the magic. It's as if he looked out at the half-empty seats of the instant white-elephant BMO Harris Pavilion (hard to tell what non-Summerfest acts they thought they could fill that with on a regular basis) and decided to, I don't know, do those things that rock stars do when they've landed in the wrong place at the wrong time.  It seemed like the bus was already warmed up and ready to go as the show started, running through 4 of his best known songs in the first 10 minutes...
By the time I wrote this, I was leading up to the fact that President Obama filled the venue exactly one week later. So I guess there might be some use for that place after all...

See? Aren't you sorry you missed all this great writing?

I do somewhat regret not putting my (literally) two cents in this year on important post-recall issues like, for instance, the Republican presidential primaries.   Sometimes I think that particular conglomeration of losers existed only for my personal entertainment; whether it was Michelle Bachmann peculiar form of alien channeling, Rick Santorum's whiny hysterics, Newt Gingrich's snootily, elitist, why-are-you-so-stupid assuredness, etc.  It was an occasionally amusing clown show, unless you considered how close one of them was to being the nominee of a major party.

Alas, we are not there, but here: 3 days before Election Day, with a rich, pampered elitist in magic underpants, Mitt Romney, trying to fool the American people into electing him.  And, just yesterday, I found myself in Beloit, helping the Obama campaign manage the press section gathered to hear Vice President Joe Biden at a middle school there.  An overflow crowd was treated to a great speech by Biden, who is one of the president's best assets.

Obama is blessed (if there is such a thing) with the valuable support of at least three extraordinarily talented veterans of a political generation almost -- but not quite -- past.  Each finding their niche, all have provided invaluable support for his steady governance, and, yes, his campaign.  His biggest star and the best hire by far is Hillary Clinton as the Secretary of State.  She has expertly helped him transition our nation away from the belligerence of the internationally-destructive Junior Bush era towards a more positive, productive foreign policy.  She has dealt with crisis with a steady hand, kicked ass where she had to, and put us on an even keel with a forgiving world.

Another veteran of the same kind of slash-and-burn politics that have been used against him every day of his presidency is, of course, Bill Clinton. The former president, already settling into his role as the best ex-president ever (his humanitarian efforts in Haiti and the Clinton Global Initiative, to name just a couple, while the still-embarrassing Junior Bush gives closed seminars to the rich about how to send their money offshore to the Cayman Islands), has become Obama's best campaign surrogate. His incredibly effective Democratic convention speech wasn't a surprise to anyone who saw him here in Milwaukee in the closing days of the ill-fated Walker recall election (see that picture over there).  Speaking without notes that day, Clinton did an incredible riff on the need for politicians to work together to solve problems, rather than the kind of drop-the-bomb strong-arm tactics of the Walker Republicans.  At the convention and since, Clinton has been the most effective spokesperson for the saner political world that will never occur with the current GOP.  But, if they ever come to their senses, we'll be there.

But Joe Biden may, in the long run, be more integral to the success of the Obama presidency than anyone else. He has been in the room during every significant decision, from health care to Osama, adding heft and a wealth of Washington experience to the mix.  In his debate with Wisconsin's favorite twerp Paul Ryan, he proved himself to be a strong and no-bullshit advocate for America in general and the Obama administration in particular. Unsafe, out of the talk-radio/Fox News cocoon, the clueless Ryan looked like he wanted to crawl back into the dark hole from whence he came.  And Biden put him there.

In Beloit, Biden gave the best political speech I've ever seen in person -- as effective as Clinton, but not as subtle.  Focusing on Milwaukee Mayor and recall hero Tom Barrett standing in the front row (who yelled at me for letting the blog go dormant; ergo, my fairly urgent effort to get something out today), Biden frequently started his points with "Tom, you know when governments work together..." and the like.  There were lots of jokes and anecdotes about his mother saying "Joey" this and "Joey" that (OK, maybe that was a bit much).  At his best, he took apart the Romney/Ryan lies about Jeeps in China and other ridiculous fantasies of the Far Right with humor, effectiveness and truth.

Dare I say -- it looks good as I hit the "publish" button on Saturday night. States like Ohio and Wisconsin are going to come through and send Romney back to his career, making millions raping and pillaging the vulnerable businesses he pretends to care about.  Hopefully, Obama and Biden will bring along a continued Democratic Senate and, if we are very lucky and if lightening strikes and we win the lottery, throw the House Republicans out on their sorry ears.  As Bill Maher said on his show last night, "If it's Obama, America wins. If it's Romney, comedy wins."  As much as I like to laugh, I'll take a victory for America any time.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Recall That Wasn't -- Part 1

There isn't a whole lot funny about the way the Recall campaign turned out, but one thing is the hilarious attempt by Scott Walker to strike a bipartisan, can't-we-all-get-along pose. Mr. Drop-the Bomb, Mr. Divide-and-Conquer, Mr. Bipartisanship-Is-Not-So-Good now wants you to believe he can pull people together to work for the good of the state.  The radical Republican party that once put out arrest warrants for its opponents somehow managed to get most of the multi-abused Democrats to show up at the governor's mansion on Tuesday to sip suds and chew brats.  Hey, no hard feelings, right?

Wrong, assholes. Walker and the Republicans remind me of the worst that prosecutors want to imagine about my domestic violence clients:  Historically abusive man [GOP] goes too far one night [dropping "bombs"; ignoring open meeting laws; moving votes in the middle of the night, etc.]. This compels his usually overly-patient partner [Democrats] to call the cops and have him arrested [recalled].  Man is released within hours and lawyers-up with the best representation money can buy [Michael Best, et al].  Although ordered to have no contact, a war of words escalates, with the man's family and friends loudly taking his side [talk radio, Fox "News", secretly-funded attack ads]. The character of the abused partner is disparaged (crazy bitch!) [crazy, dirty hippie protester; union thug] and clueless friends of the perp decide it's no big deal and wish it all away [Journal Sentinel].

But the DA thinks they have a case and proceed to trial [recall petitions produce recall elections].  On the day of trial, the victim fails to show up to avenge her injury [57% turn-out].  Relieved man, knowing he dodged a bullet, buys her flowers and takes her out to a nice dinner [beer, brats and bullshit], pronouncing how he's a Changed Man and That will never happen again.  Until it does, and worse [starting in January, if the Senate flips back].

Let's begin our postmortem of the recall efforts by proclaiming what nobody in what passes for a mainstream media in this state will admit: the flipping of the Senate to the Democrats, however brief, through two hard-fought recall cycles last year and this, is huge. The Democratic majority in the Senate for the remainder of this year will prevent any more bad shit that the radical Republicans had planned if they won all the recall races last week.  You just know, if that had happened, they would have called a special session, like, yesterday to jam more ALEC/Koch/Bradley-generated crap through their obedient caucuses. As it is, the petty, power-clutching Republicans won't even allow the Senate to convene to organize under the new leadership the Dems won last Tuesday.  In this poisonous, tyrannical environment, nothing coming out of the national-joke Wisconsin legislature for the remainder of this year is a very good thing.  As much as the increasingly right-wing Journal Sentinel likes to berate the recall process as "a waste of time and money", the Senate recalls have resulted (for now) in the end of unchecked Republican power in Madison.  Taking the Senate back through the recall process was not "a waste of time"; it was a monumental, historic and very useful accomplishment.

As for the Recall Walker effort, there are a lot of reasons it met with such disastrous results. Most of them, sad to say, lie right at the feet of the recall organizers and the Wisconsin Democratic Party.

There is only one question that should have been asked as the one-year anniversary of Walker's sad ascendance approached -- are we sure we are going to win this thing?  If the answer from the goddamn consultants (more about them later) was "we don't know" or anything less than a resounding YES, they had no business starting the process of circulating the petitions.  I'm guessing there was quite a conflict between the Wise Men in the DNC offices and the enraged cheeseheads here.  The national party showed from the beginning that they had no stomach for this fight; not because they won't fight, but because they could see this result coming, and probably advised the locals to skip it.

Perhaps spurred more by passion than reason (albeit very valid emotions and many very good reasons), the Wisconsinites surged ahead anyway.  It may well be that they had some polling way back then indicating high Walker negatives and a possible win.  But they should have been able to see the Citizens United fueled, talk-radio enabled, Journal Sentinel encouraged shitstorm coming.  And, if they didn't have a plan and a candidate that they knew would meet every challenge presented by a win-at-all-costs governor with no morals or scruples and access to more money than god, the state party leadership should have spiked it and focus on taking back the Senate -- which they accomplished anyway, almost as an afterthought and despite themselves.  That might not have stopped an independent movement to recall the most radical, destructive governor in Wisconsin history, but some damage to the party brand might have been avoided.

OK, so maybe the leadership figured they could not just leave all those people who took to the streets in Madison last year and the millions across the state that have felt the sting of the radical Republican agenda hanging.  Perhaps they felt they needed to follow through on the spontaneous outcry from February 2011 to try to recall Walker, win or lose.  Fine. Once in, though, the recall leaders and the party proved sadly inept.

There was an inkling of much they had their heads up their ass early.  I have been told by people who know these sorts of things that the party leadership went "on bended knee" to try to convince their preferred candidate to run against Walker.  Yes, it was a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin. No, it wasn't Russ Feingold.  Apparently, everyone's first choice to take back the governor's chair was...Herb Kohl.  Now, I love me some Herb Kohl.  He has represented progressive Wisconsin effectively for 24 years in Washington and is a sweetheart of a guy.  But, politically, he's done.  At 77, Kohl is hardly the vigorous candidate we would need to go against the Walker machine.  If he wanted to do us all a favor, Kohl would have just run again for his senate seats and spare the indignity of Wisconsin being represented by both rodeo clown Ron Johnson and, possibly and ominously, Eric Hovde.

The find-a-candidate miscalculations didn't stop there.  I was told back in December by one of the prime movers of the recall movement that the candidate would be -- no doubt about it -- Kathleen Falk.  I also like and respect what I know about Falk.  In fact, her campaign set up phone calls with various political bloggers back in January or so, and I had a very interesting conversation with her.  It turned out we had a lot in common as far as law schools, public-interest lawyering, etc.  Her fire-in-the-belly and enthusiasm for the mission to oust Walker was palpable and she turned out to be a much better candidate than I expected.

After that conversation with Falk, I held off on putting up a post titled "Tom Barrett for Governor" long before he got into the race.  At the time I was writing that post in my head (where so many posts go to die), the Falk campaign had just come out with its declaration that, if she won, she would veto any budget bill that did not have the re-institution of collective bargaining rights for public employees in it.  It was foolish for the unions to insist on that kind of promise and foolish for Falk to agree to it.  The promise fed right into the right-wing lie that the recall effort was all about the unions (which it wasn't) and made her look like a puppet (which she wasn't).

Eventually, Barrett jumped in and he and Falk actually waged a fairly positive campaign against each other while keeping the focus on the need to dump the radical Walker regime.  In the primary, Barrett beat Falk soundly -- even in Dane County -- the former rivals joined forces, and it was left to Barrett face Walker and try to save the state.  It was not to be, and I'm unaware of anyone claiming Falk would have done any better.  If anyone is saying that, they're crazy.

Barrett may have got thumped anyway and hindsight is 20/20, but there were many bad choices made by the goddamn consultants running the campaign after the primary that may have made a difference.

More about that in Part 2.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Panic In The Suites

There is panic in the suites of the Republican brain trust in suburban Washington DC that drives radical Republican governance throughout the nation.  Tomorrow, all of their devious lies and machinations are about to be put to the test by the people of Wisconsin, one vote at a time.

Although the forecast for Tuesday is for more beautiful late-spring Wisconsin weather, in the dark caverns of their twisted minds and souls, a storm of spontaneous Democracy has them battening-down the hatches and preparing for the worst. For them -- the filthy monied interests of pollution and profiteering -- the uncontrolled masses heading to the polls to consider turning their star flunky Scott Walker out of office is something they tried to stop. Failing that, since then they have tried to twist and manipulate the process by using their apparently unlimited resources to churn the issues into unrecognizable Walker-friendly mush. 

Using incredible amounts of money on fake "institutes" and media ads; the incredibly free, unlimited access to deliver their message-of-the-day on puppet talk radio; and the incredulous gullibility of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board to full effect, the powerful special interests that bought Scott Walker's services years ago have had their way with developing the "issues" and driving the debate throughout the recall process.  And yet, their Boy Governor remains in a margin-of-error tie with Tom Barrett in the last major poll of the campaign. And the voters of Wisconsin will have the audacity tomorrow to take it all away from them.

It's not like they didn't try to make it harder for the Average Joe and Josephine to do just that.  One of the first things on the agenda for the radical Republicans once they took over all wings of the Capitol was to engage in that ultimate exercise in voter suppression -- requiring photo ID and other hoop-jumping at the polls.  This is the standard anti-democracy tool in the Republican playbook throughout the country, vote-blocking Democratic constituencies like minorities, the poor and the elderly who might have the temerity to try to affect their conditions through the ballot box.  Unfortunately for the GOP in Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Constitution protects the unfettered right to vote perhaps better than any state constitution in the country. At least until the issue gets up to the state Supreme Court -- currently controlled by a radical Republican majority -- the most vulnerable among us won't have to scramble to attain acceptable credentials to vote in the polling places they have frequented without hassles for years.

And it's not like they are not going to try some intimidating monkey business on election day.  Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is sending out assistant AGs and special agents of his Justice Department to Democratic strongholds on election day in a blatant attempt to intimidate voters. Along with hundreds of other "observers" from silk-stocking law firms like Michael Best and others, who knows what kind of tricks the Republicans have up their sleeves to make Election Day more complicated for certain voters than it should be.  The Democrats will have their Election Protection Team in place throughout the state (alas, although I've enjoyed the privilege of serving on the Team in the last several election cycles, other duty calls in the Courthouse this week), and we should know by early Tuesday what the GOP has up its dirty sleeve. 

The bottom line is we want everyone eligible to vote.  They don't. We protect the vote. They try to suppress it.  The participation of an informed and engaged electorate is the greatest threat to Republican rule -- especially the ruthless, uncompromising, divide-and-conquer variety practiced by Walker and his ilk in Madison.

As a trial lawyer, the most excruciating moments are when the trial is over, the closing arguments have been made and the jury goes into its protected space to deliberate.  Second thoughts about strategy, evidence and arguments are inevitable and irrelevant as the jury conducts its deliberations in secret and on their own terms.  Confidence about what it should do turns to fear of what it might.  A client's fate out of our hands and in those of 12 honest-and-true jurors. So it is for the Republicans who, for the first time since Walker and the radical Republicans took the Capitol in 2011, will lose all control over what happens next.  They justly fear the average Wisconsin citizen in the private space of a voting booth, his/her pen poised over the candidates names, connecting an arrow or filling in a circle, voting to take the state back.

In the end, it galls Walker's Republican overlords in Washington that they have to deal with the unwashed masses at all.  That their power attains only in the consent of the governed drives them crazy.  They never wanted this vote to happen and, despite their false confidence, they don't know how it's going to end.  They don't welcome -- they fear the people's judgement.

Let's do everyone a favor and make their wildest nightmares come true. 

Saturday, June 02, 2012

If We Knew Then What We Know Now

A proposed script for a last-day, last-minute Barrett spot.  All rights released to anyone who wants to use it.



"If we knew then...

"...what we know now..."




"We are going to divide and conquer."



FOOTAGE OF WALKER ON A PHONE; Soundtrack of Walker talking to fake-Koch brother...

"Drop the bomb..."





"Sometimes bipartisanship is not so good."
















Saturday, May 12, 2012

Walker's Blue Dress

For all the robotic message discipline he displays whenever his handlers allow him to be exposed to outside air, Scott Walker is actually a fairly chatty guy.

Put him in front of news cameras at a press conference or a public event, and his bland, stilted recitation of the talking points driven into his head can put you to sleep.  But, get him in a room or on the phone with the billionaires he was bought and elected to serve, and he spouts jargon like an excited young pup who can't wait to show them how well he can be a Good Boy, panting and anxious to execute the Grand Plan of his masters.

Democrats have always been at a strategic disadvantage because they tend to do their planning and thinking in open forums, from the bottom-up, with many people and interests in the room, hammering out consensus solutions to government and/or political problems.  On the rare occasion they might try to maintain a little control with Wise Men in a smaller group, they leak like a sieve.

Republican office-holders in the Gingrich/Junior Bush era, on the other hand, take their direction from an Unseen Hand in a nondescript headquarters in Northern Virginia or some place like that, where Karl Rove or a reasonable putrid facsimile issues edicts on strategy and talking points to elected puppets like Walker and lock-step messengers on talk radio, Fox News and the Wall Street Journal.  You are never able to see the bugs and vermin under the GOP rock, as they scheme and plot to fool voters into electing stooges that are willing to enact the bad legislation that allows their corporate bankrollers to continue to pollute, rape and otherwise exploit the unregulated weaknesses of American capitalism.  One of the enormous frustrations with the radical Republican jihad in Wisconsin is that, other than ALEC, you can't tell exactly where they are getting all these bad ideas and who is writing the script.  You just know its not from anyone in Wisconsin.

While the Unseen Hand is never exposed, it can't always control the weak politicians who are hired to carry its water.  So it is with Scott Walker, who has been caught at least twice now with his guard down and his pants around his ankles at the service of the Grand Plan.  Last year, as a result of a brilliant piece of guerrilla journalism, he was caught telling the truth to someone he thought was one of his principal owners, fake philanthropist and real polluter David Koch, talking about how he was going to "drop the bomb" on the State of Wisconsin with his radical disembowelment of public employee unions.  For all he knew at the time, the Koch impostor was just another of the many vested interests looking for a piece of the action -- Walker probably gave the same "feels like Reagan, thanks a million" spiel to a dozen of his wealthy benefactors calling in for the face or phone time with the governor they thought they bought with their enormous contributions to Walker's official campaign or, more significantly, to the off-the-books "groups" that are really the center of the post-Citizens United universe.

Around the same time, Walker was tooling around Wisconsin, sucking up to more local bankrollers like Diane Hendricks. Once again, gone is the reserved, searching-for-the-notes-in-his-head dweeb who appears sparingly in public with a script and a weak smarmy smile on his face.  The Real Walker is a chattering font of verve, excited to discuss his secret designs in what he thinks is the usual safe cocoon provided for him by the likes of Hendricks.

Apparently, though, neither he or Hendricks were bright enough to realize the implications of the camera sitting there, ten feet from their faces, as she greets him at the door.  "Just so you know, nothing I do is going to see the light of day for over another year," film-maker and sudden hero Brad Lichtenstein says. "OK, that's fine," says the clueless Walker before he answers the overheated Hendricks' questions about making Wisconsin a "right-to-work" state by saying that the bomb he was about to drop on public employees was only a "first step", and that he expected to follow the lead of Indiana's Mitch Daniels, who eliminated public employee collective bargaining by fiat before signing a "right-to-work" bill soon thereafter.

As news of the video reached the secret bunker of the Republican Unseen Hand, you could almost hear the Hand slapping his forehead at the idiocy of Walker and Hendricks discussing such things in front of a camera they did not own.  "We train and train and train these people..." he mutters into his scotch as he sends out damage-control talking points to Walker's handlers and the fellow travelers on talk radio.

There is no doubt that Walker and the Republicans were planning on following up the destruction of public employee unions with the "right-to-work" dagger to the heart of all unions.  The bomb dropped on public employees had nothing to do with budget-balancing (the health care and pension contributions could have been imposed by simply taking those items out of those subject to bargaining, leaving the rest in place) and everything to do with destroying all unions and (more importantly) their political influence.

But, when Walker and Hendricks engaged in their happy talk, they could not have imagined the shitstorm that the radical Republican attack on public employees caused -- not only with the employees, but will the majority of state residents.  Given that, they could not now brag about how the private-employer unions are next, since they needed to use them as a wedge -- to "divide and conquer" the union movement, here and throughout the country.

No matter what happens, it seems, you still have idiot, short-sighted local unions like the Milwaukee Police and Firefighters, who are willing to throw their union brothers and sisters under the bus for their own selfish ends. And like this clown (towards the end of the story), Terry McGowan, the business manager of Operating Engineers Local 139, who, when faced with Walker's lies, "was troubled by the footage of Walker with Hendricks, but that he was continuing to take Walker at his word given his public statements and conversations he has had with him." At this point, any union or union member supporting Walker and not actively working to recall him are worse than scabs crossing a picket line.

During the ludicrous effort of another group of radical Republicans to impeach Bill Clinton, there was some, er, material found on a blue dress that ended any question of what had happened in the White House between Clinton and an intern.  The footage of Walker and Hendricks is Walker's blue dress, where the result of his on-his-knees behavior with those who would destroy labor unions and other  institutions integral to American greatness cannot be denied.  The only difference is that Clinton 'fessed up, and Walker continues to deny what the stain on his blue dress means.

Monday, April 09, 2012

The Journal Sentinel Jumps the Shark

An out-of-state right-wing front group, funded by the usual suspects, pulled together a couple dozen lost, confused souls this past Saturday and conducted an informational picket outside the moat surrounding the Journal Sentinel castle in downtown Milwaukee. "Don't believe the liberal media" was apparently the message sent over from the Koch Brothers, via the Media Research Center in Virginia, and you had to wonder what the hell all those people were doing at the headquarters of the biggest supporter of the FitzWalkerstan regime in the straight media.  This is like contraception rights supporters protesting outside of Planned Parenthood. I mean, if you don't know who your friends are...

The phony staged and purchased "protest" comes just when the Kings of State Street are winding up to do the previously unthinkable -- to endorse Scott Walker for governor again

The increasingly right-wing J-S editorial board, under the leadership of the unfortunate David Haynes, has been completely clueless ever since Walker and his obedient legislature "dropped the bomb" on public employees and proceeded to run roughshod over the legal rights, local control and voting rights of everyone else.  When the Brave Wisconsin 14 made the brilliant move of leaving the state to deny the quorum that the GOP jihad needed to continue their destruction of state government, the Journal Sentinel's collective knee jerked and, with the rest of the right-wing media, it spent more than a month screaming for them to come back so that the Republicans could finish the job the Koch brothers bought them to do.   And when the Republicans decided to just go ahead and ram the bill through without the required quorum or notice, well, the newspaper was just fine with that.

But, although they still look down their nose and sneer at the historic efforts of the Brave Wisconsin 14 from time to time, that turned out to be a temporary annoyance to the denizens of FitzWalkerstan and the Journal Sentinel.  There were and are bigger fish to fry in the recalls last year and this year, and the fact that the Wisconsin Constitution allows for mid-course corrections in the midst of radical action by an out-of-control majority acting at the behest of the rich drives the editors of the news sections and the editorial board at the only state-wide newspaper absolutely crazy.

Although the recall process last year has already resulted in a razor thin majority in the Senate (although alleged moderate Dale Schultz has voted for many more bad bills than he stood in the way of) and, now, an even split, leading to a Democratic flip of the Senate in June, moderation and bipartisanship is suddenly the last thing on the newspaper's agenda.  "It's bad enough that recall fever has dragged Wisconsin into the muck of bitter and ugly political contests such as the kind we saw last summer," writes the brooding board in its most recent anti-recall screed on March 24th.

Who dragged Wisconsin into the muck again?  Talk about blaming the victims. Walker and the Republicans use their unexpected majorities to bring in a radical agenda from Washington think tanks to use Wisconsin as some kind of incubator for bad ideas; Wisconsinites of all stripes use a perfectly legitimate recall process to put the breaks on and we're the bad guys?
Even funnier was the line that we have to get out of this "muck" so we can concentrate on more important things like...wait for it...the Republican presidential primary!  Sounds more like comic relief to me.  What this state needs is more Santorum.  Nothing makes me feel more right than watching someone so wrong talk on television.  But I digress...

The March 24th editorial is full of the Journal Sentinel's usual snooty, dismissive attitude towards the recall movement.  The main point of the editorial is to promote messing around with the state constitution, to push for a constitutional amendment (not just a "bill", as the editorial calls it) to restrict recalls to cases of "misconduct in office", whatever that means.  Right now, according to the Kings of State Street, state officials can be recalled they "because someone doesn't like the look of their hair or the dog they own".  Really -- they actually wrote something stupid like that. Technically true, except that no one could get a quarter-of-a-million signatures for something like that.  Hell, Republicans couldn't even manage to get enough signatures to get recall elections against most of the eligible Brave Wisconsin 14 last year -- and none this year.  

This kind of trivialization of the recall movement is typical of the newspaper's editorial stance.  They are apparently just fine with the radical destruction of state government, as long as the party in power was duly elected.  Hey, wasn't the Milwaukee County Board and the County Executive at the time duly elected when they voted for the county pension plan in 2002?  The Journal Sentinel supported those recall efforts. What if the Republicans now in Madison got drunk on something other than power, snuck in the Capitol in the middle of the night and did the same thing?  But internal inconsistency -- especially holding Democrats to higher standards than Republicans -- is what the newspaper does best.

All of that is what we have come to expect in Journal Sentinel editorials in the Age of Haynes.  But the newspaper took a dramatic hard-right turn into the arms of the Bradley/Koch-supported alternative-reality media on Sunday by running a purported "history" of the recall clause on the front page of the opinion section, complete with a photo of Bob LaFollette and the decisive headline "Not what they meant democracy to look like".  Written by long-time well-paid Republican hack Christian Schneider, under the aegis of a Bradly Foundation-funded GOP front-group, the Wisconsin Policy Research "Institute", the immensely inaccurate and misleading piece is presented by the Journal Sentinel -- without an opposing view -- as the definitive word on the intent of those who drafted and passed the recall clause in the 1920s.

Schneider is identified for the J-S readers as a "senior fellow [heh] at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute and author of 'The History of the Wisconsin Recall.'", which makes it sound like a book, but is only a longer version of the same article in a "WPRI Reports" blog post.  WPRI also is not identified as the phony institute and conglomeration of Republican flacks that it is (all you need to know -- editor of its "magazine" and thereby WPRI's Minister of Propaganda: Charlie Sykes). At least when its regular wing-nut columnist Mike Nichols has his say every Sunday (there are no progressives with the same privilege, by the way), the paper tells its readers WPRI is a "nonpartisan conservative think tank".  Which is also inaccurate, since WPRI is highly partisan, but it links Nichols at least slightly to the radical fringe currently poisoning the political environment in Wisconsin with false and inflamatory information.   No such disclaimer for Schneider's piece.

How laughably wrong Schneider is about those who promoted the recall clause is obvious just from reading it.  It is remarkably fact-free and those language he does quote come mostly from the recall clause's opponents.  Prof. Ed Fallone bends Schneider over his knee and spanks him like he deserves in this response on his Marquette Faculty Blog. Before taking apart the "facts" of Schneider's piece and sending it to the Land of Broken Toys, Fallone accurately identifies the Orwellian tendencies of today's Right Wing Media establishment:
In his novel 1984, George Orwell imagined a future world where a government at war could switch allegiances with the country’s enemies and allies and a docile public would accept the revised version of history unquestioningly. Orwell, a keen observer of the modern world, recognized that history itself could be manufactured and manipulated in the service of broader purposes.
But phony facts and false history is all the right-wing has as they scramble to escape the march of progress, diversity and truth.  And the Jounal Sentinel has no business getting into bed with them by running crap like Schneider's piece, basically unattributed and without disclosure of the slanted -- no, upside-down -- perspective of a cheap, dishonest hack; one of those many on the right-wing payroll who are smart enough to know better, but have made a conscious decision to deliver a never-ending stream of lies in the service the Dark Side, for a price.  The placement and promotion of Schneider's piece on Sunday is a new low for the Journal Sentinel, indicating they have not hit bottom yet.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

What They Heard In That Room

I think I have this thing figured out with the Republicans and their formerly-secret redistricting meetings in the Michael Best offices across the street from the Capitol in Madison.

It appears in June and July 2011, each Republican in the Assembly and the Senate was brought into a room at the law firm individually and shown a map of their newly-gerrymandered district.  One of the leaders was there (in the case of the Assembly, Rep. Robin Vos), and probably other people from the law firm and staff involved in the put-the-fix-in-for-Republicans redistricting project.  Vos was given talking points, drafted by an aide who, in a further outrage, now spends most of his time at the firm's offices instead of at the Capitol.

The talking points were meant for Vos to run the meeting.  The first part of the talking points is strictly ass-covering.  Under the heading "General Map Goals", Vos pretended to embrace three of the legitimate, statutory goals of redistricting -- equal population, "properly drawn" minority districts and "compact and contiguous" districts.  You could imagine the winking, smirking and laughter around the room as Vos recited the empty rhetoric so that, if asked, the legislators could all say they were told those were the goals. But, seriously, folks...

Then Vos proceeded to the meat of the meeting -- why the districts were really drawn the way they were.  As far as that's concerned, the talking points are silent on the content of what was relayed, but completely clear about what to do with the information -- don't tell a soul and, by the way, sign this secrecy agreement, just to be sure.  I can hear it now: "Your brains or your signature are going to be on that paper..."  You'd hope that nobody ended up with a horse head in their bed -- this bunch of Republicans are so obedient anyway, probably not necessary.

[UPDATE: Or maybe some were coerced into submission. Check out this nugget from Zac Schultz at Wisconsin Public Television:
According to one lawmaker who asked not to be named, the logic they were given was the maps and the documents would be protected by attorney-client privilege, and the secrecy pledges were needed to protect that. But this lawmaker told me he felt part of the pledge was intimidation, to keep the rank and file from complaining. He was even shown two versions of the map, one more favorable and one less favorable, and was told if he didn’t go along, the less favorable version would become law. 
h/t: Blue Cheddar]

"Public comments on this map may be different than what you hear in this room," the talking points pronounce ominously.  "Previously signed [secrecy] agreement applies to this meeting." Jesus Christ, what the hell were that talking about in there? What was so damn dirty about What They Heard In That Room that they had to move ahead of time to cover it up by pretending a meeting between legislators is entitled to the attorney-client privilege, just because it is taking place in a law office across the street?  If their chief public legal apologist Rick Esenberg is right about how much power they have to gerrymander and design their own future success through redistricting, given the sorry state of the federal and state Supreme Courts, what are they so afraid of? Sounds like a lot of guilty behavior for some awfully guilty people.

Imagine being soon-to-be ex-senator Van Wanggaard, carted into the room and being told that your friends in the leadership and law firm had eliminated all those icky minorities in the city of Racine and instead carved out a special non-urban area  in western Racine and Kenosha counties just for you. (My favorite nugget from the Craig Gilbert piece: "The one section of the city of Racine that's kept in the Wanggaard district is the one where Wanggaard lives." Precious.)  There you go -- from barely winning your "community of interest" Racine County district by 300-some votes in 2010 (and getting creamed in the forthcoming recall), you can come back in November and suckle yourself to all those creamy white breasts in those safe parts of two counties.  You don't even have to apologize for you and your party being such a bunch of pussies you have to run from a fair fight.  Of course you signed the secrecy agreement.  Maybe they'll even let you hang out at the law firm until you "win" "your" seat back.

So many interesting stories from so many formerly-secret meetings.  That sound you heard from the Capitol this week is 76 subpoenas hitting the doors of Republicans in the Assembly and Senate who are going to be asked all about this.  The chance of any of them honoring all that "the truth and the whole truth" crap is slim-to-none, but it's worth a try.  More interesting would be the discussions with the leadership and law firm about how to screw with the Democratic districts -- none of those legislators were invited to Michael Best for so much as a cup of coffee.

Speaking of Michael Best, the Republican law firm that has its mitts all over all three branches of the radical Republican jihad, James Rowen -- who writes the best chronicle of the Walker Horrors on the net -- wondered out loud this week whether Wisconsin lawyers might want to sign a petition to protest the creative legal stunts of the firm.  Well, as someone who represents people accused of sex offenses and homicide, I know that lawyers should not be known by the sins of their clients -- necessarily. On the other hand, isn't having your clients set up shop in the law firm in an attempt to avoid legal culpability (much less open records requests) how the mob does it?

No, Jim, no petitions.  But there is one interesting way available for the Wisconsin community of lawyers to show their contempt for Michael Best giving us all a bad name.  I got an blast e-mail from someone I know in Michael Best asking for the support of one of his partners who happens to be running for State Bar president in an election in April.  Both houses of the legislature, the governor, the Supreme they want the State Bar, too?

The guy's name is Bill White and his resume is fairly innocuous.  For all I know, they may have him up in an office somewhere, doing real estate work or something far away from the political circus his firm is hosting on another floor.  And, in 26 years in the Bar, I have never voted in a State Bar election due to complete lack of interest.

But, this time, I think I'm going to break that pattern and encourage others to do the same.  White's competition for the largely figurehead position is Patrick J. Fielder.  Interestingly, he was Tommy Thompson's Secretary of Corrections before he was a Dane County Judge.  He is now in another silk-stocking firm in Madison (there is a reason I don't vote in these things).  But, what the heck.  He's running against a guy in Michael Best, which is currently the prime legal mover-and-shaker in a state that is being moved and shook by a a bunch of out-of-control radicals.

Pat Fiedler for State Bar President!

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

A Recall -- Not a Re-Do

When I first saw Richard Foster's column in the Sunday paper, my liberal knee reflexively jerked.  So, the Journal Sentinel was running a column supporting its anti-recall campaign from a proclaimed liberal who used to write editorials for them.  What a surprise.

Usually, that's when I haul out my snarky anti-Journal Sentinel wisecracks; remind people that the paper endorsed Scott Walker for governor and has been covering for him ever since; pile on about how it's just like them to sneak behind supposed liberal skirts to hide the true Republican nature of their pro-Walker-by-default position; reminisce blissfully about the glory days of the Milwaukee Journal, when the newspaper took on issues great and small with grace and competitive writers, and Doonesbury ran in the Green Sheet and in color on Sunday...

All true -- but, not this time.  I want to give the ideas in Foster's column the respect they deserve, because the piece is an excellent expression of a sentiment us recall supporters will have to find a way to address.  I have a very dear friend who feels the same way.  Sure, we have a million signatures on our petitions.  But how do we reach the legitimate middle, who hates what Walker and the Republicans are doing and have done, but figure the whole thing is the product of a legitimate election in 2010 that we lost -- badly?  The side that loses the election is stuck with the results until next time, aren't they?

This is not an easy one to answer, but it can be done.  The answer lies in the radicalism of the Republicans in Madison; their drastic restructuring of state government; the seizure of control away from local governments; the dictatorial process used by ramming legislation through without a quorum, in the middle of the night, without regard to the rights of the minority (and, as we now know, with signed secrecy pacts to protect their illegal deliberations); Republicans taking their marching orders from right-wing think-tanks in Washington, rather than from their own Wisconsin hearts.  And, yes, the deliberate destruction of the historic and positive collective bargaining relationship between public employees and their employers.

We can't assume that everyone "gets it", this need for recall that has been so obvious to the rest of us since Walker, in his words, "dropped the bomb" exactly one year ago.  We have to make the case to those who should be with us -- to those who hate what the Republicans have done and are doing almost as much as we do but are not convinced a lost election allows a re-do.  What I hope they come to understand is that the recall movement is not an attempt at a re-do.  We need to convince some that the recalls are a legitimate response to the radical actions of legislators and a governor with an extreme agenda, the likes of which this state has never seen.

As much as I respect his overall concerns, Foster is off on at least one point.  The standard for recall under the Wisconsin constitution isn't anywhere near the "high crimes and misdemeanors" required to remove a president under the U.S. Constitution, and it shouldn't be.  Leaving aside for a moment that we may well get there with Walker, as the vultures circle the political operation he at least condoned in his county executive office, there are no such notorious prerequisites for recall under the Wisconsin Constitution.  The only thing required is one-fourth of the number voting in the last election to sign petitions indicating they want one.  Foster is right that recall should be "an extraordinarily rare and grave step". But he's wrong when he writes "You don't remove an officeholder before an election simply because you disagree with his or her official acts." Well, you can and you do.  It depends on the "acts".  Just ask Tom Ament.

In a way, Scott Walker is just the figurehead for a perfect storm that has led to disastrously bad governance.  He wouldn't be in the political predicament he is now if both houses of the legislature hadn't also flipped from Democratic control to an obedient cadre of similarly bought and schooled radical Republicans who were willing to rubber-stamp his drafted-in-Washington agenda.   Even with control of both houses of the legislature and the governor, the Republicans could have driven a moderately right-wing agenda without running roughshod over the loyal opposition like they were irrelevant gnats.

You'd expect them to do stupid things like concealed-carry, Photo ID, giving tax breaks to the rich, raising taxes on the poor, making it harder for regular people to sue the GOP's giant corporate constituents and try to make it easier for mining companies to dig 4-mile wide holes by weakening our historic environmental protections.  I mean -- they're Republicans -- bad government is what they are paid to be there for. But it's quite another thing to ramrod the most radical versions of all of that, plus everything in the right-wing handbook, as if Wisconsin were some kind of Laboratory for Bad Nut-Right Ideas.  Which is just how the right-wing Washington think-tanks thinks of us.

I was just thinking today when I was reading about the outrageous GOP secrecy agreements Republicans were required to sign to hide the true intentions of their hyper-political redistricting map -- Who ARE these people?? More to the point, who do they THINK they are?  Really -- trying to make a meeting of the legislature protected by attorney-client privilege? It's one thing to have control of the entire Capitol building -- it is quite another to swing that power like a bludgeon, without regard for or compromise with a large and legitimate minority in the legislature and an outraged majority in the rest of the state.

And then there is the end of local control on what have always been local issues.  Walker could have just taken collective bargaining rights away from state employees outright -- he alluded to doing that between the election and his inauguration.  But he did so much more than that.  He took away local control from every local unit of government -- including school boards -- by dictating that they can no longer engage in meaningful collective bargaining with their employees (the remaining "right" to bargain wages only, up to the rate of inflation, is a joke)  or allow their employees to have union dues deducted from their paychecks like the United Way, even if they ask for it.  Threatening the cut-off of state funding if they don't comply, the Heavy Hand of the State now limits the ability of schools to run referendums even if, as a community, the voters want to fund their schools better.

This goes far beyond what he had to do to get the health insurance and pension contributions he dictated. All Walker and the Republicans had to do is pass a law saying that pension and health insurance contributions were no longer subjects of collective bargaining for public employees.  There would have been a lot of noise, sure.  But what they did instead is use the desired health and pension changes as an excuse to destroy organizations that have done nothing but promote labor peace within public employment sector for the past 50 years, and their mostly positive relationship with the school boards and public employers they bargained with.  The only reason for this was to advance the national right-wing agenda to destroy public labor unions.  The decimation of the public unions does nothing to solve any fiscal problem -- it is all about power and destroying a perceived enemy of the Republican agenda.  Like so many of the actions of the radical Republicans in Madison, it had nothing to do with finances or good government and everything to do with a mad power grab.

As Wisconsin citizens, we don't have to put up with that kind of radical, unchecked governance for four years.  The recall process gives us the option, if we can meet the heavy burden of gathering 540,000 some-odd signatures (better -- we doubled it), we have the right -- no, the responsibility -- to try to stop the bleeding.  Some of what the Republicans are doing in Madison could have been predicted but so much of the worst stuff could not.  The first recalls last year have already served to moderate the Republican onslaught by carving the Republican margin in the Senate to one vote and making the senators now facing recall to think twice before rubber-stamping the rest of the right-wing agenda (see the hesitance of the Senate to approve the Assembly's attack on the environment in the mining bill).  In this year's recalls, the Senate will almost certainly flip -- and then the radical Republican revolution is over, whether Walker prevails or not.

This is the way it should work, I think.  The Madison Republicans have definitely gone too far in too many areas, and now Walker, Kleefish and the 4 senators will have to face the public in a recall election they brought on themselves.  Richard Foster and my good friend may continue to think that, as an electorate, we get what we deserve for what we let happen in 2010.  Elections have consequences, sure; but so do radical actions taken after the election.  I hope they and others come to believe that the extreme nature of the Republican agenda calls for an extreme remedy -- RECALL.

At least Foster admits that he's not going to go into the recall polling booth, hold his nose, and vote for Walker to survive, just on the general principle that there shouldn't be a recall in the first place.  He says he'll probably vote to recall him, if it comes to that -- and I think my friend will do that too.  We'll appreciate and count their votes.  But we really need their support.


Hey, we might even be doing Walker a favor.  If, with the ten of millions of dollars of out-of-state money he is going to be able to spend to lie his way out of this, he survives, the ridiculous Rebecca Kleefish almost certainly will not.  Sure, he'll have to deal with a Democrat as lieutenant governor, but at least he'll be rid of that albatross around his neck.  Maybe he'll even thank us later.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Excuses of the Doomed

The screeching voices of the radio right have been mostly silent about the alleged criminality in Scott Walker's County Executive office.  Apparently, the defensive talking points have yet to be developed and the well-paid Republican mouthpieces on the radio just don't know what to do about it, as the dirty water circles down the drain of his soon-to-be short-lived governorship.

So they squawk about a few recall petitions that seem a bit off as if it proves massive fraud and partake in a few of their other usual and tired diversions.  They don't seem to have any problem going after an African-American Milwaukee County supervisor allegedly accepting a small bribe in a simple sting operation and pretending that's the End of Times.  But, when it comes to skilled prosecutors closing in on their favorite puppet-governor for putting active political fundraisers on the county payroll and in his office suite -- complete with a separate wireless router and other hardware to try to hide their activities -- well...crickets...

Into the vacuum steps Bradley Foundation beneficiary and blogger Rick Esenberg.  Swinging his supposed academic credentials like they mean something to anyone (which is always and only, sadly, the Journal Sentinel), the once "visiting", now "adjunct" (read: part time) Marquette law professor has taken it upon himself to publish several think pieces on his blog lately, presenting an extremely amateur, scattershot legal defense of the charged Walker political operatives and generally ruminating about the supposedly dubious need for criminalizing of political behavior in government buildings in the first place. 

It goes without saying that, in a game of What If A Democrat Did It, Esenberg and the other members of the scripted right-wing megaphone universe would be exposed as hypocritical frauds. A Democrat caught doing the same thing would already be in jail, at Esenberg's insistence.  But, if it's one thing the well-funded right-wing Walker apologists are, it's shameless.

Esenberg first dipped his toe in the water of "analysis" of the criminal complaint against Kelly Rindfleisch on January 27th, looking down his elitist nose at this whole notion of criminalizing any behavior that is can ever be attributed to a Republican.  "I continue to dislike dealing with this type as a criminal matter," he snoots, even after admitting, yeah, well, fundraising, that's like a bright line.  And, charged as four felonies, I mean, that's just too much for him.

After flirting with "what's the big deal" about this Big Deal, he moves on, without any proof whatsoever, to attack District Attorney John Chisholm for daring to bring the charges.  "It [the law] leads to the threat of partisan use of the prosecutorial process...the timing - on the eve of a recall election..." he says of Chisholm, who is and always has been totally beyond reproach. Then, after that unfounded hit-and-run, he lurches into imaginary "they all do it" fantasy. "What would you find if you subjected the offices of Tom Barrett, Jim Doyle or Kathleen Falk to this kind of scrutiny?" Well, probably, you'd be pretty bored.  And you certainly wouldn't find their staffers blatantly fundraising for favored candidates 25 feet from the boss's desk.

At this point, if I'm Esenberg, I realize I'm writing circular nonsense and I either hit delete and start over or at least quit while I'm behind. But, no.  "There is still nothing that implicates the Governor in anything," he writes hopefully.  Wrong.  As we have discussed, the one e-mail in what is truly a fascinating complaint attributed to Walker, written to the head of his Courthouse operation while he was supposedly (heh) Director of Housing (if you asked Tim Russell a housing question, what are the chances he'd be able to answer it? Not much.), telling him to cool it (and, according to the complaint, many things cooled the same day) is all you need to know about who was in charge and who wanted things done exactly the way they were doing it -- until discovered, that is.

The first post ends with a whimper, not a bang, with rote speculation about the widespread use of the kind of separate campaign IT infrastructure that Russell installed in Walker's office suite in the Courthouse. "I wonder how many public officials use this or other tactics in an attempt to engage in communications that won't be subject to open records requests," he wonders.  Well, how about "none"?  This comment is interesting -- how does he know the secret infrastructure was "an attempt to engage in communications that won't be subject to open records"?  Remember, Esenberg is a proud member of the Republican legal brain trust that brought us Act 10 and so many other wonderful products of the Walker regime, including various defenses to the Brave Wisconsin 14 leaving the state.  Perhaps he was consulted ahead of time about how they could get away with fundraising on the taxpayer dime and gave them lousy advice.  Again.

In his second kick at the same cat in the next post, Esenberg elaborates on the "sure they did it, but who cares" meme.  He first declares that whatever Rindfleisch and Wink (and Russell and probably Walker) did are technical violations of the law rather than "a threat to the republic".  "The offense here is malum prohibitum (wrong because prohibited) rather than malum in se (intrinsically wrong)," he declares.  Sez who?  Besides throwing around Latin phrases (the last refuge of the legal writer trying to impress -- I haven't used Latin since I was an altar boy in second grade [pre-Vatican II] and certainly never in court, lest the laughter from judges and DAs drown out my argument), setting up a separate IT infrastructure to escape the discovery of your illegal fundraising while on the County dime -- especially if on of you were granted immunity in the caucus scandal and another (Walker) was one of Scooter Jensen's closest associates in the legislature at the time -- is certainly boldly, proudly and intrinsically malum in eff-ing se.  Besides, the distinction is legally irrelevant -- except when you get to sentencing.  Let Walker make that case when he gets there.

Almost as amusing and pathetic as Esenberg's excuse-making is the appearance of "school" "choice" whore George Mitchell in the comments section.  Besides arguing that we should legalize all forms of politicking and fundraising in public offices (whatever happened to the supposed conservative protection of the public dollar?). Mitchell laughably alludes to dark secrets he knows from a time long ago when some people foolishly let him in the room, smearing various Democrats without providing any detail.  "[Journal Sentinel Managing Editor] George Stanley was so surprised and offended by what I knew and did he said I was 'lucky the statute of limitations had expired,'" he claims.  While I wouldn't be surprised if Stanley said such a thing -- he and his paper have been buying too much of Mitchell's "school" "choice" bullshit for years, I don't know why he wouldn't fall for this load too -- the necessary discussion of the political ramifications of official acts is a far cry from spending hours and days in the County Executive suite sending (literally) thousands of e-mails arranging the grand and minute details of fundraisers (drafting invitations, even) for Walker's favored lieutenant governor candidate. The funniest line of all is Esenberg writing "George's views can't be easily dismissed."  Hilarious.

Although he gets paid well to be an apologist for anything the Republicans do or get caught doing, I don't envy the heavy task Esenberg has taken upon himself.  This is a tough one for the Walkerites to crawl out of, and they know it.  Luckily for Walker, Esenberg isn't really offering him legal advice -- he's just helping the Republicans soften up the public for the very real possibility of a Walker indictment by putting a legal gloss on a sow's ear.  It's a partisan prosecution, it shouldn't be criminal, everybody does it -- whatever works, the facts be damned.  

Walker himself isn't fooling around.  He's got a real criminal defense lawyer now -- Mike Steinle was in my Trial Ad class in law school and is one of the best in town.  Walker is going to need all the real help he can get.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Walker Haunted By The Ghost of Frank Wills

Courthouse security was not what it should have been when Scott Walker was pretending to be Milwaukee County Executive and in deep in the throes of his mad clawing to become Wisconsin's first Koch-bought governor. In one of the many actions found to be illegal under his grandstanding, worthless term, in early 2010, Walker declared an "emergency" and laid-off the fine County employees who man-ed and woman-ed the entrances to the Courthouse in favor of low-paid rent-a-cops from Wackenhut, the executives of which were -- naturally -- political contributors. 

I mourned the loss of the familiar faces that greeted me at the doors of the Courthouse every morning when it happened.  In short order, the head of the Wackenhut Courthouse effort was found to have a bunch of criminal convictions and had to be replaced. And, in January 2011, an arbitrator ruled, not suprisingly, that Walker's privatization stunt was illegal and ordered the County employees reinstated, with back pay.  By then Walker had escaped to the Capitol in Madison, far from where he would be held accountable and from where anyone could ask how he could defend his costly made-for-campaign pose.

At the time, the failed effort to farm-out the security of the courthouse seemed like just another attack on public employees, something we have now come to expect from the most anti-middle class governor in Wisconsin history.  But – maybe something else was afoot.  Perhaps the turning over of courthouse security to near-minimum wage, part-time amateurs was designed to deliberately make the courthouse less secure, so that, when the Walker campaign IT people were let in in the middle of the night to install the separate server and wireless, they would be less likely to be discovered monkeying around in the County Executive suite.

Or not -- this theory may be giving Walker too much credit for devious design. I think the security detail clears out of the courthouse after 5 p.m. anyway, although you’d think maybe at least one person works the second and third shifts, checking doors and listening for odd noises in the night.  If so, what do you think the Milwaukee version of Frank Wills would think coming upon people with black bags, computer equipment and screwdrivers in Scott Walker’s office in the middle of the night?

Frank Wills, you’ll remember, is the security guard in the Watergate building who noticed tape on a door in the complex and eventually found the Nixon burglars cowering under desks in the DNC office, caught in the act of trying to bug Larry O’Brien’s phone.  It’s never been at all clear what the paranoid Nixon campaign thought it would learn by the wiretaps, but Frank Wills’ brave exercise in securitizing eventually resulted in the exposure of a criminal president and his removal from office one step ahead of certain impeachment and conviction.

Imagine what courthouse security would find, if they were touring the third floor on the night the hardware was installed.  No doubt, someone with real credentials would be there to shoo them away; Russell, Nardelli, Rindfleish – perhaps Walker himself.  You can almost see the stunned looks on the faces of the installers when faced with a real security guard in uniform.  “Just fixing some wires and stuff, nothing to see here,” they would claim while the security guard runs through the catalog of known county IT personnel in his head.  None of those folks look familiar.  Hmm...

Oh, stop, this ain’t Watergate, they’ll say.  Nixon was senselessly bugging the opposition; Walker was prophylactically debugging himself.  But, as always, it’s the cover-up that sinks the ship.  In Walker’s case, he was covering up ahead of time – trying to prevent the discovery of the full-time campaign operation being run from the County Executive’s office by outrageously creating an entirely separate IT infrastructure.  To pretend he didn’t know about the IT setup and intense campaign activity of his staff is ridiculous, especially considering his e-mail to (significantly) then-Director of Housing Russell. "We cannot afford another story like this one," he wrote to Russell.  No kidding.  As it turns out, he couldn't even afford that one story, once DA John Chisholm and his excellent staff started following the leads.

Walker’s entire time as County Executive had nothing to do with managing Milwaukee County and everything to do with his lifelong ambition to be the governor.  He would send up absurd budgets that were immediately rejected and redone by the grown-ups on the County Board.  He used his limited power to strike tough-guy poses, like the illegal security privatization scheme.  Nothing was done without both eyes on the governor’s race, whenever he got his chance.

Milwaukee's version of Frank Wills never got the chance to discover the dark-of-night hardware installation in the County Executive's suite.  Walker's undoing will be a combination of his own staff's lameness (Darlene Wink just had to post those comments on JSOnline, didn't she?), his and his campaign's arrogance that they could get away with such a thing as rigging a separate IT infrastructure and the quiet, patient competence of a DA following the trail.  No amount of lame excuse-making from the usual suspects will protect his sorry ass (Esenberg: "I continue to dislike dealing with this type as a criminal matter." Oh, Please.)  There is the now-more-likely recall, of course, but that is the least of Scott Walker's problems.  He may have to fight to try to stay out of jail.  Couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Illusory Tenant Has Left The Building

Sad news from the blogosphere.  Just when we need him most, Tom Foley has headed off to gloriously greater climes, taking a good job in an exotic location and leaving the rest of us to fend for ourselves as the denizens of FitzWalkerStan kick and scratch and cheat to try to maintain their ungodly grip on Total Power. In a typically short, obtuse and self-effacing final post, he leaves us only with the glorious solo piano of Art Tatum playing "Over the Rainbow".  Which is where Foley is going, by the way.  I've seen pictures.

With all due respect to everybody else who is trying to make some sense and points with their various blogs out here, nobody holds a candle to Tom.  He is consistently brilliant, hilarious and right on-the-money.  A king of the short-form post, when he puts his mind and time to it, he can write a devastating long treatise on complicated legal subjects that entertain as well as destroy the pompous musings of a certain part-time law professor.

Speaking of Rick Esenberg, the latest winner of the Right-Wing Money Sweepstakes (his newly-minted "Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty", neither an "institute" nor much interested in law or liberty, is funded by the Bradley Foundation and other right-wing moneybags) tries to counter Foley's arguments by personally attacking him in his latest post.  The well-heeled Esenberg botches a snarky aside to Foley, writing nonsensically about a "law school graduate (and suspended lawyer)" without naming him, before lurching into yet another defense of the embarrassing middle-finger-to-ethics Justice Michael Gableman and how he didn't get the free legal services from Michael Best that he certainly got.  What are you going to believe, says Esenberg -- me, or your lying eyes?  Esenberg is obviously going to keep trotting out this line of apologist bullshit until somebody believes it.

Pointing out Foley's irrelevant state bar status is the kind of politics-of-personal-destruction diversion you expect from right-wingers who are losing the argument (which Esenberg always is).  The fact is that Tom -- who I have had the pleasure of showing around the Courthouse and could tell would have been a good lawyer if someone would have just hired him -- let his law license lapse when he realized he was moving on to better things.  The fact he isn't a current member of the bar doesn't affect his well-reasoned arguments on any subject one bit.  The fact Esenberg would resort to catty asides like this shows how weak he thinks his doomed position really is.

Tom Foley regularly had the goods on both Esenberg and Gableman -- not to mention Walker, the Fitzgeralds and everyone else making our lives miserable, locally and nationally.  I have encouraged him to use the wonders of what he called "the internets" to stay in touch with Wisconsin politics in this critical year and keep posting. Alas, he has declined, for now, not knowing the state of technology in his future slice of Paradise and figuring he'll be too busy working in the bright tropical sunshine.  But I hope he finds some time to share with us his unique and brilliant perspective.  Or at least drop us a line from time to time.

I'll miss his friendship and his bass and keyboard playing in my ad hoc semi-annual bands (we kicked ass on "Like a Rolling Stone" at Nod to Bob this year).  We'll all miss everything else -- his essential contribution to the Wisconsin conversation.  Terribly.