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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

DNC RIP: 1848 - February 16, 2011

"There was madness in any direction, at any hour. You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning."

Hunter S. Thompson, 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' 

Well, almost . . . I'm not too confident about defeating Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's junta in the near term.  In fact I'm detecting a growing rumble that suggests the earth is about to crack open within the next week and swallow the Madison Uprising whole.  However, two other points seem equally clear to me: 1.) If it does, it will likely drag the DNC to Hell along with it; 2.) The DNC's demise may not be all that great a loss for Richard Trumka and Jerry McEntee--or the American people.

                       Richard Trumka, President AFL-CIO                                              Jerry McEntee, President AFSCME
I'm only one lone blogger, an overfed garden gnome with a bad haircut.  I can't possibly hope to convey to those outside of Wisconsin the full brutal glory and incendiary bolts of sheer lunacy roiling through the state right now.  In part because I have heretofore lacked the resources and the contacts to be at the epicenter and in greater part because the whole awesome mess is so overwhelming that I think it'd be beyond the capability of a dedicated full-time team of bloggers to bring home the sublime scale of the thing. 

For your consideration, is a mere list of highlights that I hope can convey a few of the dominant notes within the chaos and existential terror reverberating through this moment in history:

Betrayal . . .
. . . of populism
Revealed:  Hidden within Tea-Party Governor Scott Walker's "Budget Repair Bill" is a provision surrendering unilateral determination of premiums, coverage and eligibility over Medicaid to the governor's Department of Health Services--in effect, creating the "Death Panels" the Tea Party fantasized about within the federal Health Care Reform Act.

Revealed:  The bill also conceals a provision usurping as the exclusive prerogative of the executive branch the right to unilaterally negotiate in total secrecy the sale of public assets to private interests.

Revealed:  Walker is expected to announce that he will use Wisconsin jobs as bargaining chips in his bid to take away the unions’ bargaining rights:  the layoff of hundreds of workers unless his bill is passed exactly as he proposed it, without alteration.  A far cry from his pledge to create 250,000 jobs made while he was campaigning.

      . . . of traditional party loyalties
Far from ‘putting on a pair of comfortable shoes and joining in the picket line’ with the union supporters that made his 2008 election possible, Barack Obama resisted for almost two weeks before making even this feeble wet comment about the slaughter the constitutional rights of his constituents.

Rumors circulated on Facebook and Twitter around 6:30pm local time on Sunday February 27th that Dale Schultz, a Republican senator, had defected and committed to vote against the bill.  There were even YouTube clips circulating, purporting to contain audio of the defection and the protestors’ reaction.  However, if this DID happen Schultz soon turned coat again.  Back to square one.

As of late Monday the 28th Facebook was bombarded with by repeated postings of two articles offering markedly different prognostications for the coming days: 

An article by the ICFI explicitly announcing (on what I felt were slender pretexts) the definite end to the Madison Uprising, and a decisive fold by the unions.  Didn’t seem to jive with emails I’d personally received from the AFSCME to join protests in Madison on the 1st of March.  However it is undeniably true that the protest leaders made significant scale backs in the size of the protest. [5]
A blog posting on Firedoglake, not in overt conflict with the quotes and interviews in the IFCI piece, that seemed to suggest that while the protests were definitely not being cancelled, there may be a growing rift within the union movements:  A local union federation seemed to be actively contemplating a general strike should negotiation attempts fail before 13th March, and a weirdly ambiguous statement by a union local rep asserting that individual union members were welcome to pursue individual actions outside the union framework.

Sum total:  Whether or not the Madison Uprising succeeds in the short term, or is even betrayed by a national union leadership in thrall to the Obama machine, there DOES seem to be a new fissure opening or re-opening within the Left.

Idiocy . . .
            . . . on the “Left”
During a recent Wisconsin Public Radio interview, Tom Barrett, the Democratic candidate defeated by Scott Walker during the last election, gave a free pass to Obama for being AWOL at show time, sharing with us the heartwarming tale of how honored he felt to be admitted into the presence of the “Great Man” himself for a Super Bowl party.  Tom might otherwise have been looked to for leadership of the political affiliation with whom his whole career had been predicated.

          . . . on the “Right”

Scotty Walker:  Well, where do you begin with such a ripe target?  His capacity for stupid is so vast that it makes sense to break it down into several sub-categories:
Fiscal:  Does THIS make sense, during a time of large impending deficits?

Throw away about $60 million in revenue per annum [1]

Split the Wisconsin University System into several smaller educational authorities, thereby multiplying non-value added administrative costs? [2]

Forgo the deferral of $165 million in debt payments for the sake of non-fiscal ideology [3]

Incur, at least by the only estimate I’ve seen to date, AT LEAST $147k of un-necessary policing costs PER DAY by refusing to negotiate with the Wisconsin 14. [4]

Default on a $47 million federal grant in order to pursue his vanity project of formally crushing a union movement has been practically been written off as moribund for decades.

Also, most union contracts with state and local authorities have already been completed for the next two years, reinforcing the fact that the union busting provisions of this bill have practically no fiscal impact within the timeframe contemplated by the budget.

The Constituents:

I could go on literally forever about this one.  Wisconsin people will never disappoint a thirst for stupid, but here is my favorite analysis, according to 64 year-old “businessman” Robert Kleisner from Ripon and ask quoted in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

“ [management and labor are on the same side] . . . that would be like me and my wife negotiating our contract, pure and simple, and that’s wrong.”

As if somehow the two-week, 100,000+ person union marches against this bill in Madison represent the quintessential example of management/worker harmony in action.  But don’t be too harsh on Kleisner:  Ripon is on the edge of Wisconsin’s north central pine barrens, so apart from rampant inbreeding,  the shallow soil isn’t really able to provide the type of mineral nutrition needed to stave off glandular problems of this sort.  I’ve never met or seen Mr. Kleisner, but it’s a fair bet that he’s sporting a goiter the size of a cantaloupe.

Legal:  Even if somehow Scotty still manages to push this bill through legislative procedure, despite polls showing about 2/3 of the state firmly against its Right Wing Power-grab, there are many strong reasons to believe that it cannot be enforced, even if the Supreme Court were willing to overlook its prima facie violation of the constitutional right to freedom of association:

There is ample precedent for the voiding of bills due to the inclusion of irrelevant provisions due to a lack of ‘germaneness’.  I believe we have made generous discussion of the irrelevant if not down-right counter-productive effects littered within this bill.

The fact that the bill made it out of the Assembly at all seems to be the product of a low-grade “Hey what’s that thing over there behind you?” rhetorical tactic employed by Republican Majority Leader Scott Suder at 1:00 am on Friday, the 25th.  Dirty tricks of that creeping level of dishonesty are so blatant that you hardly expect them from a sentient creature.  Certainly four Republican members didn’t; they seemed to be caught in it just like all 25 Democrats were.  Unless of course those four were being used as a decoy of some sort . . . .

The inconsistency of the union busting provisions with ‘Citizens United’ at the federal level. Ironically, Walker’s assertion of the authority to deny collective political rights to union members also directly undermines the conceptual framework underpinning the ability of business corporations to participate in political action.

Potential jail time:  We were initially amused by the gullibility of Scott Walker in conducting a lengthy phone discussion with what he thought was a major campaign patron.  However, the substance of those discussions appears to be an attempt on Walker’s part to solicit advice and funds in exchange for policy influence—which is a direct (and jailable) offense under Chapter 11 Section 36 of the Wisconsin State Statutes.

The Milwaukee City Attorney has released a formal statement challenging the constitutionality of Walker’s bill because it infringes upon the City’s right to independently determine the terms of its contracts.  It certainly does seem ironic that a Tea Party stalwart like Walker is so insistent upon the state usurping the rights of its constituents to freely enter into contracts of its own volition.

Immorality . . .
Did you actually READ any of the stuff up through this point?  Which bits sound particularly worthy of St. Francis of Assisi to you?

Madness.  Sheer madness.  Not on the atavistic scale of Libya or even Egypt.  But impressive by the standards of starchy Midwestern United States.  And certainly not some type of plastic wannabe poser madness put on by the likes of a crappy 1970’s tribute band, but far reaching soul wrenching lunacy.  This protest was not the product of some half baked students looking for the way to pass the time—it was largely coordinated and to a great extent manned by an army of grey-beards who would look more at home on the set of Garrison Keillor’s “Prairie Home Companion” than “Les Misérables”.  Totally against the conventional wisdom that it takes a youth movement to get people onto the streets.

All of this is still up in the air, without any hint of resolution as of the time of writing.  However, events are moving quickly.  I have to concede that dramatic shifts are not only possible but likely before you even get a chance to read this.  Rumors of general strikes to rival the 1970’s barn-burners in the U.K.  Sympathy marches in front of statehouses throughout the U.S.  inspired by Bob Wirch, Chris Larson and the rest of the “Wisconsin 14”, Democratic senators in Indiana have also fled in order to stall strong-arming by that state’s Republican caudillo.
When I managed to get away from immediate maelstrom late Monday I sat down in my flat and made a list of takeaways, even if only as an exercise to calm my nerves and help me get my bearings.  Here’s what I had:
  1.  The gloves are off.  The Right Wing has stopped even pretending that this union busting bill is about job creation or fiscal responsibility.   Even for idiots like Robert Kleisner the choices must be obvious:  stand up with the workers and fight for your rights as free born Americans, or start learning how to suppress your gag reflex and become a Koch-sucker.
  2. Obama has lost any shred of credibility within the Democratic Party base.  Preternatural skills at Machiavellian triangulation may have saved him from the immediate fallout of betraying the anti-war wing in Afghanistan, the civil rights wing with the renewal of the Patriot Act, the foreign policy wing by refusing to sign a U.N. statement censuring Israeli human rights abuses in Palestine, the financial wing by continuing Dubya’s policy of continued bailouts for incompetent banksters and even the fiscal responsibility wing, when Obama arranged a backroom deal to provide millionaire trust fund brats with yet another tax break, despite the vigorous and principled opposition of stalwarts like DeFazio, Sanders and Feingold.  But outright idleness in the face of the destruction of your actual voting base is a bridge too far.
  3. Even should the Dark Arts of political equivocation yield Obama the Democratic nomination in 2012 he will not win.  Politics is about trust and energy.  You don’t get meaningful energy by $1,000 per plate fundraising dinners at the Kennedy Center.  You get it by firing up a network of on-ground volunteers who go knocking door-to-door and create real relationships with people.  Relationships of trust.  And Obama’s unrepented sins are far too grievous and too legion to permit a return to the presidency.
  4. Ironically, the people who apparently DO have their hands on the reigns of the Left’s energies at the moment are influential in the DNC:  Richard Trumka, head of the largest trade union federation in the U.S., the AFL-CIO, and Gerald McEntee, the head of the AFSCME, the federation covering the state government employees at the heart of the Madison Uprising.  And they have ample reason to seize the moment and dethrone Obama.
There are many reasons beyond obvious the gratification playing kingmaker could give their egos, and the deep schadenfreud to be released by the destruction of their hereditary enemy Andy Stern, viewed by many as a turncoat to the labor cause and Obama’s lackey.  Primary in my mind is the existential threat posed to them by Obama’s courting of NAFTA-esque trade agreements in Asia, which it is widely feared will do even further damage to the American union base.
What Are We Doing Back in 1854?
So here’s the situation:  A moribund Left is suddenly revitalized by the closest thing to a popular uprising seen since the summer of 1968.  And it’s linked to a vast ground-level machinery of experienced volunteers and activists.  But far from embracing and harnessing it to further its stated agenda, the DNC limits itself to the release of some belated, flaccid commentaries that read like instructions on adjusting the time on your clock radio.  This is what we call, in the biz, the recipe for a coup.
This HAS happened before.  And in remarkably similar circumstances.  Back in 1854 the progressive affiliation in American politics, the Whig Party, became convinced that its traditional leadership had taken their eye off the central issue of the day, slavery, and had clearly outlived their usefulness.  Corrupt or at least incompetent, the likes of Millard Fillmore and faded war hero Winfield Scott’s failure to address the issue head on lead to a mass exodus by nascent political stars, the likes of future Supreme Court justice Salmon Chase and Secretary of State William H. Seward. 

When enough became too much, small group of disaffected Whigs finally met in a school house—ironically enough, near Ripon, Wisconsin—and joined with labor and members of the populist oriented ‘Free Soil’ Party to found the ‘Republican Party’, dedicated to a progressive platform of infrastructure development and curbing the uneconomical, immoral and inherently undemocratic dynamic fostered by the “Three-Fifths Compromise” that had given slave states over-representation within the House of Representatives.
The new Republican Party took a hiding in the elections of 1854.  They were beaten out by what on the surface appeared to be a vigorous grass-roots movement called the “Know Nothings”—perhaps as much for their equivocal refusal to articulate a coherent platform as well as its participation in anti-immigrant violence. 
However, the startling electoral victories of 1854 soon faded when the Know Nothings’ lack of discipline and vision became apparent.  So much so that it was even feasible six years later for a much despised, horse-faced hayseed name of Abraham Lincoln to sweep both the Republican nomination and the presidency itself.
So the question I have is:  Do Richard Trumka and Jerry McEntee know what fate has thrust into their laps?  Are they prepared to possibly become the founders of a Grand New Party?

[1] Footnote #2 here.
[2] See this Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article here.
[3] See this Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article here.
 [4] Footnote #1 here.

[5] Edited at 3:32pm local time.  The previous version of this story contained reference to the supposed replacement of the Capitol police chief Tubbs with a relative of a Republican senator.  Upon further investigation I was unable to obtain multiple independant sources for this information, all reports appearing to stem from a tweet published Sunday 28th February.  If you have additional information that can confirm or refute that assertion, or even provide additional information on the source of the original report, leave a comment.  I'd love to know.

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