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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

"Herr Prösser?!!": The Madison Uprising to Shift Gears on April 5th
The madness surrounding Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's efforts to destroy trade unionism continues apace, but outsiders are likely to be deceived into thinking momentum of the Madison Uprising has been dissipated from its previous well-defined orbit.  They couldn't be more wrong--and the turnout for Wisconsin's April 5th supreme court contest between Prosser (R) and Kloppenburg (D) will prove that.

Current reports from Madison consistently describe a hard core of about one to two dozen protestors haunting the capitol building these days.  Some Right Wing supporters of the union-busting tactics have publicly taken courage from this decrease since March 11th, when Walker signed the contententious bill.  That, however, would be to focus on the hole, rather than the doughnut, so to speak.

While massive 100+ person rallies like those that continued for 3+ weeks in the capitol building are hugely important for gathering momentum and mobilizing latent energies, they really only represent the tip of an ungodly horror being whipped up for Walker and his supporters in places where it will do some real damage--the home districts of Republican legislators.  Here is but a brief sampling of highlights from the blog TMPDC:

·     The wife of Senator Randy Hopper (R-Fond du Lac) and their household help have signed petitions demanding Hopper’s recall in a very public way.

·    In a related development certain to have impacts on the electoral viability of all the Republican legislators, even if mainly due to their common enrollment in the “Brotherhood of the Bill”, Hopper’s wife explained that the “family-values” senator has been living in an illicit Madison love nest with the staffer of a corporate lobbying firm since may of last year.  The immediate fallout seems to have been the termination of Hopper’s 25 year-old lover from Persuasion Partners, a corporate lobbying firm.  Hopper himself is 45 years old.  Beyond the high pitch of phoniness and hypocrisy it broadcasts, it does also raise questions about the legality of his tenure and vote, considering Wisconsin’s legislative residency requirements[1].  As of March 17, polls showed hopper trailing a generic Democratic challenger by 49% to 44%.  I shall also be on the lookout for any rumours of prosecution of ethics laws relating to Persuasion Partners’ lobbying efforts.[2]
·    Overall, efforts to recall Republicans from other districts appear to be meeting with similar success.  Dan Kanapke (R- LaCrosse) and Luther Olsen (R- Ripon) were lagging in polls as of March 15th.  Indeed, the fury of Wisconsin voters seems to be spilling beyond the boundaries of the original programme to recall 8 Republican senators;  the current total being targeted is 14.  I myself can say anecdotally that I have been very impressed by Democrats' maintenance of strict adherence to ethical guidelines [3].

·    The "progress" of counter-efforts to recall Democratic senators appears to be a bit spottier, however.  I haven't been able to find much reliable data regarding their progress to date or reliable poll figures which might provide some additional insight.  That may be because recall drives don't require interim status reporting under Wisconsin law.  Or it might be a reflection of the lack of enthusiasm of Walker's anti-democratic top-down approach among rank and file voters.  Come to find out that several of the GOP's recall drives were spear-headed by out-of-state consulting firms, which is a no-no under the law.  There seems to have been some hold up in the campaigns whilst they sought an in-state partner to validate their efforts.

·    Recently released figures suggest that Walker's attempted putsch has actually revitalized unions as a political force, a thing that may not have happened if he'd been content to let sleeping dogs lie.  Apparently Democrats have already raised $250,000 more in the seven weeks from February 1, 2011 through March 21, 2011 than they did during the whole of 2010--which defies convention, given the fact that there (were) no regularly scheduled elections for statewide legislative or executive office for 2011. 
However, there is an even more urgent confrontation on the horizon:  The April 5th state supreme court election;  David Prosser (R-Sheboygan) vs. JoAnne Kloppenburg (D- Madison).  Recent events seem certain to shove this thing up to the Wisconsin Supreme Court (at least), and the position of the Republican candidate seems clear:  fearing that his incumbency will be defeated by the anger whipped up by the bill, Prosser along with the rest of the Republicans currently on the supreme court, is pushing to bring the case to the court's review before any successful Democratic challenger can be sworn in.

By now you've surely heard of Walker's continued efforts to up the ante in the already knuckle-biting game of injunction and counter-publication surrounding legal challenges to the union-busting law and extraordinary procedures by which it passed the legislature.  The final outcome still seems murky at this point, but it amounts to Governor Walker daring Wisconsin's courts to enforce their own injunctions; he's ordered publication of the bill despite a court forbidding such publication.  Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) may not be a lawyer, or even one of the sharper knives in the drawer, but he has gone on record stating that publication means the bill IS law, without regard to any action of the courts.  Not exactly the "checks-and-balances" sort of approach you'd expect from a constitutional scholar and limited government advocate, but many people don't really think that Big Fitz actually believes everything that he says; the only requirement is that you believe what he says.

With the myriad of issues surrounding this case is complex, including the legality of passing a bill which is ostensibly vital to the success of the budget plan without the necessary quorum required of budget bills, the lack of sufficient notice given for the vote under Wisconsin's open meetings law, and whether the bill might constitute some sort of violation of the unions' political rights given the U.S. Supreme Court's affirmation of the same in the controversial "Citizens United Case"--and now the revelation that some sitting Republicans may have been ineligible for the seats they held and the bill's publication contrary to court rulings.  I highly doubt that any effort to reach a final determination within Wisconsin's supreme court within one week will be successful.

It is, however, further confirmation, as if any were needed, of the Republicans' willingness to abandon all pretence of transparent, orderly proceeding under the state constitution in order to effect their personal power grabs.  Rather casts them in the light of some comically brutal Prussian burgomeister strutting about in a WWI pickelhaube and abusing his subordinates.  It's all like something out of "The Good Soldier

[1] I'm no lawyer, though I have had some rudimentary legal training.  I have to wonder if Hopper truthfully responded to the required pre- and post-election reports per Wisconsin Statutes 11.20(3)(a) with regard to his living arrangements?  I don't think so.  Chapter 17.03 indicates that a legislative seat is vacated by a member's failure to meet residency requirements.  Bad mojo for Hopper.

[2]My first thoughts are regarding the ability of Persuasion Partners to continue its lobbying activities under Wisconsin Statutes Section 13.68(6) given possible implications of Hopper living in an apartment paid for by one of their employees.

[3]  I received an email setting out the set of guidelines for conducting recall efforts aimed against local Democrats.  These guidelines appear to be zealously communicated and enforced by the groups I've had occassion to visit, not only online, but by trained on-site directors through scheduled education sessions. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Beginning of the End? We Can Only Hope

Previously sympathetic commentators disillusioned by Obama's unchecked lying and fumbling were heartened by the uncharacteristic candour coming from Deputy Secretary of State P.J. Crowley late last week--until he was shit-canned for the same early this week.

But there is still some cause for hope:  Hillary has anounced her own plans to jump ship at the end of  this term as well.  Check out her blunt statements to that effect here.

Is this yet another harbinger of the destruction of Obama's career?  A recognition that the situation is so bad that even the filthiest bilge rats see that it's time to abandon ship? Seems like a reasonable possibility.  Anyone working a political paradigm that relies on unquestioning tribal loyalty to the exclusion of substantive policies the way Obama does should be concerned about the defection of establishment stalwarts.  Very concerned.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg.  There's been quite a bit going on at all levels of the political spectrum--I should not fail to mention the special fireworks being lit in Michigan.  But for the purposes of our discussion here, it's probably more immediately relevant to pass on the rumour being floated around that DNC chief Tim Kaine, may be replaced in the coming months.  Ted Strickland, the man currently speculated to replace Kaine, has a bit of a waffel-y record on business and tax issues, but has gone solidly on the record in opposition to free trade treaties like NAFTA.*

Yeah, early days here.  But encouraging trends seem to be bubbling up from the surface.  It's tempting to imagine that, with the remains of an incompetent establishment no longer blocking the way, the latent energies unleashed at by the Madison Uprising finally have a chance to take on a more coherent and effective shape nationally.

*Incidentally, although PolitiFact Ohio seems to lay out the various elements in the contention clearly enough, they seem to have done a pretty half-assed job in assessing them.  If the author of this piece could believe that the EPI's estimates were effected by it's pro-union affiliation, why could he or she not challenge the impartiality of the World Bank or the U.S. International Trade Commission?  Those last two organizations are not exactly deep undercover as bastions of deep neo-liberal commitments. 

And I seriously doubt the PolitiFact author read or understood the underlying studies very well--because the CBO's stated conclusion regarding reduction in tariffs is directly contradicted by that of the Carnegie Endowment (see linked reports here FN5,p4 and here, esp. fig's 1 & 3 on pp 15 & 16).  The CBO's conclusions about net job movement seem oddly oblivious to the plain fact that the destruction of Mexico's agricultural sector has more to do with the mind-boggling productivity efficiency in the U.S. than its sheer scale.  Mexico's employment losses here certainly did NOT result in massive hiring gains in the U.S.  How could it?  As measured by the ratio between GDP and farm employment, the U.S. went from being just over twice as efficient in 1992 to being over 5 1/2 times more efficient in 2010.  Check out details in this workbook if you care to.

On balance I give PolitiFact Ohio an 'F' for this report.  It's not my job to go around correcting all their failed reports, so I'm not going redo their work here.  I'll just say that PolitiFact did nowhere near an adequate job in assessing these claims.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Face of Responsible Republicanism . . .

Final tally in the Assembly, folks: 53-42, along mostly party lines. However:

1 Republican senator defected--Dale Schultz.
4 Republican assembly members defected - Dean Kaufert, Lee Nerison, Travis Tranel and Richard Spanbauer.

Remember those names; those are the only Republican legislators from the 2011/2012 session that have political careers going forward.

Naturally this is only the beginning of a long legal contest. There are numerous procedural grounds for contesting the legitimacy of this bill that I won't go into here. I've already touched on the U.S. constitutional conundrum presented. I find it difficult to believe that any court would not quickly issue an injunction to prevent implementation, at least pending trial.

Shit's on for real now, boys.

What If They Held A Civil War And The Military Didn't Show Up?

I'm sure you've already heard the news:  Between roughtly 4:00pm and 6:30pm last night, Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald stripped the union-busting provisions of Wisconsin's notorious "Budget Repair Bill" into a stand-alone bill, which as an allegedly non-fiscal bill required a much smaller quorum to floor, and forcibly destroyed trade unionism in the state.

A vote in the assembly is scheduled for 11:00am local time today, 10th March, but nobody seriously expects any significant defection within the heavy Republican majority.

Upon learning of the coup d'état, crowds rushed and occupied the capitol building in violation of Walker's Department of Administration restrictions.  See video here.

Although exempted from the draconian provisions of the bill, it's been clear for weeks that the police and their unions know that it is only a matter of time and opportunity until Walker attempts to destroy their political voice as well.

Clearly the next round of conflict will surround injunctions and constitutional challenges to this extraordinary bill, which surely will be legion.  But Republican Walker's fantastic incompetence and three-week public relations fiasco has provided more than enough evidence to prove that the measures were never intended to address fiscal issues, but solely to destroy the historically Democrat unions ability to organize politically.

Strike action of some kind, maybe even the ledgendary National General Strike, appears to be immanent.  Protests are being organized at county courthouses statewide, as Madison doesn't appear big enough to contain the people's fury at this end-run past constitutional process.

In my mind, the fundamental question becomes: "If the U.S. Supreme Court is willing to uphold corporate political rights for businesses under Citizens United, how will they deny them to labor unions without a tacit admission that our society is held together only by sheer brute force?"

I guess that begs the further question, given police disgust at Walker's contempt for public trust and order:  "What if they held a Civil War and the military refused to show up?"

Monday, March 7, 2011

Still Waters Run Deep: Phase 2 of the Madison Uprising

"The Scream" by Edvard Munch
The differences between Madison, Wisconsin and Tripoli, Libya should be obvious.  The fact that the Madison hasn’t been floated away on a crimson tide of gore should be encouraging—horrors on that atavistic scale happen only where there exists not even the nominal right to redress majoritarian excesses through protest.  And the contrast to America’s experience of 1968 is positive as well; I remind you that movement flamed out prematurely due to inexperience and lack of discipline.  The image created in my mind by this phase of the Madison Uprising is more like that evoked by Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”—the silent edge of a rising shout.
The crowds in Madison seem to have leveled out at a steady 30,000-40,000 per day, according to most reports.  That is a pretty freakin’ huge # when put into context of the relatively sparse population of this section of Wisconsin and personal commitments being made by protesters in order to attend, in terms of time and money.  All the more so when you consider the scanty number of counter-demonstrators that the dilettante Koch brothers have been able to scare up from out of state, even with literally billions of dollars at their disposal.
And the theatre isn't over by a long shot.  There are ongoing recall efforts on both sides.  And beyond recent Hollywood fly-bys, there is a plan for thousands of Wisconsin farmers to show their solidarity with a tractor convoy to the capitol on Saturday, March 12th. 
Nonetheless, it has to be admitted that the two camps have pretty well defined their positions, and the recent encounters between them seem limited to procedural skirmishes rather than the sort of rooftop todeskampf that our infamously short-attention span media crave.  Here are a few of the highlights:
-Courts ruled that Walker’s attempt to close off the Capitol building to protesters is unconstitutional—but also placed restrictions on the hours that protesters may access the building, including a prohibition on overnight stays.
-Authorities discover live ammunition left at the entrance to the Capitol building.  Given his breezy contemplation of hiring undercover goons to start a ruckus within the protesters’ ranks, some speculate that Walker is using this as a black op of some sort to ratchet up the tension. 
-If so, the balance of the evidence suggest that this is a MAJOR miscalculation on Walker’s part.  The peaceful conduct of the protesters was formally commended by a local judge, and the single confirmed incident of which I have become aware seems to have been resolved quickly and quietly with no disruption to the peaceful conduct of the protests.[1]  Although police are dutifully maintaining their mandate to oversee public order, they don’t seem inclined to violate citizens’ rights in the name of Walker’s power grab.  In fact, the police have gone on national record as declaring solidarity with the protesters.
-Senate Majority Leader, Republican Scott Fitzgerald, called for vigilante action to apprehend the Wisconsin 14.  Jim Palmer, the president of a major police union, decries the action as an abuse of power, being neither in accordance with the state’s constitution nor statutory law.
-Walker didn’t really unleash any surprises in his official budget unveiling  last Tuesday, either.  There are suspicions that Walker may have coordinated with Koch in order to bus in ringers to applaud his highness’s speech.   But no surprises.  The substantive detail drawing the most public attention are the devastating cuts contemplated to the state’s education programs—not generally considered a wise workforce development strategy.
These actions all seem par for the course, and few, in the short term, are likely to be swayed out of their current positions.  But that would be to ignore the tremors rumbling beneath the surface, the silent scream rising within.  The opposition is beginning to get organized.  Walker’s stupid, scattershot intransigence has done the single thing that Clinton- or Obama-esque triangulations could never do, which is to meet together and formulate coordinated structures, strategies and tactics to actively promote a truly moral agenda.
Getting’ Organized
I don’t think the terms “Left”, “liberal”, “Democrat” or “progressive” are much use here, because even if they are widely associated in the public mind with the stated platform of the Democratic Party, their high-flying connotations don’t match the recent history of its actual policy.  I’ve written at length about this phenomenon and why I think it spells the end of Obama’s career elsewhere, so I’ll just limit myself here to mentioning that, for the purposes of this article, I intend to refer to as “moral” all aspects of the genuine, since and active promotion of policies supporting what heretofore has been commonly known as the “Democratic” platform.   Feel free to write to me with comment, protest or counter-suggestion at your leisure.
It’s worth reminding ourselves that while the spark that lit this whole conflagration was Walker’s insistence on depriving unions of their collective bargaining rights, as time wore on a legion of other spooks came crawling out of this bill that aroused even deeper public ire and distrust, being total prima facie betrayals of even the Tea Party’s minimalist ideals[2]:  
1.  Destruction of collective bargaining rights.
2.  DHS takeover of Medicaid, which some are calling Walker's de facto "Death Panels"
3.  Severe restriction on women's contraceptive options
4.  The destruction of the Wisconsin educational system, at both the primary and secondary levels.
5.  Scott Walker's $60 million per annum corporate tax give away.
Could any one of these items in isolation have pulled tens of thousands protesters onto Walker’s back daily for over two weeks?   Or sparked similar outrage in Ohio and Indiana?  I doubt it.  Certainly it would not have created a rallying point for advocates of civil rights, peace, fiscal responsibility and economic equity.  In a previous blog post  I wondered aloud whether Richard Trumka and Jerry McEntee, the presidents of two of this country’s largest trade union federations understood this.  I haven't heard anything from them to that effect, but certainly others ARE taking big strides in this direction.
American Dream Movement
On 22nd February a piece by Van Jones in the Huffington Post announced the launch of the “American Dream Movement” by Moveon.Org and others to harness the energy of Madison Uprising into a formal platform and statement of policy goals.  Basically it’s a call to unity and a conscious attempt to avoid the pragmatist splits that peeled off the civil rights, peace, fiscal responsibility and economic equity wings of the Democratic Party under Clinton and Obama.  They, too, appear to be abandoning the tired, co-opted language of the DNC in favor of a purer distillation of their philosophy—MORALITY.  Just what I was groping for in my more experimental meditations posted here and at Disinformation.
I find this to be totally frickin’ aweseome—it could just be the framework that a new alternative party could be built around.  I had pretty much announced the demise of the national Democratic Party in another blogpost, noting that Obama’s worthless inactivity in face of the crisis and the energy Madison had garnered in spite of it greatly appealed to my sense of history and emerging possibility.  I was unaware at that time that the American Dream Movement had already been around for a week previous, yet I still don’t think my article was really redundant since the nascent American Dream Movement appears conspicuously to be missing some key components discussed in my blogpost:  the scale and existential commitment of the unions, and identified leadership. 
The Moveon approach is great; it cleverly leverages the media in a way that is truly responsive to the zeitgeist.  But it is a very informal network of extremely loose affiliations whose effectiveness, many argue, has been diluted by a structure that advocates around individual, specific issues as selected by a plebescite rather than a coordinated long-term plan.  One might be tempted to call it the counterpart to the Tea Party movement in its populism, but I’d say that the Moveon approach, lacking a slate of charismatic candidates of their own, they’re at a severe communications disadvantage.  The American Dream Movement adds a formal platform, but still lacks a formal list of candidates and real physical infrastructure.
Distant Rumblings:  An Awakening Giant or Merely the Re-Emergence of Old Intramural Rivalries?
The unions, however, DO HAVE the physical infrastructure that is needed.  Their problem was an exhausted complacency, given the deceptive appearance of “prosperity” in the economy at large for the last 30 years, gradual erosion of their apparent relevance in the tide of globalism, and the end of vicious internecine warfare between the so-called “Left” and “Right” wings of the movement.  I hope that the general contours of collapsed bubbles and the impact of outsourcing are well enough understood by my audience to preclude the need to address them in depth here.  But if you’re anything like me, you probably didn’t know much about the recent history of the labor movement in the United States or why the International Workers of the World’s (“IWW”) general strike campaign in Madison should shock you.
America is not an environment that has long tolerated radical movements.  My overseas friends might be surprised to hear that, given the truly jaw-dropping stupidity on display by Tea Partiers the likes of Sarah Palin or Christine O’Donnell, but it’s true.  There have been comparable radical bumblers in American history, like the John Birch Society and the Know Nothing Party, but they’ve generally been flashes in the pan, so to speak, because they inevitably offend two core American values:  personal liberties and social mobility.  We’re less than three months into the new session of Congress or any of the state legislative sessions, but recent polls suggest that the Tea Party’s refusal to confront difficult realities during the campaign, and therefore to develop an approach to government respectful of those core principles, is already coming back to haunt it.[3]
And in the eyes of many, the IWW was simply a Left-wing counterpart, par excellence, of the Birchers, a bunch of crazies just as unrealistic in their refusal to accomodate American values.  On the face of it, the IWW’s constitution does seem openly hostile to the notion of social mobility.  They were physically harassed by U.S. government agents for their efforts to oppose American involvement in WWI and they were practically rubbed out of existence by the anti-Communist Taft-Harley Act of 1950.  Today their numbers in the U.S. are estimated at about 900 (i.e., about 0.02% of the AFL-CIO federation and 0.10% of Andy Stern’s “Change to Win” organization, which includes the Teamsters).  Recent achievements include and some organizing some Chicago bicycle messengers.
Yah, I know what you’re saying, “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU WASTING MY TIME WITH THIS IWW CRAP?!  Nine hundred dudes?!  That’s a slow weekend for Paris Hilton!”  But that’s precisely my point:  the truly ideological Left has been so utterly marginalized in this country that top leadership of traditional trade unionism may well be in as bad a fix as the Democratic Party leadership, bereft of much more than a few populist-sounding platitudes that it has no intention of pursuing forcefully. 
I’m not a union guy myself, let alone with any serious access to the top echelons of that rarified crowd, so I couldn’t say to you that this is a universal fact.  Certainly there are more than a few rank and file union members who are willing to vilify individual leaders—Andy Stern, in particular, is seen as being a sellout, closely allied to the unreliable Barack Obama, a frequent visitor to the White House and serving with the desultory National Committee on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.   While that does seem damaging to me, let’s remember that the issues are complicated.  Stern led a major revolt against the AFL-CIO by creating the “Change to Win” federation, peeling off perhaps as many as 5 million members from their rolls in 2005 in an effort to divert priorities towards membership recruitment rather than political campaigning or lobbying.  Although many of the unions that defected to “Change to Win” have since returned to the AFL-CIO, there are some lingering animosities; some say that the AFL-CIO’s reluctance to pursue more aggressive recruitment goals was due to xenophobic reluctance to seriously expand out of its white, rustbelt heartland.
And Madison, February 2011 is where the IWW comes back into the picture, advocating for a general strike.
Posters like these and pamphlets like these have been circulating in Madison, trying to stir up more dramatic action than the well-ordered marches that have regularly taken place on the Capitol these past three weeks.  I myself don’t quite know what to make of them yet.  My first reaction was to dismiss them as an irrelevant self-promotion, given the paltry numbers that the IWW itself is capable of mustering, and the massive practical difficulties confronting any general strike (e.g., their illegality, the high degree of discipline required, the likely depleted condition of strike funds, etc.).  [4]  Remember:  general strikes are attempts to shut down an entire economy, so they’re no small joke.
But now even if the IWW is not really a mover-and-shaker, there IS reason to wonder if a general strike may not be in the offing:  Some members of the traditional labor establishment seem to be rising to the challenge.  According to a Huffington Post article of 3rd March, Kenny Riley, president of a South Carolina longshoremen’s local, was expected to call for a NATION-WIDE general strike during an emergency meeting of various labor representatives in Cleveland, Ohio.  Given what many perceive as decades of neglect of unions and a sclerotic shift to the right by their top leadership, how feasible is this notion?  Could its primary importance, like that of the IWW pamphlets, really be as a signal that a new generation is beginning to challenge the old guard?

[1]  One incident involved the tackling of a Democratic assemblyman, Nick Milroy as he attempted to enter the Capitol building.  However, the matter doesn’t seem to have created any lingering ill will, and Milroy chalked it up to an understandable consequence of the heightened tensions brought on by Walker’s extraordinary security measures and related breakdown in communications in such unusual circumstances.  This explanation is a lot more plausible than outsiders might first think, especially in context of the administration’s refusal to allow fire fighters access to the building in response to an emergency call.
[2] I’ve discussed all of these earlier at this link.  The only item new to me since that time, I believe is Walker’s subterfuge to severely limit contraception options through his takeover of healthcare.
[3]  Authoritarianism and austerity aren’t nearly appealing in reality as they sounded in the abstract:  Nearly two thirds of Wisconsinites believe Scott Walker is being too inflexible with regard to unions.   Nation wide, there seems to be a growing call to increase taxes on the rich closer to their historic norms, to make them “carry their own weight”.
[4] In a previous post (paragraph # 8), I touched briefly on these how these difficulties were reflected in recent news articles here and here.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

An Appeal to Readers: Help Me Update Fact Checking Resources

As I've mentioned several times, events in Madison are moving at an insanely quick pace.  It is an environment where flakey rumours get spread quickly--too quickly.

This blog is resourced mainly to provide analysis and editorial.  Thus, as you'd expect, I am very dependent upon original news sources.  I don't have a huge staff to cover hundreds of miles of ground myself.  The best I've been able to do to date is to clearly cite sources, and to have multiple sources or at least have one source in the traditional media who do have the staff to perform the necessary fact checks.

Of course, given the enormous significance of the issues at stake in Madison, some analysis or comment is still useful before events have settled irretrievably.  Remember:  these protests are about the public's ability to influence state policy; it wouldn't do in every circumstance to wait until it's too late to effect that policy.  I've done my best to be judicious and fair, and as the case applies, publish a clear caveat about the unconfirmed status of the relevant details.

Where necessary I am updating posts and leaving footnotes about the details which have been edited.

So I'm making a formal appeal to my readership to leave a comment beneath this post send me a Facebook message if they feel they have some additional sources they'd like to recommend.  If you guys make this blog work because you read and comment on the quality of analysis, you also make it work because you help me get the facts right.


Hold That Tiger! And Check For Fingerprints!

Check this out from  "UW Police chief says ammunition found at three Capitol entrances"

These are crazy times, so anything is possible.  Maybe the report is false.  I've seen only two sources to date*, Andy Szal's blog linked above, and Bill Glauber from the relatively reliable Milwaukee Journal Sentinel here.

Maybe a random, desperate attention seeker did this to ratchet up the tension. 

Maybe a misguided individual protester did it out of frustration at Walker's intransigence. 

I'd bet that Scotty has some notions of his own. 

One thing I feel pretty confident about, though:  Given the general bonhommie supposed to be prevailing among police and protesters, if it were a frame job of some sort it seems unlikely that Walker could find anyone vile enough within police ranks to plant this stuff.  If Scotty did want to run a black op, he'd probably have to delegate it to one of the family retainers.  And given the cheapjack incompetence he's demonstrated so far, it'd likely be smothered in incriminating fingerprints and DNA.

Again, anything could happen here.  It may not have even happened.  But if it did, I hope the sent it to the lab right away.

* Updated from original post, which only referenced the Szal blog.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Sacred Clowns Bring Krampus To Wisconsin Protests


Fuckin' awesome, but beyond my powers to describe any better than the participants themselves. Posted at Disinformation by Rrauben:


I read your stuff here all the time and know you're only miles away from us and in sympathy. Help us keep the momentum up. We're scrambling to make more happen– there's a lot going on. Contact us via until we get our own site up.

MISSION STATEMENT – Sacred Clown Union

Yep. Some of our clowns definitely take inspiration from Krampus –“the henchmen of Saint Nick” thing you find in the Austrian, German and Swiss Alps. We live in Wisconsin, a bastion of German heritage, and we see those clowns as something we lost– something we want back!

The Nazis apparently hated Krampus. Our antlers tip in respect to those clowns. But this is global. We love love love the Japanese Namahage and the Native American Heyokas too! We embrace them all.

If we have one reservation though, it involves terrorizing little children into obedience, servitude or serfdom. That makes us cry. We no like that. Here, we do take our cues more from the Native American clowns (as well as other intact tribal traditions), more so than Krampus (as it is performed in the Alps today).

We’re here to sweep away the vile spirit of big, greedy, power-mad ego– the ones that seemingly care so little for the children– the ones that would imperil their own grandchildren just to line their own pockets. Our heart-sworn ethic is to do this with humor, creativity, art, dance, music and absurdity. Yes, we would willingly spank naughty parents and politicians, but the children are sacrosanct.

Sacred Clown Union is for the children– for their creativity, playfulness, and egoless-ness. We laugh and rampage, but we also cry over the loss of those qualities in “more mature” people. WE ARE HERE TO SAY: RETURN RETURN RETURN RECOVER RECOVER RECOVER get back to that creature you were before someone or something corrupted your mind!

We don’t care how you put on your clown or what you do to entertain the folk, just evoke love, empower your own personal sense of creativity, and get out there and get silly! And be REALLY sweet to the moms and the kids and the animals in particular!

OK, an admission here: we really do want to spank Sarah Palin until she squeals in orgasm! It would be healing for her! We are cunning linguists! We guarantee her satisfaction! As John Cleese once said, “Michael Palin is the funniest Palin.” No argument there.

Now it is time for all clowns to practice their silly walks. Get busy. Everyday! Silly walk practice for 5 minutes!"

Visit Modern Mythology

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.