Category Archives: On Wisconsin

GOP Don’t Care

Neil Heinen, ladies and gentlemen: 

 What is most disturbing is the image…the image of three Republican state legislators being escorted by security past protestors at the State Capitol Tuesday evening. And once again the nation watches news from Wisconsin and wonders what is going on in that state? It’s hard to imagine this is the impression Republicans are hoping will convince people to invest in Wisconsin.

But by once again ram-rodding divisive policy through the legislature and short-circuiting the public-hearing process, lawmakers have created an atmosphere of frustration and anger. Frankly the suggestion that the protests were a public safety risk is offensive. The largest risk is the risk to democracy by limiting the rights of citizens to be heard on laws that affect their lives. But embarrassing images and bad-faith governing are not things that concern this legislature any more.

But they used the words “credible threat!” Just like on CSI or something! It was all terrorist-speak-y!

Honestly, why should they care what they look like? There aren’t any electoral consequences for them. Mr. My New Boyfriend up there aside, most journalists have been treating the debate over the Right to Work (For Less) bill in Wisconsin as OH THIS IS ALL SO BORING DO WE HAVE TO WRITE ABOUT PROTESTS AGAIN?

Witness this, which Jude sends me because he worries my life is too calm and my blood pressure may be too low:

54ecda6a8c80c.image

HARDY HAR HAR NOTHING MATTERS REALLY. Both sides are noisy but it’s all so lamesauce.

The national press is too busy jerking off about Walker 2016 to pay attention to the actual business of governing. So the Wisconsin GOP looks like a bunch of goddamn clowns. Who’s going to impose any kind of consequences for that?

Anyone?

A.

Credible Threats to Wisconsin Republicans

Stupendous pussies run away from the possibility of dissent: 

MADISON, Wis. (AP) – Republicans on the state Senate’s labor committee ended a public hearing on contentious right-to-work legislation early and sent it on to the full Senate Tuesday, enraging dozens of people who had been waiting all day to speak and sparking a demonstration in front of the Senate chamber.

The daylong hearing began at 10 a.m. Sen. Stephen Nass, a Whitewater Republican and the committee’s chairman, had planned for it to last until 7 p.m. But around 6:20 p.m. he announced he was ending the hearing due to what he called a “credible threat” that union members planned to disrupt the proceeding.

“We’re not going to take a chance,” Nass told the crowd.

We’re not going to take a chance that disruption may occur. Your right to comment on matters of concern to you can be erased by the words “credible threat” because union thugs, and protesters, and possibly hippies, are coming to say mean things to you, loudly.

This is the party that is going to put the state of Wisconsin back to work? Really? These fraidy cats?

Police escorted the three Republicans on the committee out of the room after the vote.

Because of a credible threat of being protested.

A.

Right to Work in the Passive Voice

So Scotty’s doing what everybody knew he’d do:

This week, the right-to-work debate moves front and center in Wisconsin.

With Republicans in the Legislature aiming to fast-track a bill to Gov. Scott Walker’s desk, they’re following a playbook that has been executed in other GOP-led states in the upper Midwest.

In early 2012, just before the Super Bowl came to Indianapolis, then-Gov. Mitch Daniels signed a right-to-work law in Indiana.

Later that year, it was Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s turn to hand a stinging defeat to organized labor.

And now, it’s on to Wisconsin, where the labor battle has come full circle.

Walker, a possible 2016 presidential candidate, has said he’ll sign a right-to-work bill once it is pushed through Legislature. Compared with the struggle over Act 10, when Walker was front-and-center in taking on public-sector unions, the governor is now in the background responding to lawmakers.

But Walker’s peekaboo style on right-to-work would have the same effect: unleashing a big blow to big labor.

Because it’s not enough to gut the University of Wisconsin system or screw over teachers or set state workers who pay taxes against other taxpayers or sell off the DNR. It’s not enough to slowly grind down everything that makes the place worth living in.

He’s got to dig deep and show the people who pay his presidential campaign’s bills that he can be just as big an asshole as everybody thinks he is.

What struck me in the story linked above, however, was that as usual things are just happening.

Unions are losing power.

Labor is declining.

All by itself:

“In some ways it’s the end of a very long decline of the strength of unions and a weakening of protections both at the federal and state level for unions,” said William P. Jones, a University of Wisconsin-Madison history professor.

[snip]

Jones said unions have been losing power since the late 1970s, with a renewed push against organized labor in the wake of the 2007-’09 Great Recession.

It’s just, like, the times, man. Or something. Things happen. Unions just … lose.

Who wins?

A renewed push against organized labor. From whom?

Even with right-to-work laws implemented in Michigan and Indiana, and also surviving court challenges, unions haven’t gone away. But they have been hard pressed.

Who has pressed them?

Do you see what I’m getting at here? We talk about outsourcing and the decline of the middle class and the decimation of American manufacturing and the push against unions without ever using a subject in our sentences.

That way we can make it seem like nobody’s to blame. That way we can avoid “controversial” and/or opinionated or non-objective views of reality like:

Republicans, backed by wealthy business owners, attacked unions because those unions threatened their interests which are, in order: Making enough money to roll around in like Scrooge McDuck, making enough money to afford to buy Barbados, and making enough money to stack up all that money higher than Everest.

Those unions served as vehicles for political opposition to those interests, and so those unions had to go.

Why can’t we just say that? Because it makes Republicans like Scott Walker look like mean bullies who want to step on the American worker?

Better to just act like this all appeared out of thin air, conjured by the passage of time.

A.

Sweeping up after Governor Deadeyes

I wonder what it’s like working on Gov. Scott Walker’s staff these days. It has to be a heady time to be with a man who suddenly rocketed to the front of the Republican party’s conga line for the presidential nomination. The guy survived three elections in four years, a series of protests comparable to the Vietnam War outrage and is now looked upon as a conservative media darling. He essentially controls the whole state, as the Republicans dominate the State Legislature and every Democratic gambit since his election in 2010 has failed to slow his roll.

He’s the son of a Baptist preacher who never finished college and is now meeting with the heads of state and chatting up his brand of political “boldness” across the pond.

And yet, part of me thinks that there’s an awful lot of scotch and ibuprofen being consumed at the state capitol these days, and not just by Walker’s adversaries.

Walker and his crew had to know that the $300 million cut to the university system would cause howls of pain. In the past, the cuts were buffered by trims to inefficiencies or reworking of standard practices. When the last set of financial whacks took place, Walker and the Republicans were able to undermine the outrage by “exposing” a supposed $1.6 billion slush fund that was just lying around. Of course, it wasn’t true, but when the UW administrators and PR officials fumbled about for a decent explanation, it looked like they got caught with their hands in the cookie jar.

This time is different in that the UW has done a better job of explaining the reality of those funds and pushing out on the line that this cut is tantamount to a 13 percent reduction in overall state funding. Add that to the public-affairs brilliance of Madison’s chancellor, Rebecca Blank, who has been meeting with support staff and maintenance crew to explain how this will kill them, and you get a much different picture this time around. You also have a few Republicans saying, “Hey, this isn’t going to be good…”

Walker’s staff has not only dealt with this shift from “Everybody Loves Scooter” to “Uh… Dude?” but also in his ability to bounce around from idea to idea on this whole UW System plan.

One of Walker’s greatest strengths as far as his constituents go is his ability to be absolute and rock-solid sure on things. He never gave an inch on Act 10 and he constantly paints things in perfect black/white contrast so even the most feeble-minded of his followers can see it. We have a “taker vs. taxpayer” argument that works well. We have an “Unintimidated” governor who is standing strong among the wafflers. We have an “Act 10 for the UW system” pitch that pits rich professors who don’t work for shit against people with three and four jobs.

Those dichotomies and absolutist strategies have boded well for him in racing to the front of the line for president. However, for the past several weeks, he keeps throwing out random ideas about the UW cuts that have forced his staffers to try to reconfigure the message while still telling people who love the “straightforward” Walker that this is EXACTLY what he had in mind all along.

First was the “you’ll have more flexibility, which means you can solve all these problems you say we are giving you,” argument.

Then, when it was clear the flexibility couldn’t solve the problem, he noted that the universities didn’t have to take the $150 million bite out of each term, meaning they could push all this off to the second year of the budget and pray for a lottery win or something.

Then, when the university folks explained that a huge cut now for freedom later wouldn’t work, he had his staffers put out the word that he could easily see flexibility and such coming earlier, so “There’s nothing to see here…”

After that, people in his own party became skittish that the UW would jack tuition through the stratosphere if they had any freedom, Walker floated the idea of giving people freedom but putting a cap on tuition, the only “freedom” that actually would actually create additional revenue. In addition, the University folk pushed back with a “Here we go again” argument about Walker and his horse-trading.

At each point, the PR arm of the Walker campaign has gone into “bob and weave” mode while trying to Jedi-mind-trick people into thinking this isn’t abnormal.

If Walker wins the presidential nod for the Republicans, this isn’t going to be a huge problem for him. He basically gets to fart in the elevator that is the state of Wisconsin and walk out at the penthouse, leaving the rest of us to live with the stink as we go all the way back down to the lobby. However, if he swings and misses to represent the Elephant Party, he then has to actually deal with the people he screwed to get this situation into shape.

For his staff, however, all they can do is walk behind the elephant and quickly sweep away whatever randomly falls out, hoping that no one notices or that they don’t get hit by it.

In Which a Badger Mauls Walker

You-Have-Angered-The-Badger

Sharplessssss: 

John Sharpless, a former Republican candidate for Congress and who teaches history at UW, voiced his frustration on Friday over the belief that professors aren’t working hard enough. He said he arrives no later than 9 a.m. and leaves no earlier than 5 p.m.  During that time, he said he’s either teaching, preparing lectures, doing research, attending required committee meetings, advising students and managing teaching assistants. Sharpless added that he often spends his evenings reading and grading papers.

“None of this seems like work to a guy like Walker because he lives a different life,” he said.  “And I’m not going to make fun of what he does.  I’m sure being a governor is a lot of work.  He has to spend a lot of time in Iowa and South Carolina and North Carolina and courting other Republican big-wigs.  That taxes the man horribly.”

Yeah, Scotty’s life is rough. I mean, generally the people who work hard are too busy, you know, working hard to play the Battle of the Workaholics expansion of the Suffering Olympics. If Walker wants to mouth off about how tough it is to live life on the economic edge because of other people’s luxury, though, he might want to ease off vacationing in caucus states.

A.

Autonomy’s Just Another Word for “Fuck You Wisconsin.” Love, Scott Walker

I would ask if he hasn’t done enough damage but obviously not: 

The University of Wisconsin System will be given more autonomy, while having its state funding slashed by 13 percent over the next two years, under the budget Gov. Scott Walker will submit to the Legislature next week.

Walker released details of his budget plan as it affects the UW System to The Associated Press on Monday ahead of a public announcement on Tuesday.

“It will make the University of Wisconsin more efficient, more effective and ultimately more accountable,” Walker said.

The State Journal first reported this month that Walker was considering giving the System more autonomy, possibly accompanied by budget cuts. Walker and System president Ray Cross confirmed the discussions last week.

The state is facing a $2 billion budget shortfall for the two-year budget that begins July 1.

WELL WHOSE FUCKING FAULT IS THAT? He created a crisis and is using that crisis to justify the cuts.

They no longer want to drown government in the bathtub. Now they want to draw and quarter it and spread its entrails to the four corners of the earth while its parents watch.

A.

Is Scott Walker the new George W. Bush?

A uniter, not a divider! 

 “What do Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, New Mexico, and Nevada all have in common?” he said to me after the Dairy Breakfast. “Those are all battleground states that Barack Obama won in 2012—and they also have Republican governors. So why are state Republican leaders connecting with voters in a way that the national party isn’t?” Walker repeated his litany of self-assigned virtues: He and his fellow GOP governors were plainspoken optimists who made the rounds. “Not that any Republican is necessarily going to win the majority among women, younger voters, or ethnic minorities,” he conceded. “But we can do a lot better. I go to places where you’d never dream of seeing Mitt Romney or John McCain.”

The irony of that last statement was surely unintended: In the three breakfasts we had been to that morning, I had seen exactly as many adult African-Americans and Latinos as Confederate flags—namely, one of each. Instead, this was a key slice of Scott Walker country, populated by thousands of white male rural voters. It takes more than them to win; and Walker, whose statewide approval rating has stayed unwaveringly in the neighborhood of 49 over the past two years, has consistently managed to unite a winning coalition even while advocating divisive policies. For a national Republican Party glumly pondering its shrinking demographics, Scott Walker would seem to be offering good news: Fire up the base, pick off a healthy share of independents, and you can continue to grind out victories for years to come. Republicans didn’t necessarily have to persuade voters they were right, Walker maintained—and that had been the case, he said, going back to his very first win, for State Assembly back in 1993: “The bottom line is I was pretty committed to my ideals, and that’s why people elected me. Not necessarily because they were ideologically in line with me, but because people have become cynical about politicians, and they want somebody who actually stands for something.”

Only until all those fucking fossils die off. Then you’re screwed. So what Walker is offering the Republican party is a chance to do more of the same for about five to ten more years. Maybe that’s enough for them. Maybe that’s all they want is power TOMORROW, and not power forever.

Maybe that’s what Bush taught them, that having a Republican majority isn’t worth it to them if they have to be nice to women, gays and minorities at their parties. Maybe basic politeness, an unwillingness to actually build physical internment camps, is a bridge too far, even if it would get them more votes for more years.

Maybe they’d just rather be mean and small and angry and put-upon and have all their problems be the fault of some black people somewhere buying the wrong kind of cereal with food stamps. Maybe that’s just more fun.

A.

Cardinal Columns: Almost… Almost… Almost…

About six months after the Fond du Lac school district implemented a “censor them all, let God sort them out” policy regarding its student media, it appears the board of education has decided to act right.

According to at least two sources, the board met in a “workshop” earlier in the week and agreed in principle to a document that declares the publications of Fond du Lac High School to be public forums. This will essentially provide First Amendment protection to all of the media at the school, including the award-winning Cardinal Columns news magazine and Fondy Today, the school’s broadcast operation.

The policy is a one-year trial, with a few strings that could be problematic. Although the board did not include contingencies for the principal or any other administrator to approve of content prior to publication, it put in place a similar approval contingency on the adviser:

“Consistent with applicable law, the advisor may refuse to publish, display or post material that in his/her professional judgement (sic) is obscene, vulgar, profane, libelous, inconsistent with the educational goals of the District, is reasonably forecasted (sic) to disrupt the educational environment, advocates the use of drugs or alcohol, violates the District’s non-discrimination or other policies, violates the rights of others, violates any applicable state or federal law, or is unsuitable for its potential audience.”

It’s one of those things that could be horribly applied if the wrong person is placed in this role. That said, the read I get of the current adviser (Matt Smith) tells me the publication won’t have to worry much about the potential for adviser overreach. Still, keeping that one little spot in there could create legal liability for the district if something goes south on a published piece. That said, it’s a heck of a lot better than it was.

The board still has to approve the policy at an upcoming meeting, but their general meetings tend to be coronations and blessings more than actual public debate. This leads me to remain hopeful that this policy is on final approach to approval and that the kids will get what they have fought so hard for: The right to do good work in a censorship-free environment.

The bigger thing is that with a one-year trial, here are two concerns that need to be clearly highlighted:

First, knowing you are under the hammer tends to lead to a chilling effect. If you know you only have one shot to prove yourself, you’re going to be on your best behavior, sure, but you’re also going to be a little gun-shy. This is why it’s a lot easier to be yourself after 40 years of marriage than after 40 minutes of a first date. It’s that sense of trying to be more perfect than you actually are.

I have a sense that the kids are going to continue to do good work, but if there’s a story, a topic, a headline or whatever that looks a tad suspect, they might decide, “Hey, tie goes to the runner. Let’s let this be for now.” My hope is that they won’t and that they will remain just as fearless as they have been to get themselves to this point in the first place. However, I know my own behavior is representative of the same kind of chilling: When a cop pulls me over for going too fast, I spend the next six months going about 0.1 miles under the speed limit everywhere. Just in case.

Second, the board has to have faith. Several members have publicly expressed their concerns about the publication, how the kids aren’t “real journalists” and how they need “adult oversight.” I won’t bother to rehash all of these petty arguments, but I will say that they need to let go of this and let the kids figure things out as they go. If you want to give them a chance to learn, you can’t freak out every time something happens and try to grab control back. If they live in fear that you’re going to drop a hammer on them the instant you don’t like something, they’re going to make ten times more mistakes than if you left them alone. Don’t look at every iffy headline or controversial topic as a chance to freak out. Let the stuff run its course and see where it really goes.

Overall, however, this appears to be a really good step in the best possible direction. It took guts for this board to do this, as everyone was watching and there’s always a fear that if the board “gives in,” it could pave a path to hell. Still, as the board is watching the kids, everyone will be watching the board.

It should make for a very interesting school year.

Poor People. Is Anything Not Their Fault?

Further studies in the journalistic passive voice:

Milwaukee’s suburban counties were always Republican. They’ve voted Republican for president in every election but one (1964) since World War II. But white flight made them more so. The whites who left Milwaukee County for the outer suburbs were more conservative, and often better off economically, than the people who stayed behind.

“On average, Republican movers have more money,” says political scientist James Gimpel of the University of Maryland, who has tracked the migration patterns of both Democrats and Republicans. “That means a broader array of neighborhoods is available to them.”

Some of those movers brought with them negative perceptions of the city and its dominant political party. In metro areas with concentrated urban poverty and crime, racial polarization is high. “The white voters that surround those areas are incredibly radicalized,” says GOP pollster Gene Ulm, who is based in northern Virginia but has polled in Wisconsin for many years.

“There is a huge correlation there,” says Mandela Barnes, a first-term Democratic state lawmaker whose district includes half of Glendale and a set of mostly African-American neighborhoods in Milwaukee. Barnes says that concentration of poverty in Milwaukee feeds “this perception (outside Milwaukee) that there’s a ‘culture of takers.’ And that can become political fodder.”

Right. The concentration of poverty feeds the perception that all poor black people in the city just leech off the taxpayers. The poverty does that. The poor African-Americans, by existing, become “political fodder.” All by themselves. They just become.

This entire story is great, very depressing, and entirely premised on the idea that political, racial and economic polarization have just spontaneously happened. Nobody created them, nobody pushed them, nobody profited from them. Whites fled and started hating blacks. Poverty created this perception of “takers.” It’s as if it all happened by magic.

It leaves the reader with the impression that nothing’s to be done. That you hate who you hate. That you love who you love. That this is all just tragic and implacable and will never change. And you know what? It won’t, so long as we refuse to acknowledge that rich men get richer when we hate and fear, and ideas come from somewhere, and the people who sell this crap are just as newsworthy as the poor schmucks who buy it.

A.

Poor People. Is Anything Not Their Fault?

Further studies in the journalistic passive voice:

Milwaukee’s suburban counties were always Republican. They’ve voted Republican for president in every election but one (1964) since World War II. But white flight made them more so. The whites who left Milwaukee County for the outer suburbs were more conservative, and often better off economically, than the people who stayed behind.

“On average, Republican movers have more money,” says political scientist James Gimpel of the University of Maryland, who has tracked the migration patterns of both Democrats and Republicans. “That means a broader array of neighborhoods is available to them.”

Some of those movers brought with them negative perceptions of the city and its dominant political party. In metro areas with concentrated urban poverty and crime, racial polarization is high. “The white voters that surround those areas are incredibly radicalized,” says GOP pollster Gene Ulm, who is based in northern Virginia but has polled in Wisconsin for many years.

“There is a huge correlation there,” says Mandela Barnes, a first-term Democratic state lawmaker whose district includes half of Glendale and a set of mostly African-American neighborhoods in Milwaukee. Barnes says that concentration of poverty in Milwaukee feeds “this perception (outside Milwaukee) that there’s a ‘culture of takers.’ And that can become political fodder.”

Right. The concentration of poverty feeds the perception that all poor black people in the city just leech off the taxpayers. The poverty does that. The poor African-Americans, by existing, become “political fodder.” All by themselves. They just become.

This entire story is great, very depressing, and entirely premised on the idea that political, racial and economic polarization have just spontaneously happened. Nobody created them, nobody pushed them, nobody profited from them. Whites fled and started hating blacks. Poverty created this perception of “takers.” It’s as if it all happened by magic.

It leaves the reader with the impression that nothing’s to be done. That you hate who you hate. That you love who you love. That this is all just tragic and implacable and will never change. And you know what? It won’t, so long as we refuse to acknowledge that rich men get richer when we hate and fear, and ideas come from somewhere, and the people who sell this crap are just as newsworthy as the poor schmucks who buy it.

A.

Poor People. Is Anything Not Their Fault?

Further studies in the journalistic passive voice:

Milwaukee’s suburban counties were always Republican. They’ve voted Republican for president in every election but one (1964) since World War II. But white flight made them more so. The whites who left Milwaukee County for the outer suburbs were more conservative, and often better off economically, than the people who stayed behind.

“On average, Republican movers have more money,” says political scientist James Gimpel of the University of Maryland, who has tracked the migration patterns of both Democrats and Republicans. “That means a broader array of neighborhoods is available to them.”

Some of those movers brought with them negative perceptions of the city and its dominant political party. In metro areas with concentrated urban poverty and crime, racial polarization is high. “The white voters that surround those areas are incredibly radicalized,” says GOP pollster Gene Ulm, who is based in northern Virginia but has polled in Wisconsin for many years.

“There is a huge correlation there,” says Mandela Barnes, a first-term Democratic state lawmaker whose district includes half of Glendale and a set of mostly African-American neighborhoods in Milwaukee. Barnes says that concentration of poverty in Milwaukee feeds “this perception (outside Milwaukee) that there’s a ‘culture of takers.’ And that can become political fodder.”

Right. The concentration of poverty feeds the perception that all poor black people in the city just leech off the taxpayers. The poverty does that. The poor African-Americans, by existing, become “political fodder.” All by themselves. They just become.

This entire story is great, very depressing, and entirely premised on the idea that political, racial and economic polarization have just spontaneously happened. Nobody created them, nobody pushed them, nobody profited from them. Whites fled and started hating blacks. Poverty created this perception of “takers.” It’s as if it all happened by magic.

It leaves the reader with the impression that nothing’s to be done. That you hate who you hate. That you love who you love. That this is all just tragic and implacable and will never change. And you know what? It won’t, so long as we refuse to acknowledge that rich men get richer when we hate and fear, and ideas come from somewhere, and the people who sell this crap are just as newsworthy as the poor schmucks who buy it.

A.