Thursday, March 31, 2011

Unions still fight for the rest of us

As promised, the Guest Column from the Monticello Times. An excerpt: seems odd that we question the validity of the entire organized labor movement due to their mistakes over time. After all, corporate power often mistakes ethics for profit, and its validity is never questioned. Look no further than Enron, the banking scandal or the Gulf oil spill. If we were to apply the same standard to corporate power, where would we be? Even after nearly taking the nation into a second Great Depression over the past 36 months, most people would agree that we still need a finance industry. Why hold unions to a different standard?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Moving Forward!

It's been awhile! So much to say...

Watching the court battle unfold this week has been illuminating. It is clear that the Republicans have violated the open meeting law. We knew that from the start, and the judge has all but to spell it out for us. What is so amazing is the sheer determination by Republicans to head straight off the cliff and try to enact this bill, despite the injunction against its implementation by Judge Sumi. I have to think eventually even supporters of this bill will recognize the ineptitude that a group of ideologues tend to bring into government. When God is on your side, what use is law?

LaFollette is clearly on their enemies list. Fightin' Doug waited the statutory limit to publish the bill, and when he refused (because he was blocked by the court order), the Republicans went ahead and attempted to publish it anyway. This was basically meaningless, but who cares? They tried to say it was law this weekend, until the judge brought the hammer down yesterday. They even went so far as to begin implementing the law. Judge Sumi was not pleased about this on Tuesday.

Additionally, when he was being represented in court, the state's attorney (assigned by the Walker administration) was essentially refusing to represent him, and not asking questions of witnesses on his behalf. The judge decided it was a conflict of interest to have the Walker administration provide him counsel. Fighting Doug will now get an independent lawyer, paid for by the state.

Now they're saying, "Well, she didn't specifically tell us who needs to stop."

Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen has advised Walker that because Sumi didn't specifically name the administration in her order barring further action on the law, it can proceed with the payroll changes.

Friday's hearing should be great fun, and I wish I could be there for it. Judge Sumi has to be quite upset about the way this is being handled.

Let's be clear, though: The long game here may very well end up with us losing these bargaining rights for a bit. The legislature could easily go back and vote again. We need to keep that in mind, even as the Kabuki theater plays out in front of us. Yes, they're being exposed as even bigger ideologues, but at the end of the day, they're in power.

Which bring me to better news: I canvassed for the recall of Sheila Harsdorff on Saturday last weekend. What a great time! I would encourage anyone who is concerned about our state to head to your nearest petitioning center and get involved. There's no pick-me-up like the one that comes from pitching in with your neighbors.

I had the pleasure of working with a special-ed teacher from Eau Claire and a kindergarten teacher from Durand as we walked through the neighborhoods of Menomonie. It was cold, and I was a bit under the weather, but we had a great time! The organization in Menomonie was so masterfully done, people were in great spirits, and many of the neighborhood folks had already signed. We did manage to get our page halfway full in just an hour. I topped it off with a delicious meal cooked by the Boyceville teachers, and headed home to rest. (ugh, I was sick!).

A rumor started on Saturday morning about Randy Hopper. Apparently, they've got nearly the number of signatures they need to recall him. Organizers were quick to quash the rumor, for fear that volunteers would drop off. What an amazing thing, though! We're only 3 weeks in, if that, and we've got one almost down! Just a couple more will tip the scales in our favor this summer.

I'm also excited to see the turnout for Kloppenburg. She's against some pretty steep odds, as she barely scratched the surface in the last election. Make no mistake, it's going to take a lot of us getting out there on the 5th to stop Prosser from being another rubber stamp on Walker's legislative priorities. I'm convinced we can pull it off, though. Let's move Wisconsin forward!

Lastly, the Monticello Times, my hometown paper in Minnesota, was kind enough to run a guest column of mine. It will appear in tomorrow's paper. It's an answer to the question, "Are Unions Still Relevant." I answer in the negative. What!?!?! Sadly, I think it's becoming true. The entire initial justification for unions was the need for all workers to unite, in order to provide protection for the middle class. With the union movement dwindling, the middle class is beginning to lose our grip on many of our hard-earned rights. Our standard of living is under attack. Our kids' schools are under attack. We're losing the battle. Without action, the power of the billionaires will not be stopped, and they will continue to transfer our wealth into their pockets. I don't think it's a coincidence that they've succeeded as well as they have while union involvement continues to drop.

Unions were a wonderful solution to a problem that needed solving. I think they could easily have a positive impact now. It used to be a pretty clear concept. I think that's been lost, mostly due to a well-oiled propaganda machine, but also in part to honest failures by unions to evolve and adapt to a changing climate. We're the dog that caught the car, and didn't know what to do with it. Unions were one solution, but they don't have to be the only solution. We live in a fluid world. You never stand in the same river twice.

The single most important thing for us is remembering that we're all in this together. We need to continue to look out for entire community, union and non-union. Your neighbor, the non-union engineer, deserves the same living wage that you do as a union teacher. His kids deserve healthcare just like yours, and we all deserve better. The cops ought to protect both of you equally. The road in front of his house should be plowed just like yours. The more we stress that, the better. Do we deserve something for nothing? Of course not. But we all deserve a chance. We definitely deserve the ability to provide for our kids if we work for it. We all deserve a shot at a good future.

We use to refer to that attitude as "family values." Now it's called socialism. Our grandparents supported one another in their rise against the billionaires of their time. The easy way to do that was to respect each others' professions by supporting their respective trade unions in times of trouble. It was a system that worked quite effectively. But what about now?

Even as I say this, people all over Wisconsin are banding together in unity. It's happening organically, like nothing I've experienced. We are working as one big, happy family, in support of each other. I look forward to the day we get to march back into the capitol building, when it's finally ours again.The onerous security procedures will be gone, the billionaires will have to ask politely before taking our stuff again, and we will never forget this spring. Wisconsin will be ours, so long as we continue to fight for her.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Stronger Bond of Reasonable Unity

When we talk about being "for small government," what does that mean, exactly?

There are always laws that look silly, or loopholes that are found in complex regulation. But there must be limits, right? Government has some role, does it not? When looking at the problem of large or small government, I am always reminded of the famous small government proponent (ok, Anarchist), Emma Goldman.

If we want to examine "small government," look no further than Ms. Goldman, who believed in abolishing all "governmental regulations," including the personal protection of property:

"Property is robbery," said the great French Anarchist Proudhon. Yes, but without risk and danger to the robber. Monopolizing the accumulated efforts of man, property has robbed him of his birthright, and has turned him loose a pauper and an outcast. Property has not even the time-worn excuse that man does not create enough to satisfy all needs. The A B C student of economics knows that the productivity of labor within the last few decades far exceeds normal demand. But what are normal demands to an abnormal institution? The only demand that property recognizes is its own gluttonous appetite for greater wealth, because wealth means power; the power to subdue, to crush, to exploit, the power to enslave, to outrage, to degrade. America is particularly boastful of her great power, her enormous national wealth. Poor America, of what avail is all her wealth, if the individuals comprising the nation are wretchedly poor? If they live in squalor, in filth, in crime, with hope and joy gone, a homeless, soilless army of human prey.

It should be noted that I don't necessarily agree with Ms. Goldman on all counts. She advocated and apologized for violence quite a bit - something I don't think I'll ever accept as a means to change. But she did have some wonderful things to say about direct action:

Universal suffrage itself owes its existence to direct action. If not for the spirit of rebellion, of the defiance on the part of the American revolutionary fathers, their posterity would still wear the King's coat. If not for the direct action of a John Brown and his comrades, America would still trade in the flesh of the black man. True, the trade in white flesh is still going on; but that, too, will have to be abolished by direct action. Trade-unionism, the economic arena of the modern gladiator, owes its existence to direct action. It is but recently that law and government have attempted to crush the trade-union movement, and condemned the exponents of man's right to organize to prison as conspirators. Had they sought to assert their cause through begging, pleading, and compromise, trade-unionism would today be a negligible quantity. In France, in Spain, in Italy, in Russia, nay even in England (witness the growing rebellion of English labor unions), direct, revolutionary, economic action has become so strong a force in the battle for industrial liberty as to make the world realize the tremendous importance of labor's power. The General Strike, the supreme expression of the economic consciousness of the workers, was ridiculed in America but a short time ago. Today every great strike, in order to win, must realize the importance of the solidaric general protest.

As a historical exercise, I'd encourage everyone to study up on not only Goldman's writing, but the writing and theory of other major theories of government and society. It's as important to understand Ayn Rand as it is to understand Karl Marx, or Adam Smith, or Hayek (hypocrite alert: I've yet to read him!).

Why is it important? Why should any of us spend our time on reading thoughts on systems that we'll never adopt? Because in each of these, we can strip them down to a basic level, and uncover the intended and actual beneficiaries.

We all come to our political conclusions based on what we feel will benefit us personally. We choose systems that help us prosper, and to probably the same degree, our families and neighbors. It's common for people to declare enemies, justified and unjustified. Enemies unite us, it's true. But I think it's clear, in healthy relationships, that the bonds we form in vilification only take us so far. Our deeper bonds must be forged with love, appreciation, respect, and compassion.

I felt that love in Madison last month, and I feel it when I speak with others and receive emails from my friends, family, and neighbors. We feel it when we hear them suffer. My dad still works as an administrator in city government, and has led men and women on the front lines - sewer workers, snowplow drivers, mechanics - for his entire life. Tim Pawlenty's budget cuts in 2009 led to him losing his job in Minnesota. This was his response to Patricia's email last week:

I could tell you dozens of stories just like Patricia's... I have worked with them for 32 years.. they are my friends. I think the most devastating thing about being "eliminated " a few years ago was the sudden loss of those friends...and the anger, disbelief, and humiliation of having it happen, without as much as a thank-you. Sometimes you have to do the job for the self satisfaction, knowing you did what was right.

We don't bond together over this stuff because we hate Tim Pawlenty, or Scott Walker, though in many cases they make perfect villains. We do it because we know that our loved ones are deeply affected by these policies. We realize that without coming together to stand up for ourselves, we all lose. No one wants to see their family member go through the degrading feeling of lost wages, or the powerless fear that comes with losing their job. At the stroke of the pen, it's made clear that we're a commodity to be traded or reduced. Affirming that we're all men and women - folks who love, cry, laugh, celebrate, mourn - is among most important steps we can take as we unite to keep our voices heard.

Our neighbors who disagree with us on the union fight are not our enemies. They may be conditioned to see us as such, but we don't need to go that far with them. They will scream at us, they will attempt to rob us of our voices, and they will malign us when they get the chance. We must remain calm, and take heart that so many of us are already together. Our calm insistence of our own humanity eventually endears us to the reasonable in the bunch, until there's not a reasonable person left standing on the side of the billionaires trying to take our state away.

Yes, we need to work toward the common goal of keeping the middle class intact. Yes, we need to continue to assert ourselves in the debate. Yes, we need to stand up to injustices against our schools, prisons, and other public institutions that give our children a chance to grow up in a healthy and safe Wisconsin. As long as we remind each other that it's ourselves, our families, and our communities we're protecting, we will stay strong.

This is why it's so important for us to be aware of all of the past struggles humanity has faced. Our ancestors have worked hard, fought hard, scratched, and clawed toward the common benefit of our communities, and things have gotten better when good ideas have been implemented. We have our own ideas, in our own time. History will never fault us for the work we do to improve our lives. Our children and grandchildren will be proud of our struggles, admire our tenacity, and thank God that we spent so much time and effort in making Wisconsin ours, and keeping it theirs. If we stick together, make no mistake: Wisconsin will be ours!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Recalling Alberta Darling

Great stories abound on facebook and DailyKos supporting the recall efforts. Here's a good one for us:

Money quote:
....the Library - that last bastion of shared public space - worked out wonderfully. There was a big parking lot, and we flagged willing supporters in with our signs, arrows and patriotic banners. We had a steady line for the next three hours. People in support of the recall would simply park without histrionics, and come up and sign. They were appreciative of our efforts, and seemed quite calm and friendly. In contrast, we got even more shouts, middle fingers and arguments from the Darling supporters.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Oshkosh Woodworkes' Strike of 1898

This is a great read, and an important part of Wisconsin history. It's long, but it's another slice of our forgotten history. A 17 year old boy lost his life in this strike.

Money quote:

The sheriff swore out warrants for the arrest of fifty strikers. The Daily Northwestern thought the arrest of these people would be most difficult, but the sheriff deputized several more men specifically for the task. Thomas Kidd bitterly assailed the sheriff, the chief of police, and especially George M. Paine. On the other side of the issue came lumberman papers and other newspapers in the state. They printed that the strike was unfortunate and disgraceful.

Big business and business-friendly press are rarely on the side of labor. Look no further than Fox News or the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel today.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Personal Stories Matter

Well, the good news is, workers have a temporary reprieve today, as the judge put a temporary restraining order on the budget repair bill. It's good to see that our checks and balances still function. Yet another reminder to elect a good justice for the Wisconsin Supreme Court on April 5th.

If it's one thing I'm grateful for, it's the fact that so many ordinary people continue to speak out this spring. I received this email last night from Patricia. She asked that I keep her last name off the letter.

Dear Joe

Thank you for your taking the time to write something so inspiring and so beautiful. And thank you for taking the time to come and stand with us in our fight for our rights. I am the mother of one of those snow plow drivers. The wife of a retired teamster, the daughter of parents that both belonged to a union and retired from their unions. I myself belonged to a union for 31 years before I went to a large corp. to work in their distribution center. I was very much moved by your letter as I do believe in unions. I started working in a factory when I was 19 years old. I left a state office job for $1,65/hr to have this union factory job for $1.91/hr. Just a few months after I started I was going to be laid off so I was allowed to bump a man with less seniority to keep my job. That was in 1967 and I remember it all too well.

When I started working at the factory the jobs were classified as "mens' jobs" and "womens' jobs". Because the union had obtained equal rights for us, I was able to stay working because I bumped a lower seniority man. It wasn't easy, management did whatever they could to make it rough for any woman that chose that route. Again my union came to my aid. Management refused to help train me stating if I bumped into a job I had to know how to preform it. Many of the men were on the side of management. Many nights I would go home in tears. Never did I cry at work, and I always put up a fight and brought in the union. We women won that fight, and we women fought it together. It was a long hard fight at that time and when you put those words into your letter I couldn't help but recall those horrible days of the 60's.My son (the snow plow driver) refers to me and the women I worked with as "the pioneers for womens' rights". He has always been proud of me for the part that I played in this important time in history. And I am just as proud of him. As well as my own heritage and my parents work ethics and their expectations of me and my siblings.

My son was a limited term employee for over 4 years before being hired on as full time as a public employee. He endured many layoffs and hard times, including no benefits for that entire time. I continued to encourage him to stay with it even when he'd get so discouraged he wanted to quit. His dad and I took on a large medical bill when he didn't have insurance as an LTE. He was devastated that we had to pay his bill, but we continued to tell him he had to stay with it. Monday March 14 ( his father's birthday) he marked his 17th year as a full time public employee. He is one that, when he goes to work, gives all he has. I know that, as one of the supervisors told him one day that he worked just like his grandpa, my dad, and I know my dad was a hard worker. It hurts to think people say things about these workers although I know as you said sometimes it is true.

I tell my son it doesn't matter what people do - there are always those people that will take advantage of the system and make it bad for others. I can tell you there are many times that when he is plowing 16 hr. straight then goes home and does his own shoveling and showers and goes to bed only to get up 5 hrs later to start another possible 16 hr. day sometimes as many as 4 or 5 days back to back that I am worried sick about him. I've even asked him to not go in and his answer always is "mom, this is one thing that was asked of me when I interviewed for the job" Several employees, once they got in, would pick and choose when they would want to work even though it is supposed to be mandatory for all it was never enforced. Therefore putting a strain on the ones that would hold to their agreement. It angers me but yet I am proud of him.

It angers me even more that people have no idea how tired and worn out some of these people get to make sure the public can get to their workplaces. What's even more disturbing is that many think the money is so great. Well, it can be I'll agree to that, but not with that many hours of overtime, since much of overtime is taxed so heavy. The media and Mr. Walker tend to stretch the truth some as my son has always paid into his pension. His sick time (which he rarely ever has used) will most likely be lost because he is a good employee.

It's sad what has happened to the American Worker. We have 6 children, all grown, all who have jobs and have always been expected to have a job. They were taught, as was I, that if you want something you have to work for it. As I stated before I am proud of my heritage and I'm proud that we have passed that heritage on to our children. I have protested along side of my son and along side of my brother on weekdays as we are both now retired. I continue to tell my son the fight isn't over, we've only lost the battle not the war. Isn't it amazing all the states that are in this together.

I like to believe that we are now not only Americans in the United States but that we are the Americans Uniting the States. And again I thank you for your kind words and courageous stand. I am making a copy of your letter to give to my son and on the days that he may feel let down by his fellow Americans he will know that there are people out there that do believe in him and what he does. And that being said before I go I want to add that, even more-so, I feel for the teachers and the children who will truly lose out if we doc not correct this wrong.

Thank you again,

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Possible Dissent?

I received the following email today:

Joe, I read your blog from New From Eau Claire, and we'll ahve to agree to disagree on your comments there, but take a look at this article as just an FYI.

The article talks mainly about the financial impact of public employees on our state's budget, as if they provide no redeeming value. Teachers, snowplow drivers, prison guards, cops, and firefighters: you are not an asset. You are a liability to our state. You are our collected pool of labor costs. Along with you, we also have to pay for salt for the roads, blacktop, cement, paint, etc. When we discuss you, we will not discuss you as people, we will discuss you as if you were another pallet of cinder blocks or another truckload of cement. Yes, we need less paint, and less blacktop, and see if you can get us some cheaper teachers this year! Those old ones cost a lot of money.

edit - 20 minutes after this initial posting:
I feel like I need to chime in again here. Of course, seeing the press release, the above response was my immediate reaction. And it makes me wonder if the person who emailed me has that same reaction, looking at members of the community that are protesting. I've certainly heard some vehement outbreaks against union members. Did it make me more sympathetic to the case they presented? Definitely not.

I have a feeling this, in itself, will be a struggle for us, for a long time. How do we come together as one city, one community, one county, one state, and solve our problems? Especially when our immediate reactions are so polarized? Do I really believe that this person who emailed me thinks of a teacher as a line-item on a budget? Does he or she really think that we're ignorant of the fact that we are in a deficit, and we need to make sacrifices?

When we say "Wisconsin will be ours," do we mean everyone? I think so. I'd like to think our community is strong because we all serve a vital role. We've got musicians, businessmen, cops, plumbers, teachers, bankers, doctors, nurses, software engineers, guys like The Dude - we all live here. My main problem here has been the villianization of one group - public employees. I think they deserve a living wage, and I bristle at the idea that we need to take from them while giving money back to people who already have loads of cash. Some of us will always own that sense of protectiveness. We get fired up. How we use that fire is up to us.

When we take our Senate back, we need to make sure we elect prudent, wise people who will listen to everyone in Wisconsin. Let's not kid ourselves into thinking that the current Republican senate is listening. But we do need to hold our officials accountable, and expect that the service the next Senate gives us is equally as heroic as the service our Wisconsin 14 is providing right now.

Let's keep moving, one step at a time - recalls now, April 5th elections, talking to our neighbors politely. One step at a time - Wisconsin will be ours!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Start Real Conversations

Hat tip to another Eau Claire community member:

He's got a post right now highlighting the basic political playbook we can look forward to in Wisconsin this year. Money quote: both parties have agendas? Yes. But we have to understand that the Democrats fight for the rights of the poor, disenfranchised, and the underprivileged. The Republicans fight for corporate power, wealth, and the overprivileged.
It should be noted that a lot of folks are convinced that a system that favors individual gain over collective gain actually leads to eventual collective gain. That's my basic understanding of the Ayn Rand philosophy. A whole lot of people share that mindset. Unfortunately, the act of actually saying you want the collective society to improve is somehow too much to admit for a lot of people with this individualistic attitude. Does admitting that break the cycle?

I think, deep down, we live in compassionate communities, and we really do want to take care of each other on a basic level. This stretches across humanity. Look no further than the heroes in Japan right now, fighting to keep that nuclear reactor under control. These men and women face certain death, but there they are, working to do what they can protect their neighbors. I probably seem a bit like a Pollyanna here, but I think in our heart of hearts, we are compassionate and empathetic. The shame of all of this is the way we've been turned against each other with divide-and-conquer politics.

The only thing we need to succeed is the ear of our elected officials. That doesn't seem like too much to ask, does it? We will continue to make ourselves heard with the recall this spring. We will elect people that value our communities. We need folks in Madison who will find a way to hear us when we speak. Listen to our words: Wisconsin will be ours!

About That Rail Line

It was pretty disappointing, last December, to see Walker turn that rail funding down. The governor promised to save us money and create jobs, and had turned down money and killed jobs.

Well, now, it's obvious that he didn't save us a dime. From the Biztimes:

[Walker's] proposed 2011-2013 budget allocates $60 million for making the improvements to the train tracks that would have been paid for with the federal gift of $810 million for high-speed rail.

Put another way, if Mr. Walker had taken a different track, we could have had a regional rail connection that form the first link in connecting the Twin Cities to Madison to Milwaukee to Chicago and points east for about $600,000 a year. Instead, we are sent a bill by Mr. Walker for $60 million.

That $60 million could have paid for the operating costs of the system for the next 100 years.

Full link here.

Let this be a lesson to us: blind ideology is expensive. In this case, it's blind conservative ideology. When we elected Walker, in my heart of hearts, I had hoped that he'd be a pragmatic, down-to-earth conservative that watched our money carefully. I figured the left would have some disagreements with him over social issues. Maybe we'd get a conceal-and-carry law passed, and, like Minnesota, nothing would really change. Maybe the status quo on gay marriage would stick in place for another couple of years.

Instead, we get actions like this. I don't even know how to characterize it. I can't put a phrase to it, I can't make a metaphor that works. Our governor eliminated good jobs that were sure to be created, and cost us $60 million dollars we were sure to have. How do you wrap that up in a soundbyte?

Remember this: every day he spends in office carries the potential to cost our state more money. When you find articles like this, forward them to your friends who claim to be fiscal conservatives. This is the kind of thing that should bring us together in taking our state back. Fiscal conservatives, sadly, sat on the sidelines during the Bush years, and watched the deficit loom large over us. There was no criticizing of unfunded programs like Medicare Part D from the right. We all know that we need to watch our spending, and spend our tax dollars on things that help our state move forward.

Getting Scott Walker out of office is an important step in that piece. To his friends and family, he might seem like a nice guy. Unfortunately for the rest of us, his strict adherence to blind dogmatism leaves him ill-equipped to handle our state's budget. In the same way that we reject his fanaticism, we must renounce our own, and come together with basic solutions that help bring us all up together. When we stay humble and focused, we will carry the day.

I'm hoping that I can keep motivated. I'm pretty sure I'll keep getting upset by things like today's article, but I know that my friends, family, and the simplicity of everyday life will help to keep me grounded. I said this the other day: I get tired. I'm sure all of us do. But that's just what they are expecting will happen. We need to keep ourselves sharp, be acutely aware of the facts, and be ready to act when the time comes. Tell your friends who haven't gone yet: pledge to recall Scott Walker at Remind them to vote for Kloppenberg for WI Supreme Court on April 5th. We will take Wisconsin back if we simply continue to put one foot in front of the other, and march forward together. Our vigilance is key. Wisconsin will be ours.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Can You Laugh Without Laughing at Someone?

I received this from a friend today:

Ruger is coming out with a new pistol in honor of Obama. It will be named the “Union Worker”.
It doesn’t work and you can’t fire it.

The irony, of course, is that his wife is a teacher.

A couple of things about this hilarious joke:
1) Why bring Obama into it? He froze federal wages and has been nowhere to be found in Wisconsin, aside from one or two offhand remarks back in the first week.
2) This is a typical joke from this friend of mine. He's a white guy from the suburbs who has never had to fight for a living wage for his profession. He had the opportunity to go to a good school, and he did work hard to pass his exams in a state college. He eventually became an engineer. I don't want to discredit his work there. In fact I'm glad he can pay his bills, because I care about him. Everyone who works deserves a living wage.

His type of humor comes from the position of power. If we're laughing, we have to be laughing at someone. We have to be putting someone down who is less "deserving" than we are. In this case, it's unions. In past cases, it's been Hmong people, or gay people, or Mexican immigrants. Of course many times it's "liberals," whoever they are anymore.

I've got some basic facts for my friends that continue to laugh at these jokes.

  • Your "fiscal conservatism," laid bare in Wisconsin, now means taking money from underpaid public workers and giving it to billionaires.
  • The people you point and laugh at today are currently fighting to keep all of our children from losing the opportunity that you had growing up.
  • The elected representation of your preferred political party is more concerned about finding ways to punish those who disagree with them than they are with getting actual work done.
  • The benefits package your wife has available as a teacher is a direct result of the union she belongs to. It was not a gift from the state.
The intentions here are not obvious - he knows where I stand, why send this to me? What good does this do me, to know he's laughing at yet another person or group of people?

He doesn't know it, but this kind of thing actually gets me moving. When I see something like this, I get fired up, I get ready for some fun, and I want to go out and make things happen. Meanwhile, he's like the Grinch, sitting up there in his cave, asking why we still smile to ourselves after a defeat. We are a community, and we are together, and nothing can stop us. We are no longer protesting, though we may head out occasionally to let Walker know he's not welcome in our city. We are a movement, and we will take Wisconsin back, with clipboards, recalls, ballot boxes, victory parties, and eventually, legislation. Wisconsin will be ours!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Let's Be Grateful

I woke up this morning with 35 followers. All I can say is, wow. Rather than say "thanks for following the blog," I have to say, thanks for affirming, in your own way, that you care about your community, and that you're interested keeping Wisconsin strong. That sounds cheesy (pun!) and it is, just a bit anyway. But it's heartening to see the level of compassion we have for each other. Most of the fuel for my fire comes from neighbors and friends. Their happiness is our happiness, and their struggles are often ours to bear. I'm glad to see that this is true for so many of us here.

Madison was beautiful this weekend, and crowded with Wisconsin supporters. Some estimates range up to 185,000. It was packed, shoulder to shoulder, all the way down the lawn and across the street, backed up to the buildings. Someday we will tell our kids, on a visit to the capitol, that we saw the entire lawn full of people standing together in solidarity. We can be proud of ourselves, but the true moment, for us, will come when we elect candidates that care about our communities again. This weekend will only be a success if we actually make a positive change at the ballot box and restore our voices. Personally, I'd like to see a state constitutional amendment allowing collective bargaining. I think we can do it, but first, we need friendly legislators who will listen to our needs. The recalls are an important first step.

What a day Saturday was. Sara and I watched as our Senator Vinehout gave a stirring speech, along with the 13 other heroes we have in our Senate. The Senator is hopefully back home milking her cows this morning! We would have loved to see the tractorcade, but we only saw one tractor, slowly making its way through the masses, as we arrived a bit late on the scene.

I can tell you that after these past three weeks, I'm tired. This has been absolutely nerve-racking, and remaining centered throughout this process has been an impossible journey in and of itself. We've stayed up nights poring through news reports. We've had bitter words with friends and family. We've watched as our elected officials slam teachers and snowplow drivers. We've seen them denigrate the service of the Senators standing up for us. Some of our friends have even slept on marble floors for weeks. We've forced the Republicans to admit that this is not about the health of our state. It's about money for their wealthy campaign backers. But all of this is tiring. Unlike them, we can't rent protesters, and we can't afford fancy coach buses, and we have to make our own signs, and we have to sing with our own voices, and we have to walk door-to-door gathering signatures, because that's the only way we're going to hire an elected representative that wants to hear our voice.

Thankfully, as a result of everyone around us, although I'm exhausted, I'm also extremely hopeful. I hope you are, too. We will stick together, we will smile as we sing, we will cheerfully petition for these recalls, and Wisconsin will be ours. One of the best things the Reverend Jesse Jackson said this weekend is that a struggle for rights has never been lost, over the course of human history.

The pundits keep referring to the recall efforts using phrases like "Never in Wisconsin history." Let's get to the streets with our clipboards and make Wisconsin history. This is the moment where we stand up to the billionaires and ask them to respecfully keep their hands out of our pockets. I can't wait to meet more of our friends and neighbors as we canvass neighborhoods this spring. Wisconsin will be ours!

Erpenbach Speaks

Sunday, March 13, 2011


There's a lot to share from yesterday, but this guy's speech ought to hold us over for a bit.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Ironic Dissent

From a post on the Isthmus forum, in response to the "To All My Friends:"

My favorite part was this:
But apparently we have to do it anyway. Because you know, it's economic theory. Even as it stands unproven, we heard it once. We don't know the actual economics behind it, and we don't know if it's being applied correctly, but we heard it somewhere.

So, this guy basically admits that he and many others don't understand the economic arguments behind the political changes happening in our state and across the country. He doesn't propose any counterargument based on an alternative interpretation of economic principles, so I presume he doesn't have one.

Not true at all, and actually, it's not even my responsibility in the matter to articulate an alternate proposal. The burden of proof is on those proposing a solution. The Governor owes Wisconsin a full and honest airing of as many alternatives possible. Especially when livelihoods are on the line.

If we're going to cut public salaries and jobs, the folks making the economic claim need to justify that these losses are the best and only way to keep Wisconsin's economy moving. We have yet to be presented with a single shred of evidence, with any specificity, that taking money and jobs away from teachers and other public workers is the best way to create new jobs. Walker's plan is not the only way to balance the budget - there are an infinite number of other ways we can go about making up the shortfall. Each different possible method should be laid out, heavily scrutinized, and debated. An easy example: raise sales taxes 1%. We'd see a relatively minimal impact on the economy, and, according to UWEC Economics Professor Thomas Kemp, our state would raise $860 million in just one fiscal year.

It's true: tax cuts do work from time to time, but there's ample evidence and basic math to support whether or not a specific tax cut will actually stimulate a specific economy. The Governor and his counterparts have provided no such documentation - only blind ideology. Blind ideology should never be enough for us to conduct public policy. It's irresponsible on its face, even if no one gets impacted, and even if our broken clocks are right twice a day. But when we're talking about the livelihoods of our neighbors, we owe it to each other to look for the best way forward, with the least amount of visible impact.

Look: I don't always side with the populist mob. Eau Claire had a controversial plan to build an addition to its county jail last year. All my liberal friends were 100% opposed. I'll be honest, though (and this may get some folks pissed off!): I looked at the numbers carefully, and at the end of the day, I supported the expansion. Maybe I missed some data, but the information that was publicly available pointed directly toward the option the county ended up choosing. In the end, the beauty of the process we had here was a complete airing of all the issues, financial, environmental, community-effecting, and otherwise. There were many valid points on either side. The community benefits from a healthy debate where each side is willing to compromise. And you know what? We're all still friends, united as a community.

There was no compromise this winter - only dishonesty and manipulation.

Wisconsin is ours - it's not just yours, it's not just "theirs," and it's not just mine. The sheer level of callousness toward those deeply affected by these cuts is difficult to swallow. But I think over time, that will fade away. People will begin to see the ripple effects that Walker's plan is going to have on the rest of the community, and wish we'd had a more serious, considered debate on these policy items before we rushed headlong into policies that may sound wonderful ideologically, but end up devastating in a pragmatic sense.

A Tax Hike by Another Name

I received an email from a teaching family today, and she had the following posted on her own blog:

....It's hard to describe as this past week has been one of the most trying and fascinating weeks I've experienced in a long time.

Trying, because on Monday, my husband (a public school teacher) had to vote, along with thousands of other teachers in his district, on a rushed contract that the school board set before them. Some information had leaked that in the next few days, Gov. Walker's budget repair bill would pass. So the idea of this rushed contract was to get something voted and ratified before the bill took effect. To give an idea of what this new contract looks like, I'll use my husband as an example. Basically, his take home pay will be reduced by about $8000.For someone with a master's degree and nine years experience, he will be bringing home less than $40,000 next school year.

The full post is here:

I think of this $8,000 salary decrease as a tax hike. I know in legal, technical terms, it's different. But in practice it's exactly the same thing. We currently have elected representation that has decided to overwhelmingly pass the functional equivalent of a dramatic tax increase along to a small segment of the middle class. We've been so taken in by the idea that we can't "spread the wealth around" that we apparently have committed to only targeting certain groups for our budget shortfalls.

Once again we see the issues laid bare. Though Walker has committed to "not raising taxes," he has no problem squeezing blood out of the turnip of teachers' salaries. So, who, then, will reap the rewards of our "tax cuts?" What good are "leveled off tax rates" if hundreds of thousands of our citizens are forced to take the functional equivalent of tax increases as a trade-off?

May's post does end with optimism, though. And I think she's right. We all need to keep our chins up here. There are plenty of battles ahead, and we will win them by relaying a positive message of unity. Public employees are not the enemy, and we all know this, because we all know one, or two, or a dozen. We will remain committed, because as May says, nothing is lost, until we give up.

Wisconsin will be ours.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Eau Claire's Town Hall Meeting - March 10th

A cute comic that a teacher from Cleveland, WI sent me early this morning:

Sara and I attended a town hall meeting last night with our local governing bodies to find out how the budget will affect us and our surrounding community. It was held at DeLong Middle School. I think there were about 600 people there, along with a panel featuring representation from the City of Eau Claire, Eau Claire County, Chippewa Valley Health and Human Services, and the Altoona School Board. I feel like I'm forgetting one person.

All of them were in good positions, suited to their personalities, and dedicated to their service to our community. Robin Elvig, Altoona school board representative, was so obviously empathetic and committed to the students. The county representative was a great numbers guy - the kind of dude you want spending your tax dollars wisely. I didn't know this, but Eau Claire's City Council Member Thomas Kemp is an Econ professor at UWEC. Professor Kemp did the opening, big picture on the budget.

There were some drastic cuts outlined, and a lot of big numbers. Despite our deficit, there are other options besides cutting services that no one is considering. For example: Wisconsin has some of the lowest sales tax rates in the Upper Midwest. Raising this sales tax 1% would generate an estimated $860 million dollars. That's slightly more than we're taking out of public schools. Also, the proposed "balanced budget" Walker submitted still leaves us in a $50 million dollar hole for the biennium.

But again, it was the personal stories that hit me the most last night.

After perhaps thirty minutes of public questions, a rough-looking dude made his way to the microphone. He was skinny, about 5'10", long blonde hair hidden under a black bandana, and a goatee that looked like something Dimebag Darell used to wear. He spoke forcefully.

He's a prison guard. The comment I won't forget, coming out of this skinny guy, was this: "I've stood toe-to-toe with the most dangerous criminals in our state. Now the governor wants to send in these Wackenhout security guards to take over our prison systems. " He's right, and it's something lost in all of this. Taking away his voice as a union member is a key step in privatizing our prisons. First his voice, then his job.

Privatized prisons tend to lead to nasty things. Put a profit motive into incarceration, and suddenly, I think we may see lobbying groups popping up asking us to get "tougher on crime." Meaning, put more people in prison, so I can make more money. I've heard awful things about the prison system in Virginia. I don't want a corporate conglomerate overseeing our citizens. We need accountability.

He moved on, though, to another important topic.

He and his wife have a son that was struggling to read. Reading specialists, to be cut out of school board budgets by Scott Walker's biennium bill, have helped his 14 year old son dramatically improve his reading skills. Without these educators, his son would have had untold struggle. His voice quivered as he talked about the teacher that brought his son into a world of new opportunities. There was a sense of anger at the unfairness - that anyone would think this was a good thing to take from our kids. All of our kids deserve to learn at the same level. It's empowering to any family to know that each child, regardless of their parents' income level, has the same shot at success as anyone else.

My wife's story is similar. She was raised by a single father who worked the second shift at UniRoyal Tire Factory in Eau Claire. It was a struggle for her to learn to read in her early childhood, but the specialized reading instructors in Eau Claire public schools gave her the attention she needed. She is now a registered nurse working in the Mayo system. I still get goosebumps when I remember the day she walked across that stage to get her diploma. This didn't happen in a vacuum. Yes, she worked hard, but there were many great schoolteachers who helped her along the way. Our community took care of her, and now she has the opportunity to take care of all of us. We need to take care of each other.

A famous politician once said "budgets are moral documents." Where is the morality in taking away this help? How do these cuts help our state?

We'll have time to give our input. There are six public hearings that will be scheduled across the state this summer for us to give public comment about our budget. I would encourage everyone to look through this budget carefully. Get the facts, and know them by heart. Learn them like a song. Pay close attention to dates and times for these hearings as they are announced. Our leaders needs to walk into these decisions with eyes wide open, and they need to leave with a full understanding of the impact their choices have on us. We need to make our priorities clear. Are they going to send our tax dollars out of state, or will they keep our money here, in our pockets?

This is not Scott Walker's budget. This is our budget: Our kids. Our teachers. Our roads. Our neighborhoods. Our power plants. Our school nurses. Our guidance counselors. Our prisons. Our cops. Our firefighters. Our snowplow drivers. This is our state. Let's keep it that way.

Say it again: Wisconsin will be ours.

A Quick Note on Comments

Comment policy:

I love arguing on the internet, but my favorite blog online is The Daily Dish. It's Andrew Sullivan's blog. He does take emails, and he routinely posts reasonable dissents. I love that model. It allows for feedback while avoiding the typical internet trolling.

If you want to send me a dissent via email, feel free. I may ignore it completely. I may never post it. If it's a persuasive argument, and I change my viewpoint, you deserve to be heard.

If you've got something that you feel absolutely deserves to be posted, feel free to write it yourself, distribute it, take it to Congress, and make it public policy.

Thanks to those who initially commented, both negatively and positively, on my older posts.

Feel free to email me with dissents or assents at



To All My Friends

First of all, to my friends who disagree on the matter of the Senators, the rights of public workers, and the role of government:

Government should be efficient. No one disputes that. I don't know what sort of fairy tale you suppose the modern left lives in, but no one in recent history here has asked that the government take care of their every need. There is, however, such a thing as an economy of scale. It's much cheaper, on the whole, for us all to get together and pool our money in one bucket and decide to hire someone to coordinate the snowplow routes, for example, and if we make that group of people beholden to us, we get better results. This is not a communist idea. It's the foundation of our country. Taxes pay for services. Asking for services from our government does not make us communists. Asking that those services are funded somehow implies that, though. And while Bob the snowplow driver might occasionally take five extra minutes on his coffee break, at the local level there is not a whole lot of waste. If you do see some, be a good citizen and report it. But don't use Bob's 20 minute coffee break as your excuse to cut a billion dollars from our schools.

Sometimes we have shortfalls. I don't know if anyone noticed, but property values plummeted due to a bubble in our housing market. Property taxes are based on estimated values, and as values drop, so does state income. A bunch of people lost their jobs and had no money to buy things. We hit a spiral, dropped downward, and took in less revenue in sales tax, less revenue in taxation of corporate profit (at least what little of that profit we actually tax), and saw more people hit the social safety nets as they no longer had access to healthcare.We are indeed in somewhat of a cyclical crisis.

What elected officials are proposing has very little impact on this crisis.

Very little is taxed out of corporate profit anyway, but we're deciding to take in even less money from them. In exchange, we are reducing the pay, or in some cases even firing our teachers. Now ask yourself if an unproven prediction - some economic theory you heard once - is actually worth taking a job from the teachers you know. There is not a scenario that is going to happen in our state in the next year that will add enough jobs to cover the difference.

But apparently we have to do it anyway. Because you know, it's economic theory. Even as it stands unproven, we heard it once. We don't know the actual economics behind it, and we don't know if it's being applied correctly, but we heard it somewhere.

These proposals are going to end up simply giving some group of stockholders a bit more in profits, or some rich guy a new yacht. They may even create one or two or one hundred jobs. Maybe. We really don't know. But we do know that they're going to destroy someone's livelihood. We know that for sure. Don't think about the thousands of teachers about to be fired. Think about the one you know. Is his job, or her job, worth the risk? If your neighbor has to move to an apartment, or a different state, was it worth destroying her job for the potential to create the one that doesn't exist?

Ask yourself if there was any other possible way to get that money back from our state. Your property taxes could have risen 1%. The sales tax could have been hiked. Corporate taxes could have been raised, or at least enforced. But instead, you've decided that your best course is to take the livelihood away from a person you probably know.

So that's the money aspect.

Now onto the labor rights aspect.

People die for good causes sometimes. No one thinks twice about celebrating war heroes. But there are heroes in the labor movement we ought to celebrate.

You know that weekend you celebrate at the cabin in the summer?

People died for that.

You know those 8 hour days you work?

People got clubbed for that.

You know the equal pay your wife is allowed now?

Women endured years of demeaning sexual harassment for that. Maybe even your mother did.

Somewhere, probably within the last century, real people we know took real risks, went on strike, and improved their lives and ours by their actions. The middle class didn't pop up on its own. It wasn't some gift from the wealthy at the time. Our grandparents rose up together and demanded better lives for their kids. Now we're being asked to throw away the means by which we achieved these rights. We have power now, for a few short more moments, and it's being taken from us, by us, with the consent of nearly half our population. Something is wrong with that.

If a rich man leaves millions to his child, and he squanders it, we think it's a pity.We think, well, if I had that money, I'd have invested it in bonds, or something safe, and just lived off the interest. We'd keep it alive. Why not?

But here, in Wisconsin, our grandparents have left us with a vibrant middle class, along with the means to keep it alive, and we are about to piss it all away in a short season.

There are some things that seem out of our control. The Uniroyal plant left Eau Claire in the early 90s. What people forget is that the union kept the plant in town for twenty years after they decided to close the place down. That's twenty years of hard working men and women bringing in good wages for their families. The union helped those people, and it helped our whole town. Closing the plant was devastating, but the union softened the blow. All because people were willing to get together and ask to sit down and talk about the situation with their employer.

The public unions accepted the financial concessions almost immediately this winter. We essentially got them to agree to their own form of a tax hike, anywhere from 10 to 20 to 30 percent.

I wonder if anyone can imagine the Chamber of Commerce accepting a tax hike of that magnitude.

For some reason, asking an janitor to make less money is fine. Asking a business or a billionaire to chip in is considered socialism.

And rather than letting public employees keep the tradeoff of a relatively safe job, we're taking that away too. We want everyone to be as paranoid as us. No one should be comfortable. It's the most backwards thing I've ever seen. We care so little about our neighbors, we want to drag them right down in the hole we're in. It's as if we need to remove airbags from every car on the road because one of us still drives a '66 Buick.

I really, truly don't know what anyone on the right believes they accomplished tonight. How this is a victory for anyone is completely beyond me. Wisconsin lost tonight, cut its own arm off, and then bragged about its new weight-loss program.

So that's that, for my friends who disagree.

For my friends who have been fighting in Madison, I have better news.

I am hopeful.Wisconsin will be ours.

I am overjoyed with the fight we've put up. So much so that I find myself misty-eyed tonight. We have power together. I'm not even in a damned union and I feel our collective power. Madison will never be the same to me. The capitol will never be a quiet building. When I take my future grandkids there (kidless now) I will be able to tell them what we did here this winter. Christ, I'm turning from a Vikes fan into a Packer fan. That's how moved I am this year. Wisconsin will be ours.

This winter is the moment we've decided to take a hard look at how big money shapes our lives. We've seen what they will do to us if they get control. They don't care if they have to turn us out on the street. They want their piece. But we have hit the streets, and we even, somehow, got 14 senators to agree with us and we damn near stopped this thing.In the least, we exposed these assholes for the frauds they are. We shed light on these nasty people. Everyone sees what they're doing now. No one is going to sneak something by us anymore. Every bill is being closely scrutinized and every vote will be remembered. Wisconsin will be ours.

Recall efforts are underway. We can win those elections. We will be knocking on doors in all 8 of those districts. Should any of these tea party "patriots" get enough signatures to recall one of our 14, we'll be there to canvass for those candidates. We can take back the Senate by the time our kids are in school next year. Wisconsin will be ours.

Scott Walker will follow. Our 60 days for signatures starts in November. Go to tonight and sign up if you haven't already. Sign up your grandma that doesn't have a computer. Make sure her voice is there and we're ready to hit the ground running come November. Wisconsin will be ours.

Our grandparents did fight for these rights, and not only did they fight for union rights, they fought for our amazing education system, our great parks, our clean water, our beautiful forests....the list goes on. We need to honor their memory and defend their legacy. Wisconsin will not be owned by out-of-state billionaires. Wisconsin will be ours.

Wisconsin will be ours and we will keep it from slipping away. This is one tiny footnote in our legacy. We will continue to do our future generations proud by standing up for what's right, this winter, all this summer, and on to the day when we roll into Madison and take our state back from the powerful interests trying to own it now.

All through history, we've seen much, much worse. Make no mistake, humanity has suffered far, far greater injustices. This is not close to the tip of the iceberg. But good men and women, while suffering setbacks, have continued to fight for what is right. We're still ahead of them. For every three steps forward we take, they may take a step away from us once in awhile. But we need to keep pressing on. And we will. We need to remain united, Wisconsin. We need to steel ourselves and get ready for a long haul.

Wisconsin will be ours.