Tuesday, June 28, 2011

..And Then They Came for our Beer

From New Glarus Brewing Company's Facebook page this morning:
Gov. Walker may be too busy to sit down and discuss the ramifications of Bill 414 on Wisconsin's small brewers, but this cost our state jobs and was not necessary to help South African Breweries known here as SAB Miller/Coors. Nor is Miller under any threat from AB/Inbev. This was passed to hamper the growth of Craft brewers.
I love New Glarus Brewing Company. They make the venerated Spotted Cow, a great wheat beer that has just the right touch of sweetness and goes down easy. They also make a great stout, several good ales, and a wonderful IPA. I would suggest a brewery tour to anyone. New Glarus is a perfect example of Wisconsin's fine tradition of craft brewery, going all the way back to our founding days in the lumber camps.

Governor Walker and the Republicans in this state just signed a budget perfectly designed to invite big, out-of-state money to come in and plunder us. No one is exempt. Our schools, our drinking water, our workers, our forests, and now our beer - all of Wisconsin is under threat of conglomeration, outsourcing, and increased privatization.

The Wisconsin Brewers' Guild wrote an open letter to Governor Walker last week:

Nearly 600,000 guests visit our packaging brewery members’ facilities a year which represents 2.8 people for every barrel brewed. An additional 1.3 million people are entertained by our brewpub members. Since the beer sold by WI craft breweries is still only about 5% of the beer purchased in Wisconsin, it is easy to see how many visitors we could bring in if our collective market share would climb to our goal of 30+%.

Today there are over 50 small breweries and brewpubs operating in Wisconsin, employing more than 1000 state citizens. This doesn’t include the auxiliary industries that support these small breweries such as maltsters, glass manufacturers, paper manufacturers, chemical manufacturers, and brewing equipment manufacturers.

Once again, if we reach our goals, we will be employing over 6000 people directly by our members, and hundreds more would need to be added by our suppliers. Collectively, these businesses have been steadily adding jobs to our state for the last 25 years, including through most recent economic downturn. Craft brewing is one of the fastest growing industries nationwide.

Small brewers are also responsible for starting a renaissance in brewery related agriculture in Wisconsin, with barley, wheat, and hops now being grown to supply the state’s craft brewing industry.


Besides stifling future growth these changes also de-value existing businesses by removing valuable, portable, assets from their portfolios.

Interestingly, the principals promoting these radical modifications to the business models have been steadily reducing Wisconsin jobs. The Wisconsin Beer Distributors Association is a shrinking organization. In 1994, there were 92 wholesalers in the state. In 2007, there were 67. Today there are 42. Each of these closures or mergers results in loss of jobs. Miller-Coors has been steadily reducing workforce in the state for years, including the recent move of their corporate headquarters to Illinois.

Much of this reduction is due to a nationwide push for “distributor consolidation” driven by mergers of the world’s largest brewers. It is well publicized that Miller-Coors is seeking to have all of their brands with the same distributor. In Wisconsin, the consolidation has been completed in Milwaukee, Madison, and the southwestern quadrant of the state. The northern half of the state still has independent Miller and Coors wholesalers. The only portion of this legislation that is fiscal in nature creates a new state bureaucracy funded by new “wholesaler permits” with a cap fee of $2500. When the Miller-Coors consolidation process is complete in the north, there will be insufficient funding for this new position. This seems to run counter to your policies.

We believe that changes can be made to our distribution laws in a way that NO Wisconsin businesses are losers. The process should include input from all affected parties.

Please veto all of motion 414 in its entirety.

In spite of this plea from local businesses, the budget was passed, and the governor signed it without so much as an acknowledgment of the existence of the Wisconsin Brewers' Guild.

When the governor says Wisconsin is open for business, apparently this means creating a climate where:
Taken together, these changes speak loudly. What does business prefer? A desperate labor force ready to take any job they can find: Workers with little money and less access to basic healthcare services. Reduced power at the bargaining table. Fewer options for upward mobility. No competition from local upstarts or small businesses: Craft breweries are but one example of this new "pro-business climate" we're creating in Wisconsin. Of course CEOs love us more today. They don't have to pay us, they don't have to deal with our pesky "rights," and they don't have to worry about local competition.

Recall primary dates approach fast. It's July 12th in some districts, and July 19th in others. Keep fighting. Don't let the bastards get you down. We will take this state back. Stick to your guns. Quit drinking that piss that Miller puts out - buy yourself a sixer of Spotted Cow and be proud of your state. We will take the Senate back this summer, and we will take the governor's office back this fall. Wisconsin will be ours!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Promising Signs in Ohio and at Home!

For fathers' day, Sara and I took her dad up to Frederic to march in a parade for Shelly Moore. Shelly is the next state senator in Wisconsin's district ten. There's a primary against a fake candidate (Republicans are running false Democrats to stall us) on July 12th. Then Shelly goes on to face a general election against Sheila Harsdorf on August 9th. Me and around 50 other people were there to march alongside Shelly Moore. It was great fun throwing out candy and spending time with fellow Wisconsinites.

We had praise and smiles from most people, aside from one old, fat guy who gave us the thumbs down. There was a Harsdorf float about ten spots back from us with about a ten people in her blue shirts. Maybe the fat guy liked them better. To be fair, our chants were loud, we were having fun, and I suppose it looks a bit odd for a political group to actually have a good time together. It's strange - fighting back as with so many friends brings a smile to my face like I've never thought possible.

In other, otherwisconsinly news, it looks like they're fighting back strong in Ohio!
Ohio doesn't have the same recall powers as Wisconsin, but they do have a citizen's referendum. The referendum allows citizens to put adopted legislation up for a vote before it can be enacted. Petitioners had 90 days to collect 232,000 signatures.

On Thursday, [the reporter] visited the "We Are Ohio" booth in the Netroots Nation exhibition hall. I was told to come back tomorrow as they'd be making a big announcement in conjunction with a rally in Columbus. One doesn't call for a public rally to admit failure, so it was fairly easy to guess they'd collected the needed signatures. I returned on Friday shortly after a sign had been hung under the "We Are Ohio" banner. The sign read 714,137: Well above the threshold necessary to protect the petition from challenges to the signatures.

Ohio will now very likely face a referendum on the same collective bargaining issue we face in Wisconsin. Kudos to our brothers and sisters for making this happen. Now they need to get to the polls and take their rights back. It's not over, but this is a great step toward victory, and we should be cheering in solidarity with the folks in Ohio today. They did it there - we can do it here!

We've got work to do. We have recall elections to win this summer. We WILL take our state back, slowly but surely. Democracy takes time. Volunteer when you can, as often as you can, or donate, if you're one of the few people left in the middle class with an extra ten bucks. We need all hands on deck. On July 12th, and August 9th, and the Walker recall, and Governor Feingold come around, I'd like to give the folks in Ohio something something to congratulate us about. Keep fighting - Wisconsin will be ours!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Our Laws Do Not Apply In Wisconsin

Today, in Wisconsin, our conservative supreme court, bought and paid for by international businessmen, reached the conclusion that open meeting laws only apply to the legislature when it suits some other need. First of all, please, please take fifteen minutes, and read the full decision here:

The real nuggets are in the dissent in this case. The dissenting judges say more about the case specifics than I could possibly say as a part-time blogger. But I will say this, to those of you who oppose the right of teachers to get together and talk about their classroom conditions: You won a case tonight through a hasty, poorly thought-out decision. This decision denies the right of the judicial branch to review legislative process. It says that the legislature is not bound by any rules. According to the dissent, the majority's decision undermines years of precedent, going back to the 1890s. It wildly misrepresents previous cases. Supporting this decision undermines a system of checks and balances that we consider a hallmark of our society, and it makes a farce of our judicial system.

Here's a snippet of the dissent:

119 First, the order misrepresents Milwaukee Journal Sentinel v. Wisconsin Department of Administration, 2009 WI 79, 319 Wis. 2d 439, 768 N.W.2d 700, as not involving the legislature's compliance with a statute. In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel case, the court declared that it had jurisdiction to determine whether the legislature complied with Wis. Stat. § 111.92(1)(a), a statute governing legislative procedure, because that statute furthered the constitutional directives found in Article IV, Section 17(2) of the Wisconsin Constitution.

120 Second, the order fails to acknowledge that the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel case explained that a court will interpret and apply a procedural statute to determine whether the legislative action complies "with constitutional directives":

[W]e need not decide whether Wis. Stat. § 111.92(1)(a) is a rule of legislative proceeding because a statute's terms must be interpreted to comply with constitutional directives. Accordingly, even if the statute might otherwise be characterized as a legislative rule of proceeding, we may interpret the statute and apply it to the legislative action to determine whether that action complies with the relevant constitutional mandates. Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137 (1803); [State ex rel. La Follette v.] Stitt, 114 Wis. 2d [358, at] 367, [338 N.W.2d 684 (1983)]; McDonald v. State, 80 Wis. 407, 411-12, 50 N.W. 185 (1891).

Therefore, because both Wis. Stat. § 111.92(1)(a) and Article IV, Section 17(2) require the legislature to take additional actions to amend existing law or to create new law, and we have jurisdiction to interpret the Wisconsin Constitution and the Wisconsin Statutes, we have the authority to evaluate legislative compliance with § 111.92(1)(a). Stitt, 114 Wis. 2d at 367, 338 N.W.2d 684. Accordingly, we reject WSEU's argument in this respect, and proceed to determine whether the legislature complied with § 111.92(1)(a) in light of the Wisconsin Constitution.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 319 Wis. 2d 439, ¶¶19, 20 (footnote omitted).

121 Justice Prosser fails to mention the case.

122 The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel case was based on at least three earlier cases, all concluding that a court may require the legislature to comply with a legislative procedural rule or statute if the procedural rule or statute furthers a constitutional directive.[13]

123 The order and Justice Prosser's concurrence put in jeopardy Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and prior case law that declares that a court may determine whether legislative action in enactment of a law complies with a relevant constitutional directive.

124 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (and its precursors) correctly state the applicable principles of judicial review, the doctrine of separation of powers, and the functions of the legislature and judiciary.

In our haste, we overlooked years of precedent, in order for us to do...what? Make sure Wisconsin is "open for business?" How many more of our laws will we throw to the side, through legislative or judicial fiat, in order for us to become "open for business?" If previous history, constitutional requirements, and judicial review no longer apply, why do we even bother going to the polls? If our legislators fail to respond to us, fail to live up to their own rules, and disregard any dissenting information as "union thuggery," why even bother with the political process? Why don't we just sign away the deeds to our property now, and let Exxon, GE, and Koch industries take over the place. Maybe they'll give us nice jobs and allow us to stay on their land for awhile.

I want to find a way out of this madness. I'd like to say that winning the recall elections this summer is important. It is. I'd love for that to be the end of everything - just one more election, and we're home free. But tonight I realize that this is not the case. It's so far from being the case, that I must say, I'm a bit overwhelmed. We can't win the recall elections and then sit on our hands in 2012. We need to recall our governor. We need to recall the rest of our state senators. We need to go beyond that, though. We need to organize, and we need to do it on a level that hasn't been done in decades. I'm tired just thinking about it. We need to develop platforms every bit as coherent as ALEC and the Heritage Foundation. Every elected position, from alderman to the White House, needs to be seriously scrutinized by US. We simply cannot let politicians continue to slip past into what is apparently now unchecked power. Even in tough districts, we need to fight and win, year after year.

I want so badly to have a metaphor tonight that captures what I feel. But sometimes a metaphor distracts from the real situation. Tonight it's plain to me that the people are not in power here. There are a handful of rich people calling the shots. A staggering percentage of the electorate in our state want to give this handful of rich people control over our schools, highways, parks, and everything else, on the blind faith that their stockholders will manage it better than we can. Right now Governor Walker has an 87% approval rating among Republicans in Wisconsin. He's not unpopular.

Thankfully, the beauty of our system is in our continual progress as a nation. The beauty of human nature is our continuing progress as a species. We can dig our way out of problems. We can organize when we need to organize. We can win victories over the powerful. In fact, what we fail to realize is that they are scaling back the victories we've already won. And though Governor Walker may be popular, remember that even the most successful actions on behalf of organized labor have been notoriously unpopular, despite the benefit they provide.

So how did we win these battles? Was it easy? Did every fight result in a victory? Certainly not. Our grandfathers and grandmothers were beaten, harassed, blacklisted, and put out on the street for the battles on behalf of working men and women. And they still won. We WILL prevail. Small losses like tonight are fuel for our fire. This court decision lays bare their absolute derision of our system of governance. They don't want a check on their power. They want absolute authority. They don't want anyone to stand in their way, even if it means undermining the democracy our grandfathers died to protect. Cheering this victory is cheering the downfall of everything that makes this nation great.

Thankfully we are now together. This spring has energized me and hundreds of thousands of others in Wisconsin. I love seeing our brothers and sisters stepping forward to work for a better future. I think of Tony Schultz and his passion on behalf of farmers in this state. I think of Virginia Welle and her passion for educating students. I think of the unnamed snowplow driver I met in Madison who worked double shifts in the winter to clear our streets. We're ordinary people; unpaid shills working toward the common cause of a better middle class for Wisconsin. We work against billion dollar industries that see our solidarity as a cost to be eliminated.

Our ranks will grow as they continue to disaffect the others in our midst. We will fight together. We will provide others with an outlet for their frustrations. We will put leaders forward that listen to us. We will win hearts and minds first, and elections will follow. I hope you're with me this summer. It's going to be a battle. But it's also going to be great fun, standing shoulder to shoulder with our brothers and sisters as we take our state back. Tonight, more than ever, we need to stand together and sing. Wisconsin will be ours!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Us

I spent the last four days in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The BWCA is a little over a million acres of wilderness, with no logging, mining, or motorized access allowed. Not everyone is familiar with this place, but it's awesome. The Boundary Waters are located in the northeast tip of Minnesota, and stretch into Canada as well. My dad and I have crossed our northern border twice in a canoe. They don't stop you in customs out in the middle of the wilderness, thankfully. We probably had some "contraband" whiskey or tequila with us at the time!

There are hundreds of lakes and 1500 miles of canoe routes that are accessible for the cost of a $12 entry pass. To get between lakes, there are paths called portages. The paddler carries his or her gear over rocky ground, and these paths stretch anywhere from a few feet to two miles, up and down hills. I have been going there since 2001, on and off. During a trip last year, I decided it's something I'm going to try at least once a year from here on out, until I'm too old to paddle anymore.

There's a short history here, and a long history here. Reading this history is amazing. There is a staggering amount of work required by committed individuals to get something like this to happen. Convincing lawmakers of the need to protect this place must have been hard work. Logging was active in the area until 1979. There are iron ore mines within 50 miles of the place - there must be more ore under these lakes. I can almost hear politicians and business owners discussing the need to protect those jobs in the area, and voting against the protective measures.

I've been there in February, July, August, September, and now June. This was my first taste of black fly season. When I say "taste," I mean I literally tasted dozens of little black flies. They were everywhere, swarming all parts of my being, including my eyes, nose, ears, and mouth. They did chase away the mosquitoes, but only in the sun. Our little mosquito friends were content to swarm us in the shade. We were destroyed during each trip to the privy. Even when we were out on the lake, or in a tent, away from the bugs, you could hear the softly constant buzzing noise permeating the woods. Today, back in the office, it's a bit easier to concentrate. I'm not swatting bugs everywhere I go!

We did find that fishing brought relief. There were fewer bugs out on the lake. We also saw a moose, got laughed at by loons, and we had a great view of the northern lights. It's amazing to go back year after year. There was a huge fire in 2006 and another in 2007. The forest is coming back in a big way, though, and it's a real trip to watch the woods in their slow-motion regeneration process. In ten years, the newcomer won't even know it happened, aside from pictures.

I think of the Boundary Waters as Wisconsin considers a new iron ore mine in our state and federally owned forests. The odds are that the powers in our state government support the mine. Everyone wants jobs. I do see how the trade-offs are enticing to some. But I've been in the national forest that they're looking at. It's pristine, it's beautiful, and it's wild. I hope we can somehow come together and demand accountability. I'll take my forests without mining sludge and poisoned rivers, thanks. These forests belong to us. I'd rather not see them sold off and destroyed. The Sierra Club encourages a long review process:

The Sierra Club's mining committee chairman described the mining proposal as a recipe for disaster.

Dave Blouin, mining committee chair, said that “A fast track review process is a recipe for disaster. GTAC’s proposed mine is to be a minimum of four miles of open pit mining and would likely be the largest mine ever in Wisconsin. Open pit iron ore mining is not a benign and clean industry. You need only look to Minnesota’s iron range to see a moonscape of wastes and open pits causing pollution. The mine permitting processes for the Flambeau mine and Crandon proposal demonstrated that the process works. Those mine applications needed years of study and review to determine impacts and design mine facilities that protect air, water, wildlife and public health.”
I'd hate to see us move too quickly on this. This should be a non-partisan issue - conservation extends beyond party lines and gets directly to who we are as human beings. Being a democrat or a republican doesn't seem to matter to us during that moment we're reeling in a northern, or taking in a fire after a long day in the woods. I hope, in the study of this mine, people can come together to make sure we keep Wisconsin clean and safe for generations to come. Wisconsin is ours - that metal underneath her belongs to all of us. We decide who takes it out, how they do it, when they do it, and how much of our blood, sweat, and tears it costs them to take it. It's our place to decide, and I hope those folks we've elected use common sense and good judgment.

I hope you'll keep tabs on this issue with me. I know they're throwing a lot at us right now, but a forest is truly one of those things that won't come back in our lifetime, or maybe even our grand-childrens' lifetimes. Let's keep our woods and water clean!