Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Michigan and Blaming The Victim

My heart goes out to Michigan workers tonight. But really my heart goes out to each and every person I know. I say this because I think without some serious organization, we're not leaving the world a better place for our kids.

Too many times, we blame the wrong people for our problems. We blame unions when jobs get shipped overseas. If only those workers hadn't asked for more money! We blame the unemployed when they can't get jobs. Usually we cite new TVs or household appliances as proof. If only those jerks would sell all their possessions before asking for help! I lost my job earlier this year, applied for unemployment, but sadly never considered selling the Playstation3 I purchased 5 years prior to losing my job. Was I supposed to do that? Apparently, yes. If you are on government assistance, you need to live like a hermit until a job lands in your lap. My guess is we'd criticize an unemployed person for owning an interview suit if we knew he had one.

This infighting is insane. How many times, holding a recall petition for the governor, was I screamed at by a guy who obviously works for a living and is probably getting screwed on his health insurance (if he even has insurance to begin with)? How many times have I seen a facebook post decrying bank bailouts and poor black people in the same breath?

News flash: we're all getting screwed. Wages for the lower and middle class continue to decline. Wages for upper income brackets continue to rise. The stock market is going gangbusters since the crash. Has your life gotten better as a result? Over here, we're considering ourselves lucky to have jobs at all.

And yet here again in Michigan, I see repeated demonization of the very people who have sustained its principle industry.  It's the most terrible thing in the world to have the members of the United Autoworkers union - the guys who actually build your car - have something resembling minor control over the money their company makes. The workers actually get to bargain for a percentage of GM and Ford profits. Why is this such a problem again?

In reality we know why it's a problem. It's a problem because somewhere, a CEO or a group of stockholders fear that the people they employ will actually ask for a reasonable percentage of the money they are making for the company. They might ask for the opportunity to live a life without fear of a healthcare related bankruptcy. They might ask to share in the profits when the company does well. They certainly get to experience the pain when the company fails. Why not experience the bliss when your group succeeds?  Or at least a temporary respite from the economic stranglehold?

I spent the better part of two years working with my friends to take Wisconsin back from a party representing an out-of-control business sector, and collectively, we failed. We failed to convince enough voters that their economic livelihood may be at stake. We failed, and honestly it's still a tough pill to swallow.

Scott Walker promised us jobs if we acquiesced to the captains of industry and agreed to their terms. Unfortunately, this strategy has failed us. The only thing he's done so far is waste and/or bilk money out of taxpayer coffers, giving more of it to the haves, and less of it to the have-nots. The solution to all of our economic woes as a working class is apparently just to roll over and agree to work longer hours for less money, at the risk of losing everything the first time we get sick.

When will this stop? I don't know. But quite frankly, tonight, I'm tired of being optimistic. That ship has sailed.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

On Mitt Romney

I might have some more posts in the next couple of weeks if my news feed keeps up like this.

This is from a facebook friend I have - directly from his status today. I'll leave him nameless for now - the point stands for itself.

If you plan to vote for Mitt Romney, you are putting a nail into my civil rights coffin, and I'd rather not have friends who think I deserve anything less than equal treatment under the law. Romney supports DOMA (which directly and negatively impacts me, restricting my future husband Mike, the children we plan to have, and my federal protections and tax benefits under the law), and Romney has noted his support for an anti-marriage equality amendment as well.

While you may see your vote for him as one about the economy (and we can debate who'd be better for that until the cows come home), what you INTEND by your vote really doesn't matter. Your vote means that you are supporting someone who not only thinks I'm not equal to you, but who works vigorously to ensure my "less-than" legal status. Your vote for him means that you are totally fine with me being treated with disrespect.

Now, you may see this as an indication that I am being too "single-minded," and I'll admit that when you're denied even the simplest of human considerations, it makes it difficult to look beyond that. But this is about much more than my treatment under the law. Who I am and what I believe passionately in are also things which Romney discounts. I believe in full and fair treatment of ALL people, but Romney believes that women should not receive equal pay for equal work, something my Mom has battled against her entire career.

I believe we need to take care of our earth, even if it means tightening our belts, but Romney favors further deregulation over environmental concerns. I think it is our duty to support things like art and culture (I view them as essential), but Romney disparages the role these play in enriching our lives; he sees them as extraneous and will cut public funding. I believe, just as education is a right, health care is as well, but Romney wants to abolish the Affordable Care Act. I care about those less fortunate and the elderly, and think it is our collective responsibility to ensure their well-being, but in Romney's eyes, these people are victims and moochers. In short, who I am isn't just who I love, it is the things I feel passionately about. And Romney stands against almost all of them.

This is not a debate forum, so please don't see this as an invitation to chime in with your disagreement. If you believe I am your equal and deserve equal rights, if you believe my Mother deserves equal pay and not $.77 on the dollar, if you believe that whatever we do to the least of these we do as unto God, if you believe in women's reproductive rights, if you believe in art and culture and music, if you believe in a clean environment for your grandchildren, then vote for President Obama. If you don't believe in any of these things, I honestly don't want to hear about it. If an honest plea from someone who will be adversely affected by the very things Romney supports, that would be me, if my heartfelt plea doesn't change your mind and give you pause to just think differently for a moment. Well, then I really don't want to know.

But you will.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Response to a Popular Facebook gif

Some friends of mine on facebook were discussing this picture today. Rather than get into a long comment discussion, I figured, hey, I have a blog! So here we go.

This is a good example of the free-market healthcare plan. In a nutshell, it's really a two step solution. Step 1: Live Responsibly. Step 2: Don't ever have any unexpected medical issues. No cancer, no car accidents, no miscarriages, no slips or falls, etc.

I think in a functioning society everyone needs to step up and do their part. But this only goes so far. We also need to step in and take care of each other once in awhile. You see good-hearted people doing this all the time in neighborhoods and churches around the country.

I don't know how you go about making it fair. Seems like now the punishment for unhealthy people is a slow death and an uncomfortable life, with the occasional free emergency room visit.

I don't know how we could have a more market-oriented coercive system...in theory everyone should be healthier because no one wants to live poor, die young and get fat. And yet here we are. Meanwhile, comparable world examples with socialized medicine tend to have healthier people at a lower cost, with an equal amount of basic freedom and economic mobility. I'm thinking of the UK or Germany. Both have two vastly different forms of universal coverage and I highly doubt that anyone in either country feels any less "free" than we do in the US.

I'd prefer to shift to a system where prices are more predictable. The math there generally works out to either a) a single-payer, government sponsored solution, or b) a highly-regulated, highly-accountable privately run system. Right now we have a half-cocked private system with not nearly enough regulation on price controls. Providers and insurance companies can essentially charge us whatever they want to charge us. The consumer and the producer don't have equal amounts of control on the supply/demand curve.

The extent to which we as consumers can actually affect our costs will have to involve massive amounts of people simply leaving the system and following the attached .gif (or just dying).

Whatever the solution really is, it's to the benefit of those with the economic power to have us consumers separated, squabbling down here about causes, when we could very likely get to a solution if we did the research, found the best fix, and stuck to our guns until it was in place.

Blaming the chronically ill for our rising healthcare costs and then just throwing your hands up when the bill comes....something about this approach hasn't worked for us for the past 50 years.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Love Will Keep Us Together

In the dime stores and bus stations
People talk of situations
Read books, repeat quotations
Draw conclusions on the wall
Some speak of the future
My love she speaks softly
She knows there’s no success like failure
And that failure’s no success at all

-Bod Dylan, Love Minus Zero/No Limit
I've spent the morning reading accounts of yesterday's election, listening to friends break the situation down amongst themselves. But this beautiful Dylan song continues to run through my head today.

There's a lot to be considered this morning. In the mountains of data at our disposal, there are assumptions to be made and conclusions to be drawn. There are small victories to be cheered, like the turning over of the senate. We have more victories ahead of us in local elections, and a strong base of friends and volunteers.

As working men and women, we've weathered much worse. While I see the economic stability of the middle class slipping away, I think we've got plenty of battles we can win to provide protection. Saul Alinsky always tried, when he was working with a new group, to win small battles first. We did the opposite - we picked a huge fight, against enormous power and gobs of cash. It's not really amazing that we lost. What's amazing is that we even had a chance.

We're so much more powerful today than we were 16 months ago, if only for the simple fact that we know each other. 45% of this state last night committed to a new future for Wisconsin. It's our job to use this muscle everywhere we can. Yes, we need to look at our failure and ask, "how." But we also need to look at the victories here.

We also need to find out how to broaden our appeal. Our key message is economic justice for the working men and women of Wisconsin. We've got a strong coalition of the Farmers Union, teachers, public sector unions, the tribes, and progressives across the state. We can make significant gains for large amounts of people if we work together.

Our job, over the summer, should be to honestly convince one uncommitted person apiece. We need to make the case that getting involved is important, that we're better off standing together against big corporate power, and that we need strength in the movement. We're not there yet, but we're close. We may not win every battle, or every election, but we can maintain our voice as a united group.

I feel such a heartfelt sense of solidarity with all those who put themselves out there on the front lines. The candidates themselves, the callers, and all those who worked so hard to do the bare-knuckle organizing and canvassing for our cause. We all know how important it is to stay engaged. Let's keep moving forward - we've taken a lump today, but we can dust ourselves off and, after a bit of a breather, come out stronger than ever. Wisconsin will be ours!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Needles and Pins

God Bless The Ramones, and God Bless America.

I sit here this afternoon on needles and pins, awaiting the results of today's momentous election. I hope our efforts pay off in victory tonight! It's going to be close. There's a party in Eau Claire tonight with the folks that have fought so hard to reclaim our state. Email me if you want the details, you're more than welcome to join us.

We've canvassed, called, stood on corners gathering signatures, and some of us even slept in the capitol. Today is the day we have wished for since last February. I will be doing my personal best to enjoy it - all of it. This includes the butterflies, the hope, the fear, the skepticism, and every other raw emotion that comes through today.

I hope we as progressives are able to maintain the long view. We're on the right side of history here, and we can be proud of our accomplishments. We're galvanized in a way that is almost unexplainable. Think of the folks you've met through this process. In this pool are future school board, city council, and state government representatives. You've got a group of great friends who know how to work together. You know each others' strengths and weaknesses. You just happened to pick the toughest battle first. Believe me, after this, a whole lot of local political efforts are going to seem pretty simple by comparison.

We know our state government and our local communities inside and out. There's nothing we can't accomplish if we stick together. So don't fear today. Celebrate it. We made this happen. This fight is a blip on our radar. In a few years, it's going to be a small bullet point on the beginning of our progressive resumes. Wisconsin will be ours!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Crunch Time

I sit here this morning amazed. Over the past 15 months or so, we have been participants in something completely beyond and outside our experience. Never in our lifetime has there been a progressive movement like this. We're this close to toppling a sitting governor.

I feel like we've come so far. For over a year, the progressives in this state have been running in what now seems like a marathon. With almost no money, against very big money, we've taken the fight to some extremely powerful national interests. We've had to face down an angry, reactionary section of the populace who blame teachers and welfare moms for our country's problems. We've stood together in the elements, the rain, the snow, the frozen Wisconsin winters, and hot summertime parades.

We saw the Occupy movement spring up in New York, months after we occupied our capitol building for weeks on end. Many of their signs matched ours. In my visit to New York last winter, at a bar in Hell's Kitchen, I spoke for hours with Occupy progressives, relating how we did it, who we were, trading stories and advice, sharing our work ethic and our motives. Our progressives have become famous across the country, not because we're amazing, but because we're ordinary.

We're ordinary men and women standing up to power, using every resource in our control to make our state better, expressing the very best in democratic values. We're holding our elected officials accountable as our founding fathers truly had intended. We're moms and dads, college kids, snowplow drivers, teachers, cops, firefighters, business owners, nurses, software geeks. I've heard from so many great progressive people from so many different walks of life.

It's not always pretty. In fact I think some of this has at times gotten very ugly. We've all made mistakes somewhere in the mix. Our state is divided, and in the heat of things, there's no doubt that we've separated ourselves here or there on party lines. I know I have friendships where we just don't talk politics anymore. Somehow we need to pull together again, with love and with understanding, even in the face of anger and disappointment.

I personally believe we can win tomorrow - polls show that turnout is key. I've got butterflies in my stomach today thinking about it. In one sense, everything comes down to tomorrow. In another sense, I think it's important for us to realize that we will be waking up to a whole new state on the morning of June 6th.

My sincere hope for us, as progressives, is that, win or lose tomorrow, we continue to fight, and that we continue to bring our strong work ethic and devotion to bettering Wisconsin. Political involvement has now become the norm for so many of us. I hope that we can remain active for decades to come.

Throughout history, the working class has witnessed defeat at the hands of the powerful. We've also made gains that have been rolled back. But if you ever really stop to take notice, our victories are never fully taken away. When we take three steps forward, they may take one or two back from us here or there. But in the end we will have created an infrastructure that knows how to fight, knows what it means to win, and understands that the health of our state depends on the economic well being of the men and women who go to work every day.

I think of our history as progressives, going back generations. Yes, they made progress, but in the thick of things, while cops were beating them with clubs, while they were on the picket lines, stopping the gears of industrialism, risking their entire livelihoods...was it ever clear that they would win? In spite of this, they pressed on, year after year. And even though our grandparents lost a few battles, they kept on fighting, so that we could have better lives. It's our job to carry their banner for the next generation. No victory is final, and no defeat is the end.

Tomorrow is the end of this race, though, and we need to finish strong. I'll be working tonight, and I hope you will, too. But as you do this with your brothers and sisters, remember that, no matter what happens, we took it to them and we gave them a hell of a fight. Wisconsin will be ours!

Monday, May 21, 2012

An Explanation of the Gap

It's been a long time since I last posted!

Since January, last I checked.

An update, for the curious:

I've switched jobs, from sales back to a technical project management position. It's a welcome shift for me, back to the role of a technical tradesman of sorts. If this were the 30's I'd be a mechanic, and if it were the early 1800s I'd probably be a blacksmith or something. At any rate, I'm pleased with the new job, the new surroundings, and the satisfaction of a job with certain, obvious answers. Working in sales was a great ride, but I needed a rest from the pressures that the job put upon me.

My wife and I also went through a medical ordeal that pretty much sucked the energy out of me for a few months. It's not that I didn't care about politics, but between that and the employment transition, my free time was spent in the space that I've often found the most solace: music.

I've been writing songs for years with various bands, as well as material that just hasn't found its home in a band yet. After the death of a good musical friend last fall, it seemed to be a duty of sorts to produce what I could, when I could. My friend Troy Jackson was nearly old enough to be my grandfather, but he played harmonica with the enthusiasm and spirit of a 20 year old kid, until he could no longer breathe a long enough breath to hold a note. Through his example, Troy taught all of us: if we have opportunities to play and to share,we should take them. Our days are short. Music is one of those things that keeps us alive in the dark times, and keeps us smiling in the good times.

With this in mind, I got together with my good friend Matthew Probst this spring, and we recorded a handful of tunes in his upstairs apartment in St. Paul. I've begun work on a socialist gospel project, and I also had some lingering tunes from the years gone by that needed a home. Slowly, as the songs come around, a solo set is emerging.

One of the songs that has been sitting in my care for awhile is the tune attached here. I wrote this song for a friend of mine who was called up to serve in "Operation Iraqi Freedom." Upset by the propaganda, he was feeling forced into a war that we had no business starting. His mother was a devout patriot who believed in the war with a fervor.

My friend was (and remains) a punk rock kid who learned early to be skeptical of authority. Despite this, he was a man of his word, and honored his commitment to the military. The conflict he felt was far closer to home than most of us feel; of course I watched in horror as the news media repeated lie after lie. But here in our presence was a 20-something year old boy that had to face a living adherent to the propaganda. This song is a mirror of his frustration, and probably mine as well.

So far we've got four songs recorded, enough for an EP. This was enough to garner me a set at Phoenix Park in Eau Claire this summer at their Sounds of Summer Concert Series on June 28th.

I'm looking forward to playing more events, progressive and otherwise. If you, O Reader, find an event that needs a Woody Guthrie substitute, I'd love to hear about it. I will continue to blog here. I'll also be sharing more music as it becomes available.

On a final note, PLEASE continue to fight, canvass, make calls, make donations, and TALK TO YOUR NEIGHBORS about the recall election on June 5th. We're almost done! Now is the time, in the marathon, for that final sprint across the finish line! Wisconsin will be ours!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Roe v Wade - 39th Anniversary

Put me in charge of Medicaid. The first thing I'd do is to get women Norplant birth control implants or tubal legations.

-right wing email forward, allegedly from an editorial in a Waco, TX newspaper

A friend of mine forwarded a right-wing screed today containing a bunch of punishments for people receiving state poverty assistance. There are several other ideas on how we can further punish the poor, but this one stuck out today. I'm glad I have friends with differing opinions. It's good for us all, I think.

It's the 39th anniversary of Roe v Wade today. My wife works at Planned Parenthood, so we're pretty well versed in the subject of reproductive health, and the surrounding controversy. There is an assumption on the part of many that all Roe v Wade did was legalize abortion.

I am reminded today that the case actually opened doors for women all over the spectrum. In some instances, women were forced into abortions without their consent. In many states, birth control was not available. Back-alley abortions were common, and often deadly.

The main issue in the case was the entitlement of privacy. These decisions are to be made by the woman involved, in consultation with her doctor. Her reproductive health is hers and hers alone to manage. This extends to abortion, contraception, tubal ligation, and every other reproductive right under the sun.

This author from Waco, and my friend, in tacit agreement, are arguing for either forced sterilization, or the administration of a drug (norplant) that was discontinued in 2002 due to terrible side effects.

So, to sum it up: if you lose your job, and need government assistance, please step into this line to receive your sterilization, or step into this line to receive your irregular menstrual bleeding, headaches, nausea and depression.

On this 39th anniversary of Roe v Wade, I'm happy to live in a country where this pipe-dream of forced sterilization and/or intrusion into the bodies of half of our working poor is in fact just a dream.

The irony is, my friend votes for politicians who would deny cheap contraception to women. This is where Planned Parenthood comes in. Planned Parenthood's main business is not in fact abortion, but pregnancy prevention. My wife works every day to provide safe, low-cost options to women looking to pro-actively manage their reproductive health. Her office in Eau Claire doesn't even perform abortions. And yet Planned Parenthood is under attack from Republicans across the country, at local, state, and federal levels.

On the one hand, they demand that women control their bodies. On the other, they deny them the ability to do so responsibly.

I can't use a word to define this type of thinking - the words themselves are degraded. Hypocrisy doesn't cover it - too easy. Irony doesn't hit it - it's not a Woody Allen film. Sad doesn't really begin to describe how I feel - I mean, Jesus, does my friend believe this stuff? I'm not exactly sure words really get to the immediate reaction I had.

But as I think about this, it's not all bad. In fact, this reaction is in part due to the successes women have seen in their fight. After millenia of struggle, women continue to break out into the world and take on roles that were all too often unreasonably limited to men. I'm happy to think that my eventual daughters will grow up in a world better than the one their grandmothers braved. It's a reminder that the fight continues.

Yes, there will be reactionaries, like my friend. But we'll be there too, hand in hand to stand up for the rights of all citizens. I look forward to all of these struggles with you, my new friends in Wisconsin. There is no sweeter victory than a victory on behalf of the people. And I mean all the people, not just the privileged, the affluent, or the powerful. Wisconsin will be safe if we stick together. Wisconsin will be OURS!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

What One Million Says

In a sixty day period, one million people signed a recall petition to get Scott Walker out of office. Here's what our governor had to say yesterday:
“The real bottom line is, the national unions want their hands on the money,” Walker said in an interview with Fox News. “It’s all about the union money, it’s not about the workers’ money — they want those automatic dues, and they’ll spend just about anything to get that back.”
Let's address this point first: When a person can set up an automatic paycheck deduction to go to the United Way or to the Red Cross, but they can't set up an automated deduction to the organization that represents their interests in the workplace, I think we've got a flawed system. It starts to appear like you're singling someone out, Governor Walker.

But let me tell you this: If all Governor Walker had done was remove automated union dues collection, I wouldn't have signed a petition. I probably would have never started this blog. I might have never taken a single trip to Madison last spring. I certainly wouldn't have worked to force recall elections for Sheila Harsdorf or Terry Moulton.

I've watched all year as Governor Walker*:

*by no means is this an exhaustive list

When I watch these things unfold it's not a matter of union rights. We have a governor and a Republican party who is dead-set on governing on behalf of the haves, have-nots be damned. I'm not going to wait around to see what's next. I've heard a lot of people argue that we should wait until his full term is done. They say it's sour grapes.

I see it this way: I watched in 2002 as a corrupt president took us to war on lies. I saw millions of people demonstrating around the world against a war that was deemed inevitable by an administration hellbent on madness. I saw the government bamboozle its people into a conflict in which hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians and thousands of American troops would die. Several of my friends had to go over and fight a war that was needless and did nothing to protect America or fight terrorism. If I could have recalled George W. Bush in 2002 I most certainly would have.

The same government decided that business could regulate itself better than people like the SEC, the EPA, and members of the judiciary. They shifted government away from performing its duties as watchdogs of our democracy, to the great benefit of the powerful. We ended up with a mortgage crisis that nearly threw us into depression. In the end, banks got a bailout, while a comparatively tiny stimulus plan meant to help average Americans was derided as socialism. If I could have recalled George W. Bush in 2002 I most certainly would have.

People in Wisconsin aren't fools. We're not going to wait around. We've seen this movie before. "Good government" is called "big government" and it's systematically destroyed to favor the powerful. Scott Walker is doing this right now, right under our noses. Say what you want about the Occupy movement, if there was ever a governor looking out for the 1%, it would be Scott Walker.

One million people is not a small, fringe group of fanatics. 25,000 people don't volunteer in the rain and snow because AFSCME wants some union dues automatically deducted from a few paychecks. I didn't start a blog to get brownie points with my old teachers (though if you are reading, THANKS!).

This is about our future as a state, it's about education, it's about environment, and it's about the balance of power in our society. One million people knew this. Scott Walker can buy the right spin this week. History is on our side if we keep working together. Wisconsin will be ours!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

One Million Strong

I received an email from United Wisconsin today:

Today, volunteers from every corner of the state are turning in over 1,000,000 petition signatures to recall Scott Walker.


Together, we have made history. Congratulations, you did it and deserve to celebrate today. You have sent Scott Walker a crystal clear message – our values will not be steamrolled, and our state will not be held hostage any longer. It is time for Walker to go.

This million-strong grassroots movement is an unprecedented achievement, and a resounding victory beyond any legal challenge. Through the cold, snow and rain over 30,000 circulators and volunteers took to the streets to insist that their government work for them.

Today, January 17, we celebrate, and tomorrow we go back to work. You have demanded a recall election and now we must work through the coming months to remove Walker from office.

I'm flabbergasted. From the beginning of this fight nearly a year ago, to the announcement today, I'm completely overwhelmed. I've met so many neighbors who rightly looked at this situation and decided to act. We've knocked on doors, written our representatives, submitted letters to the editor, voted, and volunteered all over the state. This moment is truly historic.

In 60 short days we found a million people looking to change directions in our government. We've taken the state back and exercised our fundamental right as citizens of this country.

Historically, the right tends to lay claim to patriotism. They love to say that this country is the greatest place on earth. They say this as they vote for politicians that tear down the fabric that made us great. They turn their backs as their water is polluted, their air is smogged, their land is sold, their money is taken from them, and their government is made less accountable.

While I witness our methodical destruction of this right wing fanatical leadership, one point is clear to me: This really feels like the greatest country on earth this afternoon. We live in a state full of good people willing to stand up to power in spite of an angry and violent opposition. No one who spits in the face of a recall volunteer deserves to be labeled a patriot. No one who threatens violence on an old lady with a sign truly loves freedom. Those working in opposition to this violent mob deserve medals - all 25,000 of our unpaid volunteers.

There's still more work to do. We have elections to win. Several senators and a lieutenant governor were also recalled. I'll be working hard against you, Senator Terry Moulton. You may be a nice guy and a church-going, family man, but I will fight your political ideas until my last breath is gone.

Good work folks! Celebrate tonight - pat yourself on the back! You've done something amazing here. Let's keep our foot on the gas pedal and keep moving forward. Wisconsin will be ours!