Redress via recall
Jun 8th, 2012 by Progressive Jones

There are a millions reasons Scott Walker won his recall race. Everybody’s blogging about most of them.  Please don’t list them in the comments section because I know, I know.

There is one reason I’m not hearing anyone talk about, so I will:  The Recall Walker camp and the I Stand By Scott Walker camp were voting for two different principles.

Apples and Oranges

The Recall Walker camp were voting in an election to unseat a governor based on his radical, deceitful, callous, cynical, school-killing, union-busting, environment-ravaging, power-grabbing ideology and behavior.

The I Support Scott Walker camp were voting in a referendum on the appropriateness of using a radical mechanism like recall to unseat an elected official who hadn’t been charged with any crimes.  They weren’t so much Pro-Walker as they were Anti-Recall.

Redress for grievances

The U.S. Constitution includes a provision that gives people the right to let the government know if they’re unhappy about something it’s doing.  It’s called The First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Each state also has in its own constitution or statutes a list of actions citizens can take if they have grievances.  For example, in Ohio, when Governor Kasich and his legislators passed a law stripping public employees of their collective bargaining rights, the citizens collected signatures and called a state-wide vote and overturned the law.

There is no such recourse in Wisconsin’s statutes. If the Wisconsin legislature passes laws that damage the environment, privatize the state’s Medicaid system, shift authority out of the legislature’s hands and into the Governor’s, removes equal pay laws, gives the Governor free rein to sell off state-owned power plants for pennies on the dollar, etc., the only options the citizens have are to hold their nose until the next election or try to unseat the legislators.

Impeachment versus recall

There are two paths outlined in Wisconsin’s constitution for unseating a sitting legislator or governor: impeachment and recall.  I imagine that most people regard impeachment as a process reserved for people who need to be punished for an offense, and recall as a mechanism for ousting someone either as a punishment or to prevent him/her from doing further damage.

The Constitution doesn’t distinguish between the bad behavior that launches an impeachment trial versus the bad behavior that fuels a recall.  So, it’s not the offense that determines whether someone gets impeached or recalled. It’s the process through which redress is pursued. Impeachment happens through a trial in the State Assembly, and a recall happens through an election.

Why choose recall?

Impeachment of a governor can only happen by a majority vote of the state assembly (WI’s version of the House of Representatives). With the Repubs in majority in both the state assembly and the state senate, impeachment procedures against Scott Walker will never happen. Besides, a successful impeachment doesn’t necessarily end with a person being kicked out of office; the impeached person can be fined or censured or given a stern look by somebody important. So the people who wanted Walker out ASAP chose recall.

The fact is that a person being impeached/recalled need not have done anything criminal in order to be impeached/recalled.  He/she doesn’t even need to have done anything wrong.  In other words, impeachment and recall are not about the law. They are about citizens seeking redress for their grievances.

I don’t think that most people know that. At least, I don’t think that people in the I Stand By Scott Walker camp know that.

They thought we were overreaching

We didn’t notice that much of Wisconsin objected, in principle, to the idea of a recall for a duly-elected governor who hadn’t been charged with any crime (yet). We just thought that if we kept shining a light on what a sociopathic liar Walker is, then everyone would join the cause. It didn’t occur to us that anyone would think recall is an over-reaction, because we were so focused on Walker’s power grab.

We believe Walker is overreaching; our citizen-opponents thought we were overreaching. As Charlie Pierce observed on election day:

Nobody understood what was going on here. Almost everyone watched the crowds in Madison in the snow last year and missed the great force of resentment and anger that was building on the other side. Almost everyone listened to the exit polls early last evening and missed the great frustration of people who might not like what Walker had done, but they hated the idea of a recall even more.”

Because we didn’t understand, we just kept pointing out Walker’s heinous intentions, when we should have perhaps spent some time educating people about the rights to redress laid out in Wisconsin’s constitution.

Recall Walker! Elect [insert name here]!

So we spent the winter collecting signatures. We wanted to throw out Walker. And replace him with…whom?

People mentioned some members of the assembly, of the senate. David Obey who just retired from Congress. Russ Feingold, whose Facebook page is basically a kazillion posts that all say, “Please, Russ, please, save us, we’re sorry, please, please, please, please, please…!” Russ demured. Peter Barca, one of our champion assembly members said no. Several respectable people threw their hats into the ring.

We wrestled between voting for the person we thought would be the best governor of the bunch (my pick: Kathleen Vinehout) and the one we thought would have the best name recognition.  We listened to the debates.  (Bless his heart, Dave LaFollett’s platform was, essentially, “You should vote for me because nobody really knows who I am and therefore nobody hates me.”)

Barrett won the primary, and we all rationalized that the reason he hadn’t beaten Walker the last time he opposed him was just that the state was asleep last time and now it’s awake — the same reason Russ Feingold lost his Senate seat.

Anyway, we ran Barrett, whose claim to fame was that he had lost to Walker two years ago.

Governor Scott Walker®

While we were collecting signatures in preparation for the redressing of our grievance, Walker was building his war chest and his message. He used tax payer money to build a web site touting all of his “successes.” He bought television advertising to talk to the people and build his brand. He let his cronies do all of his dirty work for him and strictly limited his public appearances to very-controlled circumstances where he could look sincere and gracious.

We should have been holding town hall meetings, sending out mailers, buying newspaper ads. Instead of complaining about Walker’s lying advertising campaigns and disingenuous public appearances, we should have been blanketing the state with education and truly listening to those people who were mad at us.  Maybe we would have learned that they weren’t the only ones who didn’t “get it.”

Any decent market researcher knows that before you develop your message, you find out what the person you want to talk to cares about.  The Recall Walker camp thought that the people who didn’t care about what they cared about were being stubborn or stupid or both. It didn’t occur to us that they might be on a completely different page.

Our inadequate message

Walker and his toadies were so busy setting fire to everything, and we were so busy running around reacting to whatever it was Walker wanted us to react to, that we wouldn’t have had time to do the necessary market research even if it had occurred to us to do so.  Walker had been building his case for two years, and Recall Walker had only a few weeks to catch up. Walker’s brand was strong, and Barrett’s was weak.

The advertising campaign made an attempt to address some of Walker’s offenses, but there were just too many to list in thirty seconds, and Walker’s ads just kept piling on lies compounded by the lies of the PACs that ran their own ads. The campaign didn’t say why Barrett would be a better governor except that he wouldn’t divide us.  Barrett’s platform seemed to be Vote for the guy who’s not Scott Walker!

Worse, the ads for Barrett didn’t talk about the things that the anti-recall people cared about.  We hadn’t done the foundational work of convincing the opposition that a recall was warranted in the first place.  So all people saw was that our side was a bunch of crybabies who didn’t get our way and were wasting a ton of money on an uncalled-for recall election.

With the pro-Walker camp stuck in anti-recall mode, and with Walker having done such a good job of pitting people against each other, nobody was going to listen to us.  The louder we shouted, the more tightly they held to their principles about the use of recalls.

Premature recall?

A friend asked me if Recall Walker would have been wiser to wait until Walker actually gets indicted for corruption, as it seems he likely will, before seeking a recall. Maybe yes. Maybe no.

When we began pursuing the recall, most of us didn’t really know that this John Doe investigation had been going on or that it had been going on for so long.  Even if we had, I don’t know how much attention we would have paid to it. Walker had been governor for only a few weeks when he started dropping bombs on us. Actually, it was before he was governor — even before he was sworn in, he informed the federal government that he was going to take the high speed rail money and use it for something else. We were all laughing about how uppity and full of himself our new governor was and how Obama was going to cut him down to size.

Then the power grabs started, drop-by-drop, and things exploded when he manufactured a budget crisis so he could justify hiding some of his pet ideologies into a “budget repair bill.” That was the first week of February, and he had been governor for only five weeks when the protests began.

This John Doe investigation is about stuff that had been going on when Walker was the Milwaukee County Executive running for Governor. Maybe there were people who knew about it earlier, but I was so enraged about his corporate handouts, cuts to public education, and soon-to-be decimation of family health and Medicaid programs that I wouldn’t have noticed.

Is it better to have recalled and lost than never to have recalled at all?

If we had known earlier, would it have been better to wait for his indictment instead if going through this heartache?

It would have been easier. We could have just waited for him to be thrown in jail, and then our attractive Lt. Governor would become Governor and maybe we could just wait and see what her deal is. (Nobody really knows anything about her. She kind of reminds me of a blend of Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, and Monica Lewinsky.)

But, if we had waited, and let the FBI do the work for us — or even let Russ Feingold rescue us — we wouldn’t have grown and we wouldn’t have learned and we wouldn’t have made our point.

We made our point. Smart people know now how dangerous ALEC and Citizens United are. The dumb people will find out in a couple of years when everything caves in. Wisconsin had a baby, and it was named OCCUPY.

It’s not over. The people of Wisconsin are exhausted, and the rest of the country is going to have to ramp up, but it’s not over.

Wisconsin recall primaries – Districts 14, 18, 32
Jul 11th, 2011 by Progressive Jones

Read part one here.

Although I disagree with the tactic, I understand the reasoning behind running fake candidates, and I’m pretty familiar with the background on fake-candidate-running by both Dems and Repubs. What kills me about this particular effort is the cynicism behind it all.  It’s such a game — and no more than a game — to the Republicans that they don’t even bother presenting their candidates as anything other than names on a ballot. (The reason I’ve posted so little background information on the fake candidates is that I couldn’t find any.)

If the Republicans were confident that their decisions and actions are the right thing for Wisconsin, they would not fear the recalls. They would be delighted that the state’s voters are finally giving the legislative process the attention it deserves. They would say, “Okay, now that we’ve got your attention, let’s talk. Let’s debate. Let’s figure out together how we can best represent your interests.”  But Republicans have little faith in their ability to win over their constituents with honest clarity.

It reminds me of my days as a teacher. I was always impressed and amazed by the lengths kids would go to in order to not do their homework. I don’t know how many times I said, “If you put the same effort into doing your homework as you do into coming up with excuses for not doing your homework, you’d be an ‘A’ student.”

Oh, well. Here’s who’s on the rest of the primary ballots around the state on Tuesday.

District 14

In 2008, incumbent Luther Olsen (R) ran unopposed in his red, red district in the middle of the state, which includes areas of Adams, Columbia, Fond du Lac, Green Lake, Marquette, Outagamie, Sauk, Waupaca and Waushara counties. His districts all went for McCain in the Presidential election and Prosser in the recent Supreme Court race.

  • Democrat: Fred Clark – In his second term as Democratic member of the state assembly (2009 to present); career as a contractor/forester (1995-2008); and forestry consultant for the Department of Natural Resources (1992-1994) and the Nature Conservancy (1990-1992).
    Forest Ecologist, The Nature Conservancy, 1990-1992
  • Fake: Rol Church – Republican supporter.

Olsen said he wasn’t aware of the effort to put Church on the ballot.”I have no idea if it will hurt or help. If it stretches the election out I don’t know if that’s good or bad,” Olsen said. “There are so many strange things happening in this business.” Of course, Clark isn’t really running against Church. He’s running against Olsen, who has raised only $107k for his war chest compared to Clark’s $226k. It remains to be seen whether Olsen hasn’t raised as much money because (a) Clark has more support, (b) Olsen is just out of practice, or (c) Olsen so confident of winning that he doesn’t need that much money to compete.

Clark’s campaign is running a television ad that presents him as an independent voice who will stand up to both parties, in contrast to Olsen who votes the party line. He promises to stand up for children and seniors and against special interests.

As with the other fake candidates, Church isn’t bothering to do anything other than be a name on a ballot. However, there having been plenty of PACs willing to fund anti-Clark advertising.

Wisconsin Club for Growth, one of the astroturf groups funded by the Koch brothers, is airing an anti-Clark ad criticizing him for his votes to cut schools and health care programs in previous budgets during the administration of Democratic Governor Jim Doyle. The numbers are accurate, but the ads don’t mention that the SeniorCare vote did not reduce benefits, but merely brought the budget into line with program costs that had dropped because of declining enrollment, lower costs and higher program revenue.

I couldn’t find them online, but Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, (AKA Crossroads GPS) is airing local television ads targeting Fred Clark.  Crossroads GPS is a secretly-funded conservative political group advised by Karl Rove and former RNC chairman Ed Gillespie to support Republican candidates. It is a spin-off group of American Crossroads, a PAC under the same leadership. In March 2011, Crossroads GPS spent $750,000 airing a misleading ad attacking unions, in response to public opposition to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s union-busting efforts.

The Wisconsin Family Council, through its issue arm, Wisconsin Family Action, ran an anti-Clark television ad in early July criticizing a negative comment Clark once made about a constitutent and claiming he has been behind on child support payments.  I could not find this ad online, sorry. The Wisconsin Family Council, a conservative group that opposes gay marriage and domestic partnership policies.

District 18

District 18 is Fond du Lac county, which includes some of the larger cities in this race: Fond du Lac, Oshkosh, and Waupun.  It is a traditionally conservative district, but the Democrat challenging the incumbent, Randy Hopper (R), is Jess King, who lost to Hopper in the last election by only 163 votes. The district went overwhelmingly to Prosser in the state Supreme Court race.

  • Democrat: Jessica King – Deputy Mayor of Oshkosh (2007-present); previously served as an adjunct professor at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh.
  • Fake: John Buckstaff, a Republican supporter

Of all of the fake candidates, Buckstaff, age 81, is the one who appears to be running an actual campaign, by which I mean a flyer that describes King as a “Pro-Union Extremist” who would put unions first “even if it bankrupts Wisconsin,” and Buckstaff as “Pro-Wisconsin” who would “eliminate special privileges for government unions.” He didn’t have to pay out any of his $750 campaign funds for this effort, though; the flyer was paid for by a group called Patriot Advisors, a little-known group which may or may not be located in Texas.

Buckstaff flyer

District 32

It was from District 32 that the news broke that Republicans were thinking of installing spoiler candidates to force Democratic primaries for the Republican recalls. Of all of the incumbents up for recall, Dan Kapanke (R) is the only one from a mostly-blue district, which includes the central western counties of Crawford, Vernon, Richland, Monroe, and LaCrosse.  They went for Obama, and for Kloppenberg.

  • Democrat: Jennifer Shilling – Democratic member of the Wisconsin State Assembly (2001-present); served on the La Crosse County Board (1990-1992); has worked as a legislative aide for Assembly member Mark Meyer, and Congressional aide to United States Representative Ron Kind.
  • Fake: James Smith – Republican supporter

Jennifer Shilling is a known quantity in this neck of the woods. Her campaign is running two television ads. One shows former Kanpanke supporters expressing their disappointment in their Senator — that he has changed, stopped listening to constituents, supports Paul Ryan’s budget, always votes with Walker — and, in contrast, their confidence in Shilling’s integrity.

The second ad leverages Shilling’s reputation as someone who has seen a lot. In it, she talks about the need for everyone in the state to share in the sacrifice, and how the middle class is getting stuck with more than its share of the sharing.

Rol Church has $750 in his war chest, but he has help from the Wisconsin Club for Growth, which is airing an anti-Shilling commercial virtually identical to the one being run against Clark. Shilling calls the ad “the height of hypocrisy” coming just as the Republican-led Legislature passed a budget that cuts school funding by $1.6 billion.

When all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail
Jul 11th, 2011 by Progressive Jones

What the recalls are “really about”

Wisconsin Right To Life  has posted a bizarre video that shouts out in bold font and scary music the reasons to resist the Democrats’ efforts to recall the Republican senators: Mob law! Live ammo found at the Capitol! Death threats against lawmakers! Senators hiding out in Illinois! Clean up costs!!!

Somehow, according to the video, this all adds up to the recalls really being about the rights of the state’s unborn.  It doesn’t tell how or why, but it shows us a picture of an adorable blonde child, and that should be enough to connect the dots for monocular voters, it supposes. We are left to conclude that the state’s already-born can go to hell.

Wisconsin recall primaries – Districts 2, 8, 10
Jul 10th, 2011 by Progressive Jones

On July 12, 2011, some Wisconsinites will vote in primary elections to determine who will be the Democratic challenger for six Senators facing recall elections on August 9. The primaries are real and important, but each one includes a fake candidate installed by the Republicans. This means that, even though the fake candidates are running as Democrats, they side with the Republicans.

The reasons for putting fake candidates on the ballot:

  • As a protest against the recall election.
  • To push back the general election back four weeks. For those districts holding primaries, the general vote will be August 9. This gives the Republicans more time to:
    • Promote their candidates through advertising, phone canvassing, etc.
    • Push more of their cynical bills through the legislature, such as their plan for redistricting the state in ways that will disqualify incumbent legislators from serving
  • To bump a Democratic candidate off the ballot. Wisconsin, for now, has an open primary system, which means that a voter doesn’t need to belong to a party to vote in that party’s primaries. Pro-incumbent voters could conceivably go to the polls on Tuesday and vote for their fake candidates to ensure that the Republican candidates won’t be challenged in August.
  • To force the Democrats to spend money on fake primaries so they’ll have less money to spend in the actual recall elections in August and the recall of Governor Scott Walker in 2012.
  • To drain the Democrats of the momentum that drove the recall petitions in the first place, especially as the gubernatorial recalls approach.
  • To confuse voters.
  • To waste the Wisconsin taxpayers’ money. Over a half a million dollars, if you add it all up.

Here’s who’s on primary ballots around the state on Tuesday.

District 2

Includes Menominee, Oconto, Outagamie counties. The incumbent, Robert Cowles (R), hasn’t faced a Democratic opponent in over a decade and ran unopposed in the last election. The district went to Obama over McCain, but chose Prosser over Kloppenburg in the Supreme Court race by a good margin.

  • Democrat: Nancy Nusbaum – Mayor of De Pere (1988-1995), Brown County Executive (1995-2003), Republican candidate for US House (1994) and Democratic candidate for US House (2006).
  • Fake: Otto Junkerman – Brown County supervisor (1982-1988), Republican member of the state assembly (1987-1988).

Nusbaum presents as a proven candidate with a history of public service and name recognition in the area, and has already significantly out-fundraised Cowles.

Junkerman, 82, is making no bones about being regarded as a “protest candidate,” and that’s all you need to know about him, evidently. He received $750 from the Republicans to get the word out about his candidacy, compared to Cowles’ $162k and Nusbaum’s $300k.

District 8

Includes some well-heeled communities in the north/northwest section of Milwaukee county Germantown, Mequon, Menomonee Falls, Richland, Brown Deer, River Hills, Bayside, Fox Point, Glendale, Whitefish Bay, and Shorewood. The incumbent, Alberta Darling (R), sits on the Joint Finance Committee, making her one of Wisconsin’s most powerful legislators. She has also raised more money than any other recall candidate. In the Supreme Court election, Prosser fared better than Walker had in the gubernatorial election.

  • Democrat: Sandy Pasch – Democratic member of the state assembly (2009-present), has a background in health, having worked as a Clinical Nurse Specialist, Assistant Professor at the Columbia College of Nursing, and a Community Health Nurse.
  • Fake: Gladys Huber

Pasch’s television ad takes aim at the incumbent’s support of corporate tax cuts at the expense of education and healthcare.

The PAC We Are Wisconsin is also airing a commercial in support of Pasch featuring schoolchildren attacking Darling on education issues.

Huber, 80, is running as a “protest candidate,” and she refers all questions about her candidacy to the Republican Party of Wisconsin. She received $750 to get the word out about her candidacy, compared to Darling’s $2.1 million and and Pasch’s $647k.

District 10

Incumbent Sheila Harsdorf (R) has represented this traditionally conservative district in the Wisconsin legislator for eighteen years, eight  as a member of the Assembly and ten as Senator. This northwestern district includes Burnett, Polk, Washburn, Barron, St. Croix, Pierce, Dunn, and Pepin counties. Walker won District 10 handily in the gubernatorial election, but Supreme Court justice Prosser lost.

  • Democrat: Shelly Moore – Public high school teacher
  • Fake: Isaac Weix

The PAC We Are Wisconsin  has produced a television ad that lists the reasons to vote out the incumbent — her support for Walker’s budget, for cuts to public school funding, and for providing tax giveaways to out-of-state-corporations — and to vote in Ellsworth teacher Shelly Moore by virtue of the “fresh face” she can bring to the Senate.

The progressive Emily’s List is running a pro-Moore/anti-Harsdorf ad through its PAC, Wisconsin Women Vote, contrasting Harsdorf’s support of Walker’s budget especially as it relates to tax handouts to corporations and defunding of schools.

The  Progressive Change Campaign Committee‘s PAC,  has placed anti-Harsdorf billboards at both ends of its “Recall Republicans” television commercial:

Republican Weix is putting in a tad more effort than his fellow fakes in Districts 2 and 8. In addition to the $750 he received in disbursements from the Republicans, he’s raised $480.

The Koch-funded astroturf group, Wisconsin Club for Growth, has been running television commercials in the Twin Cities, not in support of Weix, but in opposition to Moore.


Punching the clock
Jun 24th, 2011 by Progressive Jones

I finally put my finger on one of the things that has been bothering me so much about the new Republican approach to governing Wisconsin.

On May 7, the day that the Governor cast the first line into Lake Wissota to mark the opening of fishing season, he was greeted by about a dozen protesters in three boats, all with protest signs pointed at him. The Governor wouldn’t listen or speak to them, but later told WEAU:

They have every right to do that. Most people in the state when they go out fishing go away from their jobs, politics and business. That’s what we’re going to be doing, but if they want to bring it along with them it’s their right.

His remark was dismissive as usual. In some ways, it was no different than Big Fitz joking about how smelly Wisconsin’s protesters are or Senator Grothman calling the protesters in the Capitol “just a bunch of college students having a fun party,” in that it just shrugged off what the protesters were trying to communicate. But this particular offhand comment by Governor Walker hit me in a different, more important way.

It literally chilled me. This comment wasn’t just cold. It was chilling. I couldn’t put my finger on it. And it has been bugging me ever since. There’s a word for what he was conveying in that remark, but I haven’t been able to think of what that word is. And I’m usually pretty good with words.

I read up on sociopathy and pyscopathy, cognitive dissonance, Ayn Rand’s philosophy of objectivism, libertarianism. I re-read Martin Luther King’s book Strength to Love, hoping to find in his words of love a word that best describes its opposite. I still couldn’t pinpoint it.

In the meantime, as the recall elections for a number of Republican and Democratic senators approach, I read about Sen. Dan Kapanke’s half-joking remark that he hopes public employees will sleep through his recall election.

And I read that the Republican machine in Wisconsin is purposely and unapologetically recruiting fake Democrats to challenge legitimate Democratic candidates in the recall districts so as to force a primary election. The ostensible reason for this undertaking is to delay the general election so that the Republican candidates facing recall will have more time to “organize their campaigns.” Undoubtedly, another reason is to give the legislators more time to pass more toxic bills and redistribute more legislative power away from the Legislative branch and onto the Executive branch.

What was the word I was looking for that describes the attitude that our Republican legislators hold toward us? Hostile isn’t it, really. Does the GOP hate us? I don’t think Wisconsin Republicans care enough about Wisconsin citizens to hate them. Contempt seemed to come close to nailing the tone of Walker’s remark and the GOP legislature’s actions over the past five months. But it still wasn’t right. To me, contempt is a strong feeling. For someone to feel contempt toward you, that person needs to acknowledge that your existence matters enough to irritate or annoy him. But contempt was the best I could do, so I just let it lie.

Then I watched a video blog by a really angry guy named John Henry from Michigan about “the deliberate subversion of the democratic process.” His expletive-filled rant shook up this feeling in me again, this dis-ease in not being able to describe what is going on in Wisconsin.

And before I went to bed last night, I read the latest blog by the very witty Heather DuBois Bourenane, Monologues of Dissent. This blog is, among another things, letters that she writes to Scott Walker. Last night’s entry was particularly hilarious, but what lit up the light bulb over my head wasn’t the blog, but, rather, the postscript that followed: the auto-response she always receives when she sends our Governor an email:

Thank you for your e-mail message. I welcome you expressing your views and concerns to me, and I commend you for participating in your state government. I take into account the views of all of the citizens of Wisconsin, and I will keep your specific comments in mind during my service as your Governor.

If you would like more information about my positions on issues, or would like to read my public statements on issues, I encourage you to explore my website: I like to respond individually to every letter and telephone call I receive; however, I cannot respond to each e-mail individually due to the volume. If your request is time sensitive, please call my office at (608) 266-1212. You may also write to me via conventional mail at Governor Scott Walker: PO Box 7863, Madison, WI 53707.

As noted on our website, please know that any communications may be subject to release under Wisconsin’s public records law and that our policy is generally to release communications sent to this email address.

Once again, thank you for contacting me. Please feel free to contact me again if I can ever be of assistance to you.

Scott Walker

Then I knew what the word was that I had been looking for all these weeks. The word that describes the current administration’s attitude toward its mission, duties, and constituents.

The word is cynicism

Wisconsin and its citizens mean less than nothing to our cynical Governor and the equally cynical Republican legislators of Wisconsin. This legislative session is a game to them. It’s just a job. And the people who voted these men and women into office and entrusted them with Wisconsin’s future are no more significant to them than pawns on the chess board whose purpose is to sacrifice themselves for the queen.

Ironically, the word “cynic” traces its roots to a group of Greek philosophers who believed that virtue is the only good and that self-control is the only means to achieving virtue. Over the past five hundred years, though, “cynicism” has come to mean a belief that nothing and nobody is to be trusted — that anyone who claims to be trying to live according to principles of virtue, integrity, and morality is lying. To a cynic, nothing matters beyond his/her own self-interest. To a cynic, government — and the political activity surrounding it — is a game.

If you were to ask a person of integrity what he imagines his legacy will be, he will talk about the kind of world he wants to leave for his children and his children’s children. Maybe he’ll talk about how he wants to be remembered by his circle of friends and his community. Maybe he’ll talk about how he wants to leave something behind to advance a cause he cared about — the arts, medicine, his faith community, the planet. Almost always, he’ll talk about wanting to leave the world a better place, about making a positive difference.

If you were to ask a cynic what he imagines his legacy will be, if he is the least bit truthful he will say, “What do I care? I’ll be dead.” He probably wouldn’t give you a truthful answer, though. Truth-saying is a sucker’s game.

Now it could be that I just don’t understand the truly philosophical and life-altering importance of Winning The Game. Maybe it’s because I went to a high school whose teams never won anything and a college whose big draw at the football games were the marching band and baton twirler, so I never experienced the rush that comes with victory over the figurative crushing of one’s opponent. But I personally think that games are not, or should not be, that important, regardless of how much money one can make as a professional athlete or Jeopardy contestant.

What sort of sick game warrants using human beings in place of poker chips? Is it that the game matters so much or that the human beings matter so little?

Remember this cartoon?

Its cynicism is what makes it funny. It’s funny because we know it’s not the way things really are. To an actual wolf and an actual sheepdog, their work is a matter of life and death. But we don’t become indignant on behalf of the cartoon sheepdog that his role of watching over his helpless flock has been so trivialized — because he’s just a cartoon. We don’t get angry that the cartoon doesn’t show how desperate the life of a wolf is in trying to feed himself or his family — because we’re just talking about a cartoon wolf, not a real wolf. Reducing the lives of these arch enemies to that of, not even a career, but a mere job, is funny — because it’s just a cartoon. And because it’s just a cartoon, nobody gets hurt, not even the sheep.

But lives of Wisconsin citizens and the health of its environment are not cartoons, and the work of the government transcends punching the clock. Therefore, the people elected to represent us in our government are expected to care. The effects of the decisions that are made in the statehouse do not “go away” when the Governor decides to take off his governor’s crown and put on his fishing cap. The work of our representatives is not a mere job and it is not a game. It is serious. It is work that is intended to facilitate the welfare of the whole state, to remove obstacles to success, and to protect the weak from being trampled upon by the powerful.

What’s going on here is not just about “we-won-you-lost-get-over-it.” Wisconsin’s educational, environmental, economic, and social infrastructure is not some trophy that gets traded back and forth among opposing teams’ display cases. It’s not just another “swing of the pendulum.” What the Republicans of Wisconsin are swinging is a wrecking ball. And they don’t care — because to them, it’s nothing more than a game.

People who are trying to figure out how to pay their bills, feed their families, educate their children, find employment, save for retirement, care for their aging parents, cover their rent… None of these struggles punches the time clock. If a bridge collapses and kills people because Walker diverts funding for highway maintenance to a private contractor for some quid pro quo boondoggle, the bridge doesn’t uncollapse and those people don’t find their lives restored when the Governor goes fishing.

If cynicism describes the attitude of Wisconsin’s Governor and his legislative cronies toward the everyday citizens of Wisconsin, it makes perfect sense to me that their Republican party would make no bones about its intention to game the democratic process in the upcoming recall elections. They are as cynical about the principles of democracy as they are about the people whom our democratic republic was designed to nurture and protect. They only care about democracy to the extent that it can be put to their own uses.

As far as we know, the sheep in that Merrie Melodies cartoon don’t have names or families or health issues or mortgages or tainted drinking water. They all look alike. They also don’t matter. They are cartoon sheep. Their whole purpose is to give the cartoon sheepdog and the cartoon wolf something to do.

On the other hand, those cartoon sheep all have jobs, plenty to eat, and someone to protect them from predators, which is more than I can say for the citizens of Wisconsin. In Wisconsin, it’s every sheep for himself. And our Republican legislators don’t care. To the cynic, if a sheep meets a sad fate, well, that’s what it gets for being born a sheep.

Our democracy matters beyond the opportunity it presents to game the recall elections. Our democracy matters because it is the foundation underlying our state’s values about how we live together here.

The children, women, and men of Wisconsin matter beyond their role as sheep. We are not a MacGuffin, here to give politicians a game to play. There are decisions being made in our statehouse whose impact will last long into the future, long past the next “pendulum swing.” Life-and-death decisions about lives that matter. Irreversible decisions.

There is more at stake here than which team wins. We need women and men in our legislature who understand that and regard what they do as a calling, rather than as a job. Until that day — which I hope rises in July when Wisconsin’s recall elections are scheduled and again in January when we recall our Governor — the rest of us need to continue to show our faces and raise our voices as a daily reminder to the cynics that the names and families and communities and health issues and job worries and concerns matter. We need to bear witness to the truth that what happens to the least of us has an impact on the welfare of our entire state, even the rich people who think they’re immune to the trouble of the plebs. We need to be a visible, audible, daily reminder that our lives and the role the state plays in making our lives better and/or worse matter.

Even if the Republicans don’t see us — or, if they do, identify us as nothing more than pawns — we need to continue to advance our movement, if for no other reason than to remind one another of our worth as human beings, so that we don’t become complacent or fatalistic or hopeless or buy into the cynical lie that only a few of us matter or that principles underlying our governmental covenants are no more than a game or that we can’t change things. Even if the Republicans don’t see us, we need to continue to look into each other’s eyes and see the truth about the people and principles that truly matter.

Regardless of the cynicism of our Republican Governor and legislators, we need to continue to demonstrate that our concerns about our state don’t go away when the Governor punches out to go fishing.


The canary in the coal mine
Jun 10th, 2011 by Progressive Jones

In the fall of November 2010, Scott Walker was elected the new Governor of Wisconsin. Not by me, although I admit that, at the time, I wasn’t paying as much attention to what was going on at the state-level elections as I was to what was going on at the national level.

High-speed rail fail

Walker’s first act to catch my notice was his pre-official announcement that Wisconsin didn’t need any of the federal government’s stupid old money for stupid old high-speed rail. He would take that money instead, he said, and use it for highways. My Facebook friends and I had a good chuckle over the letter Walker received from the federal Transportation Director Ray LaHood informing him that the money he was being offered was for high-speed rail only, and if he didn’t like it they could find some other state to give it to. We found it less amusing when we discovered later that $60M of that money had been earmarked for repairs to a decrepit line of track on the east side of Madison. Walker’s decision meant that state residents (or maybe Madison residents) would have to come up with the money to get those tracks fixed.

The promise-keeper

Scott Walker was sworn in as Governor on January 3, 2011. He used his first day in office to authorize a challenge to health care reform. That wasn’t a surprise. Prior to his appointment, he had ordered then Governor Jim Doyle to stop any work on implementing measures to comply with health care reform. His pick for Secretary of Department of Health Services was Dennis G. Smith, a senior fellow of the conservative Heritage Foundation, who has encouraged states to walk away from Medicaid completely rather than comply with the new health care law, which he calls a “federal takeover.”

But how much damage could he do, really? Health care reform was a federal mandate, and Walker was merely the Governor of a state, right? What could he do in defiance of Washington, right? Right?

Taxation without representation

After his election, Walker had announced his intention to introduce legislation that would give him the power to reject proposed administrative rules used to implement state laws. In this vision of “limited government,” instead of the Legislature deciding whether rules would be accepted or rejected, the Governor would decide.  (His wish came true in mid-May.)

Once he was seated, he pushed through a bill to eliminate the public Department of Commerce and replace it with a private Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. The new corporation would be made up of private employees, not state union workers. That meant that there would be no legislative oversight and no mechanism for public input. Instead, oversight would be provided by the corporate board.  Walker would be CEO.

Now I was worried. It wasn’t that I think the government is any better at running organizations than private interests are. It’s not. Sometimes the government is inefficient and ineffective — really inefficient and ineffective. But at least, when a government is running an organization, I feel that there is someone I can take my concerns to, someone whose job is work toward the well-being of my community and protect us all, including the environment we live in, from abuse.

Our Governor was asking our Legislature to cede more and more of its power to the Executive Branch — and the Republican-controlled Assembly and Senate complying.

What I saw happening to Wisconsin was not the promised limitation of government that Republicans like to say they endorse. What I saw happening was, instead, a shifting of the balance of power. The people of Wisconsin would eventually have no voice in how the resources of our state are invested (or exhausted). I became a politically-aware person.

Wisconsin is the canary in the coal mine

I’m self-employed. Making a living the way I do is difficult, and it’s more difficult when the economy is in bad shape.  One of the challenges I face is balancing the time and energy I devote to professional stuff with the time and energy I devote to trying to pay it forward a little.  It’s really easy for me to become so absorbed in, for example, volunteer work with my church, that I forget that I have to make a living, too.  (Just so you know, MG&E does not accept “I was busy at the homeless shelter” as an excuse for not paying your electric bill.)

So I was trying to stay out of  it. This was just the inevitable pendulum swing of the political process, I told myself.  I did not have the time to get mixed up in this stuff.  It would overwhelm my life.

But then, having been in office barely a month, Governor Walker was declaring an economic emergency in the state of Wisconsin. (This seems to be a favorite strategy of his.  As far back as September, candidate Scott Walker was saying that on his first day of office, he would declare Wisconsin to be in a state of economic emergency even if it weren’t.)

You don’t need yet another blogger to tell you what is puzzling about Governor Walker declaring an economic emergency immediately after he had passed out $140M in corporate tax breaks. You also don’t need another blogger telling you what was wrong with the “budget repair bill” that Walker sped to the Legislature to address the state’s “economic crisis.” Everything was wrong with it.

There were items in the bill that had nothing to do with money and everything to do with power. There were items in the bill that would further marginalize the most vulnerable members of my community. There were items in the bill that would aggravate, rather than ameliorate, the state’s deficit situation.

The Assembly and Senate were only being given four days to move the bill through the legislative process, although the Republican representatives saw the bill days before the Democrats even knew it existed. That meant that there would no opportunity for the public to be educated about the bill, and no meaningful way for the public to ask questions or be heard — not through public forums, not through their representatives (if their representatives weren’t Republican).

What was going on in Wisconsin was ‘way beyond “pendulum swing.” The majority members of the state Assembly and Senate were supporting our Governor in making substantive changes that would cause real, irreparable damage to Wisconsin’s government, economy, environment, and humanity.

This was clearly just the beginning. Wisconsin was clearly the testing ground for the Republican party’s larger agenda. Wisconsin was the canary in the coal mine.

Canary in the coal mine

Protester in Madison, WI

Doing one small thing

I had to do something. The whole reason I moved to Wisconsin 25+ years ago was because of the state’s values, because of what the people of Wisconsin think is important and how they treat one another and the environment they share.

It’s my responsibility as a citizen of Wisconsin, to do something to protect this community I love. If it all goes away and I haven’t tried to do something about it, I’ll have no right to complain. I don’t have the time to make doing something about it my entire life, but maybe I could find a small something that would make a small difference.

I had no idea what I could do. A friend suggested I go to an Organizing For America meeting, so I went to one. It was mostly a bunch of old people sitting in a tight circle trying to figure out Facebook. Then they passed around a bunch of legal briefs and lists of people to write to and call and canvass.

Too much. It was too much. This was going to take over my life. I didn’t have the kind of time available that these retired people had. Calling, canvassing, writing — I had already lost so much of my life trying to do my part for universal health care reform — I couldn’t do all of this stuff.

But I could do Facebook. So I started devoting my late nights to scouring the web for news pieces and op eds from people who had firsthand knowledge of what was going on in Madison, and I posted links on my Facebook profile. I started getting feedback from my FB friends in other states that the my wall posts were more informative that what they were getting where they lived. I was doing something. A little something, but something.

My FB friends list grew. So did the misinformation that was being disseminated by the media — because they brought to their reporting bias, ignorance, or just plain lazy thinking. My posts began to include some fact-checking and bits of commentary about the perspective I thought writers were bringing to the table.

Within weeks, I was posting fewer and fewer YouTube videos of cats and more and more links to articles about the corporate war on the middle class. Some of my libertarian, Tea Party, and Republican friends said goodbye. Others were just bored.

I’m migrating my posts to this blog, hoping to attract readers who are interested — and hoping to reclaim Facebook for other less provocative things.



Keepin’ the niggers down
Apr 23rd, 2015 by Progressive Jones

I just finished reading this Frank Rich interview with Chris Rock.  One thought in particular that his interview sparked in me.

Chris Rock says he wants to know how white people feel.

Good white people aren’t honest about how they feel

It’s not that we’re liars.  It’s that, first, most people, including white people, don’t really know how they feel, and, second, we don’t really want to know because we’re afraid that we’re not the people we aspire to be.

Brain science is learning that, while we know what we believe we want to feel, most of our decisions are made unconsciously.  When  someone asks us, “Why did you say/do that?” then we retrofit rationales into our behavior so that it will make sense to us.

This does not make us stupid or bad or nutty.  Our brains are so amazing that we don’t need to think about everything.  When we set the table, we put the fork, knife, and spoon where they always go.  We don’t really think about it.  Who has time to ponder thoughtfully over the choices presented to us when the light turns yellow?   We step on the gas or we step on the brake, and reason it through afterwards.  We save the Big Thinking for the Big Stuff.  As Daniel Kahneman has said, “Thinking is to humans as swimming is to cats; they can do it but they’d prefer not to.”

Thinking is hard.  Especially hard is thinking about stuff that you don’t even know exists — our implicit (as opposed to explicit) values, biases, and beliefs — in other words, how you feel.  Double especially hard is admitting that your rational (i.e., conscious) thoughts are informed by your irrational (i.e., unconscious) biases.  Triple especially hard admitting that the unconscious you might be getting in the way of you becoming who you want to be, that the person you present to the world is not wholly the person you yearn to be.

I tell my marketing classes, and I know it to be true, that you cannot know what a person’s values are by listening to him/her talk.  You can only know by observing what s/he does, because our choices (most of which are unconscious) are informed by both our explicit values and our implicit biases.  Project Implicit calls these “blind spots.”  We all have them.  Even liberals.

It’s difficult for people of privilege, for example, white people, to honestly recognize, understand, and articulate how we feel, because we are so insulated from the truth about “how we feel”.  As Marshall McLuhan was said to have observed: “I don’t know who discovered water but it certainly wasn’t a fish.”

White progressives cannot know how to help unless we take a good look at how we feel, which is reflected in our unconscious complicity in perpetuating systemic inequity of all kinds.  We cannot know how to put our privilege and power to use for the greater good unless we understand how we unconsciously and willingly benefit from maintaining the status quo.

I heard Ta-Nehisi Coates say, a couple of weeks ago when he was passing through town on a book tour, that it is not true that people who vote Republican these days are voting “against their own best interests.”  His claim was that white people believe that as long as they are keeping The Other down, they are voting in their own best interests.

Randy Newman wrote a song about this called “Rednecks”. The narrator of the song begins by poking fun at himself and his southern rednecks — their stupidity, their ignorance, their drunkenness — their pride in “keepin’ the niggers down”.  Then it comes to this:

You see he’s got his dignity
Down here we’re too ignorant to realize
That the North has set the nigger free
Yes he’s free to be put in a cage
In Harlem in New York City
And he’s free to be put in a cage in the South-Side of Chicago
And the West-Side
And he’s free to be put in a cage in Hough in Cleveland
And he’s free to be put in a cage in East St. Louis
And he’s free to be put in a cage in Fillmore in San Francisco
And he’s free to be put in a cage in Roxbury in Boston
They’re gatherin’ ‘em up from miles around
Keepin’ the niggers down

Newman is saying that at least southern rednecks know how they feel about “niggers” and they behave accordingly.  But those of us who don’t call African Americans “niggers,” are not being honest with ourselves.  We talk about freedom and dignity, and then throw black men into cages.  (Wisconsin has an incarceration rate for black men that is almost double the national rate, and it’s not because black men commit more crimes here.)   Our behavior belies our talk about “how we feel,” about our values.


So what is the truth about how white people truly feel?

Ta-Nehisi Coates’s talk that I attended was about social issues, particularly about how African Americans are treated as a criminal class in this country, proof that racism is systemic.  He talked about reparations for the descendants of slaves.  At one point, he asked the audience what the most pressing issue we face is.  There was a brief silence, as we all weighed, I imagine, what the “correct” answer is.  Someone shouted, “Climate change!” and Coates nodded.  Then he said something along the lines of, “If we cannot own and take responsibility for what we do to one another, how can we begin to own and take responsibility for what we do to the planet?”

Years ago, I attended a talk at a UUA General Assembly in which a woman was describing a conversation she had had with the female head of black family she was working with in some capacity.  I honestly don’t remember what that “capacity” was.  But I do remember her saying that she had asked this woman what she could do.  The answer, “Be the best white person you can be.”   White liberals have privilege and power to put to the purpose of bringing about systemic change.

Privilege is unfair, but it does make it easier to be heard.  Privilege is what gets movie stars interviews with Frank Rich.  But even if we believe that living on the ladder is bad and that privilege must be done away with, we can’t create a more just society if there’s a powerful unconscious voice inside us that believes that giving up our own privilege will make us unhappy.

You can’t put your power to good use if you deny that you have it — nice people don’t believe in power, right?  But power in and of itself is not bad.  Oceans have power.  Rivers have power.  Power is only bad when you use it toward bad ends.  Both Hitler and Gandhi had power and acknowledged their power and figured out how to use their power toward the ends they wanted.  We the white can’t wield our power for good if we don’t honestly understand “how we feel” about having it and how we put it to use toward our unconscious wants.

If we don’t understand both our conscious purpose and strengths and the unconscious “how we feels” that sabotage our conscious intentions.

I inadvertently wounded the feelings of a friend of mine a few weeks ago when I told him that he can’t know what it feels like to move as a woman through society.  He accused me of calling him sexist.  The truth is, I was just telling him that he can’t know.  And he can’t know, any more than I can know what it feels like to be a man or an immigrant or a black child or a Muslim woman or someone with spinal bifida.  The most we can hope for in our knowing of others is to watch, listen, learn and develop our capacity compassion and empathy. Refusing to acknowledge that there is anything more worth knowing than you already know and refusing to make the effort to know more is what makes a person a racist/sexist/whateverist.

The thing is, we can’t translate our compassion and empathy into action unless we know ourselves, unless we know “how we feel”.  We can change how we feel, but first we need to own how we feel so we know what we need to work on in our own selves.  We can’t know how to put our power and privilege to the service of dismantling and reforming systemic inequalities if we don’t seek to understand the ways we unconsciously enjoy the benefits of power and privilege and how that unconscious enjoyment is sabotaging our efforts.

About biases

Having blind spots — unconscious biases — doesn’t connote a character flaw or make one a bad person.  It just makes one human.  My blind spots are only “bad” if I refuse to own them and take responsibility for them and make the conscious effort to evolve  – because if I don’t own my blind spots, they own me, and they will always get in my way and hold me back from being the person I want to be.

Look at it this way.  Let’s say you are a native speaker of American English.  You are not genetically wired to speak English, but it’s what you heard in your crib and at school and with your friends and on television, and it’s how you learned to listen to and tell stories and connect with other people.  The muscle in your tongue and lips trained themselves around the vowels and consonants of English.  You can read a sentence you’ve never seen before and know what it means because the neural transmitters in the Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas of the brain during your formative years forged themselves in accommodation of English grammar.   You dream in English.  So, even though it’s not in your DNA, it might as well be, and you don’t even have to think about which word is the subject and which word is the predicate. You just know what a sentence means without because of the biases you have developed over the years about what makes sense or feels right when a bunch of lines (which we call “the alphabet”) are pushed together in a string from left to right.  Your understanding of what language is and how it should work — and your use of English — are almost wholly unconscious.

Then, let’s say, you move to Morocco.  Different alphabet, different grammar, different phonology, no verb tenses, no upper/lower case, written from right to left, all these voiced pharyngeal fricative, and what’s the deal with no vowels?  There’s a lot of stuff that are wired into you as a native speaker of English that will do you absolutely no good in trying to learn to speak and read Arabic.  And there’s a lot of stuff which will actually get in your way.

The stuff that is now useless and the stuff that gets in your way is stuff you were not even conscious of when you were going about your day in the USA being a speaker and reader of English.  The assumptions you held when you approached a new sentence about subjects, predicates, and whatnot, are biases developed over a lifetime of learning what language is and how it works and what does/doesn’t make sense, regardless of whether or not you can diagram a sentence or were good at identifying prepositional phrases on worksheets in the 7th grade.

Unconscious assumptions about what language is don’t make you a bad person.  They do make you a person who is going to have a harder time learning Arabic than, say, people who grew up speaking Urdu.  I personally believe that if an English speaker wants to learn to speak Arabic fluently, s/he has to not only understand how Arabic works, but also have to get a handle on what the big hurdles are — his/her assumptions about what language is — and be extra-conscious of them so s/he can work on them.  If a Japanese speaker wants to learn to speak English fluently, denying that using his/her tongue in certain ways feels unnatural — in other words, denying that R and L are a challenge for people in whose native language these sounds don’t exist – will make it more difficult for the language-learner to address his/her challenges.

Back to my point

We can’t be fluent in the practice of progressivism unless we own and take responsibility for our unconscious assumptions, biases, and blind spots.  If we aspire to live up to our potential for love and good works, we need to be able to look honestly at who we are, at the ways we’re getting in our own way, and at the work we need to do on ourselves while we’re also working on the world.

Lifting up the downtrodden with one conscious hand while keeping them down beneath one unconscious foot won’t get the world anywhere.

I’m heading off to Project Implicit now to find out how I feel and what progress I’ve been making.

»  Substance:WordPress   »  Style:Ahren Ahimsa