Sunday, March 20, 2011

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Two days of protest rallies at the Michigan Capitol building

Over the past two days, Lansing, Michigan has seen tremendous crowds showing up for protests at the Capitol building. Around 1,100 people showed up on Tuesday for an AARP-sponsored "It's not fair!" rally and, yesterday, about 5,000 flooded the Capitol lawn and occupied the Capitol for two and a half hours after it was closed.

They were there to protest Republican Governor Rick Snyder's draconian new budget and a recently-passed bill that he will soon sign into law that gives him the power to declare financial emergencies in municipalities and appoint an Emergency Financial Manager (EFM). The EFM would have unprecedented powers -- a sort of "Super Czar" -- such as the ability to cancel contracts and even dismiss some or all of the elected officials in the municipality.

The budget he has proposed pays for nearly $2 billion in tax breaks for corporations by eliminating the Earned Income Tax Credit (which benefits the working poor), taxing private and public pensions (which hurts the elderly) and cutting school funding (which hurts kids). Successful targeted business tax breaks like for the film industry, redevelopment of "brownfield" sites and for the developing vehicle battery industry are also being eliminated.

My coverage of the Tuesday rally (which I did not attend) can be found HERE.

What follows is a portion of my liveblogging, done from my iPhone, throughout yesterday's rally. It is cross-posted from Eclectablog. A version with larger photos can be seen HERE.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Open letter from WI State Representative Mark Pocan (my district, the 78th) to Scott and Jeff Fitzgerald

Dear Colleagues,

Usually a letter from me is filled with pointed humor. You will find none of that in this letter. I write today in the utmost somber of terms, out of fear for the institution of the Wisconsin State Legislature.

In the past few months, we’ve seen the State Capitol completely locked down to the public and, at times, our own members couldn’t even get inside this building. We’ve seen a joint committee end a public hearing with members of the public still on the speaking list. We’ve seen the Assembly also shut off debate with members of both parties still on the speaking list and deny members the right to vote. You’ve literally silenced the minority party and the general public. That alone should give you pause.

Rather than heeding that pause, you pushed ahead and violated the open meetings law on multiple occasions. It is a sad day in Wisconsin when our legislative leaders think they are above the very laws we make.

Senator Fitzgerald, after trying every trick in the book you could think of to compel members of the State Senate back to Wisconsin, you realized your gimmicks weren’t legal. But, that didn’t stop you from threatening your own members with those gimmicks. Imagine my surprise when the headline in today’s paper read “Olive branch offered.” That’s an awfully nice headline for someone who was doing nothing more than acknowledging their own illegal threats.

Speaker Fitzgerald, never in my seven terms in the Assembly, one as member of leadership, have I witnessed leadership overreach so far that there were motions to remove both the Speaker Pro-Temp and the Speaker. I hope the gravity of this isn’t lost on you.

Gentlemen, the threats need to stop. Look around. Is this the institution your family runs the same institution you want to look back upon 20 years from now with pride? I’ve served with both of you during my seven terms in the legislature and I’ve enjoyed getting to know you. The Fitzgerald brothers that I got to know on the Joint Committee on Finance and in the Assembly are not the same men running Wisconsin’s legislature right now.

So far this term, Wisconsin politics has sunk to a new low, something to be ashamed of. Contrary to media accounts, flip-flopping on potentially illegal threats isn’t the same as offering an olive branch. I believe just two-and-a-half months into this legislative session, this institution is already beyond repair. Only time will tell if I’m right. For the sake of the integrity of the Wisconsin Legislature, I hope I’m wrong.

The State Legislature over the past few months has been transformed into a vindictive and malicious institution with severe repercussions. Last session, when Democrats controlled the majorities in both chambers, we never reached this far or violated our own rules in the manner in which you have done.

Issuing press releases and conducting press interviews isn’t going to put this genie back in the bottle. It is going to take hard work and long hours of reaching across the aisle. It may even mean standing up to your own governor the next time he illegally threatens to kick kids off BadgerCare or issue layoff notices to state workers as a pawn in his political game of Chess.

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau hasn’t even released their summary of the Governor’s budget bill, yet the few details the public has already gleaned from the bill make it wildly unpopular from the start. You have your work cut out for you in the coming months, as the state budget bill is surely going to be contentious. Will you continue to lead as you have the past few months, or will you use the beginning of this legislative session as a series of teachable moments to be learned from and improved upon? For the sake of the integrity of the State Legislature and for the sake of all of Wisconsin, I hope you choose the latter.

As I write this, I do not have an answer of how to fix all that has gone wrong this session. However, simply assuming we can return to session as things have been for the past 100 years is just not possible. This legislature will function long after we are all gone, but this shouldn’t be the standard we set. We owe more to this institution.

Please, gentlemen, put this genie back into the bottle. Sincerely,

Representative Mark Pocan
78th Assembly district

Global Protest Map

John Caelah at Swamppost has put together a visual summary of the protests around the world.

From the accompanying blog:

Here’s some points about this series of maps:
  • They are organic, so events are added when they are discovered.
  • Of course, this is not all the events of protests or uprising in the world. However, I would argue that it is to scale, reflecting the density of reported demonstrations across a wide field of news sources.
  • As most of this was built in retrospect, the December and early January time frame has less of the more obscure demonstrations because they were difficult to research. Surprisingly, I discovered that news aggregates like Google, which I use often, only let you search the news back about forty five days.
  • The tune is a song called The Waltz composed and performed by a Venice Beach musician named Jourdan Stephens.

Monday, March 14, 2011

German workers rally in solidarity with Wisconsin public employees

Press TV reports:

As tens of thousands of Wisconsin residents rally and march across the state on Saturday March 12 for the fourth weekend in a row, they receive support from union members in Berlin who are holding a solidarity rally.

Members of the German telecommunications union, ver.di, will turn out to support bargaining rights for workers in the United States. They know that collective bargaining is not possible unless workers are able to join unions and participate in their own organizations free from the fear of reprisals by their employers.


The Two Faces of Wisconsin State Senator Randy Hopper

On March 6th, somebody posted this photo of Randy Hopper on Facebook, apparently showing the Republican state Senator Randy Hopper wearing a union tee-shirt and posing with (presumably) union members. Although there is no date given for this photo, we presume that it was taken before he voted to strip this union of their collective bargaining rights in state senate bill 11.

Senator Randy Hopper is currently facing recall and going through a divorce.

Wisconsin Republicans Continue to Censor Democrats

Today, in an email to the Republican members of the Wisconsin Senate, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald announced that even though the Democratic senators have returned back to Wisconsin, they will not be allowed to vote in the Senate. This move effectively strips the 14 Senate districts of their representation in the state senate.

While they were absent, the Republicans imposed fines on them, ordered their arrest, and revoked parking privileges, all in an effort to get them to return. Additionally, Governor Walker called upon the absent Democrats to return and "do their job."

Now that they have returned, it seems that they will not be allowed to do their jobs. There have been no additional reports on whether or not they are able to use their parking spaces or the printers.

UPDATE 3/15/2011: Senator Fred Risser issues the following statement:

Who does Senator Fitzgerald think he is? Just because his brother is the Speaker of the Assembly and his best friend is the Governor of Wisconsin does not give him the power to decide who can and cannot vote in the State Senate.

His statement that Senate Democrats can no longer vote in committee is the height of arrogance. In my tenure in the legislature, I have never seen any attempt to deny duly elected legislators their right to vote.
Fitzgerald's statement has also come under fire from the group One Wisconsin Now. They claim that this action effectively denies the rights of 2.2 million Wisconsin voters.