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.

Letter to My Fellow Michiganders

Reposted from From Michael

Friends and neighbors,

The call has gone out and I'm asking everyone who can to take Wednesday off and head to the State Capitol in Lansing to protest the cruel and downright frightening legislation currently being jammed down our throats.

What is most shocking to many is that the new governor, who ran against the Tea Party and defeated the right wing of his party in the primaries -- and then ran in the general election as "just a nerd from Ann Arbor" who was a moderate, not an ideologue -- has pulled off one of the biggest Jekyll and Hyde ruses I've ever seen in electoral politics.

Governor Snyder, once elected, yanked off his nice-guy mask to reveal that he is in fact a multi-millionaire hell-bent on destroying our state and turning it over to his buddies from Wall Street.

Read the rest of the article...

On the Ground in Madison, Wi

I was asked to give a radio interview with Portland, Oregon's progressive talk station AM620 KPOJ. I was interviewed by Carl Wolfsohn of the Carl in the Morning radio show. Did my best to represent the good folks here in Wisconsin fighting for their rights!

You can listen to the interview here


Anti-Snyder/Republican protest rallies scheduled for Michigan this week

This blog entry is cross-posted from the original at Eclectablog is Chris Savage, a Michigan-based blogger covering the progressive liberal scene in Michigan and across the country.

NOTE: Please check back regularly as I will update this post as new information becomes available.

There are two big rallies scheduled in Lansing this week at the Capitol building to protest Governor Rick Snyder's rights-stripping Emergency Financial Manager law and his budget. His budget, as you probably already know, transfers nearly two billion dollars of tax money from poor and elderly Michiganders to corporations in the form of massive tax breaks. These tax breaks are funded by eliminating the Earned Income Tax Credit which helps the working poor and by taxing public and private pensions received by retirees. And there will be no citizen's referendum on the ballot regarding these policies because, as I reported last week, there is a $100 appropriation on page 182 of a 183 page bill. Appropriations bills are ineligible for citizen referendums.

First, on Tuesday, the AARP has an "It's Not Fair" rally at the Capitol from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. More information HERE. On Facebook HERE. picks up at the Capitol on Tuesday at noon with their "Save the Dream" rally. More information on that HERE.

MoveOn is staging rallies all across the state, in fact. You can find the one nearest you by going to THIS PAGE and entering your zip code.

If you are in the Ann Arbor area and can't make it to the Capitol on Tuesday, there is a local rally happening that day, sponsored by the Ann Arbor Education Association at the Forsythe Middle Schol auditorium starting at 4:30 p.m. For more information and to RSVP, click HERE.

UPDATE: A second rally is happening in Ann Arbor, this one at 5:30 right downtown at the Federal Plaza/Downtown Library. More details HERE.

On Wednesday, the group Working Michigan, along with the UAW, and other groups, is sponsoring a "Working Families" rally on Wednesday as well, from noon to 6 p.m. More on that HERE. This is likely to be the biggest rally of the week. The flyer (.pdf file) for the event is HERE. The "Save the Dream" page for this event is here: HERE.

And, finally, the Michigan Democratic Party has put on online petition up to protest Governor Snyder's odious budget. Click HERE to sign the petition in protest of nearly $2 billion in giveaways to corporations, paid for by Michigan citizens least able to afford it.

I'm just sayin'...

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Status of the Wisconsin Protests

For weeks, the budget repair bill in Madison has been at an impasse. This bill, which has several controversial measures, has caused nearly a month of constant protests. Although there is a Republican majority in both houses of the legislature and a Republican governor, this bill has been stopped in the state Senate since 14 Democratic Senators fled the state, denying a quorum required by state law to pass any legislation that deals with fiscal matters.

The absence of the Democratic senators has been a focal point of criticism from the Republicans, who accuse them of abdicating their responsibilities and "not doing their job." The Democrats have responded by claiming that this tactic was the only way that they could delay the bill and provide time for public debate. They point to the hundreds of thousands of protesters as their constituents.

Last week, on Wednesday, March 10th, the Republicans overcame this impasse. By stripping out a large portion of the budget repair bill, they made the claim that since it was no longer fiscal, the no longer needed the quorum required to pass the bill. Within less than two hours, a special committee approved the new version of the bill, and the Senate voted on and passed it.

In response, thanks to a rapid spread of this information through social media, 5-8,00 protesters descended upon the capitol. Additionally, Democrats allege that the rapid pace of the Republican action violated a state open meeting law, and the next day lawsuits were filed against this bill and that the bill still contained fiscal matters. The first hearings on that lawsuit will be this Wednesday, March 16th.

Then, on Thursday, March 11th, the state Assembly passed the revised version of the bill, which was signed on Friday morning by governor Walker. Because of the ongoing legal challenges, Secretary of State Doug La Follette will not publish the bill until March 25th, the latest date allowed by law.

This Saturday, the largest protest yet occurred in Madison. Although early reports suggested numbers up to 200,000, the final police estimate of the crowd was 85-100,000. As part of the protests, 40 tractors from around the state paraded around the capitol square. In the afternoon, the 14 Democratic Senators returned to a hero's welcome.

Although the bill has passed, the battle is still ongoing. Already, there are a total of 16 recalls in progress on state senators, including 8 Democrats and 8 Republicans. Additionally, although Governor Walker must serve a full year before becoming eligible for recall, several organizations have started collecting recall "pledges" so that as soon as he is eligible, the recall can happen very quickly. The currently have 152,449 pledges compared to the total 540,206 signatures required for recall.

Ultimately, then, there are still two potential roadblocks for the Republican legislation. There is the court case alleging that the procedures used to pass the bill broke state law, and there are the recall efforts that may change the balance of power. Although these recalls are unlikely to happen in time to effect this bill, they have the potential to block any similar measures proposed at a later date.

If the lawsuit is unsuccessful, the bill will be published on March 25th and become law.

Written by Adam M. Briska

What's left of the American left?

From the UK's Guardian newspaper:

"In contradiction" best describes the American left today. On the one hand, it is fragmented and dispirited, feeling itself distant from the tumble of daily US politics and acutely disgusted by its many-layered corruptions. It hardly knows itself as a part of society, so deep runs its alienation. After all, leftists, too, are affected by the mass media's wishful pretence that the American left has simply disappeared and the extreme right's paranoid caricatures that recycle 1950s McCarthyism.


We Are Indiana!

A snapshot of the Indiana protests from dawill1:

Deficit Reduction Requires Shared Sacrafice

From Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Huffington Post:

The rich are getting richer. The middle class and poor are getting poorer. What is the Republican solution to the deficit crisis? More tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires. Savage cuts in programs that are desperately needed by working families.

There is another approach, which is why I've just introduced legislation imposing a surtax on those households earning a million dollars or more and the elimination of tax loopholes which the big oil companies take advantage of.


We are Wisconsin

Here is a snapshot of some of the people and voices of the Wisconsin protests.

We Are Wisconsin from Finn Ryan on Vimeo.

The Women of Tahrir

With all of the discussions of revolution in the news, it is important to remember the role that women can play in helping bring about social change.

Here is a video found on the Vimeo page of Yasmin Moll that speaks directly to this.

The Women of Tahrir from Yasmin Moll on Vimeo.

Read the related blog here.

Funding sources in Wisconsin Senate

Scott McElroy writes:

Senate Majority leader, Scott Fitzgerald, received 10 of his 16 largest individual campaign contributions from out of state (IL, AR, KS, UT, WA, TX, ...). In contrast, I looked through a total of 296 contributions for Jon Erpenbach; exactly 2 of them were from out of state (IL)."

I was using the linked search form, naming a candidate and searching for a year prior to the election then sorting by amount, and listing the max (100) records per page. Let us know what you can find.

Union Blues

From The New Yorker:

“Fifteen million Americans bring you Edward P. Morgan and the news.” From 1955 to 1967, that line, heard on the ABC radio network every weeknight at 7 P.M., heralded the nation’s best news broadcast. Those fifteen million Americans were the members of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., a federation that included nearly every union in the land. Organized labor was powerful and, for the most part, respected. Its economic and political muscle had played an indispensable role in insuring that the benefits of postwar prosperity were widely shared, transforming much of what many had unironically called the proletariat into an important segment of the broad American middle class.

A letter to the Editor of the New York Times

Sent to the New York Times on March 1, 2011.

I have to express my utter journalistic disappointment when reading "Thank You for Your Support. Now, Can We Sweep the Capitol?" By Dan Barry on the NYT webpage.

I have been checking the website everyday for more information on the protest in Wisconsin. There admittedly has been some great stories, but these are often at the bottom of the page in small print. The referenced article was displayed in the U.S. section in bigger print. And instead of discussing the issues forcing Wisconsinites from across the state to head out in the cold to spend hours everyday in and around the capitol, ie, loss collective bargaining, governor appointees overriding the laws governing Medicaid, the ability of Gov. to sell a power plant at anytime, to anyone, for any amount of time without a bidding process, and a multitude of other issues, the NYTs focuses on a cleaning schedule. I still have to laugh a bit from the article and think to myself, wow, seriously?!?. It is more newsworthy that a guy is walking around in a with a Viking hat and people are doing yoga than this larger issue, which could possibly be the defining moment of our current democratic process. I am confused.

Yesterday and today, people haven’t had ready access to the Capitol building. We are literally getting locked our of our democracy in a similar way to how we were silenced when the Republicans walked out of the public hearings two weeks ago.

I think we all need to recognize something very important to the people in Wisconsin, and I am one of them. This is no joke to us. We are having trouble sleeping at night. We aren’t able to concentrate or take care of ourselves as we were before this started. We are nervous about our very near future. And we are nervous about our long-term future.

Why are we inundated with the heroics of the protests in the Middle East while belittling protesters in the United States? I fully support the coverage of the Middle East. But now, it is also time that we look in the mirror and figure out what role we will allow ourselves to play in our own governing system.

I would expect The New York Times to take this more seriously and engage and inform the readership. I am waiting.

Main Street Movement Erupts As Thousands Across Country Protest War On The Middle Class

Think Progress reports: Last week, 14 Wisconsin Senate Democrats inspired the nation when they decided to flee the state rather than allow quorum for a vote on a bill that would have decimated the state’s public employee unions and dealt a crippling blow to the state’s hard-working teachers, sanitation employees, and other middle class union members. Since then, tens of thousands of Wisconsinites have taken to the streets in even greater number than before the walkout in support of the fleeing legislators and in opposition to Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) anti-middle class agenda.

Read the original article.

Protests Across the Country

Although there have been many articles about the protests in Madison, WI, there has been little coverage of the rallies in other states. Since pictures are worth a thousand words, here are some pictures from these rallies.