Sunday, January 8, 2012

Issue #41 January 8, 2012- Where To From Here, Recalls, Trust, Education News, Economy, and More

What This Is…
Issue #41- January 8, 2012
In this issue: Where Do We Go From Here?, Recall News, Who Do You Trust?, Local Elections- The Next Front, Education News, It's The Economy,

Where Do We Go From Here?…
In 1920 Warren Harding called for a "Return to Normalcy" in his campaign for President against James Cox.  This platform embodied a desire to leave the progressive era behind and allow big business a chance to reign again in America.  His message was one that resonated with a nation tired from the strains of the international and domestic strife of the preceding decades.  At heart it was a message that many of us can sympathize with.  It is difficult to live in times of turmoil and even the illusion of peace can be tempting.

Here in Wisconsin (and across the nation) countless people are feeling the stresses of the past year.  2011 was a year of turmoil in many ways, socially and economically.  It was a year that saw significant polarization of our political system and growing rifts between the people of our country.  In many ways we would love to return to "Normalcy" and just go back to living our daily lives.  I hear from many colleagues and friends that they are very tired of the constant fight.

One of my all time favorite books, The Fellowship of the Ring by JRR Tolkien, has a conversation that sums up where we are today.  While discussing the growing threat posed by the evil lord, Sauron, the hero of the story, Frodo, states that he wishes the issues "need not have happened in my time".  The wizard Gandalf answers, "So do I, and so do all who live to see such times.  But it is not for them to decide.  All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."

That is the key here.  We have the choice to decide what we do with the time that we live in.  We make the choices using information from the past, current knowledge and our hopes for the future.  By looking to the past we see what the conservative agenda has done in previous versions.  Warren Harding returned America to a "Normalcy" of political corruption and exploitation of the masses which helped spawn the Great Depression.  Current knowledge shows us a collection of political leaders who seem determined to lead us down that same path.  Our hope for the future is that we can learn from past mistakes and continue the struggle to make America a place of freedom and opportunity for all, not just the wealthy and privileged few. 

A civil and just society takes care of all of its people.  Recent debates in the political, economic and educational fields have served to highlight the divisions between the groups competing for control of Wisconsin and the United States. 
Edward Ryan, Chief Justice of Wisconsin's Supreme Court, in his 1873 address to UW Law school asked, "The question shall arise in your day:  Which shall rule, wealth or man?  Which shall lead, money or intellect; who shall fill public stations--educated and patriotic free men or the feudal serfs of corporate capital?"  This is the essence of the debate we engage in today.

We may be tired, we may feel overwhelmed by the forces we face, we may face hostility and contempt from those who disagree with our beliefs.  However, we must continue to engage in positive and assertive actions that highlight our message and our hope for the future. 

In order to achieve victory in this battle we need to stay active and informed.  We must support each other in all ways while still maintaining our values and beliefs.  Educating the public is vital.  The GOP message is simple and direct.  It is delivered with lots of glitz and a polished format.  However, it is not built on solid ground.  It is up to all of us to work to get the facts out so that all citizens can make informed choices about the direction they want their society to move in.   

After you peel away the layers covering the different views you are left with what I believe are the core differences between the two conflicting views.  The progressive view puts the people at the controls of their society.  By conducting business using democratic means and involving the most people possible we are able to reach a general consensus that leads us in a direction that benefits the citizenry as a whole.  Government becomes a means to help protect the interests of the people from a powerful minority who would usurp the power of the people.  It is an idea built on trust in the people and democratic institutions and their ability to negotiate a path that improves the quality of life for a majority of the people. 

The conservative message is very different.  It calls for a smaller number of participants in the process and allows a privileged minority to exert control beyond their numbers.  At its core it is a message of fear and mistrust.  A message that warns us not to believe in the people who make up the general public being governed.  Just look at the places most GOP efforts have been focused on recently.  They are all about restricting rights and limiting access to power while maximizing the potential for individuals to profit from their connections. 

Why do common people vote and act against their interest by supporting Walker and the GOP?  Each person's story is different, but as our message of hope and our educational efforts expand we are seeing a change in the electorate.  Of course there will be those who disagree with progressive policies, that's to be expected and encouraged.  Dissent and debate are the cornerstone of a functioning democracy.  What needs to be made clear is that, as a nation, we are willing to take the chance and let the people have a voice. 

It is the common people who support the GOP who we must engage in dialogue about the issues.  We must make them see that it is all citizens who are being disrespected by the restrictions on our rights.  Restrictions like voter ID laws, limits on free speech and the partisanship of poll workers hurt all of us.  People need to see that "An injury to one is (truly) an injury to all."  As Dr. King said, "People don't respond until their own self-interest is threatened."  We are all victims of a concerted effort to buy influence in our political system.  This effort to buy power is reaching new extremes and the influence of money will only increase in the near future. We will face a powerful and well financed foe here in Wisconsin and need to shine the light on who is really giving the money to our political leaders. 

The question remains, where do we go from here?  There is no way to simply return to the "good old days".  In fact to return to the time of political disengagement and even apathy is not an acceptable goal.  We must continue to struggle to restore the rights that we should enjoy here in America.  Then, after winning that battle we must continue to maintain vigilance so that what happened here in Wisconsin doesn't happen again under our watch.  We are engaged in a long-term struggle against powerful forces.  Our greatest strengths are our numbers, our message and our voices.  We must continue to share our message with as many people as possible and do all we can to engage every citizen in making informed political, social and economic decisions.

Recall Information…
We are nearing the end of the signature gathering phase of the recall effort.  Organizers are asking for petitions to be turned in this Friday (January 13th) so that they can be ready to make the delivery of petitions by January 17th.  At this time it is anyone's guess what the final number of signatures will be, but there is little doubt that the effort to recall Walker has achieved success.

What is less clear is the chance for success in some of the senate recall efforts. 
These next few days are crucial in trying to recall the 4 senators targeted.  If you live in or near a district where a recall effort is underway, please try and help in any way possible. 

Another important activity that can be done to help in the recall effort is data entry.  Volunteers are entering names into a secure database to help with the verification process and to streamline the process in turning in the petitions. 
This database will also give recall activists information to counter Republican claims of fraud in the gathering of signatures.  Having actual data to use in refuting these claims will go a long way towards countering the fear based tactics used by the GOP.  I'm "fortunate" enough to get some GOP emails and they are still using extreme examples of potential fraud ("I signed 80 times" and Mickey Mouse/Adolph Hitler can sign) to stir up anti-recall sentiments.

These claims of criminal activity in collecting signatures are one tactic used by Walker's defenders.  They also like to try and make the recall a single issue campaign while emphasizing the high cost of recalls to our state. 

A final defense is the claim that the recalls are simply a partisan effort and that recalls shouldn’t be used in this manner.  Here's a copy of a recent email I received.

I will continue to state my agreement with the idea that recall elections shouldn't be triggered simply for single issue or purely partisan political reasons.  However, I believe the case has been made for the recall of elected GOP officials in Wisconsin based on a wide range of actions.  Of significant interest is the ongoing investigation into corruption in the Walker administration.

All the emphasis on negativity by the GOP is a common tactic for the organization.  However, it is having a very detrimental effect on political discourse in Wisconsin.  The potential for serious incidents is clearly there and we can only hope nothing horrible happens anywhere because of the political climate. 

Misinformation and Mistrust…
I've been asked any number of times what bothers me most about the situation here in Wisconsin.  It's difficult to narrow it down to a single focus.  However, if pressed to do so I really think that the most distressing thing that I see is the level of misinformation being passed off as truth.  The issues that we are dealing with are so important that getting accurate information is vital to forming valid opinions. 

As a teacher I'm used to seeing statistics and data used against my profession.  I also understand that data can be manipulated to support a variety of viewpoints.  The more complex the issue, the more manipulation of information goes on.  The "spin" that happens is to be expected and is not always done with malice or negative intent.  Everyone wants to find "facts" that will support their arguments.  We are frequently dealing with extremely complex and multifaceted issues that don't have easy straightforward answers.  I accept and embrace this fact.

What I can't accept is the deliberate misleading and outright lying that is being perpetuated in our political arenas today.  The progressive response to the Wisconsin Republican actions has been tainted by these misrepresentations since the beginning.  Remember the allegations that the demonstrators had done $75 million in damage to the capitol building?  That number was never close to accurate, but is still in the minds of many voters who have been conned into believing that the protests of early 2011 were dominated by out of control mobs.  How about the accusation that most of the people opposed to Walker are out of state agitators?  Anyone who has been active in this movement knows that to be patently false.  I could continue on with the lies for pages and pages, but I'm sure you get the idea.  If you need more examples, just comment and let me know and I will be happy to add to the above list.

I would be remiss if I didn't speak to the fraud and lies that are directly affecting our electoral process.  Examples of these are the extreme examples of fraud used to scare citizens into believing our democratic process is damaged and needs "reform".  Republican leadership would have us believe that there are large numbers of illegal votes cast in elections and therefore we need to correct the problem with voter ID laws.  They also argue that we need to have more oversight of the electoral process by having partisan political workers at the polls.  Yet none of the supposed cases of voter fraud amount to any significant number and the corrections put in place actually disenfranchise more voters than they protect.

Case in point is the effort by Republicans to install partisan Republican poll workers.  While this is legal, it is a mainly unused provision of electoral law that adds a negative element to our election day activities.  Reid Magney, a spokesperson for the GAB, said, "Most clerks have a stable of regular poll workers, and they don't know or care whether folks are Republicans or Democrats.  What they know is they are reliable."  Replacing the existing poll workers with new, untrained volunteers during a volatile election is a recipe for problems.  In addition to the logistical issues, there have been reports of some existing poll workers being told they would have to join the Republican Party in order to continue on in their positions. 
Republicans have tried to taint the recall process by continuing to repeat the allegations of illegal petition signings and other efforts to contaminate the process.  They have made it appear to less informed citizens that the recall movement is a fringe group of radical activists.  Then they are able to try and paint their efforts to control the recall process as moderate attempts to keep the process "honest". 

It would seem that economics and budgets should be less tainted by misrepresentation and manipulation of facts.  After all, it should be cut and dried as to whether a budget is balanced or a donation to a campaign is legal.  Unfortunately, we see just as many, if not more, cases where numbers are used to justify an unethical argument.  Take Wisconsin's newly "balanced" budget.  According to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, Wisconsin was about $10 billion in debt (including general revenue bonding and general obligation debt) in December of 2010.  Al Runde, analyst for the Fiscal Bureau, says that these numbers will increase because of new debt, previously authorized bonds and the fact that some of our debt principal has been deferred.  In an article in the Isthmus Runde talks about how Walker's budget not only added more to our general obligation and revenue bonding, but also was the second "largest annual amount of debt restructuring to date."  This from a man who said he was not pushing tough decisions on to future generations.  However, just look at the pro-Walker ads and you will not see any mention of anything but a totally balanced budget. 

Campaign financing is an area of obvious concern for anyone who is interested in keeping our government free of corrupting influences.  Under our current system a small number of big money donors can funnel money into different organizations.  These organizations then use the money for advertising, texting, robo-calling, internet campaigns and even harassment of political opponents.  The amount of money that these organizations have to use is increasing every election cycle.  The donors are able to hide their identities and the money is laundered through many different organizations and foundations.  Mike McCabe, from the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, says, "It's a deliberate strategy to keep the public in the dark about who is really buying our elections."

Education News…
Under the new rules that govern labor relations in local municipalities in place here in Wisconsin the local school boards, county boards, etc. take on greater importance than they did previously.  This is especially true because of the elimination of collective bargaining rights for public workers.  These local elected bodies will now be able to set policies and procedures in place without a need to negotiate with their employees.  As a result we are seeing an increased interest in local elections. 

Here in Madison the fallout from the Madison Prep debate along with the impending end of the collective bargaining agreement with MTI are creating hotly contested races for school board seats.  If educators are to continue to have an impact in decisions that affect education in Madison we need to become actively involved in these races. 

The hidden objectives of the education reform movement have been a topic of this blog several times.  It seems quite clear that conservative foundations and other corporate interests who are strong advocates for reform are very interested in the profits that can be made by privatizing our educational system.  Under the new laws that reduce the influence that educators and their unions have on education policy these conservative groups are seeing significant opportunities to affect our educational system.  As Wisconsin D-Rep Mark Pocan said, "They've (tax funded voucher groups) become the most powerful lobbying entity in the state."  This lobbying can take on many forms.

Whatever form the lobbying takes it is abundantly clear that not all of the so called reformers have an interest in improving the quality of education for all students.  Instead their goals are to make a profit and to break educator unions.

Just look at the "positive" effects Governor Walker's reforms have had on one school district in Wisconsin.  Remember this is a governor who has said he has made 'tools' available so that school districts can improve their budgets.

In keeping with this week's theme it is clear that educators understand the power of staying organized and involved. 

Education is an example of a field where few, if any, easy straightforward solutions to problems exist.  Perhaps the one size fits all answer to the problems that we face in education today is that there are no one size fits all answers.  However, we can see that by restricting the ability of educators to educate and by cutting resources to those educators we will not achieve success with a majority of our students.

It's The Economy…
As always the economy plays a significant role in the political process.  People will vote for the candidate/party that they feel will give them the best opportunities for success.  Another reason to educate and motivate our electorate.  The low turnouts in 2010 resulted in skewed results as people voted (or didn't vote) out of a sense of frustration.  The Tea Party and other conservative groups did a good job of selling their product.  Unfortunately for most of us they sold us a lemon.

We need to continue to find ways to push back against the big corporations and large agribusiness interests.

Something that shouldn't be ignored is the efforts of the Walker administration to essentially steal the state's pension fund.  This has been a favorite tactic of Republican Governors all across the U.S.  Wisconsin has one of the best pension fund in the nation and the Wisconsin Retirement System needs to be protected.  There was some good news on this front this week.

Progressive, A Dirty Word?…
In some circles calling someone liberal or progressive is considered an insult.  However, this is a label that is gaining favor in recent days.  Of course we must work to maintain the integrity of our label.  We need only look to the #2 most positively viewed label, Conservative, to see the dangers of becoming popular.  It is also clear that many people don't understand what any of the political labels are.  The first comment about socialism does an excellent job of looking at what socialism really means.  We are too quick to label someone or something and need to be able to see the meaning behind the label.

The National Scene…
It is very easy to get caught up in the events in Wisconsin.  We have certainly become a place of great importance in the political, social and economic struggles of recent days.  However, there is some great news from other parts of the nation that should be highlighted as well.

One of the interesting features of the Wisconsin Movement is the lack of real star power.  Sure we had some famous people show up here in February and March, but since then we haven't seen a real influx of big names speaking about our fight.  I find this to be a good thing for the most part.  The lack of celebrity interest has allowed us to grow and develop our movement without huge influences by outside groups.  At the same time it has meant that we have had to battle for attention at times.  It is great to see some athletes, who are unionized, speak out on labor issues.

Class in America…
I won't repeat last week's information about social class and its effect on the lives of American citizens here.  I do invite you to read this article and look over last week's posting.  It seems clear to me that we are stratifying into distinct social classes and that America is developing a fairly rigid class structure.  This creates an atmosphere where it is difficult for democracy to thrive and also hurts our nation economically.  Too many Americans are finding themselves trapped in negative economic situations and we are stagnating as a nation.  It is vital to our national interests that we find a way to address this issue and revive the middle class. 

Did You Know?…
In 2011 almost 40% of states cut public library funding. 
65% of public libraries report they are the only free access to internet in their community. 
31% of Americans say the library is their #1 tax supported service. 
2/3 of Americans have a library card.

However difficult it is to fund libraries we can all rest easier now that Florida Governor Rick Scott signed the law requiring drug testing for state welfare applicants.  Just look at these results…

There is a fee of $10-36 to applicants who will receive $254-364 in cash assistance payment for a family of 4 
17.6 gallons of urine have been collected each month since May. 
2.5% tested positive. 
It costs $2560 per gallon for the state of Florida to test the urine.

Unfortunately for Gov. Scott, his efforts to test welfare applicants is undergoing challenges in the court system and is probably unconstitutional. 

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