Sunday, November 11, 2012

#87 November 11, 2011- Thoughts About Nov. 6th and Holiday Shopping Already

What This Is…
Issue #87- November 11, 2012
In this issue: Election Results

Honoring Our Veterans…
Today we honor the men and women who serve our nation in so many ways.  Be sure to remember those who have given so much in your thoughts words and actions today (and all days).

Election Results- Where Do We
Go From Here?…
It's over, or is it?  While many of us breathed a sigh of relief on Tuesday and woke to positive feelings on Wednesday morning, I have to admit to mixed feelings.  Of course the victories for President Obama, Tammy Baldwin and Mark Pocan meant that the signs in my yard were finally signs of victory (after a couple of long years of defeat).  I too, basked in the glow of the many victories for progressive causes from around the nation.  Yet, maybe due to my recent political "awakening", at the same time I felt the happiness of these victories I also am fully aware that we have a lot of work still to do.

The victories on Tuesday were many and raised the hopes of progressives around the state and nation.  

Of course there is the significant problem in Wisconsin that the GOP regained complete control of our state government.  This means that we face the same situation as we did in the spring of 2011, and we all know how that turned out.

While the loss of the senate is obviously problematic, I was heartened by the statewide victories of Obama and Baldwin.  To me this points towards a shift in Wisconsin away from the conservative agenda and more towards a moderate direction.  Local races are heavily influenced by districting, incumbency and other factors beyond political philosophy.  The statewide elections give me hope that we are seeing a change in the Wisconsin electorate.

While we may look ahead with concern about the immediate future of Wisconsin, we also know that we can directly impact what legislation and policies are proposed and implemented here.  Conservatives in Wisconsin may want to push ahead with their "reforms" in many areas, but they also know that we stand ready as a collective group to hold them accountable to all citizens.

We have learned some painful lessons over these past years as we have relied on elected officials to represent us without fully engaging in efforts to make sure that our interests were adequately advanced and defended.  Without oversight, even the best of our political leaders can easily fall victim to the big money and become mired in politics that fail the very citizens who need representation the most.  Over time this has resulted in a slow deterioration of safety nets and the implementation of legislation that benefits the few, rather than the many.  This process has accelerated in recent years and threatens the fabric of our national identity. 

I don't want to leave readers with a sense of disappointment or despair.  There really is a lot to celebrate from this past week.  However, I also hope that we can avoid becoming complacent and seeing a repeat of 2010 occur.  The gains we made on Tuesday can only be maintained by our participation in the process.  A citizenry does get the government and society it deserves, so we need to work together to make sure we create a positive future for ourselves, our communities and our world.

So, while we enjoy the victories of November 6th, we need to maintain our focus on topics and issues that will impact our future in significant ways.  Look for ways to get involved and stay involved, remember the union chant "One Day Longer, One Day Stronger!" 

Campaign Finance- Some may argue that the victories of progressive and Democratic candidates demonstrates that money may not have the impact it is given credit for.  They say this with the assumption that it is only Republican candidates who benefit from the changes in campaign financing brought about by Citizens United.  Yet we know that all candidates and both parties spent huge amounts of money on ads and propaganda designed to vilify and distort the image of the opposition.

There are numerous examples of exorbitant spending from races around the nation.  A senate race in Montana cost over $40 million.  Here in Wisconsin our race for U.S. Senate cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $60 million.  There is talk that the presidential campaign may run well into the billions of dollars.  With the reality of a struggling economy and rising poverty, this type of spending on politics is sickening.  

It would be one thing if the information that was being spread by the huge amounts of spending helped citizens make informed decisions.  The truth is that there is little if any truth in most of the "attack ads" financed by big money interests.  The volume of negative ads drowns out any positive message that would attract voters and forces all of us to sift through piles of unsolicited, inaccurate information forced on us using every available medium. 

Clearly we need to work for a change in how America's political "business" is conducted. 

Misleading and Divisive Information- In the same way that advertising and other political messaging driven by out of control spending damages our nation's collective view of politics, so too does the propaganda that passes for "news" on many TV and radio shows.  Because of inaccurate coverage deliberately designed to mislead and spread fear among citizens, our nation is always on the edge of disaster.  Political talk and TV also increases divisions among the people of our nation, painting different groups in extreme ways that portray us as a society of opposing "cultures" that are mutually exclusive and incapable of coexisting.     

The more people hear the message that we are a nation in crisis and that there are specific groups that are to blame, the less rational our debate and our problem solving strategies will be.  Jokes and satire are one thing, but the efforts to incite negative feelings between groups of citizens have tremendous potential to be incredibly harmful to our nation's future.  In the end, we must remember that we are all American's and all world citizens.  Our responsibility is to a greater good, not a political party. 

Gerrymandering and Lack of Competitive Local Races- I've heard many Republicans talking about how Wisconsin voters were mislead in the national races, but "saw the light" in local races.  They claim that this is the reason behind the results that put the state senate back in GOP control.  What they are ignoring is another possible analysis (and one that I believe to be more accurate), the senate districts were set up by the GOP controlled legislature to insure Republican control of our legislature for the foreseeable future.  The redistricting plan that was put in place sets up "safe" districts for most legislators and reduces the number of "purple" districts where there are competitive races.  By gerrymandering the different districts the GOP is able to control local races and dominate state politics in a way that benefits only a minority of voters.  We saw the results of this last February and are fearful that this will continue into the future. 

In my district here in Madison, no GOP candidate was involved in the race against Senator Risser.  A strong democracy needs discussion, debate and competitive elections.  Without challengers our elected officials don't have to represent the people of their district as diligently.  They are not held accountable in as meaningful a manner as if they need to defend their performance every election cycle.  Non-competitive races also drive down voter participation.  Many voters wonder why they should bother voting when their either isn't a race, or a there's a race that is already essentially decided before it begins.     

Election Reform- We must restore trust in our electoral system.  Because of the emphasis on voter ID and voter fraud in the past year, the electorate has developed a skewed view of our electoral process.  This has resulted in significant concern about the integrity of our elections and led to efforts to change the ways that we vote. 

It should be obvious to all citizens that we need to be sure that all laws and policies are followed during elections.  However, the idea that we need to make drastic changes based on false assumptions about voter fraud results in disenfranchisement for voters and cynicism about elections in general.  At my polling place on Tuesday there was an election observer who created a sense of discomfort for many voters.  He kept trying to get closer to poll workers and voters and was obvious in his efforts to check out voters by entering names in his phone as people went through the line.  This type of behavior, while technically fine under election rules, is intimidating for some and unpleasant for all. 

Worker's Rights- There is little doubt that states like Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan went for Obama due in large measure to the efforts of organized labor. Unions provide a sense of hope and support while protecting the interests of their members.  People who feel empowered, are organized and who are educated about issues are able to make choices based on a wider world view. 

Unfortunately for organized labor, this means that we will continue to be a primary target for conservatives who want to use their influence to dominate our nation politically and economically.  You can be sure that the attacks on unions and workers will not end with this election, but will probably intensify in states where the GOP holds control.  

For Wisconsin this means we must be ready to fight against any efforts to implement "Right to Work" legislation or policies.  We must also be vigilant about efforts to raid pensions like the WRS.  Walker and his GOP allies have shown that they are willing to go to extreme lengths in their attacks on workers, but we have also shown our willingness to resist these efforts.      

Public Education- Another area that has taken significant hits in recent years is public education.  This is true at all levels of government and is one place where we can find little joy in the results of Tuesday's elections.  While some would argue that wins by the Democrats will benefit public education, the policies that the current administration has implemented don't give us much hope.  It seems that unfortunately, both parties have bought into the ideas of the "reformers" and subscribe to ideas like testing and privatization of our public schools.     

With the results of our state election creating a GOP majority in all branches we can assume that there will be efforts to impose more cuts to public education.  Our only recourse is to continue to work at all levels to make the voices of public educators, students and families heard, and heard loudly.  We must stand firm in our resistance to "reforms" that don't work and in our efforts to educate our society about the benefits of education and the value of our public education system.  

Buy Local- Make a Wise Investment In Our Future…
I'm sure you have all been as "pleased" as I am to see that many stores seem to have skipped Halloween and Thanksgiving and gone right to their Christmas/Holiday sales.  With the impending holiday shopping season approaching rapidly, now is a good time to start planning for ways to spend our money wisely.  I continue to believe that we should be implementing "Buycotts" and focusing our efforts on finding merchants who sell products and services that support progressive ideals.  As you get ready to shop for the holidays remember that your money is one of the most valuable "weapons" in your arsenal of change.  In addition to shopping in stores that are worker friendly, local and that sell American made products, be sure to mention the reasons you are frequenting their business.  Each purchase helps send a strong message that we value all labor and that we are willing to put our money where our values are. 

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