Sunday, January 29, 2012

Issue #45 January 29, 2012- Recall, NCLB Waiver, The Free Press? and More

What This Is…
Issue #45- January 29, 2012
In this issue: Recall Information, NCLB Waiver, Attacking Public Education, Walkergate, State of the …, A Free Press, Unions and Mining News

Recall Information…
We have seen many dramatic events in Wisconsin over the past year.  However, we are also reminded of the fact that politics in the United States is not always exciting or even engaging.  The last two months were filled with frantic activity as volunteers worked to collect signatures.  Now we enter a period of waiting while legal and political maneuvering takes place.  While it may not be an "exciting" time, this is a time to stay alert so that we don't lose our voice or our momentum. 

Republicans asked for and received an extra 30 days to look over the petitions and verify signatures.  On one hand it seems like a waste of time and resources.  With such a large number of signatures there would have to be such widespread fraudulent activity that it seems incredibly unlikely we will see the recalls overturned.  The Republicans would like to believe that this will be the case, and will work to undermine public trust in the process.  However, it really is more of a delaying tactic designed to allow for more fund raising and more advertising time.

While we may be confident in the validity of our petitioning efforts we can't ignore the potential for political wrangling and deceitful actions on the part of the GOP as they work to defend their candidates.  They will take every opportunity to discredit the process and will trumpet any extreme examples of problematic petitions they find.  They have done this since the beginning of the resistance to the Walker administration and there is no reason to see them abandoning this strategy.  We must be ready to defend our efforts and emphasize the fact that a vast majority of the signatures are valid and were collected in a proper manner. 

The fundraising efforts in support of Governor Walker have been impressive.  At the same time these efforts demonstrate a reason why he should be recalled.  The fact that he is getting such large donations from outside Wisconsin is problematic for many of us.    

The conservative argument that it is big union money that supports the recall effort is a hollow one.  While it is true that unions have played a large role in the efforts to organize and finance opposition to Walker's agenda I am constantly reminded of a simple reality.  Union money comes from union members.  Unions collect dues from many individuals and those individuals are able to have input into how the money is spent.  This is quite different from a single donator giving a large sum to a campaign.  It is a collective action by a group of like minded individuals, democracy in action.  We can't allow the public to forget that the big union money comes from their friends, family and neighbors.

NCLB Waivers…
Public education has suffered under the yoke of No Child Left Behind legislation which has hamstrung our efforts to educate children while opening the door to the destruction of the public school system as we know it.  Now we see a light at the end of the tunnel as President Obama's administration offers opportunities for states to apply for waivers to the onerous requirements placed on us by NCLB.  However, many of us are wondering, is it the end of the tunnel, or is it a freight train coming our way?

The general consensus is that getting out from the provisions of NCLB is a positive thing for education in general.  If the MacIver Institute says so, it must be TRUE.

We certainly can't continue with NCLB and the eventual labeling of all schools in our nation as "failing". 

However, a close read of these links shows that the change from NCLB to "Race to the Top" may not represent a  huge switch in philosophy or tactics.  The language that promotes testing and evaluation of education is still in place.  Many of the issues that educators have been concerned about are not addressed in meaningful ways.  The Wisconsin waiver application represents a change in a positive direction, but not a real shift in what has been happening for the last few decades. 

I have several concerns about the way this waiver application is being approached here in Wisconsin.  First, the amount of input from citizens and educators is limited in scope.  It seems that most of the work on developing any new systems will be done at a higher, policymaking level.  While this may include some of the ranking educators, we can't forget that WEAC and other statewide organizations have struggled to protect public education in Wisconsin.  WEAC has been under fire from some educators for their lack of leadership in areas like teacher evaluations.  As this is a key element in the NCLB waiver process, leaving the representation of educators in the hands of a few representatives may not have positive results for many of us.

Not only are most educators underrepresented, but families who have a huge stake in the state's education system are also potentially excluded to some degree by the process of developing the waiver.  Ask around your neighborhood and see how many parents know that DPI is developing a NCLB waiver application. 

This waiver  has the potential to have a significant impact on the education system in Wisconsin.  It will change some of the content taught in schools, alter some graduation requirements and implement new testing mandates.  It will also create a ranking system for schools and educators which will be used to distribute resources and to discipline schools that don't meet established goals. 
Of major concern is the fact that in applying for waivers, states create their own version of testing students, evaluating schools and assessing teachers.  Here in Wisconsin where the climate is one of hostility towards public educators the potential for us to be scapegoats and targets for negative actions seems to be significant.

These links are to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction documents that refer to the proposed waiver.  The first link also includes a link to the survey that DPI is using to collect data from citizens.  The second is a summary of the waiver proposal as it currently exists.  I encourage you to read them carefully and participate in the survey.  Make no mistake about it, receiving a waiver from the NCLB mandates is a step in the right direction.  However, it is only a small step and we must all work to try and return our educational system a more reasonable and student centered path.   

The real issue to me continues to be that of defining what a good, quality education looks like.  Is someone considered educated if they can pass a test and perform basic skills?  While that level of competence is necessary, don’t we want more from an education than just those basics?  What about other opportunities that allow for individuals to grow and develop as complete human beings?  We've seen how testing and accountability have sucked the life from many schools and educators.  The need to teach specific skills that are necessary primarily for passing a test does little to truly educate anyone. 

Attacking Education…
I've talked about the problems facing public education frequently over this past year.  With the implementation of Walker's budget it was clear that our schools would suffer significant financial problems as time went by.  We knew that the first year would not be as bad as future years would be.  That was a scary proposition for supporters of public education, given the challenges of the 2011-12 budgets.  As school boards begin work on their budgets for the upcoming school year, expect to see some real stark problems to arise.

While it is difficult for many of us to understand the stance that state Republicans have taken on funding public education, their true motives and feelings are becoming clearer to the general public.  There is a real dislike for public education among the GOP leadership and these feelings are demonstrated by their words and actions. 

We know that a college education is a powerful tool in advancing an individual's economic and social status.  However, current policy is making it more and more difficult for many Americans to afford college.  While the Federal Student Loan Rate is set to double, we are cutting funding to our institutions of higher learning.

Attention must continue to be drawn to the ongoing issues of potential corruption in the Walker administration.  It is important for many reasons, not the least of which is that it is unacceptable to allow a corrupt administration to maintain power.  We must hold our elected officials to a high standard regardless of our political persuasions.  The leader of any organization is accountable for the actions of that organization and the people in it.  If the alleged incidents are proven to be true than Governor Walker needs to face the consequences of what went on under his leadership.  These allegations are not trivial ones.   

Almost as problematic as the allegations of criminal activity are in my mind are the responses to the investigation and coverage of the issues raised.  Conservative media personalities are attempting to gloss over the events as typical liberal attacks on a conservative.  The Walker administration is moving ahead as with seemingly hypocritical actions like creating a task force to eliminate fraud in state government.  It's hard to picture someone being a "good steward" of taxpayer money when they allowed resources provided by taxpayers to be used for their personal gain. 

Of equal significance to me is the general feeling that I get that the Governor seems to see the issue not as wrong doing, but rather as an unfortunate inconvenience.  The, now famous, email where he speaks of not needing the negative media coverage strikes me as a huge problem.  An ethical person does the right thing as much as possible (recognizing that none of us are perfect), and when a mistake is made works to correct it.  The corrections are made, not because of possible repercussions but because it is the correct thing to do.  The appearance that Walker was more concerned about media attention than about the possible violation of the law is not something I want to see in the chief executive of my state. 

State of the State vs. State of the Union…
January is a time of reflection and goal setting.  This is true in all areas of our lives, including politics.  This past week both President Obama and Governor Walker delivered their views on where we've been and where we are headed. 

It is interesting that both of these chief executives have been accused of being divisive and of failing to achieve the goals they set during their campaigns.  Both face elections this year (assuming no major developments in the recall of Governor Walker).  However, despite these general similarities the differences between the two political leaders and their messages are striking. 

These two men represent the stark differences in our political ideologies today.  It is the contrasting world views and how they chose to deal with their opposition that sets the tone for the current state of our society, nationally and on a state level. 

Here in Wisconsin Scott Walker took a "crisis" and a "mandate" and used them to attack the rights of the working and middle classes.  His administration faces allegations of scandal and is frequently accused of using questionable political tactics to promote their agenda.  Bipartisan efforts are few and far between, unless you count the recall effort. 

How did Walker choose to address all these contentious issues?  In essence he either ignored them or countered the controversy with generalized comments.  In his first State of the State message he talked about the need to sacrifice and the "crisis" Wisconsin faced.  Now after a year in office he painted a picture of success, one not consistently supported by data.   

It is difficult to paint the picture that Wisconsin is better off after a year of Walker's administration.  The agenda that was offered for the upcoming year wasn't one that gave most of us a great deal of hope that things would be changing for the better.  His was a message of continuing reductions in accountability, less citizen accessibility and a less transparent government.  This government, while being less influenced by citizens will continue to benefit a small number of well connected citizens.   

President Obama's time in office has been markedly different.  He too inherited a problematic budget and a contentious electorate.  However, his initial efforts to administer the government were more conciliatory in nature.  Now, after several years of compromise he is taking a more aggressive approach.  His message was much stronger and more geared towards supporting the majority of Americans.

Republican response was predictable and focused on a few basic points.  Points that have been used over and over during Obama's time in office.

At the end of the day, the real state of our society can be judged by the way the common person lives their lives.  All the rhetoric in the world is, in the end, just words.  What matters is how we treat our fellow citizens, how we care for those who need our help and how we treat those who are different from us.  Government exists to provide a framework for a just and civil society.  That is what our founding documents say and that is what our nation has claimed to stand for.  Economics and politics are simply vehicles for us to use as we move towards a society where people enjoy freedom and equal rights.  The nation seems to be headed in the right direction, Wisconsin is struggling to find the path.

A Free Press?…
Is our media too liberal, or is it too conservative?  The answer to that question probably depends on your political ideology.  There is no doubt that we spend almost as much time talking about how news is presented as we do talking about the news itself.  In some cases the press becomes a story in itself. 

There is no doubt that a free press occupies an important place in the creation of and in maintaining a free, democratic society.  In the 1st Amendment to our Constitution it is clear that the freedom of the press is considered a vital part of our democratic society:

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.

Over time it is clear that, while they may not always agree with or appreciate the efforts of the press, our leaders have recognized the importance of a free press that accurately conveys information to the public.  James Madison said it well when he stated, “Nothing could be more irrational than to give the people power, and to withhold from them information without which power is abused. A people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with power which knowledge gives. A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps

Joseph Pulitzer may have had a vested interest in promoting the press, but this quote clearly states its value, “Our Republic and its press will rise or fall together. An able, disinterested, public-spirited press, with trained intelligence to know right and courage to do it, can preserve that public virtue without which popular government is a sham and a mockery.”

We need sources of information that are accurate and that present as complete a picture of events as possible.  Without these sources it is impossible for a citizen to form valid opinions about what is happening in the world around us.  Without accurate information our opinions become less than what they should be.  We become trapped by the restrictions on knowledge, and our influence on our government, economy, and all other areas of importance are minimized.  We become pawns of larger forces that seek to control us.  

It is obvious that there is no way to present all the facts of a story.  In fact, what constitutes fact is often subject to debate.  We know that it is nearly impossible to find any "truth" as we discuss events and that most of what we experience in life is subject to interpretation.  A free and independent press strives to present information in as complete and neutral a manner as possible.  Sometimes they succeed and sometimes they fail.  Whatever the outcome it is influenced by a nearly infinite number of factors.

Our job as consumers is to sift through the information and try to form our own opinion based on the evidence we have available to us.  That is the importance of having a number of media outlets to look to for our information.  If we only have limited sources then we will have a limited perspective on what is happening. 
Benjamin Disraeli, a British Prime Minister, said, “News is that which comes from the North, East, West and South, and if it comes from only one point of the compass, then it is a class publication and not news.”

In addition to needing multiple sources of information we also need to differentiate between fact and opinion.  This is one of the standards that I'm accountable for when teaching my 4th and 5th graders, but it is one that many adults would fail if they were assessed on their ability to discern the difference.  Simply put, a fact is different from opinion in the level of "proof" that supports the statement.  I explain this to my students by using examples and we discuss the differences.  There certainly is a grey area where fact and opinion meet, and we need to understand and appreciate the differences.  Many times we must make our decisions based on incomplete or inconclusive information, but we still rely on sources of fact to make our best judgment. 

Turn on a news show and watch carefully.  Here in the United States we are finding it more and more difficult to find news and easier to find editorials.  Why is this happening?  Is it because we don't want to hear information that contradicts our existing views?  Is it because we need to be entertained so much and news is boring, while editorials are exciting?  Try listening to a news broadcast and then compare that to a news talk show like Rush Limbaugh or Ed Schultz.  Watch a nightly news show and then tune it to a cable news show.  Notice a difference. 

The United States currently ranks 47th in terms of freedom as ranked by Reporters Without Borders.  This puts us behind countries like South Africa and El Salvador.

We also face troubling issues with the corporate ownership of our media.  Next time you are at a magazine rack, just look at the publishers of the material.  There are a limited number of companies that own most of our media outlets.  They provide the filter that we see our current events through.  It is difficult to imagine that the heads of these corporations are totally hands off and don't have any influence on what is broadcast and printed in our mass media.  Once again we see the continuing struggle between a small number of elite who control the majority of the resources and the rest of the citizenry.    

When you combine the restrictions imposed on the free press, the corporate ownership of the media and the lack of educated consumption by the citizens of America you have a recipe for disaster.  As we gear up for a difficult political battle in Wisconsin it becomes clear that we must have an informed and educated electorate to counter the propaganda that will be put out by the supporters of the GOP agenda.  

“A free press is the unsleeping guardian of every other right that free men prize; it is the most dangerous foe of tyranny. … Under dictatorship the press is bound to languish, and the loudspeaker and the film to become more important. But where free institutions are indigenous to the soil and men have the habit of liberty, the press will continue to be the Fourth Estate, the vigilant guardian of the rights of the ordinary citizen.”
Winston Churchill

The attacks on worker's rights have been more visible in the past year than in any previous year in memory.  While there has been an underlying, anti-worker sentiment in many policies over the past decades, the past year saw the efforts to restrict the rights of labor increase at all levels of government.  This is obvious to us in Wisconsin, but no less visible in Indiana, Michigan and across the United States.  Even after the backlash to the GOP's efforts resulted in successful recalls and referenda the Republican leadership isn't backing down.

It would be very easy for workers to give in to the powerful forces arrayed against them.  That is probably what the GOP anticipated when they unveiled their plans last year.  Instead it appears that the working people of America are waking up and regaining a sense of purpose and pride in themselves.  The result the Republicans got wasn't exactly what they were looking for.  Instead of a landslide victory, they got a more organized and more committed opposition. 

The question remains as to where the events of 2011 will take us.  Will we see more unionized workers?  What will unions of the future look like? 

As of right now the data is mixed.  On one hand the number of unionized workers declined slightly in recent data.  Given the restrictions on public sector unions it would be difficult to see the trends go any other way.  On the other hand it appears that interest in private sector unions increased slightly.  Could this be a beginning to a rebirth of organized labor?  Time will tell, but we certainly have the opportunity to expand unions and reclaim labor's status in the political arena.

We have huge problems in Wisconsin right now.  This is clear in many areas, but one of particular interest (and that demonstrates the difficulties we face) is the area of mining. 

We have the GOP stating the obvious, Wisconsin is a state with a rich mining history.  If you don't know that then you don't know why we are called the "Badger State".  We also have an economy that needs a significant boost and Republicans argue that mining would give us just that.  According to the GOP that is really all the justification that we need to proceed with a mining bill that opens up our state to new mining initiatives. 

So what's the problem?
-The people don't necessarily support mining in their communities
-Many Native American groups view the bill as a violation of their rights  Although in an incredible display of ignorance Rep. Jeff Stone said, "I don't think our job is to provide a seat at the table for the tribes, who want to be treated as a sovereign nation."
-The environmental impacts are not certain and have significant negative potential.
-There are questions about the quality of the jobs that will be available to local citizens  
-There isn't an author to the bill which clearly benefits interests outside of Wisconsin as much, or potentially more than, local people

This bill is a microcosm of what has become common legislative practice in Wisconsin.  Ignorance and greed seem to be a major motivator for our current policy while advocacy for citizens seems to be of less concern.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Issue #43b January 22, 2012- Competing Views of America

What This Is…
Issue #43b- January 22, 2012
In this issue: Walker's Budget, Education News, Claiming MLK, Scott Walker, Two Views of America.
I know that I've tended to cover a lot of ground in each week's edition so I broke them up into two installments.  This part deals with the social and economic issues of the week.
 Walker's Budget…
One of the interesting things about the prospect of a delay in holding the recalls is the potential changes in our state's economy.  Of course we all hope that things improve, too many people are currently suffering the effects of an economy that is stagnant at best in most areas.

On the other hand, an improving economy will allow the Walker administration to trumpet the success of their "reforms".  While it will be an ongoing debate as to what role the administration's actions actually will have had in improving our state's economy, the end result will be a change in the mood of the electorate.  We know that people typically vote based on their current economic status and if they see improvement some of the impetus to recall the GOP candidates will be removed. 

No matter what the state of our state's economy is when the recall elections are held, there are a few things that we can't let the electorate forget.  One is the fact that in a time of economic crisis the GOP leadership failed to act in a leadership role to correct the problem.  The special session on jobs of 2011 was a complete farce in terms of dealing with the issue at hand.  The current legislative session looks to be of just as little value.

The results of the first year of Walker's administration were not favorable, no matter how you spin the data.

In addition to the loss of jobs and the lack of leadership, we also saw a concerted effort to undermine the public services that citizens rely on to help improve their lives.  Areas like public education took well documented hits.  The environmental protections we currently enjoy also have been degraded under his "leadership."

The Walker administration also showed a willingness to "doctor" facts and manipulate data to promote their overall agenda over the needs of Wisconsin's citizens.

Peter Barca
A new wrinkle, or should we say a new disclosure, as we often find is the case with the Walker Administration. Yesterday I posted an article, widely reported, that Gov. Walker was turning back $37 million to set up health exchanges, that the Milwaukee Journal Editorial criticized today pointing out it is the law to establish the exchanges. But what the Governor did not disclose was that there is $11 million also being turned back to set up new computer networks to more quickly and accurately identify Medicare eligibility, which would have saved the taxpayers significant money. Here is a quote from the article, "Supporters of the federal health law say the Walker administration let ideology and distaste for the federal law trump common sense by turning down millions of dollars that could have saved the state money in areas beyond the health care law." Now my question of the day - which is more troubling that once again we did not get the full story - ie. Family Care - or that the taxpayers once again lose out because of Walker's ideological agenda taking precedence over common sense and good economic judgement?

Facts like these need to be shared and repeated so that voters remember the "leadership" that was provided to us when times were hard.  The message can be fine tuned and simplified to compete with the GOP propaganda machine, but we can't lose sight of the reasons we were successful in getting such a large number of signatures.

Education News…
Public education doesn't seem to be much different than private employment in terms of salary structure.  Management in America continues to be paid at a higher rate than the general working population.  Why do we insist on paying bonuses to keep management in place while we are willing to let good educators leave the profession.  Even worse, we let our support staff employees work for subsistence wages while the top of the ladder gets bonuses. 

The next step in the attack on public education is now in place.  With a Republican majority in power, educator unions weakened or destroyed, and a population that is conditioned to see educators as incompetent it is easy to see the evaluation of educators being used as another "tool" to dismantle public education.  Remember, Ms. Frizzle wouldn't have passed the evaluations used by the Washington D.C. school system.  

We must remember that we don't have a strong supporter of public education in the White House.  Arne Duncan and the "Race to the Top" are two examples of this and here's another.
It's not just public sector unions that are being attacked.  Private sector unions have been decimated by the policies applied at all levels of government for all of recent history.  The union movement was strongest in the private sector for many years, but was gradually undermined as companies gained power and corporations went multi-national.  As a result we saw the balance shift and now most union members are public workers.

The argument given by management is consistent.  They argue that having unions represent workers drives up costs and makes them unable to compete with companies who produce goods outside the U.S.  Management claims that unions represent workers who aren't as productive and protect less competent employees.  Yet, data doesn't consistently support their claims (see the ads run by the Lunchpail Republicans in Indiana earlier in this issue).  Still, the general public tends to buy the conservative argument and only sees the costs of unions as promoted by anti-union forces. 

The results are destructive to American industry, American workers and the American economy. 

We've seen this pattern play out in Wisconsin in the public sector over the past year and now the focus is also being put back on the private sector.

Claiming MLK…
We celebrated Dr. King's birthday last Monday with ceremonies and other events.  Here in Madison tensions were high as Scott Walker participated in the activities honoring Dr. King.

Of course it would be political suicide to criticize Dr. King and our GOP leaders in Wisconsin are way too savvy to do anything of that magnitude.  Instead, Vicki McKenna floated the idea that Dr. King was a Republican.  Co-opting a movement, phrase or historical figure is a common Republican strategy and it makes sense that they would try and claim Dr. King as one of their own.  After all the conservatives have tried to make it appear that their efforts to reform our nation are done with the interests of the majority of Americans at their base.  Education reform is a great example of this effort as conservatives claim that offering choice in education gives everyone equal opportunity (despite much evidence to the contrary).

Thus we get this posting that was shared on Facebook.

If this thinking wasn't taken seriously by some it would be laughable.  There are many holes in this argument.  First, the Democratic party in the southern part of the United States was the home to the most conservative politicians and a breeding ground for racist policies at the time King was alive.  While the Republican party was no model of tolerance it would have been a more palatable choice.  However, we have a great deal of evidence that points to the fact that King was willing to work with any politician who would help further his goals of advancing the Civil Rights Movement.  He carefully weighed his options and went back and forth between support for politicians as varied as Richard Nixon and JFK.  Political party mattered less to King than political action.

In addition to this fact is the rather obvious fact that much of the GOP agenda under Walker has directly undermined things that King held of high value.

So, conservatives can put any title they want behind Dr. King's name, it doesn't change the fact that he would be vehemently opposed to the policies currently being advanced by the GOP in Wisconsin.  To argue otherwise shows incredible ignorance and disrespect to King's legacy. 

Walker, Leader or???…
A fact that can't be disputed is that Abraham Lincoln was a Republican.  That one of the greatest presidents of all time was from the Republican party does not do anything to support current Republican actions any more than claiming Dr. King's allegiance does.  Thinking about Lincoln and his role in American history  highlights the differences in leadership that we see between a true statesman and Scott Walker.

It is the leadership style that Walker brings that really divides our state.  We have had many periods of crises over the course of history.  Scott Walker would have us believe that he is attempting to lead us through a period where the future of Wisconsin is threatened.  As a result of this impending doom he justifies his actions as ones that are necessary to save our state for future generations.

However, facts don't necessarily support Walker's claims of destruction looming on the horizon.  In fact, it can be argued that the crisis which lead to the radical attacks on worker's rights and organized labor was largely manufactured by actions supported by GOP leaders.  The response that was generated by Republicans was one that went far beyond what was required to address the problem.

There is no doubt that our state faced many challenges as Governor Walker took office.  However, in times of trouble we need leadership that unites people, not leadership designed to divide groups.  Once again looking at Lincoln, he took office at a time when our nation truly faced a crisis.  Slavery and other hotly contested issues threatened to (and quickly did) tear our nation apart.  Lincoln faced this challenge with strength and dignity.  Even going so far as to assemble a "Team of Rivals" (for a great read check out the book of the same name by Doris Kearns Goodwin) made up of some of his staunchest opponents. 

Walker clearly beats to the rhythm of a different drummer.  He has taken every opportunity to create dissention and discord here.  He appears to be carrying out the agenda of a national movement with great enjoyment and bears personal grudges against public unions.  I admit that I don't know much about Governor Walker as a person.  He may firmly believe in everything that he is doing.  However, as a person who has decided to take on the role of a public official in high office he is not behaving in a responsible manner.

Those who have worked with him before paint the picture of a single minded and uncompromising individual who will not veer from a path once he has selected it.  This makes him a powerful leader to some, but it would appear someone who isn't well suited to lead a democratic system.        

The GOP seems intent on reshaping history and creating a new style of American leader.  They are lifting politicians like Walker up as an example of a strong leader.  Walker has compared himself to past leaders like Reagan.  I would argue that he seems to be more of a Nixon type.  If the Republicans want to claim King's legacy maybe this is the quote they should use (simply change Walker for Nixon)
"Nixon has a genius for convincing one he is sincere…he almost disarms you with his apparent sincerity."  King also added, "If Richard Nixon is not sincere, he is the most dangerous man in America."

A Different Vision For America…
Many would argue that the difference between Republican and Democrat isn't that large at the national level.  They argue that both parties are bought and paid for by large money interests.  There is some truth to this argument and it is difficult to make the case that the Democratic Party has been a strong supporter of labor in recent years.  However, as the more radical members of the Republican Party gain more control over their platform the message becomes more extreme. 

This is as true here in Wisconsin as it is elsewhere.

"Compassionate Conservatism" at its finest. 

Issue #43a January 22, 2012- Recall and Political Organizing News

What This Is…
Issue #43a- January 22, 2012
In this issue: Recall News, What's Next, Positive Republicans?, Election Fraud, Walker's Budget, Education News, Claiming MLK, Scott Walker, Two Views of America.

This week's edition is broken up into two installments.  This first one deals with the political news of the week and ways to organize our efforts to counter the conservative forces at work in Wisconsin.
Recall Information…
One Million Signatures!!!!  That number really speaks for itself, but when combined with the other 5 GOP elected officials targeted for recall rises to nearly 2 million.  A few articles from around the nation and world.

Most of these articles focus on the usual points that have been the heart of news coverage since last year.  We must work to get national recognition that we are not just fighting for collective bargaining rights, but are also united to defeat the other initiatives offered by the GOP.  Collective bargaining rights alone are worthy of our full support, but when combined with the other issues that are part of our platform make our cause worthy of widespread appeal. 

We will hear Walker and his spokespeople offer many different ideas about the recalls in the near future.  It is important that we don't allow his comments to go without comment.  For example, his claim that he believes the people of Wisconsin support him and wants to put his policies to the test in an election are false.  The GOP will do anything and everything to undermine the process and slow the momentum for recall that currently exists.  For this reason Walker will ignore the Democratic Party's offer to waive the objections to the recall and move ahead with elections. 

The spin of the numbers is always entertaining.  I seem to recall Governor Walker talking about the mandate that voters gave him in 2010 (with around 1.2 million votes).  Yet in this interview on CNN he talks about a million being a "small minority". 

The amount of time and money that keeping the recall process open is amazing.  Not only can you watch the signature counting room, but eventually scans of all the recall petitions will be available on line.  While keeping the process "transparent" is important in order to maintain public faith in our system there are some concerns that these efforts raise.  We can't forget that anti-recall activists targeted signers of petitions for harassment when images of the petitions were shown on a newscast.  It also doesn't speak well of us that we need to keep the petitions under guard for fear of some act of political terrorism. 

Where Do We Go From Here?…
We are engaged in a conflict, and like most conflicts this one will not be solved in any single action (short of complete capitulation by one side).  This is a long term struggle that involves constant effort, focus and dedication from all progressive activists.  From the initial events of last year this need for maintaining the energy and enthusiasm to fight back has been one of our greatest challenges (and one of the most remarkable things about the resistance to the conservative agenda in Wisconsin). 

As with any struggle there are times of intense action along with significant lulls in between noteworthy events.  Just remember the "Phoney War" in Europe just prior to the German invasion of France in 1940.  However, as the Allies learned in the 1940's, these breaks in the action are really just the calm before the storm.  It is these respites that we must use to our advantage. 

There is no doubt that a large number of volunteers were active during the signature gathering phase of our recall effort.  These activists braved the weather, opposition bullying and other obstacles while maintaining the other parts of their lives (family, job, etc.) as well.  Now that the immediate need for significant volunteer hours is lessened momentarily these volunteers can take a moment to recharge and reorganize themselves.  I encourage all activists to be sure to make the effort to celebrate and relax a little.  Make sure that you are ready to engage in the next stages of the struggle.

At the same time we are taking advantage of a few moments to restore balance to our lives we must not forget that we have more preparation to do.  The preparation we do now will serve us well in the upcoming months.  Evidence of this can be seen in the organization of the recent recall effort as compared to the efforts earlier in 2011.  We were able to learn from our mistakes and build on our strengths and achieved tremendous success.

We must remember that democracy can't defend itself.  Instead, democracy relies on the citizens represented by the government to be its defenders.  We have seen how quickly democratic rights and values can be taken from us over the course of the past year.  It is up to us to prepare ourselves to protect what we believe in.

Perhaps the most obvious thing to do for progressives is to find candidates we can rally behind and who will be able to beat Walker, Kleefisch and the 4 GOP senators.  This will not be a smooth, easy process.  It is of vital importance that we build support for our candidates and don't simply rely on anti-conservative feelings to carry us to victory.  Already the conservatives are working to fracture the alliances formed between different groups who have supported the recall.  They will claim that it is the union bosses who will be picking the candidate that best serves the needs of the "liberal elite".  We must make sure that we take the time and select the best candidates in an open and honest manner.      

Another key element of our preparation for the upcoming struggle is to make sure everyone who is eligible to vote is registered properly.  The GOP has been able to confuse and intimidate many people in this area and it is to their advantage to limit participation in the approaching elections.  Here are two links, one is for general information about voter registration.  The other is a link for information about becoming deputized to register people to vote in Madison.

Of vital importance to educators are the upcoming school board elections.  There are two seats up during this cycle.  The elections take place during MMSD's spring break and so special attention should be paid to absentee voting rules.  These elections are so important because it is likely that it will be the school board that will develop the policies and procedures that will replace the current collective bargaining agreement between the educators and the school district here in Madison.  We need people on the board who are willing to listen to educators and who are well acquainted with the challenges that our district faces.  People who are willing to look at the total picture and not focus exclusively on single issues or individual group interests. 

Finally, now is the time to build more connections and support for our cause.  We know that there are a number of citizens who are politically active and who will participate in actions to advance the progressive cause.  However, there are a larger number of people who are not as engaged.  It is these people who we must develop relationships with to make sure that they understand the importance of what is happening here in Wisconsin.  These are the undecided voters.  They are the late signers of petitions who needed someone to come to their home and convince them to sign.  They are the ones who are vulnerable to propaganda from the right which will convince them that the GOP has their interests at heart or that the progressives are only in it for the union bosses.

In a union building class I took recently we discussed ways to "map" our workplaces.  This process involved ranking co-worker support for the union on a 1-5 scale.  A 1 was a vocal anti-union person, 2 = anti-union, 3 = neutral and uninvolved, 4 = pro-union but not active, and a 5 was an active union organizer.  The goal of an organizer was to try and move people up the scale by direct contact and education.  The reality is that it is difficult to move people more than one place in any direction.

Taking this example to the current political situation in Wisconsin if fairly straightforward.  Simply replace the union with progressive and go from there.  Using voting as an example shows how important it is to move people up the scale.  In an election we can only count on the "1's" and "2's" to get out and vote for our candidates.  "3's" may or may not vote at all, and if they vote will likely vote for the party with the most persuasive advertising or the incumbent.

This may be the most important action we can take while we wait for the recall process to unfold.  It is by talking to people, sharing information with them and spreading the positive progressive message that we will build long term strength here in Wisconsin.  Without building connections and strengthening our base we will find ourselves in the same place we are in now again very soon.  Just look at the elections of 2006, 2008 and 2010 as examples.  Democrats initially were extremely successful, but without deep underlying support fell flat in 2010.  We can't rely on the ability to energize our base just during election years.  That leaves us vulnerable to the inevitable political cycles and allows for extreme politicians to take advantage of current events and trends.  Talk to your friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, etc.  Write letters to the editor and to elected officials and express the ideals we espouse while supporting your arguments with facts.  We must share our message and frame the debate as we struggle for the future of our state.

Positive Republican Actions?…
We've all heard the stories about confrontational anti-recall bullies and their verbal (and sometimes physical) assaults on recall activists.  While I'm sure that some recall activists have also crossed the line in their behavior it has not been as widespread as the actions I'm aware of carried out by conservatives.  I'm not referring to offhand comments and argumentative acts, but rather to the cursing, gestures and other more intense behaviors that recall volunteers have reported.
I don't know why this is the case that conservatives seem to be more aggressive in their actions and am not qualified to make any broad generalizations about what makes the two sides so different. 

I believe that one of the contributing factors to this different approach is the fact that progressives had something positive to do.  We were frustrated, angry, scared, etc. but at the same time had some recourse for our feelings.  Whether it was protesting, organizing or petitioning, our negative feelings were channeled into positive action. 

I'm glad to hear that the conservatives of Wisconsin are mobilizing to validate signatures and prepare for the upcoming elections.  While I would be very happy if they would simply give up and "see the light", I know that having differing opinions is vital for the health of our political system.  I hope that by getting more people involved in volunteering and other activities it will give conservatives in Wisconsin a positive outlet for their emotions.  Maybe these organizing efforts will begin to restore some civility to our political discourse here.  We can only hope.

In Indiana some Republicans have begun to defend labor and are attacking supporters of the "Right to Work" legislation that is currently being pushed by many GOP legislators.  It is nice to see some members of the GOP begin to break ranks and recognize that the extreme policies being promoted by the more radical branches of their party are detrimental to our nation.  On the other hand if it means we are left with more "moderate" Republicans in power (our beloved Tommy Thompson for example) we won't see much in the way of progress for the 99%. 

I do have to admit that their ads are really pretty cool.

Election Fraud…
Republicans have been warning us about widespread election fraud and the deceit perpetuated by the "liberal elite of America".  To prevent it they've instituted Voter ID Laws and other "reforms" to make our electoral process safe.  They've redrawn voting districts and used laws that call for partisan representatives to man polling places.  Along the way they forgot the most important part of an honest election…accurately counting the ballots cast. 
I know it's a different situation than a general election, but the Iowa Caucus doesn't do much to increase confidence in the ability of the Republicans to manage an election.

It should be a significant concern to all of us that we have doubts about the validity of the vote counting systems in place all over our state and nation.  This is a long video that demonstrates the problem in Arizona, but we can't ignore the fact that the electoral system in Wisconsin is not without its problems.  These issues have been demonstrated quite clearly in the past few elections, most notably the race for State Supreme Court in 2011.

A letter posted on Facebook recently laid out the concerns that we have about elections in Wisconsin. 
Feeling good about the recall petitions? You should be worried instead.
Are you gratified by the incredible results of the recall petition drives? Well, here's an important caveat that I want every Wisconsinite to start thinking about SOON. And trust me, this isn't just tinfoil hat stuff.

Most will agree that the stakes here in Wisconsin are tremendous - not only for the state but for the entire country. MILLIONS of dollars are already being poured into the state by various interests in an effort to influence the outcomes.

Going beyond even just the money, most readers will agree that certain stakeholders -- both in Wisconsin and outside Wisconsin -- will do literally anything in their power to try to ensure that the recall elections come out the way they want it.

Now for the really bad news:

(1) We do NOT currently have the power to verify that votes are counted and reported accurately.
(2) The very few people who DO have that power are NOT public election officials, they're the commercial vendors/programmers of the voting machines.
(3) None of the "certification" done by the GAB protects against fraudulent programming of the vote-counting software for a particular election.
(4) There have been serious questions raised in the past about the ethics and ideology of ES&S, the provider of voting systems in Wisconsin, and/or about the reliability of their machines.
(5) The vote counting software, as well as the memory cards used in a specific election, have been declared proprietary and therefore off-limits to public scrutiny, either before or after the election.
(6) We, the public, do NOT currently have the legal right to insist on random independent audits of vote counts.
(7) There is ample circumstantial evidence that the lack of public accountability and/or reliability in electronic vote counts have tipped crucial past elections.

ALL of the above statements can be easily verified. Taken together, they should make the hair stand up on the back of your neck. To summarize, our coming recall elections will be entirely "faith-based" -- we must simply TRUST that no one will have both motive and opportunity to exploit gaping vulnerabilities in our election system. This naive trust is completely undeserved, period.

If you are surprised and shocked by any of the above, NOW is the time to begin applying serious pressure to restore transparency and accountability to our upcoming elections. I would start with item (6) above, since that is probably the solution that could be most quickly and convincingly implemented in the short term. In addition, it would help to try to educate election officials and county clerks as to the vulnerabilities. Most of them, presumably, want clean elections and simply trust that the machines "work".

IMPORTANT ADDENDUM: RIGHT AFTER I wrote the above note, I was pointed to this brand new video of a jaw-dropping press conference from just a few days ago (Jan. 12, 2012) in Tuscon, Arizona. Almost everything discussed in this press conference is potentially applicable to Wisconsin as well. It reinforces the points I made above more powerfully than anything I've seen so far. Please watch and share widely!
There's always the reality of the fact that Citizens United has completely changed the face of American politics in the current era.  I love what Colbert and Stewart have done as they expose the utter absurdity of the system as it exists today.

A more immediate, less entertaining and more troubling example of what good advertising can do…