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From Mobius: The Journal of Social Change, Fall, 2013
mobiusmagazine.com

Every weekday at noon, citizens gather at the Wisconsin State Capitol to sing.

And face arrest.

They are unbowed because they know they are fighting for the most basic of human rights, the right to peacefully assemble and the right to freedom of speech.

And let’s be very clear. This is not just Madison’s battle. This is not just a Wisconsin battle. This is a national battle, which, frankly, has ramifications all over the world. This is everybody’s fight.

First, the back-story.

Governor Scott Walker takes office in January 2011. In February, he announces legislation that will essentially outlaw collective bargaining for almost all public employees. Hundreds of thousands of people hit the streets in what will be the longest and largest continuous labor protest in American history.

On March 9, 2011, Republican legislators use parliamentary chicanery to illegally pass the union-busting bill and violate the state’s open meeting law in the process. Two days later, a small group gathers in the Capitol Rotunda to sing in an effort to raise collective spirits and keep the struggle alive. Thus, the Solidarity Sing Along is born. The Solidarity Sing Along has gathered every weekday at Noon since that date to peacefully sing labor and civil rights songs, as well as some songs that lampoon Scott Walker.

The Republicans who dominate the Capitol meet the Sing Along with derision and hostility. New rules are implemented to restrict freedom of speech and assembly. On December 19, 2011, a new rule goes into affect that states that groups of more than three people must obtain a permit to gather in the Capitol. That day, several 100 people attend the Sing Along. There are no incidents and no arrests.

The rule is largely ignored for several months because Capitol Police Chief Charles Tubbs refuses to enforce it. All through the Wisconsin Uprising, Tubbs maintained an open door policy with protesters, opting to respect people’s right to protest. Even with the Capitol packed to the gills and tens of thousands marching outside, there were very few arrests.

Tubbs retires (or resigned or was forced out) last year. He is replaced by David Erwin, a former marine and a member of Walker’s personal security detail. Erwin immediately starts enforcing the rule. Singers are arrested and cited. Cases go to court and are largely thrown out. Michael Kissick, a physics professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, files a federal lawsuit, claiming that his civil rights are being violated. He alleges that he wants to attend the Sing Alongs, but can’t because of the atmosphere of intimidation.

U. S. District Judge William M. Conley agrees, at least to a point, at least to the extent that he sees fit to grant a temporary injunction against the rule. In Kissick v. Huebsch and Erwin, Judge Conley states, “defendants are enjoined from enforcing the permitting requirement generally, as applied to events in the Capitol that are anticipated to attract 20 or fewer persons.”

Walker’s palace guard, i.e., Capitol Police, under the auspices the Department of Administration, begin arresting singers on July 24. Singers are issued citations for failure to get a permit or unlawful assembly. These are municipal violations, usually with a $203 fine. Those arrested are handcuffed and marched down to the basement where they are processed and given their citation. Sometimes, those arrested are treated a bit roughly.

A few highlights of what is some pretty poor behavior by the Capitol Police: They arrest elderly people, even those in their 80s, including members of the Raging Grannies. They arrest a 14-year-old girl. They’ve arrested union leaders, including former Wisconsin AFL-CIO President David Newby and AFSCME Council 24 Executive Director, Marty Beil. They’ve threatened to arrest people merely for observing. A woman named Nora Cusack was arrested for holding a sign that identified herself as an observer. She quoted policy that it was illegal for a sign to be attached to a stick or standard. The officer said, you’re the standard.

And they have arrested journalists. Last month, Matthew Rothchild, editor of The Progressive, was arrested, even after he identified himself as a journalist.

Last Monday, the arrests turned violent. CJ Terrell sat down, stating, “I am not resisting. I am just not actively participating in my arrest.” Police used pain compliance techniques to coerce him into cooperating. His brother, Damon, was filming the arrest. When told he was subject to arrest, Damon backed away, with his hands up, palms facing outward. He’s tackled, subdued, cuffed and carried away. Damon was charged with felony battery of a police officer and sat in jail for more than three days. The DA ordered him released on a signature bond, but did not charge him due to the delay in receiving a report from the Capitol Police. As a condition of his bail, Damon is not allowed to step foot in the Capitol or on its surrounding grounds.

It should be noted that CJ and Damon are African American, as is Will Williams, a Vietnam Veteran who fell down a flight of stairs while in police custody.

Last Tuesday, Tom Neale, former poetry editor of Mobius and long-time activist, was arrested. In the last six weeks, more than 300 citations have been issued.

This is crossing the line. Police brutality is crossing the line. Arresting journalists is crossing the line.

Scott Walker and his zombie minions have crossed the line. Enough is enough. This must stop.

I don’t want to exercise in hyperbole, but there is something truly fascist about what is going on. Walker has allied with the billionaires, corporations and big business to the extent that what we have in Wisconsin is government of the corporations, by the corporations and for the corporations.

And opposition is not to be tolerated. Resistance to be met with intimidation.

The union busting bill had nothing to do with fiscal concerns; it was about destroying the most important power base of the Democratic Party. It was about crippling the opposition.

And the heavy-handed actions of these jackbooted thugs wearing police uniforms at the Capitol are nothing more than an attempt to silence anyone who would speak out against them.

Not to get too much into legalese, but Walker and his puppet Department of Administration, made a conscious choice to interpret Judge Conley’s injunction in as draconian a fashion as they possible could. Again, the injunction states, “defendants are enjoined from enforcing the permitting requirement generally, as applied to events in the Capitol that are anticipated to attract 20 or fewer persons.”

On its face, this merely says that a permit cannot be required for groups smaller than 20 people. That is all it says. Judge Conley did not issue a court order stating that groups of more than 20 who assemble without a permit shall be subject to arrest and prosecution. He did not even say that groups of more than 20 who assemble without a permit may be subject to arrest and prosecution. All he said is that DOA and the Capitol Police are prohibited from requiring a permit for groups of 20 or less.

Granted, one could make the argument that there is complicit consent for DOA’s interpretation in the injunction. This is further supported by the fact that within the 47-page decision, there is a lot of language about the reasonable nature of DOA’s administrative rules and the fact that there are ample avenues for relief if the state violates its own rules.

However, Judge Conley goes to great pains to talk about the fact that the Capitol and especially the Capitol Rotunda is a public forum. That means that it is designed to be and is intended to be a place of public discourse and therefore is a place where freedom of speech has greater protection than other public places.

As for the number 20, there is nothing magical or mystical about it. It’s merely an arbitrary number that Judge Conley threw out in an attempt to find a reasonable, albeit a temporary solution to the current situation.

And let’s not forget that this is merely a temporary injunction. There will be a full trial in January. And the whole world will be watching.

But regarding the issue of the magical/mystical number 20, I believe Judge Conley merely intended that as some kind of “floor.”

Defendants’ failure to arrive at an appropriate “numerical floor” for requiring smaller groups to obtain a permit could be grounds to enjoin enforcement of the entire policy until the Department arrives at an appropriate number. This is not, however, a final judgment of facial unconstitutionality, and defendants have established that some threshold is appropriate. Accordingly, the court will enjoin defendants from requiring permitting for “events” in the Capitol rotunda of 20 persons or less. This preliminary number attempts to protect the fundamental rights of plaintiff and others like him to freely assemble and engage in speech while permitting defendants the ability to manage the competing demands on the rotunda and quickly called additional police officers if necessary.

Now we all know that freedom of speech is not absolute. For instance, one cannot yell fire in a crowded theater. The key is that there is a process of weighing between the need to speak and assemble freely and the need to maintain a reasonable amount of order. Conley certainly acknowledges this. He repeats long-standing precedent giving government the right to have a say about events that occur in buildings that it owns, including state houses, where protests and demonstrations are nearly an everyday occurrence.

On the other hand, Conley has quite a bit to say about the importance of freedom of speech and assembly and the affect of requiring permits. In fact, he makes no bones about the consequences of requiring permits:

“Permits chill speech.”

Given these kinds of sentiments and given that Judge Conley felt Kissick’s arguments were compelling enough to grant the injunction, it is absolutely clear that the DOA’s interpretation is not a slam dunk.

Frankly, I am baffled as to why the Walker Administration would respond in such a heavy-handed way. Surely, they must realize the actions of the Capitol Police will have a bearing on Conley’s eventual decision, especially given that the two primary needs that permits satisfy—event scheduling and staffing of police officers—are actually met by the Sing Along. Capitol Police knows when the event will take place. They know the Sing Along will move outside if there is another event scheduled. They know the Sing Along is peaceful; therefore, they know what their staffing needs are.

As for why, perhaps it’s because Walker, after surviving the recall election and the John Doe investigation, feels invincible and believes he can get away with just about anything.

Or maybe it’s because he’s out there traveling the country, returning with suitcases full of cash after meetin’ with folks whose just pleased as punch that he’s takin’ care of them troublemakers and puttin’ them union leaders in their place. Too bad he weren’t able to throw Beil and Rothchild in jail and throw away the key.

Still, I have to think that if any of his billionaire backers actually have something other than a reptilian brain, they’d look at the upcoming federal case and think of it as something they would want to win.

Or maybe Walker thinks he can get the opposition under heal to such an extent that it won’t matter what Judge Conley decides next year. If that’s what he’s actually thinking, well, he couldn’t be more wrong. First, Wehrmacht Commander Erwin is clearly in over his head. The behavior of his officers is spiraling out of control, and he is powerless to do anything about it. Late last week, a report surfaced from an unnamed source that Erwin actually reached out to Dane County Sheriff David Mahoney for advice. Mahoney’s advice was, be prepared for lawsuits.

But much more importantly …

We’re still here.

We’re still here because there are important things that we understand very, very well.

We understand that this really isn’t about permits. In fact, the question of permits merely clouds the issue. Our right to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly shall not be abridged. This is according to the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article I of the Wisconsin Constitution.

We understand that the notion that we must ask permission to protest from the person we want to protest against is totally and utterly absurd, especially considering that a permit holding may be financially liable for anything that happens during the permitted event. I am reminded of a recent conversation I had with a young Iranian man who is in the United States attending college. He left Iran because he had been arrested and threatened with jail time if he got in any more trouble. He asked the judge if he was allowed to leave the country to go to college. The judge said no—and in fact encouraged him to leave.

His crime was being a member of a student group that was not approved by the government.

We understand that this is for the benefit of all citizens, not just those who want to protest against Scott Walker. After all, the shoe could be on the other foot. Would it be any less egregious if a Democratic governor were doing this to a group of Tea Party activists who wanted to gather every day in the Rotunda?

We understand that this battle is about preserving a very basic, fundamental human right. It’s a federal case, so it will affect what happens in every state house around the country. I recently spoke with an environment attorney from Oregon. She was very interested in what was going on here in Madison.

We understand that what happens here will ripple across the planet. If the notion of America being some great beacon is to be taken seriously, than we must do all we can to preserve our rights, for if we don’t despots around the world will use this as an excuse to tighten the screws on their own people.

I think back to the Wisconsin Uprising and remember my handmade protest sign that read, “worker’s rights are human rights,” and I see a great similarity between today’s battle and the fight against the union busting bill. In 2011, we weren’t fighting so public workers could “just keep theirs” as some derisively said. We were fighting for the basic human right of being able to bargain collectively.

Essentially, freedom of assembly.

Today, we fight for the basic human rights of freedom of assembly and freedom of speech. We fight for rights so fundamental that if you take them away, it’s practically tantamount to taking away our ability to breathe. If we don’t fight, we die. We die either slowly or rapidly.

However, there is a big difference between today’s fight and the fight of 2011.

This is a fight we can win. As they say, we get to have our day in court as opposed to 2011 where we fought against a stacked deck, where it took illegal actions by the legislature to pass the bill and a corrupt Wisconsin Supreme Court to uphold the bill, whose conservative majority was perhaps maintained through the actions of a corrupt political hack of a county clerk in Waukesha County by the name of Kathy Nickolaus, who somehow managed to rat out fellow party members during the Legislative Caucus Scandal, only to be elected clerk in the most Republican county in the state a mere year later. How that happened is beyond me. Only Scott Jensen, David Prosser and Brian Schimming know for sure.

But what is to be done?

As has been the mantra of the Sing Alongs, especially in the face of police repression, we must continue to be peaceful, respectful and joyful.

I was not at the Sing Along on Monday, when CJ and Damon were arrested. I did attend the next two days, and I was quite inspired by what I saw.

Or rather what I did not see.

I did not see anger. What I did see was people being peaceful, respectful and joyful. Hell, I saw love, and it was a beautiful thing, especially on Wednesday, which was the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. To commemorate that occasion, as well as support Nora Cusack, our wonderful community radio station, WORT 89.9 FM printed up a whole bunch of signs that read:

I AM THE STANDARD.

The signs were designed in the same manner as the “I AM A MAN” signs carried by the striking Memphis sanitation workers in 1968. From Memphis to Madison, we are here, trying to keep hope alive.

It’s a beautiful civil disobedience that is happening here in Madison, Wisconsin, late in the summer of 2013. We will remember the lessons of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. We will show up day after day. We will not tire. We will not waver. We will be peaceful and non-violent. We will clog the courts and fill the jails if we have to.

And we will keep singing. We will keep practicing freedom of speech and assembly through song.

* * *

If you’re wondering what you can do, here’s a few things.

Donate to the First Amendment Protection Fund. Most people who are arrested are pleading not guilty and are requesting jury trials. Attorney are lining up to offer pro bono services, but a jury trial costs $36.

Spread the word! The story of what’s going on is gaining a little traction, but it’s not the story it should be. Tell your friends and your relatives. Get the word out. Walker and his acolytes want to be able to do this under the dark of night. Shine the light!

Start a Solidarity Sing Along in your town. It’s fun and uplifting. Download a songbook and get started!

Come to a Sing Along. Numbers matter, and it is incredibly heartening to hear about people from all over the country attending a Sing Along, so if you happen to be in Madison or near Madison, come on by. And remember, on Fridays, the Sing Along is outside, where we’re free from arrests and musical instruments are allowed. Come on by. You’ll be glad you did.

Follow Vampire Cabbie (Fred Schepartz) on Twitter @fmschep.

Discuss

The American healthcare system is barbaric. Period. End of story.

I’ve written often about this. I’ve spoken about this. We believe this to be true. The American healthcare system is barbaric. And that’s a fact.

But now it’s personal.

This fall Seth Rubenstein, my first cousin, the eldest child of my mother’s older brother, suffered a massive stroke, then died a few days later. He was only 60 years old.

Seth did not have health insurance. Mere days before the stroke, Seth complained about headaches, but what could he do? He didn’t have health insurance. He didn’t have the money to go see a doctor, nor had he engaged in any kind of routine health maintenance program.

I’m not sure if Seth was ever covered by any kind of health insurance policy. For most of his adult life, Seth did not work at a full-time, permanent job. Like many workers in this contemporary economy, Seth was a contractor, working for companies who preferred to “outsource” rather than take responsibility for the people they hire to do the work essential to their success.

Benefits? Getting paid. Vacation time? That’s the time between contracts. Healthcare? Don’t get sick, but if you do get sick, die quickly.

And besides, how could Seth work? For the past couple years, he was working full-time caring for his ailing father, Herb, who was slowly dying from respiratory ailments.

In fact, the day Seth died was the day Herb was supposed to be released from the nursing home where he was receiving intensive treatment. Seth had worked hard to allow Herb to return home. He had been trained on how to monitor the ventilator that allowed Herb to breathe. He assembled a team of home health workers and made sure they received the proper training. The team was ready to provide Herb with round-the-clock care so Herb could spend his last days at home.

Except Seth died the day Herb was supposed to leave the nursing home. Herb never was able to return home.

There was a great deal of urgency to bring Herb home because the Medicare coverage that paid for Herb’s stay in the nursing home had run out. Herb exhausted his Medicare coverage. How is that even possible?

Herb was forced to pay out-of-pocket to remain in the nursing home, and suddenly he had no choice but watch helplessly as his hard-earned savings dwindled.

Herb was the son of immigrants. Bubby and Zeyda didn’t have much, but somehow Herb managed to go to college, eventually earning a doctorate. He taught linguistics at Lehigh for quite a number of years. He didn’t make a ton of money, but saved and invested well—at least, well enough to retire comfortably and provide for his children after his death.

Until he got sick. Until he ran head first into the harsh realities of the American healthcare system.

This is what should have happened:

Herb should’ve received the care he needed until he was ready to go home. Sufficient home health care should’ve been available for him to use for as long as necessary. The burden of Herb’s healthcare should not have fallen so squarely on Seth’s shoulders. Herb should’ve died peacefully at home. Seth should’ve outlived his father, and Seth should’ve been able to live in health and comfort thanks to the modest inheritance he should’ve received.

Instead, Seth is dead before his time. That never should’ve happened. And that’s a fact.

Herb’s heart stopped last week. He was transferred to a hospital where he died a few days later. Herb was 90 years old. It was probably his time to go. By all accounts he died peacefully, at least from a physical point of view. Mentally is another story. Herb went to the grave knowing his son was dead. Herb went to the grave blaming himself for his son’s death.

That never should’ve happened. And that’s a fact.

I cannot say it enough. Our healthcare system is barbaric. And why? Why does our healthcare system have to be so barbaric? Why did Seth have to die in a way that leaves us all scratching our heads? Why did Herb have to die with a broken heart?

Thanks to the Occupy Wall Street movement, we have a new language. It’s the language of class warfare, but let’s be clear. It’s not the class warfare we are waging. It’s the class warfare that is being waged against us. We are the 99 percent ducking and covering from the attacks of the one percent who want to take more and more from us while we have less and less.

Seth was a member of the 99 percent, and now he’s dead. Herb was a member of the 99 percent, and now he’s dead, and he died with a heavy heart. All because the one percent has to maximize profits, maximize profits, maximize profits, maximize profits, maximize profits.

Maximize profits into infinity.

But the 99 percent is waking up to the reality of what the one percent is doing to us. It began in Madison, Wisconsin as tens of thousands of citizens hit the streets to fight the attack on human rights by Governor Scott Walker. This continues with the Occupy Wall Street movement.

A day of reckoning is coming. And that’s a fact.

Discuss

The revolution WAS televised. We just changed the channel.

This was my post on Facebook on Wednesday, August 9, the day after the recall elections for six Wisconsin Republican senators.

Obviously, I was not in the best of moods.

As a byproduct of the Wisconsin Protests, six Republican senators faced recall elections. The fateful day finally arrived. In the end, four of the six Republicans survived the recall. Republicans protected their majority, though the margin had dropped from 19-14 to 17-16.

I’d worked hard on the recalls, though certainly not as hard as a lot of people. Frankly, the dedicated people in the actual districts performed heroically, busting ass every day from the first day signatures were collected to the moment when the polls closed.

I spent hours making phone calls. I took roadies to Whitefish Bay and Baraboo. I even dragged myself out of bed at the ungodly hour of 7:30 a.m. so I could canvass Baraboo on Election Day and get back in town in time to work a ten-hour cab shift.

I’d also worked hard making phone calls for Joanne Kloppenburg in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race in April.

And again, all that work seemed to go for naught. I felt angry, frustrated and a bit used. More importantly, I could not help thinking about what we had lost in the process of the hard work done toward the recalls. Other than the daily Solidarity Sing-Alongs, the Capitol has been like a morgue. Even while I worked enthusiastically on the recalls, I felt like there was this giant sucking sound coming from the Capitol Square.

And I knew what it was. It was the recalls sucking the life out of the tremendous presence of protesters at the Capitol. Now, yes, I know that it would have been impossible to sustain the protests much longer than we did. In fact, it was pretty amazing that we were attracting pretty large numbers for a good month and a half. But the fact remains that the siren call for people to work on the recalls did a great job of dissipating the energy that we saw on a weekly, even a daily basis at the Capitol.

I cannot help but feel that something precious was lost in the process. During the height of the protests, it seemed like there was revolution in the air. It certainly occurred to me that this might be the time to act in a more revolutionary manner because, to borrow a line from Lando Calrissian, “we may never get a better shot at this.”

It is not that I felt that we were on the verge of overthrowing the government, but it seemed like with the numbers and the motivation, we could be in a position to demand a fairly radical change.

Of course, a big part of the problem was that I had no idea what that radical change could or should be, and that did not seem to be a big part of the discussion.

However, there certainly was talk about pushing the envelope toward a more radical form of direct action. There were serious, or at least semi-serious discussions about a general strike. There was even a little bit of planning, but it never got any further than that. In the end, direct action continued, but on a much smaller scale in a much more diffuse manner.

In the end, it all became about the recalls. In the end, the Democratic Party and some of the union leadership succeeded in co-opting the movement at the expense of large-scale direct action.

And in the end, I cannot help but wonder what we could have accomplished if we had put all our energy and resources into a different sort of endeavor that was not of the same all-or-nothing nature as the recall elections.

In July I was out east visiting family and seeing old friends. I looked up an old friend who I had not seen in 20 to 30 years. We were not particularly close, but I wanted to see her because she is active in the Maryland Democratic Party, and I wanted to talk to her about the Wisconsin Protests so perhaps she could get the word out to get Maryland Democrats to support the recalls.

She asked me about my most and least favorite parts of the protests. I said my favorite part was the fellowship with the other protesters. She didn’t care for my reply to the second half of the question. I replied that my least favorite part was working on electoral politics and losing.

But I keep working on these campaigns, even if I feel like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football that Lucy keeps jerking away at the last moment. I will work on the Recall Walker campaign. We owe it to ourselves, and we owe it to the nation to chop off the serpent’s head.

There is a bizarre and cruel irony at work here in Wisconsin. We have become an inspiration to oppressed people all over the world. When they rise up, they invoke Wisconsin. And yet here in Wisconsin, we find ourselves abandoning this kind of direct action in favor of electoral politics because we find ourselves backed into a corner. We live in a democracy, so we are coerced into using the democratic process to make change. The only problem is that our so-called democracy is extremely dysfunctional; yet, if we abandon the process, we do so at our peril.

I’ve written about this before. With electoral politics, you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. The game is rigged. If your side can overcome the absurd amount of soft money funneled into the race, some obscure county clerk might magically find 14,000 votes to transform victory into defeat. If your candidate does manage to win, the system does not generally allow for genuinely transformative change. And let’s face it, Democrats often don’t have the inclination to act in a truly progressive manner because the party is almost as beholden to corporations and big business as the Republicans. The only difference is that Democrats don’t seem to understand that the big money will go to the other side in a heartbeat if they think the Republicans will win, while the big money only stays loyal to the Democrats if it is sure that they will win.

And again, it’s an all-or-nothing business. You lose, that’s it. You’ve put in a ton of energy and resources that could’ve been deployed elsewhere, and you have nothing to show for it. You win, great, but that is only a means to an end. It is not an end unto itself.

All that said, I will state for the record that I would do it all over again if given another chance.

Joanne Kloppenburg was not a viable candidate for State Supreme Court, but almost won (or did, in fact, win). Her victory would have been an instant game changer, especially given that several lawsuits have been filed against the Walker regime.

As for the senate recalls, I agree with the argument that they were successful. Granted, we did not succeed in the Holy Grail of taking back the senate. However, the bottom line is that the Democrats are in a stronger position than before. And fairly progressive women have replaced two white men of questionable ethics. Nothing wrong with that.

Most importantly, the impenetrable Republican majority that allowed Walker and the Fitzgerald Brothers to ram through their extremist agenda is gone. The dynamic at the Capitol has been changed dramatically. There are swing votes that didn’t exist before. It is likely that Republicans will be forced to compromise and moderate their positions, something they are loath to do.

Unofficial Wisconsin Protest mouthpiece, John Nichols first presented this theory to Ed Schultz on Election Day. Some have dismissed it as spin. I don’t totally disagree with that notion, but I think there is a great deal of validity to the idea. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that the Walker/Fitzgerald reign of terror is over though we are going to have to wait and see what happens when some of the more pernicious legislation that is still out there hits the senate floor.

The primary swing vote belongs to Republican Senator Dale Schultz. Schultz attempted to introduce an amendment to sunset the collective bargaining legislation so that it would expire at the end of this fiscal year. The amendment never drew any traction, and Schultz claims that he was duped into missing his opportunity to introduce the amendment when he was called into Walker’s office. While Schultz met with Walker, the senate held a preliminary vote on the budget repair bill that prevented Schultz from ever being able to introduce his amendment.

In the end Schultz voted against Act 10. In addition, he has made overtures calling for more bipartisan cooperation. He and a Democratic Senator Tim Cullen toured each other’s districts. Last month, a group of Democrats sent a letter to Secretary of Health Services Dennis Smith (a Heritage Foundation hired gun) calling for Smith to reconsider turning down a grant from the federal government to pay for certain health services. Schultz was the only Republican to sign the letter.

However, it would be unwise to put a lot of faith in Schultz. I checked his voting record. He received high marks from both Wisconsin Right to Life and the obnoxious pro-business lobby Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce.

Still, Schultz is alienated from his own caucus and has demonstrated an ability and a willingness to listen to reasonable arguments, regardless of the source. As I posted on Facebook, Dale Schultz is my new BFF. Translation, I plan on writing to him about certain pieces of legislation that I would hope he would vote against. Yeah, maybe it’s a bit of a crapshoot, but we were not having this conversation prior to the recalls.

Also, it is worth mentioning that the new dynamic in the senate may actually make it easier for senate Democrats to pass bills that will become law. Had the Democrats taken back the senate, the result would’ve been gridlock. That’s not a bad thing. It would have spelled the sure end to Walker’s reign of terror. However, I think we can be pretty certain that the assembly would have refused to pass any bills passed by the senate because that’s how the Republicans roll. Now, if the senate Democrats pass a bill, it will be with bipartisan support, which certainly would make it more likely to pass in the assembly and be signed by Walker.

Wonkishness aside, perhaps the most important victory we can claim from the recalls is that it was a strong demonstration that we are the people with the real people power. We forced six Republican senators to face recall. The Republicans could only challenge half that number of Democrats. We won two elections. Republican candidates lost all their races by double-digits. Walker showed declining support in almost all districts. He’s in trouble, and he knows it.

So-called conservative movements have been exposed as nothing but smoke and mirrors. The poor showing in the recall elections lends strong credence to allegations of fraud perpetrated during the recall petition canvassing campaigns. Tea Party candidate Kim Simac, who was supposed to seriously challenge Jim Holperin, lost by ten percentage points. And let’s not forget the big deal made over Sarah Palin coming to the Capitol. Despite the fancy setup bankrolled by Koch Brothers front group Americans for Prosperity, the crowd to see Palin was quite sparse and was well drowned out by Capitol Protesters who outnumbered the conservatives by a wide margin.

All this fuss about the supposed grass-roots nature of the Tea Party. The reality that we saw in the recalls is that it’s really about a small, noisy group that’s allied with some serious big money interests.

Or in other words, the Silent Majority is neither.

Lefties, progressives, liberals and Democrats. They’re the ones with the real people power.

And that brings us back to my original point. We’ve accomplished great things, and I believe we will continue to do so, but we cannot forget about direct action. We cannot afford to ignore the electoral arena, but we must not let it be the be-all and end-all.

We can work with the Democratic Party, but we need to lead it. We cannot let it lead us.

Most importantly, we need to think in a genuinely strategic manner. And let’s remember, strategy is not tactics strung together. I don’t know exactly what our strategy should be, but I would say we need long-term goals above and beyond electing Democrats.

Maybe I do have an idea. I’ve said all along that the struggle in Wisconsin is about preserving human rights. Perhaps what we need is an American Declaration of Human Rights. That’s just my idea. I think it’s a good one, but I know it’s not the only one.

What’s most important is that we continue to act, that we don’t go back into hibernation, that we do something—anything.

Discuss

Wisconsin Assembly Rep. Bob Ziegelbauer (I-Manitowoc) is a relatively obscure back-bencher, but seemingly was shooting for the big time when he proposed including police and firefighters in the effort to outlaw collective bargaining for public sector employees. Several weeks ago, I had the following exchange with Rep. Ziegelbauer. I had e-mailed every member of the legislature. I got several replies, but actually engaged in a dialogue with Rep. Ziegelbauer. Given the context of what he wants to proposed, it's that much more interesting.

Frankly, I think he's perhaps a bit reality impaired or maybe he's just in denial.

I am writing to urge you to consider voting against Gov. Walker’s proposal to outlaw collective bargaining for public employees. I do understand that the state is in an extremely difficult financial position. However, I feel that the Governor’s proposal puts an undo hardship on state workers in the short term and puts a significant hardship on public employees in the long term.

State workers face a considerable paycut in this proposal. In today’s newspaper, I saw how this breaks down for a state employee pulling down an annual salary of $40,000. Their gross wage would drop by nearly $300 a month. Annual take-home pay would decline by nearly $2000. And pay raises for state workers along with county and municipal employees would realistically be limited to inflation. For the long term, this proposal tells public employees that they will never see their real (adjusted for inflation) wages increase.

As I see it, this is a tax hike. I find myself wondering, in these dire economic times, can we afford to do this to a significant portion of our state’s middle class?

This concerns me greatly. I work for Union Cab here in Madison. I get paid commission plus tips, so any decline in our business affects me personally. Madison is a strong public sector town. I worry that the state workers immediately, along with teachers, city workers and county workers down the road will find themselves with less disposable income. This means fewer people going to restaurants, fewer people going to concerts, fewer people going to bars and clubs and fewer people going to the airport as they leave for vacation. This means fewer people taking cabs, which means I make less money. Overall, this means fewer people spending money on goods and services, which means fewer jobs.

The Governor’s proposal means more than taking money out of the hands of the middle class. Outlawing collective bargaining has dire implications for workers in their workplaces because they will not be able to bargain around issues of working conditions. Workers will no longer have any say over workplace safety. Grievance procedures will go out the window. Workers will be able to be fired for no good reason and will have no recourse. Workers will be at the mercy of the arbitrary and capricious whims of their supervisors.

My wife used to work for the state and was a member of a collective bargaining unit. Sometimes, as part of her job, she was required to travel. That resulted in some very long days. Her supervisor didn’t seem to understand that the union contract stipulated that flex and comp time could be used to make up for long hours. They butted heads about this many times. Frequently, after coming back to town, my wife’s supervisor would expect her to come into work the next day. The union contract protected my wife from being forced to work unpaid overtime.

Given the events this week in Egypt, I’m also thinking of what the Governor’s proposal says about democracy in our state and in our country. A fundamental concept in democracy is the right to assemble. This means many things including the right to form a union and bargain collectively. If one looks at all the democracies around the world, one sees nations with vibrant labor movements. One also tends to see prosperity in those democracies as well. When one looks at dictatorships around the world, one sees nations where labor movements are repressed by the state.

This proposal is more than just about putting the state’s fiscal house in order. In the long term, it’s about democracy. Please forgive the overcharged rhetoric, but be aware that when you vote on this proposal, history will judge you. It is my most profound hope that history will judge you favorably for acting wisely.

Thank you for your consideration.

Fred,

Thanks very much for your thoughts on the Governor's proposal.

I believe that once we make the necessary, but very modest, realignment of total compensation (wages and benefits) for all employees in the public sector bringing them back into sync with the rest of the economy, we will be able to move forward without constantly cutting staff, programming, and other support resources. Some are a bit inarticulate in describing their thoughts on all of this, but nevertheless I am confident we will be heading in a very positive direction soon.  In the long run this one time realignment of costs associated with total compensation of employees will result in more people working, more program stability, and better career opportunities for everyone. The program cuts, layoffs, and furloughs will come to an end and we will be able to begin to move forward with stable opportunities for more people.

This isn’t a pleasant reality that anyone would wish to face. It is however a situation that requires us to make tough decisions.

By a "necessary very modest realignment" I am referring to the economic impact in late 2008 and early 2009 when almost everyone in the private sector of the economy experienced an involuntary immediate economic hit that was much larger than we are looking at here (15%, 25%, 35%,or even 100%). The impact was one time, but permanent, and they are mostly still slowly recovering from that. At the same time however, the public sector kept rolling along with the costs of total compensation (wages plus the cost of employee fringe benefits) continuing to grow as if things were normal at rates double, triple or higher the rate of inflation, all while the economy and inflation was flat. This similar but LESS, one time realignment of compensation cots in the public sector - on the order of 6% to 7% for local employees - will go along way toward turning us around and starting us back in the right direction where we stop cutting programs, laying people off, and begin to add back the jobs we need going forward creating more career opportunities for people doing the work we need to do to provide services the people of our communities want us to deliver.

Thanks again for your thoughts - Call on me anytime I can be of assistance to you.

Bob Ziegelbauer

Thanks for your reply. I certainly appreciate your responsibility for the fiscal welfare of the state. However, what about the 800 pound gorilla in the room? The Governor's proposal is about much more than a one-time realignment of total compensation. If you don't mind me asking, what is your stance on essentially outlawing collective bargaining for public employees?

fred

The proposal contains elements I might not have included if it were mine, but I don't agree that it essentially outlaws collective bargaining by employees.

Bob Ziegelbauer

Bob,

Forgive me for being contrarian, but I have to respectfully disagree. If you pass a law that says that public sector unions can only bargain wages and that wage increases cannot exceed inflation without a referendum, then you are, for all intents and purposes, outlawing collective bargaining in the public sector. If you vote to forbid employers from collecting union dues on behalf of unions and allow people who belong to a union to opt out of paying due, then you are making it very difficult for a union to raise the money it needs to work on behalf of its members. If you add to this requirements that unions hold certification votes every year and allow employers to potentially fire people for union activity, you are potentially destroying public sector unions, and that's something that goes above and beyond fixing the state's fiscal problems. Frankly, it feels rather vindictive and punitive, especially considering that the Governor and the unions are not exactly political allies. To me, it seems like the Governor is using this proposal to weaken a political opponent. I certainly heard a great deal of talk along those lines when I listened to some local right wing pundits on the radio yesterday.

We agree to disagree then.

Bob Z

Discuss

Seems impossible, even implausible, in a place like Waukesha County, but Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus ran afoul of the law in 2006 for moving too far to the right.

And it cost her a pretty penny as well.

According to Wisconsin Circuit Court records, Nickolaus was fined $217.50 for "unsafe passing on the right." The offense occurred August 25, 2006. She appeared in court at 8:00 AM, September 27, 2006, pleaded guilty and paid the fine. Nickolaus did not offer testimony against any other drivers and was not granted immunity, at least as far as the official records state.

Court records list no reason for the offense. Vampire Cabbie, however, has to wonder if Nickolaus was in a hurry to test the brand new touch screen voting machines that ended up working flawlessly in the election two months later.

http://wcca.wicourts.gov/...

Discuss

The following is a transcript from a Labor Radio story aired on Madison, WI community radio station WORT on April 15.

READER ONE: Vicki McKenna, well-known Madison rightwing talk show host has been focusing discussions on her program UpFront on WIBA-AM radio on the topic of the recent sick-out by Madison teachers in protest of Governor Walker’s so-called “Budget Repair Bill”. But now, McKenna herself may have violated Federal law and put her station at risk of fines as high as $25,000.

On Monday April 14th, about 2 minutes into the second hour of UpFront, McKenna played a recording of a 45 second voicemail message that she said she had received from a listener identified only as “Matt” who claimed the voicemail had been left on his machine by mistake due to a dialing error:

TAPE: 31 sec

In that segment, we bleeped out the message because, according to the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates all broadcasting in the United States, it is illegal under Section 73.1206 to broadcast telephone recordings without notifying any and all parties to the phone call of the station's intention to broadcast. Labor Radio spoke directly to the person whose voice is on the message and she said she did NOT give prior permission.

The law is quite clear. As recently as February 17th, 2011, noted communications attorney David Oxenford wrote on his blog that the FCC planed to fine a broadcaster $25,000 for a similar broadcast. In another case, in July of 2008, the FCC fined a station in North Dakota for broadcasting a voicemail that had been left on a private cellphone.

Vicki McKenna and her guest, conservative blogger Dave Blaska, addressed the issue of adhering to the law in yesterday’s program:

TAPE: 22 sec

It is unclear at this time whether either of them plans to turn themselves in for this potential violation of FCC law.

Discuss

Counting and tabulating ballots requires a high degree of precision, so the fact that Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus deviated from standard operating procedure has to raise all kinds of red flags, especially in the wake of Nickolaus's bizarre explanation of how she forgot to save nearly 15,000 votes from Brookfield.

According to Ramona Kitzinger, Democratic Party representative on the Waukesha Board of Canvassers since 2004, "On Tuesday night, I received a voice message from someone in the office of Clerk Kathy Nickolaus informing me of a Wednesday canvass meeting, which I returned the next morning and said I would be able to report into the canvass by noon,  which I did. Normally the canvass would begin at 9am on Thursday, as has been the general practice for many years.  No one explained why they were beginning the canvass on Wednesday, just to please report immediately."

The canvass continued on Thursday, finally concluding around 4:30 PM. Kitzinger said Nickolaus did not inform her of the situation with the Brookfield votes until after the canvass was complete, just before the press conference where Nickolaus publicly announced the change in the vote total.

It should be noted that Nickolaus had leaked the story about the found votes from Brookfield prior to the press conference, while Kitzinger was still in the dark about the situation.

Nickolaus also deviated from standard operating procedure in the manner in which Waukesha County vote totals were publicly posted on the county's website. The PDF file containing the official results includes county-wide totals with no breakdown by precinct or municipality. This runs contrary to each posted set of election results going all the way back to Nickolaus's first day in her tenure as Waukesha County Clerk. All previous postings contain breakdowns by precinct and municipality. And it should be noted that, as of Tuesday, 41 of Wisconsin's 72 counties had posted results with precinct and/or municipal breakdowns.

In trying to determine why Nickolaus veered away from standard operating procedure, I am reminded of the SOB the brilliant dark comedy by Blake Edwards where there's a discussion among some of the characters about the Hollywood way of doing things and the common use of "Standard Operating Bullshit" as a means to continually misdirect people away from the truth.

As far as Nickolaus, her actions absolutely reek of cover-up. I believe she started the canvass a day early to keep Kitzenger close in order to keep her in the dark and control the information she was receiving.

As far as the posted vote totals, that's simply a way of covering her tracks. Obviously, given easy access to information thanks to the Internet, if Nickolaus had posted actual ward-by-ward, precinct-by-precinct totals, she would have been quickly exposed, if she did indeed enter Brookfield's totals twice as many of us believe.

The importance of not posting this kind of information is especially crucial considering that she may have pulled this exact stunt before. As reported by Daily Kos, in the 2006 election for governor and attorney general, the number of people voting for those two offices actually exceeded the total number of votes cast by nearly 20,000. This information is right there in black and white on the Waukesha County website. Surely, Nickolaus has learned not to publicly post incriminating information. Of course, it is truly amazing that it has taken four and a half years for anyone to notice this clear case of hanky-panky from the 2006 election.

So what might have happened on Tuesday night? Vampire Cabbie can only speculate, but given the way the votes were swinging back and forth, it seems that at a certain point, Nickolaus decided she might try to fix things, if David Prosser needed the help. Perhaps she was keeping that last bullet in the chamber, but in order to prepare for the nuclear option she ended up using, she had an assistant place the call to Kitzinger. She knew Brookfield had the right number of votes to swing the election and put Prosser just over the .5 percent threshold prevented a recount from being paid for by the State of Wisconsin.

Still, there is one troublesome question: Given the heightened attention and close scrutiny of this election, how did Nickolaus think she would get away with counting Brookfield's votes twice?

Vampire Cabbie has some thoughts and will take a bite out of those next time. Stay tuned.

Discuss

Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus called it "human error" when she realized she'd failed to properly record votes from Brookfield for Wisconsin Supreme Court. Many are more than willing to call it incompetence. I think I would call it something else.

Let's have a quick review and see how things look.

At a press conference last Thursday afternoon at approximately 5:40 PM, Central, Nickolaus explained that when tabulating the votes for Waukesha County, she forgot to hit the save button for the results from Brookfield. Thus nearly 15,000 votes were not counted, but with those votes finally properly recorded, incumbent Supreme Court Justice David Prosser jumps ahead by nearly 7500 votes over challenge JoAnne Kloppenburg.

In attendance at the press conference is Ramona Kitzinger, Democratic Party representative on the Waukesha Board of Canvassers. Kitzinger is asked about the canvass and the newly found votes from Brookfield. Kitzinger says the number "jibed" and can "vouch for their accuracy."

Since then we have learned the following:

Nickolaus served with the Republican Party Caucus during the years of the caucus scandal. She served under David Prosser when he was speaker of the assembly. Nickolaus was granted immunity, presumably for offering Jane Doe testimony against her GOP caucus colleagues.

There have been at least a few incidences of vote tallying irregularities during Nickolaus's tenure as Waukesha County Clerk. Still she refuses to take any steps to improve or reform her procedures, despite complaints from county authorities. Nickolaus continues to operate in a most opaque manner, continuing to keep records on computers in her office where only she has access.

Numerous reports state that the software program used by Nickolaus has an auto-save, thus debunking her story about failing to hit the save button. The software program in question is quite well known, so this fact is not exactly an obscure bit of trivia.

Ramona Kitzinger has retracted her statement vouching for the accuracy of the canvass. In fact, according to a statement released by Kitzinger on Monday, Nickolaus intentionally kept her in the dark about the alleged failure to report the Brookfield votes, saying nothing about the matter as they conducted a canvass Wednesday and Thursday. Kitzinger said they completed the canvass on Thursday between 4 and 5 PM, but she did not learn about the Brookfield votes until Nickolaus called her into her office to tell her there was going to be a press conference at 5:30 PM.

Kitzinger states, "I am 80 years old and I don't understand anything about computers. I don't know where the numbers Kathy was showing me ultimately came from, but they seemed to add up. I am still very, very confused about why the canvass was finalized before I was informed of the Brookfield error and it wasn't even until the press conference was happening that I learned it was this enormous mistake that could swing the whole election. I was never shown anything that would verify Kathy's statement about the missing vote, and with how events unfolded and people citing me as an authority on this now, I feel like I must speak up."

And lastly, consider the following:

"Reporter Lisa Sink with the online news service patch.com told WKOW 27 News she staffed election night events at Brookfield city hall and received vote totals from the city clerk about two hours after the polls closed.

Sink said she posted the results on patch.com shortly after midnight Wednesday.

Sink said the vote totals she reported... were identical to unofficial vote totals released by Nickolaus Thursday.

The reporting of unofficial vote totals by the Associated Press was based on information from individual county clerks. Nickolaus does not post vote totals of each municipality on her county's website, as is done by most counties."

This tells us that the Brookfield numbers are correct, but it does not prove that they had not been entered as Nickolaus claims. More importantly, it tells us that the numbers cannot be easily verified because Nickolaus does not break down individual municipalities on the county clerk's website.

According to the Associated Press, update at 4:00 PM, ET, April 6, 2011, all 198 of Waukesha's wards had reported. Prosser outpolled Kloppenburg 81,255 to 29,332. At this time, the only evidence that AP didn't have the right numbers is the word of Kathy Nickolaus.

Discuss
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