Tag Archives: Wisconsin

Deez Newz

6 Jun

1. Chris Collins: businessman, hobbyist politician, ECGOP sugardaddy, scofflaw. 

As a reminder, Collins’ light blue / silverish, appropriately named Buick Enclave with the distinctive “CE-3” license plate (CE for “County Executive” – a post he no longer holds, but a license plate he retains) was seen during the 2011 election season, 

parking in a handicapped spot in Akron, NY

better angles of him parking in that Akron spot

parking illegally outside of Ulrich’s

Farmington is a town in northern Ontario County, near Victor.  It appears that Collins believes inconsiderate or illegal parking is a right he inherited by entail, since he parked like this at an event that recently took place there:

 

  

It doesn’t appear to be an illegal spot, per se, but Collins did park directly in front of the door – the better to duck in and out of the event without being accosted by the 99 percent. 

2. Former Ranzenhofer staffer Michelle McCullough, who was terminated because she dared to support David Bellavia over Chris Collins in NY-27, filed a formal ethics complaint, and its text makes for great reading about how political patronage appointees are routinely expected to perform the dirty, tedious political work their masters demand – regardless of its legality. 

Ranzenhofer Complaint

The ethics complaint led the Erie County Democrats to take a shot at Collins, 

“Chris Collins needs to be honest with the public about his role in the firing of an employee in Republican Senator Mike Ranzenhofer’s office who supported his opponent, David Bellavia.  These reports raise serious questions about whether this type of intimidation is how Collins intends to solicit support for his campaign.

“The employee, Michelle McCulloch, filed a complaint with the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics yesterday contending she was fired for circulating petitions for David Bellavia, who is opposing Chris Collins for the Republican nomination for Congress in the new 27th District. Ranzenhofer, who supports Collins, has been silent about why Ms. McCulloch was terminated. 

“The public deserves to know if Collins played a direct role with Ranzenhofer in costing this public servant her job. The time has come for both Collins and Ranzenhofer to come clean and explain why an otherwise good employee was suddenly let go after she circulated petitions for Collins’ opponent.”

3. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker will remain in office, as the effort to recall him failed last night.  In fact, Walker’s win was apparently by a wider margin than the one that originally brought him to office.

Never underestimate the ease with which politicians can demonize unionized workers and take away their rights – especially public sector workers. While no one in any society wants to just give public workers a key to the public vault, taking away, e.g., teachers’ right to collectively bargain with the state for their pay and benefits is only the clumsiest and most antagonistic way to treat a group of people who are charged with educating the next generation of Americans.

Never underestimate the power of the right wing. Never underestimate the power of their money and the ease with which they and their benefactors can influence public opinion and elections in contemporary America. The contemporary Republican/conservative movement derives its power from denigrating hard-working people and taking away rights they had earned over a century. It is, at its heart, an assault on the American Dream, and self-identified patriotic people are just eating it up. 

4. Regionalism advocate Kevin Gaughan announced yesterday that he’s running for state Assembly in the newly constructed A-149, comprising much of Buffalo, Lackawanna, and Hamburg. He wrote: 

I believe that no citizen should run for office unless they have an innovative proposal or specific purpose. Based on lessons I’ve learned working to reduce government size and cost, I have several. Each one of them is in service of a simple idea: Western New Yorkers deserve the most effective and least expensive government possible.

And this new civil right – the right to a government that lifts rather than burdens us – I believe is within our grasp. For over a decade, I’ve been engaged in government reform. I founded a number of conferences, in which we learned the crushing costs of our nation-leading concentration of governments and politicians.

Employing those lessons, and with the assistance of thousands of volunteers, we caused public votes to let people decide whether to reduce their local government. As a result, voters adopted downsizing plans in 3 county, 6 town, and 1 village governments, eliminating 26 elected positions and saving local taxpayers $5.2 million per year.

Now, I want to do in Albany what we have done here at home: reduce the state legislature’s size, lower its costs to taxpayers, and with a little luck and much work, perhaps even return a sense of humility to the idea of government service. To accomplish these goals, our campaign will sketch a landscape of ideas, all seeking to end Western New York’s 35-year path of chronic economic decline, exit of youth, loss of companies, destruction of neighborhoods, and demise of hope. Every degree of mind and spirit that I possess will be devoted to restoring our community.

5. Have a great day, western New York! Stay positive!

Elections Have Consequences

9 Mar

 . . . or so we are reminded when President Obama is nominating new justices to the Supreme Court, or pushing new healthcare legislation. Apparently the same is not true at the local level, where in Wisconsin a newly elected Republican governor, a Republican Senate (19-14) and a Republican Assembly (57-38) are unable to pass budgets or public-sector union reform since the opposition will not even show up for work.

"Moranism" or "How the Left Never Resorts to Hitler Comparisons"

Complain as you will that Republicans in the US Senate threatened to filibuster President Obama’s legislative agenda. At least to filibuster they needed to be in Washington, so there was hope of talk and eventual compromise. If you are hiding in a neighboring state, and allowing surrogates to make your case for you, there is no hope of anything.

Of course, this battle is less about an upcoming budget and more about reining in the power of public sector unions, whose outsized pension and medical benefits, negotiated by politicians of both parties, are bankrupting states. That is not hyperbole. A year old report estimates the total shortfall for state pensions nationwide at $3 Trillion, or a third of our total federal debt. California alone has a $500 Billion hole, or six times the state budget. Six times. You don’t just toss in another 5% a year to make that whole again. You must significantly raise taxes or cut benefits to a sector that is already earning a compensation package 45% above the national average. The average pay of a Milwaukee teacher is $102K. Srsly.

To quote the Obama Administration again, Governor Walker shouldn’t let this serious crisis go to waste. Wisconsin has led national reform before, and it is doing so again. I lived in Wisconsin during the welfare debates of the 1990’s, and despite warnings of a complete breakdown of civilized society, Tommy Thompson’s reform was adopted nationwide as a major Clinton policy achievement. The public cannot afford the deal made to public sector unions, and it’s time to trim. If a state finally has a politician with the gumption to take on a major lobbying force and donator to both parties, then he should strike while he can. Such opportunities do not often present themselves, so why should Walker negotiate? He is simply acting as liberals wished Obama would on tax cuts, healthcare and the stimulus. Better that he embody that Bush-like quality of decisive implementation of a single coherent policy. At least then we aren’t muddling through tepid bi-partisan band-aids.

What of the sacred collective bargaining rights, the firewall issue that sent Wisconsin Democrats to Illinois? This fundamental, inalienable right is not present in twelve states (Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia), and is limited in twelve more (Georgia, Indiana, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Nevada, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Wyoming). Somehow in those states children are taught, fires are fought, crimes are solved, streets are plowed, benefits are paid, and the bureaucracy crunches on. It does so without either massive poverty among state workers, or terribly unsafe working conditions.

Public sector unions are fundamentally incompatible with government. Don’t trust me. Trust FDR:

All government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into public service….  The very nature and purposes of government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people.

In other words, the government isn’t management. Politicians change. The will of the people changes. In fact, the workers pick the politicians with a self-reinforcing political “donation” system. There is no corporate hegemony to protect the workers from. They don’t need to be shielded from the abuses of the public. The general citizenry is not profiting at the public worker’s expense. In fact, comparatively, it is now the opposite.

Bad Pundit, Discussing Things!

3 Mar

Questioning and examining societal memes makes people angry!

In this thread, we discuss “Fuck the Troops” by Buffalo Beast prankster Ian Murphy – conservatives throughout western New York are attempting to use a semi-satirical piece in an irreverent satirical newspaper as the basis for his illegitimacy for public office. Few of Murphy’s critics ever repeat a single word of the essay past the first, provocative paragraph.  I’m shocked they didn’t point out the time Murphy pretended to be a mentally and physically disabled kid visiting the Museum of Creation in “Let there be Retards”.

But what about Murphy’s opinion piece?

During the Vietnam war, returning servicemen were treated horribly – by society, by the government.  The popularity of that war split America viciously for almost a decade, and for decades thereafter it affected how we treated our military, how we treated military engagement, how we wanted to avoid quagmires or Asian land wars.

Not only were those servicemen mistreated and subject to poor aftercare, but they were drafted; for the most part, they had no choice whether or not to go to Vietnam.

In the wake of Vietnam, we have all-volunteer, professional armed forces.  It is a choice for people to go into the service; no one is forced, and there is no draft.  None of the authors on these pages has denigrated their service, their bravery, or them.  It only took us about 30 years to forget completely the lessons of Vietnam, and we are, or recently have been, engaged in two Asian land wars that have turned into quagmires with no end, and unclear objectives.  We defeated the bad guys to enable other bad guys to fill the power vacuum.

The Iraq war was a war of choice – it was unprovoked. The Afghan war was a war of necessity, but we’re still there 10 years later. That is wholly unacceptable.

Chris and I, in comments, made the point that, once you get past the inflammatory language in the title and first paragraph of Murphy’s article, the guy makes a point.  I didn’t say he made a “good” point, or a point with which I necessarily agree – but he makes a point.  Just because that point offends you doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be discussed.

In those comments, one commenter brought up the image of a local Iraq war amputee and told me to stop “digging the hole” deeper.  My response:

Ward, the only holes you should be concerned with are the ones 6 feet deep that contain the remains of young men and women who didn’t have to die for a fool’s errand in a tribal Arabic hellhole that wasn’t bothering the US. Please don’t moralize to me about this.

And because I know how the internet works, let me clarify that the “fool” in “fool’s errand” is the United States Government that decided that an unprovoked war of aggression on a sovereign Asian nation was a phenomenal idea.

I won’t speak for Chris, but there’s a distinction between writing that gosh, I agree with him versus writing that he makes a point.  People are conveniently ignoring that I offered $100 to an Iraqi War Veteran’s organization if someone could point out where I expressed support or otherwise backed a not-yet-in-existence Ian Murphy run for Congress. No one has come forward to claim that prize.

You know, the point here is that I wish there weren’t 4,700+ servicemen and women who were killed during the Iraq war. I wish there weren’t thousands more injured. I wish there weren’t hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians displaced, hurt, or killed in this needless war of choice that was based on lies. If you really cared about the troops, you’d have those same thoughts.  So many lives – so many families – needlessly ruined.

This blog is about discussing things in comments – I admit that this doesn’t happen as often as it should, but I am unapologetic about intelligent people discussing a topic in an intelligent way. One doesn’t have to agree with, or like Murphy’s article or the language that he uses, but sometimes it’s valuable to read and consider different points of view, whether you agree with them or not.  And sometimes it’s valuable to take those points of view and use it to play devil’s advocate in a Socratic way. Some people I respect (and some I don’t, and some I’ve never heard of) have expressed outrageous outrage that we would ever discuss something that they don’t agree with and that insults their sensibilities.

That’s fine. They’re welcome to their opinion and they can hate us or be as disappointed and finger-pointy as they want. (I can tell you that my inbox hasn’t been inundated with complaints). They can repeat that I’m a lawyer or a former political candidate all they want, as if that matters. (Seriously, how does that matter? Yay for Google!)

The outrageous outrage thing is fun because believe me, it’s easy to write about.  It’s easy as hell to take finger to keyboard and express anger or to pick a fight. I do it all the time. So I get what’s going on.

But don’t twist my words and pretend like I’ve taken a position that I haven’t, or that I’ve deliberately denigrated an entire class of people. Quite frankly, in this country it’s bullshit to take Murphy’s article and simply dismiss it as invalid because it uses profane language and advocates for an unpopular and not widely held opinion. I think it raises a point that people should talk about, and that’s what we were doing.

Let’s turn to facts, though, for a second. I didn’t use the word “compelling”.  I used the word “salient”.

sa·li·ent [sey-lee-uhnt, seyl-yuhnt]

1. prominent or conspicuous: salient traits.

Again – I never said I agreed with Murphy’s “Fuck the Troops”. I described a point it makes as “salient” and then questioned people to explain precisely what they disagree with in the article’s text. How many of them read past the first paragraph, which contains a lot of dismissive, profane language towards the troops? Because the next paragraph explains,

Likely, just reading the above paragraph made you uncomfortable. But why?

The benevolence of America’s “troops” is sacrosanct. Questioning their rectitude simply isn’t done. It’s the forbidden zone. We may rail against this tragic war, but our soldiers are lauded by all as saints. Why? They volunteered to partake in this savage idiocy, and for this they deserve our utmost respect? I think not.

Murphy’s taking a pacifist position, albeit in a provocative way. If you don’t think that controversial opinions are worth discussing, then what the hell rights are they fighting for in the military, anyway?

Wisconsin: Lesson Learned

24 Feb

I’d like to formally thank the public employees of Wisconsin – the nurses, teachers, and other people who work long hours in often-thankless jobs for pay that doesn’t make anyone rich, and benefits that any human being should be entitled to in exchange for such work.  I’d like to thank them not just for the work that they do, ensuring that their charges are healthy or educated.  I’d like to thank them for standing up for hard-fought rights they are trying to retain.  But above all, I’d like to thank them, as well as Ian Murphy from the Buffalo Beast, “David Koch”, and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker for showing me exactly why it’s important that public employee unions exist and can collectively bargain with governments that are set on paying those workers as little as possible. Governments that have been brought about thanks to the donations of extraterritorial billionaires on a mission to screw the poor, hurt the middle class, and enrich the already-rich while rolling back health, safety, and environmental rules that protect everyone.

The story about the Beast’s call, of course, isn’t just the fact that Walker explained in detail his strategy to trick Senate Democrats into a supposed quorum. The story is that Walker took the call at all, so readily, when Democratic lawmakers and the press in his own home state can’t get him on the phone.

Don’t forget that Walker cut taxes for businesses by millions of dollars, setting up a deficit that he intends to repair on the backs of public workers.  When he asked those unions for concessions, they readily agreed to many of them, and to negotiate on others. Walker and the Republicans have refused to negotiate.  This isn’t about fiscal discipline – it’s about a crusade to break the back of labor in America. When malicious Republican executives decide that they’re going to bust unions, in the glorious tradition of 80s union-busters Ronald Reagan, Wojciech Jaruzelski, and Leonid Brezhnev, then it’s important that this be exposed for what it is.

All of these lessons are applicable to our own Chris Collins, and New York’s own public sector unions.  Now, Wisconsin doesn’t have a Taylor Law, and its Triborough Amendment ensures that unions can continue to operate under the previous contract so long as a new one isn’t executed, thus eliminating any incentive for them to negotiate.  Unions in New York have a stronger hand than those in Wisconsin.  Maybe that needs to change.  What doesn’t need to change is the right of public sector unions to bargain collectively, especially when they’re treated as fungible commodities by their ostensible boss-of-all-bosses.  What these people do is important, and if you don’t think that teachers deserve to earn $50,000 per year plus benefits for educating the younger generation – even other people’s kids – then the concept of civilized society needs to be reconfirmed and redefined.

Buffalo Beast Poses as David Koch, Calls WI Gov. Walker

23 Feb

The story behind the prank phone call is here. David Koch is one of the famed Koch Brothers, the Hayekist moneybags behind the tea party and much of the anti-Obama right wing.

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Koch: [Laughs] Well, I tell you what, Scott: once you crush these bastards I’ll fly you out to Cali and really show you a good time.

Walker: All right, that would be outstanding. [*** Ethical violation much? ***] Thanks for all the support…it’s all about getting our freedoms back…

Koch: Absolutely. And, you know, we have a little bit of a vested interest as well. [Laughs]

he’s pretty reasonable but he’s not one of us…”

Some more of the transcript, since the Beast’s site is down:

Koch: I’m very well. I’m a little disheartened by the situation there, but, uh, what’s the latest?

Walker: Well, we’re actually hanging pretty tough. I mean—you know, amazingly there’s a much smaller group of protesters—almost all of whom are in from other states today. The State Assembly is taking the bill up—getting it all the way to the last point it can be at where it’s unamendable. But they’re waiting to pass it until the Senate’s—the Senate Democrats, excuse me, the assembly Democrats have about a hundred amendments they’re going through. The state Senate still has the 14 members missing but what they’re doing today is bringing up all sorts of other non-fiscal items, many of which are things members in the Democratic side care about. And each day we’re going to ratchet it up a little bit…. The Senate majority leader had a great plan he told about this morning—he told the Senate Democrats about and he’s going to announce it later today, and that is: The Senate organization committee is going to meet and pass a rule that says if you don’t show up for two consecutive days on a session day—in the state Senate, the Senate chief clerk—it’s a little procedural thing here, but—can actually have your payroll stopped from being automatically deducted—

Koch: Beautiful.

Walker: —into your checking account and instead—you still get a check, but the check has to be personally picked up and he’s instructing them—which we just loved—to lock them in their desk on the floor of the state Senate.

Walker: …I’ve got layoff notices ready…

Koch: Beautiful; beautiful. Gotta crush that union.

Walker: [bragging about how he doesn’t budge]…I would be willing to sit down and talk to him, the assembly Democrat leader, plus the other two Republican leaders—talk, not negotiate and listen to what they have to say if they will in turn—but I’ll only do it if all 14 of them will come back and sit down in the state assembly…legally, we believe, once they’ve gone into session, they don’t physically have to be there. If they’re actually in session for that day, and they take a recess, the 19 Senate Republicans could then go into action and they’d have quorum…so we’re double checking that. If you heard I was going to talk to them that’s the only reason why. We’d only do it if they came back to the capital with all 14 of them…

Koch: Bring a baseball bat. That’s what I’d do.

Walker: I have one in my office; you’d be happy with that. I have a slugger with my name on it.

Walker: [blah about his press conferences, attacking Obama, and all the great press he’s getting.] Brian [Sadoval], the new Governor of Nevada, called me the last night he said—he was out in the Lincoln Day Circuit in the last two weekends and he was kidding me, he said, “Scott, don’t come to Nevada because I’d be afraid you beat me running for governor.” That’s all they want to talk about is what are you doing to help the governor of Wisconsin. I talk to Kasich every day—John’s gotta stand firm in Ohio. I think we could do the same thing with Vic Scott in Florida. I think, uh, Snyder—if he got a little more support—probably could do that in Michigan. You start going down the list there’s a lot of us new governors that got elected to do something big.

Koch: You’re the first domino.

Walker: Yep. This is our moment.

Koch: Now what else could we do for you down there?

Walker: Well the biggest thing would be—and your guy on the ground [Americans For Prosperity president Tim Phillips] is probably seeing this [stuff about all the people protesting, and some of them flip him off].

The Beast is right.  This is clear evidence that government is controlled by the moneyed interests, who have access and a “good time” with their partners in government. Shame on Walker.

Republicans v. Women, Immigrants, Middle Class, et al.

21 Feb

Over the past two years, the Democratic Party attempted, often fecklessly, to implement changes that would largely help strengthen and rebuild the middle class, while simultaneously inheriting an epic recession that came within a hair of becoming a full-fledged depression.  Even now, the economic recovery is limp; (i.e., we haven’t yet discovered which bubble comes next).

Over the last month or so, the Republican Party has instituted an all-out assault on abortion rights, contraception, health care, health insurance coverage, and is intent on rolling back even the modest achievements of the 111th Congress to ensure that their superrich benefactors are protected from any attempt to make the lives of the middle and lower classes better. The assault on reproductive rights is just the vicious icing on the malicious cake.

In Wisconsin, the Republican governor has decided that “teachers” and “nurses” are replaceable commodities, and that they ought not have the right to collectively fight for their rights as employees of the state. (No such attempt has been made to dilute the collective bargaining rules for police or fire employees).

Add some xenophobia to the mixture, and it’s almost intolerably toxic.

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I think the country has lost its mind, and it’s for this reason that even small victories – like winning NY-26 – are critically important to ensure that America works not just for millionaires and billionaires, but also for average working people.

A century ago, the world’s left was influenced by a long-winded, dull, wrongheaded, hypocritical Russian philosopher.  Now, it’s the American right.

(You may have noticed that comments are off. Feel free to email me your thoughts.)

Wisconsin

18 Feb
The state capitol of Madison, Wisconsin

Image via Wikipedia

I posted this as my Facebook status last night, but thought I’d repeat it here, verbatim.  If you haven’t seen what’s been going on in Wisconsin, click here.

Conflicted about Wisconsin. OTOH, I don’t think state workers should be scapegoated & punished for a state’s entire fiscal crisis. OTOH, I am fundamentally opposed to the notion of state employee unions. I mean, if you’re the masses’ employee, why do you need protection from the masses? The point of unions is to protect workers against unfairness caused by capitalist greed. I guess Wisconsin is proving me wrong.