Christian Schneider

Author, Columnist

Page 3 of 82

Tough Noogies: What’s the big deal that Scott Walker didn’t campaign on curbing union power?

On the day before Gov. Scott Walker introduced his plan to restrict public-sector collective bargaining, he met with Democratic legislative leaders to brief them on the details. Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca expressed disbelief, complaining to Walker that he hadn’t mentioned the plan at all during the gubernatorial campaign.

This meme has become the primary obloquy hurled at Walker during the collective-bargaining firestorm: Walker is somehow a liar for not mentioning his plan while campaigning for governor in fall 2010. Walker’s proposal “went far beyond what anybody thought he would do,” union leader Richard Abelson told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in February. “He didn’t talk about it during the campaign. If he had said that, some people who supported him would have had some second thoughts,” said Abelson, head of District Council 48 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Yet the “we was duped” talking point is as old as democracy itself. Ancient Greeks were probably overheard saying things like, “None of Cleisthenes’ YouTube videos mentioned that he was going to stop me from trading my wife for three goats.”

In 1960, Republican presidential candidate Nelson Rockefeller ripped his primary opponent, Richard Nixon, for not being forthcoming with voters about his plans. “I find it unreasonable — in these times — that the leading Republican candidate for the presidential nomination has firmly insisted upon making known his program and his policies, not before, but only after nomination by his party,” Rockefeller said.

He lost.

The Walker complainers have a more finely honed selective memory than people who remember the Titanic as a fine dining experience. Do they recall Walker’s predecessor, Democrat Jim Doyle, campaigning on cutting the University of Wisconsin budget by $250 million and raising tuition 35% in two years to cover it? Was candidate Doyle in 2002 running around the state promising to raid the transportation fund and backfill it with debt? Of course not — but upon taking office, he thought he had to do these things to balance the budget.

In fact, the archetype of the lying politician is as ingrained in American politics as the sight of candidates kissing babies. Doyle promised never to raise taxes — yet he raised them by billions during his tenure. Candidate Barack Obama pledged to close the Guantanamo Bay prison facility — yet under President Obama, there it remains, providing the government with the intelligence it needed to catch Osama bin Laden.

And yet Walker isn’t being excoriated for going back on a promise; he’s being criticized simply for something he didn’t say. (Incidentally, plenty of unions were telling their members during the campaign that Walker was going to roll back their ability to bargain.) As if campaigns are measured, cautious affairs, where candidates put forth their plans and voters carefully measure each morsel of fiscal policy contained therein.

In reality, the Walker campaign was fighting off claims that he wanted to kill women by denying them mammograms.

Finally, would Walker really have not been elected had he proposed to limit union bargaining during the campaign? Face it, he would have won.

In a year where Republicans wiped Democrats off the face of the political map, winning control of the state Senate, the Assembly and the U.S. House of Representatives and defeating liberal icon Senator Russ Feingold, do people actually believe Walker would have lost? Does someone want to call Supreme Court Justice David Prosser and ask him what he thinks?”

Panning for Signatures in Ohio

On Monday, I wrote about all the signatures the pro-public union group We Are Ohio collected in order to bring Governor John Kasich’s newly-minted collective bargaining bill up for a public vote.  Despite the extremely low threshold of 231,147 signatures to subject the law to a referendum, We Are Ohio turned in 1.3 million signatures.

Last week, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted announced the collective bargaining law would appear on the November ballot, and released the results of the state’s signature validation process. Husted announced that “more than 915,000 of the signatures were valid.”

As Mike Antonucci points out at the Intercepts blog, while 915,000 is an impressive number, it falls well short of the 1.3 million signatures turned in.  In fact, over 25% of all the signatures submitted by the unions (351,925 total) were found to be invalid.  As Antonucci points out, some of Ohio’s largest counties had some of the highest percentages of invalid signatures:

Of the 159,946 signatures submitted from Franklin County, 48,972 were invalid (30.6%). In Lucas County, 34.4% of the signatures were invalid. In Cuyahoga County, 36.2% were invalid, and in Hamilton County 49.9% were invalid.

Most of the signatures that were tossed were because the person who signed the petition lived in a different county than the one in which the papers were circulated.  Presumably, those 351,925 were easy to check.  But what about the 915,000 that remain?  If a petitioner has an error rate of 25% right off the bat (and about 50% in some counties), how much faith are we supposed to have in the signatures that haven’t been disqualified?  If you had a friend who lied to you 25% of the time, wouldn’t you look askance at the 75% of things he swore to you were true?

It’s as if the unions are panning for signatures – just throw some giant rocks onto the secretary of state’s plate, and hope that when all the sand and gravel is sorted out (at great cost to the taxpayer), there’s enough gold there to force a referendum.  There’s just no way any state department can sort though and validate 1.3 million signatures with any kind of accuracy in such a short time span.

In order to streamline the process, there should be a penalty for submitting hundreds of thousands of bad signatures.  Make the petitioner reimburse the taxpayers for the cost of counting all the bogus signatures.  Dock the unions one valid signature for every two invalid ones.  Punish each circulator who turns in bad signatures with making them watch 10 hours of whatever Keith Olbermann’s show is now called (which would quadruple his audience, come to think of it.)

In any event, the current signature process in Ohio is like aiming a fire hose at the secretary of state’s staffers and asking them to catch the water with Dixie cups.  If this process works for unions in Ohio, there’s no doubt it will be employed here in Wisconsin, where only around 500,000 signatures are required to force a recall of Governor Scott Walker in 2012.

Wisconsin Flexes Its Star Power

Tuesday night’s utterly predictable recall election win by Democratic State Senator Dave Hansen of Green Bay followed the usual protocol:  At about 9 p.m., Hansen strode to the podium at his victory party and predicted Democrats would take back the state senate when other recall elections are conducted in August.

But Hansen’s speech was followed with a bizarre appearance by – and this is not a joke –  Jon “Bowzer” Bauman of the ‘70s faux-greaser doo wop group Sha Na Na, who congratulated the Democrat on his win and predicted more big wins by Democrats in future recall elections.  Cashing in on Sha Na Na’s biggest hit, Bowzer eschewed any attempt at dip-dip-diplomacy, predicting Republican state senators would soon have to “get a job.”  (If there was any question that everyone in America was on drugs in 1972, that last clip will put that doubt to rest.)

Under normal circumstances, such an appearance by a D-minus list celebrity would have been scary and a bit confusing.  But since the Wisconsin collective bargaining fight broke out in February, Wisconsin has been flooded with once-notable celebrities whose name you thought would never pass your lips again.

On February 26th, a rally was held outside the state capitol featuring guest speaker Gabrielle Carteris, best known for her role in the early 1990s as high school virgin Andrea Zuckerman on Beverly Hills, 90210.  (And best known to everyone under the age of 35 as “who?”)  Carteris, who portrayed Zuckerman at the age of 30, has primarily been employed as a video game voice-over artist for the past decade.  Apparently Luke Perry’s sideburns were booked and couldn’t make it.  (Or, worse yet, they support Scott Walker.)

Following Carteris was Guiding Light actor Robert Newman, who is best known by people who mistakenly think he is Paul Newman.  The event was emceed by former Billy Madison foil (and West Wing alumnus) Bradley Whitford, who actually is kind of a star, but hails from Wisconsin, so he shows up for every lefty rally in Madison.  (Whitford would later disavow his role in Billy Madison, which is a considered a criminal offense by anyone who owns the first four Pearl Jam albums.)

A March rally featured Green Bay native and “Monk” star Tony Shalhoub, whose sister works as a public school teacher in Wisconsin.  Shalhoub was joined by Susan Sarandon and the ubiquitous Jesse Jackson, who became as much a part of the protest scene as “Scott Walker is Hitler” signs.  Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello showed up to rally the crowd, apparently undeterred by the crushing defeat I handed him in a Guitar Hero battle on Playstation two years ago.

In fact, Wisconsin is probably best known for its fictional celebrities.  Large chunks of this summer’s Bridesmaids and Transformers 3 were filmed in Milwaukee.  Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in Titanic supposedly hailed from Chippewa Falls.  Fond du Lac was the fictional childhood home of There Will be Blood’s Daniel Plainview, who is best known for drinking other people’s milkshakes and clubbing them to death with bowling pins.  And let’s not even get started on the Fonz, who is memorialized in downtown Milwaukee with his own bronze statue.

As for the recall elections, it’s not as if Senator Hansen needed the much-sought-after “1970s fake greaser doo wop band” voting bloc to come through for him.  When Republican Assemblyman John Nygren failed to garner enough signatures to make it to the ballot, it left the GOP without a serious candidate to challenge him.  The only Republican left running owed $25,000 in back property taxes and had been arrested four times on domestic violence charges.  (His campaign slogan of “my wife is a crazy alcoholic” didn’t quite match “Yes We Can!” for inspirational value.)

Yet while spending weeks pointing out what a terrible candidate the GOP was running, now Democrats are crowing about Hansen’s re-election, as if it was some monumental triumph that signals momentum for the anti-Walker cause.  It does not.  It merely signals that voters prefer their state senators to dabble a little less in domestic violence.

The state now moves on to the remaining eight recall elections, in which six Republicans and two Democrats are in danger of losing their jobs.  And as for celebrity sightings, voters will certainly be moved when Weezie shows up at the capitol arguing that fish don’t fry in the kitchen, but concedes that beans may, in fact, burn on the grill.

What the Supreme Court Election Means for School Funding in Wisconsin

chalkOn April 5th, Wisconsin will choose a new Supreme Court justice. While elections to the Court are normally nonpartisan affairs, this election is drenched in political bickering between Republicans, Democrats, and public employee unions.

Public union supporters argue that if incumbent conservative Justice David Prosser is defeated by liberal challenger Joanne Kloppenburg, the Court would then be fertile soil for a lawsuit overturning Scott Walker’s recent law limiting collective bargaining for government employees. They argue that the law was passed improperly, given the last-minute maneuvers by Senate Republicans to vote on the collective bargaining bill without three-fifths of the Senate members in attendance.

While the individuals thinking the law can be overturned in the courts are well-meaning, their chances are a longshot. The law paving the way for passage of the bill could not be more explicit. Pushing for the Court to take on Walker’s law might be a good fundraising ploy, but it most likely will fall short.

There is, however, a more serious potential court challenge Walker should fear, and it could rest entirely on the vote of Justice Prosser. Every few years, Wisconsinites can count on certain recurring events like clockwork – the Beatles will become fashionable again, citizens will be shocked to find out that eating right and exercising are the key to being skinny, and the state’s school aid formula will be challenged in court.

The last time Wisconsin’s $10 billion annual school funding framework was seriously challenged was in 2000, in the case of Vincent v. Voight. The case, brought by the state’s largest teachers’ union (WEAC), argued that Wisconsin’s school funding system did not adequately equalize funding among both “rich” and “poor” districts, as required by the state constitution. According to Article X, Section 3 of the Wisconsin Constitution, “district schools” had to be “as nearly uniform as practicable.”

By a slim majority, the Court held in Vincent that the current school equalization formula met the standard set forth in the state constitution. (Prosser, while in the majority, dissented in part because he thought the majority opinion favored the petitioners too much. He wrote that the majority opinion granted a heightened standard of equality not found in the Constitution – which he deemed “Equality Plus.”)

But the K-12 funding framework, while still in place, was hanging by a thin reed. Justice Crooks’ majority opinion almost openly invited further litigation.

For instance, Crooks wrote that one of the reasons the equalization formula was allowed to stand was due to the large funding increase the state had offered several years earlier:

“So long as the legislature is providing sufficient resources so that school districts offer students the equal opportunity for a sound basic education as required by the constitution, the state school finance system will pass constitutional muster.”

Scott Walker’s 2011-13 biennial budget necessarily reduces state funding to local school districts by over $900 million (much of which will be made up by increased pension and health care contributions from teachers). If the constitutionality of school funding formula hinges on the state providing “sufficient resources,” how will Walker’s budget affect the Court’s stated precedent?

The Vincent case arose at the same time a national movement pushing school funding “adequacy” was taking to state courts throughout the country. State Supreme Courts routinely mandated more school spending, in some cases increasing state spending by 20% simply through judicial fiat.

In November of 2006, New York’s highest court ordered the state to pay an additional $1.93 billion in the name of educational funding “equity.” In 2005, Kansas’ Supreme Court ordered the state to pay $148.4 million as a result of an “adequacy” lawsuit. That year alone, school finance systems in Texas, South Carolina, Idaho, Arkansas, and Kansas were deemed unconstitutional. Just this week, a judge in New Jersey found Governor Chris Christie’s education cuts failed to provide a “thorough and efficient” education for that state’s schoolchildren.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court could easily be one vote away from not only dismantling the current equalization formula, but overriding Scott Walker’s proposed funding shift to local school districts. With teachers’ unions having lost their ability to collect compulsory dues from their members, their power now shifts to the courts, which could mandate higher salaries and benefits in the name of “adequacy.”

And while she has been coy in many of her pre-election interviews, there is a reason they will be supporting Joanne Kloppenburg.

April 1, 2011

The Wisconsin Public Union Protest Dictionary

dictionaryAs is the case with any extended crisis, the Wisconsin stalemate has begun to create its own vernacular. Previously familiar terms and phrases are used in foreign contexts. Words garner new meaning.

So when listening to politicians debate Governor Scott Walker’s plan to force greater public sector union contributions to their own health and pension benefits, it may be getting hard to understand – and not just because of the funny Wisconsin accents.

So as a service to the nation, here is a dictionary of many of the terms you are likely to hear as the Wisconsin showdown enters its third week:

“Workers” – Refers to any one of the 356,284 individuals in the state who receives a paycheck from any level of government. When a Democrat refers to the “workers” of Wisconsin, it is these people they are referencing. The remaining 86.6% of the Wisconsin population is to be met with suspicion, and is likely employed by the Koch brothers. (See also, “worker, hard.”)

“Democracy” – Traditionally described the process of people electing individuals to office, and those officials voting on their constituents’ behalf in the state legislature. Now refers to elected officials fleeing the state in order to avoid voting.

In order to test the veracity of this new definition, you are encouraged to sit on your couch all weekend with a sign that says “this is what mowing the lawn looks like.” If your wife agrees, she is likely in the Wisconsin Capitol rotunda holding up a sign.

“Hosni Mubarak” – Little known dictator of some country somewhere in the Middle East. But his thugs beat up Anderson Cooper just a couple of weeks ago, so that’s probably enough to compare him to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

“Debate” – The process by which people who disagree get together, voice their differences, and compare each other to Hitler while wearing fanny packs. Wisconsin protesters have drawn inspiration from the historical Lincoln-Douglas debates, when Lincoln famously dressed up like a gorilla and banged a drum for eleven days to annoy Douglas into submission.

“Attacking” – Asking state and local employees to pay more of their health insurance premiums and to begin paying into their own pension accounts, which they will then recoup upon retirement. However, if the cost of government increases and taxpayers are forced to pay more, it is impermissible to consider it an “attack.” (See also: assaulting, strangling, pummeling, mauling, decapitating, disemboweling.)

“Interest Group” – Any collection of individuals that uses their own money to influence a public debate is known as an “interest group.” But be careful – if a similar group uses taxpayer money boosted through dues to do the same thing, it is known as a “grassroots organization.”

“Free Speech” – Commonly afforded individuals to express their political beliefs, “free speech” is now afforded to anyone who doesn’t work for Fox News, is interviewed by Fox News, has ever watched Fox News, or has ever admired the work of Michael J. Fox.

“Dictator” – Refers to either a genocidal despot or a duly elected governor acting in concert with elected members of two houses to affect changes in the law. The two are interchangeable.

“Middle Class” –Walker’s budget repair bill is a concerted effort to destroy Wisconsin’s middle class, as it is comprised entirely of individuals who work for government. Needless to say, it will be devastating to the state’s economy to ask more of the middle class – most notably, University of Wisconsin Madison professors who make $111,000 for working nine months out of the year.

“Stifling Debate” – The parliamentary procedure of allowing testimony of 900 citizens over the span of 17 hours, then letting the minority party members that haven’t fled the state talk for over 60 hours straight in order to hold up a bill’s passage.

“Doctor” – Traditionally, a “doctor” examined a patient, made a diagnosis, and treated their malady. In Wisconsin, that process is deemed unnecessary as long as the patient is beset by a rapidly growing pension contribution. (Common side effect: chanting “Hey Hey, Ho Ho” for four straight days.)

“God-Given Right” – Any law change beneficial to Wisconsin government workers granted after 1959. In most cases, these rights are not granted to federal workers living in Wisconsin, so it appears many of them need to spend more time in church.

Unfortunately, the one term nobody will be using any time soon in the state senate is “the ayes have it.” As a result, a lot of government workers will soon be learning what “unemployment compensation” is.

-February 28, 2011

State Capitol Protests, February 19, 2011

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The Wisconsin Government Worker Protest Update

With history unfolding in Madison, Wisconsin over the past few days, I’ve written a number of articles describing the scene.

Here’s an op-ed I wrote for the New York Times giving a basic breakdown of the issue:

So far, Walker’s plans have been fiscally modest, but politically bold. Public employee unions will continue to protest, even though the governor is the first politician who has told them the truth in ages. If government workers continue to call his bluff, their protests will likely be much smaller in the future.

Here’s a column I wrote for the National Review Online discussing teachers’ use of their students in the protests:

In the meantime, the capitol was packed with thousands of government employees, many of whom had staged a “sleep-in” the night before. One sign-wielding protester approached a tie-wearing GOP staffer and sneered, “You must be a Republican.” He turned and asked, “Because I’m working?”

The raucous, drum-beating crowd was mostly made up of teachers, high-school kids, and University of Wisconsin students. On Thursday, school districts all over the state began canceling classes as their teachers called in sick en masse — government-employee strikes are illegal in Wisconsin — and teachers continued to bring their students to protest with them.

I wrote this column for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that ran on Thursday:

Yet if you tell Democratic legislators that a vote against Walker’s plan is a vote to cut government jobs, they likely will look at you as if you just tried to stuff a live halibut into their mouths. They will tell you that there are many options available to balance the budget – options that are so popular, they enacted exactly zero of them in the last budget, when they had full control of state government. Their deficit-reduction plan consisted of hoping the Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl, so people didn’t notice the giant hole in the state’s finances. (They got half their wish.)

In the Isthmus last week, I wrote about Wisconsin union leaders’ tendency to call people “whores.”

So, for the record, it appears Beil’s hierarchy of insults runs the gamut between “whore” (the worst), “prostitute” (not quite as bad) and “purveyor of the world’s oldest profession.” Yet some might even be tempted to include “paid union lobbyist” in their “pyramid of prostitution.” It’s a wonder Charlie Sheen hasn’t given Beil a call to go party in a hotel room.

And, of course, there are the updates I’ve written for WPRI – my column on Monday here and a blog post from last Friday here.

Stay tuned for more – should be more exciting developments to come.  And we’ll be there.

VIDEO: State Union Worker Protests in Madison, 2-17-11

Prosser Dominates “Fairest Election Ever”

For years, so-called “good government” groups had been fighting to “level” the playing field in judicial elections.  They always believed that public financing of elections virtually eliminated advantages for certain candidates.  Last session, such a framework was passed into law.  (Perhaps not-so-ironically, this occurred when conservatives were elected to a majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court and Democrats controlled the Legislature and Governorship.)

Liberals celebrated the new “fairness” in Court elections.  In last week’s Isthmus newspaper (to which I contribute a column), editor Bill Lueders asked aloud whether this month’s Supreme Court primary was the “fairest election ever.”

Said Lueders:

That means the Feb. 15 primary will occur on a relatively level playing field, with each contender having roughly equal resources. (Whether this will hold true for the general election is unclear, as court challenges or the GOP Legislature could yet kill public financing.)

On Tuesday night, we saw the results of the “fairest election ever.”  Incumbent Justice David Prosser dominated his opponents, receiving 55% of the vote in a four-way primary.  Prosser will now face his closest challenger, JoAnne Kloppenburg, who received 25% of the vote, in the spring general election.

So why did Prosser win by such a large margin in a primary election in which spending was equal?  Perhaps it was due to Wisconsin residents’ preference for conservatives on the Supreme Court.  But it likely had a lot to do with Prosser’s status as an incumbent.

And this is how, as argued on this blog previously, public financing harms challengers.  If spending is level, races will almost always favor the incumbent, as being in office had enormous advantages.  Incumbents have name recognition, voter contacts, and a record on which to run.

In order to overcome that advantage, challengers often need to spend more money to get their message out.  But when each candidate has only a $100,000 grant to spend, it is much more difficult to overcome the natural advantages of incumbency.

So while liberals may have thought the Supreme Court election was “fair,” it was anything but.  The most equitable way to conduct elections is to allow fundraising that translates into increased political speech.  Otherwise, voters will be inclined to support the guy they know.

VIDEO: State Worker Union Protests in Madison, 2-15-11

Remembering Tomorrow’s Union Worker Protests, Today

protestVladimir Nabokov once wrote of the “stark lucidity of a future recollection.” He was describing the act of trying to see things that are happening right now as you will remember having seen them. (Of course, he was writing about one of his characters trying to envision killing his wife so he could have sex with her 12-year old daughter. But go with me here.)

That is how I’ve vowed to look at this week in Wisconsin state government. I’d love to bottle all the hysteria regarding Governor Scott Walker’s proposed budget adjustment bill and bury it in the ground for future generations to one day gaze upon. With protests at the Capitol planned all week, I have taken it upon myself to document much of the government-funded hyperventilating taking place well in advance. (Side note: Are unions really making a case for their modern relevance when they’re still holding candlelight vigils? There really hasn’t been any new advancement in protesting technology in 40 years?)

Friday, February 11th, 2011 will be a day that lives forever in the annals of Wisconsin Hot Air History. The World Series of Buffoonery took place shortly after Walker announced his plan, when a gathering of Democrat lawmakers took turns out-embarrassing themselves at a hastily called press conference. (Watch it here – but don’t drink anything while you’re viewing it – your beverage will likely end up adorning your computer screen.)

In this press conference, we heard the seeds of what would become the major themes over the weekend. Assemblyman Joe Parisi – the living answer to the question “can anyone be elected to the state legislature?” – declared that Scott Walker is going to “call in the National Guard on the citizens of Wisconsin!”

Obviously, in Parisi’s world, the code words “National Guard” are supposed to give hippies flashbacks to the days of being clubbed and maced. But sadly, Parisi’s talking point is mere delusion. At his press conference, Walker mentioned the National Guard was ready to staff, say, the prisons if the correction officers were to engage in an illegal strike. But it didn’t stop the internet from being lit up with stories of how Walker was sending the National Guard to your house to tear gas your family.

Parisi finished up by urging not to “go to war” with the people of Wisconsin. By “the people,” I assume he doesn’t mean the 80% of citizens who agree that government workers should pay into their own pensions. (Actually, I should be nice to Parisi, as his name is on my marriage certificate from his days as Dane County Clerk. I think that gives him the unilateral power to dissolve my marriage.)

Not to be outdone, State Representative Gary Hebl strode to the microphone to call Walker’s plan to eliminate public sector collective bargaining on everything except wages “unheard of” and “unprecedented.” That’s true, assuming you forget the first 100 years of Wisconsin’s existence, when there was no collective bargaining for public employees.

Hebl forged on, comparing Walker to Hosni Mubarak, saying we have the “makings of a dictator” here in Wisconsin. (The strongest link between Walker and Mubarak is that Gary Hebl has heard of both of them.) I had cast aside this preposterous line as mere hyperbole, until some people who I really like (and should really know better) began using it. In fact, someone actually set up a website calling Walker Mubarak’s “mini-me.” (A reference only slightly fresher than candlelight vigils.)

Mark Pocan finished up the presser by actually making the points reasonable Democrats should be making about the bill. It overturns 50 years of settled law, it eliminates negotiation on things like worker safety and hours, etc. But then Pocan finished with a putrid cocktail of windbaggery, wrapping the National Guard and Mubarak talking points into one. (The day before, Pocan said the bill would return us to the days of the “Robber Barons.” Presumably, he spent the latter part of Friday bunkered down at home loading up his musket.)

The key to any anti-Walker talking point is to infuse it with some sort of violent metaphor. “Scott Walker is assaulting state workers.” “Scott Walker is taking a cleaver to the people of Wisconsin.” Certainly, those are more exciting than “Scott Walker wants state employees to pay slightly more into an account which will accrue over time, which they can then cash out when they retire.” That’s not exactly a talking point that gets people in Minocqua to hop on a bus to demonstrate in Madison.

But why are they pulling up so short? It’s time to start combining violent metaphors to get the full effect. “Scott Walker is dismembering state employees, then drowning them, then lighting them on fire, then telling them off-color jokes, then lighting them on fire again, then dropping them off a building, and then running over them with his car!” Now that’s a call to action.

If this doesn’t work, it always helps to play the Nazi card. It took the Teamsters over a half day to compare Walker to Hitler (what took so long?) – but their efforts fell somewhat short. In their letter to legislators, they spelled Hitler’s name “H-I-L-T-E-R.” When you’re comparing an elected Governor to a genocidal maniac, it really is just common courtesy to use spell check.

This is only slightly more sensical than the quote of the week so far, from State Senator Spencer Coggs of Milwaukee. Coggs said “The ghost of Martin Luther King must be rolling in his grave when he anticipates in the state of Wisconsin we’re going to have what, in effect, will be legalized slavery.”

Set aside, for a moment, the fact that slave pension benefits were probably slightly less generous than that of a Wisconsin state employee. It’s troubling that Coggs said MLK’s ghost was rolling around in his grave. Why would the ghost be hanging out in Dr. King’s grave with his body? Isn’t the whole benefit of being a ghost the ability to go float around, rattle chains and stuff? I know if I’m ever a ghost the last place I’ll want to be is in a smelly grave. Ghost me is hitting the nightclub looking for ghost honeys. Anyway.

Walker has said that if state workers don’t accept his fairly modest proposal, he will have to cut up to 6,000 state employees. Thus, it would seem that a vote against his bill would be a vote to lay off 6,000 workers. When I put it this way to some Democrat friends, they strongly objected, saying that there were loads of “other options” on the table for making up the $3.6 billion deficit.

Needless to say, I love being lectured by the party who had total control of state government for the past two years regarding ALL THESE OTHER options available to close the deficit. Apparently none of which they were willing to use, as they left Walker with a $3.6 billion hole to fill.
The best theory I’ve heard, however, is that of my friend (and editor) Bill Lueders, who thinks Walker’s plan all along was to goad government workers into demonstrating at the Capitol. Says Lueders: “Protests are exactly what Walker wants, because they can only lead to two outcomes: Either they are peaceful and accomplish nothing; or they turn violent and create a massive backlash against the unions and their members. Either way, Walker wins.”

Ah, yes – Walker is begging for violent protests to change the minds 20% of Wisconsinites who aren’t already with him. He is setting a trap for all the professional protesters in Madison into acting like fools to buttress his naked power grab. (Side note – if a protest in Madison gets violent, Egypt-style, what to people throw at each other? Fair trade coffee cups? Ironic eyewear?)

Sure, some union demonstrators may end up looking like idiots over the next few days. But most of the heavy lifting has already been done for them by their sympathetic politicians. Looking stupid is what they have lawmakers for.

So, people of the future, I hope this little internet time capsule finds you well. (And congratulations on my son leading the Green Bay Packers to their 13th Super Bowl title, over Brett Favre and the Shanghai Shooters.) Hopefully, your economy has improved a great deal under President Bieber.

When you hear about all the demonstrations at the State Capitol in 2011, this little post should give you a little idea what they were about. And if it seems a little strange that so many people were willing to protest being able to keep their jobs, you’re right. Seems strange in 2011, too. -February 14, 2011

Podcast: The Go! Team and Deerhoof

On this week’s podcast, we bemoan the lack of love songs in indie music, and discuss new albums by The Go! Team and Deerhoof.

Listen here:


Or download directly here.

Here’s the Probot song featuring Lemmy from Motorhead:

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The Pitfalls of Being a Do-Something Governor

Can Wisconsin handle the truth?  We’re about to find out.

Think back to all the politicians you’ve seen that go back on campaign promises.  Make a list of all the candidates that tell you just what you want to hear.  Your pen will run out of ink before you get halfway through.  WPRI polling has shown record levels of distrust towards elected officials, as the public doesn’t think most politicians have any courage or any convictions.

And yet here in Wisconsin, we have a new governor who is both carrying through on a campaign promise and being honest about the state’s fiscal situation.  And he will be excoriated for it.

Today, Governor Scott Walker will be officially introducing his plan to significantly reduce the influence of public employee unions.  His plan will require unionized state workers to contribute 5% to their pensions (they contribute nothing now), and 12% to their health insurance (doubling the 6% they now contribute.)  If Walker’s plan doesn’t pass, unions can expect over 6,000 worker layoffs in order to aid in covering the state’s deficit.

Naturally, the public employee unions will act as if Walker has just personally thrown their grandmother out into the street.  They will use verbs indicating physical violence – “Walker assaults public employees,” or “Walker declares war on government workers.”  Walker will be taking a “meat cleaver” to the children of the state, or better yet, from Senator Spencer Coggs: Walker has introduced “legalized slavery.”  (As if slaves in the South were saying, “boy, I’m glad we don’t make an average of $50,000 per year with full health and pension benefits.  Thank God we’re not Wisconsin government workers.”)

Democratic Assemblyman Mark Pocan fell just short of actually urging state workers to strike, saying he hopes “public employees will make their value expressly known in the days to come.”  Public employee strikes are illegal and have been virtually nonexistent since passage of a landmark mediation-arbitration law in 1977.  How often do you see a publicly elected official urging citizens to break the law?

You’ll see these public employee histrionics because they have been lulled into complacency.  We’re coming off a decade where unions were told they could operate as-is despite budget cuts.  We’ve been told we can continue to spend despite plummeting tax receipts.  We’ve been told we can eat all we want and never get fat.  We’ve had a Legislature and Governor unwilling to make tough decisions, thereby throwing the state budget $3.6 billion out of whack.

In November, we elected a governor who said he was going to do something about it.  And now he is.  And the unions and their sycophantic legislators are serving notice – don’t ever take the steps necessary to balance the state’s books, or else.  A lesson Scott Walker’s predecessor took to heart.

Just Who Don’t the Public Employee Unions Consider to be “Whores?”

My latest column for the Isthmus is online – it discusses AFSCME leader Marty Beil\’s routine sojourn into the meretricious arts:

As the nation endeavors to usher in an era featuring a “new tone” in politics, AFSCME’s Marty Beil thinks the old tone suits him just fine, thank you.

In December, outgoing Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker shocked his Democratic colleagues by voting against a last-minute attempt to ram through 19 public employee union contracts. Beil, the executive director of AFSCME Council 24, representing state workers, responded by calling Decker a “whore.” “Not a prostitute, a whore. W-H-O-R-E,” Beil proudly intoned, as if he were a pimply middle-schooler conquering a spelling bee word.


So Marty Beil will continue to do what he’s paid to do, but he’ll be doing it against a tidal wave of public and legislative sentiment. He may even continue to call people names.

But being a “whore” means you’re paid for your work. If Beil continues to agitate in such a juvenile manner, the Legislature would be happy to screw his members for free.

Read the whole thing here.

Fighting “Last In, First Out”

With funds available to public schools shrinking, many schools in the upcoming months are going to be forced to shrink their staffs.  In many cases, schools determine which teachers to let based on seniority – known as the “Last In, First Out” philosophy, as described in this Politico profile of education crusader Michelle Rhee.

The problem with “LIFO,” however, is that it automatically jettisons young, energetic teachers in favor of older teachers that may be more set in their ways.  Recently, the Refocus Wisconsin project addressed this issue by talking to an art teacher who was let go simply because of the timing of her hiring:

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