Archive for May, 2011

USS Iowa - BB61

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have perished in our nation’s service. Around the country, people will gather to remember the ultimate sacrifice that our brothers and sisters have made for all of us.  Though I don’t support the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, I very much support the troops involved. Many Americans seem to have forgotten that this is a time of remembrance and not just the ceremonial beginning of summer to be celebrated with cookouts, beer, and fireworks. Earlier today someone told me “Happy Memorial Day!”  The incongruity of that statement struck me. I mean, would someone have the temerity to say “Merry 9/11”?

Memorial day weekend, for me, has customarily been a solemn time.  Always, I think of my father and grandfather.

My Father, Ronald J. DePula. 1938-1982

The son of Italian immigrants, he enlisted in the US Navy at 17, trained at the Great Lakes Recruiting command and was billeted aboard the USS Iowa, the lead ship of the Iowa class fast battleships.  While serving on the “Big Stick”, my dad was a bosun’s mate 3rd class, he boxed-and won-a couple of fleet championships and ultimately he was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for saving a life while he himself was in severe danger.  As I understand it, the Iowa was refueling while underway in heavy seas when a fellow shipmate was injured and went overboard. My dad, without thinking twice, grabbed lifesaving gear and went in after him. He recovered the unconscious sailor and kept him afloat until they were rescued.

My father left this life early when I was but 10 years old. As a man, I never had an opportunity to truly know him.  I’ve only been able to piece things together from conversations with relatives, recounted stories, and from the few items of his that I’ve kept through the years.

I believe that my Dad was probably at his happiest while serving in the Navy.  He loved vessels of any type and my most vivid memories of him involve a trip to the South Street Seaport in Philadelphia to see the Tall Ships during the US Bicentennial celebration in the mid 1970’s.  I was perhaps 7 or 8, but I distinctly remember being in awe of the many  fully-rigged sailing vessels on display and my fathers encycolpedia-like knowledge of all things nautical. To this day I always think of him when I gaze at the sea, see ships, or read about anything having to do with the Navy.   Here’s to you Dad. You are missed.

My grandfather, Pasquale C. Aversano 1920-2009.

If I could be half the man my grandfather was, I’d be content. He was born into poverty and raised by a loving family in Trenton New Jersey’s Chambersburg Section. Chambersburg, or “The ‘Burg”, was a close-knit Italian immigrant neighborhood in a city that once was a major industrial center.  His father, Salvatore, spoke no english and could not read. He eventually worked for Roebling Steel, the company that provided the cable for the Golden Gate and George Washington bridges among others. Finding work during those years was difficult for Italians because they had a reputation as labor agitators. As the only male in a family with six sisters, my grandfather left school after 8th grade in order to help support his family.  As a child, he shined shoes on street corners, sold newspapers and also delivered heavy blocks of ice to iceboxes around the city.  Mere days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he was one of the first neighborhood men to enlist in the US Army.

Emory Ave, in Chambersburg, Trenton, NJ

He never spoke much about his service beyond stories of boot camp and a later stateside assignment guarding Italian prisoners of war. I know he was wounded, the circumstances of which I am not privy to. After the war, he married, had two children and built a solid foundation for his kids, and grandchildren.  His work ethic was incomparable, retiring as a Union Bricklayer after 45 years.  After my father died, he assumed that role.   One of my fondest memories of him involves the shoe shine box he built when he was a child in order to make extra money for his family.  Before any important event;  communions, weddings, funerals, boy scout ceremonies, and more, he’d break out that kit and set about shining shoes as if it were a solemn ritual. He taught me how to spit shine my shoes and would offer bits and pieces about his life that enthralled me.  Later, as I got older, he’d offer advice.  He was never one to really share his deepest feelings, but during those now cherished moments he was at his most candid.  In January of 2009 he passed away.  After  the funeral and graveside military honors, my grandmother gave me his ancient shoeshine box.  I took it home to Wisconsin, and didn’t open it for months.  Finally, on a particularly troubling day I opened the box and discovered all his tools, polishes, dyes, brushes and rags neatly arrayed as they’d always been.  The scent wafting from the box immediately transported me back to when I was 10, and the world was new. I spent 2 hours conditioning, then spit shining a brand new pair of boots.  And I cried.

So today I’m reflecting on the deep gratitude that we all should have for those that have served, and more specifically, the contributions that my own family has made. It’s not just about grilling out, and gathering with friends in order to relax and drink beer.  It is a day to remember.

Dane County Judge MaryAnn Sumi

In what is seen as a win for public labor Unions, Governor Scott Walker’s controversial Anti-Collective Bargaining law was struck down. 

Thursday Morning, Dane County Judge MaryAnn Sumi issued a permanent injunction against the bill, effectively killing it until the Supreme Court is able to act. Sumi’s 33 page decision said there was “clear and convincing evidence” that Republicans who control the Legislature violated the state’s open meetings laws. This referred to GOP actions at March 9th committee meeting where the measure was passed without providing proper notice to the public.  Also at that time, the Capitol building was locked down tightly keeping many members of the public away.

“This case is the exemplar of values protected by the Open Meetings Law: transparency in government, the right of citizens to participate in their government, and respect for the rule of law,” Sumi wrote. “It is not the court’s business to determine whether 2011 Wisconsin Act 10 is good public policy or bad public policy; that is the business of the Legislature. It is this court’s responsibility, however, to apply the rule of law to the facts before it.”

“This is what we were looking for” said Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne, a Democrat who sued to block the law after Rep. Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) filed a complaint saying that Republicans had not given proper notice in convening a conference committee of lawmakers from both houses to approve Gov. Walker’s budget-repair bill.

In a press release, Mary Bell, President of the Wisconsin Education Association said  “Wisconsin public school employees applaud the ruling today that strikes down this backward legislation. The motives behind the collective bargaining bill were clearly political. Governor Scott Walker has already admitted the bill was never intended to be about ‘budget repair’ but instead a way to bust public employee unions.”

“Scott Walker and the Republicans broke the law that night,” explained Stephanie Bloomingdale, Wisconsin State AFL‐CIO. “This is a democracy, not a dictatorship, and Judge Sumi’s decision today makes it final that the union busting bill was passed illegally and will not stand.”

Reaction to the budget repair bill that seeks to eliminate all collective bargaining rights from public unions- except police and firefighters- has included over 100 days of mass protests at the Wisconsin State Capitol and around the state. At times, over 150 thousand people have massed outside and inside the building in opposition to this measure.

Unions Make Us Strong

The most recent mass protest was May 14th.

It is expected that the Supreme Court will hear arguments on June 6th to decide whether it will take up the case. GOP leaders have always had the option of noticing a hearing properly, and voting on the legislation again.  Many democrats, activists and union supporters believe that the lock-step political will that existed at the time of the measure’s original passing no longer exists.  This is why Republicans continue to spend thousands of dollars litigating the law, rather than calling for a re-vote.

Republican leaders and the Governor’s office have yet to comment on this decision.

District 48 Assembly Candidate Andy Heidt

Full Press Release from the Andy Heidt Campaign:

Andy Heidt, candidate for State Assembly in the 48th District, today called on members of the Joint Committee on Finance to reject Gov. Walker’s proposal to use the biennial budget to decimate Wisconsin’s medical assistance programs, including the immensely popular and successful BadgerCare Plus program.

“Real progressives understand that the only permanent fix for our country’s broken health care system is universal, single-payer insurance,” Heidt said. “While we work to overcome the political obstacles, many Wisconsin residents can rely on a pretty good stopgap system that includes BadgerCare and other Medicaid-funded programs.  It’s crucial that we protect those programs during this fragile economic recovery.”

Heidt noted that Walker’s proposed budget would slash state Medicaid spending by half a billion dollars over the next biennium, at a time when families are just beginning to get back on their feet in the aftermath of the “great” recession. “There’s probably no clearer testament to the warped priorities of the Walker administration than a budget containing massive handouts to tax-dodging corporations while telling sick parents and people with disabilities that they’re out of luck. Their health, in Walker’s twisted view, is less important than a bunch of new highways,” Heidt said.

Heidt also pointed out that because Medicaid spending draws millions of federal dollars into the state, these massive cuts in health care spending will also hurt Wisconsin’s economy. “Federal Medicaid dollars that come into Wisconsin spread around the state economy, stimulating spending in a bunch of related industries and creating and preserving thousands of jobs,” said Heidt. “If jobs were really the top priority rather than just a buzzword, we would be shoring up our health care system, not taking a sledgehammer to it.  Health care coverage, BadgerCare Medicaid Coverage is economic development.”

Heidt also objected to provisions in the budget repair bill currently hung up in the courts that would shift control over Medicaid policy from the legislature to the administrative branch, giving Health Services Secretary Dennis Smith, a key Walker ally, the power to rewrite state Medicaid laws with little legislative oversight and minimal opportunity for public input. Changes they are likely to seek include increased premiums and copays, more restrictions on services covered, tougher eligibility requirements, and more red tape for joining and staying in programs like BadgerCare. This sweeping power grab—unprecedented in Wisconsin history and, according to the very lawyer who wrote the actual language in the bill, probably a violation of the State Constitution—could affect as many as 1.2 million state residents currently enrolled in the state’s Medicaid programs, including over three-quarters of a million in BadgerCare. “And they won’t even be able to hold their legislators accountable for these changes because all the decisions will be made behind closed doors by unelected bureaucrats. Why do legislators want to abrogate their constitutional duty in regards to the separation of powers?  What are they afraid of?” Heidt said. 

In addition, Heidt blasted the proposed privatization of income maintenance program administration, which would affect Medicaid and a host of other supports for low-income households. “Privatizing these kinds of programs has been a catastrophe everywhere it’s been tried. Are we that desperate to follow the ‘small government’ mantra to its extremes that we don’t even care how much it will harm the most vulnerable members of our communities?” said Heidt, who has spent 13 years helping people navigate the often complex web of assistance programs in his capacity as ombudsman in the Dane County Department of Human Services .

“The budget proposals related to Medicaid being discussed today in Joint Finance are a disaster in every respect—economically, legally, and morally. We need more voices in the Legislature prepared to speak out forcefully against these sorts of greed-fuelled, anti-people assaults.”

WI GOP Legislative Aid Under Investigation for Voter Fraud

Madison, WI. Citing rampant and mostly-nonexistant voter fraud, The Republican-controlled Wisconsin State Senate passed one of the most restrictive Voter ID measures in the entire country yesterday. Republican Senator Frank Lassee implied that democrats benefit from voter fraud. “Who benefits from the abuse? I think those are good questions to ask,” he said. “One fraudulent vote cancels out a single legal vote. The other side doesn’t seem to care about that at all”. Meanwhile,  in a rather ironic development, the Wisconsin State Journal reported that a legislative GOP staffer is under investigation for alleged voter fraud.

On April 28th, Dispatches from Fitzwalkerstan initially reported on this story.  Because the original article involved an acquaintance of mine I struggled with the moral dilemma of reporting on it. In November when the subject of the investigation, a Madison resident, first boasted about voting in a community over 100 miles from home, she was called on it.  She asserted she was living in Onalaska while running the assembly campaign of republican Dennis Clinard. Based on a facebook post that clearly advertised her intent to return to the city of Madison the very next day, which she did, she appears to have violated  State election law.  When this author subsequently discussed the matter with Ms. Malszycki in person several days later her response included the following statement “Why would I want to vote for Mark Pocan?”  (reference to the assembly democrat that represents her home district).

Why indeed.

Because you live here.  Because legislation that effects your community occurs here. Because you care about the community you live in.  Because regardless of political ideology, you are invested in your city and want it to remain/become a great place to live.  And if you are a republican, you at least care about your property taxes.

Or not.

It is important to remember that Ms. Malszyki works for a republican assembly representative that co-sponsored a bill seeking to prevent the very activity she engaged in on election day. When reviewing the drafts of the bill, as she must have at some point given her position, did she recognize her own behavior cited in examples? This Voter ID bill has long been planned by Wisconsin republicans with the assistance of the good folks at ALEC. No matter how you spin the story, it is inconceivable that a long-time GOP legislative staffer would be unaware that her nomadic voting activity would be in conflict with state law.

When this was brought to her attention, a few options were at her disposal:

  1. Contact the Onalaska City Clerk and admit that she voted illegally based upon her intent to return to her home district where she lives 20 out of 24 months.  If it was a mistake, admit it, and move on.
  2. Use her legislative position to correct the problem and educate poll workers if in fact it was their misinformation that contributed to her voting illegally.
  3. Say “I didn’t do anything wrong! I just didn’t want to vote for liberals!” and start blaming the author of the original story for her predicament.

She chose number 3.

On May 11th, while sitting in my yard with friends, Ms. Malcyszki came to my home and immediately engaged in a stream of foul language directed at me, in front of my pregnant wife,  three-year-old child, and friend. I asked her to stop. My wife asked her to stop. She refused.  I reminded her that my child was present.  She responded  with”I don’t care! The police went to my  mothers house because of you, so I don’t care about your family”.

Family values.

Ultimately, and I’m not proud, I responded in kind. After all, I’m just one of those “Union Thugs that trashed the capitol”.  Ms. Malszycki inexplicably started yelling about my first marriage that ended in divorce; information she clearly gleaned from the state court system website.  She inarticulately attempted to assert that “It was bad to get divorced, how about I blog about that, huh! Huh!”

Professionalism.

Clearly, she had been drinking as evidenced by the half empty 12 pack of miller lite she was toting around with her. Finally, in a moment straight out of COPS-including barking dogs, a screaming drunk person and precariously perched alcoholic beverages, she was led away by others. She continued to poke her head around the corner and yell things like “Hey big man, why don’t you come over here and have it out with me right now!” This went on until I retrieved my video camera.  When she realized I was taping, the direct assault finally ceased.

Responsibility.

There isn’t any.  Perhaps I’m naive because I truly hoped that writing about her nomadic voting history wouldn’t be perceived as personal and that common sense, and at least a veneer of social courtesy,  would be maintained.  I was wrong.

Why does any of this matter? Because it is indicative of the outraged indignation exhibited by the GOP whenever they themeselves are caught engaging in behavior that they so adamantly attribute to the other side.  While they willfully and aggressively dismantle Wisconsin’s progressive traditions through actions such as removing collective bargaining rights, disregarding open meeting laws, ignoring court orders, restricting public access to the state capitol and publicly ridiculing a sitting circuit court judge, they themselves expect to remain above the law. After all, Governor Walker himself refuses to respond to inquiries from Madison’s own police chief. 

I’ve been sitting on this post for a couple of hours now, debating on whether to publish it or not.  Especially because it was my intention that this incident involving alleged voter fraud not become personal.

Well, today I’m not a “liberal political blogger”.  Today I’m just a dad who is sad because a 30 year old GOP staffer who should know better made my kid cry. On purpose. Even the Mafia tries to separate “business” from the “personal.”

Why would anyone make this kid cry?

Pat mAcdonald of Purgatory Hill with cigar box guitar

Madison, WI. The sky was gray, the temperature below 50, and the wind brisk.  Perfect Wisconsin protesting weather.  Nearly 20,000 people came out to the capitol Saturday to protest the Walker Administrations’ war on the middle class.   You’d never know that the Wisconsin Uprising continues if you get your news from the mainstream media. The rally opened with music by PurgAtory Hill, an intense and otherworldly Sturgeon Bay duo consisting of grammy-nominated Pat mAcdonald, and his partner MelanieJane. Pat dedicated the song “Reset” to resetting Wisconsin government. Essentially, PurgAtory Hill has taken delta blues, amped it up to 11, added some serious low end rumble and injected some bad-ass rock and roll to create a sound that manages to be both working-class and anti-class. As the band played, the crowd continued to grow in size. At the end of their 45 minute set, Pat encouraged the drum circle folks to give him a beat, which resulted in a spontaneous jam that included the massed crowd singing “re-call Wal-ker”.  Shortly after their set, MelanieJane confessed “I’ve never really been part of a rally like this. When I saw the union members marching in from all sides, I started to tear up a little”. Video Here.

Former Mayor Dave Cieslewicz

Former mayor Dave Cieslewicz opened the program with a joke.  “Hi I’m Dave,  I used to be Mayor of Madison, but when I was, they never let me speak. So today I arranged it so I could.” he went on to describe how we’ve created a true, national progressive movement that won’t stop at simply fighting for union rights.  “First, we’re going to recall those republican senators.  Then we’re going to recall Walker and take our state back”.  Thousands roared in agreement.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach and Son

State Senator Jon Erpenbach (D- Middleton) took the stage next, accompanied by his son. He encouraged those attending the rally to focus on helping the democrats running in the recall elections. “This is the last time I want to see you in Madison,” he said to the massed protestors. “You can go vacation in Minocqua and help out Jim Holperin, or La Crosse, which is beautiful right now, and help out Jen Shilling.”

Ben Manski

Up next is Ben Mansksi, former national co-chair of the green party and assembly candidate. He stated that Walker’s budget was designed in back rooms by lobbyists and special interest groups in order to “tax the poor and feed the rich”.  He encouraged continued resistance and then led the protestors in a passionate chant; “We reject your budget!”

Mahlon Mitchell, President of the Wisconsin Professional Firefighters.

Mahlon Mitchell, the charismatic president of the Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin, said “We have touched lives of Americans all over the United States, and they’re watching”. He recalled a recent trip to Oregon where he heard a new chant that certainly applies to the uprising in Wisconsin. He then led the crowd with “Banks got bailed out, and people got sold out”. He followed that with a question. “What is the role of the union? Well I’m gonna tell you.  The American Dream. He added “The role of the union is to make the American dream an opportunity to live with dignity, and to enjoy the fruits of your labor”.

rally

Several other speakers addressed the protestors including Mary Bell, the President of the Wisconsin Education Association Council. “We are still here, and we are waiting to be heard”. Bell said,  “They thought you would give up. That you’d go home and watch Dancing with the Stars and you’d forget about the largest power-grab in the history of the state of Wisconsin! Well, that didn’t happen”. Bell added,  “They thought you’d forget about cuts to seniors, to poor children and to schools in this state. Well that didn’t happen either.”
90 days after the first protest against Governor Scott Walker’s draconian budget repair bill in February, we’re still taking to the streets.  We are unbowed.  Wisconsin citizens have  initiated 6 historic recall elections against republican state senators.  Scores of new activists and leaders are involved in making a difference. We’ve shut down banks that financed the Walker Campaign, occupied the State capitol for weeks, held up the egregious collective bargaining bill in the courts, and much more.  Dave Cieslewicz was correct; this is not just about Wisconsin, this is the birth of a new national progressive movement.  Do we stand by in our communities while a mean-spritied majority consolidates power? Or do we fight?  In Wisconsin we fight with a ferocity that made the “Mamma Grizzly” herself appear more like a frightened screeching weasel as she lied about “violent rent a mobs” and “vandalized businesses”.  While the national media came out in force to report on a tea party event that saw barely 1000 people show up, they ignored the 10’s of thousands that massed at the capitol this past Saturday. Well, we’re still here.

The UAW arrives.

State Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton)

Nice sign.

Crowd is getting larger...

As always, your comments are welcome!

Excellent article by Bill Lueders from Isthmus regarding the over-inflated and inexplicable original vs. actual cost estimate for so-called “damages” to the Wisconsin State Capitol. It should come as no surprise that the $7.5 million original estimate was completely fabricated.  The correct number? $269,550. The bulk of which is for re-seeding/sodding the Capitol lawn. This number pales in comparison to the nearly $7.8 million in increased and completely unnecessary security costs incurred by the Walker Administration through March 13th.  Fabricating numbers is turning out to be something of a specialty by Scott Walker’s people.  From woefully inaccurate crowd estimates, budget numbers that are open to interpretation and the announcement that $600 million has been “found”, there should be no surprise that so many people distrust these folks.

Excerpts from the article at Isthmus:

At a press conference this morning at which these numbers were released, DOA Secretary Mike Huebsch sought to provide damage control regarding the original damage estimate. He said the $7.5 million amount had been “a purely preliminary figure” based on what information was available at the time.

Included in the materials distributed to the press was a March 4 memo (PDF) to Huebsch explaining that this higher estimate was “based on the experience of” a single manager with the DOA’s Division of State Facilities. Also included was a copy of Huebsch’s subsequent letter (PDF) to a Dane County judge, explaining why he used the erroneous $7.5 million figure in testimony to the court.

So come on out to Saturday’s rally on the Capitol Square and express your thoughts on the continued inaccuracies, half-truths and outright lies that continue to originate in Governor Walker’s office.

Protestors at the Capitol- NOT damaging the building.

Voter ID To Pass in Assembly Today

UPDATE: Wisconsin Voter Suppression bill passes assembly and moves on to the Senate where it will most likely pass easily.  Wisconsinites must now show a valid photo ID with current address information in order to vote.  Bad day for participatory democracy.

In a matter of hours, the Wisconsin State Assembly will pass one of the most restrictive voter ID bills in the United States.   This bill, AB-7, would  effectively disenfranchise many low-income, elderly and disabled people even though widespread voter fraud in Wisconsin is essentially a myth.  In 2008, the City of Milwaukee police department conducted a sweeping and comprehensive investigation of the 2004-5 election cycle.  The 67 page report detailed mistakes, errors, and in some cases sloppy procedures by poll workers, but failed to discover significant incidences of voter fraud.  At the time, Foaming-at-the-mouth Milwaukee Conservative Talk Show Host Charlie Sykes called the report a “bombshell”. He propagated the myth on the air and whipped up a frenzy of concern among the far right. most of it proven to be unfounded. What the oft cited report did find was a situation where more votes were cast than voters recorded.  This was clearly detailed in the report to be a clerical and procedural error, not voter fraud. The report goes on to state that that there is nearly no proof of fraud, and cites “the laxity of poll workers” and procedural errors. Investigations of specific cases including double voting, found that most could easily be explained; again clerical errors such as twins with same date of birth and fathers and sons where workers confused Junior and Senior.

What this bill will do is make it nearly impossible for students, who generally lean liberal, to vote. The bill would require voters to provide a state ID issued by the Division of Motor Vehicles that includes a current address. Student ID’s, initially excluded, are now ok. But the Student ID’s must include the same information contained on DMV issued identification cards. Cash-strapped universities will most likely not spend scarce financial resources on such things. Kevin Kennedy, of the non-partisan Government Accountability Board, which oversees elections,  stated: “In order to cultivate engaged, active citizens we need to facilitate voting among our youth rather than imposing artificial barriers to participation.”

It will also complicate the absentee ballot procedure, make it harder for the homebound elderly and disabled to participate in democracy, and potentially cause low income residents to stay away from the polls because perhaps they need to choose between paying their utility bill, or updating their drivers license.

Rep. Jon Richards (D)- 19th Assembly district said moments ago in the now underway hearing “that of the 17 cases of voter fraud in ’08; half were felons trying to vote.” Hardly evidence of wide-spread voter fraud, and somewhat ironically, won’t be prevented by this current GOP authored bill. If you are a felon, and you have a drivers license, you could still potentially vote.

Unfortunately, this bill will pass because the votes necessary to implement it are there.  Thousands of Wisconsin residents will be disenfranchised and most likely stay away from the polls. This is another example of the right wing war on the working class, the elderly and the poor designed specifically to create a permanent Republican majority.  They are pushing this agenda in an accelerated fashion in order to pass a host of measures before the impending mass recall elections;  including concealed carry, voter ID, splitting the UW- System, Corporate Tax Breaks and the Privatization of Entitlement programs.   Let’s not forget that they’ve already attempted to destroy the public unions.

It’s  a Brand New Day in America’s Dairy Land.  WisconsinÜber Alles. 

District 48 Assembly Candidate Andy Heidt

In a press release this morning, 48th Assembly District candidate Andy Heidt called for swift bipartisan opposition to changes in the permitting process for new mining operations in the state. Saturday’s Wisconsin State Journal reported plans by two Republican legislators to introduce and pass legislation eliminating public hearings and shortening the process to be finished by July 1.

“Lawmakers in both parties must come together to protect the integrity of the existing process,” Heidt said. He further emphasizes that “No changes should be made while there is a permit on the table. Out of state interests must not be allowed to engage in economic blackmail.”

Here’s the full press release:

Heidt Condemns Fast Track Mining Approval
Andy Heidt, candidate for Assembly in the 48th District, is calling for swift bipartisan opposition to changes in the permitting process for new mining operations in the state. Saturday’s Wisconsin State Journal reported plans by two Republican legislators to introduce and pass legislation eliminating public hearings and shortening the process to be finished by July 1.
“Lawmakers in both parties must come together to protect the integrity of the existing process,” Heidt said. He further emphasizes that “No changes should be made while there is a permit on the table. Out of state interests must not be allowed to engage in economic blackmail.”
Cline Mining Corporation, a multinational mine development company operating in British Columbia and Colorado, seeks to open the Gogebic Taconite iron ore mine in the Penokee Range and has threatened to “re-evaluate” its plan if the legislation is not enacted. The mine would be situated near the headwaters of the Bad River, which flows to Lake Superior, and would stretch between Ashland and Iron counties. Citizens and tribal leaders alike oppose the site of the mine.
Heidt, a longtime community activist and labor leader, advocates strong environmental protection and local control in decision-making. “The promise of jobs in the short run must not be allowed to run roughshod over the long-term health and well-being of our people, communities, and environment,” he argues. “Tourism, fishing, and hunting all depend on the beauty and viability of our lands.” Finally Heidt adds, “Economic development that destroys the environment is not economic development.”
In addition, Heidt is calling upon the legislators involved to fully disclose their campaign contributions from mining interests.

“It is especially ironic and inappropriate,” he said, “that those who are leading the effort to shut out the public on this issue are from districts far removed from the proposed mine site.” The State Journal reported that Representative Mark Honadel of South Milwaukee, one of the legislation’s proponents, did receive contributions.

Walker's Train Funds Denied

During his gubernatorial campaign, Governor Scott Walker consistently labeled the $800 million Wisconsin received in federal high speed rail funds as a waste of tax payer dollars, an Obama Administration boondoggle, and completely unnecessary.  Shortly after winning his election, he got his wish; US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood happily took back the money allotted to Wisconsin and redistributed it to other states who actually desired to enter the 21st century, provide transportation alternatives and create jobs.  Governor Walker then touted the loss of the money as a huge win for his administration, and the taxpayer.

Fast forward a couple of months when our inept governor realized that the Milwaukee to Chicago Hiawatha line actually needs improvements, new train sets and 8 locomotives that would have been provided for with the original $810 million rail grant. So what does he do? He applies for $150 million in federal funds to, well, buy new train sets, replace locomotives, and upgrade the tracks. You can’t make this stuff up.

In a press release issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation,  Secretary Ray LaHood said:

“President Obama and Vice President Biden’s vision for a national rail system will help ensure America is equipped to win the future with the fastest, safest and most efficient transportation network in the world,” said Secretary LaHood. “The investments we’re making today will help states across the country create jobs, spur economic development and boost manufacturing in their communities.”

In a conference call, LaHood avoided answering a question about whether Monday’s decision was related to Walker’s rejection of the original $810 million grant, which negated two decades of planning by previous administrations. But Secretary LaHood repeatedly used the word “reliable” in describing the leadership of states selected for rail funding.

Rep. Brett Hulsey, D-Madison.

State Rep. Brett Hulsey, D-Madison, quickly showered the Walker Administration with well-deserved praise:

“This announcement shows all our neighbors get federal train help but Wisconsin,” he says. “Gov Walker’s war on transportation choices pays off for our neighbors while our outdated train lines don’t get the upgrades they need.”

It appears that Rep. Hulsey is talking about  Talgo, a Spanish high-speed train manufacturer that announced it would likely close and move its manufacturing facility, and the jobs that go with it, to Illinois shortly after completing the trains already ordered.

Wisconsin taxpayers will now foot the bill to upgrade the Hiwatha line between Milwaukee and Chicago. This is the busiest inter-city passenger rail corridor in the midwest and well-used by both business and leisure travelers. In fact, Ridership on the Milwaukee-to-Chicago Hiawatha rail line has doubled in the past eight years, hitting a record 792,848 in 2010. The $150 million in upgrades the state will now need to self-finance would have paid for maintenance costs on the proposed high-speed rail line for nearly 20 years.  Even the cost associated with the completely unjustified increased security measures at the Wisconsin State Capitol has now reached nearly $7 million in a matter of a few months. Yet Governor Walker derailed the train because it “might” have cost that much in subsidies annually.  More accurately, the federal government would have covered some, if not all, of the maintenance costs in contrast with Walker simply flushing money away to finance his personal palace guard. Sadly, while the rest of the midwest builds out high speed rail infrastructure with an eye toward the future, Wisconsin stays firmly planted in the 1950’s.  Thanks Scott.

Recall Scott Walker

As always, comments are welcome!

Helen Weinstein resigned her teaching position rather than label a colleague a Communist. Photo circa 1945.

On this day, not only am I thinking about my mother, but more broadly, I’m thinking of all the strong women that have contributed to the labor movement throughout US history and have worked to improve the quality of life for all of us. In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker’s war on public employees makes me recall the incredible resolve and dedication that Helen Weinstein, a NY teacher, exhibited throughout her career.

A few excerpts:

It was 1932, the height of the Great Depression. School officials at PS 225 in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, decided to put  50 students in a single first-grade class.

(Today, the average first-grade class at PS 225 is 18.3.)

Tammany Hall’s “Uncle John” McCooey insisted the city had no money to build an addition to accommodate the growing student population. Helen Weinstein, in her first teaching job, launched a protest anyway.

With her colleague Ralph Fagin and the support of the principal, Weinstein organized the parents. She borrowed a mimeograph machine, distributed leaflets and took part in parades. Ultimately, the Board of Education was forced to build a wing onto the school. Mayor LaGuardia received the credit and Weinstein and Fagin were subsequently transferred by Superintendent William O’Shea “for the good of the service,” according to a 1932 article in The Nation.

Education and civic organizations from the PTA and local Chamber of commerce to the Teacher’s Union and ACLU protested the transfers, but to no avail.

“They should not have gone parading through the street and arousing the ire of the people against their employers … They should not help to instigate public uprising,” O’Shea told a group of parents, according to minutes taken of the meeting.

Some years ago, I first came across this article that had been written about her by her grand-niece, Brandy Marshall. Ms. Weinstein’s story is powerful enough that it has stuck with me since. It is particularly relevant today.  Just imagine being a Jewish woman in 1930’s Brooklyn and taking on the political machine of the time because the school board insisted there was no money to build a school addition, then ordered that classroom size be increased to 50 students. Like Wisconsin teachers, she took to the streets in protest. Unlike today, the police used clubs and labor disputes were often quelled with violence.  If you happen to find yourself with a spare few minutes after celebrating with your mother, read this article about a remarkable woman who embodies the true spirit of the labor movement.  You won’t be sorry.

Happy Mothers Day,

Patrick