August 31, 2005
New video: Leaving children in the dust
By Ms. Forward
With the start of a new school year now upon us, now is a good time to draw attention to the FightingBob.com link to a great new video about President Bush’s so-called No Child Left Behind law, No Child Left Behind Report: Public Education Caught in the Crosshairs. You can go directly to the video or access it through the FightingBob.com Links page at any time.
To mention the horrendous consequences of this law is to imply that they are unintended. They are not. The purpose of this law is to close public schools and replace them with private ones. Along the way, the law bleeds schools of scarce resources and fills the pockets of private education and testing companies. Still, I must mention that the law does not even try to improve the lives of students and does not even pretend to make public schools better. It is simply a matter of testing everyone and closing their schools after you have told them they did not do well enough.
Once a school is privatized under No Child Left Behind, all requirements disappear. Private schools are completely unaccountable.
But don’t listen to me, watch the video and read the top article by Margaret Krome.
August 25, 2005
By Bill Kraus
In the 1978 Wisconsin gubernatorial campaign candidate Lee Dreyfus asked (somewhat ungrammatically), "The question is who is going to rule: people or money?"
Almost 30 years later we have the answer.
It will probably not surprise you to learn that over the last 15 years the Political Action Committees, which have pretty much relegated the political parties to a bit part in campaigns, have put some $224 million into national campaigns.
Last year the big political spenders who found and exploited the 527 loophole in the McCain-Feingold bill's heroic attempt to stop the flow of outside money into campaigns spent $586 million.
This year the maverick from Austria who governs California decided that it was time to take redistricting away from the incumbent beneficiaries of redistricting and introduced a referendum to do just that.
The California Congressional delegation immediately went to the Federal Election Commission, which is slavishly devoted to the idiotic supreme court dictum that money is speech. The FEC gave them permission to use any money they can raise from almost any source so they can protect the present system which, of course, protects their incumbencies.
So far the voters have not been heard from. Probably because their voices are being drowned out by all that money.
So am I.
My only solace is that one of these days a lot of voters will get very angry about a system that values money and those who have it over the franchise and those who have that. When they do, they can exercise the only commodity they have more of than the PACs, the 527s, and even George Soros have: votes.
August 24, 2005
Time for a Women's Rural Progressive Caucus
By Meagan Yost
Lately I have been thinking a lot about the progressive voices of Wisconsin's past. Those thoughts have centered neither on Robert M. LaFollette nor on his comrades who championed the progressive army of ideas that reached from the Capitol to Bascom Hill. Rather, I have been thinking about the everyday citizens of this state who carried the progressive banner.
My thoughts have centered on the women—the women who were extraordinary in that they were so very ordinary and yet they engaged one another, their husbands, and the policy makers on the important issues of their day. They talked policy and wrote letters around the kitchen tables of rural Wisconsin. These women worked hard to gain the right to hold property, the right to vote, to teach school, and to practice law and medicine. They overcame great odds to contribute to their communities and their state.
It is time to hear those voices again in Wisconsin. It is time to host the kitchen table rendezvous. It is time to write letters to our politicians and our newspapers. It is time to talk with our friends, neighbors, and families about what's really important to our future here in Wisconsin.
Here's a start:
· Let's talk about health care: single payer, birth to grave, every child, woman and man. Yes. Let's stop rationing health care. Let's secure it for everyone.
· Let's talk about publicly funded political and judiciary campaigns. If we have a constitutional right to free speech then why can corporations buy so much more speech than we ordinary citizens?
· Let's talk about strong election and ethics oversight so our elections are fair and our politicians are held to a high standard that inspires confidence and respect for the office and the office holder.
· Let's talk about clean air, pure water and beautiful landscapes. Let's delineate what these things mean to us and to the future of our state.
· Let's talk about education and prisons and living wages for workers and daycare for children and eldercare for adults and…
Let's talk about the things that rural women wonder about, worry about, and deal with in our ordinary lives. Let's create a plan of action for changing the things that do not support healthier lives and stronger communities and a more peaceful world. In the last century, rural Wisconsin women worked in solidarity with their urban sisters to create a better world. It’ is time we do the same. Let’s lead the way.
To join the effort send a message to email@example.com. I will keep you informed via e-mail. We will begin a dialogue, and as our numbers build we will convene…but don't wait for me. Phone your neighbors. Host a kitchen table rendezvous. Start talking, start listening, start thinking. Creative, intuitive, peaceful solutions will come to us, and respectful, pointed, and effective action will follow. We, too, will build a better world.
Too many candles
By Rick Chamberlin
I spent four days in Chicago recently with my uncle and several hundred other survivors of the terrible siege of Khe Sanh in 1968, one of the longest and bloodiest battles of the Vietnam War.
Painful stories abounded at the reunion, but so did healing.
Some of us visited the Vietnam Veterans Art Museum, where soldiers’ attempts to wrest meaning from the horrors they endured hang from the walls, and 50,000 dog tags hang from the ceiling. My Uncle and I also visited the Chicago Peace Museum, which features an exhibit on the aftereffects of the atomic bombing of Japan. (A little known fact: Military leaders lobbied President Johnson hard to use nuclear weapons at Khe Sanh. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed. It makes one wonder what similarly Strangelovian plans have been drawn up for Iraq.)
There were surprises—many if not most of the vets I met supported the president—but a couple of my convictions about war itself were confirmed. First, no war ends when it ends; its effects rip and ripple through generations. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, broken families, lost potential—the fallout, while not radioactive, is widespread and lasting. Second, no one really ever wins a war. Some lose less than others, but even the “winners” lose big.
Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh has said that veterans are the flaming candles that will guide us out of the dark cave of war. I believe that, but I also think we don’t need to make any more candles.
August 23, 2005
By Ann Batiza
Wednesday’s vigil in support of Cindy Sheehan, who lost her son in Iraq, evoked memories of a bygone era. The music fit the crowd of 400 or 500 milling about on a grove on a corner of Olin Park in Madison, lighting their candles and waiting for the speeches to begin. They were not disappointed. Several people got up to talk about loved ones in Iraq, the lies that put them there, and the lack of support this administration gives them upon their return home. One woman named Deborah Mayer described losing her middle-school teaching job in Indiana after suggesting to her class that we should always look for peaceful solutions before choosing war. Of course, that meant she lost her health care. Eventually her house and savings went too. Her court case is not scheduled until 2006 and her son is being deployed to Afghanistan.
After a moment of silence to honor those who had died and those who continue to serve, we all sang “America the Beautiful” as the warm glow of hundreds of tiny flames danced among the trees. Finally, a Vietnam vet noted the similarities in this political war of choice and the earlier one in which he fought. Then the dots of light slowly ascended the steep incline to John Nolan Drive, eventually marking silent silhouettes for a quarter of a mile. After a while one could hear the singsong chant, “Let’s - Get – Out of Iraq - Bring our sons and daughters back,” as drivers passing by joyously lay on the horn and raised a peace sign outside their windows.
For many who were there, this vigil awakened a long-dormant sense that individual actions matter. Someone said, “Finally, I can say something about this immoral war and my voice will be heard. When can we do this again?” More than 200 signed up to receive e-mails from Democracy for Wisconsin, who was among those who had offered to help Myrna Ulrich, the person who through MoveOn.org hosted this vigil. Ulrich had thought a few dozen people might show up. As the RSVPs reached 400, she appreciated the support of Russell Wallace of DFW, who brought the sound system and a table for displaying information from various groups supporting the vigil. Others brought candles for those who came without them and extra copies of the poster “America Stands with Cindy.”
The Democratic Party of Wisconsin was notable in its absence. Perhaps the Dems cannot legally coordinate with 1,700 vigils initiated by MoveOn.org around the country. But why wasn’t the Democratic Party the first to rally those who disagree with this war. Russell Wallace said it best, “The responsibility of a party is to turn the views and values of its members into public policy. Getting people elected is just a tool to do that, not the reason the party exists.”
Russ Feingold has now stepped forward as the first member of the Senate to call for an exit from Iraq by the end of 2006. Just imagine if the Democratic Party had on principle opposed this war from the beginning - like Feingold and presidential candidate Howard Dean. Besides potentially averting so much death and destruction, wouldn’t the party be in a powerful position for the 2006 elections? Imagine the people who would welcome the chance to support like-minded candidates. Imagine the way in which the roster of Democratic members within Wisconsin would grow if the Democratic Party of Wisconsin sponsored such events. Let this be a wakeup call to the party. People are eager to fight and they have tasted their power.
August 21, 2005
The People's Fest
By Carol A. Lobes
Each of us cares so much about our country, our state, our community, and our planet. We are mobilizing because we see serious threats to our common good.
That is the fighting spirit that has brought us all together as the People’s Legislature. We are of all political stripes and priorities, united by one overarching cause: to clean out the stables of a state Legislature where legislation and budget priorities are bought directly by big money. The People’s Legislature is a clarion call to action.
We have come together around the state — Milwaukee, Cable, the Fox Valley, LaCrosse, Luxemburg, and Madison — each event has been passionate, energetic, fiercely determined to make needed changes. We will meet again on September 10 in Baraboo at Fighting Bob Fest.
The agenda focuses on the state Legislature and on local issues. The state facet was shaped to zero in on the key changes needed in order for all other needed reform to occur. It is a powerful set of basic critical goals:
-Comprehensive campaign finance reform that includes public financing of state election campaigns, full disclosure of political contributions that restores the state’s ban on corporate campaign contributions;
-Independent ethics enforcement by combining the state Elections Board and ethics Board into a single enforcement agency under the direction of a politically independent board;
-Competitive elections through reform of legislative redistricting modeled after the system used in Iowa;
-Preservation of local fiscal control to prevent arbitrary and centralized budget limits on local units of government.
The state Legislature has proven itself incapable of making these necessary changes itself. The majority of members are just too beholden to special interests. It is up to us to take direct, strategic action on these goals. The session on the People’s Legislature is our golden opportunity to act to continue the superb momentum that is already going strong.
Capital Times columnist Barbara Quirk wrote that because of the People's Legislature, “Hope was reborn in Madison, last Tuesday. For the first time in a long time, I honestly believe that a statewide movement to take back our government is more than a pipe dream.”
She is right. Hope is not only alive, it is on the move.
Through our networks and our savvy actions, we can live out Margaret Mead’s prophetic comment: “A small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. It’s the only thing that has.” Join us! It matters.
August 19, 2005
In search of the good old days
By Bill Kraus
Dave Zwiefel wants a part-time legislature. Common Cause and other reformers (including me) want campaign spending limits. George Will wants term limits. An increasing number of dreamers want disinterested legislative redistricting.
All of these would be a step back to a better future as it were, but a couple of things that are distorting our so-called democracy are missing and harder to supply.
We are missing citizen politicians. We have turned campaigns over to mercenaries who live and die by polls and focus groups and television commercials. They were always part of the mix, even in the good-old-days. But they were not in charge as they are now. Everyone who has managed campaigns knows that candidates cannot run their own campaigns. They're too close, too personally involved to have anything approaching perspective. Mercenaries, on the other hand, are too mercenary. They go by the book no matter how much it costs or who wrote the book in the first place. One of them probably. The role of the now missing citizen politician was to insulate the candidates from their own egos and paranoia (the occupational disease of politics) and make campaign decisions for the mercenaries to execute.
I don't know that the other thing missing from politics today is connected to the missing citizen politicians, but I have my suspicions.
We are missing marginalization. We are actually missing leaders who have the guts to marginalize their own zealous adherents. The right-to-lifers, the shooters, the tree huggers, and the economic moat diggers were always around. But they weren't in charge. One reason they weren't in charge was that they had nowhere else to go.
They might not have been enthusiastic about the reasonable candidates who occupied the moderate middle in the party of their choice, but they liked them a lot better than they liked anybody of the other persuasion.
The citizen politicians knew that elections were won in the middle and that catering to the extremists in their party would alienate the middle.
And they were right. It has. It has gotten to the point that the middle is now missing in action.
Can it be found by the right candidate?
Is there a candidate out there willing to try to find out?
One can only hope.
August 18, 2005
Railing against roadbuilders
By Christa Westerberg
Earlier this year, I took Amtrak from Columbus to Minneapolis. The trip was only about five hours and affordable at $60 roundtrip. Taking the train was much less stressful than driving—while my traveling partners and I ate in the dining car and shared a bottle of wine we brought, others on the train watched movies, napped, and worked on their laptops.
When I returned to Wisconsin and mentioned my trip to acquaintances, many didn’t know a train connected the Madison area to the Twin Cities. (The full train route actually begins in Seattle and ends in Chicago, with six stops in Wisconsin.) Some vaguely knew train service existed but clearly had never contemplated using it themselves.
Passenger trains are an obvious solution to increasing traffic and congestion and its accompanying safety concerns. Reduce the number of cars on the road, and we also reduce tailpipe emissions and our dependence on foreign oil. Plus, rail service avoids the expensive and sprawl-inducing effects of building more highways. Yet Americans—Midwesterners especially—aren’t tuned into the possibilities of rail service, much less the rail services that are already available.
The good news is that rail service is becoming more of a presence in Wisconsin and the Midwest. While in Minneapolis, we took a ride on their new light rail line, and it was a delight (mayors and county executives of Wisconsin, take note). The Milwaukee-Chicago Amtrak line is seeing increased ridership, and a train station is being constructed at Milwaukee’s airport. The state’s long-term plans call for connecting Madison and Green Bay to Milwaukee, and it has taken solid steps to achieving the Madison connection.
To ensure these steps occur, people must demand and use rail service. Try it—you’ll like it.
August 17, 2005
The air up here
By Christa Westerberg
Anyone else fly out of the Madison airport when we were having an “ozone action” day? I did a few weeks ago, and it was not pretty. Taking off from the runway and climbing ever higher, one could see a brown layer of dirt and smog over Dane County comparable to LA’s.
The scene reminded me of a commentary in the May 2005 Atlantic by Benjamin Wittes about the practical effects of a more conservative U.S. Supreme Court. He predicted that “liberal hysteria” about a conservative appointment was largely unfounded when it came to civil rights, abortion, and criminal law, but that the environment truly faced the biggest threat. (Coincidentally, Wittes’ article quotes, and is titled after, an opinion written by Judge John Roberts, President Bush’s nominee for Justice O’Connor’s seat on the court.)
You may disagree with Wittes about civil rights, but it is hard to argue that his conclusions about the environment are wrong, and not just on the judicial front. We have seen the environment take a beating on the national level, from ANWAR to the terrible decision the Fourth Circuit issued permitting “mountaintop removal” a few years ago to the recently-passed energy and transportation bills. In Wisconsin, our own Supreme Court has green-lighted construction of two new coal-fired power plants in Oak Creek and the so-called “Jobs Creation” Act has de-clawed and de-staffed the DNR. Just this Sunday, the Wisconsin State Journal reported that Wisconsin wetlands are being filled at a rapid clip.
This all sounds esoteric until you remember that people are breathing this dirty air, plants and animals are losing their habitat, and we all are losing something precious and irreplaceable. How many more ozone action days until people say “enough”?
August 16, 2005
Ready, set, go (in three and a half weeks)
By Gail Lamberty
The preparing, the plotting, the planning, the swearing (only when the hammer hits the thumb) for Fighting Bob Fest are all well underway. We started on a cold January night in Reedsburg and here we are only 24 days away from Fighting Bob Fest Day September 10th in Baraboo.
We’ve got an outstanding list of speakers--some regular FBF friends like Representative Tammy Baldwin, political observer Jim Hightower, Senator Russ Feingold, Representative Gwen Moore, and Representative Bernie Sanders who have taken the microphone on our stage before and some new friends for their initial appearance-- Representative John Conyers of Michigan and Amy Goodman of Pacifica radio. Some surprise speakers not yet announced are in the wings.
The theme, "The Vote At Risk: 40 Years After the Voting Rights Act," the music and the food are set, the weather has never failed us. So the tried and true are in place but there are new ideas and opportunities as well.
You, honored citizen, are taking an expanded role at FBF this year. We’ve set more breakout sessions and extended the time to two hours to give you more opportunity to share your ideas, discuss concerns, and plan options to send the progressive message to Madison and Washington.
The vote is in your hands, the power and the responsibilities rest with you. As “Fighting Bob” said “The people shall have their day.” Your day is set! September 10th. See you at the Sauk County Fairgrounds in Baraboo at Fighting Bob Fest.
August 13, 2005
Way ahead of our time
By Bill Kraus
Back in the 1960s when the then-State University system and the University of Wisconsin were duking it out for state money to grow on and with, there was a serious possibility that Wisconsin would mandate 14 years, instead of 12, of free, basic education.
The community college movement, which started in California and which would provide the places for those extra two years, was all the rage, and both Gene McPhee, who ran the State Universities, and Fred Harrington of the University of Wisconsin were planning to add two-year campuses wherever they could as fast as they could.
And another option, a new, improved technical education system was being built, which also could serve this dream.
For reasons that are lost to memory, but probably had something to do with money, the dream turned into a pipedream.
Now, 40 years later, in his brilliant book The World Is Flat, Thomas Friedman is recommending that the whole country do what we almost did.
He, and a majority of enlightened business leaders as well, are more worried about labor shortages than outsourcing and job flight.
Education in general and the now merged University of Wisconsin System are our future. We need more of both. Does any politician understand this?
August 11, 2005
Fighting Conyers Fest
By Ms. Forward
Mark Crispin Miller's article in the latest issue of Harper's is a must-read for anyone who wants a contextualized summation of the vote fraud (and lesser crimes) in last fall's presidential election. That is a category that ought to include everyone, but sadly does not even include the people who print and broadcast most of the news in this country.
It does not include many Democrats, either, even though the overwhelming majority of the well organized voting problems worked against their candidate. One brave exception is Michigan Congressman John Conyers, whose investigation in Ohio is the backbone of Miller's article. Calling Conyers' report a "veritable arsenal of 'smoking guns'," Miller goes on to write, "Yet its findings may be less extraordinary than the fact that no one in this country seems to care about them."
There is where you are wrong, Mr. Miller. Congressman Conyers is one of the keynote speakers at this year's Fighting Bob Fest, where the theme is “The Vote At Risk: 40 Years After the Voting Rights Act,” and where several thousand people who care very much about such things will gather in Baraboo.
But since Miller's article so deftly documents the willful, painstaking, sustained campaign to disenfranchise voters whose interests are most counter to those of the corporate overlords who own and operate our government, Ms. Forward forgives him.
August 5, 2005
Whither organized labor
By Bill Kraus
Rather than lament the sorry state and dismal prospects of organized labor in these United States, why has no one turned that coin over and looked for the opportunity on the other side?
Ed Garvey points out with his usual erudition that the labor laws in this country are stacked against organizing.
Thomas Friedman's book describes what the steamroller of free trade and technology is doing to flatten the earth in ways that are unstoppable.
The service unions sever their connection to the AFL-CIO, which leaves that organization with mostly the traditional trades and the industrial and manufacturing unions, both of which are shrinking for multiple reasons none of which are reversible.
In the meantime, the oppressed and exploited workers in the rest of the world are getting the jobs that built America.
The forebears of the present labor leaders would have seen that as an opportunity not a problem.
It isn't easy. It's even dangerous. But it wasn't easy or safe to be a labor leader in this country in the 19th century either.
The AFL-CIO unions bill themselves as "international," which is false labeling. What they should own up to is that they are more bureaucratic than entrepreneurial. Let the service and government unions go. Go east. Go far east. That is where the need and the prospective members are.
Better than trying to flag down a train that has left the station.