Friday, December 30, 2011

From Wisconsin's Department of Unmitigated Gall

I received a charming little missive in my inbox today from none other than our illustrious guv himself:
E-update from the Desk of Governor Scott Walker
One of the most important duties I have serving as your Governor is to provide you directly with updates related to the operation of our state government. In an effort to improve communication, periodically I will be sending out an e-update to provide you with more information about what is going on in state government.
The e-mail smells like a pathetic effort at damage control. Um, guv? Kinda late, dontcha think? You have the nerve to send an e-mail bragging about your accomplishments? Yeah, right. All over Wisconsin we feel the weight of your many accomplishments: slashed education funding, rescinded collective bargaining rights, less access to health care, voter disenfranchisement, and 15,000 fewer jobs since July. This is like getting a missive from the devil crowing about how it’s even hotter in hell these days.

Then I stumbled on this statement made to Talking Points Memo by the Wisconsin state GOP communications director, Ben Sparks:
The Republican Party of Wisconsin is committed to ensuring that Wisconsin electors are not disenfranchised during this recall process. The Democrats have shown they are committed to preserving the status quo, where a man is able to sign a recall petition 80 times, and their frivolous attempt to intervene in this lawsuit only reinforces their willingness to force this baseless recall on Wisconsin voters at any cost.
Say what?!? There’s enough unmitigated gall in those two sentences to make your eyes water.

The Republican Party of Wisconsin, the same outfit that brought you voter suppression a la mode, is “committed to ensuring that Wisconsin electors are not disenfranchised”? Whoa. I want to hear Sparks say that to the college students, the working poor, the elderly, and every other disenfranchised voter in Wisconsin.

And which “status quo” do you suppose Sparks is accusing the Democrats of being committed to preserving? I’m guessing he was not thinking of the status quo of state workers having collective bargaining rights. Or the status quo of clean, transparent governance. Or the status quo of Wisconsin's great public education system. The people of Wisconsin long for a return to that status quo, Mr. Sparks.

But wait! There’s more! The lawsuit Sparks is referring to is the one brought by the Walker campaign and the Wisconsin Republican Party against the Government Accountability Board asking that the GAB eliminate duplicate or false signatures on recall petitions. Because, of course, it’s not enough that the nonpartisan GAB just do its job as clearly stated in state statutes.

This nonsensical lawsuit actually claims that the guv’s “constitutional rights are being violated by the state’s petition review process.” And Sparks calls the organizers’ request to be involved in the judicial process “frivolous”? Really?

In an interview with Talking Points Memo, Jeremy Levinson, the attorney for the recall organizers, said, “It’s the first time I’m aware of a recall-related lawsuit where only the official who is being targeted for recall gets to be a party, and the folks who are working to recall that official are shut out of the process.” Apparently its frivolous for all the players to ask for a seat at the table.

And who is Sparks to talk about the “willingness to force” anything “on Wisconsin voters at any cost”? This from the people who used every dirty trick in the book to cram their loathsome “budget bill” down the throats of the people of Wisconsin, who repeatedly refused to listen in spite of unprecedented protests and vehement objections. The people of Wisconsin wouldn’t have had any chance to make themselves heard had it not been for the fourteen Democratic state senators who fled the state in February.

Finally, only someone who has never listened to anything the people of Wisconsin have been saying for the last eleven months would refer to the Walker recall as “baseless.”

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Roe vs. Wade vs. the Iowa Reality Show

As we turn our collective attention to the reality show in Iowa, it’s hard to miss that a woman’s right to choose is under attack. Many members of the rabid right like to live in a fact-free zone and are so unhinged from reality that they wouldn’t recognize it if it sat down across from them at the dinner table. Nevertheless, we must do our best to focus on reality while we face the onslaught coming from the right-wing presidential wannabes.

I have a confession to make. Back when I was young and naive, I was a pro-life evangelical. I felt that the unborn were precious (still believe that) and worthy of protection (still believe that too). Christian evangelicals often dislike complexity and tend to see things in simplistic black-and-white terms. Certainly the same could have been said of me. (Someday I’ll tell you about my metamorphosis from evangelical to Episcopalian. But not today.)

During that time I happened on an issue of Sojourners magazine that examined the question of abortion in depth from several carefully thought-out and well-expressed perspectives. I read the whole issue, front to back. Some of it I read more than once. As a result, all the black and white morphed into many shades of gray. I’ve been mulling over what I read there ever since.

What hit home for me was that legislation is not the best way to reduce the number of abortions. Legislation banning abortion serves only to put the back-alley hacks back in business, thereby causing more needless deaths, not preventing them. This can hardly be considered a desirable outcome, but it’s one that many who want to make abortion illegal refuse to acknowledge. If your goal is really to protect the unborn, rather than just beating your chest and trying to make yourself appealing to anti-abortion die-hards, then it’s well to consider how best to do that.
Reducing the annual number of abortions is certainly an admirable goal. However, there are different ways to reach that goal—some of which will help women and some of which will not.

Simply put, there are two key ways to reduce abortion—by making it less necessary or by making it less available. In our view, only the former approach is humane, effective, and just. [Center for American Progress]
Abortion is not new. It has been part of the human story from the beginning. It’s not going away, regardless of how much its foes stomp their feet. Throughout human history women have found ways to terminate unwanted pregnancies.

None of the options available when a woman is faced with an unwanted pregnancy are especially easy or pleasant. Regardless of the reason for the pregnancy—lapse of judgment, rape, or failed birth control—the decisions that must be made are difficult and rightly belong to the pregnant woman and the people she chooses to trust.

How is it that those most adamantly opposed to abortion seem never to spare a thought for women faced with unwanted pregnancies? In their efforts to outdo each other in their pro-life fervor, abortion opponents even cast shame and suspicion on women who miscarry, and women who are raped cannot expect an ounce of compassion from those who value the unborn more than they value rape victims.

The question is, who decides? Who decides what should be done when a woman finds herself unexpectedly pregnant, for whatever reason?

Surprisingly enough, a bunch of judgmental middle-aged legislators, most of them men, are not the best ones to make extremely personal decisions for women at such crucial junctures. The decision of what to do about a woman’s pregnancy shouldn’t be made by strangers. It should be made by the woman herself. And no one else.

The goal of reducing the number of abortions is a much better one than making abortion illegal. Make good reproductive health care and sex education available to everyone, and then trust women to make the very personal choices they’re confronted with responsibly and with much-needed support and assistance.

I know that’s not what we’ll hear from the reality show in Iowa. All the more reason to counter the reality show with reality. Nothing less than the very lives of our mothers, sisters, and daughters is at stake.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Wisconsin Set to Throw the Republicans Out

According to Andrew Feldman’s Christmas Eve opinion piece in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, “Despite Democrats' massive protests and their success at gathering recall signatures, most Wisconsinites did not appear to be in a ‘throw the Republicans out’ mood in 2011. If they had been, Supreme Court Justice David Prosser would be out of a job and Democrats would have won back the state Senate during the summer.”

First, not all of those who protested Walker’s draconian budget bill in February and March were Democrats. And it’s not only Democrats who are circulating recall Walker and Kleefisch petitions or signing them. Many of those who voted for Walker are more than disillusioned and disappointed. They’re furious—furious enough to work very hard on the recall effort. And the signatures are coming, not just from Madison and Milwaukee but from all over Wisconsin. Over 507,000 signatures were collected in the first 28 days—that’s 94 percent of the signatures needed (540,208) and 70 percent of the signatures hoped for (720,277)—in less than half the time allotted (60 days).

You may recall that voter turnout for the Prosser/Kloppenburg Supreme Court race was unprecedented. The outcome was perilously close and is still considered highly questionable. When the election began, Kloppenburg was not particularly well known, and she was trying to unseat the incumbent. Even if the dubious votes that Kathy Nickolaus miraculously discovered were indeed legitimate, the election can’t be dismissed as a failure for Democrats. We sure as hell gave Prosser a run for his money—a LOT of money, come to that. And I wonder how those who voted for Prosser in April feel about his bad behavior since then.

You can hardly call the recall elections of this past summer a Republican victory. The accomplishments of Democrats, progressives, and labor organizations this summer were truly remarkable. On August 10, 2011, John Nichols told Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! that “Democrats and progressive groups, labor especially, took on six entrenched Republican incumbents in districts that were drawn to elect Republicans and that, in some cases, have elected Republicans steadily for more than a century. So, this fight was played out on the turf of conservative Republicans. With that reality, you saw two Democrats win.” Recall elections targeted six Republican senators and three Democratic senators. Democrats held on to all three senate seats and successfully recalled two Republican senators.

In August, Ian Millhiser pointed out how truly remarkable those achievements were:
All of the Republican state senators who were eligible for recall in [2011] were Republicans who held on in 2008 despite the fact that they had to stand for election during a Democratic wave. Likewise, all of the Republicans who were elected in 2010 only because they were fortunate enough to run during a Republican wave were immune from recall. Come 2012, however, all of this changes.
In 2011, we were only just getting started. Some of the battles we have already fought were at least as challenging as the ones that await us in 2012, if not more so. We set very high goals for ourselves, and that we didn’t attain everything we went after doesn’t mean that the victories we did achieve count for nothing. Our accomplishments thus far are formidable and cannot be dismissed or discounted.

Feldman is quite correct that unseating Walker will be a daunting challenge. But don’t make the mistake of underestimating how angry Wisconsinites—Democrats, Republicans, and Independents—are about Walker’s actions. Feldman is also right about the need for Democrats to “create a bold agenda that does nothing less than revive Wisconsin's progressive tradition.” But for my part, I am inclined to believe that Wisconsin is indeed in a “throw the Republicans out” kind of mood.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Transformative Power of Protest

This weekend HuffPost ran a piece by Steven van Zandt called "There Is Only One Issue in America," that one issue being the financing of public elections. I can think of many important issues other than that one, and I am naturally skeptical of solutions that seem to come with "it's so simple" stamped on them. Still, this one issue is unquestionably a biggie.

But here is what really raised my hackles:
Yes, we can demonstrate. We can march. We can write and sign petitions to our Representatives. We can occupy.

And we should because it's healthy to vent, and we don't feel so all alone. But the truth is, other than the value of venting, we're wasting our time. It is naïve to expect political results from any of these activities.
The results of political demonstrations and marches are seldom immediately apparent. But they are legion. They are not merely "venting." They are not just an opportunity to not "feel so all alone." They are an opportunity to be not "so all alone." What did the demonstrations in Madison last February and March accomplish? What has the Occupy movement accomplished?

They have galvanized people. They have forged connections and built a community of resistance. They have transformed us into a formidable force to be reckoned with that won't back down and won't settle for the status quo.

Of course, demonstrations and protests on their own aren't enough. But they do indeed lead to some very desirable outcomes. They build awareness and stir us from our complacency. They change the direction and tone of public discourse. They cause us to identify and align ourselves with our communities in a new way. They provide us with the opportunity to teach our children what democracy looks like, to teach them who we are, while at the same time affirming that for ourselves. For some of us, representing in actions like these has been an all-out life-changing experience. We are new people, with new connections and new vision, new knowledge and understanding, new determination, and a new appreciation for the power that We The People actually do wield but far too often relinquish.

In Wisconsin, the recall efforts of this summer and the current Walker recall efforts would not have happened without the demonstrations of February and March. Those who are working so hard right now to collect signatures wouldn't have as much energy or focus had they not participated in last winter's demonstrations. The visceral experience of not being alone in our outrage convinced many of us of how much we could accomplish together and how truly excellent our compadres are. The protests were a breath of fresh air to those who are being disenfranchised, ignored, and abandoned by the ruling elite. They were like a giant hug for every public school teacher in the state. They were an acknowledgment to the world that we are here, we are strong, and we are fighting back—together.

I'm sorry you missed out on all the fun, Steven. The demonstrations here in Madison and in Zucotti Park have been far from a waste of time. They haven't had the direct effect on those in power that we envision—yet. But they most definitely have had a powerful effect on everyone who participated in them. We will never be the same again. The power brokers won't let go of their stranglehold quickly or easily. But they are worried. About us. About what we're going to do next. Because they know they cannot withstand the tsunami that is the unrelenting power of the people.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Strong: Coffee

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a latte drinker, but you don’t need to stand in line at your local coffee shop every day to know there's something wrong in this country when Folgers drinkers can imbibe openly in public but we can't openly drink lattes without derision or ridicule.

As latte lover in chief, I'll end the right's war on latte. And I'll fight against right-wing attacks on our beloved fair-trade organic addiction. Real Americans love their latte strong. They can make it strong again.

I'm Mary Ray Worley and I approve this message.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Adviento 3: El Anhelo de la Humanidad

From time to time, I have the privilege of sharing a brief meditation at my church (Grace Episcopal Church, right across from the State Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin). In Spanish. I don't usually post these things on the blog, but hey. Why not? A few of our readers will be able to understand it.

El Adviento es mi favorita estación del año litúrgico, porque creo que la esperanza, el anhelo es un parte muy importante de la vida cristiana. También es parte de la condición humana. El anhelo es nuestro compañero cada día. Y a veces es un compañero incómodo, ruidoso, un poco salvaje. Como María esperando el nacimiento de su hijo Jesús, esperamos la llegada de Dios en nuestro mundo, en nuestra nación, en nuestra comunidad, en nuestro trabajo, en nuestra familia.

Esperamos la intervención de Dios en nuestros problemas y nuestras relaciones. A causa de este anhelo, entendemos el milagro de la venida de Dios. El mundo también tiene ese anhelo, aunque muchas personas no lo entienden. Cada día, en cada parte del mundo, cristianos esperan el reino de Dios. Como oramos: “Venga tu reino. Hágase tu voluntad en la tierra como en el cielo.”

Como la Virgen María, esperamos con gozo y confianza un nacimiento maravilloso: de la justicia, de la paz, de la unidad, de la compasión, de la igualdad, del entendimiento, del amor profundo y abundante entre todos los pueblos del mundo, en otras palabras, el nacimiento del reino de Dios en la tierra. Y esta esperanza crece in nuestros corazones, como un niño precioso, poco a poco creciendo en la fuerza. Tenemos que alimentarla y cuidarla y mantenerla calentita como una madre cariñosa. El desánimo siempre la busca como un lobo feroz. También el miedo. Y el odio. Y la falta del perdón. El hambriento y la desesperación. Esas enfermedades del mundo pueden devorar nuestra esperanza. Pero podemos protegerla en oración, en la comunidad de la iglesia, en leer las escrituras, y en la alabanza entusiasmada.

Si la justicia y la compasión y la paz sean fáciles, no las valoremos, no entendamos que preciosas son. No entendamos la grandeza del regalo de Dios. El anhelo nos forma. Y no estamos solos en ese anhelo. Lo compartimos con la Santísima Virgen María y Juan El Bautista. Cuando ella dice que Dios “puso en alto a los humildes [y] llenó de bienes a los hambrientos,” ella no habla del mundo presente. Porque todavía hay los pobres, los hambrientos, y los desamparados en nuestra comunidad. Pero María confirma que Dios ya ha hecho, ya ha vencido. Y nosotros, juntos con María y todos los santos, podemos vivir en la victoria de Dios.

Es un gran privilegio, un gozo participar en la lucha para las cosas que Dios valora más. Juntos con los discípulos de Cristo en todas las edades y épocas y en todo el mundo, y con nuestros hermanas y hermanos aquí en la iglesia. Tenemos la honra de compartir con Cristo en una lucha de más importancia. Esta lucha nos forma, como el anhelo nos forma. Siempre tenemos que recordar que servimos a Uno que ya ha vencido. Él ha compartido no solamente su victoria, mas que su lucha con nosotros. Porque en la lucha, podemos entender el significado, la importancia de la victoria.

El anhelo, la lucha, y la victoria nos forman en la imagen de Dios. Este es nuestra esperanza, que vamos a ver, cara a cara, Jesús en su trono, Jesús, nuestro rey, Jesús en su victoria. Este es nuestro anhelo: que vamos a ver la justicia y la paz de Dios, el reino de Dios en toda su gloria. En su primera carta a los Corintios (capitula 13, versículo 12), San Pablo escribió: “Ahora vemos de manera indirecta, como en un espejo, y borrosamente; pero un día veremos cara a cara. Mi conocimiento es ahora imperfecto, pero un día conoceré a Dios como él me ha conocido siempre a mí.” Este es nuestro gran anhelo, y la esperanza de María y Juan El Bautista, y todos los santos: Dios con nosotros, Emmanuel.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Profit Über Alles: House's Antiregulatory Folly Is Their Idea of a Jobs Bill

On Wednesday, in a 241-to-184 vote, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 10, the "Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny" (REINS) Act, which would require congressional approval from both houses for any major new regulations. Four Democrats slithered across the aisle and voted with the Republicans: John Barrow (GA), Dan Boren (OK), Mike McIntyre (NC), and Collin Peterson (MN).

The claim, unsurprisingly, is that, released from the presumably unbearable burden of regulations, businesses will be able hire more employees. But there is little evidence that regulations hamper the economy.

What we have here is nothing more or less than the Tea Partiers proving to their constituents and, more importantly, to their corporate sugar daddies that they're doing all they can to "rein in" and undermine the executive branch. Never mind that Obama has put forward fewer regulations than W had at this point in his tenure. Never mind that the bill is highly unlikely to be introduced in the Senate. Never mind checks and balances (I swear none of these guys was paying attention in high school civics class).

This is the House's pathetically laughable idea of a jobs bill. While the Tea Partiers kowtow to their corporate backers and cozy up to ideological lunacy, the economy continues to teeter on a precipice. It's immoral and unconscionable for these jackals to play politics and unrelentingly adhere to their crackpot ideology while unemployment levels are so high.

From an editorial in Sunday's New York Times:
Reins is a terrible piece of legislation that would undermine a functioning regulatory system that protects people from harm. ... In a nutshell, the bill would stop any major regulation issued by a federal agency and costing more than $100 million from taking effect unless it received approval from both houses of Congress and the president. Many such rules are issued every year involving everything from food safety to efficiency standards for cars. Disapproval from one house would be enough to kill a rule and force the agency to start all over again. A rule would also die if one house failed to act within 70 days.

The bill is the fullest flowering of the Republicans’ antiregulatory philosophy. Beyond that, it would upend the traditional relationship between the legislative and executive branches. Under long-standing practice, Congress enacts laws—the Clean Air Act, for instance—and then empowers the executive branch to negotiate with stakeholders and write detailed regulations.

Congress delegates this responsibility because it has neither the time nor the expertise to develop the rules or the machinery and manpower to enforce them. Reins would radically re-position Congress to make final decisions that involve detailed technical matters.
Remember, the House of Representatives is currently a body that can't negotiate its way out of a paper bag. Would we really want them in charge of the minutiae of regulation? And would we want our regulations subject to the enormous lobbying influences that currently reign (pun intended) in Congress? Of course, not. The idea is beyond absurd.

Rabid-right ideologues believe that the private sector is infinitely better than any public sector body. Given how dysfunctional this Congress is, I can almost see their point. But even as toxic as Congress has been lately, corporations and their influence peddling have been far more so. The assertion that businesses and corporations will self-regulate is patently ludicrous.

What should not be lost on the American people is that issues of health and safety and the common good should never be left up to people whose only concern is the bottom line. Because then, of course, human costs will never be counted when they're tallying up the cost/benefit analysis.

Yesterday's Huffington Post quotes Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX): "Who do the regulators answer to? No one." Ah yes, but whom does Congress answer to? Not the American people, clearly. No, members of Congress answer to big money, for whom environmental, health, and safety laws are nothing more than meddlesome interference. Profit über alles.

Rep. Poe continued: "When the regulators go to work everyday, like most people go to work, their work assignment's a little different. In my opinion, they sit around a big oak table, sipping their lattes. They have out their iPads and their computers, and they decide, 'Who shall we regulate today?' And they write a regulation and send it out to the masses and make us deal with the cost to that."

Rep. Poe is full of crap. Whose well-being does he have in mind when he complains about big oak tables (as if he never sat at one), iPads and computers (who doesn't use one?), and lattes (that's really hitting below the belt). As if the process of writing and passing regulations were altogether arbitrary, as if pure profit motive could ensure the well-being of the environment and Americans' health and safety. Republicans in Congress think protection of the environment, health, and safety should be left up to CEOs and their lobbyists. And this is their idea of a jobs bill.