Birds of La Crosse River Marsh

A week ago, we took our first Limo ride of the season on the La Crosse River Trail, which crosses a few miles of marsh as it leaves town. I packed the “good” camera, just in case…

On our way out, we saw blue herons, egrets, and Canada geese… the usual suspects. As we stopped at our favorite bench, a sandhill crane passed closely overhead.

Once I got the camera out, they all hunkered down…

A heron and an egret stay low and far away, out of reach of our long lens.

A sandhill crane alongside the bike trail suspiciously watches human activity a quarter mile away.

After we got on our bike for the trip home, we were greeted by geese with a group of newly hatched young. The cranes and the egrets came closer.

Then on the city marsh, we saw this:

A flock of pelicans forages for food on the La Crosse Marsh.

Thankfully, after a day of watching the “usual suspects” keep their distance, the unusual visitors came close to say “Hello.”

Local Elections Matter Most

Presidential election campaigns get wall-to-wall media coverage for four years, which holds our attention and leads to high turn-out (though one can argue it’s not high enough). But when local elections are held a few months later, turn-out can languish in the teens or in single digits. I believe this is upside-down.

A national election affects the overall attitude and direction of national policy, but its immediate effect on our day-to-day lives is minuscule relative to the outcome of a local election. For instance, an election for municipal judge is widely ignored. But if we have a dispute with a neighbor or an unjust citation, we stand before the municipal judge.

The city council approves zoning rules that determine what we can do with our own property. They hire police officers with the power to arrest and detain us, as well as the officials responsible for the upkeep of our roads and parks.

The members of the school board determine who will teach our children, what they will be taught, and how well we care for the buildings where our kids spend their days.

Yet with all the direct impact that local officials have on our personal lives, local elections seem to be universally ignored. We ignore these elections at our peril.

Now more than ever, we must pay close attention to local elections. Most candidates are only a phone call away. Talk to them about the issues you care about, then show up to vote on April 4.

What Ron Kind Was Afraid to Listen To

My statement for Ron Kind’s “listening” session was occupying my brain cells for several days before-hand. In spite of showing up early and following all of the rules, most of the people who got called on showed up long after I did.

I can only conclude that either the process for choosing people to call on was grossly unfair, or unappealing questions were filtered out of the pile. I suspect a combination of both. At any rate, after three hours invested in my attempt to participate in democracy, I was never called on.

Here is what I would have said if Kind had had the courage to call on me:

Congressman…

The last time we spoke, it was during breakfast one morning last summer in Philadelphia. Our encounter was hurried and awkward, and it didn’t go well for any of us, and I apologize for that. So let me take this opportunity to respectfully and politely explain why so many people have a problem with your position on international trade deals.

We are not against trade per se, but we prefer FAIR trade over “free” trade. The problem with NAFTA, CAFTA, SHAFTA, the TPP, and all of the other trade deals you support so enthusiastically is that when they were negotiated, the only people at the table were representatives of trans-national corporations.

Those who represent working people were not given a seat at the table.

Those who represent the interests of the environment were not given a seat at the table.

The entire process was conducted in the dark, and the general public  – even members of Congress – was forbidden from knowing what was being negotiated in our names.

If these agreements had been negotiated openly, and with advocates for workers, local communities, and the environment at the table, then we might have reacted differently.

But the biggest deal-breaker is the Investor-State Dispute Settlement provision. ISDS allows a foreign corporation to sue a domestic government for passing a law that may affect potential future profits. For example, there was a state that wanted Country Of Origin Labelling on food products, but a Canadian food processor sued for potential (NOT actual) lost profits.

This is an attack on our national sovereignty, as it puts the interests of foreign corporations against the will of our own people. I really hope you can reconsider your position on such international trade deals in the future.

Perhaps my mistake was being truthful when I filled out the space on my sheet with my question. “I’d like a response to some concerns on trade.” I don’t remember hearing ANY questions where trade was the central topic.

During the last half-hour of the “listening” session, I could see Kind sifting thru the pile of question sheets in front of him. Some were discreetly shuffled to the side. I suspect the word “trade” got my sheet shuffled to the side.

“I’ll be holding another listening session in La Crosse,” he said as time wound down. But I’m not going to waste my time showing up unless those of us who didn’t get called on are guaranteed to be at the front of the line next time.

The Tale of Al Maliki

When I see newcomers hated and disrespected, I remember the story of a war hero named Al Maliki.

Al Maliki’s father was brought to America as a toddler, and Al himself was born an American citizen.

When Al became a young adult, America was at war with his ancestral homeland. But Al Maliki was a proud and loyal American, so he enlisted in the US Army. The recruiting officer told Al that his foreign name might create hostility, so he translated his last name into English and changed it to that.

Al still knew his ancestral language, which made him valuable as an interpreter for one of the generals. Al Maliki was honored for his service and came home a war hero.

This is a true story, but it involves another people at another time.

A century ago, the first world war was raging and Germans were so hated that the German language was purged from Americans’ lexicon. Bratwursts were called “liberty sausages,” sauerkraut was “liberty cabbage” and dachshunds became “liberty puppies.” On the north side of La Crosse, Berlinstrasse was renamed Liberty Street.

In spite of the hate and derision directed at German-Americans like him, a young man named Albert Koenig enlisted in the Army, and changed his name to Albert King in order to get along. Many years later, I got to know him as “Grandpa.”

We feel shame, regret and bewilderment as we look back on the treatment of German-Americans during the first world war, internment of Japanese-Americans in the second world war, the genocide of First Nations, the kidnapping and enslavement of Africans, and countless other injustices and atrocities scattered thru our history.  Our grandchildren may feel the same way about us if we continue this shameful history.

My grandfather and my brother celebrate their shared birthday in 1967.

There will always be newcomers to our country. Let’s offer our new neighbors the warm welcome that our grandparents were denied.

A DNC Perk

It appears that having been a delegate to the DNC got me on the White House (at least Obama’s White House) Holiday Card List. It was a Really Cool surprise to find this in the mailbox this morning:

Elections as Football

In eighth grade, I was a bench-warmer for my Catholic grade school’s football team. Our star receiver was a guy that was always a dick toward me on the school playground. In fact his name was Dick, and his friends called him Dickie.

One Saturday morning we were playing a road game. I was standing on the sidelines (as usual) when our quarterback threw a bomb to Dickie who then sprinted toward the end zone. As I was jumping up and down screaming, “go, Dickie, go!”, a little voice in my head reminded me, “hey, don’t you hate that guy?”

Indeed, I did hate that guy. But at that moment, he was part of my team and he was helping my team to win, and it made everyone on the team happy.

As a National Bernie delegate, that’s how I feel about voting for Hillary. I have problems with her hawkish foreign policy and her coziness with Wall Street. On the other hand, she has adopted most of Bernie’s playbook; and a growing number of “Bernie players” are on the team.

We all would have preferred to have Bernie as our quarterback, and we feel sore about how the choice was made during tryouts. But Hillary is now our quarterback, and there is nothing we can do now that will change that. For our team to win, we must respect and support our quarterback, just as I cheered for Dickie in eighth grade.

Remember, Bernie people: we’re winning! If we elect Hillary and flip the Senate, then Bernie Sanders becomes one of the most powerful people in Washington. So do his allies such as Elizabeth Warren and (hopefully) Russ Feingold. These are OUR people, and Hillary can’t do anything without their help and approval.

So this is no time to walk off the field in disgust. To support a third party this year is a waste of effort, like picking a high school team to win the Super Bowl. We need to make sure our team keeps the ball. Letting it fall to the other team would be a disaster.

With our players on the field, and the quarterback running our plays… that puts us in a good position to get our quarterback on the field next season.

The game doesn’t end on election day. That’s when the second half begins.

All Republicans Are Disqualified

You can learn a lot about someone by looking at the company they keep, so it’s disturbing to see the Republican Party hanging out with the repulsive sewer-rats of humanity.

Ever since their “southern strategy” of the Nixon years, Republicans have appealed to bigots with “dog whistle” terms only racists would understand. When white nationalists flocked to the party like flies to a cow pie, Republicans doubled down. They saw only votes where they should have seen vermin.

Now the vermin have promoted a sleazy bullying con-man to the top of the Republican ticket. Party leaders express outrage when he says (in plain English) what Republicans have said in carefully coded language for generations. But the somber condemnations always end with, “He has my vote.”

I’m sorry, that is unacceptable. Any candidate running as a Republican is disqualified from holding any position of public trust.

By nominating Donald Trump for president, the Republican Party embraced hatred, bigotry and mean-spiritedness. The American people must loudly and unambiguously demonstrate to the world that this is not who we are, and we must do so by rejecting every Republican on every ballot in the nation.

The Republican Party has degenerated into a party of white hoods, brown shirts and dunce caps. Democrats may not be perfect, but their candidates are sincere good-hearted people working to improve everyone’s quality of life thru public service. Democrats are far more worthy of our votes than the creeps and clowns on the other side of the ballot.

Hi Mom!

I grew up reading MAD magazine, and a common element of portrayals of crowd shots on TV was someone holding a sign that said, “Hi Mom!” I started thinking about this after coming home from the Democratic National Convention, around the time the emails and text messages started coming in that started with, “I saw Obbie on…”

The first such message came from RoZ’s brother on the Sunday evening after the convention. He had seen me in a report on a Showtime political show, and offered the following image:

onShowtime

I remembered the camera coming by as I sat along the aisle during roll call Tuesday night, which was confirmed in the brief video clip he sent along to show the context… a clip where my mug was visible for about a quarter-second.

So while my brother-in-law was ribbing me about my “fifteen minutes of fame”, it wasn’t even fifteen frames, and most people didn’t even notice.

I found some other stuff while looking around for a video that I still haven’t found. On the first night, I was in the second row up from the main floor and watched as a CBS News crew set up to interview someone in the first row, directly in front of me. While the crew was live, I remembered this advice from George Carlin:

This is something you can do for practical…humor. Do this on television; if you can get into a kind of a side of a television story…, the kind of thing where you’re not the center of attention ’cause they’ll edit you out if you do this as the center speaker. You must be on the sideline. And what you do is you don’t say this, but you move your lips to it. And what you move your lips to is- “I hope all you stupid ******* lip readers are looking in!”

So I tried that. I also mouthed the words, “Hi, Rozie.” As the crew was setting up, I sent her a text that read, “go to CBS,” and a few minutes later a text came back that read, “I just saw you, love.” I never did find any video of the interview that took place right in front of me that night, but while looking for it I found this:

noTPP_night1

This was found in the online version of USA Today (embedded in an article about the hell we raised at Ron Kind’s appearance before the Wisconsin delegation breakfast on Wednesday). While the guy to my left was going ape-shit every time a speaker mentioned Hillary’s name, every camera in the building seemed to converge upon him.

The next day, a friend emailed us a smartphone-picture of a page from the dead-tree version of the New York Times containing the same picture (Page B4 on Wed, 7/27). On Monday of this week, we received the actual paper in the mail, so I upgraded the picture a bit:

NYT_20160727_B4_combo

Unfortunately, the caption said the picture was taken outside. A correction was requested, and one was issued about a week after the story ran.

A picture caption on June 27 with the Economic Scene column, about the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, misidentified the location of the photograph showing delegates to the Democratic National Convention protesting the agreement. It was taken on the floor of the convention hall, the Wells Fargo Center — not outside the building.

Did they really say “June 27” when the image was published on July 27? The Old Grey Lady is slipping.

Relaxing at home one evening last week, we watched one of Bill Maher’s shows from convention week, and during the “New Rules” segment we saw this:

onBillMaher

It looks like I was trying really hard to make it clear that I was not with this guy.

Just to complete the collection of what I’ve found so far is this one that I came across yesterday (Tuesday):

Bernie-Sanders-Supporters-Delegates-DNC-AP-640x480

I was there for four days, but nearly all the pictures I find of myself in the media were taken within seconds of each other. And the only reason I show up at all is because I was sitting next to a camera magnet.

I know there are at least three videos out there where I was directly interviewed on-camera. The first was taken on the second day while I was sitting on the aisle in my green & gold tie-dye, but I have no idea who the crew was with. On the fourth day I was interviewed in the hallway by “Italian TV”, and on the floor by “Norwegian TV”. If anyone happens to have copies of these videos, I’d love to see them, if only to find out whether they translated my comments correctly.

Now that I’m home, seeing myself in the media isn’t that much of a thrill relative to the feeling I get when I watch news reports as DNC events reverberate thru the country. For instance, I keep seeing clips of Michelle Obama or the Khan couple, and as I realize how these events are now part of political history, it blows me away to remember that I was actually there.

The Noisy Tantrum of the “Silenced”

On Thursday, there was a woman who was doing a live video-stream from the convention floor, and in this video she accuses one of the Wisconsin Bernie whips of being a “sell-out”. One of my constituents alerted me to this video, asking whether my fellow delegate had indeed “sold out.”

In the video, a Bernie whip named Matthew can be seen asking the person filming, and two people sitting with her, “Why are you here now?” I kind of wondered that, too. They were not supposed to have credentials, and they were advised that if they engaged in any kind of demonstration they would be physically removed.

I will react to this video here, but I will not post a link, nor will I post the names of any of the people involved. They are publicity hounds directly defying Bernie’s instructions to his delegates, so I will not indulge their lust for attention.

I was a direct witness to the incident recorded in the video. The video was taken by “tape-over-the-mouth” lady, and much of what she says here (at least what’s audible, her production values are sorely lacking) is complete bullshit. She is the person who’s picture was widely circulated Monday with white tape over her mouth and the word “silenced” written upon it.

A bit of background:

After the delegation breakfast on Thursday morning, the staff of DPW (Democratic Party of Wisconsin) had a meeting with Wisconsin’s Bernie delegation. It was a chance for us to air our grievances and to discuss ways to work together constructively going forward.

It was a very productive meeting, though we were presented a request/demand from the national party: If we leave the meeting room with our credentials, then we are agreeing not to disrupt the convention with dissident demonstrations, and no signs would be allowed other than those distributed by volunteers inside the hall.

It would be OK to wear a NoTPP button, but NoTPP signs were not OK.

Most of us chose to comply with the party’s (and more importantly, Bernie’s) request to follow these rules. In my case, I feel that we are more powerful if/when we are inside the room. And the Hillary camp has made efforts to make the Bernie wing happy. It felt like complying with this request would amount to a reciprocation in good will. After all, that’s politics. “You help me with this, and I won’t fight you on that.”

The three people sitting to my left were not willing to go along with this compromise. One of them surrendered her credentials after the meeting, and the other two didn’t bother to show up. (If they had credentials, they probably picked them up at the delegate table and skipped breakfast. I never saw either of them at any of the breakfasts.) I was told that tape-lady had her credentials revoked for her behavior on the first day (I could be wrong), and the person sitting directly next to me was the same one I personally watched handing in her credentials in the morning.

So Matthew was completely right to ask “why are you here right now?” They weren’t supposed to be there. He advised them that they would be physically removed if they caused any trouble, and for that they whine in the video that Matthew was a “sell-out”.

As it turns out, they did cause trouble just as Hillary’s speech began. That was when tape-lady’s tape reappeared on her mouth and she stood on her chair, and the guy next to her also put the tape on his mouth.

Tape-lady was the exact kind of person Bernie called out Monday night for eroding our credibility. She sat directly behind me on Monday night, and impressed me as a publicity hound using a gimmick to get her picture in the paper. And here she was sitting next to me again, and causing trouble again, and making me and other Bernie delegates look bad. I joined other delegates in the immediate area in holding flags and signs to deny a clear shot to any photographers in the area.

This is when tape-lady stepped over the line: she grabbed an American flag out of my hand and threw it on the floor (oh, yeah, that’s really gonna help our movement… NOT!). I replaced my flags with one of those vertical Hillary signs. For the entire week, I had resisted holding any Hillary signs, but the time had come to disassociate myself from delegates who claimed to be Bernie supporters but were not.

While this was going on, security people were approaching from the end of my row and the row in front of us to get tape-lady off of her chair… they did not want anyone standing on the chairs. Within the next minute we found out why. I don’t know whether tape-lady fell as her chair seat folded up from under her, or if she directly assaulted the woman to her left, but I saw tape-lady apparently attack the woman to her left… a “little-old-lady” Bernie delegate who was simply there to enjoy the party.

The tape-over-the-mouth people were hauled out at this point, and the innocent Bernie delegate was attended to by a doctor who was called over. Apparently she was OK, though somewhat rattled as we all were. At the after-party at the hotel, I met one of the people who sat to my right, and she was pissed off that the commotion caused her to miss the first fifteen minutes of Hillary’s acceptance speech.

I have fought for the causes represented by Bernie’s campaign for virtually my entire adult life, and my affiliations have followed the gradual mainstreaming of this platform. After thirteen years as a Zendik I became a political EarthFirst-er. For many years I was a die-hard Green (David Cobb delegate to the 2004 GNC), and now I am a Green Democrat ready to join the Social Democratic Caucus.

After all these years, we finally have a seat at the table, and the greater party is respecting and listening to us. We did not score the touchdown of getting Bernie as the nominee, but we scored a HYUGE first down, and we’re getting a lot more of our players on the field.

We are now 46% of the team, and we’re teaching the other 54% to be better players. Let’s keep doing that. To walk off the field simply because you don’t like the quarterback is not helpful. We’re winning. Let’s keep moving the ball down the field and score some touchdowns!

(Apologies to those who don’t like/understand football metaphors. If you request a translation into an alternative metaphor in the comments, I’ll give it a try.)

ONE MORE THING: I am still facing a massive credit card bill from this mission that needs to be paid before the end of the month. Any donations toward reduction of this financial debt will be greatly appreciated.

Fired Up – Ready to Go

Our train leaves tomorrow (Tuesday) morning to take us to Philadelphia. We’ll get there in time to do spend a few days reconnecting with the city (we lived in Phila. for two years in the 90’s) before facing the busy days and short nights of convention week.

Bernie may have endorsed Hillary, but there is still a lot of important work to do. To vote for Bernie as our nominee is not the only reason I am going to Philadelphia. I am mainly going there to do everything I can to change the direction of the Democratic Party. For too long, it has acted as Republican-light, but the only way we can win is to return to the populism of FDR and JFK.

This is more than a campaign.. it is a movement, a movement that must grow beyond this convention and beyond the next election. We go to Philadelphia to launch this movement forward.

By the way, after the convention we will have a YUGE credit card bill to deal with. We’ve had modest success with our fundraising, and we greatly appreciate all of the contributions – big and small – that we’ve received so far.

Right now we are at about $1,600. But our hotel room alone is going to cost $2,200. If we can raise another $600, that part of our bill will be covered and we will have an easier time squeaking thru this financially.

You can help out here, and you can monitor our progress here. Thank you very much.