Move La Crosse Community Theatre to the Hollywood Theatre

This was submitted as a letter to the editor to the La Crosse Tribune in reference to this story.

I wanted to feel excited about the plans for a shiny new theatre building along the river, but the more I thought about it the less sense it made. I’m not completely condemning this idea, I just think there are better ways to spend that amount of money.

If the La Crosse Community Theatre needs more space, and if La Crosse wishes to pay more than lip service to being a “historic” city, then the LCT should consider buying the Hollywood Theatre and adapting it to its needs. For $6.7 million, LCT could probably buy the building, bring it up to code, and divide the space into a main theatre, black box, etc. The end result would be a historic jewel of downtown La Crosse brought back to life, with more seating than in the current proposal, plenty of parking in a nearby ramp, and millions of dollars left over to do other good things that this city badly needs done.

The Hollywood Theatre has been a fixture in La Crosse life for generations. LCT can build on its history and give a new generation of theatre-goers the chance to see a play in the same room where their grandparents first saw a movie together; and it can give actors a chance to perform on the same stage where Arlo Guthrie, Johnny Winter and Leo Kottke once played.

The Hollywood Theatre is a historic jewel that needs to be a performance space again. LCT needs a bigger home. For anybody who can’t connect those dots, I have a bridge to sell.


La Crosse Tornado

Today a tornado touched down in our neighborhood. In the Grand Scheme of Things, it was a relatively minor tornado, but it did some strange things to our neighborhood.

Our situation: We’re OK, and our house is OK. There’s a small corner of our metal roof that’ll have to be nailed back down, and some pieces of our neighbor’s maple tree that need to be picked up, but our “damage” is minor compared to others within a block or two of us.

Read our storm story after the jump, and look at our photo gallery of the aftermath.

Read on

La Crosse Tornado – photo gallery

A series of photos from our neighborhood in the aftermath of the tornado we got yesterday (Sunday, May 22, 2011).

You can read our tornado story here.

The Crowd You Weren’t Allowed to See

La Crosse is usually a “slow news” town. That means that the five news organizations that cover this part of the world often struggle to find compelling copy to fill their time or their pages. They spend a lot of time covering inane stuff like high school show choirs or cute kids doing charity fundraisers.

There have been times when Tea Party rallies came thru town, and all the cameras and microphones would converge on an event attended by only a few dozen people. So when hundreds show up for a hastily planned town hall meeting for workers rights, that must surely be news, right?

Apparently, no. Not one reporter showed up. I asked some of the organizers if they had called the media. They said that not only did they tell the media it was happening, but once the hall was packed they called again and said, “There are close to 500 people here, you should come.”

If you don’t see a picture of this meeting at the top of the page, then click here.

If the “professional” media isn’t biased, then someone needs to explain to me why a dozen tea-baggers foaming at the mouth is newsworthy and several hundred progressives gathering on short notice isn’t.

UPDATE Thursday Feb. 23: Yesterday afternoon we attended a solidarity rally for union supporters outside City Hall, where hundreds of people held signs and chanted to passing rush hour traffic, and passing drivers honked their horns in support. One TV camera was spotted at the rally, but since no report could be found on any local media web sites, this video will have to do:

Busting Democracy

For groups of people to elect representatives to advocate their interests is a foundational principal of American democracy.

Imagine a scenario in which a president dictates how tax money is to be spent, and then announces that he is dissolving Congress and stripping citizens of their right to vote. The population would be unified in its outrage, and rightly so.

This is why Scott Walker’s proposal to strip public employees of collective bargaining rights is so disturbing. Unions are nothing more than groups of employees who elect representatives to advocate on their behalf. Republicans in Wisconsin are trying to eliminate┬ádemocracy in the workplace.

The right wing claims that this must be done to balance the budget. Bovine excrement! For one thing, the governor inherited a surplus, gave money away to his rich corporate buddies, and the”hole” in the budget is exactly the size of those giveaways. In spite of this, the state employee unions are willing to make the economic sacrifices outlined in this proposal in exchange for retention of their collective bargaining rights.

Walker greeted this gesture of compromise and accommodation with the words, “nothing doing.” This proves that the “save the budget” reasoning was a lie. This is all about crushing unions – dictating working conditions and shutting down any possibility of future negotiation.

This is mean-spirited and un-American, and it must not stand. I am ashamed of our governor for proposing this, but I am proud of our fellow citizens who are resisting.

Third World Wisconsin

Politicians like to drop bad news bombs on Friday afternoons, and last Friday Wisconsin’s Governor Walker dropped a big one: abolishment of collective bargaining rights for all state, county and local government workers. He claims it’s to save money in the budget, but to most of us it’s obviously the fulfillment of a right-wing wet-dream and payback to the corporatists that funded his campaign.

Oddly, this bit of union-busting wouldn’t apply to police, firefighters, or the State Patrol, whose unions were coincidentally Walker supporters. To their credit, the leaders of these unions are standing in solidarity with the teachers and other school staff, road maintenance crews, university workers, building and facility staff, social workers, prison guards, administrative teams, and all the other unionized staff that make our state function. A group of current and former Green Bay Packers players (all union members) also issued a statement of support for public employee unions.

(Disclosure: One of my family members was once a unionized public employee, and a couple of others still are.)

Under Walker’s plan, unions would no longer be allowed to negotiate for anything other than wages, and wage increases would be limited to the official cost of living index. So no negotiation over hours or working conditions, pensions, health care, sick leave or vacation days. Workers would be immediately required to contribute more to their pension plans and health care, effectively cutting their take-home pay by 8%.

As an upwelling of public anger developed over the weekend, Walker turned it into an eruption by playing the “National Guard card.” He said that he briefed the Wisconsin National Guard “in preparation for any problems…”

The area around the state capital in Madison is starting to look like Egypt right now, as angry citizens converge by the tens of thousands – numbers that have grown every day this week. But Walker is dismissing the concerns of “a handful of protesters” while doing the bidding of the monied elites that elected him. He intends to railroad this proposal thru the right-wing legislature (strange behavior for someone who despises railroads) by the end of this week.

This proposal dismantles contracts that have been negotiated in good faith by public workers, who sacrificed wages in order to preserve the benefits that Walker now intends to take away.

I have never met a “rich” union worker (some exist, but I haven’t met any Packers players ­čÖé ). Contrary to mythology, most union workers do not make exorbitant salaries, but they do┬ámake enough to live comfortably, take care of their health, and save for retirement. I keep hearing right-wing pundits howling about “greedy union workers” and how they make so much more than the rest of us. They should be screaming about how the rest of us aren’t making enough.

Scott Walker now wants to crush the one group of workers that hasn’t already been crushed: public employee unions. After years of starving the treasury through tax cuts, our new right-wing dictator claims the state is too broke to provide a dignified pay and benefits package to the people who make the state function.

For a generation, the wages and benefits of the average worker have been stagnant while the expansion of wealth has been hoarded by those at the top. This latest proposal accelerates that process, which can only lead to a state where a handful of the wealthy elite luxuriate in their lush gated communities, and rule over the rest of us who are left to live in destitution with a toxic and crumbling infrastructure.

That is the vision of right wing Repugnantans like Scott Walker and his rich corporate backers. It is mean-spirited and un-American, and it will condemn the forward-looking people of Wisconsin to live in a third world state.

A Packers Super Bowl Cheer

I saw the Ghost of Vince Lombardi, and he was smiling.

Because the team that made him famous
just won the game
for the trophy that bears his name.
The Packers have won the Super Bowl.

Read on

The Green Bay Packers Are Good For America

There’s a viral email going around (at least around Wisconsin) with the same title as this post. It says that the Packers are great because they beat the Bears, so now President Obama won’t be going to the Super Bowl to root for the Bears, thereby saving taxpayers millions of dollars in presidential travel expenses, yadda yadda yadda.

Why is it that, when the president is a Democrat, it’s a big deal whenever he decides to go (or not to go) someplace?

Funny thing, when Bush was emperor, we didn’t see any viral emails rejoicing that the Cowboys weren’t in the Super Bowl (though many of us WOULD find that to be something worthy of rejoicing), and how we’d save millions of dollars by not bringing Bush and his entourage to the Big Game.

That said, here’s the REAL reason the Green Bay Packers Are Good For America:


They are owned by the community as a non-profit. Any money they make goes back to building the team, NOT to stockholders nor to a greedy billionaire owner. They are the only major sports franchise in the country that’s like that.

Now, send THIS to everybody in your address book. ­čÖé

Crazy People with Guns

The United States has no shortage of crazy people. It also has a lot of people fanatically obsessed with firearms. The part of the Venn diagram where “gun nuts” overlaps with “crazy people” is a very scary place, as recent events in Arizona have demonstrated.

When these things happen, we always try to make sense of the senseless. Read on

Judge Nix and the SpokesnFolks Parade

We got word today that we lost an old friend.

Judge Nix addresses the crowd at the 1998 SpokesnFolks Parade and Festival.

We knew Edmund Nix as a municipal judge, a lawyer, and the father of one of our good friends. Before we knew him, he was a federal prosecutor and a Democratic congressional candidate, among other things.

RoZ and I first met Judge Nix in the courtroom, on separate occasions shortly after we moved into the area. Even though he found both of us guilty, that didn’t stop us from becoming friends.

We won’t talk about my case, but RoZ’s has a fun backstory.

Once upon a time, RoZ was part of a motley band of local activists that took a “Critical Mass” bike ride during rush hour on a Friday afternoon. The constabulary followed in their cars for most of the ride – some could say the riders were “escorted” – and at the end of the ride ten riders were detained and issued tickets for “obstructing traffic.”

The “La Crosse Ten” contested their citations in Judge Nix’s courtroom. After all the evidence and arguments were presented, he handed down his verdict. “You did obstruct traffic, so I have to find you guilty.” Then it got interesting. “Sometimes, I have to be innovative in sentencing, so what I want you to do… I want you all to do something legal and creative to promote your cause. Write letters to the editor, call in to radio talk shows, have parades and demonstrations – LEGAL demonstrations – and report back to me in 60 days on what you did, and I will likely waive any fine.”

As the accused and their comrades in the gallery approached to greet each other, one activist exclaimed in his flamboyant voice, “I don’t believe it! He sentenced you to be ACTIVISTS!” We heard the word “parade” in the judge’s list of suggestions and latched onto it. So on a rainy Saturday in September, 150 people marched in the first SpokesnFolks Parade (which always included a festival in the park afterwards), and Judge Nix declared satisfaction that the sentence he’d handed down was served.

It wasn’t long after that that Ed Nix retired as a judge, which made him available to join in on the fun.┬áThe SpokesnFolks Parade used prizes to motivate floats and colorful costumes, and we needed a judge to fairly determine whose efforts deserved those prizes. Judge Nix was more than happy to put his black robe back on and be a part of our parade/festival. One year, when it came time to hand out awards, he opened his remarks with, “Never have I been treated so well by people I found guilty.”

Obbie and Judge Nix confer on rewarding prizes at the 1998 SpokesnFolks Parade and Festival.

He totally enjoyed standing on the curb in his black robe, watching the parade pass before him. I’d stand by with a clipboard while he’d point people out. “I want to give that person a prize… and that one over there…”

Over the years we got to visit with the judge quite a few times. He knew that he could call me if he ever needed to talk to a computer guy, and we knew that we could call him if one of us ever needed to talk to a lawyer. Fortunately, we stayed out of trouble so he probably got the better deal out of that arrangement, though he did help us with some routine personal legal paperwork.

As a person and as a judge, Ed Nix was everything you could ask for. He was fair, reasonable, thoughtful, rational, and (most importantly) innovative. The SpokesnFolks Parade and Festival was an annual event for about five years, but it might have never happened at all without Judge Nix’s “innovative sentencing.”

We miss him.

Mayor Medinger, Santa Clause (Earl Grunke), Judge Nix, and Obbie Z at the press conference announcing plans for the 1999 SpokesnFolks Parade and Festival.

Update 12/2 5:30pm: Just found this interesting little tidbit here:

In 1961 [mobster Carl] Caputo was indicted for income tax evasion. He had reported income totaling $721.56 and had actually earned $31,000. This garnered him a 30-day jail sentence and two years of probation. U.S. attorney Edmund Nix had prosecuted Caputo. Ironically, Nix had once worked in a tavern owned by Caputo and was paying his way through Wisconsin-Madison Law School as a bartender.