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.

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.

Snowboarding on Ice Shavings

The weather prophets told us that today was going to be the warmest day we’ll see for a while, so we took a walk to check out a new bike/ped bridge in our neighborhood.

Crossing a new bridge for the first time is an odd sensation. It’s like going through a wormhole to a place that previously was very far away.

It also reveals parts of our world that have always been there hidden from view, such as this Mississippi River backwater…

This treehouse was hidden from the street, but it’s now a prominent landmark from the bridge…

At the base of the bridge, we saw pink paint on the pavement with arrows pointing the way to the “rec trail.” We could see a line of pink flags marking the future bike trail, which will go around the back of a local ice arena to connect to an existing trail on the other side.

As we followed the trail, we noticed a snow bank behind the ice arena. It was left there by the zamboni, and it consisted of the ice shavings removed during the latest smoothing of the ice. A couple of resourceful kids from the neighborhood decided to make use of this very early “snow” to build a very short run for their snowboards.

It’s good to see people that age finding creative ways to have fun.


The Cabin Fever Eradication Adventure

Sometime in early January, we began to feel overwhelmed by the winter doldrums. Later in the month we grasped for an explanation of why we were feeling this way. We observed that since Thanksgiving, we had not ventured more than 1.5 miles from our house. A change of scenery would be good. Just a weekend someplace else. It doesn’t have to be far, but it should be someplace we enjoy going. Read on

Facebook is not ready for us

Our friends keep inviting us to join Facebook. They’re all there, merrily keeping each other posted as to what they’re up to, while we stay on the outside, out of ┬áthe loop.

So feeling tempted, I sought a concise and unbiased assessment of the Facebook phenomenon, and settled for Wikipedia. It was there that I was reminded of the reasons we’ve shied away from social networking sites in general.

On this blog, we have full control over the content of the page you see (at least to the degree that I’m capable of wrangling this beast). On a social networking page, the host site may pollute your page with ads. They may comb the content of your conversations for hints on what ads you might “respond” to.

Worse, the history of Facebook is a long litany of breakdowns and outages resulting in the exposure of personal data. We also have a problem with the way they’ve played fast and loose with privacy policy.

Maybe at some point Facebook will evolve into a more stable platform. Some day they may have more respect for the personal content they’re entrusted with. If that day ever comes, we’ll reconsider our position on Facebook.

Until then, if you want to keep up on us, you’ll have to do it right here. And if we’re not forthcoming enough, you could actually send us a message and ask us a question. It may be Old School, but it works.

UPDATE – October 28, 2011: Every once in a while, we get close to caving in to the pressure to get a Facebook account. Then we read stuff like this…
Facebook says 600,000 account logins compromised every day


Shared Experiences

A man on the Moon

We regret that our younger friends have missed out on the experience of looking out at the Moon early on a summer evening, knowing that there are a couple of guys standing there and looking back.

We also regret that they’ve missed out on spending mornings with Captain Kangaroo and having dinner with Walter Cronkite.

Forty years seems like a long time until you’ve lived a little bit longer than that.