Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Crackup of Justin M. Nickels

-- the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. 
F. Scott Fitzgeral - "The Crack-up"  Esquire magazine 1936
This quote was recently used by MSNBC pundit Larry O'Donnell in an attempt to reconcile the fact that he (a self professed Liberal) had been taken to a Koch funded hospital after his car crash last year.  He credits that hospital with saving his life.   What O'Donnell was trying to say was that he felt you had to be a bigger man to accept the idea that he somehow benefited from the largess of a man whom you excoriate on a daily basis for his political machinations and greed.

What O'Donnell did not understand is that he took the quote entirely out of context.  Apparently he thought it was saying that duality is something to aspire to.  To the contrary Fitzgerald was delivering a scathing bit of sarcasm to those who behave in certain prescribed ways in order to achieve success and acceptance.

Quite the opposite of the kind of acceptance of two views that O'Donnell's soppy tear filled comments implied, Fitzgerald was saying that you cannot continue to function with two opposing notions of yourself and described himself as "a cracked plate" that was no longer serviceable for many things but still whole enough not to be thrown away.  Like the cracked plate, he was being kept in a dark cupboard.  He then makes a complete break with his past and decides (in a very Koch-ian way) that altruism and optimism would be abandoned.

"There was to be no more giving of myself -- all giving was to be outlawed henceforth under a new name, and that name was Waste. [...]
 The conjurer’s hat was empty. To draw things out of it had long been a sort of sleight of hand, and now, to change the metaphor, I was off the dispensing end of the relief roll forever.  The heady villainous feeling continued."
Perhaps the quote was more appropriate than Mr. O'Donnell knew?  Just not in the way he intended.

So, imagine my surprise when the young Mayor of Manitowoc (in his usual manner) used the quote in one of his many words-of-wisdom facebook posts.  Having read the essay long ago I pointed out that this did not have the meaning that he seemed to think it did.  Another of his facebook fans questioned that so I proceeded to explain what the source of the quote was and what it was really saying in the context of the piece.  Fitzgerald was in effect, having a nervous breakdown.

What happened then was more than a surprise, it was a shock.  Nickels himself chimed in justifying his use of the quote and quickly descended into personal attacks.

Now, if there is one thing that had fed into the squeaky clean image of Justin Nickels it is his silence on a lot of issues and his personal demeanor.  Unlike his pal and political cohort Matt Kadow, Justin has had self control.  There is no speech he has ever given, no position he has ever taken, no public comment he has ever made that has taken a risk or staked out any notion of controversy.  He has played it safe - at least until now.  At the 2013 Democratic Convention he served up some real Liberal red meat, something he would never do at home.  But a Dem convention is a safe place to make the right sounds.  Things done at home have been kept considerably more quiet and out of sight.

 Mayor Justin M. Nickels speech to
Wisconsin Democratic 2013 convention

A safe place to sound Liberal

Republicans and the Tea Party, he said, are “putting a price tag on everything and a value on nothing.”He said that in a society where people increasingly care about themselves more than others..."
“While they are living in a world focused on “me,” Democrats are focused on “we”–“we the people...” 

In sharp contrast for this is his political support (one might say operative) for DINO Democrat Jim Brey.  Brey has consistently taken exactly the opposite position of everything Nickels espoused at the 2014 convention.  I knew that Nickels had circulated nomination papers for Jim for the 2012 Assembly race and had probably privately let it be known that Brey had his personal endorsement.  It was passed off by some Dems at the time as a necessary political move to get Brey's cooperation on the City Council but given Brey's disdain for all things Liberal it simply didn't jive with the face Nickels presented at the convention.

I've already written about how Nickels participated in a campaign to get me ejected from the Manitowoc County Democratic Executive Committee.  More details will be presented in a future blog.  Its also safe to say that at least one other politician was targeted with Nickels' help at the behest of Brey - but again - thats another blog.
"I have spoken in these pages of how an exceptionally optimistic young man experienced a crack-up of all values, a crack-up that he scarcely knew of until long after it occurred. I told of the succeeding period of desolation and of the necessity of going on, but without the benefit of Henley’s familiar heroics, “my head is bloody but unbowed.” For a checkup of my spiritual liabilities indicated that I had no particular head to be bowed or unbowed. Once I had had a heart but that was about all I was sure of."  F. Scott Fitzgerald
One would think that having succeeded in showing me the door at the Dem party Nickels would at least let things settle down.  He hasn't.  In what is perhaps the most shocking example of his new found hubris he was recently caught engaging in a defamatory web post with Alderman Jason Sladky and Brey about me.  When I confronted him on this he made no attempt to apologize or even distance himself from the slander.  For Sladky that kind of thing is par for the course.  His references to "illegal duck commander" are a right wing Benghazi charge that I had been caught hunting ducks out of season (I wasn't) but that doen't stop him.  Brey is a serial slanderer who often posted on the old HTR forum anonymously who here now admits to it and repeats his greatest hit - as he sees it.

The reference to selling a major electrical producer is about
my reminding people the Brey and Sladky did try to sell MPU.
Nickels "Quack" comment indicates he had been participating in the smear
and knew about it and its implications.

Brey formerly denied making this post
now admits it and repeats the offense.

Justin M. Nickels
Justin M. Nickels

You are making so sense, at all. Please don't call me son. It's degrading to someone who has earned more respect than you ever will.

Congrats on screen capturing me saying "quack".

The problem is that he has said a good deal more than "quack".  He in fact repeated Brey's post in the "Crack-up" exchange.

  • Justin Nickels Kendall - Bernie only talks behind his computer screen, rarely ever in person. 

    The best thing to do would be to ignore him, eventually he will go away. Right now he is just talking to himself anyway.

I responded with this composite of their previous "discussion saying that it was obvious where he had gotten it.  He quickly deleted it.

  • Bernie Starzewski Its just so nice to get personally attacked by a mayor and two aldermen. Excuse me but is this sort of thing common in city council meetings?
  • Bernie Starzewski Ooohhhh we didnt like that image did we? Nothing like a little censorship by a smart politician! Maybe you should exercise a little judgement in what you post on the web, huh son?

Lets consider for a minute that this was just about a mis-used literary quote.  It was not at all about any great political topic.  People reference stupid quotes all the time on the web without having any idea of where the the quote came from, what the context was or what the actual meaning might have been.  You then have to ask, why was I attacked?  One can only suspect that the real meaning cut a little too close to the bone.

Or perhaps it was a kind of Freudian slip?  Maybe what spoke to the young mayor was the very idea of duality, the notion that you could present one face while practicing something else.  Maybe you can set aside your values and give yourself that "heady villainous feeling" while deciding to simply crack from your shiny image.  I wouldn't know.  You would have to ask the mayor.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Welcome to the Dystop-acratic Party! Part III

"What we wish, we readily believe, and what we ourselves think, we imagine others think also."       Gaius Iulius Caesar 

"Any resident of Manitowoc County, at least 16 years of age, who subscribes to the progressive principles of the Democratic Party is eligible for voting membership and shall become a member upon payment of dues and receipt of such dues by the county unit."  

ARTICLE III. Membership - Constitution of the Manitowoc County Democratic Party

"I'll believe anything you want as long as there's a paycheck in it."  

                 Winston Zedemor - the 4th Ghost Buster

Part III: 
Todd Holschbach, 
Political Man of Mystery:

It is not possible to tell this entire story without first telling the story of my contacts and conflicts with Todd Holschbach.  While it is not the seminal event that drove me from membership in the Democratic party it has been part of my education in how the Democratic Party of Manitowoc works (or fails to work) and perhaps an early indication of just how wide spread the problem is and why we can't field a viable candidate who holds true to the things we say we believe.

I first met Todd Holschbach IN 1988 shortly after moving to Manitowoc from our farm at Collins.  He moved into a house a few doors down from our place on North 8th.  He had come around and said he was running for state assembly and had heard that I was a Democrat and could he please put his sign in my yard.  "Sure!" I said.

Todd was running against Bob Ziebelbauer who I had heard through Democratic circles that at best a card carrying Democrat and little more.  It was clear that the party faithful didn't like him.  Todd was young and fairly self assured and came off well in a personal conversation.  From our conversation I felt had at least some Liberal leanings although I do not recall talking about policy in depth.  He is the son of Vern Holschbach, the multi-term Dem legislator so the assumption or at least the hope was that he was a for-real Dem though I didn't know much about Vern either.  Collins at that time was in a different district so I had little experience with him.  It was clear enough that he was critical of Bob for not being a true Democrat.

Todd was attacked pretty hard with claims that he was just attempting to ride his father's legacy into office and had moved back to Manitowoc (from where I dont know) expressly to use his family legacy to take the office.  I had no idea if that was true or not and in fact it didn't bother me that much.

I voted for Todd.  He lost.  For what it's worth he didn't stay in that house very long.  He moved away (some said to Madison) shortly after.

I didnt see him again for a long long time.  I only became aware that he was again living in Manitowoc when I began my run for assembly, someone said to go talk to him and told me where he lived.  I did learn that he had become the Wisconsin lobbyist for The Nature Conservancy - an environmental group which fairly strong Liberal support so I had at least some hope for an endorsement from him if not from his employers.  I had already received similar endorsements from several state and national environmental groups including Clean Wisconsin, League of Conservation Voters (LCV) and the Sierra Club.  I went to his house a couple times and while the garage door was usually open nobody came to the door.  I got his email and contacted him that way.  He was unable to make my invite to meet and promised to "chat some time" but never followed through.

The next time I saw him was a the Manitowoc Democratic Party's annual meeting.  I did not recognize him but he introduced himself and things began cordially.  His name was on the agenda as being nominated for an at-large committee position.  I had asked to be placed on that agenda too but it had not been done.  When nominations were opened up to the floor a friend nominated me and we were both along with Jim Brey, voted onto the committee.  I had no idea what I was in for.

We met again the following month at the very first meeting of the new committee.   The meeting itself was uneventful but what came during dinner would set the tone for our relationship from that point forward.  Out of the blue Todd launched into a verbal tirade over a blog item I had written that apparently accosted a friend of his.  Of course, I assumed that he was referring to alleged Democrat Jim Brey who was not present.  Why else would a Democrat attack another Democrat over a blog post?   I had written a lot about Jim and I was used to taking flack for taking my shots at Jim.  But, when I began to defend my take on Brey he stopped me and said that he wasn't talking about Brey.  It was not a Democrat.  It was Right To Work advocate, Republican assembly candidate owner of Mike Howe Builders.... Mike Howe.

Source:City of Manitowoc website

I was so taken back by this that about all I could do was point out that Howe was a Republican and had been involved in a wrongful death suit after an illegal alien had gotten killed on one of his work sights and because his wages had been laundered through a fake sub-contractor with no tax ID, had no workman's comp or SSI survivor's benefits for his family.  When I asked him why he would be defending someone like that he stated quite plainly that Howe was his personal friend and as such I had no right to attack him...  

Excuse me?  One can perhaps take exception to my opposition to Brey as a matter of party unity and all that but I was shocked by the notion that I should consider the wide ranging personal relationships of ever other (alleged) Democrat I ever met as somehow off limits for criticism, especially when that individual is diametric opposition to the most basic and ingrained values of the Democratic Party - worker's rights.

The others present seemed incredulous I think because they were as blind sided
The significance of mingled Nickels and Howe signs
would become clear over time
as I was.  Some began to question the veracity of my piece though they had not seen it.  A few understood what I was talking about and when I got home I forwarded a link to the article and provided some additional supporting information including the county court case number and the names of other parties like Mr. Mares - the fake contractor, himself an illegal who has since skipped town.  That seemed to settle it with them but not with Todd.  He stormed out of the balance of the meeting.

Shortly after this I learned that Holschbach wasnt just taking exception to my blog.  He was actively supporting Howe for city council over long time Democrat and party member James Langnese.   Langnese may be a bit of a rough neck but he is a Democrat.  That's not debatable.  He supports labor and opposes Republican tax schemes and has always been there for Democratic candidates including me.  He might be rough but you can bet good money that he will always makes the right call in the end.  That is significant as the issue of party unity and supporting our own people would come up again, this time with Holschbach on the other side.

When I've been critical of Democrats it has been because they have thrown Democratic values, if not the entire Democratic platform under the bus.  What Republicans I have supported have been the ones like Senator Schultz who joined Democrats in opposing the mining bill.  Even so my criticisms of pols like Jim Brey have been taken by some as somehow destructive to party unity.  While I think that's debatable, openly supporting a Right To Work Republican against a dues paying member who holds true to party values has met with remarkably little criticism from the same corners.  But, disrupting a party leadership meeting with an angry and vitriolic verbal attack was over the top, or so one would have thought.  It was largely ignored.

It has also become plain that Holschbach had supported Brey in the primary and that the two were working together.  That's hard to comprehend given all the Liberal slack that Todd has been given.  Never mind Brey's public opposition to nearly every party platform plank imaginable, not just the inherently Liberal ones.  When asked in his Wiseye interview what particular issue he finds most important he volunteered his opposition to the Federal Clean Water Act which resulted in what he calls and "unfunded mandate" for the City of Manitowoc to control it's storm water run off, a project that as Alderman he has steadfastly blocked ignoring frequent flooding issues on Calumet Drive.

But remember that Todd is the Wisconsin Lobbyist for the Nature Conservancy whose hot button issue is THE CLEAN WATER ACT and all related issues.  Excuse me again, but does anyone else see a problem with this?

Through all the subsequent meetings (and although neither Brey nor Holschbach regularly attended) every single proposal I made to advance the presence of the party in the public eye was summarily shot down by one or the other or both of them with the quick acquiescence of chairman Kerry Trask.  I had revamped the party web page and wanted to publish the monthly newsletter there.  They opposed it.  Use video and other multi-media?  No!  Revitalize and use facebook and web page public comments?  "That's can of worms!" (Jim Brey).  Participate in parades in off election years?  "No, that's only for candidates.  All the while membership continued to dwindle and age with few new young faces.

Later, when I published the unflattering blog post about Brey pointing out his support for Act 10 and poking fun at his public image Holschbach and Brey (and two other local pols who I will name later) conducted a six month long campaign to have me removed from the committee.

Here is the real kicker:  Todd Holschbach was NEVER A PAID MEMBER of the Democratic party - a direct violation of the State Party Constitution.

Let me repeat that so there is no mistake... While sitting on the Democratic Party executive committee of Manitowoc County and actively campaigning against a paid party member AND lobbying to have me, a dues paying Progressive Democrat removed from the committee, Todd Holschbach was allowed to sit on the committee without so much as paying his dues.

The question must be asked... Who is Todd Holschbach, really?  Is he a Democrat?  Is he an environmentalist?  The resume and pedigree say one thing.  The reality seems to say something quite different.  As it turns out this is not uncommon on the ladder to Democratic public office.  We know all too well that Bob Ziegelbauer masqueraded as a Democrat for decades while obstructing every Democratic value and platform plank the party had.  When Joe Bauknecht ran for clerk of courts he stood in my office and swore that he was a genuine Democrat and not at all like Bob.  Shortly after he left office to become the movie mogul of Manitowoc, placards for right wing candidates began appearing on his properties.  For reasons I can't begin to explain in a single post, the career path for young pols in Manitowoc today is increasing through the Democratic party shell while privately shedding those representations in private elite circles.  

I believe that this (and many other recent events) demonstrate that there is an inherent expectation that support is based not on party and ideological loyalties but on loyalties developed within an elite local ruling class that exploits the Democratic Party in particular as a facade of respectability that has no other purpose except to advance the careers and prestige of those accepted into its crony based social membership.

There is much more to this and will be addressed in future releases but one has to ask if the Democratic Party still exists in this county in any meaningful way.  And, whether efforts of the membership to part with their time and treasure to support these candidates has any value if the party cannot at least enforce its own rules or even exercise discretion in endorsing candidates who claim party fealty while thumbing their noses at it in private.

--- To be continued ---

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Welcome to the Dystop-acratic Party! Part II

How poor judgement, monumental egos, a DINO candidate and a Liberal obsession with inclusivism blew apart the Manitowoc County Democratic Party.

Of Mice and Men and Women and Gays and Black and Latinos and etc... etc...
"A state that has established uniformity of purpose for a year will be strong for ten years.  A state that has established uniformity of purpose for ten years will be strong for a hundred years..."  Sun Tzu - "The Art of War"
"Any resident of Manitowoc County, at least 16 years of age, who subscribes to the progressive principles of the Democratic Party is eligible for voting membership and shall become a member upon payment of dues and receipt of such dues by the county unit."  ARTICLE III. Membership - Constitution of the Manitowoc County Democratic Party 
What's wrong with this picture?
For all of their ability to organize get out the vote and other efforts Democrats do not know how to run organizations.  There is a difference and Republicans are much better at it than we are.   The reason should be obvious.  Republicans are to a much larger extent, business men and women who have certain skills in attracting customers, managing their brand and keeping employees focused on delivering the product.  The quote listed at the top of this article is a great example.  Sun Tzu's treatise on how to defeat your enemies is required reading for business students if not by the class syllabus certainly by necessity.  Republicans are obsessed with competition and there is no greater competition than war and war is remarkably similar to the business world and they have used it to great effect in their political moves.

Democrats are hung up on the Big Tent thing.  It's being mis-used.  Inclusiveness was never meant to include Republican ideology.  Rather it was intended to include people struggling on their way up regardless of racial or sexual or other associations that are too often used as barriers to economic and political access.  It is not a coincidence that Democrats have a commanding lead among blacks and Hispanics who know all too well that these divisions have been used against them.  Gays and women have learned the same thing and are Democrats because of it.  They are Democrats because of the stark differences between our party platform versus the Republican's.  Where it comes off the rails is where we start to listen to the political science cynics who tell us that you can carve up the electorate by slicing and dicing those values while ignoring the value of good management and leadership and good old fashioned marketing.

Its hard to argue with success!  Skeptics of the values argument are hard pressed to explain how the TEA Party's anti-RINO campaign has lead to such obvious electoral success.  The parsers of voter opinion will tell you that playing the voter demographic game is the only way to win.  The problem with that is that in order to appeal to the widest number of voters you have to shed the very things that hold the party together.  It leads to cynicism and disunity and ultimately to defeat.  Any claim that a party has to the moral high ground (however they define it) is destroyed by dilution.  You cannot ask sweat and sacrifice without answering the ultimate question -  "WHY?"   The answer must be clear and unequivocal.  It cannot be - just because...

If you think this isn't enough just read some business web sites.  Not the PAC sites like the Club for Growth, the ordinary work a day business sites like  Can the owner of a  Ford dealership afford to have its employees coming to work in new Toyotas?
What business people know that Liberals don't
As your company grows and evolves, periodically take an honest look at your employees to see if their goals match your company's mission and vision. If they don't, it may be time to reevaluate. Remember that staffing changes are a natural part of growth for any small business.

When I get blow back on purging Democrat DINOs I ask for one thing.  Evidence! Show me where supporting un-Democratic candidates has actually worked!  The evidence says something else.   In the last assembly race here the eventual nominee was an apologist for nearly every Democratic plank.  Openly homophobic in opposing marriage equality he took only four of the ten city districts.  LGBT Tammy Baldwin took twice that many.  For two decades 25th Assembly Democrats suffered under the representation of Bob Ziegelbauer who consistently voted with Republicans.  The argument was at least he put a 'D' in the seat which counted toward a Democratic majority so even when the local party finally voted to reject him the State party stepped in and endorsed him.  Only the balance of power has NEVER shifted on a single seat in Madison.  When you ask Dem leadership how many times Bob's committee votes tipped legislation away from them you get stony silence.  To my great dismay the party has been repeating the mistakes of the past.

Nationally we are the winners!  We kicked butt in 2012.  Wisconsin in particular went for both Obama and Baldwin.  Only by state level manipulation were the Republican able to hang on.  It is only by our own arrogance that we didn't see fit to fixing redistricting when we had the chance.  Under full Democratic control this idea was shot down because it was seen as our advantage at the time.  Do I need to point out that one of
Allowing competing ideologies
in the ranks moves the fight
inside the tent and destroys
all sense of purpose.
the stated values of the party is fair, impartial and transparent government?  It should have applied to us too and we are paying the price for our lack of commitment to it now.

In a recent local case one individual was allowed to sit on the executive committee while openly supporting a right wing Republican Mike Howe who was running against a dues paying Democratic party member.  That was bad enough but when I wrote a piece about Howe's labor woes I was verbally attacked in a committee meeting  by that member for having revealed some unfavorable yet entirely true facts about his friend.  It was later revealed that hewas not not even a party member and had never even paid his dues, a clear violation of Article II of the State constitution.  He had no expectation of voting rights at all much less a seat in the committee.  Uniformity of purpose begins with adherence to the rules.  The ensuing polarization effectively destroyed the operations of the party for the entire year.

Are we deaf?  The biggest argument comes from those who might have been at least allies but have lost faith that that there are any real alternatives.  You hear their lament all the time... "They are all the same!"  Why can't we hear that?  What did we think would happen if we decided that some tax cuts would be OK and that some program cuts would be OK.  Maybe a little privatization won't hurt.  Pro choice?  Screwed by Act 10?  Pro environment?  Set that all aside because victory can be found in surrender!  Huh?  Tell me why you would expect anyone to put on his pants and go to the polls if they believe (correctly as it turns out) that the it doesn't matter?  Did you hear the question?

Unity can't be faked!  You can appeal to unity all you want but real unity comes from Tzu's uniformity of purpose.  The troops ask, "What are we fighting for?"  A general can tell them.  A Politician cannot.

  • Do we need another candidate who tells our platform is rubbish?
  • Can we tolerate party leaders who openly support Republican candidates?
  • Do membership rules apply to everyone?
  • Which of your values are willing to live without?
  • Who owes greater loyalty?  We to the party or the party to us?
  • What are we fighting for?
  • Who the hell are we and why should we part with our time and treasure to advance this cause?

 In the words of Henry V,                       
 "He which has no stomach for this fight, let him depart!"

We have the tools to enforce the necessary standards.  From the 2nd quote at the top our party forbearers told us, "[anyone] who subscribes to the progressive principles of the Democratic Party is eligible.   
What we lack are leaders strong enough enforce the rules we agreed to and the principles we ascribe to.

When we accept candidates and other leaders with un-Democratic values we are not helping the party gain some meaningless numeric majority.  We are undermining that all important uniformity of purpose.  We cheapen ourselves in the public eye.  And, we send our best friends packing leaving us to suffer the company of fools.

The real way to attract more people to the party is to be the party we were meant to be.  We need to offer real alternatives that are consistent with our platform and say so with a clear and unbroken voice.  We need to be less willfully blind and wisely allocate resources to those who have demonstrated and ability to lead and not follow.  We must sell our own products and not pirated copies of the competition.  We must follow our own rules and hold party officials and candidates accountable when they do not.  Even if pacifistic Democrats reject the analogy to war it is at the very least, a matter doing of the job at hand.  Sun Tzu would have been a good businessman I think.  The question is whether or not Democrats can do the business of the party.

Note: I recently came across this piece at Raw Story which I think supports this and other similar points that Ive made:
This is what he believes it would take to refashion the progressive mindset: the abandonment of argument by evidence in favor of argument by moral cause; the unswerving and unembarrassed articulation of what those morals are; the acceptance that there is no “middle” or third way, no such thing as a moderate (people can hold divergent views, conservative on some things, progressive on others – but they are not moderates, they are “biconceptual”);
Progressive linguist George Lakoff: ‘Liberals do everything wrong.’

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Welcome to the Dystop-acratic Party! Part I

How poor judgement, monumental egos, a DINO candidate and a Liberal obsession with inclusivism blew apart the Manitowoc County Democratic Party.

"I don't belong to any organized party.  I'm a Democrat!" - Harry S. Truman.

"If I bend that far I will break!"  Tevye, Fiddler on the roof.

Part I:  The Candidate from Hell.

My core assumption about the Democratic Party has always been that I shared a set of common core values and that anyone with the audacity to call themselves a Democrat held with at least the
majority of its stated platform.  When I decided to get involved with the Manitowoc Democratic Party there had already been some considerable bumps in the relationship.  The campaign had been a tough one and my refusal to support the eventual nominee Jim Brey hadn't gone down well.  I thought that maybe there had been some mis-communication that made that situation worse so I, perhaps naively, asked to be placed on the executive committee as I was told some people were leaving and a slot or two were available.  Little did I know how that assumption would be tested in the year that followed.

I won't call it a mistake maybe education is a better word.  If you read the rhetoric its possible to delude yourself into believing that any political party is a monolithic bunch committed to the same set of core values and that (at least among educated Liberals) are committed to the interests of labor, economic justice and non-judgementalism in matters of race and sex.  Certainly the Republicans have made a big deal out of ejecting the so called RINOs (Republicans In Name Only) from their midst.  During the Republican assembly forum eventual winner Paul Tittl accused Jason Sladky of all people of "being from a Democrat house" as if that was some sort of slur.  But for them at least the coming together was much less of a leap.  Its hard to find a Republican that has any use for gays or government regulation.  Democrats seem to believe that rejecting anyone for any reason lessens their chances even when the candidate openly embraces Republican values more than Democratic ones.  But when you ask the inclusivists why the exclusive Republicans have been so successful with their RINO campaign all you hear are crickets.

During the campaign it was clear that few in the party were really buying Jim Brey as a Democrat.  In his post primary interview with me HTR reporter Charley Matthews half asked half speculated that it was all name recognition to which I added that a couple of non-serious candidates to split the anti-Brey police and Chilton teacher vote.  Also, Brey got lucky in drawing top ballot spot which amazingly makes a difference great enough to cover his margin of victory.  With the recall in June the ensuing fall campaign was short, tough and though we did well, we fell just short of the goal of putting an end to Brey's ambitions.

Brey has an amazingly horrific record regardless of party affiliation.  He has a history of attaching himself to what he sees as a successful politician like a tick, stroking them and doing their bidding fully expecting (without much justification) that their gratitude will be his ticket out of his low level city and county offices.  It has never worked.  He is a serial office seeker having run for Mayor multiple times, county clerk and now assembly.  I've lost track.  In his last mayoral primary he did not even win his own district.  Each time he expects that his excessive loyalty will be repaid with adulation and endorsements and each time they are left handed at best and as in the assembly race non existent from his old boss Bob Ziegelbauer, a slight that has stuck in his craw.

One would think that his involvement in a string of regressive disasters promulgated by Ziegelbauer would have taught him some lessons.  After all the theory always was that the glow of the Bob mystique would rub off on him if he just carried the load.  What ended up happening was that Jim got the dirty end of the shovel.  By ramming the exec's regressive agenda through the county board and protecting him from bad PR as in the PPP nepotism and payola scandals the crap landed in his lap.  In a related event that year he had the audacity to accuse Bob's opponent Carla Halvorson of violating HIPPA (medical privacy) laws by demanding a payroll audit of PPP corp records after billing irregularities had come to light.  HIPPA only applies to medical records and NOT accounting data.  After that he shut down any discussion of the scandal as board chairman.  The employee at the center of the scandal, Jeff Beyer who's inlaws owned PPP (a concrete contractor in Green Bay) and who's children were hired by the company at premium pay was never held accountable and still works for the county and has even received raises.  The payroll audit would never be done but PPP did cancel its contract seeking to end its exposure.  But for Brey the damage had been done while Bob stayed in the shadows.

Brey supported first the building and then sale of the Manitowoc County Health Care Center (MCHCC) at an eventual nine-million dollar loss based on the executive's contrived assertion that it was racking up multi-million dollar annual losses.  My own private conversation with him revealed that he knew it was a load of crap but stuck to the talking points anyway. (the number had been packed with  money for unrelated projects)  As it turned out the claimed benefit of paying down debt was hindered by the bond's prepayment penalty so the remaining paltry 3.5 million was instead was spent on repairs on the county courthouse.

For all that he never received so much as an "Atta boy!" from the stoic executive.  Yet even when free from the direct oversight of his county boss he sought to emulate him as city alderman.

For years Brey sat on the city finance committee and in the last few years before Walker took office in 2010 was the finance chair.  At the same time that the national and state economy was in a shambles and the new governor was ripping millions from state revenue sharing.  The city finance director had resigned at the end of the previous administration.  Inexplicably Brey helped block the hiring of a replacement citing the salary savings (a Ziegelbauer practice) leaving the new young mayor to struggle with an accounting problem he should not have had to handle without professional help.  But, at the very moment that the city needed to dip into reserves it was revealed that 4 million was missing from the city's reserve fund.  TIF payments had been systematically diverted to cover up a long running deficit in underperforming TIF districts.  But, finance chair Brey claimed that he had no idea that a total of four million had disappeared into the general fund ballooning the accumulated debt.  His solution would leave everyone stunned.

He not only suggested but called a press conference with Green Bay  TV stations to demand the sale of Manitowoc Public Utilities, a privatization stunt he had learned, again... from his old boss Bob.  Only Jim was on running the show and better accounting.  That was pretty much all people had to hear.  Whether he realized it or not it would be remembered and not in a positive light.

The great irony of all this is that conservatives didnt give him a nickle's worth of credit for any of it.  No more than the primary was
It was in fact very shocking
over dark money dirt pieces started hitting my mail box citing all or most of the same things that had angered Liberals.  With slightly altered facts the TEA party let into him for what should have been positive conservative credentials like selling the MHCC.  But the skyrocketing city debt and resulting tax hikes in a down economy were common ground for pretty much everyone.

And so it came to be.  The disaster I had sought to avert electrified the campaign.

As progressives including myself saw it the only way to keep the party from getting smeared with that record was to put as much distance between the party and the pending landslide as could be had.  Unfortunately, the party leaders had other ideas.  State leadership was remarkably clueless as to the local politics at work surrounding Brey's record.  Local leaders were much less clueless but sadly more inclined to follow orders than consider the conflict of supporting both an ostensibly Liberal president and obviously Liberal LGBT female senatorial candidate at the same time as a self described un-Liberal political troglodyte who made a campaign issue of disparaging Progressive values.  He was never going to beat the affable TEA Party vacuum cleaner salesman Paul Tittl and you could argue, was pulling down the top of the ticket.

Early on I had made a deal to supply my office space for the OFA/Baldwin campaigns operations never dreaming that the state had already decreed that all campaigns would be merged.  Of course Brey's presence in my building on my dime was as
Phone bank never used
unthinkable to me and the other Progressives as it seemed unthinkable to the old liners that the party wouldn't close ranks around Brey.  
Local party leaders cited Democratic policies of inclusiveness as a justification for supporting the anti-choice, anti-gay, pro Act 10, anti-union, anti-voting rights, anti-recall Brey but the base was having none of it.  The party pulled out of my building abandoning the time and energy that had gone into setting it up.

What emerged was an unexpected show of non-support from the corners of the county.  I had expected that I would be the lone voice of dissent but a small avalanche of letters to the editor hit the Herald Times all from at least non-Republicans and all with long memories of the many sins of Jim Brey.  The following is a prime example written by a former MCHCC union nurse.
Brey showed disrespect to county employees
Oct 11, 2012
Herald Times Reporter Letters To The Editor
I’m writing because I’m in total [...]agreement with Robert Dobbs’ letter in the Wednesday “Your View.” I had the unfortunate opportunity of dealing with and observing for myself what an arrogant, egotistical and disrespectful person Jim Brey can be.
I was employed by Manitowoc County when Jim Brey was sitting on the County Board and judging others. The awful way he treated county employees at the meetings who were speaking to protect their jobs and the jobs of others was reprehensible, cutting them off halfway through their speeches, and belittling some of them to the point of tears.
Oh yes, the Manitowoc County citizens might be getting on in years, but the memories of meetings with Jim Brey are still very fresh, and that is probably why he did poorly and was eliminated in the race for mayor.
Kathleen Brennan

Obama and Baldwin won eight of ten districts in the city of Manitowoc.  Jim Brey, home town pol of two decades, only managed to win four and by slimmer margins.  None of them won any rural districts but Brey lost them in a bigger way.  It was just as I had feared and predicted, a disaster... and it cemented the notion in people's minds that Manitowoc County is now officially red and more importantly, that there is no real difference between the parties.

Little did I realize then that the damage would extend far into the future and has yet to be fully realized not just in the public's mind but within the party itself.

(to be continued)

See previous articles on Brey:  The Biggest Loser 
                                                  Manitowoc County Math Quiz (re PPP scandal)
                                                                           Jim Brey's Fun House

Friday, January 3, 2014

Walker's Seventh Level of Tax Hell

Walker's Seventh Level of Tax Hell

by Fighting Bernie Starzewski

Abandon hope all ye who enter here" - Gates of Hell” 
― Dante AlighieriInferno

When we should like this!
Republicans often refer to Wisconsin as Tax Hell but all they want to talk about are income and corporate taxes. That's why Governor Walker is again floating the idea of going to an all sales tax scheme only there is no inner circle of hell we could endure that would turn the State upside down more so than the 15% rate it would take to replace income taxes with a sales tax.

Wisconsin has three main methods of taxation not including things like user fees and licenses: Income tax, sales tax and property tax. Almost no property taxes go to the state. Those are used to fund local governments and schools. Rather the state sends income tax money back to locals to help defray property taxes which are only slightly less regressive than sales taxes. Under Act 10 that took a big hit at the expense of public workers which in turn hit the local econimies by draining their disposable income. We have seen the effects in Wisconsin's lagging economy ever since. If that was a shock to the economy a tripling of the sales tax would more like a nuclear bomb.

With the current structure of deductions it is often the case that working people can catch a break. Sick? Unemployed? Disabled? Retired? Business having a bad year or maybe investing in the future? Income taxes cut you some slack. Business may even receive refunds on past year's taxes if the losses are bad enough and can carry losses forward for years if that does not cure it. Not so with the sales tax! Its just there and it must be paid. Unlike State income tax, sales taxes are not deductible on Federal individual income taxes. Charitable donations cannot be claimed against them either. No exceptions. No escape. Abandon all hope!

In order to minimize the objections Walker has hinted he might also eliminate sales tax exemptions to cut the necessary 15% sales tax rate. But those exemptions include things like food and farm supplies. Tax food? Seriously? The devil you say!

The degree of shifting it does to the tax burden is almost unimaginable. The lowest two fifths of us would see our burdens more than double. The middle 1/5 still over a 40% rise. Only the very top 2% would we see a drop in net taxes paid which I think, is the real goal here.

A large sales tax would devastate the economy and make Wal Mart the state's largest tax agent. It would send customers streaming to the borders much like the oleo buyers of old. It would add $2000 to the price of a typical car wiping out dealers anywhere near our borders and add more to the cost of a Big Mac than a $15 minimum wage with none of the positives.

Yet TEA Republicans glibly engage in magical thinking that denies the numbers. The last time Walker proposed this enough of his party had the good sense to cower away from it. Hopefully Walker is just doing this for its shock value. He is after all running for President and crack pots like Huckabee who have been pushing this bilge for years need to be impressed. 
Older data but still relevant.
But there are enough of the mathematically impaired to make you worry with Republican numbers in the Legislature. So, the next time you hear some politician gurgling about this, think about the extra 10% it will cost you at the check out and tell him to shut the hell up!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Things I Learned From Star Trek: Episode I

Mr. Spock was a Liberal Elitist

"Logic is the cement of our civilization, with which we ascend from chaos, using reason as our guide."
Vulcan proverb

"Act, and you may eat dinner. Think, and you may be dinner."
Klingon proverb

The Star Trek character of Mr. Spock is a cultural icon. His recurring theme is one of an intelligent technocrat capable of the most amazing acts of mental discipline and knowledge but one devoid of human feelings and emotions. Over the course of the series and films Spock more than any evolves as a character in search of the human condition and that emotion and feeling are at least as important as the pure logic he values.

One of the best examples is the one titled “The Galileo Seven”. Spock, Bones and five others become
The humanization of Mr. Spock
Leadership is as much about emotion as knowledge
stranded on a planet inhabited by giant spear throwing troglodytes who start killing off the crew one at a time. Spock decides that a show of their weaponry will cause them to reconsider attacking them which only causes them to attack in force bashing the shuttle craft with rocks while Scotty and the others desperately try to repair the ship and escape.

Spock becomes unhinged by this and expresses his shock that his logic did not work. Bones on the other hand berates him saying, “You assumed that they would behave logically. You never anticipated that they might react emotionally!” Spock's Vulcan philosophy had no answer to the illogical reaction of the creatures. In the end Spock makes the necessary adjustments by himself reacting emotionally and committing an act of illogic resulting in their rescue.
When logic fails
Speak the language of emotion

Like the Vulcans, modern Liberals evolved out of more chaotic times. The labor movement was born in riots and death. The strikes of the late 19th and early 20th centuries are hallmarks of a more violent and confrontational time.  The outrages of Joe Hill, the Pullman and coal strikes of a hundred years ago are just the grainy photos in a history book.  The civil rights and anti-war movements were at the zenith for those still living. The images of troops and corporate thugs beating and shooting down strikers and the four dead in Ohio were an easy message to get. It was as much about the emotion of the times as it was the all too real issues of the day.

Progressive leaders like Bob Lafollet were passionate advocates
Fighting Bob
Never lacking for passion!
for bridling the trusts and action on behalf of the common worker. Lafollet was known as “Fighting Bob” and is often seen in photographs with a stern expression and his fist upraised ready to take on the opposition. It was a populist movement built on the emotion of desperate people trying to survive and hungry for the symbolism and leadership to help them.  Lafollet often said that it was "... necessary to be aggressive for what is right.  Modern Liberals like to attend the event known as "Fighting Bob Fest" to feed on the red meat thrown by Liberal luminaries who breath the fire of moral outrage.  But, when they return home revert to old patterns leaving the emotion on the convention floor.  The message falls flat.

The TEA Party is essentially a populist movement too. It gets many things right. It is angry at Wall Street, is suspicious of corporate personhood and knows by their gut that their fortunes are threatened. It is all about the passions that survival invokes. So, w
hy cant we talk to them?

A Progressive friend of mine pointed out that “we” just can't put our complex ideas into short simplistic sound bytes. Consider this for a second what that means. It says that we are so smart and our ideas so profound that we cannot even attempt to communicate in simple terms or consider the possibility that words are not the entire solution.  At the same time it says that we are NOT smart enough to be good word smiths, communicators or actors when on the political stage. I don't buy that and neither would Bones.  If we are really that educated where are the authors and English majors?  Where are the sociologist and the anthropologist and the behavioral psychologists that permeate our overly educated party?

I suggest that the real problem is that like the Vulcans we have forgotten how to talk to ordinary rank
An image we just learn to understand
and avoid
and file working class blue collar or farm populations. We are too far removed, our habits too altered to be recognizable in the worlds they inhabit. The facilitator of that has been our own white collar success which has become our greatest obstacle to communication with that world. Who do we most resemble if not the very corporate bosses that oppress them daily? We play golf and tennis, dress in nice clothes, drink wine or the pricey beer, drive nicer cars, live in better houses and as teachers and government workers are quite capable of leveling the same sort of oppressions upon them as any SOB plant manager. In short, you cannot tell the players without a program.

Meanwhile they fish and hunt, play league sports for bars, drive older cars and drink the cheap beer in cans – and on sale. More often than not they get dirty for a living. White collars shower in the morning so as not to take their odors to work. Blue collars shower at night so as not to take the filth of their jobs into their beds. We do not live in their neighborhoods or see their lives. But worst of all we do not speak their language.

At the same time that plant manager holds much greater sway that any of us ever could. They hold in their hands the worker's daily bread so that any speech holding that SOB accountable is as likely to endanger hearth and home in ways no Liberal could. In fact, attacking the Liberal is likely to curry favor with the boss.  When they ask what we can do for them we are likely to offer the same answer - become educated like us!  Which is often heard as "You are stupid!".  

If we look the same and our solutions are no better what do we have to offer them?  At least the Republican businessman can offer them a job.  We are the easy targets, the ones without obvious consequences. And still we make it worse by mocking their spelling and and calling them dupes.
If we were the Liberal elite what would we look like?

We are the Vulcans. Too smart for our own good. Too sophisticated to see the simple. Too out of touch with our own emotional and violent past to remember what it was like to talk to rough people who are only trying to survive. Too arrogant and too comfortable to use our own skills to seek solutions that do not fit our modern self made molds.
The wrong message
So, what are the solutions? They will not come easy and if you were offended by the previous paragraph unlikely to happen at all. Its time to shake things up!

It has been suggested by some that we need to become less Liberal by shedding at least some values in order to salvage others. Which ones would you suggest? Worker's rights? The environment? Voting rights? Marriage rights? Civil rights? When Solomon ordered the child cut in half to settle the dispute only the true mother fell over it offering herself to defend it. So too would would the Liberal base exodus the Democratic party if that became the resolution.

Its also been suggested that working even harder at GOTV efforts will deliver us into the promised land. Getting out the vote is important but it cannot succeed on its own. Too many have become demoralized and cynical. Do this!  But do more!

But there is a caution here as well.  Raw emotion is not enough.  It must be directed at the right targets and not the seeming opponent standing before us.  He is the deceived victim and not the enemy.  A
A meeting of the minds
As well as cultures
misdirected attack or a raw shouting match does more harm than good.  The ire and the logic must both be directed at those responsible and the case must be made that takes up their causes in their way and their language and their manners.  There must be both a meeting of the minds as well as the cultures.

To do this we need to step out into the worlds of our fellow populists and rediscover the emotional language of our Democratic fathers. A little bombast never hurt anyone as long as it was made from the truths we hold self evident. And to those who's ears it will harm, I invite them to cover them. People who live by their gut respect strong leadership. We need to demonstrate some. By showing some of those old populist values and emotions that served us so well in the too distant past we can like Spock, rediscover our human side. May we live long and prosper.  A little chaos makes us human.

Star date 2013.08.05

Note: I recently came across this piece at Raw Story which I think supports this and other similar points that Ive made:
This is what he believes it would take to refashion the progressive mindset: the abandonment of argument by evidence in favor of argument by moral cause; the unswerving and unembarrassed articulation of what those morals are; the acceptance that there is no “middle” or third way, no such thing as a moderate (people can hold divergent views, conservative on some things, progressive on others – but they are not moderates, they are “biconceptual”);
Progressive linguist George Lakoff: ‘Liberals do everything wrong.’