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 www.manta.com.  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.

The candidate from Hell

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
Democratic delegates are "diehards"
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 corporate 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
15 million $ public investment sold for 6
Brey helped build it and then dump it
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 Jim 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 part II
See part III
See part IV

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!