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 ---