Deregulation and Wisconsin’s Disappearing Lakes

It was once a Milwaukee tradition. Every Friday afternoon during the summer, Milwaukee families packed up their cars, jammed the kids into the backseat, and left their bungalows and duplexes behind, heading out of the city to private cottages and small fishing resorts, to spend weekends and two-week vacations on blue, spring-fed Wisconsin lakes.

This Milwaukee tradition was enabled by good-paying union jobs when the city was a regional manufacturing center. With succeeding generations, the cottages became more upscale, and Pabst and Schlitz and swarms of shrieking kids were replaced by middle-aged wine-tasting parties.

The lakes were never all that clear; all those reeds coming up from the bottom were a good place for fish to hide. But now, in some areas, the reeds have begun to take over, turning lakes into marshes. And beaches are expanding until lakes are nothing but puddles.

This is the story in the part of Wisconsin known as the Central Sands, a six-county area where lakes and streams are literally disappearing.

Nowhere are the consequences of the Republican party’s near-demented passion for deregulation more evident. Nowhere is it more evident what deregulation really means: the big money wins, and the rights of the individual taxpayer are ignored, simply waved away.

How the Lake-Water Draw-Down Works

A responsible state government would be concerned about the lake-water draw-down in the Sand Counties. Because this is not a natural process. It’s the result of massive wells – wells with a capacity of 100,000 gallons per day – drilled deep into the aquifers to irrigate large farming operations.

For the Walker administration and the Republicans in both houses of Wisconsin’s legislature, the squandering of a vital piece of Wisconsin’s natural heritage is an opportunity to further their allegiance to the big-money donors who fill campaign coffers and whose voices are always listened to, even when they’re lying through their teeth.

On June 1, Senate Bill 76 was signed into law by Governor Walker, allowing “reconstruction,” including “deepening,” of high-capacity wells in Wisconsin without additional approval from the DNR.

High-capacity wells are already causing serious problems — have been for decades. And instead of addressing these problems, the Republicans have passed another law that insures that those problems will continue to get worse.

Kimberlee Wright, executive director of Midwest Environmental Advocates, says, “I’m shocked by how obstinate legislators and the Governor have been to the overwhelming public opposition to this bill—opposition based in sound science and real-life impacts to families.”

Wright is shocked, but she can hardly be surprised. Such actions are, after all, the norm in Scott Walker’s Wisconsin.

What are the Central Sands?

The Central Sands region is a 1.75 million-acre swath in the lower-middle of the state comprising the counties of Marquette, Portage, Shawano, Waupaca, Waushara, and Wood, and parts of Adams and Marathon. It’s a couple hours’ drive from Milwaukee and was once a prime destination for weekend lake dwellers.

A report by the Central Sands Water Coalition, a group of waterfront property owners, states that “50% of all high-capacity wells” in the state of Wisconsin are in six of the Central Sands counties “and more wells are going in monthly.”
The impact of these wells is clear, at least to those who are willing to see it. According to a UW-Stevens Point study conducted in 2010, “water levels and stream discharges have been notably depressed.”

For example, the Little Plover River, “a formerly high-quality trout stream and a Wisconsin Exceptional Resource Water,” was nearly dry in 2005 and stretches of the Little Plover continue to run dry every year. According to Central Sands, the Little Plover is currently on the list of America’s 10 Most Endangered rivers.

The UW-Stevens Point study reports that Long Lake near Plainfield in Waushara County, a once 45-acre lake, “has been near to dry since 2005.” It notes that “other lakes in that vicinity have dried,” while still others, like Pickerel and Wolf Lakes, have experienced “depressed water levels.”

In a comprehensive article on the Central Sands problem, “War Over Water in the Land of Plenty,” published in the Journal-Sentinel last September, Lee Berquist describes what happened to Long Lake, where “grass and shrubs poke up from a lake that once held largemouth bass and northern pike.” Long Lake, reports Berquist, has “withered to a marsh.”

The situation for homeowners on Long Lake is heartbreaking. “There is no way I could put out a dock. There is no way I could put out a boat. I can’t fish,” Brian Wolf told Berquist. Property values on the affected lakes have, of course, plummeted.


The Republican Numbers Game

However, the owners of large farms, those represented by the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association, take a different view. The association has created a High Capacity Well Fact Book, which states that: “Scientists have established that annual precipitation maintains the static groundwater levels at maximum height.” In other words, it’s just not raining enough to keep those lakes filled up. Even if there weren’t numerous research studies contradicting the “Fact Book,” this contention would be laughable.

On their Web site, the Potato and Vegetable Growers Association also reports that “specialty crop production and processing account for $6.4 billion in economic activity and 132,000 jobs” in our state.

Numbers like that are hard to argue with in a state as jobs-obsessed as Wisconsin. But those aren’t the only numbers of interest. According to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which tracks campaign donations to candidates, Scott Walker has received $1,985,202.46 in campaign donations from agri-businesses since 2014.

Heartland Farms, a 21,000 acre, irrigated potato and vegetable “farming operation” is a big player in the Sand Counties, and getting bigger. According to its Website, Heartland Farms has been “experiencing substantial growth.”
Though only a minimal donation of $2,000 from Heartland Farms is visible on Walker’s books, the WDC explains that much of the money these days comes from check-bundling “conduits” that hide individual donors from the public, revealing them to the candidate only in private correspondence.

What “Deregulation” Means for Wisconsin

In the meantime, more wells are going in, and more lakes are likely to disappear. And SB 76, the most recent bill, is only the icing on the cake. Walker and the legislature’s efforts to render the DNR toothless began early in the governor’s tenure, with the passage of Act 21, prohibiting state agencies from imposing regulations without directives from lawmakers. On June 10 of last year, the DNR announced that applications for new high-capacity wells would no longer be based on evaluations of “the cumulative effect they could have on the ecosystem,” as Berquist writes in his second article on the subject, “Conflicts Thwart Reforms in State Water Policy.”

But as far as Wisconsin’s Republicans are concerned, there is no conflict. There are to be no regulations on business. The free market rules. Berquist quotes a “leading Wisconsin water scientist” Ken Bradbury, who says the “new approach is a step backward” and leads to an “unplanned future for water use,” one in which, “it’s everybody for themselves again.”

But that’s the whole point. That is the great Republican ideal of “liberty.” The Republicans won’t be happy until they have us back to the 1890s, and we’re all living in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, a place where one of the largest cities in American had no paved roads in poor neighborhoods and workers who seriously damaged themselves in the course of being overworked at a filthy job with long hours and low pay were simply fired if they couldn’t do the work.
Sinclair’s 1906 novel is at least as relevant today as The Handmaid’s Tale and 1984, which have both been back on bestseller lists since Donald Trump took office. I would argue that The Jungle is a far more accurate prediction of what life in America will be like if free market libertarianism prevails.

Missouri Democrat and founder of Let American Vote, Jason Kander gave a speech at the Waukesha County Democrats dinner last Sunday night that concluded with the words: “The entire Republican sales pitch is that ‘change is bad.’ [But] Americans are not meant to fear the future. We are meant to shape the future.”
Shaping the future is what they’re doing across the Mississippi in Democrat-controlled Minnesota, where the DNR has been given the authority to create “groundwater management areas . . .to address difficult groundwater-related resource challenges.”

In Republican-controlled Wisconsin, we just let various entities study the problem and then ignore their findings.

In the meantime, the environmental organization Clean Wisconsin is attempting to protect groundwater in the Central Sands by suing the DNR for its current, legislatively mandated policy of “issuing high-capacity well permits without accounting for the impacts these wells would have on surrounding waterbodies.”

That may be the best we can hope for until November 2018, when we have the opportunity to vote Scott Walker and his minions out of office.

UW-Stevens Point Study

Lee Berquist Articles

Central Sands Water Coalition

Clean Wisconsin

Minnesota DNR GWMAs

Midwest Environmental Advocates

Wisconsin Democracy Campaign

Freedom Fighters: Our Wisconsin Republicans

On March 21st, Wisconsin State Senator Leah Vukmir (R-5th District) held a “listening session” at the Brookfield Safety Building to get voter feedback on Governor Scott Walker’s latest budget.

The session was held in a large auditorium. Town hall meetings have been crowded lately, and “woke” citizens are showing up, not just for meetings with their national representatives, but for their state legislators as well. Vukmir was accompanied that evening by State Assemblyman Rob Hutton (R-13th District) and Assemblyman Dale Kooyenga (R-14th District).

The discussion was mostly polite but occasionally heated, as the governor’s opponents stood up and attempted to contradict the Republican legislators on everything from the State’s record on job creation to the private-school voucher program. A lifelong public school teacher started out calm when he said, “Teachers are economically terrified right now,” and ended up shouting that he’d like to see the lawmakers on the dais take a fifteen percent cut in their salaries – as some Wisconsin teachers have.

Ann Rohrer from Tosa talked about the UW-segregated fees opt-out in the governor’s budget. It allows students at UW who don’t approve of things like Black Lives Matter and LBGT organizations to “opt out” of paying segregated fees while still receiving the services of their choice. Rohrer said that this creates a “free-rider program” and “strips essential services,” like the campus rape crisis center, mental health center, and intramural sports programs, of needed funds.

Vukmir, whose default stance is support for Walker, smoothly replied that she was “inclined to support the current proposal by the governor” because the opting out of paying segregated fees is “an issue of freedom for people.”

You know, the same way it’s an issue of freedom to deny women funding for contraceptives in their insurance plans if they happen to work for a boss whose religion says contraception is a sin. It used to be that religious freedom meant freedom to worship at the church or temple of your choice. Today, according to some conservatives, it means freedom to inflict your religious views on others.

Freedom. It’s a word that our ideologically driven Wisconsin conservatives love to bandy about. They use it anytime there’s something they don’t want to fund.

An interesting moment occurred at the listening session when an elderly woman with a soft voice stood up and started talking about the Federalist Papers. The Republicans on the dais listened politely, even reverently, though no one else in the crowd could hear her and not many had a clue what she was talking about.

But it’s time the rest of us figured out what these Federalist Papers are. Because so much of the right-wing’s notion of “freedom” – and so many of their excuses for limiting the individual freedoms of everyone else – is based on this group of eighteenth-century essays written by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay under the pseudonym Publius.

The Federalist Papers are the motivation for the constitutional “originalism” of the newly appointed justice of the Supreme Court Neil Gorsuch and his precursor Antonin Scalia. They provide the intellectual basis for the work of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which has had a hand in re-writing so many of Wisconsin’s employment laws. They provide the intellectual underpinnings for the work of the Heritage Foundation and Americans for Prosperity. And you better believe the Koch Brothers have read them.

And because they were written by founders of the republic and because Madison can claim authorship of our sacred Constitution, the Federalist Papers have more of a kick than even Ayn Rand for some conservatives. At least, they serve equally broadly as a justification for the accumulation of wealth at the upper strata of American society, which is what most Republican “policy” is meant to ensure.

James Madison, Noam Chomsky writes in Requiem for the American Dream: the 10 Principles of Wealth Creation, believed that the “major concern . . . of any decent society” had to be to ‘“protect the minority of the opulent against the majority,’” i.e., the rabble, the rank and file, the average citizen. According to Chomsky, Madison believed that unless the system were designed to prevent it, “the majority of the poor would get together and . . . organize to take away the property of the rich.” This was Madison’s fear as our nation was being birthed, and why, Chomsky says, “the structure of the system . . . was designed to prevent the danger of democracy.” In other words, to prevent the rabble from claiming a share of the wealth.

That certainly explains some of Neil Gorsuch’s pro-corporate, anti-worker rulings as an appellate judge, and it explains the whole bogus project of constitutional “originalism.”

“Federalism” in Right-to-Work Wisconsin

This also shines a light on what’s been going in Wisconsin since 2010 – the redistricting to ensure Republican dominance of the legislative process, the starkly anti-worker lawmaking that has contributed to middle-class stagnation, and the pro-rich-people tax breaks. All of it done in the name of “freedom.” Freedom and “federalism” are two concepts that seem inextricably linked in the conservative mind.

A case in point is the recent passage of Wisconsin Senate Bill 3, which Governor Walker signed into law in DePere, above a placard that extolled the “Freedom to Work.” The new law prohibits “state and local governments from requiring a bidder on a public works project to enter into an agreement with a labor organization.” Or even from “considering, as a factor” whether or not the bidder “has entered into an agreement with a labor organization.”

“Freedom to Work” is, therefore, a bit of an abbreviation. Walker’s sign should have read: “Freedom to Work for Less Money and with Fewer Safety Precautions and Not as Much Training.”

But of course, it’s hard to put all that on a sign.

The legislation Walker signed into law the day after Easter was supported by the usual suspects: Americans for Prosperity, Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin, the National Federation of Independent Businesses, and the almighty WMC (Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce).

The bill was proposed – some would even say “authored” though that is in dispute – by Leah Vukmir and Rob Hutton.

SB3 is an interesting example of the harsh ideological divisions in Wisconsin, with freedom-extolling Republicans once again limiting the freedom of counties and municipalities to make their own decisions. (If you don’t believe me, try proposing a regulation to your town council banning plastic bags from supermarkets – such a ban would now be against the law in Wisconsin.) Opposing the bill, besides labor organizations, were the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, the Wisconsin Counties Association, and Dane County.

Public hearings on SB3 took place last winter, and the bill was debated on the floor of the State Senate early last February. Wisconsin has 33 state senators, 19 Republicans and 14 Democrats. Voting on the bill was strictly along party lines with one Democratic abstention. In the debate on the senate floor prior to the vote, State Senator Chris Larson (D-7th District), claimed that SB3 was “another piece of legislation imported by a special interest group by the name of ALEC, the . . . equivalent of for corporations and politicians.” In other words, the corporate donations go into the pockets of politicians, and the ALEC bills come pouring out of the state legislatures.

ALEC, said Larson, has been a “treasure trove of bills” that do nothing but “reward corporations that would rather pay poverty wages than support Wisconsin’s hard-working families. SB3 is a clear example of favoring the rich over our working neighbors. The collusion between some legislators and alt-right think tanks and their corporate donors has never been stronger.”

Larson was stretching a point when he referred to ALEC as an “alt-right” think tank. ALEC, with its heavy reliance on high-minded euphemism, is hardly in the same category as white-supremacist provocateurs like Breitbart News.

For whatever reason, Larson’s mention of ALEC irritated Leah Vukmir who defended the organization while attacking the purity of Larson’s own vote. In a tone dripping with sarcasm, she said, “Imagine that, ALEC, an organization that believes in free markets, limited government and federalism [language that could be lifted straight from ALEC’s Web site], supporting a bill about open contracting. Wow. Gosh, that’s so far-fetched. You know, uh, I support this legislation, not because I’m a member of ALEC, not because I’m the past national chairman of ALEC [she is and she was]. I support it because it is good public policy. And you know, Senator from the 7th, I wouldn’t accuse you of being opposed to this legislation because you’ve received support from labor unions like the Teamsters and AFL-CIO, if you have . . . ”

For the record, Chris Larson has received a whopping 100 bucks from Teamsters Joint Council 39, according to the Campaign Finance Database published by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. Total contributions from organized labor to Larson amount to $5,375.

Leah Vukmir, according to the same source, received $24,717 in campaign contributions from the construction industry in Wisconsin, and another $11,217.90 from specifically road construction companies during her 2014 State Senate run.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor, construction wages in Wisconsin typically undergo modest increases of about 1.8 percent per year. In 2012, the average wage of a construction laborer was between $17.60 and $18.60 per hour, or about $38,680 per year. By 2016, that hourly wage had gone up to between $18.70 and $19.93 per hour.
In 2012, Wisconsin operating engineers – heavy equipment operators – made between $25.19 and $25.52 per hour or $53,080 per year. In 2016, heavy equipment operators averaged between $26.43 and $27.71 per hour or $57,650 annually. These figures apply to both union and non-union wages.

But these construction wage-earners, and anyone in Wisconsin who’s earning a paycheck, carry a disproportionate amount of the income tax burden.

According to Tamarine Cornelius of the Wisconsin Budget Project, writing in Urban Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s wealthiest one percent pays 6.2 percent of every dollar earned in taxes, while middle-income Wisconsinites, like those construction workers, pay 10.2 percent of their income in taxes.

State wages are virtually stagnant relative to the cost of living, and likely to remain so now that Wisconsin is a Right to Work state, and at the same time, Wisconsin’s richest citizens, with their disproportionate influence in Madison, are making sure that the tax burden is shifted to the already overstressed middle class.

While Wisconsin’s wealthy lean back, our public schools are under-funded, social services are getting cut, and some insurance companies are charging Wisconsin customers more because of our state’s potholed roads and highways.

As far as the roads are concerned, the only idea the Governator can come up with is to borrow money and pass the burden of road repair on to future generations. As far as the rest of the budget goes, it’s all about cut, cut, cut. During the 2016 State of the State address, I was stunned by Walker’s shameless bragging about how many CNA jobs have been created since he took office.

Funny, I think Wisconsin used to have a little more to brag about. But that was before Republicans cut the University of Wisconsin’s budget by $250 million so Walker’s big donors could be free of having to pay onerous state income taxes. Wisconsin’s brain drain may be legendary, the state may be last in the Midwest in new job creation and entrepreneurship, but hell, at least we’re not running out of certified nursing assistants any time soon.

Think about that the next time you hear one of our Wisconsin Republicans bloviating about “freedom.”

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“The Banishment of John McAdams” from Milwaukee Magazine
“John McAdams Marches On” from Urban Milwaukee Magazine
Essays and Reviews
Short Fiction

Outrage Conquers America

All over liberal social media, you see the same questions being asked.  Now that the Republicans are taking their healthcare away, will white working class voters turn against Trump?  Will they realize what a mistake they made voting for him?

The Republican Party is set to revoke the healthcare of 24 million Americans by replacing it with political rhetoric.  Once again, the GOP demonstrates that its sole constituency is the small group of people we call the 1% whose annual income is $700,00 and up, and who will receive hefty tax cuts when the ACA (i.e., “Obamacare”) is repealed.

Donald Trump promised to replace “Obamacare” with something better.  And you’re gonna love it, he said.  It’s gonna be just great, he said.  We’ll cover everybody, he promised.  And it’ll be affordable!

Why do Trump’s supporters keep on believing this gasbag?  Because it’s a fact that quite a few mostly white citizens of these United States will be seen to have voted their own health insurance away.  The rest of us post snarky comments on Democrat-only sites and complain that those people are ignorant and deluded.

But Trump voters are largely standing firm, and to understand why, you have to realize that they don’t share our reality – in fact, they don’t live in anything that even resembles reality.  Oh, you’ll see an occasional story on Facebook about how a couple of these saps are finally figuring it out.  But those people are only freaked out because a reporter from the L.A. Times called and let them know what’s going on.  Don’t forget, nothing has happened yet.  No one has lost anything so far.

Some Trump supporters voted for him because of an ideological bent – like the fetus fetishists who will vote for anyone who pledges to intervene in other women’s pregnancies.  But the fact is, most Trump supporters are feeding on a completely different media diet from the rest of us.

Jeffrey Berry and Sarah Sobieraj in their 2014 book, The Outrage Industry: Political Opinion Media and the New Incivility, include talk radio, TV, and political blogs in their study of what they have dubbed “the outrage industry.”  While their book does include some notable liberal personalities like Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann, it makes clear that outrage media are overwhelmingly conservative.  By and large, liberals watch and read “real” news with maybe some NPR thrown in while they’re driving.  In fact, reading the New York Times on line or following current events on CNN is pretty much the definition of “liberal” these days. The outrage side of the dial, write Berry and Sobieraj, “is particularly notable in that the competition is largely conservative versus even more conservative.”  And they note that, unsurprisingly “there appears to be a broad personality difference in those who are attracted to conservative talk radio and those who shun it.”

Lovers of outrage media, Berry and Sobieraj found, tend to be “authoritarian” and to be “more attracted to aggressive rhetoric in political commentary, which narrates the world in black and white.”

Any Democrat with a Facebook page knows this.  You accidentally make a post public and suddenly some idiot is calling you names – not engaging in civil political discourse making a point about why they disagree with you, but just being blatantly nasty.  Trolling is mostly a conservative activity, to the point that the White House is now accused of “trolling the media” and has invited troll-driven Web sites like Gateway Pundit to seats in the press room.  Hell, Steve Bannon, of the űber-troll site Breitbart News, is a presidential adviser and has a seat on the National Security Council. And make no mistake, when Bannon calls the press “corporatist,” implying that it is beholden to wealthy special interests, he knows that’s only half the story.  Bannon used to work for Goldman Sachs.  He knows that right-wing outage is big money.  Rupert Murdoch has made billions purveying it, and Clear Channel and Sirius are no slouches either.

The United States was once a country where everyone clustered around the TV at six o’clock to watch Uncle Walter Kronkite.  His sign-off was, “And that’s the way it is!”  Back then, the nightly network news was “a source of social cohesion as well as a source of information,” Berry and Sobieraj write, linking the American people to each other “in a way that was unprecedented.”

Those days are clearly over.  Today we live in the “divided states of America,” as Time magazine called our country.  This is the land where Donald Trump is president.  Today many people get their news on their phones, their radios, and from a wildly proliferating number of niche sites, many, like Info Wars, Breitbart, the Drudge Report, selling a point of view rather than providing information.

One of the interesting things Berry and Sobieraj discovered is that fans of outrage media are not hooked on politics but actually have “an aversion to political conversation” because it “activates fears of . . . looking uneducated/uninformed.”  Talk radio personalities and internet troll sites appeal primarily to people who feel ejected from a political conversation they see as controlled by liberals.

The outrage jocks, the Rush Limbaughs and Michael Savages and Glenn Becks, structure their programs “so that they systematically diffuse the most common fears evoked by political conversation and create a safe space for audience members,” say Berry and Sobieraj.  Rush has his “ditto heads” (unquestioning true believers), Savage has his “Home of Savage Nation” Web site touting “Borders, Language, Culture.”  Berry and Sobieraj quote a long radio rant from Savage in which he rages that “in the past people would come over and become Americans.  Now they come over and they want you to become them.  They want you to speak Spanish. They want you to act Muslim . . . . We’re going to have a revolution in this country if this keeps up.”  Donald Trump couldn’t have been elected without Savage Nation. So says the Web site, and I don’t doubt it. Limbaugh and Fox’s Sean Hannity, avid Trump backers, also did their share.

I listened to part of Limbaugh’s show last week during the healthcare debate in the House. It was not easy. Limbaugh has a high, hoarse voice that sounds like the screeching of a horny cat. And the stuff he says would strike an even moderately sentient earth-dweller as ridiculous. Limbaugh was pushing the idea that 20 million people continued to be uninsured after Obamacare, which makes sense if you’ve spent the past eight years pretending that the American Healthcare Act is costing jobs, is a total failure, and nobody signed up for it.

“If I didn’t know any better, just watching the drive-by media . . .I would think that the 20 million people – and how does it still eventuate” that this number of people “don’t have health insurance?” Limbaugh pondered. “But you look at CNN and the fake media, and you’d think that all we’re talking about here is 20 million people.”

Yes, Rush, we’re talking about the people who are now insured and weren’t before, and who will become uninsured if the Republican plan passes, but you’re right, the people who won’t lose their healthcare when they get sick, and the young people who can stay on their parents’ plan, and the people with “pre-existing conditions” are in the conversation too.

It’s clear Limbaugh was pushing the Trump administration narrative. “CNN and the fake media” was one theme. That 20 million people still don’t have healthcare, not that they were going to lose their healthcare under the Republican repeal, was another. He also said that he doesn’t “pretend to have detailed answers to every question” but, “there is no way that 2000 pages of legislation is the way to manage the healthcare industry. It’s absurd.”

Really? Just based on the number of pages? When you’re legislating an extremely complex industry that affects so many individual lives in so many ways? But Limbaugh was simply echoing Sean Spicer, who put the ACA and AHCA bills next to each other on a table by his podium. The Republican bill was only 60 pages. This made Trump’s bill infinitely superior to Obama’s, according to Spicer.

Sure, if your only goal is saving fat cats money. Whenever you hear Republicans use words like “freedom,” “liberty,” and “choice,” that’s what they’re talking about.

Remember, “political conversation generates fears of social exclusion,” Berry and Sobieraj tell us, while “outrage programs incorporate and include viewers and listeners. The host presents as a kindred spirit who ‘gets you’ even when other folks don’t.”

Of course, some former outrage guys now appear to be appalled by the monster they helped create.  Glenn Beck is issuing mea culpas and urging his listeners to love those unpleasant liberals he formerly urged them to hate.  Wisconsin’s own Charlie Sykes, who helped propel Scott Walker into the statehouse, is remorseful as well.  In an op-ed for the New York Times last December, Sykes laments his past success “in persuading our audiences to ignore and discount any information from the mainstream media.”  When Sykes refused to become pro-Trump, his listeners turned on him, and Sykes now admits that programs like his were part of a process that “succeeded in delegitimizing the media altogether.”

We’ve gone from a country where one of our founders, Thomas Jefferson, asserted that, if it came down to a choice between “a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter,” to a country where POTUS is a news junkie so obsessed with his own image that unfavorable coverage has him calling the press “the enemy of the people.”

Jefferson added that “every man should receive those [news]papers & be capable of reading them.”  Today, at the height of the information age, it’s clear that too many Americans, while they may be able to read, lack the critical thinking skills necessary to parse reality from ridiculous partisan fantasy.

That is how we end up with a situation in which a man reads that Hillary Clinton is trafficking children out of a Washington, D.C. pizza parlor – a story that anyone not suffering from paranoid schizophrenia should find incredible – and drives up there from Georgia and fires off a round inside a busy family restaurant.  While the police are taking him away, he allows as how “the intel wasn’t a hundred percent.”

In the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church took care to make sure that it’s teachings were clearly understood by and met the needs of “the simple,” that its theology was not so complex or high-minded that it no longer appealed to the minds of ordinary people.  The Church was able to dominate civic and social as well as religious life for centuries because it never deviated from this policy.

Today the Koch Brothers, their fellow billionaires, and the leadership of the Republican Party, dominate politics in the United States; more than politics – they control healthcare, the environment, and the average family’s household income by adhering to much the same policy.  They have found a way into the hearts and minds of average American simpletons.

Jane Mayer has written a great book called Dark Money that details how the Koch Brothers masterminded their take over if American politics.  Because of the United States’s wealth-favoring tax policies, they had plenty leftover to buy the Republican Party and buy it they have.

But their hegemony could never have been so complete without a vehicle, a delivery system for control of the American mind.  The Catholic Church used sermons and Gospel stories, stained-glass windows and religious statuary to control an illiterate population likely to become hysterical and run amok at the least provocation.  The Koch brothers, the Mercer family and the entire oligarchy that now rules us possess more advanced weapons – the twenty-first century media.  And their goal isn’t to prevent hysteria but to focus and maintain it.

The right wing’s dominance is now complete.  Republicans have gained control of Congress, the Senate, and 33 out 50 governorships.  The Koch Brothers and their friends in the Club for Growth and at the Heritage Foundation and the Bradley Foundation understood the simple quite well and gave them exactly what they wanted – people to be mad at and blame for all their troubles.  People named Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.  Through the fear and hatred drummed up by outrage media, the Kochs and their cronies have the presidency now too.

This is our national nightmare.

At least, it is for more than fifty percent of us, the loose coalition of citizens who have begun to get organized.  In the end, those who are deceived by the Koch brothers and the fake research manufactured by their foundations, by the talk jocks and their rants, by the fake news blogs and their weird stories, are duped because they want to be.

The truth is, the reason we put “united” in the name of our country in the first place is because we needed the reminder.  The U.S. was born in division, a country that began with a revolution, not against Britain so much as between two opposing forces, Whigs and Tories, democrats and monarchists.

And this country has been fighting that same battle ever since.  The Civil War was about slavery, sure, because slavery was the bedrock of the South’s feudal way of life.  The Civil war was a battle between feudalism and modernity.  The Robber Barons who fought against unionization and personal income tax in the 1890s were called “barons” for a reason.

History tells us that the Republic ends, not in conquest by another nation, but when the rabble allows Caesar to place a crown upon his own head. That’s what worried the Founders. In the disinformation age, Trump supporters became convinced that the king in his golden tower could save them by bringing back the past. They see Trump, with his vapid, boasting speeches, as an emblem of power.

But will they continue to support his lavish lifestyle while his many promises unravel into lies and his budget cancels essential services? The Secret Service has requested an additional $60M to cover Trump’s weekend jaunts to Mar-a-Lago, his family’s worldwide business travel, and his wife’s separate living quarters in Trump Tower in New York. Will the kingly orange head roll? No matter how good his cover, it’s only a matter of time.
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Many Lies and One Important Fact: Congressman Sensenbrenner Town Hall

“Elections have consequences.” 

 Jim Sensenbrenner (R-5th CD), Pewaukee Public Library,  Saturday, February 11, 2017

Anyone who expected Jim Sensenbrenner to be intimidated by the substantial turn-out at his Town Hall meetings last Saturday was in for a disappointment. Sensenbrenner is nothing like those other Republican congressmen who actually ran away from their angry constituents.  He’s used to facing down — and cutting off — Democrats and progressives, though not in such large numbers.  Unlike his morning Town Hall in Fort Atkinson, which was reportedly angry and fractious, the Pewaukee crowd was calm and relatively civil.  We’re nice people out here in Waukesha County.

The meeting at PPL was exceptional.  The last time I attended a Sensenbrenner town hall, back in June in Elm Grove, the congressman presided along with Republican State Senator Leah Vukmir, who is afraid of the voters and refuses to meet with them unless she’s got a tough guy by her side, and Jabba (my nickname for my congressman, and a lot easier to write than “Sensenbrenner,” though a lot of people I know just call him “Senseless” or “NoSense”) is tough as an old boot.  The attendance at that June town hall was far more typical and consisted of half a dozen worshipful Republican voters and me, and I got roughed up a little bit, cut off, not allowed to ask a follow-up, the usual Jabba shtick.

This time, it was Jabba who got roughed up by those allowed inside the room.  The overflow packed the halls at the library, with people, like me, clustered around phones watching the live stream on CNN.  You had to have showed up an hour early to get one of the seventy-five seats in the meeting room, but there was standing room and people lined the walls.  Angry, but polite, people.

Jabba tried to mollify the crowd on the Obamacare repeal issue by insisting there would be a replacement.  I get his newsletters, and I know he was spewing the same poison about Obamacare costing “thousands of jobs” that Donald Trump and Paul Ryan are so fond of — with no substantiation whatsoever.  But now that Republicans have gotten wind of the fact that individual people who don’t have access to employer-provided insurance actually like being able to go to the doctor, they have taken up the cause of replacement.  This in itself is irksome, since the ACA was essentially the government insurance program the Republicans wanted.  Most Democrats wanted single-payer (i.e., wholly government funded).  But even an essentially self-funded program got unpopular once the Tea Party — with its motto of “government sucks” — gained control of the GOP.  The mantra “Obamacare cost thousands of jobs” is no doubt what fuels the Republican mania for replacement.  But because the Republican voter base is essentially a band of true believers, no effort was ever made to prove that this was the case, nor was any required as far as GOP politicians were concerned.   Republicans have an invincible belief that anything that Barack Obama touched has to be bad.  The fact that the ACA ain’t broke (though it may need some fixes), and no sane political party would even be talking about replacing it, does not enter into the equation.

So Jabba continued with his new bald-faced lie — that the Republicans are in the process of coming up with a replacement for Obamacare.  He swore he would not vote for repeal without replacement.  He actually said that.  But Democrats are not as dumb as Jabba’s conservative true believers.  A man standing near the door asked, “How many times did you vote to repeal Obamacare without a replacement?  A dozen?”

Of course, Jabba did not deign to answer that question, simply pounded with his gavel and ordered the questioner to maintain civility.  (“Civility” at a Sensenbrenner meeting means no spontaneous questions.  You fill out a piece of paper ahead of time, and if he calls on you, fine, if not, tough luck.)

A woman asked why Jabba is so adamant about de-funding Planned Parenthood when women rely on it for reproductive healthcare.  What he said next made me wonder what I so often do about Republicans — are they consciously lying or do they just not know any better?  Jabba said Planned Parenthood is not necessary because there are hundreds of community health organizations standing at the ready to do Planned Parenthood’s job.

What!  Was he talking about, for example, the 16th Street Clinic — one community health organization for half the damn city of Milwaukee that does not have the resources to do women’s healthcare?  Or was he talking about the religious-funded pregnancy clinics, which style themselves as women’s health clinics?  The sole service they provide is the free pregnancy test.  No annual exam.  No pap smears.  No birth control.   And if a woman does turn out to be pregnant, know what they do?  Hand her a cute pair of baby booties one of their volunteers has knitted and say, “Congrats.”  Only they don’t mean “Congrats.”  They mean, “See what you got yourself into, you filthy slut?”

More falsehoods followed when the discussion turned to environmental issues and the planned — and highly anticipated — gutting of the EPA by its new administrator, Scott Pruitt.  When asked about how the Republican-dominated government plans to go about addressing the issue of climate change, Jabba actually trotted out that pathetic GOP fallacy about how there is scientific disagreement on the issue.  When that didn’t fly, he tried the Koch-brothers’ new-and-improved line about how, sure, the planet is warming, but you can’t actually prove that human activity is doing it.  When that failed to impress the assembled citizens, Jabba just fell back on the idea that Cap & Trade isn’t going to work.

His final ploy was easily the silliest.  He said, Besides, you really don’t expect China to keep up their end of the Paris Agreement, do you?  Why, such an expectation would be laughable.  And as if to prove just how laughable, he said, “The air in Los Angeles is a lot cleaner than the air in Beijing.”

Now you know why they call him “Senseless.”  I mean, just as a starting point, California is a blue state with some of the toughest environmental regulations in the U.S.

When Jabba’s questioners began to grow restless, as though they really did expect him and his party to do something about pressing national problems whether they feel like it or not, he reminded those assembled of one very important fact, the only fact he seemed to have a good handle on: “I won re-election by 146,000 votes.”

James Sensenbrenner has been a member of the United States House of Representatives since 1979.  Yes, friends, for thirty-eight years.  You can’t blame him for thinking that he’s doing what his constituents want him to do.  But I do anyway.  Because Republican policy initiatives on healthcare, women’s health, and the environment are reactionary and wrong-headed.  Morally wrong, wrong for the future of our country and our planet, and therefore economically wrong.

Even the Koch brothers won’t be able to make a dime if we’re all dead.  Though they are no doubt preparing to survive in some deluxe, climate-controlled dome while the rest of us fry.  Wouldn’t put it past them.  Or their minion, James “Jabba” Sensenbrenner.

RT Both


Open Letter to Paul Ryan: This is All Your Fault . . . yours and all the other Republicans

During his first week in office, Donald Trump regaled the annual prayer breakfast in Washington D.C. with the suggestion that the gathered worthies pray for Arnold Schwarzenegger because of his poor ratings on The Apprentice.  Trump claimed that when he starred on this tasteless “reality” program, his ratings had been through the roof, much higher than Arnold’s.  For the record, all of this was contradictory to actual facts as determined by ratings.  Nor was it intended as self-deprecating humor.

The newly inaugurated POTUS simply considered this a fit subject for the traditional Prayer Breakfast, in which the new president gathers with a diverse group of national religious leaders to pray for his administration and the future of our country.  The tone of this occasion, until now, can best be described as reverent.

You would think that Republicans nationwide, both voters and politicians, would be cringing in shame.  Instead, what we see on the face of Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is his nationally recognized victory smirk. Of course, I understand why Republicans claim victory in last November’s election. While they did not get the most votes, they did win all the big empty states – the states that are geographically empty, and the states where many of the voters are merely empty-headed.

And I understand why Paul Ryan smirks, though he smirks a bit less with every tumultuous day that passes.  He smirks because he has been dying to snatch people’s healthcare away from them, raise their premiums, and make sure anybody with a pre-existing condition or a costly serious condition cannot get insurance and therefore care. Republicans live for that kind of stuff!  When Speaker Ryan is not denying the scientifically irrefutable theory of climate change to please the oil titans who  are lining his campaign coffers with gold, or trying to change social security into a market-based system that will leave most of our grandmas eating out of dumpsters, he is studying the words of an alcoholic Russian nymphomaniac for guidance on how to further mess up our lives and imperil our futures.

Ryan and his ilk have benefited by the Dark Money onslaught that has taken over not only Congress but 33 out of 50 of our states.  The gerrymandering efforts, the phony think tanks, even the aggressively truth-free talk radio jocks have all received their share. But nobody has benefited more from the libertarian onslaught than Ryan and his fellow-Republican politicians. His phony outrage about Obamacare and the so-called budget deficit have done as much as anything to deceive the reactionary, newspaper eschewing Republican base about the dangers of planning for the future with sensible environmental and family-planning policies. He has done as much as anyone to rouse a xenophobic fear of immigration as a way of distracting from the impact of so many bad policies.

I doubt very much that Speaker Ryan, an avowed Catholic who is worth a reputed $4M through marriage (not a lot in Republican money) even believes in God. Nobody could pursue such a mean and reckless course on behalf of the American people and believe in a Higher Power. At least, nobody who was not very, very twisted.

I don’t expect him to do the right thing.  He never has so far.  But I and a lot of other people are going to make sure there is some push-back, that Ryan can’t keep running this country like it was his personal fiefdom. Sooner or later, some truth is going to have to start coming out of Washington, whether the Republicans are still running it or not.

Donald Trump was elected, not only by a mere sliver of the electorate, but by the lowest common denominator of the American public, a group of know-nothings who never read a newspaper or encounter a scientific fact and who have been carefully cultivated by the leaders of the Republican Party.  May history be as unkind to them – and Paul Ryan – as they have been to the American people and their genuine friends around the world.

RT Both

Why I Marched

One thing is certain, I did not march so the likes of Jeff Sessions could become the head law enforcement officer of our country, or climate change liar Scott Pruitt head of the EPA, or a fool like Betsy DeVos secretary of education.  I marched because, throughout his candidacy and from the very moment of his taking office, Donald Trump has presented a grim picture of America that I don’t recognize as my country.  And because Donald’s Trump’s America is the same old Republican America of the few against the many.  His presidency and his candidacy are an offense to basic decency and, on so many levels, an offense against reality.  Not one single member of his cabinet is truly qualified for the position he or she is nominated for. This band of incompetents’ only goal is to implement an extreme right-wing agenda that is fiercely anti-American.

If there is one thing Donald Trump exemplifies, it is contempt for the will of the majority of Americans. He sends his vice-presidential minion to address the anti-choice march when the millions all over the country who marched the week before are simply ignored or worse, defamed.  He institutes illegal immigration orders causing worldwide chaos and then brags about how it was a success.  His lies are already so numerous they are almost uncountable.

Jeff Sessions is not going to prosecute any genuine crimes.  He is going to persecute the innocent.  As our country plunges into chaos, we need someone we can trust, not another Trumpian bigot, running the Justice Department.  If we’re not going to get that, it would be better to have no one.

But I think we do need an AG who will investigate and prosecute Trump.  He is not qualified to hold office, mentally, emotionally, or intellectually.  His business dealings are disreputable.  He is a swindler, a liar, and a braggart.  He needs to be removed before he does more damage to this country.

And we as Americans have to take steps to insure that the Republicans cannot do this to us again.  They have a coalition based on forcing minority views on the majority of this country.  Their  arrogance is appalling.  We can’t let them get away with it.

RT Both

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