Thursday, February 24, 2011

who planted THIS troublemaker? Scott Walker and the brothers Koch

If you've been following the situation here in Wisconsin (yes, the apex is in Madison, but today protests are state-wide, as are, of course, the concerns about Walker's bill) you just may have heard about the prank phone call our esteemed Governor received yesterday morning. A blogger named Ian Murphy posing as David Koch had a 20-minute phone conversation with Scott Walker, during which Walker believed he was talking to the actual David Koch the entire time and divulged troubling information about his plans for this bill and beyond. It's hardly worth linking here because I'm sure a google search will result in several sites with the recording of the phone call and transcriptions, but here you go anyway (that link is a transcription of the entire phone call, printed in the Wisconsin State Journal). Jon Stewart couldn't help weighing in already (that link is for the full episode, but the Walker bit is at the beginning).

Before the prank call, there was already speculation and concern about Walker's political ties to the Koch brothers. David and Charles Koch, who are based in Wichita, KS, are extremely wealthy - multi-billionaires - and their money comes from the oil industry, power plants and manufacturing. They are also extremely conservative politically and have made it their business to weaken government and regulations as much as they possibly can by pouring money into getting people elected who can best serve their interests. This is done in all kinds of ways, from donating to political candidates directly (they gave $43,000 to Walker when he ran for governor last fall), donating to organizations that support those candidates (they gave one $1 million to the Republican Governors' Association last fall, and the RGA in turn spent $5 million on attack ads against the Democratic candidate Tom Barrett in one of the most expensive gubernatorial races in history), and they fund think tanks with benign-sounding names like Citizens for Change to influence the public. Rumor has it the Koch brothers paid for the buses full of Tea Party activists to show up last weekend. (For more on the Koch brothers and their opposition to the Democratic party, especially President Obama, see this piece from last August in the New Yorker. It's rather long, but excellent.)

The Koch brothers' agenda includes eliminating as much environmental regulation as possible, casting doubt on the scientific certainty of global climate change, shrinking government, and they also really hate unions. If they get their way on all these things, they stand to make even more money. You'd think being mega-rich multi-billionaires would be enough for these guys, but no. They want to own all the politicians, too.

So anyway, back to lil' ol' Scott Walker and this phone call with the fake David Koch. Clearly, he doesn't know Koch very well or he might have recognized that the caller was faking, but he spoke with disturbing openness about his intentions to layoff state workers if the bill doesn't pass by Friday, and his plan to trick the 14 Senate Democrats who left the state into coming back by pretending to be willing to sit down and talk. Perhaps the most disturbing, however, was his admission that he'd actually considered planting troublemakers among the crowd at last weekend's protests, and that he had dismissed this idea not because doing such a thing would threaten public safety and be morally reprehensible and under-handed and completely inappropriate for the governor of a state to do. No, he rejected the idea because trouble at the protest might reflect on him politically: "My only fear would be is if there was a ruckus caused is that that would scare the public into thinking maybe the governor has gotta settle to avoid all these problems."

This bit of conversation with fake Koch has raised serious concern among local leaders. Madison Mayor Dave Dieslewicz is furious. Madison's police chief wants Walker to explain himself. I, for one, have been present at the protests nearly every day this week as well as the gathering last Saturday that was 70,000 strong, and I can tell you unequivocally that you won't find a more peaceful, respectful, clean bunch of angry people anywhere. Thousands of people pack the Capitol every day and sure, we make a lot of noise, but every time I've been there I've felt completely safe. Believe me, if I didn't, I wouldn't be bringing my children with me. To know that the governor even considered sneaking in troublemakers makes me feel very unsettled, but at least I'm not alone (see above re: the mayor and police chief).

Walker isn't hiding from this phone call. He claims that he didn't say anything in that conversation that he wouldn't say in public, (which might as well be true since it's public now, right?) but he said enough to raise valid concerns about the exact nature of the relationship between the Koch brothers and the GOP. The former Attorney General of Wisconsin Peg Lautenschlager thinks there may be grounds for an investigation of violation of ethics, among other things. I know that there have been requests for phone and email records already.

To be honest, I'm not sure where I see all this going. Maybe, just maybe, it will be proven that Walker was bought by corporate interests and he'll have to step down. If not, I guess we're stuck with him at least until the end of 2014. I just hope by then the voters of this state pay a little more attention when they go to the polls.

on name-calling

Daniel: Susan (he doesn't call me "mom" anymore) is the governor real?
Me: Yes, he is very real. He is a real person, though, so we shouldn't call him names, but he's trying to do some very bad things in our state of Wisconsin.
Daniel: I know what we should call him - Bad Governor!
Me: That seems appropriate enough.
Daniel: Yeah, he's a bad governor. That's why thousands and thousands of people are trying to stop him. Because if he gets what he wants, then people who get sick won't be able to pay the doctor and they'll die!

True enough. We shall be attending demonstrations at the Koch brothers' brand new lobbying office in downtown Madison this afternoon at 4:00. Join us if you can. I'll post more about all of this later, with cute kid pictures no less! So be sure to check in.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

pictures from monday

I bet some of you are sick of my blogging about opposition to Wis. Gov. Scott Walker's budget repair bill, aren't you? Well, too bad because here I go again. I feel an obligation to write about this and post as often as possible, for some reason. I'm not a state worker and heaven knows this little blog isn't the place anyone comes for up-to-date news and so forth. But since I can't be downtown in person every minute of the day and night, I'm doing my part, however small, by posting about it here as frequently as I can.

On Monday, I took Daniel and Anya to the demonstrations at the Capitol Square. We brought along a friend:

Some of my readers know this fellow! (Yes, he is a doctor, and no, he didn't write sick notes for teachers last week; he was actually out of town with his family those days.) I was grateful to have S there, frankly, because he held Daniel's hand while I alternately carried Anya and urged her to keep up with us. It's not easy to wrangle two kids at a rally in the freezing rain, is all I'm sayin'. When we got too cold walking around outside the Capitol, we joined the throngs inside the Rotunda to check out the scene there (and warm up!):

As you can see, protests are still going strong. Maybe not 70,000 strong like last Saturday because many people, including teachers, did eventually have to go back to work, but make no mistake: the workers are not backing down.

Monday, February 21, 2011

more about the bill, and today's links

The protests in Madison slowed down briefly (but did not stop) yesterday because of nasty weather (and I mean nasty - ice pellets! snow! sleet!), but everything is ramping up again today. I may have mentioned that our previous governor imposed mandatory furloughs on all state employees, which amounted to a 3% pay cut, and as it happens, today is one of those days, so thousands of those people who have a forced unpaid vacation day will spend it on the Square, continuing to protest Scott Walker's budget bill. I plan to be at the noon rally with my children.

There are some things you need to know about this situation, and rather than explain it all myself, I'm providing some links with more info:

1) The protests, which drew a crowd of 68,000 on Saturday, were entirely peaceful. We are angry, but we are also civilized.

2) This account of the protests, by a graduate student at the UW-Madison, sums things up very nicely.

3) The mega-rich Koch brothers poured a lot of money into getting Scott Walker elected. They also fund Tea Party efforts and, it is rumored, paid for the buses to get the pro-Walker supporters to Saturday's demonstrations.

4) Union rights aren't the only thing at stake in Walker's bill. Though the atrocious proposal to remove nearly all collective bargaining rights has captured national attention and fueled the protests, Walker's bill threatens Medicaid and Badgercare. Here is an article from about the issue, and here is an excellent blogpost from a local, anonymous blogger that articulates just what is at stake and why you should contact the governor and your local representatives about it. This issue deserves more coverage than it's getting.

5. Gordon Hintz is outraged, and you should be too.

6. Read this article in Mother Jones, which answers questions clearly and succinctly, and explains the whole situation.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

show me what democracy looks like...

THIS is what democracy looks like!

Friday, February 18, 2011

things are getting ugly

Things are really heating up here in Madison. 30,000+ people have showed up to protest at and in the Capitol, schools here and elsewhere in the state have been closed since Wednesday because so many teachers have called in sick to join the protests. Gov. Scott Walker won't back down, despite being reprimanded by President Obama. The State Senate Democrats left the state yesterday morning rather than vote (see a video of this here). The highest-ranking Catholic, archbishop (I think) of Milwaukee made a statement in support of union workers. So did the Green Bay Packers (they're union). The Mayor of Madison called an emergency session of the city council to go ahead and ratify union contracts for certain city workers through 2012 in case the budget repair bill goes through. The reverend Jesse Jackson is in town.

And it's getting ugly. Fox News reported violence here, which was a complete misrepresentation of the situation. You won't find more polite protesters anywhere than in Madison, I promise you. The Tea Party is planning to show up tomorrow with some busloads counter-protestors; I can't guarantee that the Tea Partiers will be as polite as the union supporters.

Anya's been sick for a couple of days, so I haven't taken the kids downtown since Wednesday, but I plan to go this weekend, even if I go alone. In the meantime, I've been checking news updates online obsessively, from and the TAA website.

The implications of this bill are huge. Walker wants to undo nearly 50 years of strong labor history in a single fell swoop, and if he succeeds (I still fear that he may), other states with Republican governors may follow suit. I am angry. I am angry at our governor and the Republicans in the state legislature who plan to vote for this awful bill. I am angry at the people of Wisconsin who voted this turkey into office in the first place. I am angry at the assault on workers' rights here and elsewhere. That is why, even though I'm not even a state employee currently, I plan to stand up tall and fight this thing.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

another day of solidarity

I fear for the future of workers, of unions. Organized labor has been under attack for decades, and our governor's proposal to effectively end collective bargaining for state employees is especially vicious. I know that the state's financial situation is in shambles (Walker, why again did you give back all those millions of federal dollars for high speed rail? We really could have used that money here, you know. And those jobs.) I also know that attacking labor rights isn't about fixing a broken budget. It's about power. I know that no matter the outcome of this disastrous budget repair bill, Scott Walker is in for a helluva fight. At least 30,000 people showed up at the State Capitol today to Stick It To The Man, and three of those people were me and my children. Many of those people were public school teachers and their students supporting them; so many teachers called in "sick" last night that the Madison Metro School Disctrict called off school for today.

The people united...will never be defeated.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Monday, February 14, 2011

yes we can

If you live in Wisconsin, you've heard about Gov. Scott Walker's budget proposal bill and public objection to it. The most appalling part of it, the part that makes me spit bile and shoot flames from my eyeballs, (if I may be so frank), is the proposal to strip nearly all state workers of their collective bargaining rights (all but the firefighters, police and state troopers) and then require them to contribute more to their health insurance and pension plans. Walker wants to push this bill through later in the week with very little deliberation.

Walker, a Republican, claims that bargaining with unions takes too long and that he wants public employee benefits to reflect those in the private sector. This is a load of shit. He really wants to take collective bargaining rights away from state employees so that he can cut their pay and benefits however he pleases. State employees already had mandatory unpaid furloughs under the previous governor last year because of budget problems.

I used to be a state employee. The first five years I was in graduate school, before I got knocked up and had to drop back to part-time status, I held teaching and project assistantships and thus worked under a contract that was negotiated by the bargaining team of the TAA (Teaching Assistants' Association) at the UW. Because of our collective bargaining rights, we had some nice benefits, notably tuition remission (which is HUGELY important for recruitment) and affordable health insurance (there used to be a free option, but alas, no longer). When your take-home pay is a few hundred dollars a month, those things matter a lot.

Now Walker wants to strip away workers' rights and then cut their pay. 1,000 students and professors marched on the Capitol today, but I understand the big demonstrations are Tuesday and Wednesday, where state union workers will be turning out in droves to speak their collective mind. I plan to be there with my kids to physically show my support for the people who are the backbone of this state.

I'm so angry about this I can't even write coherently. It's not this bill alone that has me so distressed. It's the general notion that collective power is something to be feared, that individual rights in the workplace have no meaning and deserve no respect. The worst thing is that no matter how many thousands of people show up to protest, the bill will probably get passed because the state leg is Republican-controlled, and we all know how they feel about unions.

Look what just happened in Egypt. They overturned a 30-year dictatorship in massive peaceful demonstrations. Surely we can preserve workers' rights in the state of Wisconsin.

Si se puede

Teachers' pay will be cut 10%
Student protests at the Capitol
Photos from the rally

Friday, February 11, 2011

Friday/Saturday 5 - Random Love edition

I don't know what's wrong with me lately; in the last week I've bruised my leg from bonking it into the piano bench countless times, broken two drinking glasses, gotten a paper cut from masking tape, and just this afternoon I sneezed so hard I smacked my face into the hard bone of my knee and gave myself a nosebleed. I wish it were charming to be this klutzy, but mostly it's kinda painful.

Anyway, Jessi does these Friday Five things on her blog on a fairly regular basis, so I'm going to follow her lead and share a list of Five Random Things that Make Me Happy:

1. Our car. After more than 3 weeks in the shop having serious body work done our beloved Prius came home this afternoon. The loaner was fine, but it just wasn't the same...especially the keyless entry part. I didn't realize how much I'd miss that until I didn't have it. Our poor Prius had hail damage and two major dents, one from a hit-and-run last year and another from someone backing into the car when it was parked in the street. The hail damage was the worst, actually, because it was all over the hood and the roof and one of the side panels, so it was a lot of work to fix. I won't even tell you the total bill, but it was enormous. Thank goodness for insurance.

2. Smoothies. Daniel loves making smoothies, in part because he can assemble and operate the blender all by himself, but also because they are oh-so tasty. Lately, my favorite recipe is banana, pineapple juice, frozen berries and a little sugar.

3. Espresso. I think I probably list STUART'S ESPRESSO in every love list I post on this blog, but it's so good it's worth repeating: Stuart makes some damn fine espresso every morning. In the summer when he can roast his own coffee beans (roasting creates a lot of smoke and must be done outside), the espresso is exquisite.

4. Casting on for a new knitting project. Seeing as I have a whole separate blog just for knitting, this seems rather obvious. There's something extra special about the promise of a new project, though, like how you can anticipate how wonderful it will be before you've had a chance to screw it up.

5. Winnie-the-Pooh. As in, the complete, unabridged original stories by A.A. Milne. We've been reading these to the kids of late, and they love these stories. I do, too. They are just so utterly charming and clever and gentle, plus Daniel is learning some new terminology, like "looking glass" for "mirror" and "lathery flannel" for "soapy washcloth." Anya doesn't always have the attention span for the longer tales with rambling conversations, but it's still surprising how long she'll sit and listen. We still read our share of Good Night Moon and inane Clifford books, but it's nice to mix up the bedtime stories with more substantial literature, too.

I hope you find some random joy in your weekend!

Thursday, February 10, 2011


Sometimes Thursdays are the best day of the week for me, and sometimes they're the worst. It all depends on the kids, of course, since Thursday is the one day we are all together, all day, with nothing like preschool or piano lessons to break things up. If Daniel and Anya are well-rested and feeling cooperative, Thursdays are lovely. We have all day to read and play and bake and maybe do an art project with lots of time to clean up before making dinner. Of course, if it's Thursday and the kids are tired and cranky - oof. Those are the Thursdays I crack open a beer around 5:00.

A few times over the past several weeks, we've gone ice skating at one of the city parks, and that was great fun. It turns out Daniel and I are at about the same level of playing hockey, meaning we can both more or less keep balance while holding a hockey stick and there is a vague semblance of aim, but that's about it. Unfortunately, the last couple of Thursdays, the weather hasn't been conducive to skating, either because of too much snow or, like today, because it's just too blasted cold.

I'd like to say that I take advantage of this unscheduled time to do things like visit the Children's Museum or organize special playdates, but alas, I don't. Except for the afore-mentioned ice skating, we don't venture out much unless there are errands to run or we go to the park for sledding. I think I just turn into kind of a hermit this time of year. It's not that I'm depressed, but I just don't have the energy for all that extra schlepping around.

Today it's bitterly cold outside. It was -12 when we got up, and by now I think it's warmed up to 9 (above zero), which is about as warm as it's going to get. I made everyone go outside for about a half hour after lunch so we could play in the snow (Daniel and I are working on digging a snow cave out of the large pile left by the snow plows last week in the front yard), but that was about all we could take before coming inside for lots of hot cocoa, (tea in my case.) The kids are curled up in front of a movie (they're really into Winnie the Pooh these days), and I'm taking this little break before I go to clean up the kitchen for the second time today and mix up some pita bread dough for supper. It's a good Thursday.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011


Yesterday was Daniel's fifth birthday. I'm sorry to say it was not a stellar day for either of us. He woke up too early on the wrong side of bed and was crabby and difficult and wore my patience down to threadbare and beyond. But at least he had a very nice afternoon at preschool, where he got to wear a large paper crown, and we brought cupcakes and fruit to share with the class.

We had a very small, very low-key party for Daniel on Sunday. A few months ago I seriously considered going all out and renting a party room at the Children's Museum and inviting all his friends and preschool classmates because, well, turning 5 is a big deal. But I decided I'm just not ready to host that kind of a hullabaloo, so we kept it small and simple like always. I'm glad we did, since the excitement and anticipation even from this small affair probably contributed to all of yesterday's multiple meltdowns. I can't imagine that a big party with tons of kids and too many presents would have gone well.

Well anyway, the important thing is that Daniel is five now. FIVE! Which means he's learning more every day and is becoming more independent and exerting his own personality, and 90% of the time, he's bundles of fun. Here are some pictures I took playing out in the snow today before we got cold and had to come inside for lunch:

Sunday, February 06, 2011

superbowl sunday

It's hard not to feel a little bit of excitement about the Superbowl this year, seeing as the Green Bay Packers are playing and all. I took Daniel to a nearby grocery store this morning to pick out a birthday balloon (he turns 5 tomorrow), and there was green and yellow stuff everywhere: specials on lemons and limes, cheese curds dyed Packers colors, employees in football jerseys, a display of 7-up and Sprite stacked to spell "Go Pack"...Normally I pay no attention to football, but Stuart is watching the game, and I am cooking brats and drinking a beer to note the occasion. And someone across the street did this to their snowdrift:

For those of you who care not a whit about football or da Packers, here's a dose of kiddie cuteness for you!

Friday, February 04, 2011

cabin fever

It's been a shut-in kind of week. First the blizzard kept us all at home for a day, then it was too cold to do much of anything outside for more than a few minutes, and today I'm home with a mildly sick kid, so now playing out in the snow isn't an option at all, even for a few minutes. Except for teaching one piano lesson last night (which was supposed to be Tuesday, but I postponed because of the weather), I haven't ventured farther out of the house than across the street in about three days.

I have to admit that my enthusiasm for winter is starting to dwindle just the tiniest bit. I think it started a day or two ago when Daniel said he wants to plant an apple seed in the front yard so we can grow apples there. (I tried, once, to explain that apple trees don't really grow from seeds, but from cuttings, and that it would be a long time before a new tree would actually produce anything edible...but I think he stopped listening early on in the explanation.) He's also expressed desire in growing pumpkins in the front yard. I'm not sure which is less likely to happen (Stuart would probably refuse to mow around a pumpkin vine), but when I look out the window and think just how much snow has to melt before we even see the dirt, much less plant something in it, I emit a sigh. Just a little sigh is all, because the snow is still fun to wade through and play in and sled down, and it sure helps my mood that daylight lingers now until after 5:00pm.

But I'm growing weary of spending 15 minutes putting on snow pants and finding everyone's neckwarmers and mittens every time we leave the house. I've worn the same boots nearly every day since mid-December, and I'm starting to daydream about wearing flip-flops. I long to go running during the week, not just on Saturdays and Sundays (it's too cold and/or dark before and after Stuart is at work Mon-Fri). I have forgotten what it smells like when it rains. I want to go on a picnic and take the kids to the zoo. I want to wake up with the sun, instead of before.

Not to get too precious about it (because y'all know I hate this kind of sentimental statement), but I'm trying to appreciate the time I have with the kids this winter. Daniel turns 5 on Monday (!) (sniff...), which means he'll be in Kindergarten next year, and we won't have all this time together during the week to explore the great outdoors. Anya's just this year been hardy enough in the cold and steady enough on her feet in snow boots to stay outside for any length of time, so really, this has been our year for sledding and skating and digging, and generally embracing winter for what it is.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

groundhog day

We spent Groundhog Day digging ourselves out of quite a lot of snow. I think the official snowfall was 12" for Madison, though parts of southern Wisconsin got twice that. The Nat'l Guard was called out this morning (part of "snow emergency" procedures), and even their vehicles got stuck in the 10-ft drifts. It's quite an event. Stuart, unfortunately, works for the sort of company that doesn't believe in snow days, but at least he had the option of working from home. Good thing, because there was no getting out of our driveway this morning, and the plows didn't show up to clear the street until the middle of the afternoon. I think it's safe to say the groundhog didn't see his shadow this morning!

Tuesday, February 01, 2011


The two major news items on everyone's mind here today are: 1) the protests in Egypt, and 2) the impending blizzard carpeting the Midwest. About the former, I don't have much to say except that I hope that there is a peaceful resolution. I co-teach a preschool playgroup/class on Tuesday mornings, and a couple of the kids in there are from Egypt. They didn't show up today, which could have been for any number of reasons, but I suspect they were home with their mother, waiting for news of family members in their home country (I heard later that they were able to make contact and have confirmed their relatives are okay.)

Then there's the blizzard. We are currently under a Blizzard Warning. The whole southern part of the state has been declared a "snow emergency," which is actually rather exciting. I know the Northeastern part of the country is more than ready for winter to be over, but here where I live, though we've had plenty of snow and frigid temps, this is our first major Winter Storm Event of the season. It's very cold and windy, snow is swirling and drifting outside, and the Big Dump (don't think I didn't snicker writing that) will happen tonight while we're warm in our beds. There will be several inches, maybe even a foot, of fresh snow on the ground in the morning, waiting for plows, shovels and snowblowers to clear the roads and sidewalks.

Madison schools are already called off for tomorrow, which is no trivial matter. It takes a LOT for the city to cancel school. One day last week, it was -17 when Stuart left for work, with a wind chill of -25, and the schools were functioning as normal with no delays or cancellations. I actually learned today that because of the staggered opening times and tight bus schedule, it is impossible for Madison schools to be delayed; they can only be canceled. It takes a heckuva blizzard, or a Severe Wind Chill Warning (-35 for more than an hour) to call off schools.

My kids aren't in public schools yet, but Daniel is in a preschool that just goes by the public school schedule, so we're bracing ourselves for a long day at home tomorrow (normally he goes Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons). We'll probably gorge on television and cocoa and cookies, maybe venture out for some shoveling and playing in the snow once the storm is over and the wind dies down. I'm thinking of the snow days of my youth. I grew up in central Kentucky, where the mere prediction of snow was enough for the authorities to cancel school. (To be fair, the county roads there get treacherous awfully fast, and there aren't enough municipal services to clear the roads as quickly as up here.) Our school district in Kentucky built in 10 extra days to allow for weather cancelations, and we often exceeded that. Madison allows for one.

Here, snow and cold temperatures are simply a fact of life. Without them, how would we entertain ourselves in the great outdoors in the winter? We wear our snowpants until they are threadbare and fraying at the bottom, the kids each have several pairs of backup mittens for when the first pair wets through, we have our favorite sledding hills, we tried ice skating for the first time this winter (Daniel loves it, Anya's still not so sure), and though I have yet to try cross-country skiing, I will eventually. The neighbor kid who's in Kindergarten this year goes snowshoeing during recess. I could knit nothing but socks and hats and mittens, and we'd never have too many.