Saturday, December 15, 2012

Senseless Killing Using Guns

Here is what I wrote today on Facebook after this tragedy (and I saw many other such comments):

I can't help myself from commenting on this latest in a long line of gun violence incidents that plague our country. We need better gun control laws. We need to make a it a lot harder to purchase handguns, which have no purpose other than to maim and kill others at short range. I hope the deaths of perhaps 20 children and 7 adults in Connecticut serves as the tipping point to take on the gun nuts in this country and the group that leads them, the NRA, and make it really hard to get these weapons of individual destruction out of our society.

And what does it say about our national culture that these incidents happen so frequently? We are a country where a frustrated individual can actually contemplate shooting other people because of his or her frustration. Why oh why is that even a viable alternative to people? We are suffering from a disease here, and that disease is taking lives every day. And for the most part, we are ignoring that disease.

We cannot change our culture quickly. But we can make it a whole lot more difficult for the crazy people who entered a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin or a mall in Oregon or, for God's sake, an elementary school in Connecticut and started randomly shooting people to get the weapons that allow them to wreak their havoc. I really do hope this is the tipping point.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Letter to the Editor: Recall Scott Walker

My letter to the editor of the Wisconsin State Journal about the recall Scott Walker election, written on May 31, 2012:

Scott Walker has collected millions from out-of-state billionaires and millionaires, which he has used to misrepresent and lie about the record of Tom Barrett. Do you think any of those donors to Walker’s campaign care one whit about the people of Wisconsin? They care about one thing: making sure the Tea Party agenda is not put off track in this state and country and that ALEC can continue to write legislation that right-wing legislators duly pass without even reading the fine print. This is so out of whack with the Wisconsin progressive tradition that I can hardly recognize my state anymore.

It is tragic that we have a governor and legislative autocrats who have so divided us that political civility has disappeared. With Scott Walker we have a governor who cannot show his face in Madison. He cannot walk around the capital during the farmers market. He cannot walk up State Street. He will hear derisive remarks anywhere he appears. This certainly could not be said of Tommy Thompson or Jim Doyle. Vote for Tom Barrett and bring back civility and sanity to our politics and governance. Recall Scott Walker, the only sitting governor with a criminal defense fund.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

On Steve Jobs

I think Plato described the philosopher king, who really understood what was in the best interests of his subjects and made those things happen. A similar idea is the benevolent dictator. I think those ideas fit Steve Jobs. He really did think, in terms of technology, that he had a pipeline to the truth. This didn't always lead to great products, but it did often enough that the company he led attracted other great minds who could help him execute his ideas. He had no other ambition except to create great products, and his intuition pointed to true north in doing that. These products helped us connect with one another with elegance and ease. That's why they were so successful and emulated. We admire that intuition even if on occasion his style was one of humiliating others to achieve his goals, which is not so admirable.

However, this does not mean we must not be leery of those who believe they know the "truth" and want to impose it others. Throughout human history, it has too often been those types who have fomented war and destruction on the world. The greatest among us are remembered for what they did for others. The reviled are those who exploited others for their truth. If you are bothered by the behavior of so-called Tea Party members, it is their insistence on their way or the highway that is so off-putting.

Let's admire Steve Jobs for the things he gave us. Let's hope others with his insights succeed him. Let's not seek to make him a role model in his sometimes less-than-admirable methods of achieving his goals.

I think in the end we can say Steve Jobs was more of a good guy than not (as I'm sure we would like ourselves to be thought of), who left us too soon, and because he gave us so many wonderful tools, he will be remembered among the great of business and, who knows, human history.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

President Obama Gets It Right This Time

In response to an editorial in today's New York Times called "President Obama, Reinvigorated", I wrote a response, which I am also posting here.

I live one congressional district over from Paul Ryan’s but in vision for this country, I might as well live on the other side of the world. The gap between Democrats and Republicans on today’s issues is greater than at any time in the 68 years I’ve been on the planet. George Bush pushed the idea of an “ownership society.” What he meant is “you’re on your own.” And that is the essence of Ryan’s approach to things. Well, the fact is, folks, we are interdependent, and to the degree we don’t acknowledge and act on that, we facilitate our own demise. President Obama’s speech seems to agree with that.

After reading the book “The Bridge” by David Remnick, I know that Obama’s default position is to listen and seek common ground with all parties. But I hope he holds to his position stated yesterday and uses his powers to stop Republican foolishness now. The Ryan crowd won the house not because of their policies but because in Obama’s first two years in office he was not able to get us out of the Great Bush Recession. Let us hope that this dose of culture war, science rejecting, rich get richer approach to governing is rejected quickly in 2012.

A few weeks George Lakoff wrote an essay on his blog called “What Conservatives Want.” In it, he included this paragraph:

“Above all, the authority of conservatism itself must be maintained. The country should be ruled by conservative values, and progressive values are seen as evil. Science should NOT have authority over the market, and so the science of global warming and evolution must be denied. Facts that are inconsistent with the authority of conservatism must be ignored or denied or explained away. To protect and extend conservative values themselves, the devil’s own means can be used against conservatism’s immoral enemies, whether lies, intimidation, torture, or even death, say, for women’s doctors.”

This pretty well captures what the Republicans want. I am glad to see President Obama unequivocally rejecting such nonsense, and so should all thinking Democrats and especially independents (whoever they are) who ultimately decide elections in this country.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Bill of Particulars

A Bill of Particulars

RE: Governor Scott Walker and Republican Co-Conspirators’ Blatant, Divisive Actions to Destroy Cooperation and Collective Bargaining in the State of Wisconsin

1. As the Executive for the County of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Scott Walker illegally fired county employees who served to provide security at various government facilities. These employees were replaced by a private company, Wackenhut, from outside Wisconsin. It turned out that the head of the Wisconsin operation was a felon. After Walker was elected Governor, the courts decreed that the firing of county employees was illegal. As a result, the fired employees had to be brought back and given back pay. Currently Milwaukee County must pay two sets of employees (Wackenhut and the illegally fired County employees) until the Wackenhut contract expires. This is the first example of a reckless attempt to weaken employee rights by Scott Walker. The significant cost to Milwaukee County has been unnecessary and outrageous.

2. Once inaugurated as Wisconsin’s Governor, one of Mr. Walker’s first actions was to award over 130 million dollars in tax breaks to Wisconsin corporations. These “gifts” will go into effect in the 2011-2013 biennial budget year, only adding to the current deficit. These are not the actions of a person concerned about budget deficits. The additional deficits created only further shift the burden to persons with disabilities, poor people, public employees and the middle class.

3. There is in place a short-term budget deficit for the remainder of this fiscal year. It could have been handled without the “Budget Repair Bill” proposed by Governor Walker.

4. Under cover of “the Budget Repair Bill” the Governor also sought to strip all collective bargaining rights from state and local public employees. He claimed that it was fiscally necessary. This argument had no substance because employee unions had agreed to all financial and benefit sacrifices demanded in “the Budget Repair Bill”. Nonetheless, the claim of fiscal necessity continued to be alleged.

5. These massive labor law changes would undo 50 years of public employee collective bargaining in Wisconsin. This proposal was made after the Governor was in office for only one month. He made not one mention of his union-killing intention in any of his campaign appearances or literature. It can clearly be called a radical, stealth intention. Polls show that, by a wide margin, the citizens of Wisconsin do not approve of this initiative by Mr. Walker.

6. The Governor asserted that if “the Budget Repair Bill” did not pass, he would have to immediately lay off more than one thousand state workers. Yet since his election, there has ensued an unprecedented massive retirement of state employees with many more in the process, the need to lay off state employees is clearly unnecessary given the high volume of new vacancies. Employees who took early retirement did it despite the financial penalty they would personally experience out of a fear that they would lose even more. This exodus has weakened state government by an abrupt loss of decades of organizational memory and invaluable skills. The usual adjustments made possible by gradual attrition are not currently happening..

7. The entire process was structured by the Governor and his Republican Senate and Assembly co-conspirators to ram the proposal through. It was announced on a Friday afternoon with the intention to have it passed by the next Tuesday, given majority Republican control of both houses. The Senate Democrats did the only thing they could to stop the juggernaut; they left the state thus denying the Wisconsin Senate the quorum needed for any proposed legislation with fiscal content. This action by Democrats created a time frame in which the citizens could understand, discuss and respond to the radical provisions contained in the bill.

8. The loss of collective bargaining rights for public employees will also cost Wisconsin millions of dollars in U.S. Transportation allocations that are conditioned on employees having the right to collective bargaining.

9. The cost of security for law enforcement can be defined as the money the state must reimburse local governments for police-related personnel from across the state who have been called to Madison to respond to the massive demonstrations that “the Budget Repair bill” has provoked. The current estimate is that it will cost the state $ 4 million to date.

10. When the initial plan to ramrod through the radical provisions in “the Budget Repair Bill” were stymied, there followed a series of highly questionable actions to pressure the absent Democrats to return: financial penalties, reassigning staff, denying copying and other resources needed for constituent response. This also included sending law enforcement personnel to the homes of the absent senators.

11. One of the “reasons” offered by Walker for stripping the rights of local union employees was that this was a critical tool for local and school managers to deal with their budget cuts. This was disputed by many local managers including the Wisconsin Association of School Superintendents. No single example of local support for this provision has been offered.

12. When the response to the proposal was an overwhelming outpouring of citizens coming to the Capitol in unprecedented tens of thousands, other repressive actions were taken. These included denying citizens access to the Capitol- an action that was subsequently overturned by court order.

13. The Governor also revealed his true colors in a taped telephone call in which he thought David Koch, billionaire and a major financial contributor, was on the line. He not only revealed his unprincipled dishonesty, but candidly admitted considering planting agitators among the crowds of protesters. While this option was considered, it was not rejected on ethical grounds, but on the cynical political assessment that it would not work. In the 20 minute conversation, there was not a single mention of concern about the budget – only a clear intention to bring down all public unions.

14. On March 9th, despite ongoing assertions that the collective bargaining provisions were in the budget for a fiscal impact, the Senate took the abrupt and unexplained stance that now, magically, the collective bargaining provisions did not have a fiscal impact. They were therefore stripped from “the Budget Repair Bill” taken to a conference committee, despite the fact that neither house had passed the bill. The stripped provisions were then taken back to the Senate for a vote. This was done in violation of Wisconsin’s Open Meetings Law as the Conference Committee was noticed less than 2 hours before it occurred; the law requires at least 24 hours notice.

15. The State Department of Administration, under the Governor’s Cabinet has made two wildly untrue assertions: first that the cost to clean up the Capitol would exceed $7 million dollars; second: that protesters had broken windows to gain access to the Capitol once the illegal vote had been taken on March 9th. Both assertions were patently untrue and had to be retracted.

16. The Governor’s headlong obsession with demolishing public unions has resulted in his failure to fill numerous other appointive positions within state government, creating further chaos and confusion in the government for which he is responsible.

This bill of particulars does not touch the substance of the Governor’s proposed budget which contains even greater provisions to radically shift power to the Governor’s office, thus undoing a critical balance of power needed for healthy and viable government.
We have structured our civil society to protect minority rights from majority tyranny. All people are entitled to basic civil rights, as listed in the Bill of Rights, but also as adopted informally through social contracts over the years. The right to form unions, while given through legal authority, is generally a matter of social contract. It is a way for management and labor to communicate, for each stakeholder to be respected and have a voice in the operations in which both are involved.
The state of Wisconsin is not broke. We do not deny that there are budget deficit issues that must be dealt with. However, they require a thoughtful, balanced response and shared pain. Massive structural changes should not be enacted under the guise of a “budget crisis”. We demand fairness, integrity, and a balance of power with decisions being made for the common good. None of these critical dynamics are evident in the actions taken by the Governor and most Republican legislators to date.
It is also clear that the Governor intends to “privatize” a number of the functions currently done by state employees by these actions. He has already begun this process by the restructuring of the Department of Commerce, giving private business a far greater hand in the operation of that important agency. This kind of restructuring is a major change that should not occur by fiat, but by broad and sweeping public discussion. That is clearly not a democratic value held by Governor Walker.
For the above reasons, the Governor has violated his oath of office to “faithfully discharge” the duties of office. The faith and trust that each citizen can reasonably expect to have in the state’s chief executive officer has been severely betrayed. The Governor and Lieutenant Governor should be expeditiously removed before even more damage can be done to the health and well-being of this state.
By Carol Lobes

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Sargent Shriver I Knew

I just watched a repeat of the wake for Sargent Shriver on C-Span, a wonderful service. I have been reflecting on Sargent Shriver all this week. I am amazed at the outpouring of affection shown him in every publication I have read. The comments sections after those articles are remarkable both in the amount of comments and the sentiments expressed. He really did touch more lives than we can possibly imagine.

I was thinking that he didn't know me, but I knew him because he awoke a part of me that I would not have known were it not for him. I was particularly moved by Timothy Shriver's reading of how his father defined himself. I think he was completely right about himself. He knew who he was and what was important, and his life is a lesson that we can all learn from.

In a world where there is too much violence, too much hate, too much cynicism, too much selfishness, too much unhappiness, too much poverty, too much self-righteousness, he stands as a role model for how to turn all that around and at the same time live a happy, fulfilled life, with more friends and admirers that we can possibly imagine. The tributes he has received are proof enough about what is the best way to live. I just wonder if we will ever wake up to that. We really are all in this together, and when we look out for that of which we are a part, we look out for ourselves. That is what Sargent Shriver in his own way knew and how he lived. His passing only reminds us of this once again.

I did some searching on the Internet and found the Sargent Shriver Web site, and they have his speech delivered at the 25th anniversary of the Peace Corps in 1986. Reading that speech again, with its theme of service, especially its conclusion, takes me back to that celebration and how inspired I was by his admonition to “serve, serve, serve.” Amazing.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

No Adults Allowed

Here's another comment on a NYTimes op-ed, this time one from Gail Collins called "Running on Empty." I think she got it right, and here's what I had to say in reaction:

It’s clear that neither most politicians in this country nor the people who elect them heard what President Obama said in his inaugural address: “... in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things.” And “... we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.”

Sorry to say, Mr. President, we haven’t declared an end to pettiness, and our politics take place in the adult-free zone. We are a nation of cable chatter and radio bombasts where intelligence and facts have little room in the conversation. Personally, I long for a political debate that is civil and rational rather than one that is confrontational and emotional.

That may be a generalization, but it’s not too far from accurate when we are still paying attention to the rants of Sarah Palin, and the great majority of people in this country have no idea who Paul Krugman is. So I think you got it right, Gail, about our politics, and it’s not a pretty picture.