As Best I Can Recall

Last week the Wisconsin state assembly passed a measure that’s the first step toward amending the state constitution for recalls.  I don’t think anybody has to think very hard to figure out my opinion of the effort.  If you do here it is: It’s a dumb, petty, pointless effort put forth by cravens and cowards.  Buy me something tasty and I’ll tell you how I really feel.

Since last week was just a hair on the unreasonable side of busy, I saved the article to blog about it but didn’t get around to it.  This far behind the ball I’d normally just let it go.  Except.

Under current law, no grounds are needed to seek a recall.

This line, or one very like it, is cropping up in all the reporting about it, and it’s driving me nuts.  It’s one of those technically true things that come up in order to lie.  True, the current constitution doesn’t say anything about what constitutes valid grounds for a recall.  What it does say is this:

SECTION 12. [Recall of elective officers.] The qualified electors of the state of any congressional, judicial or legislative district or of a county may petition for the recall of any incumbent elective officer after the first year of the term for which the incumbent was elected, by filing a petition with the filing officer with whom the nomination petition to the office in the primary is filed, demanding the recall of the incumbent.

(1) The recall petition shall be signed by electors equalling at least twenty-five percent of the vote cast for the office of governor at the last preceding election, in the state, county or district which the incumbent represents.
(6) After one such petition and recall election, no further recall petition shall be filed against the same officer during the term for which he was elected. (7) This section shall be self-executing and mandatory. Laws may beenacted to facilitate its operation but no law shall be enacted to hamper, restrict or impair the right of recall.

Bolding and underlining mine, because this is where the technical truth, rhetorical lie dynamic comes into play.  There is nothing there about criminality, incompetence, ethics violations, insulting grandma, or whatever else somebody might consider valid grounds for a recall.  What it does have are two rather important restrictions on how a recall can be done and what it takes for it to be successful.  And these restrictions accomplish the function of specifying what constitutes grounds for a recall far more effectively than actually enumerating the valid critera.

Let’s take a look at the first bit I bolded, the part about having to wait a year to file a recall. This means several things.  The first is that nobody is likely to ever file a recall petition against a member of the Assembly.  They only have two year terms, so at best you get somebody out a few months early.  It’s not worth it.

The second is that you can’t immediately turn around and redo the election if a lot of people are suddenly unhappy when the results come out.  Say a third party split the vote on one side and all of a sudden a majority isn’t happy because they agree the guy who won is a bad idea.  Tough, wait a year, and while you’re at it, learn some electioneering.  You know what?  After a year, the squabbling side split by the third party is going to be squabbling again.  Don’t believe me?  I’m going to claim the long, long history of no recalls even over close elections as evidence to support this claim.  You could counter-argue that nobody was paying attention before.  I’ll rest my case on your counter-argument.

What this provision does is give the candidate time to actually serve in office, and protect them from punitive recalls that have more to do with the election than their performance.  It also annoys the hell out of me, because there’s nothing stopping a candidate from doing unquestionably unacceptable thing x on inauguration day and then getting away with it for a year.  On the other hand, there are other ways for dealing with anybody who does unacceptable thing x on inauguration day if leaving them in office for a year is going to be catastrophic.  It’s not like one person has the power to quash protest.  And even if that did happen, there’s protection in separation of powers.  Or, well, there’s a reason I love the whole Bill of Rights and not just the starting bit.  (No, you cannot quarter troops in my house.  I won’t let you!)

So there’s already protection against backlash, punitive recalling that isn’t based on things done while in office.  The second bit I highlighted is even more important.  In order to have a recall, you have to get a signature from a number of electors (that is, people eligible to vote) equal to 25% of the people in the relevant district who voted for governor.  That’s not just for gubernatorial recalls, that’s for any recall.  In other words, the constitutional provision creates a burden that is based on the biggest potential number of voters.  Executive branch elections get the highest voter turn out.  Most people only vote for president, with the other executive offices generally also enjoying privileged status.  They’re just sexier to voters, and always have been.  So if I want to recall my state senator, it doesn’t matter if me and my two crotchety neighbors up the street are the only ones who voted for him; if my entire district turned out to vote for governor, I need 25% of my entire district to help me overrule my two crotchety neighbors.

Now, I could file for a recall and start collecting signatures, but do you have any idea what the return on investment is for canvassing?  It’s crap.  We got a million signatures for the Walker recall, not because we went door to door or called a tons of people, but because if you were standing on a street corner with a clipboard and a “Sign here” sign, traffic would stop to come to you.  That.  Doesn’t.  Happen.  Especially not in the absence of something that really pisses off a ton of people.  I would suggest that any list of acceptable reasons for a recall that does not include something which can motivate people to that degree is a terminally flawed list.

The current design of the recall provision in the Wisconsin constitution is actually a really great piece of law.  It does exactly what I think any law should do.  It’s clear, specific, and designed so that it maximizes desired outcomes in a fashion both flexible and portable to changing conditions.  Standards for what unacceptable behavior by an elected official change.  By not citing them directly, but instead creating a burden that functionally requires a violation of those standards, the law is automatically self-updating.  It gets my highly desired seal of approval.

And even if this proposed amendment had been part of the constitution a year ago, I’d probably get my recall anyway.  Scott Walker likes making things easy for me just that much.


Almost exactly ten months ago, I put up a list of goals I had for the whole protest/recall/Wisconsin is screwed movement.

The budget got passed, so I missed the first goal.  We got six recall elections but didn’t win all of them, so I vaguely missed that goal, too.  There are several things I could point at as potential Anti-Tea Party things, so I’ll call that goal in progress with likely success.  The fight access to the capitol continues, and there’s a whole clutch of people who make a point of waging it, so I have definitely nailed the last goal.

Which leaves us with the second goal; getting rid of Scott Walker.  (Public flogging on the square is still acceptable to me)  The project to recall the governor has changed my plans, everything from when/where I go on vacation to which jobs I’m willing to take.  And bitches, I’m winning that fight.  Over one million signatures when just over half that were required.

You’ll hear stories about fake names, duplicate signatures, and that they’re all from the deluded hippie land that is Dane county.  These stories are not true.  There are going to be lawsuits, and primaries and Republicans screaming about out of state paid workers and out of state money while they’re fundraising in Texas, and at the end of the day what matters is this: One.  Million.  Signatures.

Maybe instead of bookshelves, my next carpentry project could be a stockade.

Who is Rebecca Kleefisch?

I’ve been telling people for months that there was no doubt there would be a recall election for the Governor of Wisconsin, that the number of signatures needed was trivial next to the swathes of people irritated, dismayed, or pissed off by Walker’s agenda and political style.  For those of you who thought I’d developed an uncharacteristic streak of optimism or naivete, well, one of us was wrong and it wasn’t me.  I suppose it’s possible that we won’t manage to get as many signatures in the next six weeks as we did in the last two, but color me skeptical.

That said, one of the things people on the ground have been noticing is a reluctance by some people to sign the second recall petition, the one for Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch. And honestly, the number of people who just blindly sign the petition for her because I tell them to squicks me out.  I mean, yes, I am a reliable authority, the final arbiter of morality and justice, and deeply knowledgeable and right about everything, but that doesn’t mean you should just take my word for it and remove somebody for office.  I have more respect for the people who say, “I don’t know anything about her, no thanks.”  And utter contempt for the people who say that, then don’t go learn anything.

Dudes, Kleefisch is at least as scary as Walker.  Here, let me show you how.  And then you can go ahead and sign that petition and I won’t judge you for it, ‘kay?

Let’s start with a source that will be, I suspect uncontroversial: hers.  We’ll set aside petty commentary about how she has the same creepy, toothed smile in every photo and move on to actual content.  As of this writing, the top two articles on the website are a report about Wisconsin leading in manufacturing jobs, and another article touting how Wisconsin has swiped 111 jobs from Mexico.  We’re open for business y’all, ain’t it grand?  I’m particularly amused by the second article, what with the juicy implications that we’re getting good American jobs back from those Mexicans.  It’s a shame this is hollow propaganda.  So she gets points for well targeted rhetoric, which I can always respect, but loses them for being just a teeny bit out of touch with reality in a really obvious way.

The next two articles are, in my opinion, much more fun.  The first talks about how she’s returning to her Tea Party roots.  I’m glad this wasn’t the first article because so many people would have considered that damning enough and nobody would have read on about the Mexico rhetoric.  There’s a great picture of her (I think?) with the Gadsden flag, which I still love, and will remain eternally bitter over its appropriation.  I suspect her constituents get the same happy thrill, without the dirty self-loathing chaser.

The next article is about the summer recall elections.  There’s nothing original there except the headline, “Media Agrees: Summer Elections Endorse Walker.”  Then three quotes from three different news organizations.  Not any direct shenanigans going on in that article, but I feel obligated to point out that while I can bitch extensively about the summer recalls, the Republicans outspent the Dems by a significant margin, yet the Dems won more of those elections than they lost.  And the Republicans are frantically fundraising because they spent their war chest for the presidential campaign last summer.  (Or, at least the ones who feel entitled to my wallet are)  Were the summer recalls embarrassing?  Yes.  A defeat?  Er, not really.  I’d call it a draw.

The rest of her webpage is boring.  Lots of Tea Party key words, no content.  You have plenty of links if you want to poke at it yourself.  Let’s move on.

May I take a moment to express my appreciation for the AV Club?  I think I can.  Also, bitch snarked at my train.  My gut reaction to people snarking at my train is the best argument against conceal carry out there.  That said, conceal carry and the castle doctrine have to be the two things they’ve done they don’t piss me off.  But leave my train alone.

It gets a little bit touched on in the campaign ads linked to by the AV Club, but here’s the thing you all probably have heard about from Rebecca Kleefisch: Same-sex marriage is a slippery slope to dog marriage.  Way back in the day a similar rant from a similar politician knocked me off my “Government should get out of marriage” stance and into enthusiastic support for gay marriage.  His slippery slope argument was that after liberating teh gays we’d slide into permitting plural marriage.  Can I bring sleds to this slope?  Also, I like the ribbons on this hand basket.

And, finally, I leave you with her PolitiFact file.  She gets up to half-truth, and that’s as far as she goes.  Oops.  Well, now you know.  And now you can see why keeping her from sneaking into office behind Walker might be a really, really good idea.

Encoded Conversations

The food table at Occupy Madison's general assembly

Yesterday, being Tuesday, I had lunch with other Realtors.  I don’t talk much during these lunches – I go because they’re a great way to leech a variety of knowledge from other Realtors without having to learn it via experience myself.  I frequently walk away from these lunches irritated with their priorities and their outlook, but better informed.

The conversation over yesterday’s lunch focused on comparing various local school districts.  All of the other Realtors were older than me (most Realtors are older than me) and they spent a great deal of time waxing nostalgic for when the Madison school district was the desirable one, while the suburban schools nearby were considered shabby.  Apparently things have switched.  Now, Verona, Middleton and Oregon have the more attractive school districts.

I may have spotted this movement's answer to the Tea Party's adoption of the Gadsen flag

I was listening to this conversation very intently, in part because their understanding of current perceptions don’t match mine.  Finding out what great transition had occurred to demote Madison schools, why on earth they seem to think sending your kid to West high is tantamount to child abuse, was really important to me.  They talked about their reasons, but even though I hung on every word, I couldn’t figure out what they were saying.

“The way I see it, kids are still so moldable in elementary school, it doesn’t matter if they get exposed to certain things you wouldn’t want.  As long as the family moves before middle and high school, and most of them do, it should be okay.”

The whole conversation was like that.  There’s something unsavory in the Madison schools that your kids could be exposed to if you attend.  I couldn’t figure out what that unsavory element was, though.  Poor people?  Black people?  Hispancis?  Hippies?  The conversation was coded thoroughly, and I didn’t have the key.  They’re worried about something, and everybody else in the conversation seemed to know what it was.  Maybe I would if I’d been around town longer, or if I had kids.

Most of the people in this photo were occupying the Capitol before occupation became all trendy

This isn’t the only time I’ve been in this situation.  My second time in Madison, when we were looking for an apartment, the property manager for the very last place we saw, the only place that met our very basic requirements, upon hearing about the other places we’d seen said, “Well, the equal housing protection act won’t let me tell you what kind of people don’t live here.  But this is a time when people are getting home from work, so if you look around the parking lot, you’ll see that the people in those places aren’t here.”  Don and I walked away deeply confused about who two people moving up from the South side of Chicago (and at least in my case, sorry about it) are supposed to have filled in for “people.”  We never figured it out, be remain offended on their behalf.

Perhaps it’s just my brain over-decoding things where it can consequent of being thwarted, but I’m starting to read the constant questioning in regards to the Occupy Wall Street movement along the lines of, “What are their goals?” and “What do they hope to accomplish,” as a code for, “I feel okay, why don’t they?”  and “They can’t accomplish anything.”  This is probably unfair of me; most of the people asking those questions are likely as sincerely fuddled as they claim.  But I can’t help wondering how the answer to “What is that?” isn’t obvious.

I still remember screaming when Bush answered Wall Street's collapse with very un-capitalistic bail-outs. And then screaming louder when the only other angry people willing to get organized were the Tea Party.

It’s what happens when a swath of disaffected people start talking to each other while they’re still invested in society.  It’s the precursor to something big.  That something could be anything from the French revolution to the dissolution of an entire generation’s political and social investment.  It’s what comes before the London riots, the Arab spring, the existentialists taking over Parisian cafes.  It’s a generation waking up to say “What the fuck?” and trying to solve it with conversation and jazz hands.

I’m in such deep wait-and-see mode over the whole thing I’m not even willing to put my current opinions in writing – they’re changing with each new story from a different city.  But I will say this: The Occupy Wall Street people are not afraid to name their enemy.  They are not afraid to list his crimes.  And they are not afraid to confront him directly.  The coding in their conversations centers on running from anything like hierarchy or leadership, from stepping on the toes of allies.  And their codes are transparent.  If they accomplish nothing else, I hope they carry that much out the other side of this.  I like knowing who “those people” are.

I agree with Nass

The hullabaloo on the local political front this week is about people going after Chief Tubss’s job.  You can get a quick overview here.  Some of the articles about it this week have been spectacularly bad pieces of journalism – there was one where the sum total of the content was, “Somebody wants an investigation into something so they can try firing Tubbs.”  Didn’t list Nass as the rep doing the instigating, didn’t say anything about laxity in February and March.  Truly the local news coverage is made of rigor and quality.

I’ve talked about Grothman and the police dynamics in the protests before.

Anyway, I’ve been watching this meme develop over the course of the week and I have to say, I’m with the Republicans on this.  I wish the police had stormed the crowds in February.  Things would be so much better if they’d come riding in on horses and sprayed gas and rubber bullets.  And here’s why: The entire. World. Was watching.  There were news cameras everywhere.  Do you know what we could do with international footage of cops charging teachers, firefighters, college students, and elderly hippies?  Seriously.  I kept showing up at the Capitol in a suit so I could use my mug shot on my business cards, and the police never once gestured toward obliging me with an arrest.  That’s really frustrating.

I’m not really sure why Nass thinks that having an outmanned, highly observed police force storm a crowd would keep nails out of a Senator’s driveway.  I think it would have been more likely to provoke a riot, get some people hurt, maybe have a few things burn down.  But hey, this whole process has been entirely too peaceful, respectful, and full of signing for my unrestrained aggressive side.  For some reason, nobody wants to blow things up, and the only people willing to crack jokes about physical violence are the ones too apathetic/lazy to actually get involved.  It’s like these annoying protest types are too invested in the success of their society to tear it apart.  Or something.  Losers.

Next time, I’m coordinating protest dynamics with Nass.  Clearly he’s more on my page for how this political conversation ought to go.


P.S. Dear FBI: I’m being facetious.  Please don’t storm my house to thwart my violent uprising; it’ll upset the cat.


Let’s start this by making it very clear, I am not by any remote stretch of the imagination anything resembling a pacifist.  Violence is, in fact, sometimes the answer.  Sometimes, it’s the only answer, other times it’s the most efficient answer, and denying that is just dumb.  Violence is a tool, and like many tools,  can turn very nastily on those who employ it.  So it’s not an answer you should run to by default, or one you should employ without a lot of thought toward collateral damage and cascading effects, but on occasion, it is what’s needed.  Everything I say below should be read with the full knowledge that it’s being said by me, thinking on the subject as I do.  Apply salt accordingly.

Pacifism is not about conflict, but about violence.  It’s grounded in the belief that violence is never the answer, or that it’s never an acceptable answer, or that it’s impossible to determine the circumstances under which it is an acceptable answer and the risks associated with it are too high to countenance mistakes.  Pacifists can resist; their means of resisting are constrained, but that constraint can be an effective tool as well.  Images and stories of power inflicting violence on the non-violent weak are extremely potent.  Pacifism is not about conflict avoidance, running from a fight, or idly hoping things will get better.  It’s a tactic, a guidebook, a means of enabling a concept of optimal engagement in a conflict.  Like bravery and fear, one cannot be a pacifist in the absence of conflict.

I am not a pacifist, I disagree with their fundamental approaches to conflict resolution.  But I have a lot of respect for them.  Thus far, our differences come out strictly in rhetoric and big-picture framing,* not day-to-day assessments or choices.  I rather hope that continues to be true.

For those of you who have misconstrued pacifism into an excuse to go home and whine about how mean people are, and how stressful you find it to engage with people who disagree with you, the word you are looking for is coward.  You do not get to say, “The world is ending because those people there are destroying it, so I am nobly going to go over there, shut my eyes and do nothing,” and keep your dignity.

Coward.  Own it.  Stop giving real pacifists a bad name.

* i.e. my worst case scenario is that after going all the way to deploying violence we still lose, while theirs is that we utterly lose, but haven’t tried violence.  And I can’t get through the day without threatening to shoot somebody in the face.

There Just Might be a Subtext Here

Once upon a time, when the ink on the constitution was barely dry, a clever man named Alexander Hamilton saved our shiny new country from self-destruction.  Everybody knew he was clever, but they also knew he was a bit machiavellian, and some will tell you that the provision about natural born citizens and the presidency was designed to keep him from taking power.  Nonetheless, Alexander Hamilton was clever, and he used that, with a bit of shrewd manipulation, to save the country.

You see, he guaranteed that the new government would pay the war debt which, technically, had been incurred by a completely different government.  The new government had no money yet, had barely worked out its ability to raise any money, and now it had a lot of debt from a war that ended while the Articles of Confederation still seemed like a good idea.  It was the best thing ever.

You see, by taking on the debt, all of a sudden the important people in the country, i.e. the people in a position to be owed money by a war government, had a vested interest in making the new government succeed.  If it failed, the next one might not feel responsible for paying them, or the individual states might have been stuck with the bills.  So people worked hard to make sure the government did succeed.  Not all of the parts of the country were thrilled with being a federated union – some of them wouldn’t have minded going back to England if the king would just be reasonable about taxes – but in order to get paid, they played along.

And because people had a vested interest in the government, a reasonable expectation that it would be better than nothing, or than burning it down and starting over (again), the shiny new government with the shiny new constitution succeeded.

Without that vested interest, why, everything would have fallen apart, and the war of 1812 might well have happened sooner, and ended differently.  (We won that one, btw)

It’s always been all about money.  But our bad guys used to be a lot more useful.