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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Event of the Week: Defending the American Dream Summit

Plus Heroes and Jerks of the Week

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Coming off of two devastating elections, where the Republicans lost control of both houses of Congress and the presidency, the factions within the conservative movement seem to be solidifying. Some factional fighting manifested itself over the past week with the circus antics of Rush Limbaugh, the voice of the extreme right, and Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee who is trying to rebuild the party, when the two mixed it up on the cable networks. Unfortunately for the Republicans, Limbaugh’s side seems to be winning.

 

The Limbaugh side of this schism met in Milwaukee over the past weekend—perhaps because the Milwaukee area is home to some vocal elected officials who represent this extreme thinking—for the Defending the American Dream Summit sponsored by the very conservative Americans for Prosperity. The conference attendees were welcomed by the likes of Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, Congressmen Paul Ryan and Jim Sensenbrenner and Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen. This is the crowd who still believes that only the private sector can do things well and who supported all of the deregulation that got us into the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression—and who still want to use the Herbert Hoover approach to deal with their mess.

The summit even brought in “Joe the Plumber,” who during the campaign confronted President Obama because he was worried about Obama taxing people who earn more than $250,000 per year, even though Joe was an unlicensed plumber earning a fraction of that amount.

For Sensenbrenner it is the simple mantra of cutting taxes for the rich and not making any public investments. Congressman Jim believes that the rich can afford to get what they need in the private sector and the poor can just work harder. Then there is Congressman Ryan, who bills himself as an economist and sees himself as an “Ideas Man.” The only problem is that all of Ryan’s “new” economic ideas are of the 1920s vintage—the kind that brought us the Great Depression of the 1930s and the Great Recession of the 21st century. If these guys had their way in Washington, we would definitely be in a worldwide depression.

Then we have Scott Walker, who attacked critics saying that the conservatives and the Republicans need to change. While others can only talk about hating government, Walker, as county executive, can actually try to destroy it. His latest effort was to do such a poor job of managing the county’s public assistance programs that the state of Wisconsin had to step in to run them.

Other participants from our area included state Rep. Robin Vos and state Sen. Alberta Darling.

Vos’ claim to fame is his effort to kill the KRM commuter train extending the Chicago-to-Kenosha commuter rail to Racine and Milwaukee. The business community has championed this project as a way to promote regional economic growth.

Then there is Alberta Darling, who, despite the fact that she tries to portray herself as a moderate Republican every four years, fits in very well with this extremist group.

As long as this crowd controls the Republican Party, it will be a long, slow journey out of the darkness.

 


Heroes of the Week:Brenda Wesley and ASK/NAMI of Greater Milwaukee

It isn’t easy to reach out and get help for a mental illness, especially in Milwaukee’s African-American community, where the stigma is even greater. Yet not getting help leads to further problems, such as unemployment, anti-social behavior, strained relationships and isolation. That insight led Brenda Wesley to launch the ASK (Access, Support & Knowledge) program with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Greater Milwaukee in October 2007. Since then, Wesley has spoken to more than 2,500 people who want to learn more about coping with mental illness, whether it’s their own, a loved one’s or a friend’s. “The community is beginning to open its arms,” Wesley said. “They say, ‘You look like me. It’s OK to talk about it now.’” She said ASK hopes to branch out to the city’s Latino community, veterans and Milwaukee Public Schools students and staff. For their tireless work to help end the stigma associated with mental illnesses, we are honoring Brenda Wesley and NAMI as our Heroes of the Week.


Jerk of the Week: Circuit Court Judge Candidate Daniel Gabler

Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Daniel Gabler, hoping to replace Michael Brennan on the bench, won this dubious award because of his sleazy campaign tactics of lies and distortions. If this is how he campaigns, then God help Milwaukee County if he gets on the bench. For example, one of his campaign pieces claimed that his opponents had a “record of defending criminals.” Why? Well, one opponent, a practicing assistant district attorney, had developed a restorative justice program—at the behest of District Attorney John Chisholm—for those who wrote bad checks. Restorative justice programs such as this one keep nonviolent offenders out of the court system while forcing them to make amends for their misdeeds. It saves money and valuable court resources while getting results. Unfortunately, Gabler doesn’t understand this and seems to prefer clogging our courts and eating up prosecutors’ precious time with cases that should be handled in an alternative setting. And, even worse, he doesn’t seem to care if he misleads the public by distorting the work of the district attorney’s office. For twisting the truth and insulting our intelligence, Gabler has earned his title as our Jerk of the Week.

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