State Soldiers and Families
Hounded by Extremists
MONONA . . . In August, Pro-Life Wisconsin, a self-proclaimed "Christian organization" that acts as "your 100% pro-life voice," hounded the family and caregivers of a Monona soldier critically injured in Iraq.
The family of 32-year-old Staff Sgt. Chad Simon, who was severely injured in a bomb attack in November 2004, took care of him diligently until informed almost nine months later that he would never recover. After much soul-searching, in accordance with Simon's living will and with a judge's approval, his wife Regina made the difficult decision to have his feeding tube removed so he could rest in peace. Simon, who also leaves a 6-year-old son, was buried with full military honors on August 8.
The Simon family
tragedy was exacerbated by the interference of Pro-Life Wisconsin,
which, just days after Simon's funeral, issued a press release charging
that "Sgt. Simon was rendered handicapped by the bomb in Iraq; he was murdered by those who were in charge of his medical care."
Pro-Life Wisconsin opposes abortion, artificial birth control, euthanasia, and assisted suicide "without exception and without compromise." It employs five staff members and has a strong lobbying presence in Madison. As many as 25 legislators have endorsed its extreme agenda, which would outlaw abortion even in cases of rape, incest, or threats to the mother's health.
After attorneys for the HospiceCare facility where Simon was treated threatened to sue, Pro-Life Wisconsin issued a revised release but refused to apologize. HospiceCare declined to pursue the matter but said it "regards Pro-Life Wisconsin's revised press release as a tasteless and unfounded attack on the grieving widow of a war hero."
The Simon family attorney defended the hospice, saying they "provided the highest level of loving care." Members of the hospice staff writing to the Wisconsin State Journal, said of Sgt. Simon: "The love we saw from his family touched us all… He is burned in our hearts forever."
Meanwhile near Theresa in Dodge County, Six picketers representing the extremist Westboro Baptist Church (based in Topeka, KS) chanted anti-gay slurs and carried signs saying "Thank God for Sept. 11" along the highway leading to the funeral service for Army Spc. Michael Wendling on Oct. 6.
Dodge County Sheriff Todd Nehls told the Fond du Lac Reporter he moved the protesters 300 yards away from the entrance of Immanuel Lutheran Church, where the funeral was being held. Members of the Westboro Church, mostly family members under the guidance of the Rev. Fred Phelps, believe America deserved 9/11 and soldiers killed in Iraq are being punished for the allegedly "pro-homosexual" policies of the U.S. Phelps and crew often picket the funerals of individuals who have died from AIDS, urging the departed to "burn in hell."
Wisconsin State Journal, Quest
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CRG Network Plows on with Recall Strategy; Madison Mayor Latest Target
MADISON . . . Citizens for Responsible Government, which succeeded in recalling seven Milwaukee County supervisors in the wake of a pension scandal fanned by right-wing radio in 2001, has spread statewide, with affiliates in Madison, Wausau, Polk, Sheboygan Falls, Waukesha, the Northern Kettle Moraine, and Barron County.
CRG mobilizes public resentment over fiscal and other community issues and promotes recall campaigns against elected officials who veer from its agenda.
The most prominent of its new targets is Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz. Madison CRG leader Heather Mees blames Cieslewicz for the citywide smoking ban in businesses and an increase in the minimum wage. "Destroying jobs" and "failure to protect civil liberties" were cited as reasons for the recall. CRG must collect 34,520 valid signatures by Dec. 9 to force a recall election. They are seeking support from smokers, businesses and libertarians.
A recall election will be held Dec. 13 in Kewaskum to challenge school board member Neal Weare. CRG targeted Weare after the board voted to pay $130,000 to buy out the last year of the school superintendent's contract. City of Pewaukee Mayor Jeff Nowak was ousted from office in a recall election on Nov. 15. Nowak's recall stirred additional public debate when the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that 52% of those signing recall petitions had not voted in April 2004 when Mayor Nowak won re-election.
BITTER FIGHT IN WAUWATOSA
Last Fall, two term Wauwatosa Alderwoman Mary Heins was successfully recalled because she refused to promise that she'd vote against any rezoning of the school district's Fisher School property. The district was exploring sale or lease of the property to raise revenue, and neighbors were concerned that the 17 acres of green space on the property could be lost. Heins urged the district to protect the green space in any future use but said she had to keep an open mind. Heins was defeated in the recall election by Donald Birschel, who received assistance from CRG. She labeled the pre-emptive recall effort "government by intimidation."
The Heins recall was pushed by longtime conservative activist Stanley Zurawski, Sr. of Tosans for Responsible Government, who led the failed effort to keep the Christian cross on Wauwatosa's city crest. Zurawski and wife Betty are now leading a campaign to cleanse Mayfair Mall of the sexy lingerie at Victoria's Secret and anti-Bush t-shirts at Spencer Gifts. "We need more intolerance," he declared at a meeting Sept. 26.
Although CRG claims credit for the Heins recall, CRG's chief spokesman Chris Kliesmet has distanced himself from Zurawski's other campaigns. In a letter to the editor of the Shepherd Express, Kliesmet said that CRG's constitution restricts it to working on fiscal issues and that the group does "not become engaged on issues of social conservatism."
The CRG web site says its sole purpose is to "influence politicians to represent the best interests of taxpayers and, failing that, recruit, train and elect new ones." CRG has an ambitious agenda:
- Recruiting 10,000 members statewide to create a voting block that will support "taxpayer friendly" candidates;
- Raising a warchest of $1 million to finance political action and become the largest "special interest" in the state;
- Develop a program and the tools to get CRG candidates elected;
- Lower taxes and create accountability in government.
The motives of Kliesmet and another CRG leader, Orville Seymer, have been challenged lately. When it appeared that Milwaukee County budget cuts would reduce the small claims court by 25%, they jumped into action. Seymer is on the board of the Apartment Association of Southeastern Wisconsin and, as a landlord, frequently utilizes the small claims process against tenants. Kliesmet met with court officials to discuss the budget shortfall but ended up delivering what Chief Judge Jeffrey Kremers said was a strong sales pitch for the management program Six Sigma. The Journal Sentinel reported that Kliesmet works for a Six Sigma publication.
In Wisconsin, recalls involve the circulation of petitions and, if the required number of signatures are obtained, a subsequent special election to challenge the targeted incumbent. The targeted official must have served the first year of his or her term. As recalls have become more frequent and, some argue, more frivolous (school board members in the Osseo-Fairchild district were recalled after changing the school's logo), legislation is afoot to narrow the grounds for recalls to illegal behavior or malfeasance in office.
Wisconsin State Journal, Waukesha Freeman, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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National Right-Wing Groups Impacting Local Issues
National organizations representing Christian fundamentalist ideas and right-wing political and
economic policies are making their influence felt in a number of state and local issues in Wisconsin.
Here is a sampling of some of the groups, who's behind them, and what they hope to achieve.
AMERICANS FOR PROSPERITY
Americans for Prosperity (AFP) recently opened an office in Wisconsin. AFP and the AFP Foundation are leading the charge for the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) both federally and in the states. TABOR laws impose strict limits on revenue and spending by state and local governing bodies and require a public referendum to approve exceeding those limits.
(Colorado passed such a referendum on Nov. 6 with support from the state's GOP governor and some business interests; schools, services and infrastructure were reportedly suffering after ten years of TABOR.)
AFP and the AFP Foundation were founded by David and Charles Koch, billionaire owners of Wichita-based Koch Industries. Their father Fred, a charter member of the John Birch Society, started the company. The sons support his political legacy through millions in donations annually to conservative think tanks like AFP, the Cato Institute and Citizens for a Sound Economy (now Freedomworks), which promote lower taxes and unregulated capitalism.
Along with the American Legislative Exchange Council, an industry backed group that promotes "model" pro-business legislation, AFP is probably the most prominent group promoting the TABOR concept nationwide. Wisconsin is one of just eight states they are targeting in a major push to get TABORs adopted.
The AFP's Wisconsin office in West Allis is headed by Mark Block, longtime GOP operative who was fined $15,000 by the State Elections Board for campaign irregularities related to Jon Wilcox's run for the State Supreme Court in 1997. The Elections Board found that about $200,000 from voucher school proponents was illegally funneled through a front group to benefit the Wilcox campaign. Block, Wilcox's campaign manager, was cited for falsifying campaign finance reports.
The scandal stirred considerable outrage because the following year Wilcox cast a deciding vote upholding the constitutionality of Milwaukee's voucher program.
AFP co-sponsored the Wisconsin Conservative Leadership Coalition Conference in March. It is distributing its pro-TABOR studies, lobbying legislators, and promising to build a "grassroots" organization devoted to economic policy issues in Wisconsin.
ALLIANCE DEFENSE FUND
A Madison judge has ruled that theAlliance Defense Fund (ADF) has no standing to represent the Wisconsin Legislature in contesting a suit that seeks equal benefits for gay and lesbian public employees, but an appeal will be filed so the legal fireworks may not be over.
Whatever the outcome, the ADF's involvement has already established a dubious "first" — the first time in U.S. history that a statewide elected body has contracted with a religious-based group to intervene in a civil case.
The case involves six lesbian state employees, represented by the ACLU, who are challenging the state's refusal to provide health insurance to their partners in violation of the state constitution's equal protection clause. Assembly Leader John Gard and Rep. Mark Gundrum, skeptical that Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager will vigorously defend the state because of past statements in support of the LGBT community, sought ADF's support. Although the Legislature is not named as a defendant in the suit, it approved retaining the outside group.
The Alliance Defense Fund, based in Scottsdale, AZ, was founded in 1994 by leaders of America's largest evangelical ministries and pressure groups – James Dobson of Focus on the Family, Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ, James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Ministries and Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association. This leadership provides ADF with deep pockets and influence. With income of $18 million in 2003, ADF coordinates the work of 400 attorneys nationwide focusing on lawsuits to curb abortion and sex education, to restrict the civil rights of gays and lesbians and their families, and to retain Christian symbols and prayers in public settings.
ADF led the legal team fighting to keep Terry Schiavo alive and won the Supreme Court case allowing the Boy Scouts to exclude gay men. Many of its current efforts are focused on state campaigns against gay marriage and partnership rights. Co-founder Dobson, who has called for a "second civil war" on moral issues, became a laughingstock earlier this year after claiming the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants is gay.
NATIONAL RIGHT TO WORK
The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, the legal arm of a group that promotes "right to work" and other anti-union measures, submitted an amicus brief in support of an appeal challenging the constitutionality of Milwaukee's labor peace ordinance. A decision in the case, Milwaukee Metropolitan Assn. of Commerce v. Milwaukee County, is expected soon.
The law applies to contractors who do more than $250,000 in business with certain county departments. In the event of an organizing drive, the law orders employers to avoid anti-union campaigns and intimi-dation and forbids unions from picketing and strikes. It was designed to rein in both sides during labor disputes while ensuring uninterrupted delivery of county services.
MMAC and the RTW Foundation (an extension of the National Right to Work Committee) argue that the ordinance violates provisions of the National Labor Relations Act, a contention rejected by a federal judge.
The use of "right to work" has nothing to do with the right to a job. Instead, "right to work" laws, passed in 22 states and currently pending in Congress, prevent workers and employers from negotiating union security clauses — even if the majority of workers have voted to form a union in their workplace.
The National RTW Committee was formed in 1955 by Rep. Fred Hartley, anti-union business owners and other right-wing activists to promote right to work legislation in the states. The National RTW Legal Defense Foundation, which funds lawsuits against unions throughout the U.S., was founded in 1968. It receives millions from corporate interests and right-wing funders like the John M. Olin Foundation.
The literature of both RTW groups is saturated with pejorative language like "union coercion," "union violence," "union abuses," "union boss money," "forced dues" and "union monopoly." NRTW says it's not anti-union, only for individual rights. But its work unquestionably undermines the formation and viability of unions. It claims that "right to work states have created more jobs and economic growth than in forced unionism states." But the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average worker in a right to work state earns $5,333 less than workers in pro-union states. In right to work states, 21% more people are without health insurance, and the rate of workplace deaths is 51% higher. The "right to work" could more accurately be called "the right to work for less."
In an editorial opposing right to work legislation, the Capital Times noted that the NRTW Committee "has fought harder than any other organization to cut wages and worsen working conditions for American workers."
AMERICAN FAMILY ASSOCIATION
The American Family Association, which has led unsuccessful boycotts of Disney, PBS, and The Johnny Carson Show in its crusade for "traditional values," has now aimed its wrath at American Girl, the Middleton-based company that produces specialty dolls that reflect different eras in American history.
AFA, based in Tupelo, MS, demanded that American Girl end its charitable support of Girls Inc., a widely respected 140-year-old organization whose programs "inspire girls to be smart, strong and bold," when it learned the group favors women's reproductive freedom and respects individuals' sexual orientations.
American Girl quickly clarified that its support of Girls Inc. was focused on three specific programs: building girls' science and math skills, developing leadership skills, and encouraging athletic prowess and team spirit. "We are profoundly disappointed," the company said, "that certain groups have chosen to misconstrue American Girl's purely altruistic efforts and turn them into a broader political statement on issues that we, as a corporation, have no position."
The AFA, once known as the National Federation for Decency, is led by Rev. Donald Wildmon and based in Tupelo, MS. It has 21 state and some local affiliates. AFA owns more than 200 radio stations across the U.S. and produces videos and programming for other Christian stations. Its primary concern has been "indecency" and "un-Christian" values in the media. AFA's legal arm, the Center for Law and Policy, challenges sex education curriculums and defends the use of Christian symbols in schools and other public institutions.
–organizational web sites and media reports
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State Sen. Tom Reynolds Said to Go "Over the Line"
MILWAUKEE . . . When State Sen. Tom Reynolds (R-5th Dist.) first ran for public office in the 1990s, the self-described "missionary" and "radical extremist" declared in his campaign literature:
"Politics is a matter of religion."
Yet the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel only recently noticed that Reynolds had gone "over the line" by asking job applicants about their religion and sex lives.
"If I'm going to have somebody working in my office," Reynolds told the paper, apparently oblivious to employment laws, "it's nice to know how they view their relation to God, whether entrance to heaven is something they earn or if it's a free gift."
The Journal Sentinel cited the high turnover of Reynolds' office staff, his idea to build an autobahn and raise the speed limit to 75mph, his proposal to give tax credits to home schooling parents (from which he himself would benefit) and his posing with wife and kids as part of a manger scene on a Christmas card (Reynolds was Joseph) as further evidence of his "quirkiness."
Reynolds, chair of the Senate Committee on Labor and Election Process Reform, has declared that mentally disabled workers are "not worth minimum wage" and that "voting is a privilege, not a right." He authored a bill that would eliminate the right to collective bargaining by, and all existing bargaining units representing, student assistants employed by the UW System. He is a major proponent of TABOR and the Voter ID bill.
A staunch opponent of reproductive rights for women, Reynolds rates a rock bottom 0% on the legislative scorecard of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin. He's a chief sponsor of the bill that would allow pharmacists to deny to women medications that offend their sense of "conscience."
Reynolds' printing business published some of the most vitriolic anti-gay materials distributed by Monroe-based extremist Ralph Ovadal (sample title: A Little Discrimination Can Be a Good Thing) and he was the only legislator who attended the Ovadal-inspired "International Conference on Homo-Fascism" in 2003. When a constituent complained about his vote to ban civil marriage and unions for same sex couples, Reynolds responded by sending her anti-gay literature published by the Seventh Day Adventist Church.
– Reynolds campaign literature, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, other media reports
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WAL-MART: What's the Grinch Up to Now?
WAR! Wal-Mart has established a "war room" at its Bentonville, AR headquarters filled with high paid consultants who will work to burnish its image while responding to the growing torrent of criticism against the retail giant. Even the American Bankers Association has turned against the corporate Colossus after Wal-Mart applied to the FDIC to charter its own bank. The war room was apparently set up in anticipation of the release of Robert Greenwald's hard-hitting documentary, "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price" — just in time for the holiday shopping season.
IF AT FIRST YOU DON'T SUCCEED — Here in Wisconsin, Wal-Mart is once again seeking to obtain 22 acres of land in the Town of Jefferson on which to build a superstore. The move came just weeks after Alderman Dave Olsen, who voted against the deal, was voted out of office in a recall election. (Wal-Mart denies being involved in the recall.) As often happens, Wal-Mart's entry creates bitter divisions within communities. In Jefferson, opponents created Coalition for a Better Jefferson while proponents parried with Coalition for the Best Jefferson. As we went to press, the Jefferson city council was set to vote on a new proposal that would require large-scale developers to comply with a new and costly set of provisions before gaining approval, a bid to block Wal-Mart.
PRIVATIZING PROFITS WHILE SOCIALIZING COSTS? A report compiled by Wisconsin Citizen Action with statistics from the Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services indicates that as many as 6,628 Wal-Mart employees and their dependents rely on publicly funded medical assistance from the state at a cost of $13.9 million annually. "Sure, you can have 'always low prices' while skimping on wages and relying on taxpayers to provide health care," said State Rep. Terese Berceau at a rally in Madison. "Wal-Mart's strategy is to privatize profits while socializing the costs." This follows a report by Good Jobs First which found that in just 244 (of 3,300) Wal-Mart stores, Wal-Mart was the recipient of more than $1 billion in public subsidies — in tax incremental financing, free or reduced price land, property tax breaks, income tax credits, sales tax rebates, job training funds, enterprise zone status, and more.
"UNACCEPTABLE" BENEFIT COSTS: In an internal memo called "Reviewing and Revising Wal-Mart's Benefit Strategy," VP for Benefits Susan Chambers concedes that although 46% of the company's 1.4 million U.S. employees are uninsured or on Medicaid, the annual 15% growth in Wal-Mart's benefit costs is "unacceptable." Some of Wal-Mart's solutions: hire younger workers; hire healthier workers and ensure they are healthy by requiring physical activity for the job; hire more part-time workers; reduce company-paid life insurance policies; require employees to pay more for spouses' health insurance; offer more low premium, high deductible policies; reduce contributions to profit sharing and 401(k) plans; promote health savings accounts; and establish health clinics inside Wal-Mart stores.
MORE VIOLATIONS: Wal-Mart has agreed to pay $11 million in fines for illegally employing immigrant laborers, without admitting any wrongdoing. Last year, Wal-Mart paid $3.1 million in fines for violations of the Clean Water Act in 24 locations in nine states. Wal-Mart posted sales of over $288 billion last year.
PLAYING FOOTSIE WITH ENFORCERS: The Inspector General of the U.S. Labor Department rebuked officials of the department's Wage and Hour Division for a sweetheart deal it made with Wal-Mart in settling 85 child labor violations involving the use of dangerous machinery. The Wage and Hour Division promised Wal-Mart a 15-day notice prior to any future inspections for child labor violations, allowed Wal-Mart lawyers to write much of the settlement as well as the media release about the settlement, and fined Wal-Mart only $135,540!
- www.walmartwatch.com, www.wakeupwalmart.com, New York Times, Union Labor News
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Wisconsin Hate Crimes Update
MAN PLEADS GUILTY IN RETALIATORY ARSON ATTACKS
MILWAUKEE . . .
Daniel L. Dropik of Oconomowoc has entered guilty pleas to two counts of racially motivated arson and may be sentenced to up to five years in federal prison. Dropik, 22, admitted setting fire to the Greater Love Missionary Baptist Church on N. 10th St. in Milwaukee April 16. He then fled to Michigan where he torched the Trinity African Methodist Episcopal Church in Lansing. No one was injured in the attacks. Damage at the Milwaukee church was assessed at $1,000. The Lansing church sustained $5,000 in damage.
Dropik told authorities he started the fires to retaliate against the black community. He claimed a
black person stole his backpack at the Greyhound Depot in Milwaukee and that he got
into a fight with several African American men at a party near UW-Milwaukee.
Shortly afterward, he purchased two gas cans, filled them with gas, and drove
around looking for a black church to torch. He confessed to burning a third church in
Michigan but police lacked evidence in that case.
BOMB MAKER SENTENCED
MILWAUKEE . . . Nathaniel E. Pickart of Fond du Lac was sentenced to 51 months in prison in October for manufacturing and selling pipe bombs to an undercover agent from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Pickart, 28, sold the federal agent eight bombs for $350. Court records indicate that the agent had promised Pickart a machine gun and silencer as well.
Pickart, who admitted selling up to 15 pipe bombs in the past and bragged about their lethality, said he was involved in the white supremacist movement. An Internet profile of Pickart listed his interests as "Anti-Zionism, White Pride and Racialism, Weapons and Equipment" and "Skinheads."
RACIST INCIDENT IN MERTON BRINGS CHARGES
WAUKESHA . . . Terrence J. Stapleton was charged with disorderly conduct as a hate crime and obstructing an officer and Mark J. Weber was charged with disorderly conduct and a felony count of reckless use of a weapon as a hate crime for a racially charged incident in the Town of Merton in April. Stapleton is the North Lake Fire Chief and Weber is a volunteer firefighter.
The two men allegedly harassed and threatened Mark Bratton, an African American man from Milwaukee, who was fishing in an area along Highway E with his sister and nephew. The accused, who have pleaded not guilty, allegedly used racial slurs and ordered Bratton to leave the area. The criminal complaint says that Stapleton menaced Bratton and his family with a German Shepherd and Weber pulled a hand gun and at close range aimed it at Bratton's chest. Stapleton reportedly used racial slurs throughout his interrogation by investigators.
Attorneys for the accused are challenging the constitutionality of the state's hate crimes law, which was upheld by the U. S. Supreme Court in 1993.
MADISON . . . An administrative law judge has ruled that Matt Collins can receive compensation from the state's crime victims fund for a beating he sustained outside a Fitchburg nightclub in 2004. Details of the incident had been disputed, but the judge said the incident "was in fact a hate crime" based on the victim's sexual orientation.
MILWAUKEE . . . Milwaukee Alderman Michael McGee, who earlier this year refused to apologize for using the slur "faggots" at a public rally and who allegedly used it again on a bus traveling to the Millions More March, has introduced a hate crime ordinance. The proposal, which is being vetted by the City Attorney, mirrors the state law which provides fines and increased penalties for crimes against persons or property which are motivated by hatred based on race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability. . .
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Christopher Vega, who admitted vandalizing the office of the Muslim Student Association and shoving Spam under its door last year, was allegedly involved in sending a racist email from a Student Association computer this Spring. He was cited for infractions of UW System rules, but all charges were later dropped.
– media reports and court records
2005 by Wisconsin Center for Pluralism, Inc. All rights reserved.