The Wisconsin uprising (5×8 – 2/17/11)

When people push back, the irony in Fargo, the value of life, free speech or murder, and how melting ice is music to our ears.


1) WHEN PEOPLE PUSH BACK

Maybe this is somewhat inspired by Egypt and Tunisia; maybe it’s not. But politicians around the country certainly have to be watching Madison, where protests are growing as public employees are pushing back against politicians who think legislation can take away what negotiations gave them. A bill stripping them of their union rights advanced out of committee last night and could be voted on today.

It’s a political process that works until people push back. That, it would seem, is happening in Wisconsin. The question is: Is the era of imposing political will against the wishes of people any more valid in U.S. states than in the country’s where we’ve seen uprisings in the last few weeks? Why do we think we as a country are immune from significant civil uprisings?

Wisconsin isn’t Egypt, of course. Perhaps the issues here are first-world issues, but it will nonetheless serve as a reminder that there’s a point at which people can threaten stability. Maybe it’s people who are unemployed, maybe it’s the hungry, maybe it’s rich people who think they’re overtaxed, maybe it’s union workers who are being pitted against other union workers, maybe it’s the haves, maybe it’s the have-nots. Maybe it started in Egypt. Maybe they’ve taken a page out of the Tea Party playbook. No matter. The Wisconsin uprising suggests that some sort of new era is at hand.

Political protests usually are one-shot deals – the college students at the Minnesota Capitol might be one such example. They come. They make noise. They go home. Madison is clearly different. It’s lasted for more than one day. It appears to be getting bigger, and more meaningful.

2) THE IRONY IN SOUTH FARGO

The Laramie Project, a play about diversity and acceptance at Fargo South High School, is proving anything but. Some kids involved in the play invited the Westboro Baptist Church — they’re the Kansas family who think God is punishing America for its acceptance of homosexuals — to picket the play to try to increase publicity about it. They sent e-mails to the “church” under fake names. That’s bad enough.

But now that their plan has become public, there’s a backlash against the kids who blew the whistle on the plan, according to the Fargo Forum:


Gomez’s daughter, Sarah Siqueiros, was threatened and offended that fellow members of the cast would reach out to Westboro, her mother said Wednesday.

Siqueiros, who is bisexual, was bullied online for calling attention to the Facebook posts, and other cast members passed it off as harmless, Gomez said.

“They act like they invited Santa Claus to town, not a hate group,” she said.

3) THE VALUE OF LIFE

Somewhere in the country today, some people are going to work to consider how much the government should spend to keep you alive. The Office of Management and Budget seeks the number as it evaluates potential regulations. The New York Times reports that several agencies, however, have come up with different numbers. The EPA, for example, thinks you’re worth $9 million. The Transportation Department values at $3 million less. Health agencies say they’re like to increase the number because cancer kills more slowly.

This is all, basically, the work of a Harvard professor, who wrote a paper on cost-benefit analysis in the 1970s.

The idea he and others have since developed in a long string of studies is that differences in wages show the value that workers place on avoiding the risk of death. Say that companies must pay lumberjacks an additional $1,000 a year to perform work that generally kills one in 1,000 workers. It follows that most Americans would forgo $1,000 a year to avoid that risk — and that 1,000 Americans will collectively forgo $1 million to avoid the same risk entirely. That number is said to be the “statistical value of life.”

Professor Viscusi’s work pegs it at around $8.7 million in current dollars.

4) FREE SPEECH OR MURDER?

In Rice County today, a judge will hear William Melchert-Dinkel’s request to waive a jury trial. He’s the Faribault nurse who apparently enjoyed going online and encouraging depressed people to kill themselves. At least two people did.

5) MELTING ICE IS MUSIC TO OUR EARS

We must be getting near the end of another membership drive; Mark Seeley is on Midday with Gary Eichten this afternoon. No doubt, the talk will be the warm weather and the melting snow, which turns into ice early in the morning, and then, back to water.

It’s a very musical process, as it turns out:

Cryoacoustic Orb from PAML on Vimeo.

TODAY’S QUESTION

In a blog post, a high school teacher in Pennsylvania described some of her students as “disobedient, disrespectful oafs. Noisy, crazy, sloppy, lazy LOAFERS.” She may lose her job as a result. How tough should teachers be on their students?

WHAT WE’RE DOING

Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: It’s the timeless question for lovers of music and literature. If you were stranded on a desert island, what one book and album would you want to have along with you?

Second hour: For over 40 years, the Ladysmith Black Mambazo has been the voice of South African musical tradition around the world. Rock audiences were first introduced to the group when they collaborated with Paul Simon on his 1987 album, “Graceland.” Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s new album, “Songs from a Zulu Farm” celebrates their rich musical and cultural heritage. They join host Kerri Miller for a live in-studio performance.

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – Both hours: Climatologist Mark Seeley

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: A debate over the future of funding for public broadcasting. I’ll probably live-blog it.

Second hour: Online marketing has “gone group:” Sites like Groupon and Living Social sell cut-rate coupons to appealing retailers, from restaurants to spas to housecleaning services. Now some retailers complain the sites drive away their full price customers.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) - We’ll get a new forecast about the chances for flooding in the Red River Valley today. MPR’s Dan Gunderson will have the story.

What do rich Minnesotans think about Gov. Mark Dayton’s budget proposal? Laura Yuen talks to people who would be affected by his proposed tax hike. Some say they’ll move out of state, others say they’ll pay up.

Euan Kerr has a preview of the King Tut show opening Friday morning.

The person leading the federal health care overhaul in Minnesota says the state will forge ahead regardless of the uncertainty in Washington. GOP leaders have vowed to starve the legislation of funding, piece by piece. MPR’s Elizabeth Stawicki talks with Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson.

  • Jed

    I guess it depends… Was the teacher being serious or simply quoting bye bye birdie?

  • jtb

    II think this country is really waking up to the hangover of the election of 2010. This country, whatever your political affiliation, is looking at the tea party and seeing the results and saying I can do that too. My hope is that this turns into a true conversation instead of people picking their sides and shouting with signs in their hands when a subject near and dear to their heart is threatened.

    I am apprehensible excited that this is happening. This country, whether we like it or not, is at a crossroad which we will have to redefine our values and way of life. Exciting.

  • Justin

    Every time I read stories like the one about the students in Fargo, it saddens me. When I moved out here from California as a kid, I initially thought that people in the Upper Midwest were more enlightened than the so-called “hillbillies” and bigots that I encountered during my military service in the South. Then I read stories like this one, and it just proves that ignorance and bigotry know no borders or boundaries, and that even in an “enlightened” area, negative things like this can happen. I hope that the students who invited the hatemongers from Westboro are severely disciplined. I joined the Patriot Guard because of those idiots from Westboro.

  • kennedy

    I am not sure that people pushing back on their elected officials is a the best way to set public policy.

    State and federal budgets are significantly out of balance. The spending/taxation changes that are required will increase the burden on almost all citizens. We would all prefer to keep our benefits and have someone else foot the bill.

    We need leaders but are saddled with politicians. Wishful thinking, but I’d like less focus on reelection and more focus on the long term good of our nation/state.