Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Republican War On Academia Heats Up

The Republican War On Academia Heats Up

In March 1949, a group of Illinois college students traveled to Springfield, Ill., to protest a group of anti-Communist subversion bills introduced by state Sen. Paul Broyles, the chairman of the Seditious Activities Intelligence Commission. Broyles wanted to outlaw the Communist Party, make membership in a Communist "front organization" a felony, and require all public-sector workers -- including public school teachers and university professors -- to swear loyalty oaths.

The protests drew wide attention and prompted the hasty passage of a joint resolution declaring that "It appears that these students are being indoctrinated with Communistic and other subversive theories contrary to our free systems of representative government." A public investigation of whether University of Chicago professors were responsible for such indoctrination followed, but mostly fizzled out after a bravura performance by University of Chicago chancellor Robert Hutchins.

Hutchins later reflected on his experience.

    Since a university faculty is a group set apart to think independently and to help other people to learn to do so, it is fatal to force conformity upon it. Nobody would argue that all professors must be members of the Republican Party; but we seem to be approaching the point where they will all be required to be either Republicans or Democrats (right wing).

    I do not claim that the status of university professor should entitle a man to exemption from the laws. But I do say that imposing regulations that go beyond the laws is impractical and dangerous.

    There are fashions in opinion as well as in behavior. We are just emerging from an era in which a schoolteacher could lose her job by smoking, dancing, or using cosmetics. We should avoid entering one in which a professor can lose his post and his reputation by holding views of politics, economics, or international relations that are not acceptable to the majority.

    This is thought control.

It is a little amusing to note Hutchins' worry that all professors might be required to be right-wing, in light of the current conservative gripe that universities are dominated by left-wing "tenured radicals" who enforce their own dogmatic thought control on today's students. But it's certainly no joke to today's public university faculty when politically motivated opponents start gunning for them, for whatever ideological reason. I stumbled across the Illinois episode while researching the issue of legal restrictions on political activity by public sector employees -- a sizzling topic in the wake of the Open Records request made last week by the Republican Party of Wisconsin that seeks access to University of Wisconsin history professor William Cronon's e-mails. (In fact, if you Google the words "political activity by public university employees" the first result returned is the University of Wisconsin's guide to what is permitted and prohibited.)

The political heat is set particularly high in Wisconsin, but the Cronon affair is hardly an isolated incident. On Tuesday, Talking Points Memo's Evan McMorris-Santoro reported that a conservative think tank in Michigan is also using FOIA requests to gain access to emails sent or received by academics at three Michigan public university departments, suggesting that there is a concerted effort by the right to go after any kind of labor activism occurring in a public university academic context. The historical echoes are pretty easy to hear. In the 1950s, the enemy was Stalin. In 2011, it's unions, period.

Which is not to say that the Mackinac Center for Public Policy doesn't have a legitimate case against Wayne State University's Labor Studies Center. I would not be at all surprised to learn that academics who have devoted their careers to studying labor history or labor economics might want to apply theory to reality, and help directly organize workers. In a state with such a  potent labor history as Michigan it would be more surprising if they weren't. I'm not exactly sure how different that is from right-wing economists pushing free-market fundamentalist policy positions, but there are clearly pretty strict rules on what public university employees -- or any government employee -- can do in the political realm using their employer resources, dating all the way back to the Hatch Act of 1939.

We don't want government employees improperly influencing the political process. But drawing the line for what is appropriate for a teacher can get very tricky. And I don't think I am the only person who is troubled by the fact that at the very same time that conservatives are attempting to stamp out every last vestige of labor activism that might benefit from the taxpayer dollar, restrictions on the ability of corporations and well-capitalized special interests to influence the political process are being shredded. Unions may have once represented a "countervailing force" to the power of big capital, but they do so no longer. For all intents and purposes, the corporations have won. The spectacle of the ongoing evisceration of the Dodd-Frank bank reform bill, which was never very strong to begin with, in tandem with the incredible growth in financial sector profits so soon after one of the greatest financial crises in the history of the United States, tells us all we need to know on that front.

If we are scrupulous, we might be able to limit ourselves to rules that clearly demarcate appropriate behavior: such as a ban on using .edu addresses to support the recall of a politician or organize a picket line. But the history of our country tells us all too clearly that it is far too easy for overzealous partisans to go too far, and start implementing their own form of "thought control" by investigating "indoctrination." What happens when a professor lectures so brilliantly on the role of the labor movement in reducing income inequality in the United States that students rush from his or her class to join a protest? When does that become verboten?

In between defeating Germany in World War II and serving as president of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower was the president of Columbia University. In his "Installation Address" he made a stirring declaration:

    There will be no administrative suppression or distortion of any subject that merits a place in this University's curricula. The facts of communism, for instance, shall be taught here -- its ideological development, its political methods, its economic effects, its probable course in the future. The truth about communism is, today, an indispensable requirement if the true values of our democratic system are to be properly assessed. Ignorance of communism, fascism, or any other police-state philosophy is far more dangerous than ignorance of the most virulent disease.

    Who among us can doubt the choice of future Americans, as between statism and freedom, if the truth concerning each be constantly held before their eyes? But if we, as adults, attempt to hide from the young the facts in this world struggle, not only will we be making a futile attempt to establish an intellectual "iron curtain," but we will arouse the lively suspicion that statism possesses virtues whose persuasive effect we fear.

It would have been nice if Eisenhower had lived up to this sentiment a little more as president during the worst of the McCarthyite hysteria, but let's take him at face value anyway. We need our universities, public and private, to be places where academics feel free to pursue whatever line of thought they want. If that pursuit spills over to action, we should be careful about what restrictions we try to enforce. Better, by far, to err on the side of freedom, because that, theoretically, is what this country is all about.

Conservatives may be planting the seeds of a backlash. On average college students tend to be culturally moderate. By making some things forbidden, conservatives may give those things the aura of a cause. Causes bring about backlash's that are all about pushing back against perceived or real injustices. Conservatives may thus be creating a union revival by making martyrs of pro-union academics. 

Republican zealot Herman Cain, a millionaire thinks he lives on a plantation. Conservative self-pity might be the unlimited fuel of the future.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Why Do Republicans Hate Freedom and Democracy

Why Do Republicans Hate Freedom and Democracy

....the Ohio House had approved the most restrictive voter id law in the nation — a bill that would exclude 890,000 Ohioans from voting. Earlier this week Texas lawmakers passed a similar bill, and voter id legislation — which would make it significantly more difficult for seniors, students and minorities to vote — is now under consideration in more than 22 states across the country

Conservatives have said voter id laws are necessary to combat mass voter fraud. Yet according to the Brennan Center for Justice, Americans are more likely to be killed by a bolt of lightning than commit voter fraud. And the Bush administration’s five-year national “war on voter fraud” resulted in only 86 convictions of illegal voting out of more than 196 million votes cast. Instead conservatives are employing an old tactic: using the specter of false voting to restrict the voting rights of minorities and the poor.

Below, ThinkProgress examines the history of conservatives anti-voter agenda:

    – JIM CROW SOUTH: In the Jim Crow South, historian Leon Litwack writes, “respectable” Southern whites justified their support for measures to disenfranchise African-Americans “as a way to reform and purify the electoral process, to root out fraud and bribery.” In North Carolina for example, conservatives insisted that literacy tests and poll taxes — which disenfranchised tens of thousands of African-Americans — were necessary to prevent “voter fraud.”

    – 1981 RNC VOTER CAGING SCANDAL: According to Project Vote, in 1981 the Republican National Committee mailed non-forwardable postcards to majority Hispanic and African-American districts in New Jersey in an effort to accuse those voters of false voting. The 45,000 returned cards were then used to create a list of voters whose residency the GOP could challenge at the polls. The Democratic National Committee sued, winning a consent decree in which the RNC agreed not to engage in practices “where the purpose or significant effect of such activities is to deter qualified voters from voting.” Similar initiatives were undertaken by the Arizona GOP in 1958, the RNC in 1962 and again, despite the decree, in Louisiana in 1986.

    –RECENT VOTER CAGING EFFORTS: During the 2004 election GOP state parties, along with dozens of unidentified groups, launched similar “voter caging” efforts designed to challenge the eligibility of thousands of minority voters by accusing them of voter fraud. And in 2008, the Obama campaign sued the Michigan Republican Committee for collecting a list of foreclosures in an effort to challenge the residency, and eligibility, of voters who had lost their home in the housing crisis.

    – US ATTORNEY DAVID IGLESIAS FIRING SCANDAL: In an unprecedented politicization of the Justice Department, in 2006 the Bush White House fired US Attorney David Iglesias for refusing to prosecute voting fraud cases where little evidence existed. The New Mexico political establishment asked for Iglesias’ dismissal after he refused to cooperate with the party’s efforts to make voter id laws “the single greatest wedge issue ever.”

    – US ATTORNEY TOM HEFFELFINGER DISMISSAL: In Minnesota, US Attorney Tom Heffelfinger lost his position when he ran afoul of GOP activists for “expressing deep concern about the effect of a state directive that could have the effect of discouraging Indians in Minnesota from casting ballots.”

    – WISCONSIN, THE KOCHS AND THE 2010 ELECTION: Last fall ThinkProgress reported that a coalition of Wisconsin Tea Party and Koch-funded groups, in an effort to stop “voter fraud” and prevent “stolen elections,” was planning a sophisticated voter caging effort that would use GOP lawyers and Tea Party volunteers to challenge the eligibility of voters at polls in the state. Earlier that year, the same groups were instrumental in defeating a voter protection law that would have criminalized any attempt to use force or coercion to “compel any person to refrain from voting.” One prominent Tea Party member behind the voter caging effort that “since the voter law did not get passed this year… we can still do this.”

As statehouses across the country move forward on voter identification bills, ThinkProgress will continue to track conservatives latest efforts to advance their century-old anti-voter agenda.

The concept of one person one vote has been called the crown jewel of democracy. There are lots of ways to be heard in a democratic republic such as the U.S., but voting is where the rubber meets the road. If you cannot vote because of all the barriers put in your way, you're just a voice in the crowd. A vote is that voice in action. Which explains why conservatives have such a long history of voter suppression. 

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Criminal Rick Scott Becomes Florida Governor to Continue Crime Spree

Criminal Rick Scott Becomes Florida Governor to Continue Crime Spree

Republican governor Rick Scott's push to privatize Medicaid in Florida is highly controversial—not least because the health care business Scott handed over to his wife when he took office could reap a major profit if the legislation becomes law.

Scott and Florida Republicans are currently trying to enact a sweeping Medicaid reform bill that would give HMOs and other private health care companies unprecedented control over the government health care program for the poor. Among the companies that stand to benefit from the bill is Solantic, a chain of urgent-care clinics aimed at providing emergency services to walk-in customers. The Florida governor founded Solantic in 2001, only a few years after he resigned as the CEO of hospital giant Columbia/HCA amid a massive Medicare fraud scandal. In January, he transferred his $62 million stake in Solantic to his wife, Ann Scott, a homemaker involved in various charitable organizations.

Florida Democrats and independent legal experts say this handover hardly absolves Scott of a major conflict of interest. As part of a federally approved pilot program that began in 2005, certain Medicaid patients in Florida were allowed to start using their Medicaid dollars at private clinics like Solantic. The Medicaid bill that Scott is now pushing would expand the pilot privatization program to the entire state of Florida, offering Solantic a huge new business opportunity.

"This is a conflict of interest that raises a serious ethical issue," says Marc Rodwin, a medical ethics professor at Suffolk University Law School in Boston. "The public should be thinking and worrying about this."

With Scott's blessing, the Florida statehouse is currently hammering out the final details of the Medicaid bill, with a vote expected in the upcoming weeks. In the meantime, Scott has moved forward on another front that could also bring new business to Solantic. On Tuesday, he signed an executive order requiring random drug testing of many state employees and applicants for state jobs. He's also urged state legislators to pass a similar bill that would require drug testing of poor Floridians applying for welfare.

Among the services that Solantic offers: drug testing.
"These changes to Medicaid are basically nothing but a business plan for Rick Scott's Solantic," says Florida Democratic Party spokesman Eric Jotkoff.

Scott's office dismiss ethics questions over the governor's Solantic ties without further elaboration. "The claims of a conflict of interest are incorrect and baseless," Brian Hughes, Scott's deputy communications director, responds in an email. When pressed by local reporters, Scott also glosses over the issue. "I believe in the principle that if you have more competition it will drive down the prices," Scott told the St. Petersburg Times last week when asked about his wife's shares in Solantic. "If you give more choices, it's better for the consumer also to help drive down price…and that's exactly what I'm going to do as governor."

Florida Democrats have blasted the governor over the controversy. "These changes to Medicaid are basically nothing but a business plan for Rick Scott's Solantic," says Eric Jotkoff, a spokesman for the Florida Democratic Party. "It's clear that he stands to greatly profit from these changes to Medicaid." The Democrats also point to Scott's past: Columbia/HCA was ultimately forced to pay the biggest Medicare fraud settlement in history, totaling $1.7 billion, though Scott denied knowledge of the fraud and escaped being personally penalized. More recently, Florida's Medicaid system has also been beset by fraud perpetrated by private health care officials. In January, five former executives of Wellcare, a managed care company, were indicted by a grand jury for running a scheme that stole Medicaid money designated for patients.

Scott's current proposal aims to save the state $1 billion by drastically overhauling Medicaid, allowing private managed care companies to bid for contracts rather than paying traditional fee-for-services. The majority of Medicaid patients receive care through private companies and HMOs, but under Florida's bill such firms would end up having vast new authority over the program, with great leeway to limit access to services or reduce benefits. The bill would also put a hard cap on the amount of money that these managed care companies could spend on Medicaid, which advocates say could particularly harm disabled and elderly patients who require costlier long-term care.

In the past, Florida's Medicaid pilot programs—which tested the waters for the proposals at the heart of the current bill—have been plagued by problems. According to a 2008 study by the Georgetown Center for Children and Families, participants experienced huge delays and restricted access to necessary treatments, says the center's co-executive director, Joan Alker. Patients found the new system bureaucratic and confusing—and HMOs were prone to dropping out without warning. Dr. Aaron Elkin, president of the Broward County Medical Association, recently declared the program to be a failure. And Medicaid patients don't have much better reviews. "It has taken four months to get a biopsy on a throat cancer due to the impediments placed by the HMOs for authorizations," one participant in the program told NPR.

Scott and Florida Republicans are nevertheless plowing ahead, arguing that slashing costs is necessary due to the state's $3.6 billion budget deficit. Yet even if the bill passes the Florida statehouse, it will likely face another roadblock with the Obama administration, which must approve the biggest changes in the measure. Though the Bush administration happily green-lighted the pilot program in 2005, Obama officials are less likely to be amenable to continuing the troubled program—much less expanding it. The Obama administration, however, is holding off from commenting on the Florida bill until it receives the final version, though officials are "aware of some of the concerns" raised about the pilot programs, says Mary Kahn, a spokesperson for the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Casting himself as a free-market champion, Scott put his opposition to "Obamacare" at the heart of his campaign. But he could ultimately stand to gain from one of the federal government's biggest entitlements—a program that's also set to expand massively under the Affordable Care Act. Concludes Georgetown's Alker: "It's especially ironic when people who speak out against government involvement in health care turn around and profit from it."

Scott was the tea party candidate. Which makes sense. The tea baggers are just right-wing nuts who have rebranded themselves so they would not be tainted with the history of the conservative culture of corruption.

Wisconsin Stalinists Republicans Target Professor for Criticism over Gov. Walker’s Efforts to Gut Workers’ Rights

Wisconsin Stalinists Republicans Target Professor for Criticism over Gov. Walker’s Efforts to Gut Workers’ Rights

Gov. Scott Walker's aggressive tactics to crush collective bargaining in Wisconsin include a dark underbelly TPM's Josh Marshall writes.

    Marshall highlights a situation involving University of Wisconsin professor William Cronon who wrote a blog post at Scholar as Citizen examining the "sudden and impressively well-organized wave of legislation being introduced into state legislatures that all seem to be pursuing parallel goals only tangentially related to current fiscal challenges - ending collective bargaining rights for public employees, requiring photo IDs at the ballot box, rolling back environmental protections, privileging property rights over civil right ...."

    Cronon also authored a piece for The New York Times in which he compared Gov. Walker's (pictured) efforts to push an anti-workers' rights measure through the state legislature to the infamous work of former U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy.

    Professor Cronon's criticism, Marshall writes, triggered a harsh reaction from the Wisconsin Republican Party. It lodged "a state open records request to gain access to Cronon's personal emails to get a look at what communications or discussions or sources or anything else" that went into Cronon's work.

    Marshall writes:

        Now, 'personal' is up for some reasonable debate here. This is his university email. And he's a Professor at the University of Wisconsin, the state university. So he's a state employee. Still, he's not an elected official or someone doing public business in the sense you'd ordinarily understand the term. Nor are they looking at anything tied to the administration of the University, which is legitimately a public matter. In the ordinary sense we tend to understand the word it's his personal email. And the range of requested documents leave no doubt about what they're after.

    Cronon has responded to the Republican Party's move, noting its use of the state open records request is a "perversion" of the law, Marshall noted.

    In his New York Times column, Cronon said Gov. Walker's conduct, which has spurred enormous protests at the state capitol, "has provoked a level of divisiveness and bitter partisan hostility the likes of which have not been seen in this state since at least the Vietnam War. Many citizens are furious at their governor and his party, not only because of profound policy differences, but because these particular Republicans have exercised power in abusively nontransparent ways that represent such a radical break from the state's tradition of open government."

    In a guest post for ACSblog, former Wis. Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager lauds state Judge Maryann Sumi for temporarily halting Gov. Walker's bill to strip collective bargaining rights from workers, saying it was a blatant violation of the state's open meetings law.

Stalin salutes in comrades in the Wisconsin Republican Party from the grave. Stalin's purges, control of the media and iron fisted control of workers seem to be the same guiding principle of Walker and every Republican governor in the nation. Criminal-in-Chief Rick Scott of Florida,  

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is one of the most entertainingly shameless figures in American political life. In the 1990s, Scott headed Columbia/HCA Healthcare, the largest for-profit hospital in America. While Scott was running Columbia/HCA Healthcare, it got involved in a bit — okay, a lot — of fraud. As Forbes reported, the company “increased Medicare billings by exaggerating the seriousness of the illnesses they were treating. It also granted doctors partnerships in company hospitals as a kickback for the doctors referring patients to HCA. In addition, it gave doctors ‘loans’ that were never expected to be paid back, free rent, free office furniture, and free drugs from hospital pharmacies.”

The scale of the fraud was so immense that Columbia/HCA Healthcare ended up paying more than $2 billion (PDF) back to the federal government in the single largest fraud case in history. (The previous record holder? Drexel Burnham.) Scott resigned shortly before the judgment came down.

Today, Scott is enjoying a second act as governor of Florida. And, as Suzy Khimm reports, he doesn’t seem all that chastened. Before running for office, he turned his $62 million stake in Solantic, the urgent-care clinic chain he founded after resigning from Columbia/HCA Healthcare, over to a trust in his wife’s name. Solantic doesn’t take traditional Medicaid, but it does work with the private HMOs that, under a 2005 pilot program, were allowed to contract with Medicaid. And Scott is now pushing a bill that would expand that program across the state making those HMOs — the ones Solantic works with — the norm for Medicaid.

Asked about the apparent conflict of interest, Scott said, “If you look at everything that I want to accomplish in health care in Florida is basically what I’ve believed all my life. I believe in the principle that if you have more competition it will drive down the prices.” And I believe him. But he could have sold his stake in Solantic when he got into government. Since he didn’t, the fact remains that Scott is pushing a policy his family stands to profit from immensely . Which is, for Scott, real progress. In the 1990s, he made his money off single-payer health-care programs by cheating them. Today, he’s making his money off single-payer health-care programs by running them. No matter how you look at it, it’s a step up.

Conservatism seems to be just another name for organized crime.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Why Are Republicans Making Drastic Cuts in Essential Services When Wealthy Corporations Are Paying Little Or No Taxes

March Madness for Corporate Tax Dodgers - Top seeds in the Tax Haven Tourney: banks and power companies

The small companies and public didn't have a chance in the early rounds. Now it's down to a few formidable corporate teams, the Cheat 16:

- General Electric made $10.3 billion in 2009, but received a $1.1 billion tax rebate.

- Forbes said about Bank of America in 2010: "How did they not pay any taxes on $4.4 billion in income?"

- Oil giant Exxon made a $45 billion profit in 2009, but paid no taxes in the United States.

- Citigroup had 4 quarters of billion-dollar profits in 2010, but paid no taxes.

- Wells Fargo made $12 billion but purchased Wachovia Bank to claim a $19 billion tax credit.

- Hewlett Packard's U.S. income tax rate was 4.3% in 2008 and 2.3% in 2009.

- Verizon's 10.5% tax rate, according to Forbes, is due to its partnership with Vodafone, the primary target in UK Uncut's protests against tax evaders.

- Chevron's tax rate was 1% in 2008.

- Boeing, which just won a $30 billion contract to build 179 airborne tankers, got $124 million back from the taxpayers in 2010.

- Over the past 5 years Amazon made $3.5 billion and paid taxes at the rate of 4.3%.

- Carnival Cruise Lines paid 1% in taxes on its $11.5 billion profit over the past 5 years.

- Koch Industries is not publicly traded, so their antics are kept private. But they benefit from taxpayer subsidies in ranching and logging.

- In 2008 CorporateWatch said Rupert Murdoch's Newscorp paid "astoundingly low taxes" because of tax havens.

- Google "cut its taxes by $3.1 billion in the last three years by shifting its money around foreign countries.

- Merck, the second-largest drugmaker in the U.S., last year brought more than $9 billion from abroad without paying any U.S. tax.

- Pfizer, the largest drugmaker in the U.S., erased $10 billion in taxes with an "accounting treatment."

All the above has been documented by US Uncut Chicago members on .

Who's projected for the Final Frauding Four?

Best Defense: Google uses a game plan called a "Double Irish Defense," which moves most of its foreign profits through Ireland and the Netherlands to Bermuda.

Best Offense: GE's 2010 SEC 10-K tax filing boldly states: "At December 31, 2010, $94 billion of earnings have been indefinitely reinvested outside the United States...we do not intend to repatriate these earnings.."

Most Steals: Citigroup: 427 tax haven subsidiaries

Best Trash talk: A General Electric spokeswoman: “G.E. pays many other taxes including payroll taxes on the wages of our employees, property taxes, sales and use and value added taxes."

Most game-ending bailouts: Bank of America received $45 Billion in tax payer bailout funds in 2008 and 2009. In 2009 the company earned a pretax income of $4.4 billion, but claimed a $1.9 Billion tax benefit from the government.

The Right, the miscreants, serial liars, perverts, religious refugees from the days of witch burning, the robbers in four thousand dollar pin-striped suits - otherwise known as Republicans like to make bizarre claims about America becoming socialist. There is some truth to that. We've created a wealthy corporate collective to which we must all bow down and give up services like prison guards, teachers, park rangers and emergency medical technicians so that the richest corporations in the world can continue to live at the top of the income pyramid. Goodness forbid the richest corporations in the world have to go a year without buying the newest Porsche or have to shine their own shoes.

Rising Wealth Inequality: Should We Care?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Class Warfare - Republicans Call for Cutting Food Stamps Instead of Cutting Agriculture Subsidies

Republicans Call for Cutting Food Stamps Instead of Cutting Agriculture Subsidies

In 2010, 18 percent of the country — nearly one in five households — reported not having enough money to provide food at some point during the year. Last month, food prices increased by 3.9 percent, in the largest jump since 1974. Vegetable prices increased by nearly 50 percent, driven in part by weather disasters damaging crops in place such as Australia and Russia.

These trends are occurring at the same time that unemployment has remained unacceptably high, leaving many Americans with nothing but the social safety net standing between them and going hungry. But as National Journal’s Tim Fernholz reported, the House Agriculture Committee has called for a reduction in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) in a letter to House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI):

    One part of the agriculture budget that has seen increases is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) where spending has tripled over the last ten years. Given the economic downturn and high unemployment which has left many Americans with few options, an increase in nutrition assistance spending is to be expected….But much of the cost increase has come through government action as opposed to the kind of macroeconomic forces that naturally result in increased subscriptions.

The letter’s co-authors — House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) and ranking member Collin Peterson (D-MN) — are correct that, in the face of the Great Recession, food stamp benefits were increased. But those increased benefits have (unfortunately) already been reduced to pay for a jobs bill that Congress passed last year.

And at the same time they’re pointing to food stamps as an area ripe for cuts, Lucas and Peterson say that the tens of billions in annual agriculture subsidies that the U.S. provides should be off-limits for reductions. At the moment, 61 percent of the subsidies that the U.S. provides for agriculture go to just ten percent of recipients. Though some restrictions on rich farmers receiving subsidies were placed into the 2008 farm bill, they were mostly ineffective. And entrenched lawmakers on the agriculture committee help to keep it that way:

    The 15 congressional districts receiving the most in payments accounted for about a quarter of all farm aid…Representatives from nine of those districts serve on the House Agriculture Committee, including the panel’s top Democrat and Republican.

At the moment, 90 percent of agriculture subsidies go toward the production of just five crops — corn, wheat, rice, soy and cotton. “Most of that 90 percent went to the large farming corporations,” said Annie Shattuck of the Institute for Food & Development Policy. “Much of those commodities were not used for food, but for animal feed and industrial applications. Cotton is not even a food.” Yet lawmakers on the Agriculture Committee feel that this wasteful spending is more important than helping Americans families weather the Great Recession.

Its called the cold math of politics. Republicans can screw over the working poor, but they better not take a few dollars in socialist farm subsidies away from corporate agriculture.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Mad scientists of lawmaking are looking to go medieval on America

Mad scientists of lawmaking are looking to go medieval on America

The Demoralize the Workforce Act: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker didn't just threaten to deploy the National Guard against state workers unless they accept big pay and pension cuts. Apparently, that was too Kent State and not enough Ludlow Massacre for him. So he pressed to statutorily bar those workers from ever again collectively bargaining.

The Child Labor Act: Missouri state Sen. Jane Cunningham's proposal to eliminate child labor laws would allow corporations to employ any kid under 14 and would terminate restrictions on the number of hours that kid can be forced to work. The legislation is proof that when Tea Party ideologues refer to "the '50s," some of them aren't referring to the 1950s -- they are referring to the 1850s.

The Obesity and Deficit Encouragement Act: Colorado exemplifies America's childhood obesity epidemic and its budget crisis. The state's childhood obesity rate grew at the second fastest rate in the country, and its $1.2 billion budget gap is threatening the state's already underfinanced schools. Yet, despite the U.S. Department of Agriculture showing that higher soda taxes would drive down obesity, and despite such a levy raising much-needed public revenues, Colorado's newly Republican House is pushing legislation to create a special budget-busting sales tax exemption exclusively for soda.

The Endorsing Your Own Demise Act: Between trying to legalize hunting with hand-thrown spears and pressing to eliminate education requirements for those seeking the office of state superintendent of schools, Montana's Republican lawmakers are also considering legislation to officially endorse catastrophic global climate change. That's right, in the face of a Harvard study showing that climate change could destroy Montana's water supplies, agriculture industries and forests, state Rep. Joe Read's bill would declare that "global warming is beneficial to the welfare and business climate of Montana."

If you don't live in one of these states, it's easy to tell yourself that these bills don't affect you. But history suggests that what happens in one "laboratory" is quite often replicated in others -- and ultimately, in the nation's capital. That's why we should all hope saner minds cut short these experiments before they get even more out of control.

* David Sirota is a best-selling author of the new book "Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live In Now."

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Republicans Embrace Big Government and Unchecked Power - Michigan's 'Emergency Manager Law' Epitomizes State-Level 'Shock Doctrine'

Republicans Embrace Big Government and Unchecked Power - Michigan's 'Emergency Manager Law' Epitomizes State-Level 'Shock Doctrine'

Public workers in Michigan lost job security yesterday as the state House signed off on a bill that allows the governor to appoint people to take over financially troubled local governments and schools and cancel labor contracts.

Less than two months after Gov. Rick Snyder asked the Legislature to expand the state’s ability to intervene in communities facing budget problems, the Republican-controlled House and Senate have finalized a bill that gives unprecedented power to appointed Emergency Managers.

The Local Government and School District Fiscal Accountability Act creates a range of triggers for state involvement in local communities and allows the governor to appoint managers to fire local elected officials, break labor agreements, suspend collective bargaining rights for five years, order millage elections, take over pension funds and even dissolve local governments.

The law also contains a provision added by the Senate that gives towns a chance to avoid takeover by entering into a budgeting consent agreement with the state and becoming exempt from collective bargaining agreements.

“The Governor will sign,” spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said Tuesday afternoon. “He believes this was an important step forward and will be a key tool to help indicate and address fiscal problems earlier and more clearly in Michigan’s cities and schools with the hopes of avoiding the appointment of an emergency manager to begin with.”

Critics say that the Emergency Manager legislation is part of a nationwide Republican effort to consolidate political power by undermining unions.

In an interview with FOX News last week Wisconsin State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald acknowledged that the (apparently successful) effort to end collective bargaining and break unions in that state is aimed at hurting Democratic chances in the 2012 presidential election.

“If we win this battle and the money is not there under the auspices of the unions,” he said, “Obama is going to have a much … more difficult time getting elected and winning the state of Wisconsin.”

“The distinction between Michigan and Wisconsin is that Governor Snyder is a lot smarter than Governor Walker,” said American Federation of Teachers Michigan President David Hecker. “He is going after things in other ways.”

“Yes, some school districts and cities are in financial difficulties that have to be addressed,” he said, “but you don’t do that by wiping out the powers of elected officials, or by wiping out collective bargaining …this will wreak havoc on cities and school districts.”

The new law is likely to hit Snyder’s desk as busloads of union members and other concerned people roll into the Capitol to protest both the Emergency Manager bill and the proposed state revenue sharing cuts that could drive many communities into receivership.

AFL-CIO affiliated unions, Working Michigan, Michael Moore and others are mobilizing for a noon protest at the Capitol under the banner “NO to GOP attacks on Michigan’s middle class.”

City council members and residents from Benton Harbor are expected to join the rally in Lansing today.

Benton Harbor is the poorest town in Michigan and since last year its finances have been under the control of Joe Harris, the emergency financial manager appointed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

Harris and the city council have clashed over cost cutting measures and under the new Emergency Manager bill Harris will have the power to disband the council.

Benton Harbor is already experiencing corporate-style restructuring.

Jean Klock Park, the city’s public lakefront, has been leased to a non-profit associated with the locally headquartered Whirlpool Corp. and turned into an elite private golf course.

Though much of the concern around the Emergency Manager bill has focused on the loss of benefits and jobs that will come when labor contracts can be shredded, another expected impact is increasing privatization of city assets.

Benton Harbor City Commissioner Dennis Knowles told that the city’s commissioners hope to join with other communities in a class action suit challenging the new Emergency Manager law.

by Eartha Jane Melzer. Reprinted for educational purposes. 
One of the biggest lies and most notorious scams ever perpetuated on the American public is that Republicans are for small government. Given the power they have always increased the size and power of government while undermining the basic rights of individual Americans.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

"Shock Doctrine" Unleashed by Right-Wingers in Wisconsin and Throughout the Country

"Shock Doctrine" Unleashed by Right-Wingers in Wisconsin and Throughout the Country

AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to have you with us. Let’s talk Wisconsin. What do you see is happening in this uprising?

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, first of all, it’s such an incredible example of how to resist the shock doctrine. And it should not be in any way surprising that we are seeing right-wing ideologues across the country using economic crisis as a pretext to really wage a kind of a final battle in a 50-year war against trade unions, where we’ve seen membership in trade unions drop precipitously. And public sector unions are the last labor stronghold, and they’re going after it. And these governors did not run elections promising to do these radical actions, but they are using the pretext of crisis to do things that they couldn’t get elected promising to do.

And, you know, that’s the core argument of and the thesis of the book, is not that there’s something wrong with responding to a crisis decisively. Crises demand decisive responses. The issue is this backhanded attempt to use a crisis to centralize power, to subvert democracy, to avoid public debate, to say, "We have no time for democracy. It’s just too messy. It doesn’t matter what you want. We have no choice. We just have to ram it through." And we’re seeing this in 16 states. I mean, it’s impossible to keep track of it. It’s happening on such a huge scale.

Teachers’ unions are getting the worst of it. March 8th was International Women’s Day. This is—you know, as you pointed out on your show, it’s overwhelmingly women who are providing the services that are under attack. It’s not just labor that’s under attack; it’s the services that the labor is providing that’s under attack: it’s healthcare, it’s education, it’s those fundamental care-giving services across the country, which could be profitable if they were privatized.

AMY GOODMAN: In Ohio, more than 20,000 people marched to oppose the Republican Governor John Kasich’s attempted anti-union legislative putsch. Kasich recently defended his policy proposals on Fox & Friends.

    GOV. JOHN KASICH: It’s part of a big piece of reform. Come March the 15th, we will be reforming Medicaid, K-through-12, higher ed, prisons. It is going to be a reform agenda in Ohio like no one has ever seen, all designed to get us in a good position. In terms of unions? I respect unions. I come from a union family. I mean, the idea that we’re attacking anybody is—look, what we’re attacking: poverty, joblessness. OK, that’s what I’m attacking. And all I’m doing is saying to everybody, participate. Everybody jump in this. Together, we can make Ohio stronger. If we do not do that, you know, then we’ll continue to lose jobs, and that means misery for everybody. That’s not going to happen. We are going to be successful here.

AMY GOODMAN: Republican Governor John Kasich, going back to his old haunt. He was a commentator for a long time for Fox and, before that, a conservative congressman.

NAOMI KLEIN: You know, the reason why this isn’t working and why people are so outraged by it and why they’re in the streets and we’re finally seeing the resistance in this country that we have seen in Europe, with this chant, "We won’t pay for your crisis," that really started in 2008 in Greece and spread to Italy and France and England—and, you know, the rest of the world has been waiting for the United States to—you know, how much are Americans going to take of this? It seems that Americans were willing to say, you know, "We will pay for your crisis, and would you like a tax break with that?" Right? And finally, they went too far. And so, that resistance is finally happening.

And this attack on collective bargaining, the reason why people won’t take it is precisely because they understand that this is not shared pain. It is not being shared equally. The people who created the crisis in the first place are not sharing the pain. And the injustice of this response is so blatant. This isn’t just any economic crisis. This tactic has worked. And this is, you know, what I’ve tracked over a 30-year period, that it is really easy to use an economic crisis—people panic, hyperinflation, issues like that. In the '90s, when Newt Gingrich was Speaker, it was possible for him to argue that the source of the budget crisis really was so-called entitlement programs. You cannot do that in this moment in history because everybody understands that the crisis was created on Wall Street, it was created through speculation and greed, and a decision was made to bail out the bankers with public money and to pass the bill on to the public. And they're seeing the bonuses back. They’re seeing the outrageous salaries. They’re seeing corporations not paying their taxes. And it’s just too unjust. It’s just so morally outrageous. And then to turn on the television and talk about everybody sharing the pain? I mean, people are just not that stupid. Thankfully.

AMY GOODMAN: And where does the Obama administration fit into this? We have played that clip of President Obama when he was running for president, saying, "If anyone challenges your collective union rights, I will be walking with you."

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah. Well, I mean, this is the irony of this moment, and this is—it really is about democracies. Scott Walker was not elected with a mandate to bust unions and to strip collective bargaining rights. He did not mention that in his campaign. He talked about balancing the budget. He made some vague statements, you know, about shared sacrifice. But he absolutely did not campaign promising to do what he is now doing. Obama, on the other hand, campaigned promising to strengthen union rights. He promised, again and again, whenever he had a labor audience, that he was going to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, and he promised to stand with them.

And, you know, one of the things that’s so important for us to understand about why—you know, there are many reasons why the resistance is so strong in Wisconsin and why they’ve become this beacon for not just the rest of the country, but the world, and so much of it, I think—you know, my colleague at The Nation, John Nichols, has written beautifully about it this week in a cover story where he talks about the rich sense of collective history, of collective memory, and the fact that people know their progressive history in Wisconsin, so they’re harder to exploit. You know, they’re not going to fall for the latest Fox News messaging, because they know their history. But, you know, this is—there’s something else that’s going on here. And, well, I mean, I’ll just let you take it from there.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let me ask you about Michigan. About a thousand people rallied in Michigan—


AMY GOODMAN:—reminiscent of Wisconsin. Talk about the proposal there.

NAOMI KLEIN: ... there’s so much going on that these extraordinary measures are just getting lost in the shuffle. But in Michigan, there is a bill that’s already passed the House. It’s on the verge of passing the Senate. And I’ll just read you some excerpts from it. It says that in the case of an economic crisis, that the governor has the authority to authorize the emergency manager—this is somebody who would be appointed—to reject, modify or terminate the terms of an existing contract or collective bargaining agreement, authorize the emergency manager for a municipal government—OK, so we’re not—we’re talking about towns, municipalities across the state—to disincorporate. So, an appointed official with the ability to dissolve an elected body, when they want to.

AMY GOODMAN: A municipal government.

NAOMI KLEIN: A municipal government. And it says specifically, "or dissolve the municipal government." So we’ve seen this happening with school boards, saying, "OK, this is a failing school board. We’re taking over. We’re dissolving it. We’re canceling the contracts." You know, what this reminds me of is New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, when the teachers were fired en masse and then it became a laboratory for charter schools. You know, people in New Orleans—and you know this, Amy—warned us. They said, "What’s happening to us is going to happen to you." And I included in the book a quote saying, "Every city has their Lower Ninth Ward." And what we’re seeing with the pretext of the flood is going to be used with the pretext of an economic crisis. And this is precisely what’s happening. So it starts with the school boards, and then it’s whole towns, whole cities, that could be subject to just being dissolved because there’s an economic crisis breaking collective bargaining agreements. It also specifies that—this bill specifies that an emergency manager can be an individual or a firm. Or a firm. So, the person who would be put in charge of this so-called failing town or municipality could actually be a corporation.

Some me conpsiracies are true. The Right-wing Shock Doctrine is not even very secret. They're saying these are hard times and people need to sacrifice. these are hard times, but the only people the Right demands sacrifice from are working class Americans. They exploited 9-11 to make up stories about Iraq and WMD. making up lies about teachers and other public employees getting paid too much is small stuff compared to lying a country into a completely unnecessary war against a despot who could not even shoot down one U.S. plane during the 11 years we enforced the no-fly zone.

Did NPR Exec. Really Call Tea Partiers Racist? - NPR Video by Conservative Zealots Found to Be Highly Edited. Right-wing Media Spits on Basic Journalistic Ethics

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Right-wing Republican Con-artists guilty of NPR sham "investigation". Same Deranged Punks were part of the ACORN and Planned Parenthood Scams

Right-wing Republican Con-artists guilty of NPR sham "investigation". Same Deranged Punks were part of the ACORN and Planned Parenthood Scams

James O'Keefe III has a funny definition of the word "explosive." Earlier today, he promised over Twitter a "new explosive tape" from his "sting" on National Public Radio. But if you actually watch the video he was referring to, you get the sense that this was less of an explosion than a fizzle. Sure, O'Keefe and the rest of the right-wing attack machine are trying to play it up by claiming it proves NPR was up to something deeply sinister -- the only problem for them is that the video doesn't show that at all.

Here's what it does show: a 40-minute phone conversation between Betsy Liley, NPR's senior director of institutional giving, and O'Keefe croney Simon Templar, here pretending to be "Ibraham Kasaam" of the phony Muslim Education Action Center. The video identifies the MEAC as a "Muslim Brotherhood front group," but there's nothing in the video to give that indication.

Over the course of the call, Liley requests a written letter from the MEAC with more details about the donation and suggests that NPR's legal team and the MEAC hammer out a gift agreement. She also gently prods "Kasaam" to reveal more information about the MEAC's history and legal structure, requests a 990 form, and notes, unprompted, that "At Perdue, we've turned down some significant gifts."

The takeaway was that the discussion over a donation was in the preliminary stages at best, and NPR had not committed to accepting MEAC's offer. There is no evidence in the tape to suggest that NPR ever planned on accepting the gift -- much less that they were going to "hide it from the government" as the Daily Caller blithely suggests.  When "Kasaam" asks if "NPR would be able to shield us from a government audit," Liley's response is: "I think that is the case, especially if you are anonymous, and I will acquire about that."

 By the way, NPR has released a statement. Politico reported:

    NPR released a statement condemning Liley's statements in the video.

    "The statement made by Betsy Liley in the audio tapes released today regarding the possibility of making an anonymous gift that would remain invisible to tax authorities is factually inaccurate and not reflective of NPR's gift practices. All donations - anonymous and named - are fully reported to the IRS. NPR complies with all financial, tax and disclosure regulations."

    Liley, who was caught on the initial videotape laughing at the suggestion that NPR was sometimes called National Palestinian Radio, was placed on administrative leave with Ron Schiller on Tuesday afternoon.

    "Through unequivocal words and actions, NPR has renounced and condemned the secretly recorded statements of Ron Schiller and Betsy Liley. Mr. Schiller is no longer with NPR and Ms. Liley has been placed on administrative leave, pending an investigation of the matter," the NPR statement continued.

    "No stronger statement of disavowal and disapproval is possible. NPR will not be deterred from its news mission and will ultimately be judged by the millions and millions of listeners and readers who have come to rely on us every day."

Expect this to get a lot of play in the hysterical, cyclonic right-wing scandal factory. Big Government's Larry O'Connor, displaying either deep incredulity or a stunning ignorance of American history, has already gone so far as to label this "NPR's Watergate Moment." Others have followed and will follow. Even if there is no money to follow.

UPDATE: NPR has released a series of emails making clear that they were unwilling to accept any MEAC donations without more information about the organization, and that NPR would be required to disclose any such donations to the IRS. Here is one such email:

    From: Joyce Slocum

    Sent: Friday, March 04, 2011 11:00 AM

    To: ''

    Cc: Vivian Schiller; Betsy Liley; ''

    Subject: Contributing to NPR

    Dear Mr. Kasaam,

    We are very grateful for the kind consideration being given by the Muslim Education Action Center to a generous gift to NPR. I'm sure you will understand that we need to verify certain information with respect to any organization that proposes to make a significant gift to NPR. In the case of an organization that holds itself out as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, contributions to which are tax deductible, we need in particular to satisfy ourselves that the organization is in compliance with the applicable requirements of the Internal Revenue Service ("IRS"), so as to ensure against any risk of being caught up in later compliance activity. In most instances, we're able to verify this information without troubling the donor organization, by using publicly accessible information. Unfortunately, we have not been able to locate the necessary information about the Muslim Education Action Center, and so we need to ask that you provide it.

    The Muslim Education Action Center does not appear in IRS Publication 78, which lists all organizations which have received a 501(c)(3) determination letter from the IRS, and whose status as a tax exempt organization has not been suspended or revoked. (Only churches are exempt from the requirement of obtaining an IRS determination letter, though even many churches voluntarily do so.) Since the Muslim Education Action Center does not appear in Publication 78, we need to ask for a copy of the IRS determination letter as to its 501(c)(3) status.

    Also, most tax exempt organizations are required to file an annual form 990 in order to maintain their tax exempt status. Failure to file for three consecutive years results in an automatic revocation of tax exempt status. Again, because such organizations are required to make their three most recently filed annual 990 returns and all related supporting documents available for public inspection, we are usually able to obtain copies of these from the organization's own website, or if not there, from GuideStar or the Foundation Center. We have been unable to locate the 990's for the Muslim Education Action Center through any of these sources, so need to ask that you also provide those for our review.

    I would very much appreciate receiving the requested items at your earliest convenience, so that I might review them and provide appropriate guidance to my client.Please do not hesitate to call if you have any questions or I may otherwise be of assistance.

    Best regards,

    Joyce D. Slocum

Right-wing sites and thuggish agitators caught scamming the public again. No shocker here. Modern Republicans seem to thrive on lies to advance their agenda. Honor and integrity are conservatism's most frequent victims. Like political fanatics throughout history, the truth and accuracy are sacrificed to the altar of their twisted and anti-democracy agenda.

Wisconsin 'Citizens Cheated Out of Democracy' by Elizabeth DiNovella

Decades of labor law was undermined in ten quick seconds, as the Wisconsin Assembly voted 53-42 to strip workers of their right to collectively bargain. “Once again citizens cheated out of democracy,” Rep Barca said after the vote.

The voting happened so fast. Decades of labor law was undermined in ten quick seconds, as the Wisconsin Assembly voted 53-42 to strip workers of their right to collectively bargain.

Throughout the hearing, Democrat after Democrat got up and made impassioned pleas against the bill. (See my colleague Ruth Conniff’s piece about the day in the assembly.)

After the roll call vote, the GOP pols quickly and quietly filed out, and left the chamber through the back door. The Dems stood defiantly, some with their fists in the air. From the gallery chants of “shame! Shame! Shame!” rung out.

After the vote, Rep. Barca, the minority leader, addressed the press. “We are very disappointed,” he said. “Clearly this was an improper vote.”

The Democrats contend that the GOP violated open meeting laws last night and today. “So amazing they can’t follow the rules,” he said. Barca has filed suit, and said DAs are investigating.

“Once again citizens cheated out of democracy,” Barca said.

I caught up with Representative Joe Parisi on the floor after the vote. “Once again, they adjourned illegally. They did not invoke rule 71. They could’ve done this legally, but they didn’t. Our contention is last night they violated opening meeting laws; they even violated emergency session meeting laws. Again today, they closed down debate illegally and ran out the back door.”

After the vote, I went out to the Rotunda to talk to people. So many looked stunned and shocked. People were hugging each other. Some were crying.

I spoke to a few people to get their response.

Kurt Lassig is with the Kenosha Firefighters, Local 414

“I feel the assembly went against the people. Polls show people in the state are against stripping workers of their rights. I haven’t seen people standing up for the bill. If they were, they’d be here,” he said.

“One important point I want to make is that unions had agreed to make concessions that Mr. Walker wanted,” he said.

This was Lassig’s second trip to Madison. It’s his birthday today and he said he couldn’t think of a better place to spend it.

Karole Dachelet is a laid-off university employee from Madison. She looked tired and was wearing a sign that said listen to 100% of constituents, not just 52%.

“I feel shocked, stunned, and incredibly disappointed,” she told me. “No one got beyond bipartisanship. Moderation is key. I’m hurt that I’ve been here for weeks, and I wasn’t heard. I’ve lost my voice. Even though I’m a taxpayer I wasn’t heard.”

“Being this locked into ideology not good for politics at local or national level,” she added.
I'm afraid appeals to democracy and decency are lost on Conservative governors from Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, New Jersey and Florida. They are acting like members of the old Soviet Politburo and have no regrets about doing so.

There is No Budget Crisis in Wisconsin or Ohio, The Crisis is Our Unwillingness to Make Rich Pay Their Share

There is No Budget Crisis in Wisconsin or Ohio, The Crisis is Our Unwillingness to Make Rich Pay Their Share

U.S. corporations are sitting on $2 trillion in cash -- trillion, not billion. The same people who shipped millions of jobs overseas, caused the financial crisis, and pay themselves multimillion-dollar bonuses every year are now sitting on a mountain of cash. Yet both state and local governments feel the need to give them more tax cuts. To what end? So they can create more profits and sit on bigger piles of cash, so they can play monopoly as they buy each other out, or so they can give themselves even bigger bonuses? There is no indication that they are interested in doing anything to spur the economy.

In December we heard the Republicans tell us that people making over $250,000 per year couldn’t afford a 4 percent tax increase, and it would be terrible for the economy to increase their taxes. Thirty years ago they were paying 70 percent in taxes. Now they pay half that, but a 4 percent increase is just too much to bear.

Now we are told that state workers making $40,000 to $60,000 per year are stealing the state blind. The same workers who for the last two years have taken over a 3 percent pay cut in the form of furloughs are now told they haven’t sacrificed enough. Now they must forfeit 7 percent or more of their pay, and give up their right to negotiate their future. What is appalling is the state workers were willing to give up the money to help out the state. All they asked was to keep their right to negotiate. Yet the wealthiest in our country aren’t willing to give up anything to help our country out of the financial mess they created.

In 1980 Ronald Reagan told the biggest lie ever perpetuated on the American public. He condemned Jimmy Carter for running a $40 billion deficit, and then told everyone he could cut taxes and balance the budget. Voodoo economics -- that’s what George H.W. Bush called Reagan’s economic plan. He was right, and by the mid ’80s the budget deficit had ballooned to over $200 billion.

Of course it was the rich who walked away with virtually all of the Reagan tax cuts. During the last 25 years the Republicans have doubled down over and over again, giving more and more tax cuts to the rich. While the rich have gotten incredibly wealthy, the poor have gotten poorer. It is a reverse Robin Hood economy where we take from the poor and give to the rich. It has been the greatest transfer of wealth in the history of our country -- the 400 richest have more than the 155 million poorest.

Ballooning government deficits weren’t a problem when Republicans were in the White House, but with a Democratic president, it is suddenly a crisis. The recession we’ve been living through proves the fallacy of Milton Friedman, Reaganomics, Ayn Rand, Alan Greenspan and the rest who told us that markets are self-correcting and regulation is bad. Banking regulations kept this country out of serious recession for 70 years, but once the regulations were repealed it took only a decade to bring the world’s economy to its knees. Yet Republicans refuse to acknowledge how wrong they were as they continue to try to gut government regulations.

Every time a politician tells you he wants to make the government more business friendly, what he’s really telling you is that he wants to increase taxes on your children and grandchildren. Every environmental law that is weakened will mean a cleanup to be paid for by future generations. Every bad business practice that is endured will be funded by taxpayers having to clean up the mess at some later date.

Now we are told that everyone must sacrifice to bring state and federal government budgets in line. But somehow the sacrifices once again all fall on those at the bottom of the economic ladder. Once again businesses are given tax cuts, money is found to increase spending on roads, but education, health care and help for the poorest in our society are cut.

There isn’t a financial crisis at either the state or the federal government. The crisis is our unwillingness to ask those who have gained the most from our society pay a fair and equitable share from the wealth this society has allowed them to accumulate. It is the honest, Christian, and patriotic thing to do.

Author, John Hallinan is a  Wisconsin resident.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Wisconsin Republicans Anti American Union Vote Violates State’s Open Meetings Law

Wisconsin Republicans Anti American Union Vote Violates State’s Open Meetings Law

Last night, Wisconsin GOP lawmakers called a surprise conference committee meeting and then rammed an anti-union bill through the state senate. Yet, by forcing the bill through without legally required public notice, the senators may have ensured that the bill will be declared void.

Wisconsin law requires all government meetings to be conducted publicly and with advance notice except under very limited circumstances. According to a guide to Wisconsin’s open meetings law prepared by the state’s Republican attorney general:

    The provision in Wis. Stat. § 19.84(3) requires that every public notice of a meeting be given at least twenty-four hours in advance of the meeting, unless “for good cause” such notice is “impossible or impractical.” If “good cause” exists, the notice should be given as soon as possible and must be given at least two hours in advance of the meeting. … If there is any doubt whether “good cause” exists, the governmental body should provide the full twenty-four-hour notice. [...]

    Wis. Stat. § 19.97(3) provides that a court may void any action taken at a meeting held in violation of the open meetings law if the court finds that the interest in enforcing the law outweighs any interest in maintaining the validity of the action.

Yet, when state Rep. Peter Barca (D) informed his colleagues of this legal requirement during tonight’s conference committee, the committee’s Republican majority ignored his protests and voted to approve the bill while Barca was still explaining why their actions were illegal.

A few GOP-aligned outlets are now trying to claim that the law was not violated because the conference committee was announced two hours in advance. Yet there is no evidence whatsoever that it would have been “impossible or impractical” to give the full day’s notice required by law. In other words, Barca’s arguments are clearly consistent with the attorney general’s understanding of the law, and the most important open question is whether the courts will exercise their authority to “void any action taken at a meeting held in violation of the open meetings law” and invalidate this bill.

Scott Hosni Mubarak Walker and his palace guard of anti-American Republicans, may have done the country a great service by firing up a middle-class who are sick and tried of the conservative elitist taking away their rights and sending their jobs to Asia.

Unions Launch Morning Protests Across Wisconsin

In an interview on the Ed Show on MSNBC, members of the Wisconsin 14, in exile in Illinois, called the GOP's action an "affront to democracy," vowed to challenge it in court as illegal and predicted that this latest ploy would "supercharge" recall drives against GOP legislators.

Anti-middle class Republicans should enjoy their arrogant spit in the face of tax paying American workers while they can. They'll soon be gone, but their treachery never forgotten. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The battle for Wisconsin - The Supreme Court removes the brakes from corporate spending, and all-out assault on unions ensues. Coincidence?

The battle for Wisconsin - The Conservative Supreme Court removes the brakes from corporate spending, and all-out assault on unions ensues. Coincidence?

Last Friday—in the wee hours of morning, after two weeks of tumult and protest demonstrations—Republicans in the Wisconsin Assembly passed a bill that is breathtaking in its fealty to the ideology of the far right. The bill, dictated by the new Republican governor, Scott Walker, strips the state’s employees of their half-century-old right to bargain collectively—except over base pay, which can never be increased above inflation without a public referendum. It makes union dues purely voluntary and prohibits their collection via paycheck deduction. It requires the unions to face a certification vote every year—and, to get recertified, a union must win a majority of all employees, not just a majority of those voting.

The bill has not yet passed the Wisconsin Senate, because all fourteen members of its Democratic minority decamped for Illinois, thereby depriving the chamber of the quorum required for legislation of this type. Governor Walker claims that his bill is needed to close a budget gap. That is false: the unions have already agreed to all the cuts and givebacks he has demanded. Anyhow, Walker has called his dedication to deficit hawkery into question by pushing through large tax cuts for business (with more to come) and a law forbidding tax hikes without either a two-thirds legislative majority or a statewide referendum.

Liberals who applaud the Wisconsin senators’ interstate flight have been accused of hypocrisy, given that these same liberals indignantly reject the undemocratic use of the filibuster in the Senate of the United States. The analogy is as clever as it is flawed. The Wisconsinites are not trying to kill the bill (they can’t stay away forever); they merely want to delay a vote in the hope of mobilizing public support for compromise. And, instead of simply declaring an intention—the only effort a modern filibuster requires—they have to do something; to wit, camp out in cheap motels at their own expense, away from their families. They even have to forgo their own salaries: the Republicans have halted direct deposit to their skedaddling colleagues’ bank accounts. If they want to get paid, they have to come back to Madison to pick up a paycheck. And the Democrats have another point: although Walker now claims that he ran on curbing collective bargaining as well as cutting employee benefits, no one has been able to find any record that he ever said anything of the kind.

What’s getting awfully difficult to deny is that what the Wisconsin Republicans are doing—and they have plenty of imitators and admirers—is solely for a partisan purpose, and a potentially lethal one. Of the five biggest non-party organizational contributors to political campaigns in 2008, the top two were unions, both of them pro-Democratic and both composed partly or wholly of public-sector workers. The other three were pro-Republican business groups or PACs. In 2010, after the Supreme Court threw open the cash sluices in the Citizens United case, only one union made it into the top five, and it came in fifth. And from now on, thanks to five Justices, corporate campaign spending will be literally limitless.

Yes, unions will have the same freedom. But unions are already maxed out—and their resources, stretched to the breaking point, are diminishing. If, as Anatole France observed, the law in its majesty forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, the Supreme Court, in its majesty, permits both to spend as much as they can lay their hands on. If a Republican Party that has lately become rigidly, fanatically “conservative” can succeed in reducing public-sector unions to the parlous condition of their private-sector brethren, then organized labor—which, for all its failings, all its shortsightedness, all its “special interest” selfishness, remains the only truly formidable counterweight to the ever-growing political power of that top one-thousandth—will no longer be anything close to a match for organized money. And that will be the news, brought to you by a few very rich, very powerful Americans—and many, many billions of dollars. ?
Union members pay taxes too. being tax payers aren't they entitled to a fair fight. They cannot get that fair fight because right-wing millionaires can buy more free speech. Not exactly the vision our Founders had in mind. The 1st Amendment does not say freedom of speech for everyone and some extra for those with deep pockets and a crazed hatred for working Americans.

Wis. Dems file ethics complaint against governor over prank-call conduct - Democrats say Scott Walker's conduct during David Koch prank call suggested abuses of power

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Scott Walker , Teachers , Unions and Wisconsin

Scott Walker , Teachers , Unions and Wisconsin

Governor Scott Walker has leveled the largest assault on public education in the history of the state of Wisconsin. This is an attack on the middle class and an attack on teachers who are being treated as political tools and pawns. They're bargaining chips in negotiations.

Teachers, who play more of a role in economic development than anybody who wants to take a chance on Wall Street, are being vilified and targeted unfairly.

Nobody goes into teaching to get rich. They do it because they love helping people. They love the reward of seeing kids reach their potential. It takes a special person to be a teacher.

The wonderful thing about public education is that everybody's welcome -- the gifted, the talented, the challenged. The socioeconomically challenged kid can walk in the door and have a chance to learn and his or her only hope, because that home life might not be the best, their hope is that teacher.

Republicans are placing the burden of economic recovery on the backs of the middle class and our teachers. An economic recovery required because of the policies put in place by Republicans, resulting in wealth distribution from the middle class to the top two percent.

My mother was a high school English teacher at Granby High School in Norfolk, Virginia. She had three accelerated classes and three regular classes. My mother graded papers until the wee hours of the morning. She got her kids off to school every day. And when she came home in the afternoon, she was still grading papers, and then she was working on lesson plans on Saturdays.

My mom used to take tremendous pride in knowing that one of her students went off to the University of Virginia and became a doctor. She took a tremendous amount of pride in being part of that student's education.

And I know in my heart that teachers haven't changed over the years even though my mom died years ago and came from a different generation. They're still the same. I know they're the same because I was in that crowd at Madison, Wisconsin and I looked into the eyes of those teachers. They haven't changed a bit.

This philosophy that teachers are overpaid is running them out of the industry. And we don't have the quality teachers in the classrooms that we could have as a nation if we invested in what should be a shared value by all.

How about tax credits for teachers who want to expand their horizon and get maybe a PhD? Is that a good idea? And how about the income for people in New Jersey?

New Jersey has the third highest percentage of millionaire residents in America -- nearly 7 percent of the people that live in New Jersey are millionaires. New Jersey millionaires, how many of them are there? Well, there are 212,000 of them. How many teachers? A hundred and twelve thousand. There are more millionaires in New Jersey than teachers, but we're asking the teachers pay for everything. We can't raise the taxes on the rich folks over in New Jersey, maybe the top two percent maybe giving one more percent?

It's unfortunate. And now, here we go with the attack on labor. Wisconsin, Ohio, New Jersey, Indiana -- let's keep up the fight. We can win this. And it's a long way from over.

And, mom, this is dedicated to you.

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Sure there are some professors, especially at the big name colleges, that make six figure salaries and some public school administrators also make into six figures ( we're talking about people with masters and PH.D. degrees). The average teacher works far more hours than the forty a week they get paid for. But wait, our schools kind of suck. Who's fault is that. Some of it has to do with the district the school is in and the lack of money. Some of it has to do parents not doing their part - helping with homework, making sure kids do their homework and reading ( public officials and politicians can't afford the feedback from blaming parents for anything). One thing that does not hurt education is recognizing teacher's basic rights to belong to a union and collectively bargain. Not all collective bargaining is about higher wages, sometimes it is about leaky school ceilings, bad ventilation or the lack of supplies. Unions are not armed thugs, politicians or extremists like Scott Walker can always say no.

Right-wing conservatives continue their attacks on basic democratic rights, In 22 Statehouses Across The Country, Conservatives Move To Disenfranchise Voters

In statehouses across the country, Republican lawmakers are raising the specter of “voter fraud” to push through legislation that would dramatically restrict the voting rights of college students, rural voters, senior citizens, the disabled and the homeless. As part of their larger effort to silence Main Street, conservatives are pushing through new photo identification laws that would exclude millions from voting, depress Hispanic voter turnout by as much as 10 percent, and cost taxpayers millions of dollars. In the next few months, a new set of election laws could make going to the polls and registering to vote significantly more difficult — in some cases even barring groups of citizens from voting in the communities where they live.

Conservative legislators across the country have said these laws are necessary to combat alleged mass voter fraud. But these fears are completely overblown and states already have tough voting laws on the books: fraudulent voters face felony charges, hefty fines, and even lengthy prison time. In Missouri, for example, voter fraud carries a penalty of no less than 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Yet conservatives have insisted on finding a legislative solution to a non-existent problem. In states like Indiana, where an ID law passed in 2005, both nuns and college students have found themselves turned away from the polls. Similar laws are on the books in eight other states and that number could expand dramatically in coming months. ThinkProgress examined these efforts in eight states