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In Memoriam

It is a sad day for American intellectualism. The political writer and polemicist Christopher Hitchens has died of pneumonia. His views on most topics ranged from literally communist (human rights – he would often address audiences as “comrades”) to neoconservative (the War in Iraq), and his well-formed arguments skewered and crushed many opponents live on TV. His exposés on Henry Kissinger and Mother Theresa beamed bright, sharply focused sunlight on two forms of power that are infected with corruption. One challenged him to a debate at one’s peril.

His views on the Iraq War were motivated by freedom of speech and the need to protect the intellectual gains humans have made since the Enlightenment. I disagreed heavily with his views on this topic, but he was the only pro-war person whose argument was sound enough that it made me really think hard about my own anti-war views. That is a stark contrast to the apish, crayon-scrawled views that propagated through the neoconservative movement at the time.

Always challenging authority, as he aged he began expressing his views on atheism, or as he called it: Anti-theism. There is a significant difference and it highlights the way in which he often charged headlong into a debate. His esophageal cancer was not helped by his penchant for smoking and his replacement of alcohol for water. As he famously said himself, “I drink enough in the average day to kill or stun the average mule.” Yet even as he neared death, he redoubled his efforts to promote anti-theism, along with the other “Four Horsemen” (Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins). His performance along with Stephen Fry at an Intelligence Squared debate on the question of whether the Catholic Church is a source for good in the world is not to be missed. They argued that it was not and won the debate by a very large margin, convincing even initial supporters of the motion.

There are very few public voices in the US that are capable of simultaneously maintaining two or more thoughts in their head, and even fewer who can mold those thoughts into elegant prose. In these days of journalistic yes-men and corporatized intellectual poverty, the country is going to miss this sharp and articulate firebrand. He had a lot more to say.

After a long hiatus due to spring job searches and summer moves, we are back to continue the blog! It has been quite a summer at that, with a lot of political action at the state, national and international levels and with intrigues within an empire decaying from the inside out as one half of its duopoly fiddles while the rest of the nation burns.

The story of protests and recalls continues from Wisconsin, where
Governor Scott Walker has continued his pogrom against state employees, including teachers and nurses. Despite the Republicans setting fake Democratic candidates against real Democrats to force primaries, and despite attempts to recall Democratic Senators with the help of convicted felons from out of state, Walker lost two of his cohort in the Republican-led State Senate to recalls. While the Republicans were able to retain a one-seat majority, Governor Walker lost a natural majority, due to the fact that one Republican, Sen. Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center), had voted ‘No’ on Walker’s Budget “Repair” Bill and has sided with the Democrats on a number of issues since. The process continues, of course, as Scott Walker himself now faces recall. Petitions are already canvassing the state that should force a January recall election on the Governor.

Elsewhere in the United States, Tea Party-led legislatures have enacted a number of pieces of legislation that have attack workers, women, immigrants, education and voters. Many of these measures are facing public backlash. Perhaps the drive in a number of states to reinstitute child labor was a bit much.

Yet the greatest spectacle within the country must have been the summer budget debates in which numerous Republicans lined up on the airwaves to proclaim that allowing the United States to default on its debt was a good thing. Of course some Republicans, such as Eric Cantor, were found to have hedged against the collapse of the American economy that would surely have resulted from such a default.

Progress has continued to pick up pace, however. First blood was drawn in Wisconsin with the recall of two State Senators, but a number of Tea Party provisions were overturned during the elections last week as well. Across the world, the Occupy Wall Street protests have given publicity to issues affecting the majority of Americans, whose voice has not been heard on the airwaves or in print among the media elites. For their part, major news sources have seen the Occupiers as a curiosity – in a predictable and curious way. One can now begin to see clues that might indicate that the thundering herd of regressive legislation that has been written by wealthy CEOs and dropped on the public by the Tea Party may be reversed.

Sure, there is certainly a lot of material to report on, but it is becoming clearer and clearer as time goes on that the state of affairs in the United States will not improve so long as its public continues to use mass media as its primary source for news. So – we’re back.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (New York Wold-Telegram & Sun Collection, via The Library of Congress and Wikipedia)

Preaching nonviolence, Martin Luther King Jr. was a key figure in the American Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. His career as a civil rights activist began with the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which began in response to Claudette Colvin, who refused to give her bus seat up to a white man, and later, Rosa Parks who was arrested for not giving up her seat. His famous 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech can be recognized by just about any person who hears it as it is one of the most famous speeches by any American ever. His efforts pressured the U.S. government to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that outlawed most forms of discrimination against African Americans. As a result, he became the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize to date.

After his civil rights victories, Martin Luther King Jr. began to press for worker’s rights. In this efforts, he supported unions and cast a wide net, supporting the rights of white and black workers alike, though his final few days were spent during a rally in Memphis in support of black sanitary workers who were sent home on a day with bad weather, receiving 2 hours of pay, though white workers in the same department were compensated for an entire day. There was a lot of tension in the air and there had been death threats against Reverend King and it was on this day in 1968, that he was assassinated, ostensibly by James Earl Ray, and a good deal of work in the areas of human and workers rights remains to be done.

Wikipedia: Martin Luther King Jr.

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser and Assistant State Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg (Madison Capitol Times)

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011 may well be a day in which Wisconsinites take their first major victory against the Tea Party that has attempted to repeal a century of progress in the State Capitol. Expect rather heavy voter turnout for what would otherwise be a rather sleepy spring election for State Supreme Court Justice.

It is almost fitting that the campaign for the seat should involve a solid doctrinaire in the incumbent Prosser, who has made it known that he intends to “complement” Tea Party Governor Scott Walker’s effort. That is hardly the unbiased perspective that one would hope for in a Supreme Court Justice, but it certainly should be expected from the current crop of Republicans in the State Government, who have attempted to bend the law by interpreting it maximally in their favor at every turn. Do as they say, not as they do.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court is sharply divided at the moment, with a 4-3 conservative advantage. This is a very important point, considering that there are sure to be a plethora of legal challenges to Republican bills that attack labor, human rights and environmental regulations. There has been a good deal of sniping between the Justices as well. Most famously, Justice Prosser called the current Chief Justice, Shirley Abrahamson, a ‘bitch’ and threatened to destroy her. Again, this is not conducive either toward impartial judgement, nor toward a well-functioning Supreme Court. A vote for Kloppenburg could change the dynamic of the court, removing one of the key problem Justices in order to create a more harmonious court.

The long list of tirades, questionable campaign behavior and political machinations of the Prosser campaign demonstrate the urgent need for his replacement. But do not take our word for it, watch the March 22nd and the March 28th debates between Kloppenburg and Prosser yourself.

So Wisconsin, here is your first chance to turn back the forces that are arrayed against you. Wisconsin’s Winter has been spent in the cold outside the Capitol protesting the redaction of the rights of workers. Wisconsin’s Spring begins with the first replacement of a Supreme Court Justice who, rather than decide on cases impartially, has publicly state where he stands: With Walker’s repeal of union and labor rights. Good luck everyone, go to the polls and VOTE KLOPPENBURG!

A portion of the cover of Orwell's 1984 by Signet (NetCharles.com)

In George Orwell’s book 1984, the Memory Hole was chute, down which workers at the Ministry of Truth would throw old news articles, books and documents that contained evidence contrary to the current (and frequently changing) position of the Government. Articles, documents and books were rewritten so that the frequently changing positions of the Government had always been true in the eyes of the public. The chute led to an incinerator where old evidence was instantly destroyed.

Today’s widespread use of electronic media creates the very real possibility that if data archives were held by only a small number of individuals, they might be able to edit, revise, or delete documents to suit their interests. The effect would be the same as that of the Memory Hole in 1984: the new prevailing opinions of those individuals would always have been true and the evidence to the contrary could disappear without a trace.

The best defense against such a thing would be to ensure many people hold copies of the same documents on personal hard drives – especially when engaging in “cloud computing” whenever the “cloud” is controlled by a major corporation or the government.

Wikipedia: Memory Hole

Julian Assange (The News Update)

Terrorist, really?

Few people in the past year have sparked debate in the manner that Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, has. His organization has become well-known for publishing material that is leaked by anonymous whistleblowers that often show wrongdoing on the parts of governments and corporations around the world, though a good deal of its notoriety stems from the publication of the Iraq War Logs and its bringing to light actual U.S. military footage of a helicopter crew shooting reporters and civilians in Baghdad, a video that the group entitled “Collateral Murder”.

The release of documents pertaining to the U.S. military and the U.S. Department of State resulted in an outcry by conservatives across the country who claimed that Assange had hurt the national security of the United States and that he had exposed a number of U.S. military informants in Afghanistan, claims that Assange strongly denies. Fox News Correspondents and familiar Republican faces such as Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin called Julian Assange a traitor, though he is actually Australian and therefore can not commit treason against the U.S., and they even went so far as to call for his assassination within days of the shooting of Gabriel Giffords in Arizona.

While calls for assassination rang out at Fox News, the rest of the American media played up the angle that WikiLeaks had damaged American national interests because it had published diplomatic cables that contained confidential and embarrassing information about foreign dignitaries and diplomats. The cables did certainly create a good deal of awkwardness at the State Department, but rather than focus on any specifics, the general treatment among the major networks was downright tabloid. For example, in this piece, ABC News focused on non-substantive comments in the cables that essentially resort to the level of name calling. And far from being hard hitting, ABC did not make a terribly strong case. From the piece, we find out that Libya’s Ghadafi is considered “wierd”. This could hardly be of any surprise, but we learn nothing of the real nuggets of information found in the documents from the ABC piece – a trend that you will see is quite prominent in American media.

The Administration’s Response – and from Corporate America

The reaction from the Obama Administration was rather strong. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the release of the diplomatic cables. Their release certainly made her job difficult. But did the release of the cables truly affect the relations between the U.S. and other countries to the degree that she has claimed? For her part, Julian Assange did suggest that Secretarty Clinton should resign, “if it can be shown that she was responsible ordering U.S. diplomatic figures to engage in espionage in the United Nations.” (Go to 2:20 in the video for the quote.) Unfortunately, most of the American press reported that with the headline to the effect: Assange: Clinton Should Resign, ignoring a rather important subjunctive clause, but also skillfully avoiding the reasoning behind Assange’s statement. Mr. Assange made that statement with the revelation from his group that the U.S. State Department had begun a program to try to gain information about foreign dignitaries by the use of biometrics and espionage. If the State Department is trying to spy on other leaders, suddenly the peaceful and “candid discussions” that Secretary Clinton mentioned in the ABC News video would certainly take a very different tone, but once again, there is no information in the ABC report about these potentially unethical clandestine actions by the State Department.

Presidential Candidate Obama discusses open government in 2008 (Glass Booth.org, via YouTube)

President Obama campaigned in part on the notion of openness in the Federal Government. Obama had also signed whistleblower protections early during his presidency. One bill strengthened whistleblower protections for the employees of companies contracting with the Federal Government and he strengthened whistleblower rights in the recently-passed Food Safety Act. Yet, despite this early support for openness in government, President Obama was now in the rather uncomfortable position that he was in charge of the organization losing leaked information.

Despite the discomfort, the White House Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs, challenged Fox News by saying that the White House is not afraid of one guy with a laptop. He also went on to say that those who leaked information are subject to a Department of Justice criminal investigation as well. But while president Obama claimed to be in support of an open, censorship-free internet after the Diplomatic Cables release, it was quite clear that his Justice Department was in fact strongly pursuing an investigation into the the potential for ties between Julian Assange and the alleged leaker, Private Bradley Manning.

President Obama discusses open internet in December, 2010 (Stop the War Coalitino, via YouTube)

It was around that time in early December, 2010, that Swedish allegations of “sex by surprise”, not rape as reported by the American media, forced Assange to remain in place in Britain, even serving some time in solitary confinement until his bond was secured. He remains without charge from Sweden, though he has been fighting his extradition to Sweden out of concern that he would be extradited again to the United States. It was also made public that one of the women who had accused Assange of rape was actually tied to the CIA. WikiLeaks also found it difficult to receive donations because companies like PayPal, Visa and Mastercard cut off services to WikiLeaks, though the latter two do allow donations to the KKK! It is strongly suspected that the Obama Administration was partially responsible for convincing those companies to cut their financial ties to WikiLeaks.

One company, VISA, did hire a firm to investigate WikiLeaks to determine whether it could find any wrongdoing by the group and found none. VISA has yet to allow donations to flow back to WikiLeaks, despite the findings having come out roughly three months ago.

Assange in his own words

So who is this Julian Assange? Is he the terrorist described by Fox News? The guy who is hurting American national security like the U.S. mainstream press argues? Is he a supporter of free speech and open government?

To this point we have heard from virtually everyone but Julian Assange himself. But to fully understand his comments, we can not confine ourselves to the American mass media. First, let us take a look at a speech that he gave to the Oslo Freedom Forum in 2010.

Julian Assange speaks at the Oslo Freedom Forum, April 2010 (Oslo Freedom Forum, via YouTube)

In that speech, Assange describes how his organization tries not to know the names of the whistleblowers in order to protect itself as well as the whistleblowers. WikiLeaks tries to protect whistleblowers as much as possible, while using freedom of speech laws around the world to their maximum extent to ensure that the leaked information remains public and protected from attempts to shut websites down.

The stakes are quite high. After minute 5:15 in the Oslo Speech, Assange mentions the salient point that with today’s electronic media, the information repositories of the West are becoming concentrated in fewer hands. While it was once true that people could see missing pages in book in Soviet Libraries, it is now possible to remove websites without a trace. This is a very well-thought out position on transparency of information in the electronic era. There have already been examples, as Assange continues, in which stories of scandals have slipped into the Orwellian “memory hole”. The protection of information against consolidated control is to make it public and to ensure that thousands of copies of that information can be found across the internet. By making information public, WikiLeaks says that it provides the tools that the public needs in order to hold its leaders accountable for their actions.

Julian Assange speaks at TED, July 2010 (TED, via YouTube)

In another speech at TED, Assange discusses some of the types of documents that WikiLeaks has released to the public, including the release of Collateral Murder (around 5:30). At one point, Assange makes a very intriguing statement, “Capable and generous men do not create victims, they nurture people.” This is hardly a statement by the vindictive radical of Fox News’ imaginings.

Listen to Assange discuss his own reaction to the video in the following video from an interview conducted by Al Jazeera. At not point does Assange attempt to hyperbolize what can be seen on the video screen.

Julian Assange discusses 'Collateral Murder' (Al Jazeera, via YouTube)

The Al Jazeera interview also includes commentary by Ivan Eland, a national security analyst from the Cato Institute (hardly an anti-military institution). Eland describes the actions from the lens of the military while Assange describes the situation from the perspective of the victims. Al Jazeera does a great job of showing similarities and dissonances between the two perspectives to give the viewer a rather impressive perspective of the incident in which American helicopter pilots gunned down a number of innocent bystanders. This is not the type of portrayal of the U.S. military that one sees in the United States. Rather, a better example of American portayal can be seen here:

Wolf Blitzer reports on 'Collateral Murder' (CNN, via YouTube)

CNN did not show the entire video. They did not mention that the “weapons” described by the helicopter pilots were actually cameras, but they did stop just before the helicopter opened fire and just after the letters “RPG” appear on the screen. The net effect of this editing is to give the viewer the impression that the helicopter pilots were in the right by defending themselves against a potential rocket propelled grenade attack. Wolf then cuts to Barbara Starr, CNN’s Pentagon correspondent, who touts the Pentagon’s line without question: That the people had been investigated and that no fault was found. Yet Starr never describes the extent of the investigation, nor does she comment on the rest of the video. She also propagates the lie that other troops were attacked nearby that day. Finally, the journalist Starr rather callously mentions that the deaths of these journalists can simply be added to the death toll of 129 to that point in the Iraq War.

So CNN all but asks the viewer not to worry, nothing to see here people… just journalists dying despite the fact that journalists are given legal protections even in war zones – protections that are never mentioned despite the large number of deaths of journalists by the U.S. military. That is the American mainstream media in a nutshell. When the need for information and transparency is palpable, CNN obscured the facts in order to provide the Pentagon a blanket of plausible deniability. Later, CNN posted an article online entitled “Secretive website WikiLeaks may be posting more U.S. military video”, a clear effort to discredit WikiLeaks without bringing any new information to the fore.

This is not to say that high-ranking officials should necessarily be charged with corruption because of the actions of much lower-ranking pilots. Nor does Assange make that case. However, the incident may certainly warrant a review of the specific ways in which loose rules of engagement may have resulted in the deaths of a number of innocent people that way. Perhaps there is a way to address civilian deaths that will heighten the safety for troops and civilians alike – neither we nor the Pentagon will know unless the matter is investigated and that will not happen unless there is public pressure to do so.

The added benefit for political leaders may be that after having encountered a number of incidents in which mistakes were made, the public may develop a more nuanced view regarding the myriad ways in which such unfortunate instances could happen. That may mean that the public could better differentiate between instances in which an undesirable outcome resulted from good-faith efforts, versus cases of corruption. The public would likely be more forgiving in the former cases, which could give politicians more latitude in their efforts to improve conditions at home as well. That is why there is a need to bring details about events like these to light.

More on the media perception of Assange

After the release of Collateral Murder and the release of Iraq and Afghanistan War documents, the line in the media became the accusation that Julian Assange and WIkiLeaks were attempting to attack U.S. national security. That is a charge that Julian Assange deftly handles here in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper.

Anderson Cooper interviews Julian Assange (CNN, via YouTube)

After the release of the American diplomatic cables, Julian Assange was of course charged with sex crimes in Sweden and the timing is clearly suspicious. The American press wasted no time in ensuring that future interviews with Assange were about him rather than the information that he was attempting to present.

Increasingly, the theme in American media was about Julian Assange himself. For example, an October, 2010 interview with CNN avoided the contents of WikiLeaks releases, but rather focussed on Julian Assange’s personality and the early reports of allegations of rape. This led to Assange walking out of the interview while he was attempting to steer the interview back toward the contents of WikiLeaks’ latest document release.

A short time later, Assange related to Larry King why he had walked out of the interview, namely to ensure that media attention remains on the deaths of innocent victims during a time of war. When Daniel Ellsberg (the leaker of the Pentagon Papers) calls for an investigation over the matters that WikiLeaks released, Larry King called an end to the segment:

Larry King interviews Julian Assange and Daniel Ellsberg (CNN, via YouTube)

In January, CBS’ 60 Minutes did an interview with Assange in Britain at the location of his house arrest. You will find the entire interview is chock full of references to the “mysterious” “strange” or “enigmatic” Assange – but you will hear very few details regarding the actual contents of WikiLeaks releases. Interviewer Steve Kroft asks questions that essentially carry water for the Pentagon throughout the interview. Assange actually instructs Kroft on a number of points regarding the practice of journalism in Part I, as well as reminding Kroft of the importance of America’s First Amendment in his own work. Part II of the interview covers Assange’s past, with descriptions of his “frequently uprooted” childhood and his hacking activities. There are a number of great exchanges where Assange is able to directly respond to Pentagon and State Department accusations and he does it quite well.

60 Part I: Minutes interviews Julian Assange (CBS News)

Part II: 60 Minutes interviews Julian Assange (CBS News)

Unfortunately, 60 Minutes played the “enigmatic” angle heavily during its normal showtime, but Steve Kroft and the production staff do discuss (in rather surprising contrast) how they perceived Assange to be rather genuine in his beliefs and actions during their own reflections on 60 Minutes Overtime. And the disappointing dearth of information regarding WikiLeaks’ revelations is described in detail in an article by David Swanson.

How stark is the American media portrayal of Julian Assange? Thanks to the wonderful world of the internet, it is possible to directly compare American interviews such as those by CBS and CNN with interviews by reporters from the Netherlands and Australia. Viewing the last two sample videos and the Al Jazeera interview earlier shows American just what they have been missing: A press that seeks to inform the public rather than to cover up excesses by the U.S. Government.

Without such transparency as that displayed by international news sources, it is unlikely that citizens of the United states will be able to ensure the safety of their own family members who are sent into harm’s way from the excesses of a national security state that creates an environment in which otherwise well-intentioned soldiers can become excited for the next kill. How much less violence might there have been in Iraq and how many fewer people – Iraqis and Americans alike – if the people in Iraq were not subject to such unfair rules of operation that ‘shoot first and ask questions later’ should be the rule of the day? That is, after all, what WikiLeaks claims to do: To provide the transparency required for citizens to make informed decisions on their own.

Now that you have finally seen the major players give their cases in their own words, you can finally decide for yourself: Is Julian Assange truly an ideological terrorist acting to destroy the United States, or is he facing attacks by the same people who profit from unceasing wars whose current estates are now jeopardized by WikiLeaks, or is there some other combination of factors taking place? How would one even be able to consider all of the possibilities, given American mainstream reporting alone? Now that you have seen actual details and reporting, you have the ability to decide for yourself.

Testimony before a Senate Inquiry regarding the Teapot Dome affair (Library of Congress, via Wikipedia)

One of the greatest scandals in the history of the U.S. government, the Teapot Dome scandal was an instance of corporate malfeasance during the Roaring Twenties, that decade of deregulation and corporate overreach that gave way to the Great Depression by its end. The Warren Harding Administration was rocked when news came out that the Secretary of the Interior had agreed to lease the Teapot Dome Navy oil reserves to private oil companies after accepting bribes to do so. The companies were given low rates and no-bid contracts (always a worrisome sign). The resulting investigation was filled with intrigue, filled with figures who became stunningly rich in a heartbeat all while important documents went missing, one after the next. It all goes to show that corruption has never been a new idea in government, and a thorough read of the history of this scandal will show just how far the corrupted will go to hide their activities from the public.

Wikipedia: Teapot Dome Scandal

The Story of Stuff: Citizens United v. FEC (Story of Stuff Project)

We have seen that the Citizens United Ruling last year has opened the floodgates on corporate spending on elections, and by now we have also seen the sort of politicians that arise in such a system. This is a good video that describes in simple detail what is at stake when companies run the show, what sorts of policies they want, and what real people can do about it.

Enron Complex, Houston, TX (Alex, via Wikipedia)

A national debate has been raging for thirty years now regarding whether to allow the national economy o become unregulated. The Government has historically policed corporations in order to ensure that they adhere to laws and regulations that protect the environment and your pocketbook. The current crop of Tea Party Republicans would like to see the Government removed from the process of regulating commerce. Yet, when we take a look at a list of recent Corporate Scandals, we can instantly see why this is a bad idea. It just happens that with corporations required by law to maximize profits, there is very little a corporation is likely to do in order to police itself.

Wikipedia: List of Corporate Scandals

Monks Mound, Cahokia Illinois, the largest Native American earthwork prior to the arrival of Columbus (rbw)

Many Americans lack a sense of history regarding their surroundings. It is often assumed that American history began with the Jamestown colony, but this is largely due to a systematic attempt during the early 20th century to forget the past. In fact, some of the evidence to the contrary can be found in the burial and effigy mounds that dot the American landscape. Thousands of mounds can be found, especially in the Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio River systems. The Moundbuilders built these mounds for a large variety of purposes, but did so over a very long period of North American history. The largest mound, Monk’s Mound, was once near the center of a city, Cahokia, with a population of around 20,000 at its height around 1,000 C.E. It is located a few miles north of the intersection of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Modern society could be informed by learning more about its history: Changes to the local climate and environmental degradation (such as deforestation) created an upheaval to Native American cultures by the 13th century C.E. This led to the consequence that subsequent cultures lived in smaller, more widely scattered bands by the time Europeans arrived.

Wikipedia: Mound Builders

In addition to his usual amazingly funny physics-related humor, xkcd has published a very handy comparison chart that helps to visualize the relative doses for a variety of different types of radiation exposer. Click on the image to be brought to the full-size chart on xkcd’s site.

Radiation dose comparison sheet (xkcd)

Ex-Lobbyist Valerie Cass (Left), Wisconsin State Senator Randy Hopper (R-Fond du Lac) (Right) (Republican Family Values)

As the brouhaha over Governor Walker’s Budget “Repair” Bill continues, more and more details about just the sort of dealings that Republicans have brought to the Wisconsin state government. Meanwhile, we also learn just how similar the Tea Party candidates are across the country.

Err…Pay for Play?

Senator Hopper has had a rough time since it came out that he has been living outside of his district with a 25-year old ex-lobbyist after abandoning his wife. More has been revealed about the details of the new job his mistress, Valerie Cass. After leaving her lobbying group, Persuasion Partners, Ms. Cass landed a nice job working with the Walker Administration. (Persuasion Partners is the lobby firm that caters to a number of other prominent Wisconsin Republicans including Governor Walker and Attorney General Van Hollen.) As it happens, she received a remarkable pay increase over her predecessor - earning fully one-third more with a total salary of $43,200 per year.

Appealing the hold on the Budget “Repair” Bill

When Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen submitted his petition to appeal the recent Dane County court ruling that blocked the enactment of the anti-union bill, he did something interesting: He did so in the name of Secretary of State Douglas La Follette. The problem with the petition is that Sec. La Follette was never consulted prior to the Attorney General’s filing the petition. Says La Follette:

“The circuit court that entered the Temporary Restraining Order has scheduled a March 29, 2011 hearing to determine whether the Wisconsin open meetings law was violated. I intend to fulfill the public trust in my office by abiding by the Temporary Restraining Order, by respecting the court’s decision and by allowing the judicial process to reach a conclusion regarding 2011 Wisconsin Act 10.”

The claim Van Hollen makes is that the judge had no authority to review the case. However Ismael Ozanne, the Dane County District Attorney who filed for the injunction against the bill, responded to the Attorney General’s actions:

“If the attorney general’s office had its way, no court could overturn a law even if everyone agrees that the state legislature violated every requirement of the states open meetings law”

And more:

“Nothing in the open meetings law limits the authority of a court, in the appropriate case, to enjoin publication of legislation that results from a violation of the open meetings law, so long as the balancing of public interests supports that outcome.”

Running to end the office

Another Republican in Wisconsin State Government, State Treasurer Kurt Schuller, ran for the office of State Treasurer so that he could end the office. Among the duties of the State Treasurer, according to Article X of the Wisconsin Constitution, includes the Treasurer’s duty to oversee the proceeds of the appraisal and sale of public properties including school and University lands. The Treasurer also oversees the $3.1 billion state investment pool, tracks unclaimed property within the state and runs a state-run college savings program.

Schuller has a problem though. According to the Wisconsin State Journal, Schuller was hoping to “be active and visible and possibly build a credible political resume that shows the voters I can serve in the public interest, then hopefully run for another political office.” Now Schuller is in the uncomfortable position of having run to eliminate his office, only to realize once he is there that he would like to expand his current budget.

Governor Walker’s first attack against Wisconsin’s Domestic Partnership Law

After the state of Wisconsin approved a law that provides limited rights for same-sex couples to live and work in the state, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen refused to enforce and protect the law, despite the law’s importance in protecting the rights of a large minority of the state’s citizens. Because of the Attorney General’s refusal to protect established law, then-Governor Doyle hired a law firm, Cullen Weston Pines & Bach, to protect the law against political attacks. Now Governor Walker has fired that law firm. In response, Pines says:

“Gov. Walker is ideologically opposed to equal rights for gay and lesbian and transgendered people as is everyone in his administration as far as I can tell and they will be probably want to take steps to ensure that gay and lesbian and transgendered people do not have equal rights.”

“Everything that Gov. Walker is doing is ideological. I don’t see that his administration has any particular respect for the law per se.”

How the Wisconsin Republicans have worked together so far

A recent article in the Wisconsin State Journal show the types of comments and ideas that were bandied about to retaliate against the 14 Democratic Senators who left the state in order to allow a number of issues to come to light. On February 20, a legal aide of Scott Fitzgerald said, “I say we not only make it hurt for them, we have to make it hurt for their staff as well,” an interesting attitude considering that none of the interns who work for the Dems would have had any say in their decision to leave. The draconian nature of the punitive actions proposed and enacted by the Republicans has led to ethics complaints against Scott Fitzgerald by groups such as the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics.

Reaction to the Republicans

Recall efforts against incumbent Republicans continue well ahead of schedule. Meanwhile, more and more attention is focusing on electing Kloppenburg against the Supreme Court Justice who has argued that he intends to “complement” Governor Walker’s actions against the citizens of the state. The election is coming up on April 5th – be sure to register ahead of time! Good luck Kloppenburg!

Richard Nixon (The National Archives, via Wikipedia)

“But when the President does it, that means that it is not illegal.” That line from the Frost-Nixon interview famously showed the state of American democracy after Richard NIxon.

Elected the 37th President of the United States in 1969, he was re-elected to a second term. His presidency was not without accomplishment, as he signed the Clean Water Act and enhanced the Clean Air Act. He founded the EPA, negotiated a détente with the Soviet Union, ended the Vietnam War and connected with China. And he was a Republican!

Unfortunately, that was not the only lasting impact to Nixon’s presidential legacy. Machtpolitik played a primate role during his administration. Nixon’s soon to be Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was sent to the Paris negotiations to scuttle a peace treaty by suggesting to the South Vietnamese that they would get a better deal under the Republicans. The peace talks failed on the eve of the 1968 election. Kissinger also played a lead role in the CIA-assisted overthrow of democratically elected leader of Chile, plunging that nation into decades of dictatorship under Augusto Pinochet. (He was also involved in other similar activities during the Ford Administration.) Nixon authorized illegal military bombing campaigns and other incursions in Cambodia and Laos as well. His first Vice President, Spiro Agnew, resigned from office after it wsa clear that he had accepted bribes and evaded taxes while he was the governor of Maryland.

Despite all of that, what Richard Nixon is undoubtedly most famous for, however, is the Watergate Scandal, where his cronies bugged the Democratic National Committee Headquarters at the Watergate Hotel. The event lead to Nixon’s resignation and also lead to every subsequent presidential scandal, real or imagined, to end with the syllable “-gate”.

The role of the US president became imperial under Nixon and his neo-conservative acolytes, including Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and Dick Cheney carried his torch through the Reagan and Bush administrations. For everyone who wishes the American government would focus on the livelihoods of its citizens, Richard Nixon began the rolling snowball of “Unitary Executive Power” that impinges on democracy today.

Wikipedia: Richard Nixon

The USS Constellation (via Wikipedia)

Relations between the United States and France soured after the French Revolution. Royal France had been a vital ally during the American Revolution, but when the King was toppled, the U.S. stopped repaying its debt to France, claiming that it had owed the debt to the Kingdom of France, not the French Republic. The U.S. angered France even more when it signed a treaty with Britain that included trade items at a time that Britain and France were hostile with one another. By the end of 1796, France began seizing American ships in retribution and thus began one of America’s first undeclared (though still authorized by Congress) wars. Not listed in all history books, the war itself was largely fought at sea and is given any one of several names: the Half-War, the Pirate Wars, the Undeclared War (as if it were the only one), the Undeclared War with France, the Franco-American War, or the Quasi-War.

Wikipedia: The Quasi-War

The new slick is currently 100 miles long. I will post more on this soon.

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