Category: People


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.

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.

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.

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

Scott Walker at a press conference, February 28th (MinnPost)

Scott Walker’s lie to the Press is exposed

Now that Governor Walker has released thousands of emails that he claimed supported his efforts to strip unions of their collective bargaining rights, we find that Scott Walker harbors an interesting perspective on support. The vast majority of the emails are decidedly against his plan, which indicates that he was lying to the press when he claimed the opposite. Then, after the largest protests to that point, he argued that he was getting even more support, which made the lie even worse. It was therefore predictable that Walker would fail to respond to the Madison Isthmus’Freedom of Information Act request to see the emails. When the Isthmus filed suit, Walker capitulated, but managed to negotiate a settlement in which there would be no allegation of wrongdoing, despite the fact that a breach of the Freedom of Information Act is a violation of federal law. Walker’s office will pay legal fees for the case totalling some $7,000.

So what was the level of support for Walker’s policies? According to the Houston Chronicle, the vast majority of the emails are against. Here is a sample from the Chronicle:

“Your handling of the current situation in Madison is an embarrassment to the people of Wisconsin. You appear to be an ignorant puppet and I am ashamed to have you as governor of the state I call home,” wrote a person who said he lived in Wisconsin and is married to a teacher.

Another email compared him to “maggot puke”. Here is another, posted by the Chronicle:

“WHY ARE YOU TRYING TO TAKE WHAT WE HAVE WORKED SO HARD FOR? WE ALL HAVE FAMILIES AND HAVE CHILDREN OF OUR OWN TO FEED! TIMES ARE HARD ENOUGH WITH THE ECONOMY THE WAY IT IS!”

In Walker’s defense, there were a few letters of support, though they were outnumbered by views opposing him.

Judge blocks anti-union measure

Dane County District Judge Maryann Sumi has blocked a Wisconsin Secretary of State Doug La Follette (who has already held back signing as long as legally possible) from signing the anti-union law signed by Governor Walker last Friday. The judge ruled that the passage of the bill in the state Senate violated the state’s Open Meetings Law, which require 24 hours public notice except in cases of an emergency. Dane County Distrcit Attorney Ismael Ozanne successfully argued that there was no cause for an emergency in the passage of the law.

In her ruling, Judge Sumi said, “Some may wonder how something as minor as failure to (properly) notify the public really stops this bill in its tracks. My answer is, it’s not minor,” referring to the importance of open and fair procedures in government.

The ruling is certain to be met with more legal challenges by the Republicans.
When the Democrats filed for an injunction, they filed with the Dane Country District Attorney as well as with the State Attorney General, J.B. Van Hollen. After this initial ruling by Judge Sumi, the Capitol Times is reporting that Van Hollen will appeal the restraining order against the signing of the anti-collective bargaining bill. But according to the Capitol Times, because the ruling was a “non-final order,” the Attorney General will have to “petition the court for permission to file an appeal.”

Attorney J.B. Van Hollen is a client of the same conservative lobby group, Persuasion Partners, as Governor Walker. Persuasion Partners gained public notoriety when an ex-lobbyist for the group was found to be the mistress of a State Senator, Randy Hopper, who is currently facing recall action. The group also has corporate and third party clients such as Americans for Prosperity, a public advocacy group that is funded by the Koch brothers. That Van Hollen would attempt to defend the anti-union measure should not be considered a surprise.

What can be done? Well… Contact Attorney General Van Hollen to let him know what you think about his defense of stripping collective bargaining rights from workers. Van Hollen can be reached through the Wisconsin Department of Justice here:

Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen
114 East State Capitol
Madison, WI 53707-7857
Phone: (608) 266-1221
Fax: (608) 267-2779

When you contact Van Hollen, remind him that he could be subject to a recall. Here is how to recall J.B. Van Hollen. Defending Wisconsin is a new organization that is already seeking to recall Van Hollen.

Budget Proposal

The next battle in the Wisconsin Legislature will involve Governor Walker’s budget proposal. The plan still includes provisions to sell state-owned power plants in no-bid contracts so that they can become privatized. The state would then purchase power from the plants at a higher cost, which instead of going back to the state would then go to the coffers of a private firm such as Koch Industries.

Other provisions in the budget proposal would violate federal law. Walker is proposing to eliminate municipal stormwater standards to abrogate the Clean Water Act. The provision has been supported across the country by Koch Industries, a major polluter worldwide.

Despite a growing population, the budget would also end growth in the state Medicaid program, by hacking $500 million in spending over the next two years. This would entail dropping up to 50,000 Wisconsin residents from the Medicaid program.

Education, however, takes the biggest hit – nearly $1 billion in cuts – in addition to at to local municipalities. That measure would eviscerate education within the state and it would force a number of schools to close. Even if the budget were not enacted as it currently is, a good deal of damage to the state’s education system has already been done because of Walker’s boorish threats in is handling of the union issue. Teachers have been urgently seeking early retirement in the hopes of receiving the retirement pensions that they were promised in their state contracts before Walker renegs on them.

Keep in mind that the state budget can easily be closed if only the state’s billionaires would pay their taxes.

Here is a link leading to the current budget proposals submitted to the Assembly and the Senate.

Walker on jobs

Jobs continue to leave Wisconsin under Governor Walker, though Walker did recently report that he has brought in a new company, Catalyst Exhibits, Inc., which will be moving to Pleasant Prairie from Illinois. Of course, the state will gain very little from it. A $500,000 gran and $1.25 million in low-interest loans (with an actual value of $750,000) from the state to the company enticed them to enter Wisconsin, but the company will not pay taxes and most of the Illinois workers will simply drive further to work. Paul Stahlberg, the firm’s design manager is a rather solid Republican donor.

More ethics complaints against Scott Walker

The Democrats filed another ethics complaint against Scott Walker on the 17th, stemming from a conversation with Republican strategist Frank Lutz on the day after his infamous phone conversation with a faked “David Koch”. Lutz met with Walker in the Governor’s Office, which is by law off limits to use for political machinations. The complaint argues that Walker is using his office for personal political gain.

Mosaic: "Justice" from the Wisconsin State Capitol (rbw)

Last February 17th, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker claimed that he had received over 8,000 emails regarding his proposal to attack unions in his Budget “Repair” Bill. He also claimed that most of the emails were in favor of his proposal. By the 18th, he claimed to have received over 19,000 emails. The Madison Isthmus, curious about his claims, filed a Freedom of Information Act request to read through the emails. Yet surprisingly, the Governor was not eager to divulge the level of support he had received for his proposals. After Walker’s office failed to respond to the Freedom of Information Act request (a violation of federal law), the Isthmus sued for access to the emails. Yesterday, the Isthmus announced a settlement for the lawsuit. It is one-sided because Walker did not want to go to court for a breech of federal law. The settlement indicates that Scott Walker will release the emails to the Isthmus by Tuesday, March 22 and that the governor’s office will also cover all legal costs. Soon, we will be able to see just how much support he really received.

The next battle in Wisconsin will involve the Executive Budget itself, as opposed to the Budget “Repair” Bill. Governor Scott Walker is proposing deep cuts to education and the sale of public assets to companies, who will sell their services back to the state.

Click here for the Wisconsin State Legislature homepage.

Here is the Assembly version of the Executive Budget, AB-40.

Here is the Senate version of the Executive Budget, SB-27.

Be sure to peruse the different sections of the bills to see which public assets Governor Walker would like to sell off to corporations!

Oh, and Republican efforts to recall Democrats are just not as popular as Democratic efforts to recall Republicans. I wonder why?

The next battle in Wisconsin will involve the Executive Budget itself, as opposed to the Budget “Repair” Bill. Governor Scott Walker is proposing deep cuts to education and the sale of public assets to companies, who will sell their services back to the state.

Click here for the Wisconsin State Legislature homepage.

Here is the Assembly version of the Executive Budget, AB-40.

Here is the Senate version of the Executive Budget, SB-27.

Be sure to peruse the different sections of the bills to see which public assets Governor Walker would like to sell off to corporations!

Oh, and Republican efforts to recall Democrats are just not as popular as Democratic efforts to recall Republicans. I wonder why?

Wisconsin State Capitol, Madison (rbw)

Last night, while Wisconsin Republicans were being thanked for their services by billionaires in Washington, a couple of thousand people decided to keep them company so that they would feel at home, despite being a long way from home.

Several hundred protesters filled the atrium of the building where the BGR Group Fundraising dinner was held to pay off Wisconsin Republicans and more people spilled down the street – over a thousand people in total. The Nation quotes Russ Feingold:

“Today, Wednesday March 16th, Republican state senators from Wisconsin are in Washington, D.C. attending a big fundraiser at the headquarters of a corporate lobbying firm. That’s less than one week after Republicans rammed through an anti-worker bill that polls showed was heavily opposed by Wisconsinites — but was heavily favored by corporate lobbyists,” said Feingold. “If your senator is Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau, Glenn Grothman of West Bend, or Alberta Darling of River Hills, your senator is at the fundraiser. But no matter where you are in Wisconsin, your interests just got sold out to big corporate interests.”

Protests at BGR Lobbyist dinner for Wisconsin Republicans (Thom Hartmann, YouTube)

Sourcewatch.org gives a list of clients of BGR and this list shows a long line of companies and foreign governments that are interested in energy – especially petrochemical companies. Feel free to boycott each and every one of these companies.

The close ties between petrochemical lobbyists and the Republicans may be why Governor Walker is planning to sell state-owned power plants and why he is trying to ban wind power in Wisconsin. This is a bad move for the state and it will cost jobs as well.

Back in Wisconsin, Dane County District Attorney fIsmael Ozanne filed a complaint to a Dane County Judge to void the Governor’s anti-union measure because the Republicans violated the state Open Meetings law in the process of its approval. Hearings on the issue will continue Friday to discuss in Ozanne’s efforts for an injunction that would bar Secretary of State La Follette from publishing the bill, an act that allows it to become law.

On one last note – a Wisconsin farmer gave a terrific speech at the rallies last Saturday. It is because Wisconsin has a great education system (now under attack) that Wisconsin has eloquent farmers like Tony Schultz.

Farmer Tony Schultz speaking to the protesters in Madison on March 12 (Geof Hermann, YouTube)

Wisconsin Republicans look on as Governor Walker signs their anti-worker bill (Dangerous Minds)

Though once quite self-contented after signing the provision to end collective bargaining rights for state employees, the state Republicans are facing a few new problems, even as they prepare for tonight’s big fundraising event in Washington D.C., where they hope to be rewarded by billionaires and corporate PACs for their efforts to undermine unions.

Huge Madison Protests, March 12, 2011 (Digby's Blog)

The Republicans plan to attend a fundraiser tonight that will be put on by the BGR Group, a bi-partisan lobbying group based in Washington and London that has (according to BGR) been “Dubbed a powerhouse by CNN and Newsweek” and they claim to be a leader in government affairs, strategic communications and investment banking. Senator Ron Johnson will be there, too (Russ Feingold would never go to this event!) The Republicans plan to fill their coffers at the $1,000 per plate dinner tonight. BGR has deep ties with Wisconsin. According to Digital Journal,

BGR has a long list of ties to the Republican Party. Bob Wood, a former aide to Tommy Thompson, the Republican governor of Wisconsin for 14 years is among BGR’s executives and BGR’s past client list includes Wisconsin Energies Corp. who provides electrical service to much of Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Wisconsin Energies Corp. also serves natural gas customers in Wisconsin.
The Public Campaign Action Fund, a nonprofit advocate for campaign finance reform, pointed out that Wisconsin Energies has spent $320,000 on lobbying with BGR since 2009, and that BGR executives donated at least $10,800 to Republican Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s campaign. Wisconsin Energies stands to benefit greatly from a provision in Walker’s budget that would privatize state-owned companies through no-bid contracts. Adding fuel to the controversy is the fact that Wisconsin Energies has ties to the Wisconsin’s State Senate caucus: Heather Liebham, who has worked for Wisconsin Energies state regulatory advocacy, is the wife of Republican Wisconsin State Senator Joe Liebham, who was one of the eighteen who illicitly pushed Walker’s “budget repair” bill through the Wisconsin Senate, producing a major conflict of interest.

Read more: http://www.digitaljournal.com/print/article/304654#ixzz1Gjdqlg8h

BGR also maintains an active client base with a number of foreign banks, governments and power companies,

The Center for Responsive Politics and the National Institute on Money in State Politics are two informative resources for people wanting to follow the money in politics. In addition to representing Wisconsin Energies Corp., BGR represents a significant number of foreign interests and governments including The Republic of India which paid BGR $1.2 million to represent its interests in Washington, India’s Reliance Industries which has paid BGR $1.52 million from 2009 and 2010, The American Chamber of Commerce in China and the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai, which paid a combined total of $280,000 to launder money into the U.S. political process, The Kurdistan Regional Government which paid BGR $1.13 million from 2009 to 2010, and Russia-based Alfa Bank which paid BGR $510,000 in 2010 to help subvert U.S. politics.

Read more: http://www.digitaljournal.com/print/article/304654#ixzz1Gjeyuy6A

Meanwhile, attempts to sell Wisconsin power stations have reappeared in Walker’s budget bill.

It was a weekend of record-breaking. Last Saturday, while the largest protests in the history of the Wisconsin took place, the largest protest in the history of Washburn, Wisconsin also took place. When Governor Walker arrived to give a speech to Republicans at a local steakhouse, governor Walker was met on location by up to 5,000 protesters. What is special about this is that the city of Washburn only has 2,280 residents! Here is a video from the huge protest in the little town:

Protests in Washburn, WI, March 12, 2011 (SunRidge Video)

Walker was also met the following evening by 4,000 protesters when he was to give a speech in Green Bay.

But that is not even half of it!

More legal problems are mounting on the Wisconsin Republicans. The International Commission for Labor Rights has declared Governor Walker’s anti-union provisions illegal, and so have the National Lawyers Guild. According to truth-out.org, statement by the ICLR says:

As workers in the thousands and hundreds of thousands in Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio and around the country demonstrate to protect the right of public sector workers to collective bargaining, the political battle has overshadowed any reference to the legal rights to collective bargaining. The political battle to prevent the loss of collective bargaining is reinforced by the fact that stripping any collective bargaining rights is blatantly illegal. Courts and agencies around the world have uniformly held the right of collective bargaining in the public sector is an essential element of the right of Freedom of Association, which is a fundamental right under both International law and the United States Constitution.

There is more. State Senator Randy Hopper, already considered the least likely Senator to survive a recall election, has a new heap of trouble. When protesters showed up at his house in Fond du Lac to demonstrate, they were surprised when his wife came to the door and mentioned that they were now estranged. It seems that Hopper has been living in Madison for the past few months with a 25-year old lobbyist named Valerie Cass. Several reports mention that his former wife and maid were apparently happy to sign the petition for Hopper’s recall, though this is not confirmed.

He is in a lot more trouble, though. Madison, as it happens, is not technically inside his legislative district – if he has been living outside of his district, that would be a felony violation of elections law. So would be conspiring with lobbyists while acting in a state office. Ms. Cass no longer works for her former lobbying firm, Persuasion Partners of Madison, located one block from the State Capitol. The group touts itself for “Turning blue states into red states”. I have three screenshots, showing their “Candidate Clients” as well as their “Grassroots, Corporate and Third Party Clients”, shown here:

Persuasion Partners Inc. Candidate Clients, part 1 (Persuasion Partners Inc. Screenshot, March 15, 2011)

Persuasion Partners Candidate Clients, Part 2 (Persuasion Partners Inc. Screenshot, March 15, 2011)


Persuasion Partners Inc. Grassroots, Corporate and Third Party Clients (Persuasion Partners Inc. Screenshot, March 15, 2011)

There are a couple of interesting things to note here. First, the firm Persuasion Partners is involved with Koch-sponsored groups. It is also involved with the Minnesota Republican Party and the Republican Party of Tennessee and Republicans in both states are pushing for draconian cuts to state services and benefits for public workers just as they are in Wisconsin. The Kochs are apparently embedded with the Republicans quite deeply. Another surprise is that Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is also a client, along with Scott Walker and Wisconsin Congressional Representative Paul Ryan – who gave the Republican address after the most recent State of the Union speech, in which he called for draconian cuts for federal services and public employee benefits. It seems as if there may be a connection…

Will the State Attorney General investigate whether Hopper has been living outside of his district and whether there are ethics violations involving his ex-lobbyist girlfriend? He should, a complaint has already been filed against him by a citizen, Dawn Meyer.

Remember when the Republicans put arrest warrants out for the Wisconsin 14? Well, that was a felony. Wisconsin State Senator Jon Erpenbach discusses this and very clearly explains what is happening in the video here.



Video streaming by Ustream

The recall efforts are progressing ahead of schedule as well – the recall of the Republicans, that is. A new poll indicates that at least three Republicans would lose in recall elections, by sizable margins. And mswsm at Daily Kos has found out that the Americans for Prosperity “Stand with Walker” Bus Tour must be faking its signatures. They had about 1,000 signatures when they left Green Bay, and after meeting 200 supporters in Wausau (pop 38,000), they somehow arrived in Rhinelander (pop 7,700) with 115,000 signatures! Someone on that bus has a very sore wrist!

Meanwhile, calls for boycotts are picking up steam. A “move your money” campaign has already begun to spread statewide with firefighters spontaneously closing their accounts with M&I Bank, conveniently located at the site of the Madison protests. It turns out that M&I bank is not in the best financial shape as it is. They gave out lots of bad loans and hold a high ratio of toxic assets. For information on companies that supported Scott Walker, check out my link as well as the list at Scott Walker Watch. Boycotts are the way to go:

Cenk Uygur discusses how to fight billionaires (MSNBC)

It is disappointing that the Obama Administration has not come out more strongly in favor of the workers in Wisconsin, however in his defense,
he is trying to manage negotiations with the Republican House of Representatives who would like to make all sorts of crazy cuts to everything that middle class people need to remain in the middle class. Standing firmly behind the crowds could inflame the his problems with the House is probably what he is thinking, but why not take control of the bully pulpit of the presidency and promote the idea of worker’s rights? Obama is running the show at the moment and he could really get a boost from people who are already fighting for their rights. Besides, President Obama should be concerned about his re-election prospects if labor chooses one of its own to run for the Presidency.

Other Democrats are helping a bit more. Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich gave a great speech last week at the Madison Worker’s Rights Rally. It pretty much sums up what is at stake and how to make sure that the U.S. remains a democracy, free from corporate control.

Cenk Dennis Kucinich in Madison, March 12, 2011 (Uptake)

And on one final note – more rallies are planned throughout Wisconsin! Keep up the great work! The schedule can be found at SEIU with information on free buses to the events.

I have found a few websites that you can donate to if you would like to help out with the situation in Japan. Here is a list of a few organizations that are currently involved with the efforts to assist people who have been affected by the earthquakes and tsunami from this weekend.

Tzu Chi: A Buddhist volunteer organization with 10 million volunteers in 50 countries (about 120,000 in the U.S.) and only a small support staff. All of your donations go to victims without proselytization.

Doctors Without Borders: A humanitarian organization in which doctors provide impartial medical assistance in places stricken by war or natural disasters.

The Red Cross: A famous emergency response organization. It provides neutral humanitarian care to victims of wars and natural disasters.

Global Giving: An organization designed to help people give toward charities they care about to make positive change in the world.

More info can also be found at the Huffington Post.

A "tractorcade" joined the protests in Wisconsin as farmers joined the action (John Hart, Wisconsin State Journal)

Huge Protests

The size estimates vary, though everyone is in agreement that the protests in Madison yesterday were the largest to date. The AFL-CIO reported a crowd up to 150,000, though most estimates suggest between 85,000 and 100,000 people. Governor Walker’s signature on the anti-union bill has only strengthen the resolve of protesters.

Firefighters joined the protests, partaking in an unplanned “Move Your Money” event. One by one, the firefighters walked to the Marshall and Ilsley Bank (M&I Bank) across the street from the Capitol, a supporter of Scott Walker, and closed their accounts. They withdrew a total of $190,000 and the bank closed the door behind them to prevent more withdrawals.

Recall Action

Chants from the crowd were heard to the effect that protesters were exchanging their signs for clipboards as recall efforts accelerated yesterday. All 16 state senators eligible for recall are under recall. However, the Madison Capitol Times is reporting that more Democrats than Republicans are safe from the efforts, though given the current political climate in Wisconsin, the Republicans are heavily disfavored from making gains through the recalls. Pro-union groups have had little trouble gaining signatures and anecdotal reports from friends of rbw indicate that many people across the state are trying to add their signatures to the recall clipboards.

The only group trying to recall the Democrats is a Utah-based group called Americans Against Immigration Amnesty. According to Sourcewatch.org, this group is affiliated with both the American Recall Coalition and the American Patriot Recall Coalition. There were some problems with their filings, however, because it is against state law to recall state officials from out of state. The group took back their early filings and replaced them with new paperwork once they had found operatives in the appropriate precincts.

According to PR Watch, the group is also trying to recall Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, who upset conservatives by linking the Gabriel Giffords shooting to the vitriol and violent rhetoric that has been used in the media and the political environment that led to the shootings.

Each of the groups have 60 days after the initial filing to garner the signatures required for a recall, 25% of the number of votes cast in the past election in each district. One the signatures have been gathered, an election is set for a time six weeks out, though a judge can extend the period. This means the time frame for recall elections will be mid-July or August. If the presence of farmers at the protests yesterday is any indication, the state is likely going to see a number of Republican seats going to the Democrats.

Heroes’ Welcome

Another part of the festivities yesterday was the return of the ‘Wisconsin 14’, the 14 Democratic Senators whose hold out gave the state time to learn more about Republican plans for the state. They were greeted to a heroes’ welcome. Here is a shaky video with audible speeches – from newlyconservative on YouTube – there are several parts and be sure to leave comments showing what you feel about recent actions by conservatives on his message board. ; )

The Wisconsin 14 Return to Madison (newlyconservative, YouTube)

On the other side… Jeaslousy and Spite

The Wisconsin 14 said that the protesters ‘have created a new political dynamic’ in the state and the country, and they renewed the effort to fight for worker’s rights. Here is Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald’s response:

“Today, the most shameful 14 people in the state of Wisconsin are going to pat themselves on the back and smile for the cameras. They’re going to pretend they’re heroes for taking a three-week vacation.

“It is an absolute insult to the hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites who are struggling to find a job, much less one they can run away from and go down to Illinois – with pay.

“Their appearance at the Capitol today is in direct violation of the contempt order issued by the state Senate earlier this month, and it proves their absolute disregard for the institution of the Senate and the constitution they took an oath of office to serve.

“But the people of Wisconsin won’t forget what they were really doing these past few weeks.

“Sen. Tim Cullen refused to come back to save 1,500 jobs.

“Sen. Bob Wirch refused to come back to save countless middle-class jobs at the state and local levels.

“Sen. Mark Miller refused to come back even to make sure his own staff were safe in the Capitol he abandoned.

“Sen. Fred Risser refused to come back out of respect for the institution and dignity of the state Senate.

“Sen. Bob Jauch refused to come back even though our side was negotiating in good faith to try to find a reasonable compromise.

“Sens. Jon Erpenbach, Chris Larson and Lena Taylor were all too happy to pat themselves on the back and smile for the cameras in Illinois, never mind their constituents here in Wisconsin.

“And Sens. Dave Hansen, Kathleen Vinehout, Tim Carpenter, Spencer Coggs, Jim Holperin, and Julie Lassa refused to come back to actually do the job they were elected to do.

“To the Senate Democrats: when you smile for the cameras today and pretend you’re heroes, I hope you look at that beautiful Capitol building you insulted. And I hope you’re embarrassed to call yourselves senators.”

Spoken like a truly sore loser. There will be no parades or cheers for Fitzgerald. He and his Republican allies got a very different treatment when they muscled through the anti-union bill. As they say, it is karmic.

Thousands of workers protest in the Wisconsin State Capitol (Wikipedia)

Nearly a month ago, a Tea Party governor who was elected on a tidal wave of corporate money that was legalized by the Citizens United Supreme Court decision took power in Wisconsin. Governor Scott Walker began work on a billionaire-supported regressive agenda in a state long known for its progressive stances on labor and human rights. Once people realized what was happening, they took action and while the first bill got through, efforts to remove the Governor and the Legislators who are responsible are progressing rapidly. The protests are the largest ever seen in Wisconsin and they continue to grow in size. At stake are the right to vote, the right to bargain for wages without a power differential between the worker and the management, the public maintaining control over the infrastructure that it built and maintaining a high quality of life, health and education within the state.

Great work so far everyone. Keep it going!

Wikipedia: 2011 Wisconsin Protests

Republican Congressman Peter King (Manuel Balce Ceneta, AP)

Cracks in the Façade

Since President George W. Bush (not Congress!) declared America’s Global War on Terror during the tragic fall of 2001, its armed forces have been engaged in conflicts around the world. American engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan have received the lion’s share of the press coverage, owing as much to the intensity of the action as well as to the falsity of the claims that led to the Iraqi action, though the U.S. is still active in both countries, along with Yemen and now Pakistan. Support for all of these wars has been spurred by the meme: The threat of violent Islam.

Louie Gohmert (R-TX) even decried terror babies that were being born and bred to infiltrate the United States. That is right, terrorists are born that way even if gays are not! Regardless of the “financial advantage that terrorists gain” Gohmert claims by living in the United States, do we not have confidence that terrorists might come to peace with their new standard of living?

Louie Gohmert and Anderson Cooper on 'terror babies'

We are told that everything that one need concern themselves about the wars are encapsulated in that phrase. The threat of violent Islam. It tells us Islam is violent by nature. We are threatened by it. In our fear, we react (ironically, violently) in order to protect ourselves – because they do not know peace. Presidents Bush and Obama both promised to attack this extremism wherever it can be found, lest the threat ever reach our shores.

But worldwide conflicts require military equipment and the fighting have been incredibly lucrative for American defense contractors. The profit-driven media conglomerates that derive their revenue by selling ad spots for these defense companies have found a honey pot in hard times. Hence there should be no surprise that the main stream media have been complicit in beginning wars under false pretenses as well as promoting the meme: The threat of violent Islam. “They hate us because of who we are!” “They want to destroy America!” They must be stopped!

The attacks on reason and the coercions are broadly based. All while we hear the slogans and calls for action on TV, salon monkeys such as David Brooks – a politically active commentator for the New York Times – goes on the writers circuit touting his book while encouraging people to make spontaneous and emotionally charged decisions, as if he were working in a vacuum.

Yet the spreading peaceful demonstrations against dictatorships that had been supported by the American military industrial complex (remember Made in the U.S.A. in Tahrir Square?) has placed a crimp in both the popularity in supporting puppet dictators as well as a realization that there is another route to peace: Peace itself. Peace, solidarity and human rights are now the considerations of Americans when they look to the Middle East as the labor and democracy movements there inspire the growing labor and democracy movement at home. Many Americans no longer see Islam as violent by nature, but they do see Muslims, Christians and Secular Arabs working together in order to ensure a better life for themselves. They are beginning to realize that democratically-elected leaders who prop up dictators have no respect for the democracy that they protect.

The defense industry and the media have an advertising problem because people are now becoming aware of the misinformation that they have spread for the sake of corporate profits and lowering wages at home. Most of all, when Americans look to the Middle East, they are increasingly seeing themselves.

As a result, people who see an alternative have been flocking away from the mainstream media and toward NPR and PBS, whose coverage of international affairs has been very good in stark contrast to the corporate media. Listeners to NPR routinely rank higher than Fox, CNN and Network news in terms of their knowledge about current events. And the situation is even more stark in radio: Right wing radio is being eviscerated at a time when NPR ratings are on the rise. People can now tell the difference between information and propaganda.

That NPR, a non-profit organization, is now directly competing with profit-driven organizations like Fox and CNN makes NPR very dangerous indeed. It means that the profit-driven news model, already teetering on collapse, faces new pressures from an organization that does not need to pay dividends to stockholders. For the political class, the quality of NPR’s reporting it means that listeners are increasingly hearing dissenting points of view and that makes them less likely to listen to the propaganda – including the propaganda that capitalism is the best economic model always. (Just ignore that NPR is a non-profit. Look over here! A muslim radical! And he is a SOCIALIST!) People will be less likely to support wars in distant places, now understanding the true costs involved. That will affect profit margins in defense, the news and politics alike.

In the world of American politics as infected with aggressive mendacity as it is, whither the news organization at the head of the class?

Coordinated attack?

Last Thursday was yet another highly ironic day in Washington D.C. Two days after the major media widely promoted the sting operation on NPR by James O’Keefe that supposedly led to NPR CEO Vivian Schiller and executive Ron Schiller (no relation) to step down. NPR denies it, though many corporate news organizations argued it was because of their biased views of the Tea Party being a racist and xenophobic organization, Tea Party Republican Congressman Peter King opened his hearings on Muslim Extremism in the United States.

The recent activity revolving around Islam seems to be a coordinated distract, divide and confuse operation by the right. It would be a way to divide the NPR audience, to place the attention of the news cycle on militant Islam once again, to distract from the pro-democracy movements and to cause people to think emotionally again – going against the grain of NPR programming.

The plan to hold hearings on Muslim extremists had been known long in advance. Here is a link to a Talking Points Memo article regarding the hearings, dated 17 December, 2011. There would have been plenty of time for James O’Keefe to coordinate the February 22nd meeting with Ron Schiller of NPR, and there would have been time to release the hidden video tape prior to the hearings on March 9th – just in time to distract attention from Peter King’s hearings, which in addition to a more complete conversation regarding violent extremism in the U.S. as a whole, had already received well-balanced treatment by NPR in January.

The January NPR piece discussed violent extremism in its widest sense, primarily in the wake of Gabriel Giffords shooting earlier that month. In addition to discussing radical Islam, its conversation included comments about right-wing extremists such as Timothy McVeigh and other individuals such as Ted Kaczynski and Jared Loughner. The piece brought in voices as various as the heads of the Tea Party Express and the Southern Poverty Law Center, but this was not the type of attention that Peter King was seeking for his high-profile hearings.

The Players

Last year, Andrew Breitbart attacked the US Department of Agriculture for its handling of legal settlements for African American farmers who have faced discrimination from the USDA. Breitbart alleged fraud and discrimination against whites in claims that continued from an earlier scandal during the case of Shirley Sherrod during the spring of 2010. Sherrod has since sued Breitbart for defamation of the case, and she is certain to win it due to the fact that Andrew Breitbart publicized a snippet of her comments in the exact opposite context in which they were intended. (Here is the Breitbart video. And here is the whole thing.) The entire issue had been reported heavily by NPR.

Andrew Breitbart is the same person who brought James O’Keefe to fame in the now infamous case where O’Keefe dressed as a (rather unconvincing) pimp and spliced video together to falsely claim that the community action group Acorn was supporting prostitution for public funds. Acorn won a lawsuit over defamation, but still lost public funding due to the wild political connotations that were now associated with its reputation. Breitbart was instrumental in having the segment aired on Fox and Friends.

Since that time, O’Keefe’s other “journalistic” adventures include trying to lure CNN’s Abbie Boudreau into a “den of sin”. He had planned to essentially sexually harass her while she was supposed to interview him in an effort to discredit CNN, but she found out and exposed the plot.

In another incident, O’Keefe was arrested for infiltrating Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu’s office in New Orleans to wiretap her office – a felony. O’Keefe mentioned that he was trying to expose Landrieu’s support for the health care reform bill. O’Keefe plead guilty but was only sentenced to 75 hours of community service and $1,500 in fines.

As early as October, 2010, Representative King had called to defund NPR. On the 22nd of that month, Politico quoted him after NPR’s firing of Juan Williams over his racist statement regarding how he felt nervous when Muslims boarded his flights:

“NPR has disgraced itself by caving into CAIR [Council on American-Islamic Relations] and by firing Juan Williams for exercising his right of free speech. This is political correctness carried to its extreme form. Congress should move to defund NPR because of its indefensible bias.”

This led to a row between Fox News and NPR regarding the supposedly “politically-motivated” firing of a conservative journalist. Actually, Juan Williams was fired for his bigoted comments on the O’Reilly Factor. With Fox losing viewership to NPR, there could be a concern that Fox was merely working with leftovers from NPR. So what does one do? What Fox was designed to do: Make relentlessly repeated petty political attacks until people begin to memorize the slogans. In fact, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. is giving millions of dollars to Fox News to support its war on NPR. And most ironically of all, Fox News is complaining about bias!

It has not worked – NPR is still growing – and Peter King is a very frequent guest on Fox News – especially in segments regarding race. Peter King also receives a good deal of political contributions from defense contractors, communications companies and lobbying groups – Koch Industries, too, like any good Tea Partier.

King rather infamously took part in a television show just prior to the hearings. The show was produced for a group called Act! for America, a conservative group that is against the spread of radical Islam. The tactics of this group, however, leave much to be desired. In her book, Because They Hate: A Survivor of Islamic Terror Warns America, founder Brigitte Gabriel claims that she says “what many in America are thinking but afraid to say out loud, for fear of being labeled a racist, bigot, Islamophobic, or intolerant.” Yet Representative King decided to participate in a rather one-sided show for the group anyway. See for yourself:

The ACT for America Show (Act! for America, via Youtube)

Remember, those were Muslim rockets! This group clearly has an axe to grind, yet Peter King resisted complaints that suggested that he was enacting the hearings for political gamesmanship and he refused to discuss the notion of violent extremism on the whole.

Act! for America has cooperated with the Chino Tea Party (the branch of the Tea Party based in Chino, CA) to support demonstrations against Muslims and Muslim groups. A screenshot of an announcement for a February Act! America/Tea Party demonstration against a fundraising event for the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) is shown here:

Chino Tea Party/Act! America Announcement of anti-muslim protest (Chino Tea Party)

Given the tone of the rhetoric in such an announcement, one may be curious about the nature of that protest. Here is video of the protest:

Chino Tea Party/Act! America anti-muslim protest, Yorba Linda, CA, 2/13/2011 (George M. Collins, via RealityDictates on YouTube)

The cheers after the death threats in the above video are typically reserved in mainstream media for “Islamic militants”, though you clearly heard that from caucasian citizens of Orange County, CA. The demonstrated ignorance with the assumption of a difference between “God” and “Allah” was an added bonus around 4:17. Why would Peter King associate himself with this group just prior to holding hearings in which to inform himself on the issue of violent extremism?

The Hearings

There is also irony that Peter King would hold a hearing on violent extremism to say the least. As it happens, Representative King has a long history of support for another violent and extreme group, the Irish Republican Army. At one point in 1985, he told a pro-I.R.A. rally:

“If civilians are killed in an attack on a military installation, it is certainly regrettable, but I will not morally blame the I.R.A. for it.”

Representative King’s hearings did not include the vast majority of the thousand or so violent or hate-driven groups that are organized around the country. Still, they led to an interesting view both into the mindset of the Congressman and his influence on people around him. Here are King’s opening statements:

Rep. King opening comments to Homeland Security Committee Hearing on radical Islam (House Committee on Homeland Security, via YouTube)

Not only is radical Islam a problem, but so too are the forces of political correctness! But Neo-nazis are apparently not a problem for Rep. King.

“There is no equivalency of threat between al Qaeda and Neo-Nazis, environmental extremists, or other isolated mad men. Only al-Qaeda and Islamist affiliates in this country are a part of an international threat to our nation.”

With a start like that, how did the hearings go? As Talking Points Memo states it: Peter King Hearing Focuses On Whether Peter King Hearing Was A Good Idea. Rep. Charlie Dingell (D-MI) cautioned against the McCarthyite atmosphere around the hearings. But some of the most emphatic testimony from the hearings was from Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN), the lone Muslim in Congress, shown here.

Rep. Ellison comments to Homeland Security Committee Hearing on radical Islam (House C-Span 3, via YouTube)

One interesting comment by Ellison: The best protection against violent extremism is social and economic inclusion. That is not the type of statement that supports the militarization of the planet.

But what of the threat of violent Islam? It is certainly true there are violent Islamic extremists. One, supported by the U.S. since the end of the Bush Administration, is currently attacking his own citizens in Libya. They had the temerity to stand up and demand democracy. Another extremist is a dictator in Yemen, who is currently supported by the U.S. military as it enacts drone strikes on Al Qaeda cells in that country – acts that have led to the uprising for democracy that are taking place there. Osama bin Laden is still at large, likely in the mountains of western Pakistan, and he himself was supported by the U.S. while he and the Taliban were part of the Mujahadeen during the war between the Soviet Union and Afghanistan. Everywhere that one finds violent Islamic organizations, one finds dealings the U.S. military and the dictator de jour who is supported to keep the oil spigots running. Perhaps we should listen to Keith Ellison. Unfortunately, each of the major cable news networks, Fox New, MSNBC and CNN, showed Rep. King’s statements, but they cut away before the Democrats Bennie Thompson and Keith Ellison spoke! There is a reason why the Keith Ellison clip above was from C-Span 3.

Schiller’s comments

Let us consider who is right in the argument regarding NPR. Here is what Schiller said:

Ron Schiller discusses the Tea Party with a fake muslim group (AP, via Youtube)

While it might be disconcerting to hear a news executive give his own personal opinions on politics, what part of what he said was wrong? It would be incorrect to claim that all Tea Partiers are racist and that all of them are fundamentalist Christians, but Schiller does not specifically make that claim. It is certainly true that the Tea Party is connected to racist groups. That case has been made in this article, and in addition, a white supremacist played an important role in writing the Arizona immigration law last year. Which group is currently supporting elimination of restrictions on firearms? Which one is enacting anti-immigration laws all over the country? It is the Tea Party in each case. NPR should not have repudiated Schiller’s statements.

As for the liberal bias of NPR, here is a piece that it aired regarding the entire James O’Keefe affair. Listen to it and ask the question, “Would Fox News ever be so complete and self-critical in any of the stories it airs?”

NPR also refused the false $5 million donation prior to the release of the O’Keefe video.

Postscript

Despite all of the posturing over radical Muslims, the fact remains that the dominant form of extremism in the United States is right-wing extremism. One case of right-wing extremism came to light Friday when Francis “Schaeffer” Cox and four accomplices, all “sovereign citizens” who believe they are subject to no governmental authority, were arrested for plotting to kill a federal judge and a number of Alaska State Troopers.

UPDATE

The Atlantic is now reporting that NPR has released a couple of internal emails. They show that NPR was not duped by the fake muslim organization and they also demonstrate strict adherence to the law when it regards donations. In short, James O’Keefe’s dishonesty managed to show just how great a public organization NPR truly is. On the other hand, aren’t there laws against entrapment?