Category: Abuse of corporate power


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

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

Minnesota State Capitol (rbw)

Good news and bad news: Bad news first

As part of the nationwide Republican efforts to undermine public education, Minnesota House Member Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington), who is Chair of the House Education Committee, plans to eliminate state funding for programs that promote racial integration in Minnesota schools. The programs, which in Minneapolis provide some $480 per year per student, are intended to close the achievement gap between racial minorities in the classroom. Worse, Garofalo’s plan would re-work the formulae used to determine funding levels in state schools. The results could end up taking money from under-funded schools and give that money to schools that are already well-funded.

MinnPost reports:

Speaker Kurt Zellers said House Republicans are working “hand in glove” on both the state’s $5 billion budget deficit and on a “fundamental change in how we deliver government.”

Republicans highlighted efforts to streamline state agencies, improve the use of technology and consolidate operations, but the only specific figure was a $172 million savings from a proposed 15 percent state workforce reduction.

Indeed. The Republicans in Minnesota, just as in many other states are seeking to end government’s ability to deliver services.

In fact, the Minnesota State Government has published its bi-annual Tax Incidence Report. It reports a heavily regressive tax burden within the state, even when compared with historical averages. According to the report, the effective state tax rate for a member of the top 1% of income earners within Minnesota was 9.7% in 2008. Meanwhile, the effective tax rate for the poor is 32.5%. Hence, the wealthy are not paying their fair share in taxes.

Yet, the Republicans are also looking to slash funding for the state Medicaid programs, especially programs geared toward the poor and the infirm.

But that is not all. The Republicans are waging all-out war on the poor. Representatitve Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) has introduced a bill that would prevent those who use government assistance EBT cards from withdrawing cash on the cards at ATMs above – get this – $20 per month. The bill, H.F. 171, would also create problems because one of the reasons that people are now able to use the cards to withdraw cash is that many stores are not connected to the state EBT system.

$20 is not even enough to purchase a Minnesota Drivers license (current price – $43). And there are already Republican proposals to require a photo-ID in voting.

In addition, the bill appears to make it illegal for people under the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP) to carry cash at all! Nor could they put any money into a checking or savings account.

Crooks and Liars relates testimony of Angel Buechner, from the Welfare Rights Committee, referring to the efforts of the Republicans on the House Health and Human Services Reform Committee:

“We’ll leave you with this. It is not right to punish a whole group because of the supposed actions of a few. You in this room could have a pretty rough time if that was the case. It is not right to stigmatize and dehumanize women living the hard life of trying to raise children while living 60% below the poverty level. It is not right to use racist, bumper-sticker hate to inflict human misery for political gain.”

Where would the sort of thinking that would make it illegal for poor people to carry cash come from? Well, let’s take a look at a Republican strategy meeting that too place at the conservative Hudson Institute to find out. There, National Review editor Kate O’Beirne suggested that the parents of children on school lunch programs were “child abusers”, because they can not afford a meal. “What poor excuse for a parent can not put together a bowl of cereal and a banana?” as she puts it. She argues that despite the fact that more and more families across the nation are finding it difficult to make ends meet (due to conservative economic policies), that there is no national solution to the problem because it is not “in Washington’s interests” to solve the crisis of child poverty. Perhaps that is because for her, national interests are solely geared toward tax cuts for the wealthy and wars abroad to fight over resources.

Republicans discuss public education and decry school lunch programs (Crooks and Liars)

Another panelist at this hearing said that safety in schools could not be guaranteed because, despite the national scope of the problem, it should not fall under the purview of the federal government. Yes, he essentially makes those two very statements one right after the other. That is the sort of callous bastard that is driving the economic and educational policy of the Republican Party right now.

Some good news…

Luckily, the press is beginning to ask some pointed questions, because Republican Party policies are currently being driven by their corporate benefactors who believe that the sole reason for the existence of the government is to load their own coffers. That is precisely why Republicans would begrudge the poor of any money to spend and why they believe that school lunch programs as a waste of money, despite the fact that they have been shown to improve student performance and help to increase upward mobility in society. There is a way to prevent corporations from holding such a grip on the political process that the process would realign itself to work against the interests of citizens.

Minnesota Democrats have introduced bills in the House and the Senate to rectify the problem. The bills, S.F. 683 and H.F. 914 would amend the Minnesota Constitution to define “person” to mean a “natural person”.

The distinction between “person” and “natural person” is vitally important. British common law has always made a distinction between “natural persons” (meaning people) and “artificial persons” (meaning organizations like churchs, businesses, etc.). Well, the Citizens United decision effectively eliminated the many of those distinctions by allowing corporations to spend an unlimited amount of money on elections. And they did. Now we can see how that has effected the political process. We now have people cutting back on schools so that big companies – already earning record profits – can earn more in tax breaks.

Minnesota is no different in this regard than other parts of the country. A recent article by the Star Tribune highlights the largest lobbying efforts in Saint Paul for 2010. More than $3 million in big business lobbying expenses arose that year and $1.8 million (60%) was due to the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce alone. Big business is trying to buy the political process.

Author Thom Hartmann discusses corporate personhood (The Daily Take, RT)

So be sure to contact your Minnesota State Senators and House Representatives to give support to S.F. 683 and H.F. 914 in order to help the constitutional amendments to come to fruition. You had better believe that they will meet with strong resistance from the Republicans who currently hold majorities in the House and Senate.

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.

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)

Hearst's New York Journal front page giving a biased, pro-war account of the explosion on the U.S.S. Maine (Wikipedia)

By the end of the 19th century, Cuba had long been seen as a potential acquisition for the expanding United States. By the 1860s, Cuba was importing many of their goods from the United States, who purchased most of the sugar that the island produced. Several attempts to purchase the island from Spain were aborted due to shifting political fortunes within the U.S. Large American companies had a significant financial interest in lowering import tariffs on the sugar, while at the same time the mindset of “Manifest Destiny” – the drive to expand the U.S. throughout the Western Hemisphere – was beginning to take hold.

Enter the media. Beginning in the 1890s, William Randolph Hearst, Joseph Pullitzer, and other members of the media began to conjure and over-report ‘attrocities’ that they claimed had been perpetrated by the Spanish Empire, which was now in steep decline. During this time, Hearst’s New York Journal and Pullitzer’s New York World entered into a fight for readership. They began to employ strategies to gain readership that would later be called “Yellow Journalism”. This included publishing morality plays, showing “nudity” (or the closest Victorian equivalent), and sensational political articles about sometimes fabricated scandals.

During the 1890s, Cuba began a struggle for independence against Spain. Hearst and others could see the potential for readership in the headlines. At one point, World correspondent as James Creelman wrote in his log, he sent a message from Cuba to Hearst saying “There will be no war.” Hearst replied, “Please remain. You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.”

Later, the U.S. sent a dreadnought, the U.S.S. Maine to Havana to guard American interests as hostilities broke out there. It sank, likely the result of an internal boiler explosion, but Hearst’s headline was “MAINE EXPLOSION CAUSED BY BOMB OR TORPEDO”. Pullitzer’s Journal screamed, “DESTRUCTION OF THE WAR SHIP MAINE WAS THE WORK OF AN ENEMY” above an illustration of a terrible explosion splitting the ship in two pieces. The headlines helped to begin the Spanish-American War.

Three years later, Ambrose Bierce claimed that Hearst’s reporting led Leon Czolgosz to shoot President McKinley. These claims devastated Hearst’s hopes to become president himself, but he denied it to be the case.

Later, in 1941, Frank Luther Mott gave a description of signs of “Yellow Journalism”:

1. scare headlines in huge print, often of minor news
2. lavish use of pictures, or imaginary drawings
3. use of faked interviews, misleading headlines, pseudo-science, and a parade of false learning from so-called experts
4. emphasis on full-color Sunday supplements, usually with comic strips
5. dramatic sympathy with the “underdog” against the system.

How many are still in use today?

Wikipedia: Yellow Journalism

"The Spirit of Detroit" (DetroitDerek, Flickr)

Over 1000 senior citizens are staging a protest in the Michigan capital of Lansing tonight in opposition to Tea Party Governor Rick Snyder’s tax plan that removes tax exemptions for retirement pensions, which will bring in up to $900 million in revenue to the state government. This follows announcements that Governor Snyder plans $1.8 billion in tax cuts to corporations and $600 million in cuts to funding for education in the state. Detroits public schools are already likely to raise class sizes to 60 students per classroom after state financial emergency officials have order the city to close 50% of its schools.

Meanwhile, Governor Snyder is expected to sign a new emergency finance bill that is highly controversial to say the least. The bill has passed both the Republican Senate and the Republican House and it grants sweeping powers to the Governor to eliminate the locally elected government of municipalities that are under a financial emergency to replace them with Financial Emergency Managers, who ostensibly oversee the town’s financial recovery. How does a city know it is in a financial emergency? The Governor gets to say so, and he has the power to appoint the manager, while declaring all existing union and worker’s contracts null and void. The law also allows corporations to take control, represented by the Financial Manager appointed by the Governor.

Check here for the complete text of the Emergency Financial Manager bill

Michigan Congressional Representative John Conyers has made the following statement about the bill:

The takeover provision of the legislation – allowing the dissolution of locally elected bodies — implicitly targets minority communities that are disproportionately impacted by the economic downturn, without providing meaningful support for improved economic opportunity.

Worse yet, this bill raises serious constitutional concerns. Article I, Section 10 of the U.S. Constitution explicitly prohibits any State from impairing a contract, which is exactly what this legislation does. As the Supreme Court has held in Home Building & Loan Association v. Blaisdell (1934), the sanctity of contracts cannot be impaired by a state law “which renders them invalid, or releases or extinguishes them . . . . Not only are existing laws read into contracts in order to fix obligations as between the parties, but the reservation of essential attributes of sovereign power is also read into contracts as a postulate of the legal order.”

Further, the bill empowers this financial czar with the Governor’s approval to force a municipality into bankruptcy, a power that will surely be used to extract further concessions from hardworking public sector workers. And, by making the risk of bankruptcy a reality, the bill will make it more not less expensive for municipalities to obtain financing given this risk, which will make the financial circumstances of municipalities even worse.

Conyers describes the situation well. This bill could encourage corporate representatives to run for office and drive a town into the ground so that it can be taken over by his or her company. It represents another corporate takeover of public interests, just of the sorts found in Wisconsin Governor Walker’s Budget Proposal. This is about a power grab because State Senator Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing) and others attempted to cap the salary of the financial managers at $150,000 per year, but the response was to encourage cash-strapped schools to invite volunteers to teach in their classrooms. Watch here:

Michigan State Senator Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing) speaks out against Emergency Financial Manager bill (Michigan Senate Dems, YouTube)

Big protests are expected in Michigan today in Lansing! Good luck everyone!

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.

Newsboys selling newspapers on the Brooklyn Bridge, 1908 (Lewis W. Hine, via Wikipedia)

In 1898, in an attempt to boost earnings from the increase in sales brought on by the onset of the Spanish American War, newspaper publishers raised the price of a bundle of newspapers 20%, from 50¢ to 60¢. While it does not seem like a very steep price today, the price increase made it very difficult for newsboys to purchase bundles for distribution because many of the boys who sold newspapers were poor and sometimes homeless. Wages were already low and most newsboys earned only about 30¢ per day.

Because the price increase made it difficult for newsboys to earn a living, they went on strike. This was the Newsboy Strike of 1899. They refused to sell newspapers owned by Joseph Pullitzer and William Randolph Hearst. The strike had immediate effect as Pullitzer’s New York World newspaper circulation dropped by two-thirds. After two weeks, the newspapers began distributing their papers at 50¢ per bundle once again.

Do not feel too sorry for William Randolph Hearst. He actually helped to start the Spanish American War. See how in tomorrow’s Pseudo-random Wiki-link.

Wikipedia: Newsboy Strike of 1899

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?