Tag Archive: Democrats


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.

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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.

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.

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.

Minnesota State Capitol (rbw)

Women’s Labor Rights

While the state of Minnesota has not made the same national headlines as its neighbor Wisconsin, the 2010 election had a major impact there as well. The political situation would be identical to the conditions in Wisconsin and Michigan were it not for the election of Democratic Governor Mark Dayton. During the last term, the State Senate had a Democratic supermajority + one, while the State House had a Democratic supermajority – one. The tables have now turned as both houses hold modest Republican majorities.

Other than their majorities, there is little modest about the group. There have already been clear indications that the Republicans are intensely ideological with the debate over the state budget now well under way.

The extremism has been broadly-based. Senator john Carlson (R-Bemidji) was forced to apologize for his attempt to repeal equal pay for women. Now, one may consider that a fluke occurrence, but just read his glib response to his pulling of the bill from the rolls (courtesy of the Bemidji Pioneer, via the Minnesota Independent):

“That bill’s been pulled and it won’t see the light of day. I would admit I didn’t do my homework very well.

“So I author the bill, put it in the hopper, and the next thing I know, all hell breaks loose and I deserve it for being naïve. Quite honestly, I deserve that. I did it with good intentions.

“Obviously, I’ve been married for 32 years, I have a daughter out in the workforce, and I have a granddaughter — I can’t believe anyone would think I would harm that relationship.”

Indeed. How could one have the foresight to realize that telling one’s wife and daughter that they do not deserve equal pay simply because they are female would endanger those relationships?

One might argue that it was all a simple mistake – that it was one Senator who made a bad decision. Unfortunately, that is not the case: This was at least the fifth attempt to do so in the state legislature. The original form of the bill was authored by Rep. Steve Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa) and it ranged further, with additional restrictions on part-time police officers and cuts to library funding.

The Republicans are gunning for the 1984 Pay Equity Act for local government jobs. Each of the attempts are being supported by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. In a December 2010 statement on Fiscal Policy they state:

    Pay Equity/Comparable Worth:

The Legislature should repeal the state’s pay equity/comparable worth law. It is outdated and hampers a government entity’s ability to manage the workforce. It is also an unfunded mandate to local governments.

There you go – equal pay for women is now “outdated” as our future begins to look a lot like the past. The Chamber of Commerce statement on women has been revised since December. A February 1st post by Politics Daily quotes the same source in the following way:

“The state’s pay equity/comparable worth law should be repealed. Its purpose is outdated, and requiring governments to correct perceived ‘errors’ in labor markets based on bureaucratic and subjective assessments of the relative value of government jobs is an
unnecessary and costly mandate.”

The current economic crisis has hit men very hard. Women now comprise a slight majority of the workforce. One can see the cynical thinking: Rather than increase the salaries for struggling men, Republicans seek to cut pay for women. Such a move would only make life more difficult for families that are already facing financial crisis.

Worker’s Rights

Minnesota residents can expect more action on labor issues as time goes on. Here is what the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce says about outsourcing and arbitration:

    Competitive Sourcing:

The Legislature should remove any restrictions to competitively sourcing services. This does not mean that the state or local governments should outsource all services. Instead, the Chamber supports having public employees compete with the private sector for the provision of services.

    Arbitration Considerations:

The Legislature should require labor arbitrators to consider the total compensation and prevailing benefit levels offered in the private sector. This should help make sure that future compensation and benefit decisions do not become out of line with private-sector counterparts.

One can see there in essence the same provisions that Governor Walker has passed through t he legislature in Wisconsin. The difference in Minnesota is that thanks to a narrow voting margin, that state has a Democratic Governor who is likely to veto any such measure.

Reproductive Rights

A total of four bills have been introduced to ban state funding for abortion. Some contain wording that state that if one portion of the law is repealed by a court, the rest should stand. Such wording is intended to reverse court decisions of the past 40 years that have ensured reproductive rights for women.

Republicans added more fuel to the fire by challenging the Roe vs. Wade decision with three bills to ban abortions that take place after 20 weeks of pregnancy – regardless of consideration of medical conditions that could injure the mother.

In response to this flurry of anti-reproductive rights action, the Democrats introduced a bill, HF646, that guarantees that all people have a right to use or refuse birth control and abortions, containing the same severability language that protects the remainder of the bill if one part of it is overturned.

Stay tuned, there is a lot more to report on the Minnesota legislature as it continues to work against 20th century progress. Luckily, there is a Governor in Minnesota who can prevent these laws from taking effect.

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?

A record showing is predicted for the protests that are scheduled for today in Madison, Wisconsin. Adding to the crowds that could be larger than the nearly 100,000 people who protested in Madison on February 26 will be a host of teachers from Minnesota showing solidarity, thousands of farmers who will drive their tractors to the capital, and the 14 Democratic Senators, who are expected to speak this afternoon.

According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the Democratic Senators have seen a large spike in fundraising since they left the state and that fundraising accelerated after the passage of the anti-union bill. Here is how the Journal-Sentinel puts it:

But the fight over collective bargaining has also helped Democrats fill their coffers. The state Democratic Party raised $300,000 in less than a day after the Senate vote, party Chairman Mike Tate said. That brings to $800,000 the total the party has raised in recent days.

The fundraising arm of Democratic Senate candidates has taken in nearly $750,000 since Democrats fled the state.

“I have confidence that although we lost the battle, we may win the war through the ballot box,” Sen. Fred Risser (D-Madison) said in an interview in Grayslake, Ill.

For their part, Republicans have a big fundraiser planned for Wednesday in Washington, D.C. The event costs $1,000 per person to attend. State legislative leaders for the GOP are being featured at the fundraiser.

That’s right, the Republicans are raising money to protect themselves from recall efforts in by wining and dining bigwigs Washington. How appropriate that they should be rewarded for their efforts to make labor cheaper for billionaires – the only thing that is amazing about it is that it is not called graft.

Good luck everyone!

Wisconsin Protests

Protests in Madison continued through the weekend. 30-50,000 people showed up Saturday to protest against Governor Walker’s attacks on working families. Mail carriers had their day on Sunday. But the Tea Party had a pro-Walker rally on Sunday as well at Alliant Energy Center. Despite having access to the Kochs’ billions, they could only muster 600 people to support Scott Walker. A new poll came out, albeit with a very small sample (603 respondents, corresponding to errors greater than +/- 4%), showing very negative reactions to Governor Walker, a strong majority against stripping unions of collective bargaining rights, and 72% of Wisconsinites want to solve the Walker-created budgetary problems by raising taxes on people earning more than $150,000 per year. HUGE protests are expected across the nation next Saturday, with more events also planned throughout the week. And the bottom may be dropping out on Governor Walker as thousands of dairy farmers plan to drive their tractors to the Capitol to show support for unions next Saturday. In Wisconsin, when dairy farmers protest Republicans, it generally means the end of the careers of those Republicans. Some are predicting that the protests in Madison are just the beginning, as the debate to cut Social Security begins in Washington.

Other Tea Party Fun

In Ohio, the Tea Party legislature is passing tougher anti-union legislation than the bill in Madison. It makes it a criminal offense for workers to go on strike. Some shenanigans were required in order to get the bill through committee, however. When a committee was deadlocked on the proposal with even some Republicans dissenting, the Republican Senate Majority Leader fired two Republican Senators from their committee assignments so that the bill could reach the floor. Still, even some Republicans are calling the bill unconstitutional and it likely violates existing labor laws. Unfortunately Ohio Dems can not prevent a quorum in the Republican-filled Ohio legislature. This week has seen the largest protests to date in Columbus.

Indiana Democratic House Members are still in Illinois, preventing a vote on anti-union legislation there. As protests in Indiana continue, Indiana’s newly elected Republican Secretary of State Charlie White is probably going to jail. He has ben indicted on three counts of felony voter fraud for registering to vote in places where he did not live. One would think that a State Secretary of State, who is in charge of elections within the state, would understand the rules here – that is unless that was the reason for his choice to run. Keep in mind that White has supported the voter ID requirement in Indiana, ostensibly to prevent people from voting illegally as he has done. There are a lot more interesting details in this article
from the Brad Blog.

The State Legislature of Arizona has passed an unconstitutional bill to nullify federal laws. Laws of this sort were the same type that precipitated the Civil War, when southern states attempted to nullify federal regulation of slavery. This comes on the heels of a vote by the Arizona Legislature to allow people to carry guns to public events, because, you know, guns at public events are a fantastic idea and it is not as if one of their own members of Congress was shot in the head by a lunatic carrying a gun or anything just two months ago. Oh, as it happens, Jared Loughner has just been hit with 49 additional criminal counts for his firing spree on a crowd at a Giffords event in January.

The Tea Party-led Montana State Legislature is still at it. Even Republicans are now claiming that the Tea Party is leading to the the Republicans to become such a national laughingstock that they are driving away young GOP voters. In addition to working to allow guns in schools, they are trying to, as MT Cowgirl puts it, “legislate the laws of nature” to deny climate change, eliminate stem cell research, to claim the earth is between 4,000 and 6,000 years old, and to criminalize homosexuality.

Florida Tea Party Governor Rick Scott may be subject to a criminal investigation over his firing of the state nursing home long-term care obmudsman. It is not generally considered a smart move to anger the nursing homes in the state with the nation’s most geriatric population.

Wikileaks

Julian Assange is appealing the expected British court ruling that he should be extradited to Sweden. His organization WikiLeaks has already uncovered a huge amount of corruption from countries accross the world. It was revelations of the excesses of the family of the Tunisian dictator that have led to pro-democracy rallies across Africa and Asia. Meanwhile, Bradley Manning, who the military claims gave WikiLeaks documents that it later published, is in detention under cruel and unusual conditions – including being kept in his cell naked, being refused sleep, etc. Does this sound familiar?

Corruption on the Supreme Court

Calls are coming out for the removal of Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia for illegally participating in political fundraising, tax evasion and refusing to make public conflicts of interest.

Wisconsin State Capitol (rbw)

After a Dane County Court ruled that the State was violating a prior ruling to allow protesters into the State Capitol, the scene at the Capitol was quiet once protesters left peacefully in accordance with the part of the ruling that prohibits nighttime sleepovers in the building. However, the cynical action by the Governor was not finished. Members of the Walker Administration claimed that it may take as much as $7 million to repair the damage done during the 2-week sleepover in the building. Though when pressed by the media, the Walker Administration was forced to backtrack, indicating that there was no damage to the building and all that was necessary was a through cleaning, including removing signs taped to the marble interior.

That was not all. The police presence at the State Capitol remains strong, though many officers are working during the day, only to join the protests after their shifts are complete. Democratic Assemblyman Nick Milroy of South Range was tackled to the ground when he tried to enter his office to get his coat. Video of the incident can be seen on WISN.

Because of the lockdown earlier this week, Democratic Legislators moved their desks outside so that they could meet with their constituents. Republicans did not apparently want to meet their constituents, in contrast, because they kept their desks inside during the lockdown. The Dems have kept their desks outside, even after visitors could enter the Capitol again.

After .22 caliber bullets were found in several locations around the State Capitol Thursday, visitors to the Capitol were screened heavily for weapons. Because of the incredibly peaceful nature of the protests so far and because Governor Walker has already admitted to considering to bring thugs in to create trouble, the discovery of the bullets has prompted Wisconsin ex-Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager to say:

“For all we know somebody planted them there — we don’t know if it was a protester.”

Thanks to the 14 Democratic Senators who are still in Illinois on their own dime, under the threat of an unconstitutional arrest, more details of the Koch-supported Budget “Repair” bill are coming to light. The ramifications are profound, including a $1billion cut to education across the state, the budget could end interlibrary book loans, it would force local referendums in order to maintain services, and strip collective bargaining rights for union employees, as well as end their subsidized child care. In a nod to the insurance companies that backed his campaign financially, the bill would also gut the self-supporting Wisconsin State Insurance Fund. This is a crystal clear example of companies giving candidates contributions for political services.

It would not be the only corruption on the part of Scott Walker. The Milwaukee Magazine has outlined cronyism and corruption that occurred in the Milwaukee County pension system under Walker’s watch. He has violated a Dane County judge by refusing entry for demonstrators into the Capitol. He has apparently lied to the press, who are now suing, over the notion that he had received a large number of emails in favor of his budget proposal. He likely broke the law when he mentioned that he had considered sending thugs to create trouble to discredit the protests and he is clearly in the pocket of the Koch brothers, given his friendly relationship with them, and he has been threatening state workers with pink slips if he does not get his way, a form of political coercion. In addition to all of that, Walker likely broke state labor laws by refusing to negotiate with the unions. Laura Flanders discussed these legal issues with Lautenschlager.

With his legal exposure, the story gets worse for Walker. Recall efforts are underway for 8 Republican Senators and they are going swimmingly. The recall of three senators gives the Democrats a majority and the recall of all 8 gives them a 2/3 majority, which they could use to bring about impeachment hearings. Scott Walker’s window to pass his budget is closing and he knows it: Some Republicans may even break with the party if it comes up for a vote.

So do the mainstream media William Rivers Pitt discusses why the mainstream media has not been reporting the huge crowds in Madison, preferring to discuss Charlie Sheen instead. In short, he says “I think they’re scared.” More on media coverage later!

Police surround the Capitol on March 1 (Madiston Capitol Times)

With recall petitions filed against Republican Senators in Wisconsin, the Governor realizes that his time is running short. In acts of desperation, he is violating a Dane County judge’s order to reopen protester access to the Capitol. In addition, the Wisconsin Constitution states in Article I, Section 4:

Right to assemble and petition. SECTION 4. The right of
the people peaceably to assemble, to consult for the common
good, and to petition the government, or any department thereof,
shall never be abridged.

There is also related legal precident and it is outlined in 59 Attorney General 8, listed immediately below Section 4 in notes on case law:

The legislature cannot prohibit an individual from entering the capitol or its
grounds.
–59 Atty. Gen. 8.

so it seems that any orders to prevent protesters into the Capitol are unconstitutional. Yet Capitol police are enforcing restricted access rules as of Thursday morning.

Several officials have spoken against the policy of restricted access. The Madison Capitol Times reports of DNR Secretary George Meyer describing that the current level of law enforcement at the Capitol:

“…was an immense amount of overkill.”

“The amount of law enforcement that is up there is beyond the pale,” says Meyer, now the executive director of the Wildlife Federation. “There is no need for law enforcement. It’s a poor use of financial and staff resources and the show of force is not to keep the peace. It’s to intimidate people exercising their First Amendment rights. It’s wrong.”

“Under this extraordinary show of force you cannot even carry out your responsibility and represent people before their government.”

The Capitol Times reports that there is so much downtime for the present officers that many were taking tours of the Capitol, hosted by staff on site.

A Democratic Legislator, Senator Fred Risser, says:

“The Wisconsin State Capitol is, and has always been, the people’s building. It should not be treated like an armed fortress. I continue to commend the thousands of Wisconsin residents who have exercised their right of assembly for the past three weeks for the peaceful manner in which they have spoken. I expect that the demonstrators will continue to be respectful of the building and its occupants.”

There is more – Wisconsin Congressman Obey was denied access when he refused to use his title to enter the Capitol.

In other news circulating around Governor Walker, the Wisconsin State Employees Union (WSEU) has filed a formal complaint against the Governor for his refusal to negotiate with the union – a violation of Wisconsin state law.

The Walker side has replied, with the Republicans in the State Senate voting 19-0 in an unconstitutional measure to call for the arrest of the 14 Democratic Senators who have left the state. According to Senate Majority Leader Fitzgerald, “They have pushed us to the edge of a constitutional crisis.” Indeed, because the Wisconsin Constitution prohibits the arrest of any legislators while they are in office. Article IV, Section 15 states:

Exemption from arrest and civil process. SECTION 15.
Members of the legislature shall in all cases, except treason, fel-
ony and breach of the peace, be privileged from arrest; nor shall
they be subject to any civil process, during the session of the leg-
islature, nor for fifteen days next before the commencement and
after the termination of each session.

So with all of this unconstitutional activity swirling around the Governor and the Republican Legislature, one should also think a little bit about the State Supreme Court, for which there is a pending election this spring. Wisconsin Judicial races have historically been state financed because it is the best way to prevent special interest money from driving the election. A less-commonly discussed provision in Walker’s Budget “Repair” Bill essentially zeroes funding for state funded Judicial campaigns. The result would be that the Koch brothers, for example, would be able to spend inordinate amounts of money to get their candidate (Prosser) into the Supreme Court again.

Stay tuned. Recall petitions have been filed against the Legislature
and there is a lot of activity. Governor Walker and the Republicans are engaging in unconstitutional activity because they have no other recourse. They are losing the fight and the protests are winning. Once the recalls happen, there will be one chamber of the legislature to balance the other.

Nearly 100,000 people rallied in Madison Saturday (AP via Huffington Post)

The Events

A HUGE rally took place on Saturday in Madison, Wisconsin as unions continue to fight against the elimination of their collective bargaining rights. It was the largest demonstration since Governor Walker initiated his proposal, with up to 100,000 protesters and no end in sight. Other protests continued across all 50 states as well Saturday in solidarity with the state employees in Wisconsin.

The Distraction

Despite the huge numbers of people involved in every state, the corporate media has seen fit to bury the lead by focusing on labor protests in other countries, Libya in particular, without mentioning that they are in fact being driven by labor. When was the last time that you have heard about demonstrations continuing in Egypt? They are still going on. Once the military junta took over, the American press essentially said, “Oh, look! They have democracy now and everything will be ok!” (Glenn Beck excepted, of course.) They ignore that now that the protesters have gotten some reforms and are working on a route to democracy, they are still in Tahrir Square arguing for better working conditions and wages and that is apparently making the Egyptian army a bit impatient.

But all eyes were on far off Libya Sunday, where it is easier now to declare the initially peaceful demonstrators as “opposition forces” because they have been forced to arm themselves to prevent their own extermination. After arming themselves, they have been pigeonholed into a different commonly used media meme: The old labor and democracy demonstrations are now an ‘uprising’.

Koch Strategy

Burying the lead is a tried and true anti-democratic tactic that is used by entrenched media in order to help diffuse trouble for authorities. Despite that 50,000 people protested across the country and that 100,000 people protested within Madison itself and countless thousands of others across Wisconsin this weekend, CNN, the New York Times, CBS, ABC and NBC are under-reporting the events. Fox News is mischaracterizing teachers and nurses as violent and greedy fat cats.

In order to understand why, just consider when was the last time that you saw either a Dixie Cup or a Georgia Pacific commercial on one of their stations. Sure, they will post Union ads, but when the crisis is over, they expect to continue getting ad revenue from Koch Industries. The Koch brothers have vowed to continue their fight, and the media is only one of their tactics in order to end the disagreement over their proposals for workers’ bargaining rights, health insurance and benefits.

The Koch brothers do have things roughly where they expected to be at the moment. The Governor submitted his ghost-written proposal, the Assembly has passed its version of the bill, sticking it to the guys who disagreed with it with the quick vote, but there is that nagging problem of those pesky Democratic Senators. You had better believe that the Koch brothers will buy a lot of ad time to pressure them into returning and Walker will ask the legislature to pass one piece of regressive legislation after another until they do. (However, Walker would do that even if the Dems were present in the Senate.)

The protests are a LOT larger than they expected, too.

The Tea Party, after all, was constructed just for this reason: A trojan horse, riding a wave of popular anger only to turn on the people who elected it in order to support the corporate interests of Koch Industries. The Kochs founded the Tea Party through its PACs and they have already used it to divide and conquer the public. Now, the public must try to divide and conquer the Koch minions like Walker and the Legislature. And the Koch brothers will do *anything* to get their way, so the strategy of the people must be broad-based as well.

How the public can win against the billionaires

Even though the media is beginning to side with the Kochs, their ad revenue would drop remarkably if their viewer/readership were to decrease. People who support the protesters can not expect to have their voices heard on the airwaves, but they should demand that it is. A lot of news today can be found on the internet and there are certainly a good number of places that ARE reporting the labor protests. The places that are supporting the labor movement include, but are not limited to:

The Madison Capitol Times
The Appleton Post Crescent
Harpers
Mother Jones
MSNBC (Rachel Maddow is awesome!)
The Real News Network
The Daily Kos
The Huffington Post
Truth Out
Buzzflash
…and others that I have not listed here, though you can find the links in my blogs. The Daily Show and the Colbert Report have really good fact-checking as well. All of the above news sources should be supported because without them, it would be much harder to get the word out.

The mainstream, mass-market media are not quite so helpful. This includes:
ABC News
CBS News
CNN
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (has published quite a few negative editorials)
The New York Times
The Washington Post
…and most of all:
Fox News who have portrayed the protesters as violent.

I have also heard anecdotally that a number of TV stations and local papers have been characterizing the demonstrations negatively. Remember, local news sources need to compete for thin resources and ad-buys are very important. This means that they can be swayed by big money, and the Kochs have plenty of it.

BUT…

All of that ad money will useless if people no longer watch their channels or read their papers. The people can have a lot of influence over programming when they organize. You will be surprised!

People who are marching are doing their part of the job. They are putting pressure on the Government and they are making their voices heard. To help them out, everyone who supports the protesters should do whatever they can to assist. Here are a few things that will take just a few minutes a day:

1. Call on the State Attorney General, J.B. Van Hollen, (608) 266-1221, to begin investigations into ethics violations by Governor Walker regarding the phone call, his tendency to give friends fat pay raises and his handling of the proposal. Call for investigations into the Republicans in the Legislature as well. Are they working with the Kochs too?

The Attorney General is a Republican as well, and the Governor has asked him to find ways to get the Democratic Senators to return. You should not expect the State Attorney General to do something right away, but if people call him, write letters to local newspapers and sign petitions calling for investigations, AND KEEP UP THE PRESSURE, then we may see either Hollen or Walker crack under that pressure and make more mistakes. Then they may accidentally reveal more corruption and links to the Kochs like the phone call did. If more information about either person is exposed, then they may be forced to part ties to defend themselves and then they may turn on each other. That is the goal: The Kochs know that pressure helps people make mistakes. Let’s use it on them.

2. Call for Federal Elections Commission investigations into the political operations of the Koch brothers. Are they donating money to their political organizations legally? We should know. Let us force the Koch brothers to spend their money to defend themselves legally. That means they will funnel less money to their own groups to mess with public elections.

3. Call or write your local Television Stations to ask for fair reporting of the protests. This is VERY important, as important as the protests themselves! Be sure to mention that you will migrate to other news sources if they do not begin treating teachers and care givers favorably. This link to Wikipedia has a list of all of Wisconsin’s TV Stations. Click on the station call sign and you will go to a Wikipedia page on that station that will have an address to the actual station website. You can find all appropriate contact information there.

4. If the media is not reporting, then you have to spread the word. Be fair, be accurate, and if you are not sure on details, describe what you know and what you do not. No one has all of the information, but we all try to do our best and we ask questions when we are uncertain about something. Spread the word via texting, Facebook, Twitter, email, telephone, smoke signals or even two paper cups on a string (not Dixie cups!). Form groups, networks and call lists have dinners, lunches and get togethers and let people know when you find something out.

5. Boycott companies and news sources that support the Tea Party, Scott Walker and the Budget “Repair” bill. I have already posted a partial list of companies with links (it is my most popular article so far) and I also have a post on Koch Industries and their related products for more information. The Kochs love the idea of free markets with no regulations. Let us use a market-based approach to show them what happens when they try to take away rights in ‘free markets’! They count on us to buy their products, so if they support taking away benefits and wage-bargaining rights, let us have an impact on their pocketbooks too.

6. Remember who supports the Budget ‘Repair’ Bill for the next elections! AND NEVER, EVER VOTE TEA PARTY AGAIN! That will be soon. Put this on your calendar: There is a State Supreme Court Election April 5th. Prosser is a part of the Court’s conservative majority. Vote Kloppenburg to reduce the power of the Tea Party in the court. VOTE!

7. RECALL Current Legislators and (eventually Governor Walker). The Daily Kos has provided links and information regarding the Republican Senators who can be recalled this year.

8. Discuss this with everyone – even your conservative relatives. This is a civil rights issue and billionaires are trying to take rights away from workers.

9. Wash, rinse, and repeat. This is a waiting game. It will take a while because billionaires have deep pockets. We essentially need to make it very expensive for them to meddle in the political system so that they stop doing it. You have two choices: Stick it out for the long haul and win OR the Kochs get their way and everyone will eventually have an impact to their livelihoods (especially the Tea Partiers themselves).

Remember, the more organized the public is, the easier it will be to get rid of Walker, the Kochs and their cronies. Everyone who supports the state employees should help because once the Kochs take care of them, they will come after the next group. They are all about power and they are working hard to take it all for themselves, so you have to work hard as well to keep your rights.

There are more of us than them. Public opinion strongly favors the workers. Tell other people you know about how they can help. We can do this and we are all in it together.

Budget Battle (Clay Bennett, Chattanooga Times Free Press)

This article is Part II in a series of articles regarding government spending. To read the other related pieces, go to my U.S. Federal Debt: Sources and Solutions page.

Current status

Buoyed by their 2010 election success, the Republicans (who ran on jobs and the economy) have come to Washington to take it down. House Majority Leader, John Boehner (R-OH), has called for $100 billion in cuts to discretionary spending. Ron Paul has suggested not raising the U.S. federal debt limit, which would precipitate a worldwide crisis as the nation defaults on $14.3 trillion in debt. The fervor does not end there: Iowa’s Steve King (R) even suggested we should “kill the government” should Obama fail to kill health care reform – a move that would add up to $1 trillion to the federal debt after 10 years. The cuts that are proposed are standard: Education, unemployment benefits, housing and (oddly) also cuts to entitlements that are not discretionary spending. Social security and Medicare have long raised the ire of Republicans who would love to privatize the systems and transfer the wealth they contain to the private sector. The largest portion of federal discretionary spending, the military, remains largely untouched through all of this.

So where do all of these cuts leave the jobs issue? Well, the “strange” unemployment numbers from January were not strange at all. The current situation is entirely consistent with the viewpoint in which so many people have been unemployed for so long that not only are they no longer eligible for unemployment benefits, but they are also giving up their jobs searches. That is prior to pending federal budget cuts. The forecasts for the currently proposed GOP cuts will involve the layoff of around 650,000 federal employees alone and the decrease in federal spending will bring the total to nearly 1 million jobs after 2011. This clearly does not jive with the Republican platform of helping jobs, but it is entirely consistent with the Republican mantra of “small government” that has been sweeping that nation and is most evident in the events taking place in Wisconsin.

We will take a look at the history of federal spending in order to find new methods to reduce the federal budget deficits in a what that will encourage growth in the national economy.

U.S. Federal Spending

Fig. 1: US Federal Outlays and GDP since 1901 (Wikipedia)

The U.S. Federal Government spent roughly $3.6 trillion in 2010. Big Government, you protest? Figure 1 shows the history of federal spending since the beginning of the 20th Century (please note that this is a logarithmic plot). The spending on the federal budget has grown in rough proportion to the growth of the economy since the time of FDR, though GDP numbers were not taken prior to that time and the rate of growth of government spending was much lower prior to 1900 because government undertook very few social spending initiatives before then. Also note the point of inflection at 1980. Prior to that time, the rate of GDP growth was accelerating as opposed to the deceleration we have seen since Reagan’s election.

Fig. 2: U.S. Spending and Revenue in %GDP (Bureau of Economic Analysis, via Carried Away)

Figure 2 shows the full level of spending by state and federal governments in the U.S. as a fraction of GDP since the beginning of the Great Depression. It clearly demonstrates that while there is growth in spending during the expansion of the military and programs such as Social Security, the overall spending per GDP by states has held roughly steady since the early 1970s and in the federal government since the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. This essentially means that the cost per person of the federal government would have remained constant since the early 1980s, provided that middle class incomes would have tracked with the growth of the economy. This has not been the case. As a result, federal programs since the time of Reagan have become more expensive for the middle class while the middle class receives fewer services.

Fig. 3a: Total U.S. Spending, 2010 (Congressional Budget Office, via Wikipedia)

Fig. 3b: U.S. Discretionary Spending, 2010 (National Priorities Project)

That last point on the middle class receiving fewer services is doubly demonstrated by the proportion of military spending relative to total discretionary spending. I will discuss that in a moment, but I will first make a side observation. While researching U.S. discretionary spending, I noticed that the spending is usually displayed either of two ways. The first is the “Federal Pie Chart” in Figures 3a and 3b that show the relative sizes of various categories of total and discretionary spending respectively. The second form of presentation can be found in Figure 4. In short, the portrayal of discretionary spending in either mode is almost always the same and it has the effect of creating a politically expedient frame within which to understand the data.

Figures 3a and 3b represent to shares of total and discretionary spending (respectively) that are spent on a number of different budget categories. This is useful if you were concerned about how much money is spent on programs such as entitlements like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security or how much is spent on paying off interest on the debt. But the pie charts do not indicate what fraction of the “Discretionary Budget” in Figure 3a are actually spent on Homeland Security or other non-Department of Defense national security areas however. So one gets the impression that defense spending is not so large relative to the entitlement programs shown in 3a.

Figure 3b show us a little more detail, essentially expanding the blue and orange sections from Figure 3a. Here we see just how much of the discretionary budget is taken up by the military but it does not include, say transportation programs that are geared to beefing up Homeland Security. This leads one to the conclusion that military spending is somewhat lower than it really is.

Furthermore, the pie charts only represent funding from a single year. It is impossible to tell how much spending might have changed either from the previous year or from a time several decades ago. And if the accounting is done right, then as I mentioned in the previous two paragraphs, it is easy to give the impression that everything is normal and there are no imbalances in the budget.

Nor would we get that that impression if we were to look at the other way in which the data is displayed: Historically. Figure 4 shows the relative proportions of military and non-military spending, with the caveat that the data is broken down in essentially the same way that it was in Figure 3b (the Department of Homeland Security is not part of the Department of Defense). However, the earliest date for the data is very important. It occurs at a time when the U.S. was in an arms race with the Soviet Union and at a time when it was becoming actively involved in the Vietnam War. The center panel of Figure 4 gives the strong impression that defense spending is under control, but only because it ignores the times prior to 1962 (the 1950s and prior to World War II when the fraction of military discretionary spending was about 30%) when spending on defense was much lower. And keep in mind that we are not including all national security spending in the defense sector – a trend that became worse and worse during the 2000’s. In fact current national security spending comprises nearly half of the “non-defense” discretionary outlays.

The bottom panel in Figure 4 drives home another convenient point that mandatory spending is out of control as well, but this is only due to the fact that defense spending has been considered a high priority among neo-conservatives. But the story behind Figures 3a, 3b and 4 is that even among discretionary spending, the military is consuming a larger and larger share even while spending on social discretionary programs becomes more expensive for the middle class and even while the middle class is expected to carry an increasing responsibility for funding these programs.

Fig. 4: U.S. Military and Non-military Discretionary Funding since 1962 (Office of Management and Budget, via Congressional Quarterly)

Another thing to consider is that all of the social programs that make life easier and demonstrably improve the quality of life for people who live in the United States (i.e. Education, Income & Labor Security, the EPA, Transportation and the Federal R&D) make up a very small fraction of the budget overall.

The take away message here is that despite the initial outward appearances, Figure 5 (the misspelling in the Figure is due to the Economist, not me, though the numbers are sound) shows that discretionary social spending has been very squeezed as a fraction of GDP over the past 40 years, ending with a brief and temporary counterpoint that corresponds to President Obama’s stimulus package. This overall decline has been due to the tax cuts that we will discuss later on which have limited the amount of money that can be spent on social discretionary programs, out of deference to mandatory spending and defense and national security.

Fig. 5: Non-defense Discretionary Spending as a function of GDP (The Economist)

Things are no different in either the current Republican or Democratic proposals for the upcoming budget deal. Social discretionary spending, comprising a small fraction of the total budget, will take the biggest lumps in upcoming budget cuts. That means housing programs, unemployment benefits, research and development, infrastructure investments, clean energy and environmental protection are going to lose funding relative to continued spending on the U.S. Military. The Republicans are aiming for broad cuts of $100 billion to the $660 billion non-military discretionary budget but the cuts are not planned to go toward the national security components of that budget.
The Minnesota Independent has a brief summary of some of the expected cuts which correspond to a roughly 30-50% hit to social programs that are used by everyone in the country and the regulatory agencies that protect our physical and fiscal environments, while the military budget of $689 billion will remain virtually untouched even though the U.S. spends the same amount on its military as the rest of the world combined (Figure 6). Feeling safe yet?

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

–President and Five-Star General Dwight D. Eisenhower, From a speech before the American Society of Newspaper Editors, April 16, 1953

Fig. 6: World military expenditures of every nation in the world, 2009. The tall bar on the far left is the United States, which spends more than 6 times as much as its nearest rival, China. Click to access a larger version. (Global Security, via Think or Thwim)

Impacts of Federal Spending on the Economy

Despite conservative beliefs and mantras, government spending has a legitimate place in the national economy if for no other reason than the fact that, according to the U.S. Census, the U.S. federal government has 2.5 million employees in addition to the military which has 1.5 million active and 1.5 million reserve personnel. That corresponds to nearly 5.5 million total employees, not including part time civilian staff, and that corresponds to more than 3% of the U.S. workforce.

More importantly, Figure 1 shows that current federal spending is at a level of roughly 20% of GDP so it can act as a strong lever arm to encourage economic growth, industrial development, support workers wages and to develop public infrastructure, especially in concert with the government’s regulatory powers. Yet here is what House Speaker John Boehner (R) says about spending:

“This is where cutting spending will create jobs because it is going to bring greater fiscal responsibility here in Washington, DC, end some of the uncertainty, and allow jobs to be created in America.”

Even Cliffs notes will tell you that decreased government spending shrinks the demand for labor in the economy. During times of economic crisis, this can lead to a downward spiral because a smaller workforce leads less consumer purchasing that, in turn, leads to lower corporate profits and less investment and possibly more layoffs which feed back into the system. The Keynesian economic view argues that the Government can borrow money maintain spending levels despite a drop in tax revenue in order make up for the consumer demand that is lost to unemployment.

One could in principle spend money on just about anything, but the most effective approach is to make investments into public infrastructure that essentially build new efficiencies into the national economy that everyone can share in the future. This is the idea behind financial stimulus, but some forms of stimulus are better than others because some forms of spending allow the money to pass through more hands in the economy in a relatively short period of time and that encourages economic growth.

Mark Zandi, Chief Economist for Moody’s, published a study that modeled the effects of various forms of stimulus to see which would provide the greatest impact per dollar invested. You may find the results rather surprising in Figure 7.

Fig. 7: Effective rates of return on each dollar invested in various forms of stimulus (Moody's via Huffington Post)

Surprised? Perhaps it is because the best form of stimulus shown is investing in Food Stamps and Extending Unemployment Benefits! These are anathema to the laissez-faire Trickle Down Economics favored by the Republicans, who tend to be acolytes of Milton Friedman. The Bush Administration, in contrast, strongly favored Capital Gains Tax Cuts, Tax Rebates and Tax Cuts on the wealthy, in keeping with the notion of Trickle Down.

So why would food stamps be better stimulus than tax cuts on the wealthy? The reason is that poor people will spend the money as soon as they get it while wealthy individuals will typically save a windfall for a rainy day. In the latter case money is taken out of circulation so it does not typically provide a positive economic benefit. But there is another important benefit. When people become unemployed and can not feed themselves, they die. When that happens, not only does society lose their productivity, skills and knowledge that those people once had, but society also loses the investment it made to train and educate them. That was the situation in the United States during economic disasters like the Panic of 1893 and the early years of the Great Depression, before Roosevelt’s New Deal. Other forms of stimulus are not listed.

The military, for example returns roughly $0.40 on every dollar because every dollar spent on a bomb is a dollar spent on something that was designed to be wasted. Scientific research provides a quick infusion of cash with a return to the tune of approximately $1.60 on the dollar.

One is forced to wonder why the Bush Administration supported non-stimuli such as tax cuts because, despite the conservative propaganda, Friedmanian economics tends to lead to a reduction in tax revenues over the long term. (This is an indication that the middle class becomes poorer over time.) Nevertheless, the Friedmanians do (rarely) have a point. In the event of too much borrowing, there can be a set of diminishing returns. If the federal debt levels require steep payments on the debt, the government can respond by making money to pay it off. This results in depreciation, which if taken too far can drastically increase interest rates and lead to accelerated depreciation in the value of the dollar and a sticky mess for the economy: Stagflation. That was the situation during the 1970s during an economic slowdown that occurred while the U.S. was balancing the debt it racked up during the Vietnam War. War is expensive.

Another way of looking at this is that, as in Figure 8, various forms of stimulus act on the economy over differing lengths of time and some forms even have a longer lasting impact than others. These factors must be considered in preparing a viable stimulus package.

Fig. 8: Cumuluative Effects of Policy Options on Unemployment (Rachel Maddow Blog)

Obama’s stimulus package was considered by some economists such as Nobel Prize Laureate Paul Krugmanas too small to completely repair the economy, and the U.S. economy is still at risk for a double-dip recession as the stimulus has now worn off while unemployment remains quite high. Part of the reason for this is that the stimulus contained a combination of approaches including non-stimulative tax cuts due to political expediency. While enacting the stimulus package, Obama also failed to raise taxes on the wealthy, which would have given more budgetary cover for a larger stimulus package, but it is also unlikely that would have been accepted by Blue Dog Democrats who were already leery about the federal stimulus package.

Obama’s hands are now tied because of the size of the federal budget deficits due to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as the reduction in tax revenue due to the Bush tax cuts. Having missed his chance and having failed to include enough stimulus required to fix the economy, the U.S. labor force is now locked in a political game of prisoner’s dilemma. If Obama and the House Republicans can find a compromise, then everyone loses (in this version of the game, this is the best possible scenario), but everyone loses a lot if an agreement is not made soon or if Congress fails to increase the federal debt limit. In that case, the U.S. could eventually be forced to use money locked in the Social Security Trust Fund to pay off existing debt. This is considered a goal by some conservatives because it may force the privatization of Social Security.

What to expect from a short-term federal shutdown

Here we are: In a situation in which the recently elected representatives to Congress care far less about stimulus and investment into the economy than spending money on special interests – especially the anti-stimulative military – and ensuring that “Obama fails”.

So if the current budget impasse continues due to the stark divide between the emerging conservatism of the White House and the bottomless pit of nihilism of the Congressional Republicans, what are we likely to see in a short-term federal shutdown? The Minnesota Independent has summarized a 1999 Congressional Research Service report on past federal deadlocks. (Note, there is a typo in he Minnesota Independent report. The November 2005 shutdown should read November 1995.) A 5-day shutdown caused the furlough of 800,000 federal workers while a subsequent 21-day shutdown led to 284,000 furloughs and 475,000 others were forced to work in critical positions without pay. This of course means lost tax revenue for the government in addition to the extra costs that are incurred by the need to pay additional contract extensions and fees. (Cutting programs often results in similar additional costs.)

The Congressional Research Service also described the impact on the public:

“Health. New patients were not accepted into clinical research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Clinical Center; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ceased disease surveillance (information about the spread of diseases, such as AIDS and flu, were unavailable); hotline calls to NIH concerning diseases were not answered; and toxic waste clean-up work at 609 sites stopped, resulting in 2,400 “Superfund” workers being sent home.

Law Enforcement/Public Safety. Delays occurred in the processing of alcohol, tobacco, firearms, and explosives applications by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms; work on more than 3,500 bankruptcy cases was suspended; cancellation of the recruitment and testing of federal law-enforcement officials occurred, including the hiring of 400 border patrol agents; and delinquent child-support cases were suspended.

Parks/Museums/Monuments. Closure of 368 National Park Service sites (loss of 7 million visitors) occurred, with local communities near national parks losing an estimated $14.2 million per day in tourism revenues; and closure of national museums and monuments (estimated loss of 2 million visitors) occurred.

Visas/Passports. 20,000-30,000 applications by foreigners for visas went unprocessed each day; 200,000 U.S. applications for passports went unprocessed; and U.S. tourist industries and airlines sustained millions of dollars in losses.

American Indian/other Native Americans. All 13,500 Department of Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) employees were furloughed; general assistance payments for basic needs to 53,000 BIA benefit recipients were delayed; and estimated 25,000 American Indians did not receive timely payment of oil and gas royalties.

American Veterans. Major curtailment in services, ranging from health and welfare to finance and travel was experienced.

Federal Contractors. Of $18 billion in Washington area contracts, $3.7 billion (over 20%) were managed by agencies affected by the funding lapse; the National Institute of Standards, was unable to issue a new standard for lights and lamps, scheduled to be effective January 1, 1996; and employees of federal contractors were furloughed without pay.”

Some federal agencies such as those related to defense would continue to operate even under a government shutdown.

Coming soon

In the next segment, we will discuss tax policy in relation to the information that we have covered in Parts I and II. Stay tuned.

References and Links

The Economist: “Outrageous Cuts”

U.S. Census: Federal Government Civilian Employment

U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis National Income and Product Accounts

Wikipedia: List of countries by level of military equipment

Wikipedia: United States Federal Budget

Walker continues his assault on the Middle Class (AP Photo/Andy Manis)

When will the billionaires be asked to share in the burden? Hundreds are protesting outside Koch Industries’ new lobbying office that is located a block from the Capitol in Madison.

Governor Walker, not content to deprive teachers and nurses of their rights to collectively bargain for their salaries is now eager to raid the state employee insurance fund to balance the budget.

The first layoffs have been announced by Walker, including the wife of Wisconsin Democratic State Senator Scott Fitzgerald, Lisa, who is a teacher, in a fine case of political retribution.

In addition, Republican legislators will restrict access to their offices beginning pm Saturday because they are not really about free speech and democracy, unless one is talking about the “free speech” that Citizens United claimed comes in the form of corporate political donations. Vote such as the one last night come about when a political party no longer thinks it requires constituents (or when it really believes that corporations are people).

Democrats jeer at Republicans who leave immediately after an abrupt vote to deny workers the right to collective bargaining (AP via Yahoo News)

The Republicans in the Wisconsin State Assembly voted to deny collective bargaining rights to state employees as well as to begin the sale of state assets to private companies in no-bid contracts. The vote was as abrupt as the Republican departure from the Assembly chamber immediately after the vote. All the Republicans voted very quickly and the count was limited to a very short time so that not all Democrats were even given an opportunity to vote. The Republicans then left, single file under guard, greeted by the throngs of protesters still filling the Captiol Rotunda at that late hour. As the Democratic Assemblymen waved the Republicans off, the protesters greeted the Dems with shouts of “thank you” for continuing a 60-hour filibuster to slow the bill’s passage.

The vote tally is given here for you to see how your Assembly representatives voted. Remember, not all Dems were given a chance to vote, but they had been in unanimous disapproval of the bill. Republicans Kaufert (Neenah), Nerison (La Crosse), Spanbauer (Oshkosh) and Tranel (Cuba City) each voted no, joining the Democrats.

Wisconsin State Assembly Representatives can be contacted via their websites. Be sure to thank them appropriately.

Works Progress Administration (vis Wikipedia)

During the deepest depths of the Great Depression, President Roosevelt created the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the largest federal agency as part of the New Deal. In its beginnings in 1935, the WPA cost $1.4 billion, growing in size to $11 billion by 1943 (this is equivalent to expenditures of $25.6 billion and $136 billion per year in 2009 dollars). This mammoth undertaking employed 8 million people to construct and revitalize the national infrastructure. WPA construction projects, like CCC projects are everywhere – nearly every city in the country has at least one. The workers in the WPA built bridges, libraries, roads, dams, power plants, post offices, parks, schools, and shelters. Many of these projects are still around and in use today. A large people were also employed to distribute food to the needy, there were education programs, and there was a good deal of investment in the arts, media and community theater. By 1943, the unemployment rate had shrunk to very low levels due to the high demand for labor to build arms and munitions for World War II and the WPA closed its doors after building public infrastructure that later fueled the economic boom of the 1950s and 1960s.

Wikipedia: Works Progress Administration