Tag Archive: Politics


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

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

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

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

Wikipedia: List of Corporate Scandals

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

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

Err…Pay for Play?

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

Appealing the hold on the Budget “Repair” Bill

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

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

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

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

And more:

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

Running to end the office

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

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

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

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

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

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

How the Wisconsin Republicans have worked together so far

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

Reaction to the Republicans

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

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.

Wisconsin State Capitol, Madison (rbw)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"The Spirit of Detroit" (DetroitDerek, Flickr)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"In memoriam -- our civil service as it was", Thomas Nast (Harper's Weekly, 1877. via Wikipedia)

Prior to Andrew Jackson’s presidency, each newly elected president had been rather circumspect regarding the transfer of power from one administration to the next. Andrew Jackson changed that in a big way. An office-seeking horde descended upon Andrew Jackson’s inauguration after Jackson had promised friends, allies and cronies alike positions within his new administration. The new process of appointing people due to political ties rather than competence represented a marked change from the past in the 1830s. This new Jacksonian system, the Spoils System derives from a quote by the Jacksonian Democratic Senator William L. Marcy of New York: “To the victor belong the spoils.” The system remained in place until the 1860s, when the public began to demand an increasingly large number of civil services to be administered by the federal government. The system did not end, however, until the Pendleton Act passed in 1883, however, which established a bipartisan board that would select applicants for work within the government. Later, the Hatch Act of 1939 prevented government employees from taking part in many political activities.

Wikipedia: Spoils System

Republican Assemblymen leave the Capitol after voting to strip workers rights (screenshot from video by Todd Milewski, Madison Capitol Times)

Despite the fact that Wisconsin Governor walker is certain to sign the union-busting bill now that it has been passed by both houses of the legislature, all is not lost.

First and most importantly, people now know what this fight is about. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald has mentioned publicly that this was about hurting President Obama’s chances of being reelected.

Second, according to FireDogLake, the efforts to recall the GOP Wisconsin State Senators are progressing ahead of schedule. The fact that the bill is about to be signed by the Governor will only speed up the efforts as well as sway the upcoming Supreme Court election behind the Democrats. The Dems would also stand to gain influence with successful recall campaigns against the Republican Eight. If all are replaced, the Democrats would have a 2/3 majority in the Senate.

Third, passing the bill did not make Scott Walker’s legal troubles go away. Much the opposite, new legal measures will now be taken against the Senate Republicans in addition to Walker for their illegal handling of the Joint Conference Committee meeting prior to Wednesday evening’s Senate vote. In fact, the Democrats have filed a complaint arguing that the Joint Conference Committee broke Wisconsin’s Open Meetings Law. According to the Madison Capitol Times, so have Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk and the Wisconsin State Employees Union Executive Director Marty Beil. Assemblyman Peter Barca also charged that

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, violated Senate rules in moving the controversial measure quickly through the legislative process,

again according to the Madison Capitol Times. The unions are also filing a complaint for contempt of court due to the restricted access to the Capitol Thursday during the Assembly vote on the bill. The Governor is still facing heavy fines and jail time for ethical violations in his efforts to pass the bill at all cost.

Finally, the people are now organized! There will be GIGANTIC protests in Madison on Saturday! Click on the Wisconsin AFSCME site for a bus schedule to the event. There will also be continued rallies throughout the state and there are rumblings about the possibility of a general strike. This is a waiting game, but the more pressure we put on the Republicans, the sooner we can get them out of office. Keep up the great work! The SEIU Wisconsin website has full details of upcoming events, but here is a list of cities where they will be held:

Friday, 11 March, 2011
Delavan
Eau Claire (every work day)
Egg Harbor
Merrill
Walk from Milwaukee to Madison
Milwaukee
Minocqua
Racine
Watertown
Wisconsin Dells

Saturday, 12 March, 2011
Madison!
Superior
Washburn

Sunday, 13 March, 2011
Green Bay

Monday, 14 March, 2011
Cashton
Mount Horeb
Shorewood
Woodgate

Tuesday, 15 March, 2011
Balsam Lake
Lancaster
Menominee
Monroe
Tomahawk
Wisconsin Rapids

Thursday, 17 March, 2011
Weston

The rallies are scheduled for 9:00AM, Thursday in the following places, according to WKOW:

Madison: on the corner of State Street and Mifflin
Dodge County Administration Building
Eau Claire City Hall
Veterans Park in Fond du Lac
Green Bay Chamber of Commerce
La Crosse County Courthouse
Milwaukee County Courthouse
Senator Ellis’ District Office in Neenah
Oshkosh Opera House Square
Platteville City Hall
Monument Square in Racine
Richland County Courthouse
Ripon at 303 Blackburn St.
River Falls City Hall.

Democratic Assemblyman Peter Barca cites state law as he explains why the Conference Committee was out of order, while Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald calls for adjournment after a quick vote (M.P. King, State Journal)

Wisconsin’s state Senate stripped the union-busting portions from the Budget “Repair” Bill today and in a surprise move, held two quick votes to pass the measure without the Democratic Senators present. The vote violates state law because all conference committee votes require at least 24 hours prior notice. The Democrats on the conference committee received less than 2 hours notice. The committee met at 6pm and voted in favor of the bill, despite protestations from Rep. Barca, a Democrat that cited the violation of state law. Immediately after the conference committee adjourned, the Senate met for 10 minutes, and without debate passed the bill to end collective bargaining rights for state employees.

Here is how things went Wednesday night:

The vote was highly ironic considering that the Governor’s reasoning behind the inclusion of the union-busting provision was that it was out of financial concern for the state. We now know that to be a lie. In a statement after the vote, Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller said (via WBAY TV, Green Bay):

“In thirty minutes, 18 State Senators undid fifty years of civil rights in Wisconsin.

“Their disrespect for the people of Wisconsin and their rights is an outrage that will never be forgotten.

“Tonight, 18 Senate Republicans conspired to take government away from the people.

“We will join the people of Wisconsin in taking back their government.”

The AFL-CIO also put out a statement regarding the vote (via WBAY TV, Green Bay):

“Senate Republicans have exercised the nuclear option to ram through their bill attacking Wisconsin’s working families in the dark of night. Walker and the Republicans acted in violation of state open meetings laws, and tonight’s events have demonstrated they will do or say anything to pass their extreme agenda that attacks Wisconsin’s working families.

Tonight’s trampling of the democratic process in Wisconsin shows that Scott Walker and the Republicans have been lying throughout this entire process and we have been telling the truth – that NONE of the provisions that attacked workers’ rights had anything to do with the budget.

Losing badly in the court of public opinion and failing to break the Democratic Senators’ principled stand, Scott Walker and the GOP have eviscerated both the letter and the spirit of the law and our democratic process to ram through their payback to their deep-pocketed friends. In the most deplorable manner possible, Republicans rigged a vote that stripped hundreds of thousands of hardworking teachers, nurses, EMTs and others of their rights.

Scott Walker and the Republicans’ ideological war on the middle class and working families is now indisputable, and their willingness to shred 50 years of labor peace, bipartisanship, and Wisconsin’s democratic process to pass a bill that 74% of Wisconsinites oppose is beyond reprehensible and possibly criminal.”

There are currently protesters both inside and outside of the Capitol as of 8:06pm tonight, according to WKOW TV, Madison and they are calling for the recall of the Senators and the Governor.

The State Assembly is scheduled to take up the anti-collective bargaining bill at 11am in the morning. Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller has stated “We will not be back tomorrow.”

To see just how popular the Republicans are in Wisconsin at the moment, take a look at this town hall meeting held by Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner and Republican State Senator Leah Vukmir on March 7th in Wauwatosa – and yes, Wauwatosa is a Republican district. Listen to her as she says, “Collective bargaining is not being taken away” at 0:30. Once Vukmir tried to give a few details about the budget bill – strangely by discussing Oshkosh, the citizens of Wauwatosa wanted numbers regarding their own district. She gave none. When the crowd pressed, Sensenbrenner adjourned the meeting early.

Finally, State Agricultural Secretary Ben Brancel (a Walker appointee) pointed out who the real victims are here today – not the teachers and nurses trying to make a living, but rather the poor state legislators who have had to walk through crowds of people who disagree with them, which is apparently a ‘Holocaust’ for Brancel.

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.

Jon Stewart Defends Teachers (The Daily Show)

A Taurus XL Rocket on its last successful launch in 2004 (Wikipedia)

Failures on Climate Change

NASA lost another payload that was to be launched to orbit on an Orbital Sciences Taurus XL rocket on Friday because the nose cone failed to separate en route to orbit. The rocket was carrying the Glory satellite, a member of a cluster of satellites to study climate change, in this case by observing aerosol abundances in the atmosphere. Aerosols reflect light from the Sun before the light can be absorbed by the ground. Three out of the last four launches on the Taurus XL have failed for the same reason, and two of them were carrying a satellite that was intended to study Climate Change and the third was to study ozone in the atmosphere. This has led to some people to discuss conspiracy theories. Regardless, there is now a good deal of concern that important measurements needed to better forecast climate change will not occur in a timely fashion due to these launch failures and due to the $600 million cuts to NASA climate observational programs by Congressional Republicans (who do not believe in Climate Change, but do believe in Biblical Unicorns). NASA is trying to defend itself from claims of incompetence, which frankly happens a lot when budget cuts lead to cutting corners. Says Rick Obenschain, Deputy Director of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center:

“To make any connection between our investigation of the 2009 … mishap and Friday’s failure of the Glory launch at this time would be purely speculative and wholly inappropriate.”

Of course. It would be wholly inappropriate to consider that a mishap due to one failure of a nose cone separation with another on the same launch system carrying the same type of satellite. That is the statement of a bureaucrat trying to defend his bureau.

During the presentation of the results of the inquiry, physicist and Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman embarrassed the NASA community with a simple and elegant description of the problem that destroyed the Space Shuttle Challenger – stiffness in seals on the rocket boosters at low temperatures. Watch here:

His work on the committee led to another perspective, encapsulated in bullet points from the Challenger Disaster investigation

Shrinking and unpredictable budgets became problematic. NASA was consistently asked to do more with less (the eternal hope of budget administrators everywhere).

The Reagan administration put more and more pressure on NASA to keep a regular schedule of launches. President Reagan’s dream of space weapons was dependent on keeping to the schedule. Launch delays became more problematic for NASA administrators.

The “can-do attitude” of the 1960s became a “make-do attitude.” Cost-saving mechanisms became the norm. Engineer salaries did not keep pace with inflation, and out-sourcing became commonplace.

Budget cuts made redundant safety systems less desirable. If the engineers found a mechanical problem, the classification of the problem became not just an issue of safety, but also of budget. So if a mechanical problem occurred, but didn’t immediately endanger life, it could be classified as a “concern” rather than a “problem.” In other words, if it didn’t work like we expected, but nothing bad happened, then we’ll just ignore it.

The o-rings had been a concern before. Cracks had been found in the o-rings after previous flights. However, since no disasters had happened, the cracks were seen as “normal,” rather than a “problem.”

–Courtesy of problems.olhoff.com

In essence (and I’m paraphrasing Feynman here): Continued budget cuts eliminate redundant checks and balances in systems that were there to ensure safety. Cutting back too much on the budget for an exploratory program like NASA guarantees there will be problems.

We should understand that the Challenger Disaster occurred during the lifetimes of all of the Members of Congress. It is known that scaling back programs leads to technical trouble. Therefore, scaling back Climate funding is a useful fait accompli for a Climate Change denying Congressman who calls for deep cuts to science budgets. The subsequent claim that either the net result was unexpected or that they have confidence that an organization can do more with less only serves to led plausible deniability to the Congressman. Yet most Climate Change denying Congressmen receive a good deal of campaign funding from oil companies that would be adversely impacted should there be a viable renewable alternative to oil – and these same companies lobby Congress intensely on the issue of Climate Change.

In short – whether by direct or indirect interference is no matter but the oil companies who hold the GOP purse strings are setting back Climate Change research upon which rely in order to better understand human impact on its own surroundings.

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!

For those of you who are interested in perusing the draconian Wisconsin Budget “Repair” Bill, like all other bills under consideration, it can be found with a search on the Wisconsin Legislature website. Here is a hard link to the document itself: Wisconsin Budget “Repair” Bill, full text. Enjoy the reading, it is surreal.