Tuesday / May 26, 2015

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Watching Wisconsin Republicans Destroy Our Public Schools

First, there was the contempt for the democratic process … Then there were the money interests—the huge school choice lobby and its shadowy influence.

By Ruth Coniff
The Progressive (5/21/15)

Governor Scott Walker was out of town, giving a keynote address at the American Federation For Children summit in New Orleans, when state Republicans came up with a last-minute revision to the state’s education budget, including a plan to siphon millions of dollars in public money into private schools.

In a dramatic, late-night hearing on Tuesday, four outraged Democrats on the Joint Finance Committee confronted twelve impassive Republicans, demanding that they explain how the state, after making massive cuts to funding for public education over the last several years, could afford to pay private-school tuition for families who choose school vouchers.

“If you can’t fund our current system of public education, which is your Constitutional obligation,” said Representative Chris Taylor, Democrat of Madison, “don’t put money into private schools.”

Walker’s Presidential ambitions, and the backing of the powerful school choice lobby, cast a long shadow over the hearing.

As Representative Taylor pointed out, the American Federation for Children spent $866,000 on political races in 2014 to create what the group’s lobbyist, former Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen, calls “a school choice majority in both houses” of the state legislature.

The school choice lobby is now immensely powerful in the State Capitol building and a major force behind Walker’s run for President.

American Federation for Children chairwoman Betsy DeVos and her husband Dick DeVos have personally contributed about $250,000 to Walker, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

A recent article in the Wisconsin State Journal under the headline “Scott Walker could set himself apart in 2016 with voucher expansion” points out that school vouchers, which use public education funds to cover the cost of private-school tuition, are popular with the conservative Republican base and could give Walker a leg up in the Republican Presidential field.

But expanding school vouchers is extremely unpopular with the people of Wisconsin.

So, after months of packed public hearings around the state, in which community members poured out their concerns about a combination of deep cuts to education funding and the proposed school-voucher expansion, the Republican leaders of the Joint Finance Committee decided to skip further public debate and come out with a brand new, unvetted proposal on Tuesday night at 6:40 p.m.

Two minutes per page

Democrats were given exactly one hour to read the twenty-nine page text.

“Barely two minutes a page,” State Senator Lena Taylor, Democrat of Milwaukee, fumed.

“It’s just an affront to democracy,” said Heather Dubois Bourenane, director of the Wisconsin Public Education Network, which helped organize public hearings on the budget all over the state.

“Unprecedented numbers of people testified at the public hearings. Unprecedented numbers of school boards and administrators wrote open letters, encouraged constituents to contact legislators. And about what? In the end we really had no idea what would be debated today.”

“It’s insulting to people,” Bourenane added as she sat in a coffee shop near the Capitol during the one-hour break. “Why produce a budget and call for public hearings if there is not even an opportunity to debate?”

Among the provisions of the bill, which passed out of committee near midnight on a straight party-line vote:

• A much-touted “restoration” of school funding cuts proposed by Governor Walker, but, at the same time, a statewide voucher expansion which will direct much of that funding to private schools.

• Special-needs vouchers for disabled children, an idea opposed by every disability-rights organization in the state.

• Apples-and-oranges testing requirements that hold charter and voucher schools to a different assessment standard than regular public schools.

• A provision allowing teachers to become licensed based on work experience if they hold a bachelor’s degree.

•  A phased-in takeover of high-poverty, low-performing Milwaukee public schools.

Joanne Juhnke, policy director for Wisconsin Family Ties, a statewide organization that works with families of children and youth with emotional, behavioral and mental health needs, called the special-needs voucher plan “deeply disrespectful.”

Intense opposition from disability-rights groups repeatedly defeated previous attempts to pass special-needs vouchers, she pointed out.

Private voucher schools are not required to abide by the federal Individuals with Disabilities Act.

“Students lose all IDEA rights and protections. Meanwhile, public schools whose doors are open to all our kids continue to lose resources as voucher programs proliferate,” Juhnke explains. So the voucher proposals are “risky for students who take them and harmful for the vast majority of students who don’t.”

Racism

Tempers flared and a strong racial component to the debate emerged as the committee discussed Milwaukee.

Republicans on the committee could barely contain their contempt for Milwaukee State Senator Lena Taylor. And she made no effort to reign in her disgust with them, accusing Republican legislators of gross unfairness, hypocrisy, and “raping” the children of Milwaukee.

“Connect the dots. You are creating the pipeline to prison,” Senator Taylor said.

Representative Dale Kooyenga, Republican of Brookfield (a Milwaukee suburb) and Representative John Nygren, Republican of Marinette (near Green Bay) rolled their eyes.

Representative Kooyenga said of Taylor’s use of the word “rape,” “I just find that sick.”

“Education is the Twenty-first Century civil rights battle,” Representative Kooyenga, who is white, instructed Senator Taylor, who is black. He dismissed her outrage at the $89 million she said was siphoned out of Milwaukee Public Schools by the school voucher program.

The problem with Democrats, he said, is that all they want to do is raise taxes.

“Money, money, money, money, money—folks let’s talk about outputs. Because that’s what matters to our children—outputs,” Representative Kooyenga said.

SAT scores and graduation rates have improved over the last four years, especially for black and Latino students, he added.

Representative Gordon Hintz, Democrat of Oshkosh, pointed out that those outcomes are likely the result of years of high-quality education produced before Wisconsin slashed funding for schools.

We’re second only to Alabama

“We are second only to Alabama in the deepest cuts to per pupil funding,” said Representative Chris Taylor, pointing to per pupil spending that went down by $1,000 from 2008 to 2014. “ I don’t think that’s a distinction that we should be proud of.”

“Our plan is going to talk about opportunity, flexibility, and accountability,” Representative Kooyenga said.

Representative Nygren objected that the Democrats wanted to revisit policies of four years ago, when the combination of school funding cuts and the dismantling unions kicked off historic public protests.

“We stand by our reforms,” he said.

One by one, the Democrats on the committee introduced motions to increase school funding, provide more services for kids, and slow the pace of the voucher expansion (which, under the Republican plan, will grow by 1 percent of each district’s enrollment per year until 10 percent of students in a given district are on vouchers, at which point the cap is lifted.)

One by one the Democrats’ motions were defeated on a straight party-line vote …

Read the Rest

  • Charter Schools Lift Up Some Kids, But What About the Ballast? – Charter fans brag about their successes. They tell the starfish story. They will occasionally own that their successes are, in fact, about selecting out the strivers, the winners, the students who are, in fact, their own children and allowing them to rise. And it is no small thing that many students have had an opportunity to rise in a charter setting. But I worry about the ballast … Read the Rest

 

 

 

Posted in 2015-05-26, Newsletter | Comments Off

The Slow-Mo Scandal That Could Crush Scott Walker’s Presidential Hopes

“This needs to be done covertly so it’s not tied to Scott or the campaign in any way.”

By Andy Kroll
Mother Jones (5/20/15)

n 2010, Scott Walker was the young, hyperambitious executive of Milwaukee County and one of three candidates angling for the Wisconsin Republican gubernatorial nomination. Part of his official duties included overseeing Operation Freedom, a charity event that raised money for veterans and their families. When Walker’s chief of staff caught wind that $11,000 of the nonprofit’s money had gone missing, Walker had his office ask the local district attorney to investigate. Now that he’s seeking the Republican presidential nomination, he probably wishes it hadn’t.

The prosecutors caught the scent of more than just missing funds, coming to suspect that members of Walker’s staff had blurred the lines between official business and politicking. When Walker balked at handing over more documents,the DA asked a judge to open a so-called John Doe investigation. Unique to Wisconsin, a John Doe is a wide-ranging secret inquiry similar to a federal grand jury probe. For nearly three years—during which time Walker was elected governor, won a showdown with public-sector unions, and survived a recall attempt—prosecutors collected thousands of documents, interviewed dozens of witnesses, and even raided homes and offices in search of evidence. Eventually, they filed criminal charges against six people connected to Walker.

The fallout from the probe isn’t the only legal drama Walker must contend with as he inches toward a 2016 presidential run: A second investigation has been following the money behind his campaign to defeat the 2012 recall effort. Walker has called the whole ordeal a “political witch hunt,” and his allies say he will emerge not only unscathed, but reenergized. Yet the ongoing controversy has cast a pall over the rising Republican star and has exposed the inner workings of a political machine that allegedly flouted election laws and wooed anonymous dark-money donors, teetering between campaigning and corruption.

Ha! Ha!

The initial John Doe investigation centered on the discovery that members of Walker’s county staff had routinely engaged in political activity on official time, working to bolster his political fortunes and those of the state GOP. Their transgressions ranged from minor oversights to flagrant violations of the fundamental premise that taxpayer money and government resources cannot be used for political ends. For example, Walker’s constituent services coordinator, Darlene Wink, devoted hours of work time to posting pseudonymous pro-Walker comments on local news sites. She also worked on county time planning fundraisers for Walker. According to documents collected by the prosecutors, Wink knew her activities skirted the line. Once, after asking a colleague how to erase chat messages, she wrote, “I just am afraid of going to jail—ha! ha!

Prosecutors also found that Walker’s deputy chief of staff, Kelly Rindfleisch, spent much of her time at her county job actually working on behalf of Walker’s campaign and that of his ally running for lieutenant governor. To keep her communications from becoming public, Rindfleisch used a private email account while exchanging more than 1,000 messages with Walker’s campaign staff. These messages illustrate how Walker’s office and his gubernatorial campaign were at times indistinguishable, with the county staff trying to cover their tracks. In an email discussing how to plant damaging stories about Walker’s 2010 primary opponent, Rindfleisch wrote, “This needs to be done covertly so it’s not tied to Scott or the campaign in any way.”

Just how deeply had politics pervaded Walker’s supposedly apolitical office? In court, prosecutors highlighted one particularly troubling example. In July 2010, a concrete slab fell from a county parking garage, killing a 15-year-old boy. Knowing that journalists would file public records requests about the accident, Walker’s campaign sprang into action. Hours after the boy’s death, Walker’s campaign manager ordered Rindfleisch to “make sure there is not a paper anywhere that details a problem at all.”

The probe led to six convictions. Rindfleisch wassentenced to six months in jail. Wink pleaded guiltyto two misdemeanors. A Walker aide and an appointee both received two-year prison sentences after admitting to embezzling more than $70,000 from Operation Freedom. And a railroad executive who’d donated to Walker’s campaigns admitted to an illegal scheme in which he pressed his employees to donate to Walker and reimbursed them for it; he received two years of probation.

Walker, though, insisted he had no knowledge of any of the abuses going on under his nose. (Rindfleisch’s desk was 25 feet from his office.) As his former employees and associates were sentenced, he catapulted to national stardom as a conservative governor in a blue state who took on organized labor and survived. But he wasn’t in the clear yet.

In October 2013, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel revealed the second John Doe investigation. This time, the targets were bigger, including Walker’s anti-recall campaign, two top gubernatorial aides, and some of Wisconsin’s most prominent conservative advocacy groups. What came to be known as John Doe II focused on whether Walker’s campaign had illegally coordinated with big donors and conservative groups to defeat the recall. In other words, the investigation went to the core of the post-Citizens United era, in which deep-pocketed outside groups may not officially coordinate with candidates’ campaigns even as they raise unlimited funds for them.

‘Sit down with Sheldon Adelson’

In the summer of 2014, a federal judge unsealed documents detailing the prosecutors’ contention that Walker, his campaign, and aides had illegally funneled money to a network of 12 supposedly independent conservative groups and directed their spending to fight the recall. At the center of the probe was the Wisconsin Club for Growth, a dark-money group that was run by RJ Johnson, who was also an adviser to Walker. Court filings accidentally published online revealed that a mining company had donated $700,000 to the Club; soon after, Walker signed a mining bill that the company had lobbied for. In one email, one of Walker’s campaign consultants suggested ideas for raising cash for the Club, including “Take Koch’s money” and “Get on a plane to Vegas and sit down with Sheldon Adelson. Ask for $1m now.”

The Doe II investigation is currently on hold after pingponging among judges—some of whom have allowed it to proceed while others ordered it shut down. Its fate now rests with the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which has agreed to hear three separate challenges to the investigation. Four of the court’s seven members are conservatives whose most recent election bids were supported by $10 million from the Wisconsin Club for Growth and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state’s main business lobby. Prosecutors have petitioned at least one of those justices to step aside, but to no avail. The Wisconsin Supreme Court is expected to rule on Doe II as soon as this summer.

Walker, who is also expected to officially announce his candidacy this summer, has sought to turn the probe to his advantage, characterizing it as terrifying government overreach. In April, he told an Iowa radio station that “even if you’re a liberal Democrat, you should look at [the investigation] and be frightened to think that if the government can do that against people of one political persuasion, they can do it against anybody, and more often than not we need protection against the government itself.”

Link to Story

Posted in 2015-05-26, Newsletter | Comments Off

The Badger Grassroots Media Collaborative Is Looking For A Few Good Citizen Journalists

 

theeuropeans.net

  
By Mark L. Taylor
The Daily Call (5/26/15)

Given the dismal state of corporate mainstream media, including mergers, cutbacks in newsroom staff and budgets citizens cannot depend upon the corporate media to provide the news and commentary we need for a functioning political process.

The founding fathers of this nation recognized that a free press — empowered and protected by the First Amendment — was critical to the functioning of the government they envisioned. The press is the only business granted special rights and privileges in the documents upon which this nation is founded because it was seen as the institution to hold the governing accountable to the people. And yet now we see a press so emaciated and, generally, beholding to corporate and government powers we have been left dangerously exposed to official incompetence and corporate criminality

But the good news is that the internet and the advent of high quality video and editing software at reasonable prices make it possible for citizen journalists to produce their own media from the grassroots up. The Badger Grassroots Media Collaborative (BGMC) is now forming. We are looking for volunteers from around the state willing to gather and share video and production skills to produce informative news video.

Imagine if your local congressman is having a citizen video taping district visits. We have all seen how office holders will say one thing at the noontime Chamber of Commerce luncheon and another in a meeting of public employees later that afternoon and a third thing to a group of retirees that evening. As the media has disintegrated, politicians and candidates have taken advantage of fewer reporters following them around. They are so unaccustomed to accountability that when they are caught in a lie or betrayal they sink into a pout.

Or how about local activists pull together a great Saturday workshop on opposing sand mining but you only had 15 people in the room. Imagine if that training can be put up on the internet so other activists and landowners around the state can access that important information.

Or imagine if someone catches a politician saying something unbelievable in a a sidewalk conversation or campaign event (think Mitt Romney and his comments about the 47%). The BGMC would have the know-how to quickly get that material up on the web.

Interested?

Well, we have a professional videographer who is also an experienced teacher willing to lead a series of classes on how to do the technical side of the video work. Details are being worked out, but it looks like the cost can be kept reasonable. As we learn more and gain skills we will teach each other and collaborate on projects and quick turnaround videos.

Are you a potential citizen video journalist? Would you like to learn how to produce good workable video to keep the political process accountable? Do you want to be an actor in the political process instead of simply being acted upon? If so, the BGMC might be a venue for you.

What would you like to learn in a BGMC series?

At this point the BGMC is looking for interested volunteers. If you think this is something for you, please contact us:

  • Mark L. Taylor: (608) 483-2730 / mark@thedailycall.org
  • Dan Folkman: (414) 687-7257 / dvfolkman@gmail.com

 

 

 

Posted in 2015-05-26, Newsletter | Comments Off

So, Just Who Is Writing The Secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership TPP?

By Elizabeth Warren & Rosa DeLauro
The Boston Globe (5/23/15)

Congress is in an intense debate over trade bills that will shape the course of the US economy for decades. Much of this debate has been characterized as a fight over whether international trade itself creates or destroys American jobs. There is, however, another major concern — that modern “trade” agreements are often less about trade and more about giant multinational corporations finding new ways to rig the economic system to benefit themselves. Hillary Clinton has said that the “United States should be advocating a level and fair playing field, not special favors” for big business, in our trade deals. We agree with this blunt assessment – and believe every member of Congress should consider this carefully before voting to help advance these agreements.

Advocates of the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive 12-country agreement, sell this proposal as a free trade deal — but the United States already has free trade agreements with half of the countries at the negotiating table, and only five of the treaty’s 29 draft chapters reportedly deal with traditional trade issues. While reducing traditional barriers to trade with countries like Japan will facilitate some international commerce, the TPP is about more than reducing tariffs.

The president argues that the TPP is about who will “write the rules” for 40 percent of the world’s economy — the United States or China. But who is writing the TPP? The text has been classified and the public isn’t permitted to see it, but 28 trade advisory committees have been intimately involved in the negotiations. Of the 566 committee members, 480, or 85 percent, are senior corporate executives or representatives from industry lobbying groups. Many of the advisory committees are made up entirely of industry representatives.

A rigged process leads to a rigged outcome. For evidence of that tilt, look at a key TPP provision: Investor-State Dispute Settlement where big companies get the right to challenge laws they don’t like in front of industry-friendly arbitration panels that sit outside of any court system. Those panels can force taxpayers to write huge checks to big corporations — with no appeals. Workers, environmentalists, and human rights advocates don’t get that special right.

Most Americans don’t think of the minimum wage or antismoking regulations as trade barriers. But a foreign corporation has used ISDS to sue Egypt because Egypt raised its minimum wage. Phillip Morris has gone after Australia and Uruguay to stop them from implementing rules to cut smoking rates. Under the TPP, companies could use ISDS to challenge these kinds of government policy decisions — including food safety rules.

The president dismisses these concerns, but some of the nation’s top experts in law and economics are pushing to drop ISDS provisions from future trade agreements. Economist Joe Stiglitz, Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe, and others recently noted that “the threat and expense of ISDS proceedings have forced nations to abandon important public policies” and that “laws and regulations enacted by democratically elected officials are put at risk in a process insulated from democratic input.” That was exactly what Germany did in 2011 when it cut back on environmental protections after an ISDS lawsuit.

Congress will soon vote on whether to enact “fast-track” authority to grease the skids for the approval of the TPP and other upcoming trade deals. Clinton has called for trade agreements to “avoid some of the provisions sought by business interests, including our own,” such as ISDS. By definition, massive trade deals like the TPP override domestic laws written, debated, and passed by Congress. If fast-track passes, Congress will have given up its power to strip out any backroom arrangements and special favors like ISDS without tanking the whole deal that contains those giveaways.

We will have also given up our right to strip out whatever other special favors industry can bury in new trade agreements – not just in the TPP, but in potential trade deals for the next six years. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has testified before Congress that trade negotiations involve “pressure to lower standards” on financial regulations and other public interest laws, and that President Obama has resisted that pressure. But Obama will soon leave office, and he cannot bind a future president. We hope he is succeeded by a Democrat, but if not, this legislation risks giving a future president a powerful tool to undermine public interest regulations under the guise of promoting commerce.

Powerful corporate interests have spent a lot of time and money trying to bend Washington’s rules to benefit themselves, and now they want Congress to grease the skids for a TPP deal that corporations have helped write but the public can’t see — and for six years of future agreements that haven’t even been written. Congress should refuse to vote for any expedited procedures to approve the TPP before the trade agreement is made public. And Congress certainly shouldn’t vote for expedited procedures to enact trade deals that don’t yet even exist.

Link to Story

 

Posted in 2015-05-26, Newsletter | Tagged | Comments Off

How Trade Agreements Like The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Amount To A Secret Corporate Takeover

New agreements call for private, non-transparent, and very expensive arbitration … arbitrators may be a “judge” in one case and an advocate in a related case. 

 
By Joseph Stiglitz
Reader Supported News (5/25/15)

The United States and the world are engaged in a great debate about new trade agreements. Such pacts used to be called “free-trade agreements”; in fact, they were managed trade agreements, tailored to corporate interests, largely in the US and the European Union. Today, such deals are more often referred to as “partnerships,”as in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). But they are not partnerships of equals: the US effectively dictates the terms. Fortunately, America’s “partners” are becoming increasingly resistant.

It is not hard to see why. These agreements go well beyond trade, governing investment and intellectual property as well, imposing fundamental changes to countries’ legal, judicial, and regulatory frameworks, without input or accountability through democratic institutions.

What ‘investor protection’ is really about

Perhaps the most invidious – and most dishonest – part of such agreements concerns investor protection. Of course, investors have to be protected against the risk that rogue governments will seize their property. But that is not what these provisions are about. There have been very few expropriations in recent decades, and investors who want to protect themselves can buy insurance from the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency, a World Bank affiliate (the US and other governments provide similar insurance). Nonetheless, the US is demanding such provisions in the TPP, even though many of its “partners” have property protections and judicial systems that are as good as its own.

The real intent of these provisions is to impede health, environmental, safety, and, yes, even financial regulations meant to protect America’s own economy and citizens. Companies can sue governments for full compensation for any reduction in their future expected profits resulting from regulatory changes.

This is not just a theoretical possibility. Philip Morris is suing Uruguay and Australia for requiring warning labels on cigarettes. Admittedly, both countries went a little further than the US, mandating the inclusion of graphic images showing the consequences of cigarette smoking.

The labeling is working. It is discouraging smoking. So now Philip Morris is demanding to be compensated for lost profits.

In the future, if we discover that some other product causes health problems (think of asbestos), rather than facing lawsuits for the costs imposed on us, the manufacturer could sue governments for restraining them from killing more people. The same thing could happen if our governments impose more stringent regulations to protect us from the impact of greenhouse-gas emissions.

End run around democratic process

When I chaired President Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers, anti-environmentalists tried to enact a similar provision, called “regulatory takings.” They knew that once enacted, regulations would be brought to a halt, simply because government could not afford to pay the compensation. Fortunately, we succeeded in beating back the initiative, both in the courts and in the US Congress.

But now the same groups are attempting an end run around democratic processes by inserting such provisions in trade bills, the contents of which are being kept largely secret from the public (but not from the corporations that are pushing for them). It is only from leaks, and from talking to government officials who seem more committed to democratic processes, that we know what is happening.

Fundamental to America’s system of government is an impartial public judiciary, with legal standards built up over the decades, based on principles of transparency, precedent, and the opportunity to appeal unfavorable decisions. All of this is being set aside, as the new agreements call for private, non-transparent, and very expensive arbitration. Moreover, this arrangement is often rife with conflicts of interest; for example, arbitrators may be a “judge” in one case and an advocate in a related case.

The proceedings are so expensive that Uruguay has had to turn to Michael Bloomberg and other wealthy Americans committed to health to defend itself against Philip Morris. And, though corporations can bring suit, others cannot. If there is a violation of other commitments – on labor and environmental standards, for example – citizens, unions, and civil-society groups have no recourse.

One-sided dispute resolution — in favor of corporations

If there ever was a one-sided dispute-resolution mechanism that violates basic principles, this is it. That is why I joined leading US legal experts, including from Harvard, Yale, and Berkeley, in writing a letter to President Barack Obama explaining how damaging to our system of justice these agreements are.

American supporters of such agreements point out that the US has been sued only a few times so far, and has not lost a case. Corporations, however, are just learning how to use these agreements to their advantage.

And high-priced corporate lawyers in the US, Europe, and Japan will likely outmatch the underpaid government lawyers attempting to defend the public interest. Worse still, corporations in advanced countries can create subsidiaries in member countries through which to invest back home, and then sue, giving them a new channel to bloc regulations.

If there were a need for better property protection, and if this private, expensive dispute-resolution mechanism were superior to a public judiciary, we should be changing the law not just for well-heeled foreign companies, but also for our own citizens and small businesses. But there has been no suggestion that this is the case.

Rules and regulations determine the kind of economy and society in which people live. They affect relative bargaining power, with important implications for inequality, a growing problem around the world. The question is whether we should allow rich corporations to use provisions hidden in so-called trade agreements to dictate how we will live in the twenty-first century. I hope citizens in the US, Europe, and the Pacific answer with a resounding no.

Link to Story

  • Here Is A Great Graphic Outlining The Risks Of The Secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Deal HERE.
Posted in 2015-05-26, Newsletter | Tagged | Comments Off

Georgia Reporter Does A Great Job Of Showing How ALEC And State Legislators Meet Behind Closed Doors To Make Laws

“Don’t say nothing.”

By Mark L. Taylor
The Daily Call (5/26/15)

This video report was done by Atlanta, Georgia television station 11; what the reporter called the “fabled back rooms where laws are really made”. But what they expose in Georgia applies to all state legislatures across the nation. For example one legislator who attended this secret gathering in Georgia said he was from New England.

The report also gives an example of how a law passed in Georgia to prevent lawsuits against asbestos manufacturers was an almost word-for-word, clause-for-clause copy of a model bill supplied by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Koch brothers led political advocacy group that has been so active in Wisconsin and directing much of Gov. Scott Walker’s agenda. ALEC churns out hundreds of such model bills every year peddling the special wants and fantasies of corporate money men and lobbyists.

Before Walker, there was former Gov. Tommy Thompson, an early supporter — and client — of ALEC.

Thompson was completely open about it, at an ALEC meeting back in 2002 when he said, “I always loved going to [ALEC] meetings because I always found new ideas. Then I’d take them back to Wisconsin, disguise them a little bit, and declare, ‘That’s mine.’”

Thompson was awarded ALEC’s “Thomas Jefferson Award” in 1991

This television report gives you up close view of how things really work. Seeing the sheriff’s deputies move in to do the bidding of the billionaires and crooked politicians should make the blood of every American taxpayer boil.

6+-Minute Video

Posted in 2015-05-26, Newsletter | Tagged , | Comments Off

Hey, Dems! You Can’t Score If You Don’t Have The Ball

Scan 9

(Daily Call cartoon by Mark L. Taylor, 2015. Open source and free to use with link to www.thedailycall.org )
 
By Mike McCabe
Blue Jean Nation (5/21/15)

How many times have we all seen football teams build a lead over the course of a game, only to squander it at the end after switching to a “prevent defense” and allowing an opponent to march down the field for a late score? John Madden once famously quipped that “the only thing the prevent defense does is prevent you from winning.”

All of the coaches who use it must be Democrats.

The Democratic Party has been playing the political equivalent of prevent defense for a very long time now. And on issue after issue, the Republicans have been marching down the field and reaching pay dirt.

Today’s Democrats don’t seem to grasp that it’s hard to score when you don’t play offense. And it’s hard to win when the game’s rules overwhelmingly favor your opponent.

Both major parties have made their peace with the money game in politics. Both have accepted the modern-day fallacy that there is only one political currency that matters, namely money. Both are playing the game zealously. Republicans just play it far better, both nationally and at the state level here in Wisconsin. The nature of the game in this post-Citizens United world guarantees this outcome.

This is not the only way Democrats willingly play against steep odds. For decades now, they’ve let Republicans dictate how the issues of the day are discussed. It’s hard to win an argument when your opponent gets to choose the topic and how you talk about it.

For a very long time the essential political debate on just about every subject has been framed along these lines….

Democrats: Government good.

Republicans: Government bad.

Argued that way, Republicans win hands down and will keep winning.

The truth is both major parties have shown themselves to be quite fond of government and both have worked to enlarge it and extend its reach, albeit in different ways. The real question is whether government should work for a privileged few or for the whole of society. A sad truth is that both major parties have been working for a few at the expense of the many. Under that condition, the public has good reason to be sour on government. Yet the Democrats tell people that they should still support government programs, while Republicans tell them government is the problem not the solution. The Republican argument naturally wins.

When the debate is shifted to focus on political privilege, when the argument is about how to make government work for the many instead of a few, then and only then will Republican dominance start to be challenged. Instead of an argument over who is pro-government and who is anti-government, we need to talk about repurposing government so it serves the many and not just a privileged few. Then and only then will the game be played under rules that give our society’s commoners a chance at competing with the royals.

Link to Story

 

 

Posted in 2015-05-26, Newsletter | Tagged | Comments Off

Land That Time Forgot: A Secret Canadian Island Where The Vast Majority Of Residents Live Close To Nature Completely Off-grid

By Sophie McAdam
True Activist (2/27/15)

Lasqueti is a small island between Vancouver and Vancouver Island, twelve miles long and three miles wide. It is home to a little known community of off-gridders who take pride in their isolation from both mainstream culture and mainland Canada.

With very little industry or economy, most of the residents live simply, taking what they need from the land and having next to no carbon footprint (and little need for money). The 2011 census recorded 426 people living in Lasqueti (although a more up-to-date website states there are 350 permanent residents) including 70 children. According to the community blog, Lasqueti is “an island of individuals, with poets, artists, physicists, fishermen, loggers, tree planters, designers, professional musicians, published authors, some small scale manufacturers, some commercial agriculture as well as professional consultants in education, engineering, forestry and alternate energy.”

How they were supposed to live

While some residents use solar panels, wood burning stoves, wind turbines and water mills, others choose to live without electricity, period. For the average person, that might not sound like fun. But few can argue that the depletion of fossil fuels (and other aspects of modern living) are clearly unsustainable. Lasqueti’s residents share the opinion that living in harmony with nature is not only ethical, it is how we were supposed to live.

Personally, I have been fascinated with Lasqueti since 2010, when I was lucky enough to host one of its residents while he was traveling and ‘couchsurfing’ in Spain. Robert was living on Lasqueti in an old converted school bus (which he ran off vegetable oil), and he was one of the most interesting and intelligent people I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. Skilled in building yurts, canoes, wooden boats, and other ecological structures, he was also a nomadic free spirit who spoke six languages and was knowledgeable about pretty much anything and everything you could possibly think of. According to Lasqueti’s website, Robert was by no means an exception: the island’s population “is the most highly educated community in British Columbia”, according to Statistics Canada.

The free store

In addition to the island’s one bar and one cafe, Lasqueti also has a free store where people can leave or collect items without any monetary exchange. Just one hour by boat from Vancouver island, Lasqueti doesn’t have a tourist industry, booming economy or any industry to speak of, but those who live there say that they enjoy the sense of timelessness, community, and freedom that their home provides.

There is no grocery store, so people tend to keep chickens and grow their own organic produce, as well as foraging for wild food in the forest covering the rocky island. Most people use composting toilets, and one resident even wrote a book entitled ‘How to Shyte on Lasqueti’ for those not familiar with the concept of how this works in practice.

Another useful resource for readers who are interested in seeing Lasqueti for themselves can be found here. The page details various options for visiting the island, including B&Bs and opportunities for wwoofing (helping on farms in exchange for food and accommodation).

We will leave you with some essential advice from Lasqueti’s residents:

“However you decide to come, and whatever you are hoping to find here, please keep this in mind:  Lasqueti is not some utopian paradise, it is not an “intentional community”, and it is probably not whatever you think it is – it is just a relatively remote island, populated by a small, tight-knit community of quirky, independent-minded people, with its own unique culture and identity.  Come with an open mind, a willingness to discover something a little different, and without rigid expectations.  Resist the urge to project upon us your vision of what this place “should” be.  It is what it is, and we like it this way, warts and all.  If you can get with that, you too may find a place here.”

In the short documentary film below, a journalist from 16×9 News goes to meet some of Lasqueti’s characters and find out more about life in this beautiful land that time forgot.

Link to Story and 14-Minute Video

 

Posted in 2015-05-26, Newsletter | Tagged | Comments Off

Good Idea: Elizabeth Warren Calls For Public Hearings On Banks

Elizabeth Warren Calls for Public Hearings on Banks

By Sam Forgione and Sandra Maler
Reuters (5/25/15)

US Senator Elizabeth Warren is calling for U.S. Department of Labor hearings on whether banks accused of rigging foreign exchange markets should be allowed to manage retirement accounts, the Financial Times reported on Sunday.

“When banks plead guilty to a crime, federal agencies must do more than look the other way,” Warren told the Financial Times. “The SEC has already granted waivers to each of these banks without any detailed explanation, but it is not too late for the Department of Labor to hold a public hearing before it decides that such brazen lawbreakers can be trusted managing workers’ retirement accounts.”

Five of the world’s largest banks, including JPMorgan Chase & Co and Citigroup Inc, were fined some $5.7 billion, and four of them pleaded guilty to U.S. criminal charges over manipulation of foreign exchange rates, authorities said on May 20.

UBS AG, the fifth bank, will plead guilty to rigging benchmark interest rates, the U.S. Justice Department said.

The Securities and Exchange Commission gave the banks a series of waivers to let them continue their usual securities business shortly after they agreed to plead guilty to the criminal charges. The banks are expected to separately apply to the U.S. Department of Labor for exemptions to deal with pension and retirement savings plans.

The banks can continue to work for them while their applications are reviewed, which could take months.

A Labor Department spokesman has said the department so far had received applications from JPMorgan and Citigroup. The Financial Times report on Sunday said that the Labor Department had also received an application from Barclays bar, citing people familiar with the requests.

Granting waivers to big banks that break the law has become a flash point at the SEC, where Commissioner Kara Stein, a Democrat, in particular has openly criticized the agency for rubber stamping banks’ requests.

Credit Suisse quietly withdrew a request for a waiver to raise capital more easily, after U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission staffers told the bank it would not win approval, people familiar with the matter told Reuters earlier this month.

The bank agreed last year to pay $2.5 billion to resolve criminal charges that it helped wealthy Americans evade U.S taxes.

Link to Story

 

Posted in 2015-05-26, Newsletter | Comments Off

Relax, The Oily Industry Knows What It’s Doing And “Everything is perfectly safe!”

With pipelines bursting, crude oil trains going off every other week it would be tempting to assume the oil industry is running a slipshod operation. Nothing could be further from the truth. This oil industry defender is ready to explain it all to you silly worry warts…

2-Minute Video

Posted in 2015-05-26, Newsletter | Tagged | Comments Off

‘Call’ Readers Write — This Reader’s Mom Understood The Truth Of Memorial Day

Thanks, for the piece on the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day.  And for the part about mourning all victims of war.  My mother’s uncle was killed in WWI.  He was a Canadian soldier and that made my mom very  thoughtful about Memorial Day.  She was a Girl Scout leader for years and headed up the Scout group that marched in the Memorial Day parade.  And we all got the lecture before the parade that this was NOT a time to goof off and wave at our friends and family along the parade route.

The girls generally got it but one year another leader did not.  She dyed her white standard poodle Girl Scout green and came determined to lead the group.  I laugh when people say I can be intimidating because they should have met my mom on that day. The leader not only didn’t lead the group, but she was told to take the dog home.  About the third year we were involved, my mom decided that we should not only honor our own fallen but those of other countries.  I was assigned to go to the library and look up the flags of a list of countries, then sketch them in color and bring them home to my mom.  She was a seamstress and she made flags for roughly 50 countries.  Every year after that, the sea of flags let everyone know the Girl Scouts were coming.  And we still got THE LECTURE!!!

Sue Conard

LaCrosse, WI

Posted in 2015-05-26, Newsletter | Comments Off

Monday — Memorial Day / May 25, 2015

“Your honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, as I say it now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”

– Eugene V. Debs, speech to the court at sentencing for opposing the draft in World War I.

Posted in 2015-05-25 | Tagged | Comments Off

Then As Now: We Need To Mourn Our Own And All The Victims Of Our Wars

 

The battle of Somme was considered the bloodiest battle of WWI, with 1.5 million dead.

All day long you are plotting destruction.

Your tongue is like a sharp razor,

you worker of treachery.

– Book of Psalms, c. 100 BC

 

 
By Mark L. Taylor
The Daily Call (5/25/15)

A holiday like Memorial Day in an empire like the United States leaves a thinking person — anyone with any sense of history — with deeply mixed feelings. Today we will hear our political leaders spin out many a maudlin, sentimental, romanticized speech commemorating those who made the “ultimate sacrifice”. A little of what will be said may even be genuine.

It is gut wrenching to see the rows of tombstones and the orderly lists of names on various polished granite memorial walls and to contemplate the many young lives cut short in our largely useless wars and the agony of families left bereft. It is also hard to manage the anger as one contemplates the deep, sustained and multiple betrayals that led to these acres of memorials.

What we won’t hear anything about from these sober-faced sleaze goats with their brightly polished flag lapel pins is the corporate crookedness and political deceit underlying pretty much all of American military adventures. We won’t hear about the fact that most veterans have died not for the peace and democracy they honestly and bravely thought they were sent off to fight for but for corporate profits, to secure oil and minerals and to pump up the taxpayer funded earnings of the voracious military industrial complex Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower, a man who knew a thing or two about war, warned us about in his farewell address.

And certainly, the mainstream media, which is so firmly embedded up the rear end of the War Department it hasn’t seen sunlight since 1975, can’t be counted upon to peel away the patriotic pomp and plumb the depths of official criminal treachery.

Truly, the average Army private is better than and undeserving of pretty much all of the sociopaths, hypocrites and pirates driving corporate American foreign and military policy. This blood deceit is a bipartisan affair, from LBJ’s Tonkin Gulf lie to the serial lying of the Cheney/Bush cabal that plunged Iraq into the bowels of neocon hell and since let loose the hyenas of war to feast upon children across the Middle East.

Then as now

World War I has been on my mind a lot lately as I am burrowing though the last few chapters of Richard Drake’s excellent book “The Education of an Anti-Imperialist: Robert LaFollette and U.S. Expansion”. Always a perceptive man of courage and conviction, LaFollotte was one of only a few U.S. senators to speak out against the entry of America into the war. Those who remember the war hysteria that gripped 90 percent of the nation as Cheney and Bush spun their lies about Iraq have a small sense of the red hot hatred that came LaFollette’s way. Then, as now, the media played it’s part in whipping up war fever, pumping out the lies, twisting the narrative and tarring even the mildest of criticism or the most logical question about the need for war with the charge of being unpatriotic.

Image result for world war I dead wounded

The true face of the Great War. www.greatwar.nl

 

It was the selling of the “need” to go to war in Europe, that created the modern public relations and advertising industry; essential to modern war and Fox News. Under the tutelage of Edward Bernays, the Wilson administration, through the brutal influence of the Creel Committee, and the “engineering of consent” turned the nation from anti-war to pro-war in a matter of months. Bernays’ 1928 book “Propaganda” later became the “how-to” manual for the Nazi rise to power; a bitter irony for the Jewish Bernays, nephew of Nazi refugee Sigmund Freud.

As Drake fully documents, LaFollette’s warnings about the war profiteers and the lust for empire were fully justified. Then as now, the American people were lied to by the government and media and manipulated into the stink and blood of war. Then as now, constitutional requirements were ground beneath the track treads of the corporate war profiteers and the banksters who funded them. Then as now, profitable new weapons and technology mechanized, streamlined and expanded war. Then as now, America was led by a brilliant academic faux liberal fluent at speaking out of both sides of his mouth at the same time who campaigned on peace then ginned up war and weaponry. Then as now, treachery, deceit and hypocrisy ruled from the White House to most every congressional office and newsroom.

Our very own Gov. Chickenhawk

Then as now, bullying chickenhawk politicians built careers calling for the children of others to go off and die for corporate profits. Then as now opportunistic charlatans ruled the day, which brings us to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker who has been stoking the right wing fires with recycled Bush era tough talk about “preemptive war”.

“We’re not going to wait till they bring the fight to us. We’re going to bring the fight to them and fight on their soil,” Walker, who never wore a uniform other than that of an Eagle Scout, tells the braying war crowd.

No word yet, of course, which branch of the military service Mr. Walker’s two military service age sons, Alex and Matt, have already volunteered for. Some ghost regiment like the phantom fighter squadron George W. Bush flew in, I’m guessing.

US atrocities — War killing and injury Iraq Two-year-old Ali Hussein. www.thewe.cc

Broaden the memory

To be genuine in our honoring of our dead we need to expand the focus of Memorial Day. Not only are our soldiers the victim of so much of our national policies, so, too, are the many millions of innocent civilians killed, maimed, raped, traumatized and driven into refugee camps. They, too, should be remembered by all of us; even many of the soldiers we have killed; those caught up in defense against our mostly offensive wars of empire. We need to remember those secretly tortured at our secret black sites as well.

It’s not just our war dead we need to mourn today, it is also the squandered honor of our nation. If it is to be regained it will be by the actions of brave citizens. Fighting for your country is not limited to the battlefield. To begin we need first to recognize all who have fallen.

We also need to recognize what our true responsibility is. As the war came to a bloody, sputtering end and the peace process was corrupted, laying the seeds for the Second World War just as now our policies today create terror groups like Isis, LaFollette wrote:

“We have enough to do at present right here in the United States and are likely to have for some time to come in making living conditions more tolerable and in restoring peace and prosperity and self-government to our own people.”

Then as now.

Then as now.

Wife at the grave of Iraq war casualty.

  • Get It straight: The Difference Between Memorial Day And Veterans Day – Inevitably, someone says something demonstrating confusion over the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Allow us to explain it to you … Read the Rest
Posted in 2015-05-25, Newsletter | Tagged | Comments Off

Never Forget, War Is A Racket

butler
(Daily Call art by Seth L. Taylor, 2014)
 
By Gen. Smedley Butler USMC
 

WAR is a racket. It always has been.

It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.

A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.

In the World War [I] a mere handful garnered the profits of the conflict. At least 21,000 new millionaires and billionaires were made in the United States during the World War. That many admitted their huge blood gains in their income tax returns. How many other war millionaires falsified their tax returns no one knows.

How many of these war millionaires shouldered a rifle? How many of them dug a trench? How many of them knew what it meant to go hungry in a rat-infested dug-out? How many of them spent sleepless, frightened nights, ducking shells and shrapnel and machine gun bullets? How many of them parried a bayonet thrust of an enemy? How many of them were wounded or killed in battle?

Out of war nations acquire additional territory, if they are victorious. They just take it. This newly acquired territory promptly is exploited by the few — the selfsame few who wrung dollars out of blood in the war. The general public shoulders the bill.

And what is this bill?

This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all its attendant miseries. Back-breaking taxation for generations and generations.

For a great many years, as a soldier, I had a suspicion that war was a racket; not until I retired to civil life did I fully realize it. Now that I see the international war clouds gathering, as they are today, I must face it and speak out.

Again they are choosing sides. France and Russia met and agreed to stand side by side. Italy and Austria hurried to make a similar agreement. Poland and Germany cast sheep’s eyes at each other, forgetting for the nonce [one unique occasion], their dispute over the Polish Corridor.

The assassination of King Alexander of Jugoslavia [Yugoslavia] complicated matters. Jugoslavia and Hungary, long bitter enemies, were almost at each other’s throats. Italy was ready to jump in. But France was waiting. So was Czechoslovakia. All of them are looking ahead to war. Not the people — not those who fight and pay and die — only those who foment wars and remain safely at home to profit.

There are 40,000,000 men under arms in the world today, and our statesmen and diplomats have the temerity to say that war is not in the making.

Hell’s bells! Are these 40,000,000 men being trained to be dancers?

Not in Italy, to be sure. Premier Mussolini knows what they are being trained for. He, at least, is frank enough to speak out. Only the other day, Il Duce in “International Conciliation,” the publication of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said:

“And above all, Fascism, the more it considers and observes the future and the development of humanity quite apart from political considerations of the moment, believes neither in the possibility nor the utility of perpetual peace. . . . War alone brings up to its highest tension all human energy and puts the stamp of nobility upon the people who have the courage to meet it.”

Undoubtedly Mussolini means exactly what he says. His well-trained army, his great fleet of planes, and even his navy are ready for war — anxious for it, apparently. His recent stand at the side of Hungary in the latter’s dispute with Jugoslavia showed that. And the hurried mobilization of his troops on the Austrian border after the assassination of Dollfuss showed it too. There are others in Europe too whose sabre rattling presages war, sooner or later.

Herr Hitler, with his rearming Germany and his constant demands for more and more arms, is an equal if not greater menace to peace. France only recently increased the term of military service for its youth from a year to eighteen months.

Yes, all over, nations are camping in their arms. The mad dogs of Europe are on the loose. In the Orient the maneuvering is more adroit. Back in 1904, when Russia and Japan fought, we kicked out our old friends the Russians and backed Japan. Then our very generous international bankers were financing Japan. Now the trend is to poison us against the Japanese. What does the “open door” policy to China mean to us? Our trade with China is about $90,000,000 a year. Or the Philippine Islands? We have spent about $600,000,000 in the Philippines in thirty-five years and we (our bankers and industrialists and speculators) have private investments there of less than $200,000,000.

Then, to save that China trade of about $90,000,000, or to protect these private investments of less than $200,000,000 in the Philippines, we would be all stirred up to hate Japan and go to war — a war that might well cost us tens of billions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of lives of Americans, and many more hundreds of thousands of physically maimed and mentally unbalanced men.

Of course, for this loss, there would be a compensating profit — fortunes would be made. Millions and billions of dollars would be piled up. By a few. Munitions makers. Bankers. Ship builders. Manufacturers. Meat packers. Speculators. They would fare well.

Yes, they are getting ready for another war. Why shouldn’t they? It pays high dividends.

But what does it profit the men who are killed? What does it profit their mothers and sisters, their wives and their sweethearts? What does it profit their children?

What does it profit anyone except the very few to whom war means huge profits?

Yes, and what does it profit the nation?

Take our own case. Until 1898 we didn’t own a bit of territory outside the mainland of North America. At that time our national debt was a little more than $1,000,000,000. Then we became “internationally minded.” We forgot, or shunted aside, the advice of the Father of our country. We forgot George Washington’s warning about “entangling alliances.” We went to war. We acquired outside territory. At the end of the World War period, as a direct result of our fiddling in international affairs, our national debt had jumped to over $25,000,000,000. Our total favorable trade balance during the twenty-five-year period was about $24,000,000,000. Therefore, on a purely bookkeeping basis, we ran a little behind year for year, and that foreign trade might well have been ours without the wars.

It would have been far cheaper (not to say safer) for the average American who pays the bills to stay out of foreign entanglements. For a very few this racket, like bootlegging and other underworld rackets, brings fancy profits, but the cost of operations is always transferred to the people — who do not profit.

Link to the Other Four Chapters of Butler’s Speech

  • War is a Racket by Smedley Butler is a famous speech denouncing the military industrial complex. This speech by two-time Congressional Medal of Honor recipient exposes war profits that benefit few at the expense of many. Throughout his distinguished career in the Marines, Smedley Darlington Butler demonstrated that true patriotism does not mean blind allegiance to government policies with which one does not agree. To Hell with war! Link to 9-Minute Video
Posted in 2015-05-25, Newsletter | Tagged | Comments Off