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Democrats Are Fighting Back In Ohio

Ohio Democrats this week introduced into a divided state legislature a new bill that would allow Ohio citizens to recall Governor John Kasich and other legislatures. The state has been in an ideological upheaval for months after Kasich’s budget bill was introduced, similar to the Wisconsin bill that has received incredible national attention for stripping unions of their collective bargaining rights, and eventually signed April 2nd after some concessions were made by the Republican-held Assembly and Senate.

There are now 17 other states where similar bills have been passed. Democrats in Ohio are now trying to join the ranks of some of those states like Wisconsin, where voters also have the option to recall their elected legislatures.

Reuters reported that State Representatives Mike Foley and Robert Hagan’s bill would allow “Ohio voters to undertake a recall effort if they gather petition signatures of voters equal to 15 percent of the total votes for governor or in a particular legislative district in the last election.”

Recall efforts are already well underway in Wisconsin, where 16 senators have petitions started against them. Governor Scott Walker, in his inaugural term, cannot be recalled until he has served in office for one full year, according to Wisconsin state law.

Kasich’s bill to limit collective bargaining rights of unions and slash funding for many state-funded programs has received passionate opposition by supporters of workers’ rights. Protests in Columbus drew thousands in February, riding the wave of protests started in Madison and that then spread throughout the country.

The hotly-contested Senate Bill 5, or SB5 as it has been dubbed by the media, severely limits the actions of unions, and in conjunction with Kasich’s budget, introduces major cuts to public programs: like a $852 million cut to schools.

The Toledo Blade explains SB5: “It prohibits all public employees from striking, prohibits local governments from picking up any portion of an employee’s contributions to his pension, eliminates automatic step and longevity raises in favor of a yet undefined performance-pay system, and prohibits unions from automatically collecting ‘fair share’ fees from members of a workforce who opt not to join the union.”

Besides the Democrats’ efforts to pass the recall bill, Ohio law also allows for a public referendum of any passed bill. Opponents of the bill need to gather 231,147 signatures 90 days from the official signing of the bill for the statewide referendum to be voted on Nov. 8th.

By: Jennifer Page, Center for Media and Democracy, April 11, 2011

April 13, 2011 Posted by | Collective Bargaining, Conservatives, Democracy, Democrats, Economy, Elections, GOP, Gov John Kasich, Gov Scott Walker, Government, Governors, Ideologues, Labor, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Politics, Public Employees, Republicans, State Legislatures, States, Union Busting, Unions, Voters | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

State Budget Crises And The New Language of Deceit

For most of history, we had undebatable definitions of words such as “bailout” and “bankruptcy.” We understood the former as an undeserved public grant, and the latter as an inability to pay existing bills. Whatever your particular beliefs about these concepts, their meanings were at least agreed upon.

Sadly, that’s not the case during a deficit crisis that is seeing language redefined on ideological terms.

“Bailout” was the first word thrown into the Orwellian fire. As some lawmakers recently proposed replenishing depleted state coffers with federal dollars, the American Conservative Union urged Congress to oppose states “seek(ing) a bailout” from the feds. Now, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., says, “Should taxpayers in Indiana who have paid their bills on time, who have done their job fiscally be bailing out Californians who haven’t? No.”

Ryan, mind you, voted for 2008’s TARP program — a bank bailout in the purest sense of the term. But one lawmaker’s rank hypocrisy is less significant than how the word “bailout” is being used — and abused. Suddenly, the term suggests that federal aid would force taxpayers in allegedly “fiscally responsible” Republican states to underwrite taxpayers in supposedly irresponsible Democratic ones.

Aside from stoking a detestable interstate enmity, this thesis ignores the fact that state-to-state wealth transfers are already happening. According to the Tax Foundation, most Republican-voting states receive more in federal funding than they pay in federal taxes, while most Democratic-voting states receive less federal money than they pay in federal taxes.

That means traditionally blue states like California are now perpetually subsidizing — or in Ryan’s parlance, “bailing out” — traditionally red states like Indiana. Thus, federal aid to states could actually reduce the state-to-state subsidies conservatives say they oppose.

Congressional Republicans will undoubtedly ignore these facts. Their proposed solution to the budget emergency could instead be a Newt Gingrich-backed initiative letting states default on outstanding obligations by declaring bankruptcy. Again, the word is fraught with new connotations.

Whereas sick or laid-off individuals occasionally claim a genuine inability to repay debts and thus a need for bankruptcy protections, states can never legitimately claim such a need because they are never actually “bankrupt.” Why? Because they always posses the power to raise revenue. The power is called taxation — and destroying that authority is what the new bankruptcy idea is really about. It would let states avoid tax increases on the wealthy, renege on contractual promises to public employees and destroy the country’s creditworthiness.

Blocking state “bailouts” and letting states declare “bankruptcy” are radical notions, especially in a bad economy. One would result in recession-exacerbating public layoffs; the other would institutionalize an anti-tax zealotry that destroys tomorrow’s middle class in order to protect today’s rich. That’s why advocates of these ideas have resorted to manipulating language. They know the only way to make such extremism a reality is to distort the vernacular — and if we aren’t cognizant of their scheme, they will succeed.

By: David Sirota, Creators.com, Originally Published 3/4/11

April 13, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Conservatives, Democrats, Economy, GOP, Governors, Ideology, Lawmakers, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, States | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Unfettered Money: The Enabling Of Campaign “Speech”

When the Supreme Court ruled that money equals speech 35 years ago, it was responding to forces of technology and economics reshaping American politics that made it much more expensive to run a campaign. While ruling that public financing and limits on contributions are valid ways to limit donors’ undue influence, it struck down candidate, campaign and independent spending limits.

Now the court’s conservative majority is again reshaping politics, ruling that what matters most for money and speech is their “fair market” impact. The result will be closer scrutiny of public financing, while enabling even more rampant spending by wealthy candidates.

In the landmark 1976 case of Buckley v. Valeo, the court said that “virtually every means of communicating ideas in today’s mass society requires the expenditure of money,” so restricting campaign spending meant restricting political speech. The First Amendment required that political speech be unfettered, so the same was required for political spending.

But when the court ruled that money equals speech, it didn’t mean, literally, that money is speech. It meant that money enabled speech. A political contribution enabled the symbolic, or indirect, speech of the donor and the actual speech of the candidate — and may the best speech win. The focus was on enabling the speech, not the money.

That changed in 2008 when the conservative majority struck down a federal rule that had tripled the limit on campaign contributions for a candidate outspent by a rich, self-financed opponent. Justice Samuel Alito Jr. wrote that the rule diminished “the effectiveness” of the rich candidate’s spending and of his speech.

In oral argument recently, the court’s conservatives appeared ready to take their next step in restricting campaign finance reform and to strike down Arizona’s public financing mechanism called triggered matching funds. This is one of the most compelling innovations in the country. The state will match for a state-financed candidate what an opponent raises in private contributions up to triple the initial amount of state financing.

To William Maurer, the lawyer opposing the Arizona mechanism, whenever “a privately financed candidate speaks above a certain amount, the government creates real penalties for them to have engaged in unfettered political expression.” That “speaks” was not a slip, but a reinforcement of the money-equals-speech notion.

The fundamental problem, he said, is “the government turning my speech into the vehicle by which my entire political message is undercut,” because the public funds triggered are a penalty that reduces the impact of the privately financed candidate’s spending and speech. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. made clear in the argument that he, too, sees triggered matching public funds as a limit on the privately financed candidate’s speech.

That makes no sense. Arizona’s mechanism means more candidates — not just the wealthy — will be able to run in elections. And that means more political speech, not less. But that view depends on seeing money as enabling speech, not vice versa. Money already has far too much sway everywhere in politics. If the court continues this way, the damage and corruption will be enormous.

By: Editorial, Opinion Pages, The New York Times, April 11,  2011

April 13, 2011 Posted by | Constitution, Corporations, Democracy, Elections, Politics, Supreme Court, Voters | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Grave Consequences: Wall Street Tells John Boehner To Back Off The Debt Ceiling

Republicans are growing increasingly concerned about the impact a bruising fight over raising the nation’s $14.29 trillion debt ceiling could have on U.S. financial markets.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has had conversations with top Wall Street executives, asking how close Congress could push to the debt limit deadline without sending interests rates soaring and causing stock prices to go lower, people familiar with the matter said. Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said Tuesday night that he was not aware of any such conversations.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has warned Congress that without new borrowing authority, the federal government could hit the statutory debt limit by May 16.

Treasury could then implement emergency measures to continuing making interest payments on existing debt until around July 8. After that, the U.S. risks going into default, an unthinkable idea to many economists and market participants who say such an event could drive scores of large banks into failure, send interest rates skyrocketing as foreign investors abandon U.S. securities and crush the already slow-going economic recovery.

Republicans and even some fiscally conservative Democrats want to use the debt limit fight as leverage to wring more significant spending cuts out of the White House. Politicians of all stripes are worried about how independents will react to a vote — or multiple stop-gap votes — to raise the debt ceiling. Many executives on Wall Street believe Washington is playing an enormously dangerous game with what is typically a non-controversial vote.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who leads the Senate Democrats’ messaging efforts, expressed anger that Boehner was searching for leeway on the debt limit.

“The speaker seems to be testing out how far he can venture onto a frozen lake before the ice breaks. He should listen to business leaders who are telling him to watch his step. Messing around with the debt ceiling just to satisfy the tea party will lead to higher interest rates and an economic cataclysm.”

The Wall Street executives say even pushing close to the deadline — or talking about it — could have grave consequences in the marketplace.

“They don’t seem to understand that you can’t put everything back in the box. Once that fear of default is in the markets, it doesn’t just go away. We’ll be paying the price for years in higher rates,” said one executive.

Another said that “anyone interested in ‘testing’ the debt ceiling should understand the U.S. debt traded wider [with a higher yield] than Greek debt roughly five years ago. Then go ask CBO what happens to our deficits/public debt to GDP, if the 10-year [Treasury bond] goes from 3.5 percent to 5.5 percent to 7.5 percent.” The executive said such an increase would result in a downgrade of U.S. debt by ratings agencies and an end to the dollar as the standard global reserve currency.

By: Ben White, Politico, April 13, 2011

April 13, 2011 Posted by | Banks, Congress, Conservatives, Debt Ceiling, Democrats, Economy, Federal Budget, GOP, Independents, Lawmakers, Politics, Republicans, Swing Voters, Voters, Wall Street | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Few Heard At Wisconsin Budget “Hearing” In Milwaukee, But School Choice Advocate Denounces Walker’s Subsidy For Rich

At Monday’s public hearing in Milwaukee on Governor Walker’s budget, Wisconsin Republicans once again resorted to anti-participatory tactics to avoid criticism of their far-right agenda. Despite these efforts, strong criticisms were squeezed-in by longtime Milwaukee school choice advocate Howard Fuller, calling GOP efforts to lift income limits on school vouchers an “outrageous” program “that subsidizes rich people.”

Republicans Regulate Milwaukee Hearing

Milwaukee’s hearing at State Fair Park was the third of four statewide sessions on Walker’s proposed budget by the Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee, and controversy arose well before the hearing began. According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, two of Milwaukee’s congresswomen, Rep. Tamara Grigsby and Sen. Lena Taylor, were concerned that many working people would be excluded because the hearing was scheduled to end at 6pm. The two arranged to hold informal sessions until 9pm to allow people to voice their opinion, then notified Joint Finance co-chairs Rep. Robin Vos (R-Burlington) and Sen. Alberta Darling (R- River Falls) about their plans.

Sen. Darling reportedly approved the Grigsby-Taylor informal hearing and Rep. Vos “said he would think about it.” However, Taylor soon received notice from State Fair Park that Vos had reserved the facility until midnight, meaning the Dems’ hearing could not take place, and Milwaukee’s working population could not have their voices heard.

According to Taylor, “This isn’t open government. This is not democracy. This is shameful.”

Beer City Blockage the Latest in a Series

Vos and Darling were unabashed about their intention to suppress opposition, with Darling telling the Journal-Sentinel “we had to take precautions so that what happened at the Capitol wouldn’t happen at State Fair Park.”

“The hearings are going to be done when we say they’re done,” Vos said.

This is only the latest in a series of Wisconsin GOP efforts to limit scrutiny and stifle dissent. On February 11, Governor Walker sought to limit deliberation on his budget repair bill by introducing it on a Friday and ordering a vote on a Tuesday (Senate Democrats thwarted these plans by leaving the state). The Walker Administration violated the constitutionally-guaranteed right of public access to the state capitol in late February, and a judge ordered it re-opened; the administration violated that order in March and a hearing on that violation is pending. On March 11, Republicans forced the union-busting budget repair bill through the Senate with minimal notice, breaking state Open Meetings laws and possibly violating the constitution’s public access guarantees.

Hearing Limits Input from Milwaukee’s Particularly-Affected Populations of Color

This latest step towards suppression is especially egregious considering Milwaukee is not only the state’s largest city, but has the most people of color, a population that will be particularly affected by Walker’s budget and budget repair bill. The plans eliminate funding for a new program to track and remedy racial profiling (the first step towards confronting Wisconsin’s atrocious record of racial disparities in incarceration); will limit eligibility for medical assistance; kicks legal immigrants off food assistance; and eliminates funding for a program that provided civil legal services to low income residents. Walker is also expected to cut $300 million from Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), severely limiting education quality for the district teaching the greatest number of students (and students of color) in the state.

With Republican legislators keeping the Milwaukee hearing short, only speakers who signed up before 12:30pm had their voices heard. Hundreds of people were denied the ability to speak, and as the hearing ended at 6:30pm, there were shouts of “let us speak” and the now-familiar “shame” directed at those lawmakers.

Howard Fuller Heard on Education

While many Milwaukee residents were not heard on Monday, at least one prominent voice spoke strongly against Walker’s plans for Milwaukee schools.

In addition to cutting $300 million from Milwaukee’s public schools (and eliminating teacher’s unions), Walker’s budget reinforces existing inequalities by expanding the “school choice” program, which allows students to opt-out of public schools and use a taxpayer-funded voucher for private school tuition. The voucher program has been criticized not only because it directs money away from public schools, but because private schools can pick-and-choose their students, often selecting those who come from an advantaged background and leaving the rest to suffer in under-funded public schools.

Milwaukee became the country’s first publicly-funded school voucher program in 1990, and it grew under the tenure of MPS Superintendent Howard Fuller. He currently directs an institute at Marquette University that authorizes schools trying to get into Milwaukee’s choice program. Howard has collaborated with Republican lawmakers in the past, many of whom support so-called “school choice” out of belief in free market principles of competition and privatization. While many on the left fear defunding public education, some urban advocates like Fuller have supported vouchers to give promising low-income students a better chance at long-term success by providing education options that would not otherwise be available.

But Fuller, who is now regarded as the nation’s most influential African-American spokesman for “school choice,” strongly criticized Walker’s plans to remove income eligibility caps for the private school voucher program. “Please don’t make it true that you were using the poor just to eventually make this available to the rich,” Fuller said. “If [lifting income eligibility] is done, I will become an opponent of this.”

“I never got into this to give someone like me $6,500 to send their kid to Marquette High School (tuition $15,000 per year). . . This is where I get off the train, I’m not going to go anywhere in America and fight for a program that subsidizes rich people.”

By: Brenda Fischer, Center for Media and Democracy, April 12, 2011

April 13, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Democracy, Economy, Education, Government, Governors, Health Care, Ideology, Immigrants, Jobs, Labor, Middle Class, Politics, Public Employees, Teachers, Uncategorized, Union Busting, Unions, Wisconsin, Wisconsin Republicans | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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