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From Wisconsin To Wall Street, An Economic Reckoning

The comparisons were inevitable. As Occupy Wall Street gathers momentum and new allies, progressives have quickly connected it with the other headline-grabbing uprising this year: The mass protests in Wisconsin against Gov. Scott Walker’s attack on labor unions. A statement from leaders of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees union, which endorsed Occupy Wall Street this week, was typical: “Just as a message was sent to politicians in Wisconsin, a clear message is now being sent to Wall Street: Priority number one should be rebuilding Main Street, not fueling the power of corporate CEOs and their marionette politicians.”

The essential theme connecting events in Madison and New York City is unmistakable. Both represent an economic reckoning at a time of grim unemployment rates and stagnant wages for middle-class Americans. “Both the defense of unions [in Wisconsin] and Occupy Wall Street, which is broader in its definition of the problem, are responding to two or three decades of increasing economic inequality and, until fairly recently, the inability of progressives to address those things,” says Georgetown University historian Michael Kazin, author of American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation.

But the Wisconsin-Occupy Wall Street comparison is a more complicated  one in its specifics. The two don’t fit neatly side by side and, in  some ways, bear no resemblance at all. Here is a look at how two of the  biggest populist protests of the year stack up:

The Organizers

As I reported from Madison in March, labor unions and community activist groups were, from the very beginning, the driving force in the Wisconsin protests. On November 3, 2010, the day after Republicans reclaimed the state Legislature and the governor’s mansion, union leaders began plotting how to respond to the looming assault on organized labor. And when Gov. Scott Walker unveiled his anti-union budget repair bill, and later threatened to sic the National Guard on those protesting his bill, unions marshaled their resources and called every member in their ranks. From their command center in Madison’s only unionized hotel, labor turned out more than a 100,000 supporters in a span of weeks.

Occupy Wall Street is not union-made. It was the anti-capitalist Adbusters magazine that put out the initial call for protesters to flood downtown Manhattan on September 17. Since then the protests have grown almost entirely without institutional support, an organic groundswell without leaders or executive boards or much structure at all. In recent days, unions have endorsed Occupy Wall Street, marched with them, and provided food, drinks, clothing, and more. But the protests remain a loosely organized, essentially leaderless effort.

Goals of the Movement

“Kill the bill! Kill the bill!” Wading among the crowd in Madison in February, you couldn’t go more than 10 minutes without that chant breaking out. It captured exactly what the protesters wanted: the death of Scott Walker’s anti-union bill. (They didn’t get it.) Later, those demands broadened to include fewer cuts to funding for education and social services by Walker and Wisconsin Republicans, but for much of the protests, it was perfectly clear what the angry cheeseheads wanted.

Occupy Wall Street so far has had no clear set of demands—and intentionally so, it seems. A post at OccupyWallSt.org demanded that supporters stop listing demands for fear of making protesters “look like extremist nut jobs.” The post went on, “You don’t speak for everyone in this.” The vague intentions have raised eyebrows, but they also have had the effect of welcoming a diverse group of supporters without alienating them. “The protesters have been eloquent in rejecting the idea that they produce ‘one demand’ and also in articulating in broad terms what they want,” says Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen.

Spreading the Word

Like the protesters in Iran’s “Green Revolution” and Egypt’s Tahrir Square uprising, Wisconsin and Occupy Wall Street have made savvy use of social media for everything from rallying supporters and organizing marches to asking for food. Take Twitter: Both uprisings have built lively, if contentious, forums for debate with the hash tags #wiunion and #occupywallstreet. So many tweets poured in during Wednesday’s Occupy Wall Street march that it was impossible to keep up.

Other forms of online organizing have been pivotal. There are more than 230 Facebook pages promoting Occupy events from Tacoma, Washington, to Marfa, Texas, to Milwaukee, just as Facebook helped energize protesters in Wisconsin. And for those who couldn’t make it in person, livestreaming has brought supporters from around the country and the world closer to the action on the ground.

Laying Down the Law

Scott Walker’s bill exempted police officers from the most draconian crackdowns on workers’ rights. That put cops in a tight spot, because it was the job of the police to contain and, when necessary, crack down on the crowds of public workers who occupied the state Capitol rotunda and protested in the surrounding streets. But throughout the months-long protests, police arrested very few, allowed the occupiers to remain inside the Capitol for weeks, and generally treated angry demonstrators as best as could be hoped. Off-duty cops from around the state even joined the protesters in Madison.

Actions by law enforcement in Manhattan against Occupy Wall Street have at some turns been a very different story, with police crackdowns stealing the spotlight. This video of an NYPD deputy inspector using pepper spray on a handful of female protesters sparked outrage, added a streak of sensationalism to the story, and was picked up by mainstream news outlets. The arrest of more than 700 people who marched on the Brooklyn Bridge last weekend similarly made national headlines, leading to heaps of criticism and a class-action lawsuit against the NYPD.

Pizza for Protesters

Supporters called in pizza orders from around the world for the hearty crew of Capitol occupiers in Wisconsin. The same is happening for those camped out in Zuccotti Park, blocks from Wall Street. Pizza: It’s the nosh of choice for American uprisings in 2011.

By: Andy Kroll, Mother Jones, October 6, 2011

October 7, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Democracy, Equal Rights, Freedom, Government, Ideologues, Liberty, Media, Middle Class, Politics, Populism, Revolution, Unemployment | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Koch Industries Buys Anti-Koch Web Addresses

In the eyes of the American public, Wichita-based Koch Industries is coming to stand more for right-wing string-pulling than for its blockbuster oil and gas business. For years, David and Charles Koch spent millions mostly behind the scenes to advance anti-environmental and anti-labor policies and to attack Democratic candidates for office. In the last two years, however, their expenditures have routinely made news. In the wake of the high-profile standoff in Wisconsin– where Gov Scott Walker was caught explaining to a prank caller impersonating David Koch his plans to break public employee unions– Koch Industries has dedicated time and money to mitigate fallout from the politics of the men in charge. The company’s website includes an op-ed and a video defending Koch politics. Today comes news that the company has been buying up anti-Koch web addresses as part of its new brand-management strategy.

Researchers at the progressive group One Wisconsin Now found that, on August 17, the day after the last of the recall elections in the state forced by Democrats aghast at Walker’s politics, Koch Industries bought up “at least three anti-Koch domains: StopKoch.com, StopKochIndustries.com, and AntiKoch.com.”

The domain name “StopKoch.com” for example has now been “parked” by an “online brand protection” firm called Melbourne IT on behalf of an administrator working from 37th Street in Wichita, Koch headquarters, and connected to a @KochInd.com email address.

“After spending over $40,000 to get Gov. Scott Walker elected less than a year ago and $250,000 on Republicans in Wisconsin’s recall effort, the billionaire Koch Brothers are already on the defensive against the ‘Stop Koch, Save Wisconsin’ buzz on the internet,” writes One Wisconsin Now.

One of the groups the Kochs presently bankroll is the activist organization Americans for Prosperity. AFP was a major pro-insurance industry player in the anti-health reform push last year, organizing tea party rallies and funding literature and commercials that made wild claims about the proposed legislation being a totalitarian assault on liberty.

Today, AFP is touring Colorado to rally support for favorable policies for big oil and gas companies. In a release announcing the “Running on Empty Tour,” AFP Foundation President Tim Phillips resurrects the kind of reaching anti-Obama rhetoric that characterized AFP’s contributions to the health care debate, where the president was viewed as a statist dictator seeking to euthanize Americans through “death panels.”

“Obama’s hostility toward domestic production and his desire to use high gas prices to change Americans’ driving behavior are contributing to the escalating cost of fuel,” Phillips is quoted to say in the release.

In fact, the Obama administration has made bold moves to open up drilling in the U.S. and has drawn criticism for doing so. Oil and gas companies own leases on tens of millions of acres onshore and offshore that they have yet to develop. A recent study by the Interior Department reported that half of all onshore federal leases are not currently being utilized by the industry.

At the top of the “newsroom” section of the Koch Industries website, the company runs a quote by Charles Koch that, to an increasing number of people, may serve mostly to bring to mind the sketchy political strategery funded by the brothers over the years.

“A positive reputation is built by behaving consistently with sound principles, creating real value, achieving compliance excellence and living up to commitments.”

By: John Tomasic, The Washington Independent, August 24, 2011

August 25, 2011 Posted by | Businesses, Class Warfare, Collective Bargaining, Conservatives, Corporations, Elections, Energy, Environment, GOP, Health Reform, Ideologues, Ideology, Insurance Companies, Jobs, Koch Brothers, Labor, Politics, Public Employees, Republicans, Right Wing, States, Teaparty, Union Busting, Unions, Voters, Wisconsin | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Wisconsin Supreme Court: A Study In Judicial Dysfunction

Harsh state judicial campaigns financed by ever larger amounts of special interest money are eating away at public faith in judicial impartiality. There are few places where the spectacle is more shameful than Wisconsin, where over-the-top campaigning, self-interested rulings, and a complete breakdown of courthouse collegiality and ethics is destroying trust in its Supreme Court.

On Monday, a special prosecutor was named to investigate an altercation between two justices on opposite sides of the court’s bitter ideological divide. Ann Walsh Bradley, a member of the court’s liberal wing, has charged that David Prosser, a conservative, put her in a chokehold during a heated exchange shortly before the court upheld the new state law eliminating most collective-bargaining rights for public employees.

Justice Prosser has disputed Justice Bradley’s version of what occurred, and the facts remain unclear. What is certain is that Justice Prosser should have recused himself from that ruling. His vote to uphold the law occurred shortly after his re-election campaign in which he benefited from heavy anti-union independent spending.

Justice Prosser won the April election by a very small margin, prompting a recount. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that he then raised more than $270,000 for the recount, much of it in $50,000 chunks. (The contribution limits that apply under Wisconsin’s public financing system for judicial races do not extend to recounts.) Some $75,000 of the haul was used to pay fees to a law firm led by an attorney representing conservative groups in a case challenging state campaign disclosure rules, which is scheduled to be heard by the court next month.

Given the lawyer’s role in Justice Prosser’s recent recount success, a reasonable person might well question the judge’s impartiality on that case, too. After first saying he had no intention of recusing himself, Justice Prosser on Thursday asked the parties in the campaign finance case to file memos stating their views about recusal. It should not take a formal request for him to step aside.

A contentious 4-to-3 decision by the court last month declared recusal decisions by the justices to be unreviewable. In another sign of the court’s dysfunction, the deciding vote came from Justice Patience Roggensack, whose involvement in an earlier case was the subject of the disqualification motion that the court was reviewing. Like the ruling itself, Justice Roggensack’s participation in judging her own conduct showed astounding disregard for legal ethics and every litigant’s right to impartial justice. The problems don’t even stop there. A year ago, by another 4-to-3 vote along ideological lines, the court weakened the recusal standard by adopting a rule saying that campaign fund-raising or expenditures can never be the sole basis for a judge’s disqualification. The rule was largely written by a business group that has spent lavishly in judicial campaigns.

Members of Wisconsin’s top court need to focus on restoring civility and public trust. For starters, they should scrap last year’s decision on campaign money in favor of strict disclosure requirements for lawyers and litigants. They should also adopt an appeals process for recusals, so the final decision is no longer left to the judge whose impartiality is being questioned. The court’s credibility, and justice in Wisconsin, are on the line.

 

By: New York Times Editorial, August 19, 2011

August 20, 2011 Posted by | Businesses, Collective Bargaining, Conservatives, Corporations, Democracy, Democrats, Elections, GOP, Ideologues, Ideology, Justice, Politics, Public, Republicans, Right Wing, States, Teaparty, Union Busting, Unions, Voters, Wisconsin, Wisconsin Republicans | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Maine GOP Chair: We Must Make It Harder To Vote Because ‘Democrats Intentionally Steal Elections’

For nearly four decades, Maine has been one of eight states which provides same-day voter registration to voters at the polls. This policy of enfranchising the greatest number of Maine voters is likely to end, however, now that the GOP-controlled state legislature has passed a bill ending same-day registration and Tea Party Gov. Paul LePage is expected to sign it. Worse, state GOP Chairman Charlie Webster explained it was necessary to disenfranchise the thousands of Maine voters who take advantage of same-day registration every election year in order to save Maine from one of his paranoid fantasies:

“If you want to get really honest, this is about how the Democrats have managed to steal elections from Maine people,Webster told a columnist for the Portland Press Herald in a piece published Friday. “Many of us believe that the Democrats intentionally steal elections.”

Sadly, Maine’s voter disenfranchisement bill is only the latest example of the Republican war on voting that began almost immediately after the GOP took over several statehouses this year. Numerous GOP state legislatures have rammed through “voter ID” laws which disenfranchise thousands of elderly, disabled, and low-income voters. Republicans typically justify these voter disenfranchisement laws by claiming that they are necessary to combat voter fraud at the polls, but in-person voter fraud is only slightly more common than unicorns. A recent Supreme Court decision upholding a voter ID law was only able to cite one example of in-person voter fraud in the last 143 years.

Nor are voter ID laws the only front in the GOP’s war on voting. As Jonathan Chait explains, their efforts also include measures “restricting early voting, shortening poll hours, [and] clamping down on students voting at their campus.” And in Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker (R) even plans to  gut his state’s public financing program — a program designed to make candidates less dependent on wealth donors — in order to pay for a voter disenfranchisement law.

Yet, while the Maine GOP may have won a skirmish in the war on voting with their repeal of same day registration, it is anything but certain that they will win this war. The state’s Democrats hope to invoke Maine’s “people’s veto” process, which allows the voters to repeal a newly enacted state law by referendum. To invoke this procedure, they must collect just over 57,000 signatures before a 90-day window closes.

By: Ian Millhiser, Think Progress, June 13, 2011

June 15, 2011 Posted by | Conservatives, Democracy, Elections, Equal Rights, GOP, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Lawmakers, Maine, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, State Legislatures, States, Tea Party, Voters | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Polls Are Sinking For New GOP Governors Like Scott Walker

If you’ve  been wondering lately who’s been writing the Republican playbook, I think I’ve  found him. It’s none other than Lenny Dykstra.

Back in his baseball  playing days, Dykstra was a tough as nails leadoff hitter famous for filling  his cheeks with huge wads of tobacco and crashing into outfield walls.  After his playing days were over, he wowed the world with his stock-picking  acumen. Made millions. Drove fancy cars. Owned an $18 million  mansion. He even had a sink that cost $50,000. (It’s true.)

And then, it all came  tumbling down. He went bankrupt. His house was  seized. He was indicted.  And what did he do? He broke back into his old  house … and stole his  prized sink.

Back in November, a new  breed of Republican governor was enjoying its own “wow” moment. Rick  Snyder was the “one tough nerd” to get Michigan’s financial house in  order. Scott Walker was about to take a blow torch to Wisconsin unions.  Florida’s Rick Scott won perhaps the most coveted prize on the presidential  election map. They were supposed to be the leading edge of the Republican  revolution, finally doing what conservatives have long held Americans want  their leaders to do: fundamentally recalibrate the way government operates in  the public square, and disentangling it from the everyday lives of ordinary  people.

But in Sunday’s Washington  Post, Norman Ornstein of the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute took a  moment to detail the woes these boy wonders have since encountered. Rick  Snyder’s approval rating is at 33 percent. Scott Walker’s is 43  percent. Rick Scott: 29 percent.  [Read the U.S. News Debate: Should Congress Raise the Debt Ceiling?]

Seven months ago they were  the toast of the town. Now, milquetoast. What happened?

Well, as Ornstein  describes it, the governors launched initiatives aimed at “cutting benefits for  the poor and middle class while adding tax breaks for the rich” while also  trying to get rid of collective bargaining. As you might imagine,  that wasn’t very popular with a lot of people (for instance: the poor and  middle class). And, shockingly, it hasn’t done much to balance their state budgets either. So now, according to Ornstein, “the only areas left for  meaningful budget reductions are education, Medicaid, and prisons.”

Let’s see: Your approval  numbers are in the tank, and all you’ve got left are gutting schools, letting  out convicts, and taking healthcare away from disadvantaged kids.  I’m guessing, as a re-election strategy, that leaves something to be desired.

In other words: fellas, it  ain’t working. And what’s so surprising about all of this is that for  some, it’s so surprising. Is it really so hard to figure out that one of  the reasons government is its current size and shape is that people have needs  that they want their government to try and meet? It doesn’t always work,  of course. But frustration over government spending on programs that  aren’t working isn’t the same thing as saying people no longer want good public  schools. Understanding that distinction is the difference between doing  the hard, more complicated work of reforming something that isn’t working as  well as we would like, and becoming fixated on an ideological goal that doesn’t  end up fixing anything at all.

Which brings me back to  Mr. Dykstra and his beloved sink. Now, in fairness, those of us who have  been consigned to using standard-issue sinks can only dream about the  hydrological wonders of the $50k variety. Perhaps it dispensed nothing  but delicious milkshakes. More likely: Even as his world was crashing down,  Dykstra couldn’t take his eyes off the one thing he coveted the most. Now  it looks like he’s going to prison.

Republicans may be in for  a similar electoral fate. Instead of helping the people they were elected  to serve, they’ve gone about ruthlessly pursuing an elusive conservative holy  grail. Dismantling government—it’s the GOPs $50,000 sink. And they can’t  take their eyes off of it even as their house burns down around them.

By: Anson Kaye, U. S. News and World Report, June 13, 2011

June 14, 2011 Posted by | Bankruptcy, Collective Bargaining, Conservatives, Democracy, Elections, GOP, Government, Governors, Health Care, Ideologues, Ideology, Labor, Lawmakers, Medicaid, Middle Class, Politics, Public Employees, Republicans, Right Wing, State Legislatures, States, Voters, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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