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Trolling for support from neighboring Republicans, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker this week made another of his interminable presidential campaign stops (he hasn't yet formally declared, but for months now his quest for the presidency has kept him largely outside the state). Walker crossed the Mississippi and visited Minnesota, stepping into the jaws of an economic dragon that has bitten into his favored policies and chewed them right up.

While he was among the gophers, Wisconsin's worst excuse for a badger defended his economic record by relying on one huge whopper of a lie. You want cheese on that lie, governor? Let’s review.

While Walker’s Wisconsin wallows around 40th among all states in job growth, and while according to a Pew study its middle class is shrinking faster than any other state, Minnesota is going great guns. The only apparent difference? Progressive political policies enacted by controlling Democrats in Minnesota actually work, contrary to the trickle-down, austerity-driven and wholly wishful policies of Walker, whose fellow Republicans completely control the Wisconsin legislature.

Confronted with this reality by the Minnesota locals and some Wisconsin Democrats who trailed along as a kind of informal truth squad, Walker defended himself, saying things are just plain excellent in Wisconsin. Well, that’s not even close to the truth, but that’s not the big whopper we’re talking about. The big whopper was when he told reporters this:

"You've had the advantage of other than a two-year period of having Republicans in charge of at least one part of government for some time. Before we came into office, for many years there was a Democrat governor, a Democrat assembly and a Democrat Senate."
Uh, no.

Actually, since 1982, Democratic governors have held Wisconsin’s top office for 12 years. Republicans in that same span occupied the governor’s office the other 21 years. Yet "for many years" Wisconsin, according to Walker, was badly ruled by an invisible, non-existent Democratic governor.

Meanwhile, Republicans gained majority control in both of Wisconsin's state’s legislative houses in 1995. In 2009, fourteen years later, the Democratic Party finally regained legislative control, just in time to aid a Democratic governor in combating the enormously destructive effects of the Great Recession.

But the Democratic hegemony was short-lived. The Republicans took back control of both houses just two years later, along with Walker's election to the governorship. And the slow but marked progress the Democrats had made in climbing back out of the recession immediately went by the boards, job creation statistics falling back along with a continued slide in wages. It's been that way consistently in the ensuing four years of the Walker / GOP hegemony.

The upshot is that this guy Walker, who now presents himself as the solution to the entirety of American governance, does so by living in a bubble of patently obvious unreality. As any honest review of his record makes abundantly clear, Scott Walker is really just good at two things: Dissembling, and scapegoating.

Discuss
The Politifact feature that appears in a number of US newspapers tries to rate the relative truthfulness of statements by public figures, including key politicians. As with other local efforts, the Politifact Wisconsin feature in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel too often has not only focused on relatively trivial but easy to understand statements, it sometimes finds itself struggling to shoe-horn statements onto its linear, one-dimensional scale, ranging from "true" on down to "pants on fire."

After all, policy-making in a highly technical and sizable, diverse culture like ours is a very nuanced business. Politics? Not so much. And yet, using something other than the broadsword of a linear "Truth-O-Meter" could help citizens better understand complex issues while not getting sucked in by cheap rhetoric or simplistic "gotcha" statements.

There's a role for both approaches, and it seems the Journal Sentinel has learned its lesson, trying now to become more analytical -- at least some of the time.

And that leads me to recommend very highly today's Politifact Wisconsin installment, written by Pulitzer Prize winner Dave Umhoefer and entitled, "What makes America 'exceptional' "?

Umhoefer has done yeoman's work prying apart a new Republican Party campaign theme that's structurally ambiguous. That theme, in my view, is built on a wobbly, three-legged stool: (1.) America's presumed exceptionalism, informed by (2.) deceptive messaging about our dangerous decline, an idea that Republicans hope will create a dream-like (3.) "inception" (i.e., dream manipulation, from the movie of the same name) among voters to reward Republicans.

Read on below the orange puff of backroom cigar smoke as we further examine these three components of the GOP campaign "strategy" in the coming year's elections.

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Tue Mar 17, 2015 at 06:55 PM PDT

Scott Walker's "Red State Dawn"

by rlegro

A week or two ago, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was campaigning for president in Iowa and said his top priority would be to combat terrorism, lest the terrorists "wash up on our shores" -- inadvertently implying they would be dead, coming in with the tide along with all the other flotsam and jetsam.

While the line was a hit among conservative warhawks in Republican Walker's audience, it didn't resonate in the punditocracy at large (even some conservative columnists were taken aback). Really? The US should commit a huge new force of soldiers to the Middle East? Just when -- after a decade of hard slogging and many wounded and dead, and all to problematic result -- we've finally gotten our ground troops out of there? Really?

Walker's spinmeisters apparently noticed the generally negative reaction outside the bubble of unreality inhabited by the GOP's elite, war-happy, self-styled "Vulcans." [Ironic usage, given that Mr. Spock and his pointy-eared race were pacifists.] So the speechwriters and fluffer-nutters got busy.

The result: Campaigning in New Hampshire for president, Walker has adjusted his message, warning that if someone very like him (i.e., him) isn't fighting ISIS and the other bad guys overseas, mano a mano, terrorism “comes to us on American soil.”  

Here's just one problem with that reasoning: Lone-wolf terrorists with lots of guns and bombs are already entrenched right here in the lower 48 -- and a goodly number of them so far have turned out to be right-wing, anti-government types. Why not instead make it a priority to root out those existing domestic threats, before we face more truck-bomb style Oklahoma City tragedies?

The enemy within is a broader threat than that, of course, encompassing poverty, injustice, extreme social stratification, a public education system under assault and environmental threats. But, no, none of that matters to guys like Walker as much as rattling our sabres some more in the vicinity of the Mideast oil fields.

I get it: unilateral foreign adventurism produces better campaign optics than diplomacy and international cooperation, at least for the GOP's base. And bigger profits for the good old military-industrial complex. So the Walker battle cry continues unabated. And, indeed, it seems terrorism is getting worse by the minute!

Last week, according to Walker, the bad guys might soon be washing up dead on our shores after floating across the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. Now, at least in Walkerspeak word pictures, they're already past our sandy shores and marching across rich American farmland!

Who knows what might happen next without a President Walker at the ready? Why, Red (State) Dawn might already be in the planning: ISIS surreptitiously rents the loft above your garage for use as a regional command center and the next thing you know they've instituted national Sharia law by force. There's simply no time to waste!

To stop all this, we need a super-tough, merciless, "whatever it takes," battle-tested, union-protester-bashing President Walker to send US military ground forces to Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Upper Great Lakes and any other place that's in turmoil! Scott Walker divided and conquered Wisconsin workers, and that's just the experience he'll need to divide and conquer Mideast terrorists. Because, you know, it's all pretty much the same problem.

Or actually, if you study the history of past such war-mongering by other presidents and would-be presidents: No, we don't need any more of this nonsense. Been there, done with that.

Discuss
On Monday Gov. Scott Walker signed into law the Republican-dominated Wisconsin legislature's so-called "right to work" bill. From an astute English major's standpoint, something interesting happened at that signing besides the signing itself. Walker suddenly veered away from the right. Not the political right, where he has for decades maintained and even solidified his views. Rather, Walker moved away from a declared "right" and toward allusional freedom.

This shift was the latest of many Walker political rewrites. He treated as his own confection a law he said just months ago wouldn't reach or get past his desk. The law is not -- as Republicans have insisted for years -- about worker "rights," a word that implies legal and ethical considerations. Nope, it's now, in the Walker lexicon, about "freedom." That word is pretty much a lofty, feel-good, means-anything nostrum; or here it may just be a no-see-um, as in small, blood-sucking bug.

I am for this essay ignoring the additional freedom that this law gives our business caste by forcibly limiting union resources. That also was the key feature in Walker's 2011 measure that basically gutted most public employee unions in the state. That law limited their resources greatly (unions at best couldn't even "bargain" for a raise beyond the inflation rate) and made it in other ways more costly for them to operate (the law also  exempted public safety unions that supported Walker -- there's that no-see-um bug, again).

Walker signed this new law in the Milwaukee suburb of Brown Deer at Badger Meter Inc., a manufacturing firm that has off-shored a considerable number of its job positions. Richard Meeusen, president, chief executive and chairman of the firm, said that thanks to the law he'll now create 30 to 50 jobs here in the US and implied they'd be at union contract wages "assuming the employees we hire want to join the union,”  -- a complete non sequitur if you apply cause-and-effect logic. Another firm against the new law later said it would as a result of enactment move jobs to neighboring Minnesota. Whoops! Now that's what you call your freedom, right there.

Like other boiler-plate "right to work" laws, this one makes it a misdemeanor for any Wisconsin business or private-sector union representing employees of that business to negotiate a labor contract that requires all members of the bargaining unit to contribute to the union's bargaining costs. This will as it has in other "right to work" states create a new class of union-shop workers who'll get a free ride by gaining the benefits negotiated by the union while avoiding the responsibilities of sharing in the cost of the effort.

That sickening, sucking sound you hear is current wage and benefit levels going down the drain as some union members turn into opportunistic individualists. Or, as Walker -- overheard talking to a billionaire business supporter -- described the intent behind the law several years ago: "Divide and conquer."

It is a rare moment when Republicans actually mandate freeloading, other, that is, than freeloading by big business or the elite one percenters. But while the Wisconsin GOP just created a potential new blue-collar class of working freeloaders, that's not the party's focus, here. Rather, this law is just one more GOP tactic to weaken labor unions, which Republicans perceive not as voluntary worker organizations with an all-for-one, self-help mission, supervised elections and other traits of a true democracy, but rather as, simply, an opposing power base. Businesses rule! Employees shut up and get back to work!

In any event, instead of celebrating Wisconsin's dumb new law on the myopic basis that it creates a new "right" for workers, Walker sat surrounded by state GOP lawmakers (mostly aging, overweight white guys in suits) at a desk adorned with a Republican confection common since the Reagan days: a large sign, this time emblazoned with the legend, "Freedom to Work."

And all week since then, Walker has been stumping on "his" freedom to work bill. And he now indeed owns it. Because he took that legislation, yanked the word "right" from the bill's informal title and replaced it with "freedom" Wow. So bold; so innovative! What a guy! Pretzel-dential material for sure.

However, Walker's shift in rhetoric may be good news for progressives, because it suggests that Republicans including Walker know he just signed an unpopular law of a type likely to get even more unpopular among voters and workers as negative effects kick in.

Why Walker's switch from "right" to "freedom"? Several distinct possibilities:

1. "Right to work" isn't really polling that well for Republicans these days. Progressives have mounted strong, fact-based campaigns against the GOP meme that such laws, now in effect in half the states, not only protect individual worker rights but help raise wages.

As ably documented here at DailyKos and other institutions that value reality, such laws do exactly the opposite. Which is why, in polling, majorities of American citizens unionized or not increasingly are smelling the coffee and opposing this type of law. Thus Team Walker may have decided to distance its guy from the word "right" and thus the entire phrase "right to work," seeking to make this "me too" cookie-cutter law sound special. Walker does, after all, like to feel and look special.

2. Beyond sheer facts, progressive activists have made rhetorical mincemeat of the phrase "right to work," deploying amusing and devastating alternatives, such as "right to work for less" and (my own, latest contribution) "right to twerk." The original phrase now increasingly serves just to remind voters and workers of the alternate phrases that are more descriptively accurate and amusing. Again, Team Walker may have decided to put some space between its guy and a catch phrase that, for presidential campaign purposes, is now problematic.

Renaming tired ideas to make them seem new is an old political tactic. Another Wisconsin Republican governor, Tommy Thompson, renamed the state's welfare reform bill "Wisconsin Works." In today's more loosey-goosey political climate, that might have become "Wisconsin Freedom!"

3. "Freedom" doesn't have the increasingly unfortunate and unintended connotation that "right" has, in the context of right-wing politics, which polling shows is decreasing in public popularity (Walker himself right now only garners 43% approval in polling of Wisconsin residents, a noticeable decline since his fall re-election).

4. "Freedom" might to Walker be a way to elevate the entire policy conversation to the international spectrum. That's something the presidential hopeful has strained to focus upon in the past few months as he fights the suggestion that he has no foreign-policy insights or experience worth mentioning. Except perhaps for "boots on the ground" and "terrorists washing up on our shores."

In modern conservatism, "freedom" is a placeholder phrase meaning nothing but lending effective emotional weight to even the most outrageous policy pronouncements, like say bombing Iran. Because, hey, freedom! How can you argue with that? When you've said freedom, according to Republicans, you've said it all. Whatever it is you didn't actually say, that is.

It's a wonder Walker didn't call his re-named "right to work" law the "Freedom Fries to work" law. Heck, about the only lunch that an increasing number of blue-collar laborers can afford these days are the value fries from Mickey D's or Burger Regent.

Or maybe he could try this: The Free-dumb (or Fee-dumb) to Lurk Law.

Meanwhile, bending campaign laws and using taxpayer resources to flit across the US and overseas, campaigning for president in his unannounced campaign for president, Walker is the epitome of his own rhetoric. Governor, you are now free to get up and move about the country. Enjoy that while it lasts.

Discuss

Madison's Capital Times newspaper ran a disturbing online dispatch over the weekend suggesting just how Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has handled some of those in the crowds demonstrating against his further union-busting adventures. The news report describes how a pair of peaceful protesters were arrested at the Capitol Wednesday during a Wisconsin Senate hearing on the Republican Party's so-called "right-to-work" bill.

The pair, who like many others were kept from entering the hearing room to testify against the bill, were handcuffed, then, according to Cap Times reporter Steven Elbow, "taken to a Department of Administration (DOA) facility about a mile away and released without charges before being turned out with no gloves, no cash and no transportation back," despite having no winter coats and facing bone-chilling winter weather. A video of the arrest is available at the link above.

That account of Wisconsin state cops shipping protesters off to an undisclosed holding pen came out about the same time as The Guardian's report of a shadowy detention center the Chicago Police have created to handle their own collection of suspected enemies of the state.

One other noteworthy aspect of the Madison protest story: The detained woman is Kelly Albrecht, a demonstrator well known to Capitol Police and Wisconsin State Police. In 2012 she was the Democratic nominee who ran against state Rep. Robin Vos, a Republican who later became Assembly Majority Leader.

Albrecht said she was arrested when she went looking for a bathroom and state police officers ordered her to stay behind a cordon. Instead of being allowed to use the bathroom, she was handcuffed and -- without her winter jacket -- driven to the DOA facility a mile away. She and her fellow demonstrator were released an hour later without being charged and told to find their own way back. The pair eventually caught a city bus and returned to the Capitol. But not before they were frisked and Albrecht's purse searched for "contraband."

This latest incident of state police crossing the civil-rights Rubicon dovetails with Walker's campaign comments last week about how, if he could "handle" 100,000 protesters demonstrating against his anti-union law four years ago, he could handle ISIS terrorism in the Mideast.

And what do you know: In a strange and narrow sense, Walker makes a small, if skewed point. Because, based on the Cap Times dispatch, Walker is on a smaller scale acting pretty much as George W. Bush did in running roughshod over civil liberties, especially the rights of the accused (and, worse, the never accused).

The State and Capitol Police under Walker's ultimate control are more than ever handling "suspects" who oppose his policies with the same kind, if not degree, of
careless authoritarianism that Bush employed to handle alleged terrorists -- or people who just seemed to be in the general vicinity of terrorism and who were rounded up indiscriminately.

Both the Bush and Walker administrations identified a putative list of alleged and dangerous opponents, on what often have turned out to be flimsy legal grounds. Both have presided over operations in which cops or soldiers have dragged people to out-of-sight, out-of-mind detention facilities.

The only difference: Those captured under Bush's presidential watch have languished for years in foreign-based "rendition" or prison camps, on very rare occasion granted only the most grudging respect for their rights, when even under especially licentious military law, they have never been accused.

Whereas, under Walker's state government the past four years, reputed (and I emphasize that word) Wisconsin "troublemakers" who protest his policies in public are often arrested but released without being charged; or, when they are charged, often go free when prosecutors or courts throw out the cases. Which looks a lot more like harassment than law enforcement, like an attempt to stifle dissent by making free speech harder to express.

This is a cynical approach, especially given that it comes from the Walker political camp that complains bitterly about intrusions on its own free speech when merely questioned about its shady, secret, legally dubious campaign activities.

Thus, trampling civil liberties in the once-progressive Badger state seems Walker's best argument for declaring himself fit and able to tackle ISIS. That might resonate with
his fiery voter and patron base, but it leaves civil libertarians increasingly alarmed.

Much more below the puff of orange tear gas smoke. Follow along.

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Scott Walker by Gage Skidmore
In Wisconsin, a legal firestorm has stalled a major, multi-county criminal inquiry into possibly illegal political collusion between “independent” political groups and Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign during the 2012 recall elections.

Yet, in Virginia, a Republican political operative who simultaneously managed both a congressional campaign and a so-called super political action committee just pleaded guilty to illegally funneling money between the two organizations. According to an Associated Press dispatch, federal prosecutors cited the case as the first time an individual has been convicted of illegally coordinating campaign contributions between political entities.

It's looking more and more as if analogous circumstances in Wisconsin involving the presidentially minded Walker won't result in similar charges, much less convictions. That's the result of heavy-handed Republican and conservative tactics, both within and outside an increasingly partisan judicial and political environment.

The Virginia operative, Tyler Harber, served as both campaign manager for and political consultant to Chris Perkins, a Republican running for Congress in 2012. Herber admitted he arranged to spend $325,000 of money from the unnamed PAC on campaign ads targeting Perkins’ Democratic opponent.

Does that sound at all familiar? It might. Read the following passage, part of a summary of Wisconsin’s second John Doe probe looking into apparently illegal coordination between Scott Walker's campaign organization and 29 "independent" political action groups. The two cases aren't exactly similar, but the analogies are clear.

The passage is from the Walker dossier at American Bridge, a progressive research and communications organization whose mission is to hold Republicans accountable for their words and deeds. American Bridge recounts how secret Doe documents made public by court order revealed that Walker and his campaign were suspected:

... of illegal coordination with a constellation of conservative groups that were supposedly only engaging in issue advocacy. The documents put Walker and R.J. Johnson, a confidant of Walker’s and the general consultant to Walker’s campaign, at the center of a “criminal scheme” to coordinate fundraising with outside conservative groups. The documents provided evidence that Johnson had been working closely with state and national conservatives to create a coordinated message in support of Walker, calling it “an extensive coordination scheme that pervaded nearly every aspect of the campaign activities.”  Johnson allegedly used the Wisconsin Club for Growth as a “hub” for illegal coordination, going so far that the national Club for Growth raised legal concerns about his activity.
But the Wisconsin Doe dust-up isn't just about conservatives trying to save one of their own seemingly rising stars, anyway they can. It's about a legal strategy that could lay waste to common, and in Wisconsin constitutionally protected, investigatory powers granted to prosecutors. The conservative strategy, if successful, could create a new flavor of what the legal community refers to as prior restraint.

Read on, below the fold, for the disturbing details.

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Dear fellow Americans:

It's official. You're bought and paid for. Or so think Charles and David Koch, the real world's Doctor Evil and his clone Mini-Me -- ultra-conservative, billionaire, industrialist, fossil-fuel profiteers based in Kansas but intent on running the country.

The utterly breathtaking, mid-nine-figure sweep of their past political campaign spending is nothing compared to what they're planning next. They're going for nearly ten figures, this time.  Joan McCarter reported first here at DailyKos on this. Likewise, Josh Voorhees at Slate.com provided a chilling overview of the Kochs and their "shock and awe" campaign to send figurative drones down on every American hamlet and city (bold-facing added):

The dark-money political machine run by the Koch brothers hopes to spend $889 million in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential and congressional elections. That figure ... is staggering. In the words of Politico’s big money reporter, Ken Vogel, it’s “a historic sum that in many ways would mark Charles and David Koch and their fellow conservative megadonors as more powerful than the official Republican Party.”

The numbers back that up: The fundraising target is more than twice the $407 million the Koch network spent on the 2012 election, and $232 million more than the Republican National Committee and the GOP’s two congressional committees spent combined that cycle. It’s also in line with the $1 billion that observers predict will be the magic fundraising number for each of the two parties’ eventual presidential nominees.

Monday’s revelation about the Kochs' plans came five years after the Supreme Court largely destroyed campaign finance restrictions in its Citizens United decision, paving the way for unlimited and in many cases anonymous political spending by third-party groups.

Just how much is $899 million, in the scheme of American electioneering? All by itself, it likely will guarantee the most expensive elections in American history.

What if, instead, the Kochs were to put that sum toward humanitarian purposes, say, for improving the heatlh and education of America's growing class of poor kids, as other billionares have done? What if they invested that sum in R&D, accelerating the development of alternative fuels which their firms could sell with good conscience, instead of their foul products that are heating up the atmosphere?

Nah. To the Kochs, clearly, those and other social missions are fool's errands. They don't care if you hate them, it's raw power that matters to the brothers -- and what they like they're going to make you like. They're throwing their weight around, and the result is an increasingly imbalanced democracy where -- often behind the scenes --  they're pulling more and more of the strings. And now, almost literally, they're doubling down on their past investment in government. They're taking this country private!

The vast majority of Koch-fueled campaign spending in past elections went out as so-called dark money to undisclosed campaign entities, as Lee Fang reported in a piece at Republic Report, which offered up the chart at the top of this article showing how the Kochs in 2012 easily outspent the nation's ten largest labor unions in campaign activity. Ah, but you see, it's the labor unions and the millions of workers they represent that are imperious.

That's why the Kochs again hope to help elect a boatload of right-wing Republican candidates at the local, state and federal levels, who swear allegience to businesses such as their own. If their scheme succeeds, ours will at some point become a government of the Kochs, by the Kochs and for the Kochs. Most of the other 317 million of us? Just bit players working for scale, if we can find a scale.

Who are some of those right-wing Republican politicians seeking the favor of Koch millions as the 2016 presidential election year approaches? Well, at the Kochs' recent annual private retreat in Palm Springs, California ("Cali," if you prefer), these Republican presidential hopefuls signed up to appear: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, ace union buster, along with Senators Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida.

Last year, Walker, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Ohio Gov. John Kasich pilgrimaged to a Las Vegas audition before another right-wing billionaire, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, in hopes of obtaining his blessing and wads of campaign cash. Adelson himself has pledged to spend hundreds of millions to elect lackeys, er, Republicans, to office. Do you really think these politicians and their patrons represent the truly popular and real interests of average Americans? Fat chance.

As for the Kochs, whose political megalomania seemingly knows no limit or equal: What kind of force does their planned billion-dollar spree represent? It's a cash tsunami that easily would overwhelm recent campaign donations to progressives. It's a megaphone so loud that, left unchallenged, it will shake competitive politics and turn voters deaf.

Of course, as advertisers and marketing gurus have long since figured out, and as Republicans profess in every one of their political policy pronouncements, throwing money at problems isn't a sure-fire way to resolve anything. So maybe this spending overkill will be noticed by many for what it is, and it will end up failing, as in a couple of past elections.

In any event, what does this mean at the human level? Here is what the Kochs apparently think your vote is worth, or at least how much money it's going to take to distort reality, flooding the airwaves with nonsense, fearmongering and half truths, all to bamboozle you into submission or at least keep you away from the polls in disgust:

Going by recent numbers, the Kochs plan to spend $4.36 on average for each of the 206 million Americans eligible to vote. But of course many of those Americans are not registered to vote.

So, using 2014 data, let's consider the 146 million registered Americans voters. The campaign funding machine planned by the Koch brothers will spend an average of $6.16 per each of those voters in an attempt to influence their choices, via ubiquitous ad campaigns and other means.

But, take away another slice: Not all registered voters actually turn out on election day. Typical turnouts in off years are as low as 25 percent of registered voters in some regions of the country. Nevertheless, let's be generous and assume a high turnout in 2016, say 65 percent of all registered voters.

For the sake of simplicity, let's futher say that the number of registered voters won't appreciably increase two years hence -- that's probably untrue, even despite continuing, massive, Republican voter-suppression efforts in many states. But if it was, then we'd have a turnout of around 95 million actual voters. Let's round that up to 100 million, just to be generous.

In that case, the two Koch brothers intend to spend an average of $8.99 per voter. Which is an ironic number, because it follows the time-honored convention among merchants to make their products seem cheaper than they actually are. Hence, instead of sounding like the cost per voter of buying an election, $8.99 sounds like the price of a pound of steak at your local grocer. Appropriate, in that these billionaires are effectively planning to turn American democracy into ground meat.

So welcome to the Koch Brothers Political Butcher Shop. But be careful, because the Koch minions likely will have added polluted water and chemical fillers to that ideological Kochburger they are working hard to get you to eat. Worse, after the election they likely will decide to put most of you through their voracious meatgrinder, too. Yes, it's true: Soylent Koch is people!

Best. therefore, that you go politically vegan, or at least buy your ideological red meat from a local farmer who's certified organic.

Discuss

Wisconsin Republicans, newly re-entrenched in the governor's office and legislature, think it's time to mess around some more with public schools, which they've increasingly starved of cash to fund their increasingly ridiculous private school voucher program. The vouchers started out as a small program in Milwaukee decades ago, described by its advocates as a way to introduce (ahem) "competition" into local public education, but anti-public school Republicans have expanded the program to more and more communities in the state.

Critics of the nationally trend-setting Wisconsin voucher program have complained for years that not only do public school districts have to pay for the "privilege" of losing some of their pupils out of their own property tax revenues (in Milwaukee's case without reimbursement), but also that the private voucher schools are not held accountable to the same performance evaluation standards, if any at all. Indeed, according to recent estimates, Wisconsin private schools wasted some $139 million in taxpayer money that went to pay for student tuition vouchers before state officials figured out those schools had failed.

Whereas public schools are tasked with elaborate state and federal performance evaluation requirements, Republicans who champion the voucher program and other conservative-backed public school alternatives, including a charter school system, have for decades allowed a very laissez faire approach to testing academic performance.

Wisconsin citizens increasingly have become aware of voucher school academic problems and inequities in the way the program spends tax dollars -- as, for example, when the voucher schools cream off top students from public schools, leaving behind poorly performing kids and pupils with expensive, special-education needs. All this has become so contentious that formerly foot-dragging Republicans on up to Gov. Scott Walker have had to assure parents, taxpayers and voters that they're going to create a more equivalent assessment program.

The Wisconsin GOP's latest scheme to accomplish this: A state Assembly bill that would create an "Academic Review Board," which would develop a new evaluation system, looking at student math and reading skills and high school graduation rates.

Despite promises that an equitable assessment system is what they have in mind, Republicans appear once again to have pulled a political bait and switch. More below the fold.

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Earlier Milwaukee protest / courtesy of Overpass Light Brigade
... And then another non-uniformed man who apparently worked at the station chimed in, telling the journalist: "“We don’t mind making the news, again.”

That's according to Jabril Faraj, a freelance journalist who contributes to Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, an online site that earlier this year won a Milwaukee Press Club award for its reporting.

Milwaukee, like other US cities, has been in an uproar lately after a white officer (since fired) earlier this year pumped 14 bullets into Dontre Hamilton, killing the mentally disabled black men who was sleeping in a city park and previously cleared by two other officers. The district attorney said there was no evidence the officer in the shooting acted improperly, renewing street protests throughout the city. Among other assignments, Faraj has been covering those protests. In his own words:

It has been my goal to talk and listen to those who aren’t asked what they think and to cover events in this city that our traditional media simply is not covering. So, when I received a call from my father on Friday, December 26th, around 5:20 p.m. telling me that there had been marching protesters near 27th and Burleigh about an hour before — and that no media was present — I felt a responsibility to be there the next time. Unfortunately, that situation — something newsworthy occurring in the central city but not being covered — is all too familiar, here. The fact is that media serve to keep both protesters and police honest.
But not honest enough. The next day, Faraj had his own run-in with police. He writes how, after the planned protest meeting didn't pan out, he was driving away after observing a heavy police presence in the neighborhood. When he noticed a couple of parked Milwaukee squad cars at the intersection, he abruptly stopped in traffic, rolled down his window, and asked the officers in their parked car why they were there. They promptly arrested him on charges of obstruction and blocking traffic. At the station house, Faraj mentally recorded the above quotes.

Read his entire tale at the above link. You might say Faraj was injudicious asking police questions while double-parked on a busy street. Reporters do ask cops questions all the time, of course, to which Milwaukee cops are notoriously dismissive, and sometimes not just in some casual, "Move on, nothing to see here" manner. Moreover, as Faraj notes in his account, the MPD apparently had already fingered him as a "domestic terrorist." Faraj [the boldfacing is my own]:

In the initial aftermath, I clearly recall being accused of “stalking police” — a charge which would be repeated multiple times — and was asked if I was trying to kill a police officer. I also heard an officer ask, “Is he one of the three we’re looking for,” to which another voice replied, “Yes.” Also, in the course of this interaction, an officer ...  said, “We’re gonna fuck with you and your friends a bit.”
Beyond just being indicative of sour police-community relations in the city, the above passage arguably suggest the depths of militarism and suspicion to which the supposedly protect-and-serve police force has sunk into paramilitarism and authoritarianism. And perhaps even some unwarranted paranoia and fear. That and, in general, the "otherism" approach of too many police toward citizens who aren't white.

Read it and weep. And remember: You're lucky you didn't get shot.

Discuss

Tue Dec 23, 2014 at 08:30 AM PST

A Christmas Cajole

by rlegro

Fortune is Time Inc.'s magazine of industry and business. Judging by its coverage and its advertisers, including the likes of Rolex and Maserati, the publication's subscribership is heavily composed of elites, who have great power in the business world and, of course, lots of disposable income, too.

So it's instructive that the magazine is returning to its roots, more and more often showing its high-end readers why current economic models don't work and aren't sustainable. It's the Spider-Man thesis: With great power comes great responsibility.

Henry Luce founded Fortune just before the 1929 stock market crash that triggered the Great Depression. According to Wikipedia, in the terrible economic years that followed, “Fortune developed a reputation for its social conscience, for Walker Evans and Margaret Bourke-White's color photographs, and for a team of writers including James Agee, Archibald MacLeish, John Kenneth Galbraith, and Alfred Kazin, hired specifically for their writing abilities.”

Now that the US and world economies look like near-Great Depression re-runs, the magazine appears to be returning to its wellspring of hopeful but cautionary tales. If you believe its reporting, many captains of industry are already know times are changing, fast, and they're working hard to transform their business models for a world that in just a few decades is unlikely to look very much like it does today.

Among themselves, many of the private manipulators of our economy know that the industrial economy is largely destructive and can't last. Even more telling, however, is industry's continuing message to the wider world (think, for example, of those BP “we're great” ads that still seek to greasily anoint the firm in the wake of its huge Gulf Oil spill) is that the current model is great.

Which is to say: What Republicans and conservative ideologues in general portray as an economic agenda is more and more regarded within the business community with a big wink and a grudging nod. Like conservative ideology in general, economic more-of-the-same rhetoric is mostly power-mongering and gamesmanship, not something even most (tea partiers excepted) of its progenitors any longer actually believe in.

Take the December 1, 2014 issue of Fortune, which closes with a column by Stanley Bing entitled “What the Dickens?” (as in Charles). Bing likens the “big game,” i.e. the economy, to gambling at a Vegas casino. It looks like fun, but you will lose money. “You're there,” Bing reminds us, “to feed the machine.” Then he lists ways that 21st Century capitalists are likewise feeding their machine, returning us to 19th Century working conditions. On Bing's list: Bad wages, crappy benefits, no pensions, lousy hours, no unions, no job security. Here's what he says about unions:

“Quite a few years ago, I was a non-union actor. You know what I made for eight shows a week? $87.50. There's a reason management hates unions. They're a pain in the butt. For them. That's why it will fight like hell for your “right to work.”
Now, some will note that Bing is but a columnist, and that these are his opinions, not necessarily those of the magazine's editors or publishers. However, besides the fact Fortune feels justified letting Bing rant at will to its well-heeled readers, the magazine's main editorial content is no less subversive. In the same December issue, readers, for instance, learn about developments in hybrid and electric motor cars and alternative energy systems. These developments are radically about to transform society, in ways that antidiluveans like Sen. Mitch McConnell still baldly oppose. And the cutting-edge analysis continues, issue after issue.

Among themselves, at least, the elites mostly trade in truths, rather than mere truthiness.

Read Fortune for a few months. Compare its coverage to prevailing conservative ideology and political power. As I did, you may perceive from this reporting that some of the most innovative and successful captains of industry increasingly must regard the Republican Party and its hold against progress like a crazy uncle to be hidden in the attics above their skyscraper penthouses. But if the G.O.P. is a S.O.B., it's their S.O.B., so for the most part they're stuck with each other.

Among themselves, the private-sector bosses of our economy (and, GOP rhetoric notwithstanding, they're not union bosses) already are putting more and more effort into fundamental transformation. But down in the trenches, that change still somehow translates into taking workers a century or more backwards in time, to much worse conditions. More troubling, among the elites this is all patently clear and openly discussed, even while great energy and effort goes into bamboozling the 99 percent of us into thinking otherwise about what's wrong, how bad it is, who is to blame, and how to fix it in the most egalitarian of ways. Like Edgar Allen Poe's great detective plot, these clues are hidden in plain sight.

Average Americans aren't going to be lining up in droves to read Fortune anytime soon, either the online version or printed copies on the rack at local free libraries (how long will those racks remain that way?). Which makes it all the more ironic that in the magazine's pages – and increasingly the pages of other special-interest media outlets – the real and rather lovecraftian economic game plan is out there. It may look utopian but masks a monster so evil that no one shall speak its name. Yet, the figuratively robed and hooded elites do speak its name within their cloisters, confident the rest of us won't make the effort to peer through their windows and observe their rituals. Indeed, they're so confident in their power that they haven't even bothered with drapes.

In the pages of Fortune, then, an underlying theme emerges. Ours really is the best of times and the worst of times. Unhappy consequences are converging on humankind in general and workers in particular. There is hope for and signs of a better, more sustainable technology that would benefit all, yet even in the most optimistic scenarios, no one of influence within the business world save possibly Warren Buffet and a small band of like-minded billionaires has advanced the idea that the good times won't be extended until policymakers address the problems affecting most of America and the planet at large. Their fixation on seeing this in terms of consumerism is, of course, a big part of the problem.

Regarding all this, the only words that come to mind are: God bless us, everyone. And, like Tiny Tim, I do mean everyone.

Discuss

As a former journalist, I belonged to a group of skilled, articulate and relatively educated professionals who by nature also tend to be individualists, loners, skeptics and non-joiners. Accounting for some of this standoffish mien is the impossible-to-attain grail of "objectivity," a professional tenet drilled into fledgling reporters by traditionalist editors and journalism professors.

But fairness is all you really can expect from flawed, emotionally charged creatures such as ourselves, however we might aspire to be more. And fairness requires more nuance and thoughtfulness. In any event, I suspect that, as in my own case, many individualists select themselves into the noble, indispensable craft of journalism because it suits who they already are.

Sometimes, of course, journalists select themselves back out, perhaps because they've developed stronger opinions about the world based on what they've seen in their reporting, and what they perceive of the craft's limitations. Some news people like me leave the fold so they can be free to engage in progressive politics.

But there are also those in the presumed “liberal media” who choose to head off in the opposite political direction. Among those is Mike Nichols. After a tour as a reporter and columnist at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Nichols eventually became president of the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, a right-wing think tank that, in my humble opinion, is more talk than think.

I mention Nichols because in today's Journal Sentinel, he penned a guest editorial column supporting a so-called "right to work" law that Republicans are preparing to push onto Wisconsin's mostly unsuspecting labor force. In the column, Nichols recalled his experience with Local 51, the Journal Sentinel's Newspaper Guild union shop, in service to his  arguments against organized labor in general, and in favor of what amounts to an "every man for himself" approach to the workplace. [How's that working out for most of you? Read any Ayn Rand lately?]

When he joined the newspaper, Nichols writes, he declined the union's invitation (overly aggressive, according to him) to become a member:

"The union, I concluded, wasn't boosting my pay. It was holding it down by repeatedly asking the company to spend whatever money was available on across-the-board salary increases rather than just merit pay; if I screwed up somehow, I wanted to speak for myself; if I was going to donate money to a cause (something reporters and columnists are normally dissuaded from doing) I didn't want that cause to be part of a national union that pushed a political agenda I disagreed with."
Now, the first thing we must do is copy-edit that last sentence. Nichols and other conservatives may keep saying it, but it ain't so:

First, it wasn't a matter of whether he would “donate” money to the union; rather, member dues were the equivalent of a fee for service, a real and arguably valuable service. That's not unique to unions. For instance, my power company now charges me a base fee even if I don't consume a single watt. In any event, Nichols was able to skip out on becoming a member and sharing in the costs -- and not just the benefits -- of the newspaper's union local.

Second and more importantly, federal law prohibits labor unions from spending member dues on political activity. Like an increasing number of private businesses, many but not all unions typically do offer members a voluntary opportunity to contribute to a political action fund, but that's an entirely free-will proposition. Dues in fact are reserved for running the union itself and on bargaining (often with expensive legal assistance) over a labor contract. So that's what Nichols objected to supporting with dues, even though the union was charged with representing him -- by a majority vote of his fellow workers.

Channeling Groucho Marx, Nichols thus effectively refuses to join any outfit that would have the likes of him as a member.

By the way, that political-contribution meme although erroneous has been a convenient, effective, continuing argument for conservatives to oppose labor unions in general. When Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and the GOP-controlled state legislature basically demolished most public employee units in Wisconsin by imposing powerful barriers against their activity, it wasn't, as Walker said, merely necessary to balance his first budget by clawing back already promised compensation to public employees; it was to destroy their political power forever, however legitimately they exercised that power, and despite the continuing desire of employees to have such representation.

Guess what? Most of those employees have gotten next to nothing in the way of raises ever since. And now Team Walker plans to foist equally onerous restraints on private-sector unions in the state. What could possibly go wrong?

Nichols' rhetoric aside, unions are among the most democratic of all American institutions. If union members don't like the decisions of their elected leaders, they can elect new leaders. Nevertheless, conservatives profess outrage that unions – just like Walker and all politicians – win a mandate to serve all by attracting a mere majority of votes in an election.

Now, unions are often required to serve all employees in the bargaining unit, regardless of whether they become members and pay the dues that keep the doors open, which requirement explains Nichols' ability to opt out. Meanwhile, in the case of Team Walker, serving the entire populace of Wisconsin means, among other things, rewarding red counties while screwing with the blue counties. Hey, guys, what's sauce for the goose.

Beyond that, the Nichols stance on union political activity is not just bogus, it's highly selective. I once worked for a large company that solicited voluntary donations from its employees, which it turned over to the firm's political action fund which then contributed to political candidates selected by management, most of whose picks I didn't like. Perhaps employees in such situations should, by the Nichols prescription, quit their employment.

Does Nichols know how many private, for-profit media companies fund PACs? Would the mere existence of such a PAC make him feel like leaving his employer's fold? Would he take into account the pressure he might feel whenever asked by his managers to contribute?

Nichols evades another, even more instructive truth: It's extremely telling when a group of journalists decides to form a labor union. Follow me below the fold for the reason why.

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Jay Ambrose, a columnist syndicated by McClatchy-Tribune News Service,  is still spreading around the goofball conservative meme that disempowering public employee unions is the key to economic prosperty and getting things done. Following on the heels of the November elections, Ambrose unaccountably cited Wisconsin and its experience under recently re-elected Republican Gov. Scott Walker as the prime example of this approach.

You see, according to Ambrose, gutting public employee unions is the way to (as a headline over the Ambrose column in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel put it) "save the future." But we might borrow a line from an old "Firesign Theatre" comedy routine to explain what's really going on, namely, a Republican march that's "Forward, into the past!"  Trouble is, the nation has been there and done that, and it proved so awful as to lead to the very creation of the American labor movement. As it will again, if Ambrose's kind of thinking persists.

His column touting Walker's supposed successes beyond mere re-election relies mostly on the conservative echo chamber's nonsensical, fact-free arguments, spread widely across Wisconsin in the form of simplistic TV campaign ads purchased by mostly out-of-state dark money. It was another installment of the GOP/Walker bamboozlapooza: What's good for workers is sometimes bad for the economy, so cutting worker pay and benefits helps ... the workers! Trickle down, or something.

In paragraph one, Ambrose summarizes his own take on this, and gets it all very, very wrong:

"Scott Walker, the Republican governor of Wisconsin, took on public employee unions about to sink the state and reduced their bullying powers sufficiently to save the government billions and help rejuvenate a tepid economy."
Except for the spelling of Walker's name and his title, so much is objectively erroneous within that one sentence that by necessity it would take many sentences to fully sort out the truth -- which of course is what obfucastory Republican rhetoricians and their scribing allies rely upon to win hearts if not minds. Consider:

The Wisconsin public employee unions weren't in 2010 "about to sink the state," they were just patiently waiting for lawmakers to approve previously negotiated collective bargaining agreements. Then came Walker, who hadn't even yet taken office, but who had campaigned on a meme (more about which later) that Wisconsin was "broke." Walker demanded that the sitting governor and state legislature withhold contract approvals until he could take over and (Walker didn't reveal this right away) push his measure ending most such bargaining.

The unions promptly responded to Walker's declaration that the state was "broke" by agreeing to downward adjustments in those already agreed-upon salaries and benefits. Walker ignored them, illegally shirking his duty to bargain faithfully during the many-months interim before his law finally passed and was upheld in court. Before that, Walker had already proceeded to summarily claw back not only promised compensation but also existing levels of compensation.

Running a mostly allusional and heavily guttural campaign, Walker had worked to convince voters that that the state was broke (it wasn't), that unions were to blame (they weren't) and that everyone should join him in an agreeable round of schadenfreude and save a few bucks by getting rid of those implicitly corrupt Democrats (which for the even now legally endangered Walker would turn out to be one hell of a karmic angle). Game, set and match. But the anti-union angle came down to this:

How would you feel if you bargained hard over the price of a new car, finally bought it in what you considered a fair but tough deal, and then a month later discovered that a charge had appeared on your credit card from the car dealership, taking an extra 12 percent over the agreed-upon price? And when you demanded an explanation, the salesman explained that the dealership was broke and needed the extra money? Worse, what if you still later found out the dealership wasn't broke after all?

By way of analogy, that's what Walker did to most of the public employee unions in Wisconsin. And guys like Ambrose are still singing his praises, as Walker prepares for an apparent run at the presidency. Tell you what: I'd rather persist with Walker as my governor, bad as he's been, than inflict Walker upon the entire nation. I and many other Wisconsin reisdents will make that terrible sacrifice for you. But you, in turn, simply can't let that happen. This politician is a train wreck camouflaged inside an empty suit.

Much more below the orange puff of back-room cigar smoke.

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