Educate All Students, Support Public Education

September 24, 2014

School board President Michael Bonds Responds to Flagrant Comments by Alberta Darling and Joe Sanfelippo

Filed under: Darling,MPS Buildings,Tea Party — millerlf @ 10:33 am

Malcolm X to house high-performing school
Published: September 23, 2014

Legislative leaders misstate facts, ignore MPS efforts to place internationally recognized program in school

MILWAUKEE — Dr. Michael Bonds, president of the Milwaukee Board of School Directors, issued the following regarding the erroneous statement issued today by State Senator Alberta Darling and State Representative Joe Sanfelippo regarding the district’s plans to continue the development of the former Malcolm X Academy building:
“From the beginning of this process, Senator Darling and Representative Sanfelippo have clearly misunderstood this effort to bring a high-performing International Baccalaureate school to the Malcolm X neighborhood. Their statement today only further serves to illustrate that fact.

“There is nothing inappropriate about the decision made by the Milwaukee Board of School Directors to move forward with this project without the developer we initially identified. What was most critical to this Board is that the project move forward.

“It is unfortunate that Senator Darling and Representative Sanfelippo have characterized this effort as phony, crooked and obscene. In fact, the Board took the appropriate steps to continue the project itself and keep our promise to the neighborhood to deliver what it asked for: a high-performing school.

“I have asked the Office of the City Attorney to provide legal options with respect to the inflammatory and false allegations by Darling and Sanfelippo against the district, alleging corruption.”

August 14, 2012

Article Shows Ryan Money Connection to Koch Brothers, Tea Party and Right-Wing

Filed under: Koch Brothers,Right Wing Agenda,Tea Party — millerlf @ 1:42 pm

Ryan Has Kept Close Ties to Donors on the Right

By NICHOLAS CONFESSORE August 13, 2012 NY Times

This month, as a handful of Republicans auditioned at town halls and on bus tours to be Mitt Romney’s running mate, Representative Paul D. Ryan joined a private conference call. For 20 minutes, he walked through his plan to cut government spending and bashed President Obama for weakening welfare work requirements.

His audience: Several hundred field organizers for Americans for Prosperity, the Tea Party-inspired group founded by the billionaire conservative philanthropists Charles and David Koch.

When Mr. Romney announced that Mr. Ryan would be his running mate, his campaign emphasized the congressman’s detailed knowledge of the federal budget and his chemistry with Mr. Romney. Less well-known are Mr. Ryan’s close ties to the donors and activists who have channeled Tea Party anger into a $400 million political machine, financed by a network of conservative and libertarian donors that now rivals, and occasionally challenges, the Republican establishment behind Mr. Romney.

Mr. Ryan is one of a very few elected officials who have attended the Kochs’ biannual conferences, where wealthy donors sit in on seminars on runaway government spending and the myths of climate change.

He is on first-name terms with prominent libertarians in the financial world, including hedge fund billionaires like Cliff Asness and Paul Singer, and spent his formative years immersed in the Republican Party’s supply-side wing, working for lawmakers and conservative policy advocates like Jack Kemp.

He has appeared for years at rallies, town hall meetings, and donor briefings for groups like the Club for Growth, which spends millions to defeat Republicans deemed squishy on taxes and spending, and Americans for Prosperity, a grass-roots group focused on economic and budget issues that is now trying to channel Tea Party energy into a permanent electoral force. Its fourth chapter was founded in Mr. Ryan’s home state, Wisconsin.

Now Mr. Ryan could provide Mr. Romney with a critical political and intellectual bridge to the rising conservative counterestablishment represented by the Kochs and their allies, who are planning to spend hundreds of millions of dollars and deploy thousands of volunteers to defeat Mr. Obama. Should Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan win in November, a constituency that has for years fulminated against the failure of Republicans to live up to their own principles could soon have a close — and powerful — friend in the White House.

“There’s three guys that we courted for president: Paul Ryan, Mitch Daniels, and Mike Pence,” said Matt Kibbe, the president of FreedomWorks, a national advocacy group closely allied with the Tea Party, who worked alongside Mr. Ryan when both were staff aides on the House Budget Committee. “Up until yesterday, there was a 100 percent commitment to fire Obama. There was not a lot of enthusiasm about Romney.” Mr. Daniels is the governor of Indiana, and Mr. Pence is a congressman from Indiana.

Mr. Kibbe added, “From a Tea Party perspective, the overwhelming response on all of our networks has been extremely positive.”

Mr. Ryan’s ties to that world began with a job at Empower America, a group founded by Mr. Kemp that ran “candidate schools” for aspiring conservatives and advocated for a flat tax and lower spending. As a rank-and-file congressman during the presidency of George W. Bush, Mr. Ryan advocated for the privatization of Social Security, helping push the idea toward the Republican mainstream and cementing his reputation as a conservative intellectual.

Privately, Mr. Ryan would later say, he was also stewing over what he and other conservatives viewed as the Bush administration’s fiscal profligacy and ideological drift, including the addition of a drug benefit to Medicare and, later, a bank bailout plan, the Troubled Asset Relief Program. (Mr. Ryan voted for both.)

That dissatisfaction was shared by the Kochs, who in the middle of the last decade began organizing conferences of like-minded donors and founded Americans for Prosperity.

Mr. Ryan, who became House budget chairman in 2006, began attending and speaking at Americans for Prosperity events. In 2008, the Wisconsin chapter gave Mr. Ryan its annual “Defender of the American Dream” award. Mr. Ryan also began attending the Kochs’ annual donor seminars. Last spring, Mr. Ryan was a speaker at a “Hands Off My Health Care” rally organized by Tea Party leaders outside the Capitol, drawing enthusiastic applause.

In Congress, he emerged as a skeptic of mainstream climate change theory — opposition to which has been a top priority of Koch-affiliated activists and research groups — and a reliable vote against energy efficiency standards, including a House vote to prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases.

The relationship helped Mr. Ryan’s campaign coffers as well as his career: the Koch Industries PAC has donated more than $100,000 to Mr. Ryan’s campaigns and his leadership PAC, more than has any other corporate PAC, according to a New York Times analysis of campaign records.

Mr. Ryan has also developed relationships with other people in the Koch orbit, like Mr. Asness, a libertarian-minded financier known for his open letters blasting Mr. Obama, and Kenneth Griffin, a Chicago hedge-fund executive: wealthy donors whose taste for number-crunching and policy minutiae match Mr. Ryan’s own.

Mr. Griffin and his wife, Anne, introduced Mr. Ryan to Chicago’s deep-pocketed Republican donor circle — he has raised more money there this campaign than any other city — and promoted his budget proposals, including arranging a speech last year at the Economic Club of Chicago.

But it was Mr. Ryan’s aggressive promotion of his budget plan that has cemented his place the counterestablishment’s rising star. Mr. Ryan’s plan, viewed warily in its early form by other Republican leaders on the Hill, became an organizing document for the Tea Party’s Beltway wing, particularly the dozens of Tea Party-inspired freshman lawmakers who arrived on Capitol Hill after the 2010 elections. Many of them came to rely on Mr. Ryan for counsel on whether to accept budget compromises with Mr. Obama.

Outside political groups and research organizations praised Mr. Ryan’s plan, one of the few comprehensive conservative budget proposals detailed enough to be scored by the Congressional Budget Office, as rigorous and credible.

“Paul was one of the first guys that we looked at and said, ‘Hey, that young guy could be the guy,’ ” said Tim Phillips, Americans for Prosperity’s president. “And when he put out the budget and defended it, that’s when they said, ‘He could go all the way.’ ”

Officials with several outside groups that had been skeptical of Mr. Romney in the past said that the selection of Mr. Ryan had assuaged some of their doubts.

More important, they said, Mr. Ryan would fire up their grass-roots members, some of whom had doubted Mr. Romney’s commitment to cutting the size of government. Last week, before the announcement, Americans for Prosperity announced that it had begun its largest ever ad campaign against Mr. Obama, a $25 million broadside in 11 battleground states.

And on Monday, Romney officials said that the campaign had raised millions of dollars in the wake of Mr. Ryan’s selection, not only from grass-roots small donors, but from the many big donors who rank among his fans.

Griff Palmer contributed reporting.

December 4, 2011

Newt Gingrich’s War on Poor Children

Filed under: Poverty,Tea Party — millerlf @ 1:34 pm
By CHARLES M. BLOW  Published: December 2, 2011 NYTimes
Nearly two weeks after claiming that child labor laws are “truly stupid” and implying that poor children should be put to work as janitors in their schools, he now claims that poor children don’t understand work unless they’re doing something illegal.

On Thursday, at a campaign stop in Iowa, the former House speaker said, “Start with the following two facts: Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works. So they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday. They have no habit of staying all day. They have no habit of ‘I do this and you give me cash’ unless it’s illegal.” (His second “fact” was that every first generational person he knew started work early.)

This statement isn’t only cruel and, broadly speaking, incorrect, it’s mind-numbingly tone-deaf at a time when poverty is rising in this country. He comes across as a callous Dickensian character in his attitude toward America’s most vulnerable — our poor children. This is the kind of statement that shines light on the soul of a man and shows how dark it is.

Gingrich wants to start with the facts? O.K.

First, as I’ve pointed out before, three out of four poor working-aged adults — ages 18 to 64 — work. Half of them have full-time jobs and a quarter work part time.

Furthermore, according to an analysis of census data by Andrew A. Beveridge, a sociologist at Queens College, most poor children live in a household where at least one parent is employed. And even among children who live in extreme poverty — defined here as a household with income less than 50 percent of the poverty level — a third have at least one working parent. And even among extremely poor children who live in extremely poor areas — those in which 30 percent or more of the population is poor — nearly a third live with at least one working parent.

For this analysis, the most granular national data available — census areas with 100,000 or more people — were compared. For reference, New York City has 55 of these areas. You’d have to slice the definition of neighborhoods rather thinly to find a few areas that support Gingrich’s position.

Lastly, Gingrich vastly overreaches by suggesting that a lack of money universally correlates to a lack of morals. Yes, poverty presents increased risk factors for crime. But, encouragingly, data show that even as more Americans have fallen into poverty in recent years, the crime rate over all — and, specifically, among juveniles — has dropped.

“Facts” are not Gingrich’s forte. Yet he is now the Republican front-runner. It just goes to show how bankrupt of compassion and allergic to accuracy that party is becoming.

September 6, 2011

Tea Party Columnist: Registering Poor To Vote ‘Like Handing Out Burglary Tools To Criminals’

Filed under: Right Wing Agenda,Tea Party — millerlf @ 1:19 pm

Ryan J. Reilly TPM | September 2, 2011

Updated: September 2, 2011, 5:05 PM

Conservative columnist Matthew Vadum is just going to come right out and say it: registering the poor to vote is un-American and “like handing out burglary tools to criminals.”

“It is profoundly antisocial and un-American to empower the nonproductive segments of the population to destroy the country — which is precisely why Barack Obama zealously supports registering welfare recipients to vote,” Vadum, the author of a book published by World Net Daily that attacks the now-defunct community organizing group ACORN, writes in a column for the American Thinker.

“Encouraging those who burden society to participate in elections isn’t about helping the poor,” Vadum writes. “It’s about helping the poor to help themselves to others’ money. It’s about raw so-called social justice. It’s about moving America ever farther away from the small-government ideals of the Founding Fathers.”


August 22, 2011

Rep. Maxine Waters says “Tea Party can go straight to hell”

Filed under: Tea Party — millerlf @ 8:16 am
August 22, 2011 8:57 AM by Corbett B.Daly

Rep. Maxine Waters, the liberal lawmaker from southern California, continued to press for Democrats and President Obama to adopt a more combative style with Republicans ahead of next year’s elections.

“This is a tough game. You can’t be intimidated. You can’t be frightened. And as far as I’m concerned — the Tea Party can go straight to hell,” Waters told an Inglewood, California audience at a “Kitchen Table Summit” Saturday night, according to Los Angeles television station KABC.

Waters made waves last week when she openly criticized Mr. Obama’s style and called on him to get tough with Republicans in order to help disadvantaged Americans, including African Americans.

“The president is going to have to fight and he is going to have to fight hard,” she said at a job fair in Atlanta on Thursday.

Waters said there was a growing sense of unhappiness among African Americans with the the first black president.

She said liberals lost the recent fight over cutting government spending that Republicans tied to deadline for the U.S. to raise the nation’s legal borrowing limit.

“We were basically held up in raising the debt ceiling, until they got all of those budget cuts they demanded,” Waters said in Atlanta. “We didn’t raise any revenue and they didn’t close any tax loopholes. I believe the Democratic Party and the president of the United States should not have backed down. We should have made them walk the plank.”

“I’m not afraid of anybody,” Waters said Saturday.

August 4, 2011

Stock Market Nose Dive: Response to Republican Policies Cause Markets to take Worst Dive Since 2008

Filed under: Economy,Republicans,Right Wing Agenda,Tea Party — millerlf @ 3:31 pm
“…uncertainty created by the debate in the United States to raise the debt ceiling had unnerved European markets as United States investors had become increasingly reluctant to lend to European banks.

Stocks Dive on Fears of Global Slowdown

By Published: August 4, 2011 NYTimes

Stocks around the world fell sharply Thursday on intensifying investor fears about a slowdown in global economic growth and worries about Europe’s ongoing debt crisis, which is centered now on Italy and Spain.

Stock market indexes in the United States and Europe dropped more than 4 percent as Japan intervened to weaken its currency and the European Central Bank began buying bonds to try to calm markets.

At the close, the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index was down 60.27 points, or 4.78 percent, to 1,200.07. The Dow Jones industrial average was off 512.76 points, or 4.31 percent, to 11,383.68, and the Nasdaq was down 136.68, or 5.08 percent, to 2,556.39.

There have been 17 days since the beginning of 2008 with single-day drops of 4 percent or more – 13 in 2008 and 4 in 2009.

Following accelerating falls over the past two weeks, the stock market is now officially in “correction” territory, defined as a drop of 10 percent to 20 percent since the latest peak.

The S.&P. 500 has fallen 10.6 percent since its recent high of 1,363.61 on April 29, underlining the new negative investment sentiment about the economy and Europe.

“We are now in correction mode,” said Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at Standard & Poor’s. “We could have another couple of weeks to go before it bottoms.”

The last time the market was in a correction was last summer, when it fell 16 percent before recovering.

A fear haunting markets is that the United States economy may be heading for a double-dip recession. And even after a second major rescue package for Greece and the agreement to raise the debt ceiling in the United States, investors are concerned that world leaders have not done enough to address fragile underlying economic growth, while Europe’s debt problems have moved on to the much bigger economies of Italy and Spain.

Mohamed El-Erian, chief executive of the bond giant Pimco, said investors were selling risky assets like stocks “globally prompted by concerns about the weakening economic outlook, spreading contagion in Europe and insufficient policy responses.”

With Thursday’s dive, the three major American indexes had erased all of the gains made so far in 2011, with the S.&P. and Nasdaq markedly below the start of the year.

In afternoon trading, the Dow, an index of 30 blue-chip stocks, was about 9.4 percent off of its most recent closing high of 12,810.54, reached on April 29. But it was 18 percent below its all-time high of 14,164.53, on Oct. 9, 2007.

Unnerved by policymakers’ apparent inability to get ahead of Europe’s festering debt crisis, European stock markets turned sharply negative across the board.

In Britain, stocks closed down 3.43 percent. In Germany, the DAX index dropped 3.4 percent. In France, the CAC 40 closed down 3.9 percent.

“This is the worst it has been in Europe,” said Jens Nordvig, currency economist at Nomura Securities in New York. “The current rescue package was not enough to cope with the size of the problems posed by Italy and Spain. We need a new framework that can cope with those two countries, and without it markets are on their own and are falling.”

Major indexes in Italy, Spain, France and Switzerland all closed Thursday more than 20 percent below their 2011 highs, while Germany was off nearly 15 percent and Britain’s decline was more than 11 percent.

The selling has extended to many other markets. Mexican stocks are off almost 14 percent from their highs earlier this year, and Brazil’s major index has lost more than a quarter of its value.

Yields on Italian government bonds, already above 6 percent, rose sharply, adding to concerns that the nation’s current debt position is unsustainable. Yields on Spanish debt also increased. This was despite large-scale intervention by the European Central Bank, which for the first time since March began buying bonds in an apparent attempt to prevent the region’s sovereign debt crisis from engulfing Italy.

The markets had expected some concrete action from Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Italian’s worsening debt situation in public remarks late Wednesday. But they were disappointed when he defended the country’s fundamentals and said current packages were enough to foster economic growth. The Italian stock market opened up but then slipped sharply.

Since many of Europe’s banks hold the bonds of countries like Italy and Spain, concern is turning to the health of the banking system as these bonds drop in value. With warning signs flashing that some European banks are struggling to fund themselves in increasingly expensive credit markets, the E.C.B. also moved to help weaker banks by expanding its lending to institutions in the euro area at the benchmark interest rate. Bank stocks nevertheless fell sharply in Europe.

Jean-Claude Trichet, the president of the E.C.B., said the bank had acted in response to “renewed tensions in some financial markets in the euro area.”

He said that uncertainty created by the debate in the United States to raise the debt ceiling had unnerved European markets as United States investors had become increasingly reluctant to lend to European banks. “It’s clear the entire world is intertwined,” he said. “What happens in the U.S. influences the rest of the world.”

But the E.C.B.’s steps were not enough to help Europe’s bond markets.

Laurent Bilke, an analyst at Nomura in London, said the E.C.B. had been buying government debt of Portugal and Ireland in order to calm these markets. But it had not been buying Italian and Spanish government debt, and that had unnerved investors.

He said the E.C.B. council had also not been united in its decision to take extraordinary measures to intervene in the markets, and that fact had spooked markets.

August 2, 2011

Negotiating With Tea Party is Negotiating with Terrorists

Filed under: Tea Party,Unworthy Compromise — millerlf @ 9:55 am

Tea Party’s War on America

By Published: August 1, 2011 NYTimes Op-ed

These last few months, much of the country has watched in horror as the Tea Party Republicans have waged jihad on the American people. Their intransigent demands for deep spending cuts, coupled with their almost gleeful willingness to destroy one of America’s most invaluable assets, its full faith and credit, were incredibly irresponsible. But they didn’t care. Their goal, they believed, was worth blowing up the country for, if that’s what it took.

Like ideologues everywhere, they scorned compromise. When John Boehner, the House speaker, tried to cut a deal with President Obama that included some modest revenue increases, they humiliated him. After this latest agreement was finally struck on Sunday night — amounting to a near-complete capitulation by Obama — Tea Party members went on Fox News to complain that it only called for $2.4 trillion in cuts, instead of $4 trillion. It was head-spinning.

All day Monday, the blogosphere and the talk shows mused about which party would come out ahead politically. Honestly, who cares? What ought to matter is not how these spending cuts will affect our politicians, but how they’ll affect the country. And I’m not even talking about the terrible toll $2.4 trillion in cuts will take on the poor and the middle class. I am talking about their effect on America’s still-ailing economy.

America’s real crisis is not a debt crisis. It’s an unemployment crisis. Yet this agreement not only doesn’t address unemployment, it’s guaranteed to make it worse. (Incredibly, the Democrats even abandoned their demand for extended unemployment benefits as part of the deal.) As Mohamed El-Erian, the chief executive of the bond investment firm Pimco, told me, fiscal policy includes both a numerator and a denominator. “The numerator is debt,” he said. “But the denominator is growth.” He added, “What we have done is accelerate forward, in a self-inflicted manner, the numerator. And, in the process, we have undermined the denominator.” Economic growth could have gone a long way toward shrinking the deficit, while helping put people to work. The spending cuts will shrink growth and raise the likelihood of pushing the country back into recession.

Inflicting more pain on their countrymen doesn’t much bother the Tea Party Republicans, as they’ve repeatedly proved. What is astonishing is that both the president and House speaker are claiming that the deal will help the economy. Do they really expect us to buy that? We’ve all heard what happened in 1937 when Franklin Roosevelt, believing the Depression was over, tried to rein in federal spending. Cutting spending spiraled the country right back into the Great Depression, where it stayed until the arrival of the stimulus package known as World War II. That’s the path we’re now on. Our enemies could not have designed a better plan to weaken the American economy than this debt-ceiling deal.

One thing Roosevelt did right during the Depression was legislate into being a social safety net to soften the blows that a free-market economy can mete out in tough times. During this recession, it’s as if the government is going out of its way to make sure the blows are even more severe than they have to be. The debt-ceiling debate reflects a harsher, less empathetic America. It’s sad to see.

My own view is that Obama should have played the 14th Amendment card, using its language about “the validity of the public debt” to unilaterally raise the debt ceiling. Yes, he would have infuriated the Republicans, but so what? They already view him as the Antichrist. Legal scholars believe that Congress would not have been able to sue to overturn his decision. Inexplicably, he chose instead a course of action that maximized the leverage of the Republican extremists.

Assuming the Senate passes the bill on Tuesday, the debt ceiling will be a nonissue until after the next election. But the debilitating deficit battles are by no means over. Thanks to this deal, a newly formed supercommittee of Congress is supposed to target another $1.2 trillion to $1.5 trillion in cuts by late November. If those cuts don’t become law by Dec. 23, automatic across-the-board cuts will be imposed, including deep reductions in defense spending.

As has been explained ad nauseam, the threat of defense cuts is supposed to give the Republicans an incentive to play fair with the Democrats in the negotiations. But with our soldiers still fighting in Afghanistan, which side is going to blink if the proposed cuts threaten to damage national security? Just as they did with the much-loathed bank bailout, which most Republicans spurned even though financial calamity loomed, the Democrats will do the responsible thing. Apparently, that’s their problem.

For now, the Tea Party Republicans can put aside their suicide vests. But rest assured: They’ll have them on again soon enough. After all, they’ve gotten so much encouragement.

July 29, 2011

Debt Ceiling Crisis: America Held Hostage by Republican Party Extremists

Filed under: Republicans,Right Wing Agenda,Tea Party — millerlf @ 9:22 am

How Does the Media Portray it? Read The Centrist Cop-Out

By PAUL KRUGMAN Published: July 28, 2011 NYTimes

The facts of the crisis over the debt ceiling aren’t complicated. Republicans have, in effect, taken America hostage, threatening to undermine the economy and disrupt the essential business of government unless they get policy concessions they would never have been able to enact through legislation. And Democrats — who would have been justified in rejecting this extortion altogether — have, in fact, gone a long way toward meeting those Republican demands.

As I said, it’s not complicated. Yet many people in the news media apparently can’t bring themselves to acknowledge this simple reality. News reports portray the parties as equally intransigent; pundits fantasize about some kind of “centrist” uprising, as if the problem was too much partisanship on both sides.

Some of us have long complained about the cult of “balance,” the insistence on portraying both parties as equally wrong and equally at fault on any issue, never mind the facts. I joked long ago that if one party declared that the earth was flat, the headlines would read “Views Differ on Shape of Planet.” But would that cult still rule in a situation as stark as the one we now face, in which one party is clearly engaged in blackmail and the other is dickering over the size of the ransom?

The answer, it turns out, is yes. And this is no laughing matter: The cult of balance has played an important role in bringing us to the edge of disaster. For when reporting on political disputes always implies that both sides are to blame, there is no penalty for extremism. Voters won’t punish you for outrageous behavior if all they ever hear is that both sides are at fault.

Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. As you may know, President Obama initially tried to strike a “Grand Bargain” with Republicans over taxes and spending. To do so, he not only chose not to make an issue of G.O.P. extortion, he offered extraordinary concessions on Democratic priorities: an increase in the age of Medicare eligibility, sharp spending cuts and only small revenue increases. As The Times’s Nate Silver pointed out, Mr. Obama effectively staked out a position that was not only far to the right of the average voter’s preferences, it was if anything a bit to the right of the average Republican voter’s preferences.

But Republicans rejected the deal. So what was the headline on an Associated Press analysis of that breakdown in negotiations? “Obama, Republicans Trapped by Inflexible Rhetoric.” A Democratic president who bends over backward to accommodate the other side — or, if you prefer, who leans so far to the right that he’s in danger of falling over — is treated as being just the same as his utterly intransigent opponents. Balance!

Which brings me to those “centrist” fantasies.

Many pundits view taking a position in the middle of the political spectrum as a virtue in itself. I don’t. Wisdom doesn’t necessarily reside in the middle of the road, and I want leaders who do the right thing, not the centrist thing.

But for those who insist that the center is always the place to be, I have an important piece of information: We already have a centrist president. Indeed, Bruce Bartlett, who served as a policy analyst in the Reagan administration, argues that Mr. Obama is in practice a moderate conservative.

Mr. Bartlett has a point. The president, as we’ve seen, was willing, even eager, to strike a budget deal that strongly favored conservative priorities. His health reform was very similar to the reform Mitt Romney installed in Massachusetts. Romneycare, in turn, closely followed the outlines of a plan originally proposed by the right-wing Heritage Foundation. And returning tax rates on high-income Americans to their level during the Roaring Nineties is hardly a socialist proposal.

True, Republicans insist that Mr. Obama is a leftist seeking a government takeover of the economy, but they would, wouldn’t they? The facts, should anyone choose to report them, say otherwise.

So what’s with the buzz about a centrist uprising? As I see it, it’s coming from people who recognize the dysfunctional nature of modern American politics, but refuse, for whatever reason, to acknowledge the one-sided role of Republican extremists in making our system dysfunctional. And it’s not hard to guess at their motivation. After all, pointing out the obvious truth gets you labeled as a shrill partisan, not just from the right, but from the ranks of self-proclaimed centrists.

But making nebulous calls for centrism, like writing news reports that always place equal blame on both parties, is a big cop-out — a cop-out that only encourages more bad behavior. The problem with American politics right now is Republican extremism, and if you’re not willing to say that, you’re helping make that problem worse.

July 21, 2011

More on ALEC: How Wisconsin Republicans Create Right Wing Legislation

Filed under: Republicans,Right Wing Agenda,Tea Party — millerlf @ 10:30 am

July 13, 2011

In the midst of trying to balance the state’s multibillion-dollar budget, who had time to debate the state tax on moist tobacco products?
The American Legislative Exchange Council’s allies in the Wisconsin Legislature did.
Late in the budget debate, six Republican lawmakers – including four currently facing recall elections – sponsored a proposal to lower the overall price of moist snuff like Copenhagen and Skoal. Specifically, the provision would have altered the tax on smokeless tobacco products from one based on the price of the tobacco to one based on weight.
That stance on this obscure subject matches a model resolution approved by ALEC, a conservative outfit that brings corporations and lawmakers together to draw up draft legislation.
Gov. Scott Walker eventually vetoed the item before signing the 2011-’13 budget.
Mary Bottari, spokeswoman for the left-wing Center for Media and Democracy, said the moist tobacco proposal illustrates the influence the relatively obscure conservative outfit has on the legislative process in Wisconsin and other states.
“These are very specific, ideological agenda items,” said Bottari, whose group is making available online 800-plus of ALEC’s draft bills and resolutions that it obtained from a whistleblower. “It’s deserving of some scrutiny.”
Overall, her media research group has identified about 20 ALEC proposals that it says have been introduced or approved by Wisconsin lawmakers this year.
For instance, the center finds strong parallels between nine ALEC measures and the tort-reform law introduced by Walker and approved by the GOP-controlled Legislature in a special session in January.
But a Walker spokesman says the first-term Republican didn’t rely on any draft legislation from ALEC when putting together the tort-reform law or any other bill he’s introduced this year.
“Absolutely not,” said Walker aide Cullen Werwie.
Walker listed himself as a member of the conservative group on his official biography when in the Legislature during the 1990s.
State Rep. Robin Vos, state chairman for ALEC, said he’s unaware of any model ALEC bills or resolutions that have made it through the state Legislature so far this year, though he acknowledged that he could have missed one.
Vos said the group – which receives funding from the Koch brothers and the Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation – simply provides a way for state lawmakers to share ideas from other states.
Even if someone introduces a model ALEC bill, Vos said, it still must be vetted via the committee process.
“This is a made-up issue,” Vos said.
Still, the similarities between some Wisconsin legislation and ALEC draft bills are striking.
On the moist tobacco proposal, an ALEC staffer even wrote to the governor to ask him not to veto the item after it was inserted in the budget bill.
“The amendment will create a fairer tax system that reduces market distortions and encourages fiscal stability,” wrote Courtney O’Brien, director of the Commerce, Insurance, and Economic Development & Public Safety and Elections Task Forces at ALEC.
She did not return calls or emails. The measure was pushed by Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris USA, which would have benefited from it because it manufactures smokeless tobacco products that are far lighter than those of other manufacturers.
Two of the four Republican senators targeted for recalls who sponsored the provision – Luther Olsen of Ripon and Sheila Harsdorf of River Falls – distanced themselves from the issue.
“We do not interact with them at all,” Olsen aide Tara Baxter said of ALEC. She said her boss had never been a member of the organization and “never will be.”
Sens. Alberta Darling of River Hills and Randy Hopper of Fond du Lac didn’t return calls.
As it turns out, the proposal was ordered up by Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, a Juneau Republican. He has received about $3,000 in reimbursements from ALEC to attend conferences in the past two years, according to his ethics statements.
Fitzgerald spokesman Andrew Welhouse said his boss pushed the moist tobacco proposal because it is the fair thing to do. Federal officials, he said, already tax snuff, chewing tobacco and pipe tobacco based on weight.
Welhouse said it’s not surprising that GOP legislators and ALEC agree on a tax issue.
“Lately, it feels like the Democrats are trying to create this ALEC boogeyman, but we didn’t make this change because it’s an ALEC bill – we made it because it’s a tax fairness issue,” Welhouse said. “ALEC supports organ donation and drug-free schools, too. Sometimes good ideas are just good ideas.”
That’s not the only proposal with strong similarities to ALEC’s draft legislation.
Vos fought to insert a provision in the state budget to bring for-profit bail bondsmen back to Wisconsin.
But the co-chairman of the powerful Joint Finance Committee said he couldn’t have used the model ALEC bills on this issue because Wisconsin’s statutes are so unusual on this issue.
Sen. Leah Vukmir – voted national “Legislator of the Year” at ALEC’s 2009 annual meeting – has introduced a bill that would give scholarships to handicapped students so they could attend private schools enrolled in the state’s choice program. The name of her bill, the Special Needs Scholarship Program Act, is verbatim as the model bill from ALEC.
That’s also true of her Patient’s Right to Know Act, a bill she sponsored in 2009 that would allow patients to ask health care providers and insurers about the cost and coverage for specific medical procedures.
Vukmir aide Jason Rostan said the scholarship bill actually came from a proposal in Florida. He said he thought the idea may have originally come from school choice proponents.
As for the health care legislation, he said, Vukmir took the proposal to ALEC after she introduced it here. Members of the conservative group then signed off on the plan, adopting it as a model bill.
“We actually gave it to ALEC,” Rostan said.
Bottari, the critic of ALEC, said she’s not buying the denials from the governor and top Wisconsin legislators that they’re not using material from the national group when crafting their bills.
Her group maintains that ALEC allows corporations and conservative lawmakers to work in secret to draw up bills that benefit specific business interests. By pushing the model legislation and resolutions, the group is trying to bring greater scrutiny to ALEC’s influence.
“When you consider the 20 ALEC bills we identified and the ideas that keep coming out of this (Walker) administration,” Bottari said, “it just defies belief that there’s no relationship between these bills and ALEC.”

July 17, 2011

The Nation on ALEC, Consortium for Republican Right Wing Policy

Filed under: Republicans,Right Wing Agenda,Tea Party — millerlf @ 10:03 pm

The Conservatives’ ALEC Philosophy: Everything Related to Government Should Be Demonized, Starved or Privatized

Any force in civil society that contests the right of business to grab all social surplus, and to treat people like roadkill and the earth like a sewer, should be crushed.
 This article is part of a Nation series exposing the American Legislative Exchange Council, in collaboration with the Center For Media and Democracy. John Nichols introduces the series. For more great content from the Nation, sign up for their e-mail newsletters here.
In the world according to ALEC, competing firms in free markets are the only real source of social efficiency and wealth. Government contributes nothing but security. Outside of this function, it should be demonized, starved or privatized. Any force in civil society, especially labor, that contests the right of business to grab all social surplus for itself, and to treat people like roadkill and the earth like a sewer, should be crushed.
This view of the world dominated the legislative sessions that began in January. GOP leaders, fresh from their blowout victory in November, pushed a consistent message—“We’re broke”; “Public sector workers are to blame”; “If we tax the rich we’ll face economic extinction”—and deployed legislative tools inspired by ALEC to enact their vision. They faced pushback, but they also made great progress—and will be back again soon.
Let’s examine what happened in three critical economic areas:Revenue

ALEC has long sought to limit the ability of states to raise or collect taxes or fees. Before this spring, it had already succeeded in getting more than thirty to adopt such limits, often hard-wired into their constitutions or requiring supermajorities to change. Its varied model legislation to this end includes the Capital Gains Tax Elimination Act, Use Tax Elimination Act, Super Majority Act, Taxpayer Protection Act and Automatic Income Tax Rate Adjustment Act. Its model resolutions oppose such things as mandatory unitary combined reporting (the chief way states get corporations to pay any taxes at all) while supporting such things as the federal flat tax and efforts to extend the Bush tax cuts permanently. The Automatic Income Tax Rate Adjustment Act, for example, “provides for a biennial reduction in the state adjusted gross income tax rate on residents, nonresidents, and corporations if year-over-year revenue…exceeds certain amounts,” in effect ensuring no increase in state revenue, even during periods of growth, while keeping tax cuts on the table. The Taxpayer Protection Act “prohibits the revenue department of a state from basing any employee’s compensation, promotion or evaluation on collections or assessments,” otherwise known as doing their job.
This past session, ALEC members, drawing heavily from the list above, introduced 500 bills to “starve the beast.” But their greatest victory was the most obvious one. Faced with shortfalls in state revenues from the economic crisis, states almost universally and overwhelmingly chose cuts to public employment or services over progressive tax increases as a solution.


Privatization is so central to ALEC’s agenda that it has built a fake board game, Publicopoly, on its website, where the curious can find model legislation and other resources on privatizing basically everything, from transportation (Competitive Contracting of the Department of Motor Vehicles Act) to the environment (Environmental Services Public-Private Partnership Act). Critical to ALEC’s agenda are the foundational bills that set up the rationale for privatizing government services: the Public-Private Fair Competition Act creates a committee to review “whether state agencies unfairly compete with the private sector,” and the Competitive Contracting of Public Services Act requires “make or buy” decisions to encourage privatization. The hallmark of ALEC’s model privatization legislation, the Council on Efficient Government Act, creates “a council on efficient government to leverage resources and contract with private sector vendors if those vendors can more effectively and efficiently provide goods and services and reduce the cost of government.” These councils typically include representatives from the private sector, who then decide to let their business colleagues bid for public sector work.
In the past few years, with at least three additions this session alone, legislation establishing a state Council on Efficient Government has been introduced in Virginia, Maryland, Arizona, Kansas, Oregon, Illinois and South Carolina. In each case, the concepts in the bill mirror the ALEC proposal. In some cases—South Carolina, Arizona and Illinois—the state bills read as copies of ALEC’s model legislation. Virginia’s, Oregon’s, Maryland’s and Kansas’ bills, to varying degrees, contain language directly from ALEC’s model.


The fiercest attacks this session were reserved for public sector unions, especially in the once labor-friendly Midwest states of Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin that went deep red in November. ALEC has a sweeping range of model antiunion laws, the broad aim of which is to make it harder to be a union and easier for workers not to pay the costs of collective bargaining or union political activity. The Right to Work Act eliminates employee obligation to pay the costs of collective bargaining; the Public Employee Freedom Act bars almost any action to induce it; the Public Employer Payroll Deduction Act bars automatic dues collection; the Voluntary Contribution Act bars the use of dues for political activity.
This spring, GOP governors or legislatures introduced at least 500 of these and other ALEC-inspired antilabor laws, including laws to restrict the scope of collective bargaining; to limit or eliminate “project labor agreements” and state “prevailing wage” requirements; and to pre-empt local living wage or other labor standards. Just keeping track of all the antiunion legislation was often daunting. In Michigan, the AFL-CIO was dealing with more than fifty laws aimed at its demise.
In some states, the results have been lethal. In Wisconsin, the first state to legalize public sector union bargaining, public sector unions (excluding police and firefighters) were reduced to near irrelevance. The law limits collective bargaining to wages only (no bargaining over benefits, safety or work conditions) and forbids those to be increased faster than inflation. To continue to exist, unions must annually win recertification elections with more than 50 percent of the vote of all workers in their bargaining unit—a threshold requirement that is unheard of. Ohio also passed a law limiting public sector bargaining rights (including for police and firefighters) and permitting members to opt out of paying dues.
There were limits to this stampede. “Paycheck protection,” introduced in fifteen states, passed only in Alabama and Arizona. “Right to work,” introduced in eighteen states, hasn’t advanced significantly anywhere. (Tennessee reaffirmed a pre-existing right to work, and in New Hampshire the governor’s veto is holding it back.) But damage has been done. It may be that unions and other progressive organizations, moved by the carnage, will work together and with the public to build a mass movement to reverse it. Certainly, many people are trying to do that now. Whatever their success, we can be sure that ALEC will fight them fiercely in the states, while pressing forward with its own project: the complete business domination of American public life.
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