Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Sustainability Action Network Newsletter, 7 July 2015 @ Discomfit Magazine

Tom Tomorrow: "Health Care Glossary Update" @ Daily Kos Comics

Andres Cala: "Greek 'No' Vote Spurs Wider Resistance" @ Consortium News

Dave Lindorff: "The Greek People Have Voted "No" to Austerity and Economic Blackmail" @ This Can't Be Happening!


Something huge has happened in Greece, though you wouldn’t know it if you rely on the US corporate media for your information.

That reporting has, with rare exceptions, followed the party line that a bunch of naive “leftists” led by Greece’s relatively young and new prime minister Alexis Tsipras and his motorcycle-riding radical economist finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, have pushed Greece “to the brink of chaos” through their ineptitude. This same biased reporting has been pushing the argument that Greece has “no choice” but to swallow even more austerity, selling off all its public assets to circling capitalist vultures, in the vain hope that someday the country’s economy will bottom out and begin “growing” again.

The reality of what has just happened is quite different. Actually, Greece has suffered seven years of austerity the likes of which countries like the US and northern Europe haven’t seen since the Great Depression. Unemployment is over 20% (50% for young people!), and there is no end in sight if the so-called Troika -- the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank -- continues to hold the country by the throat, demanding regular payments on a debt that even the IMF admits can never be repaid.

Far from being naive or inept, Tsipras, Varoufakis and the ruling Syriza Party have done two remarkable things brilliantly -- one of which should not really be remarkable at all, except that the so-called “free world” has moved so far away from real democracy at this point that it’s forgotten what democracy is, and the other of which would not have been necessary were the global media not so fawning towards ruling elites in their respective countries.

The first of these two things was the bold decision by Tsipras to hand the question of what to do next in Greece to the Greek people, by allowing them to vote on whether they wanted to surrender to global and European bankers and the governments of the world’s wealthiest nations, or wanted to say “No!” to further demands for austerity. When Tsipras walked away from further bailout negotiations and made his surprise call for that referendum, and when the Greek parliament backed him by passing a bill setting the poll up, a cacophony of doomsaying pundits in Europe, the US and the Greek conservative media all warned the Greek people to “see reason” and to “vote for Europe,” as though voting against more austerity would inevitably mean pariah status for Greece.

There was a kind of smug gloating over early polls showing that a majority of Greeks planned to vote “Yes” to accepting whatever the banks and the European Union demanded, or later, when it appeared that the vote would be close...

For the rest of this article by DAVE LINDORFF in ThisCantBeHappening!, the new independent, uncompromised, five-time Project Censored Award-winning online alternative newspaper, please go to: www.thiscantbehappening.net/node/2797

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Sam Zeff & Matthew Hodapp: "Then And Now, Former Senators Compare And Contrast Kansas Legislatures" @ KCUR 89.3fm Podcast

Saturday, July 04, 2015

"As Walker Announces Run for the White House, WI GOP Guts Open Records Law" @ Center for Media and Democracy


July 3, 2015

"Cowardly" Move Directly Related to CMD's Lawsuit Over "Drafting Error" Documents

On the same day that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker announced his run for president, the Wisconsin GOP has proposed a virtual gutting of Wisconsin's open records law, long considered one of the best in the nation. The drastic changes were proposed in a last-minute, anonymous budget motion, with zero public input on the eve of a holiday weekend. The motion will be rolled into the state's massive budget bill and voted on in the coming weeks.

The unprecedented proposal would give lawmakers broad authority to hide the special interests who are working to influence legislation. It would keep legislative drafting files under wraps, create a new "deliberative materials" exemption in the open records law that would exempt records at all levels of government, and give the legislature an easy way to hide even more records from disclosure in the future.

The move to gut the open records law appears to come in direct response to a lawsuit that the Center for Media and Democracy filed against Governor Walker in May.

CMD was the first to reveal that Walker's office had struck the "search for truth" from the university's mission and eliminated the "Wisconsin Idea," and sued Walker after he withheld records pertaining to the changes, based on a claimed "deliberative process privilege. Although Walker's lawyers claim there already exists a deliberative privilege in Wisconsin law, that clearly is not true, because if it were, his allies in the legislature wouldn't have to add one through the budget process.

The sweeping proposal would gut the public records law as it applies to the legislature and governor's office, hiding special interest influence over public policy. The measure would help candidate Walker sidestep public scrutiny as more and more national media outlets file records requests with his office. The Joint Finance Committee chairs, Sen. Alberta Darling (R) and Rep. John Nygren (R), have refused to say who asked for the changes.

Bill Lueders, president of the transparency watchdog Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, called the proposal a "cowardly" and a "shocking assault on the state’s long and proud tradition of open government."

"These radical and sweeping changes represent a full-frontal attack on Wisconsin’s history of open government," Lueders said. "They are clearly intended to block the public from discovering what factors drive the official actions of government, especially the Legislature, and will inevitably lead to abuse, malfeasance and corruption."

Ron Sklansky, a former senior staff attorney at the nonpartisan Wisconsin Legislative Counsel for 35 years and one of the attorney experts on open records, told CMD he had never seen a legislative proposal put forward that was as "devastating" to the open records law as this one. The measure is "almost a complete gutting of open records as it applies to the legislative and executive branch. It prevents the public from investigating the undue influence of special interests on the passage of legislation and the development of executive branch proposals and rule making," he said.

Although the proposal passed the Joint Finance Committee along party lines--with all Republicans voting in favor and all Democrats against--the move has prompted outrage across the political spectrum. The president of the right-wing MacIver Insitute, Brett Healy, said the proposal "looks to be a huge step backwards for open government." Wisconsin's Republican Attorney General, Brad Schimel, said "Transparency is the cornerstone of democracy and the provisions in the Budget Bill limiting access to public records move Wisconsin in the wrong direction."

The proposal would:

1) Create a new "deliberative materials" exemption

The amendments would exempt all "deliberative materials" from disclosure under the public records law, protecting anything that might have informed a policy decision.

"Deliberative materials" are broadly defined as “communications and other materials, including opinions, analyses, briefings, background information, recommendations, suggestions, drafts, correspondence about drafts, and notes, created or prepared in the process of reaching a decision concerning a policy or course of action.”

This measure could protect the disclosure of communications, draft legislation, or background materials from groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council, or "ALEC." It would allow legislators to hide their communications with lobbyists or campaign donors seeking policy favors. And it would allow the governor to hide how the executive budget was developed--including, for example, how, and why, his office might have sought to alter the purpose of the university system.

2) Allow legislators to hide the identity of any person who communicates about the development of policy

This could allow lawmakers to hide the special interests who are working to influence legislation.

For example, CMD has filed an open records request with Joint Finance Chair Alberta Darling, who received thousands of dollars of contributions from Bill Minahan, whose company Building Committee Inc. received a $500,000 unsecured loan from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), then promptly went bust leaving taxpayers to foot the bill.

The Wisconsin State Journal used the open records law to take a deep dive into this loan, documenting that it came shortly after Minahan gave Walker a $10,000 contribution and linking it to Walker’s chief of staff Keith Gilkes and second-in-command Mike Huebsch. Most recently, the State Journal discovered that Minahan loan had not gone through the underwriting required by law and many more loans failed to go through proper underwriting, putting millions of taxpayer dollars at risk.

WEDC has been the subject of two damning state audits which documented continued lawbreaking at Walker’s flagship jobs agency. Shortly after the last audit was published, two legislators threatened to get rid of the highly respected non-partisan audit bureau. CMD sent records requests to Reps. Adam Jarchow and David Craig, curious as to who was behind the radical move to destroy the audit bureau, but has not yet received their response.

3) Hide the "drafting files" showing how legislation is developed

"Drafting files" reveal the process of developing a bill or budget provision, and are used regularly by journalists to gain insight into how policy is developed. And those insights can sometimes be embarassing.

Drafting files were key to undermining Walker's claims about his offices changes to the Wisconsin Idea. After the deletion of the "search for truth" sparked a "political firestorm" in Wisconsin and around the country, the governor blamed the change on a “drafting error,” and then on a “miscommunication,” then claimed that the university never raised concerns about the changes. Yet those statements were contradicted by the drafting files examined by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and documents obtained through records requests, earning Walker a “pants on fire” rating from Politifact.

Drafting files also informed other important investigations. In 2014, for example, a Wisconsin State Journal examination of drafting files showed a wealthy, divorced donor to Rep. Joel Kleefisch helping to write a bill that would have lowered his child support payments. If these amendments were enacted, those records--and the donor's influence--would have been kept secret.

Additionally, drafting records aren't just important for accountability, "they are needed by the courts to discern the legislative intent behind the construction of statutes," said Sklansky who noted that legislative intent was a consideration in the recent Supreme Courts ruling on the federal health care law last week.
Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser, for example, a former Republican legislator, regularly consults drafting files and legislative records to ascertain legislative intent.

4) Allow the legislature to override the Public Records Law via legislative rule

The proposal also gives the legislature the ability to exempt any additional records from disclosure merely by adopting a new rule by majority vote--without having to go through the legislative process.

By eliminating access to records that had previously been public, this move limits the ability of the press and public to play their watchdog role. Taken together with proposals to dismantle the nonpartisan Government Accountability Board (after it investigated alleged campaign finance violations by Walker's campaign) and the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau (after it critiqued Walker's jobs agency in a scathing audit), all evidence indicates that Governor Walker and his allies are seeking to muzzle the watchdogs.

Click here to see proposal.

Bernie Sanders: July 1, 2015 Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Madison, WI.

June 30, 2015

Friday, July 03, 2015

Sarah Smarsh: "Poverty, Pride and Prejudice in Kansas" @ The New Yorker

Another Kansan writes from the outside, looking back with pain ...

Priti Gulati Cox: "When the Personal Fits the Political Agenda" @ Counterpunch


Written by a Kansas resident-artist from "the Bruised Apple" Salina down the road from Manhattan a/k/a "the Little Apple." This was some of the best reporting I came across of the big day in the Topeka statehouse. 

[Excerpt]   ... Rep. Barton testified that he was a supporter of House Bill 2139, and that he found “her remarks offensive and disrespectful,” and that she “resorted to the tactic of choosing her target….I was one of those targets.” And Rep. Highland for his part said, “The inflammatory tone and words used in the speech were taken personally by several members of the committee, to include me.” Neither explained why he assumed that when Rep. Winn mentioned racism and bigotry she was referring to him.
Later that afternoon, five of the six panel members voted to drop the case against Rep. Winn; the chair, Rep. Davis, abstained. The complaint was dismissed. But afterward, Rep. Winn told me, “This isn’t over yet.” ... [End of Excerpt]


Read the complete article with video link at Counterpunch.

Molly Beck: "Republicans vote to dramatically scale back oversight of lawmakers, other public officials" @ Wisconsin State Journal

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Jim McLean: "Analysis Questions Fairness Of Kansas Tax System" @ KCUR-fm via the Heartland Health Monitor

"Sine Die" Statehouse Session June 26, 2015: Shaking off the morning dew, a dawn rising from the South


Kansas People's Action is rising up to the tyranny of the Kansas
Legislature in it's attempt to censure and expel Representative Valdenia Winn for standing up for the rights of immigrant children. 

We plan to leave Wichita at 5:30 AM on Friday, June 26, 2015 from our offices. 

We ask all to assemble at 1751 N. Ash, Wichita, Ks. The hearing will be held at 8:30 AM in room 582N and we will arrive in Topeka by 8:00 AM. 

If you're interested in joining us, please call 316-264-9972x49.

We have a bus and ask that you come prepared to provide a small donation. We'll update you with more details later this week.

Upon arrival, we will be delivering this petition: http://action.kansaspeoplesaction.org/page/s/we-support-valdenia-winn, to the members of the committee overseeing the hearing. 

If you haven't already signed it, Rep. Winn can use all the support she can get and your signature would be greatly appreciated. 

Please also share it with friends.

There are a number of other happenings from various groups at the statehouse on Friday that you may want to support and can be viewed by clicking this link:

https://www.facebook.com/events/960321000665602/

FROM THE FACEBOOK EVENT:

Agenda:

8:30 AM, Room 582 North - Hearing for Rep. Valdenia Winn, accused of using "racially charged" language during an Education committee meeting earlier in the 2015 session
Accusers: Republican representatives Barton, Rhoads, Macheers, Bradford, Dove, Lunn, Highland, Hedke, and Barker
versus

Defendant: Democratic Representative Valdenia Winn, she has been denied attorney representation per Hearing Committee Chair Republican Erin Davis (913-768-6408, 913-271-1095,   email at: erin@reperindavis.com)

############

10:00am House & Senate will gavel in for Sine Die, the formality that ends the Worst. Legislative. Session. Ever. 

The House & Senate have to clean up the property tax lid bill that they rushed through, so this may take a bit. 

They have to decide whether to wreck local governments now (July 2015) or later (2018). Fill the galleries (4th floor) & outside hallways (3rd & 4th floors), if necessary.

Equality Kansas has the 1st floor rotunda for an event at 10am. We are kindred spirits, sharing the same goals of equality for all. Democrats should feel free to attend this or sine die.

Following sine die, we can greet the legislators:

  1. outside their respective chambers; 
  2. on their way to the garage; 
  3. from the sidewalk near the garage exit as they leave the Capitol (northeast corner, near 8th & Jackson). 

Suggested signs for #3: "Enjoy the crappy roads you created on your ride home."

2:00pm: Possible 2nd session of the Winn hearing.

3:00pm: Human Chain Around the Capitol

Join us and our friends as we let Sam Brownback and the Republican-controlled legislature know that they've failed us for the last time. 

This session was the longest, most expensive ever. And who ends up paying the bill? You, me, everyone - except the 1%.

Taxing the poor and giving to the rich is no way to run a state government. 

**Details subject to change; check in June 25 for final schedule**