Archive for March, 2011|Monthly archive page

Walker’s Manufactured Budget Woes

In Issues and Debate on March 15, 2011 at 4:49 pm

Just days ago, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed SS AB/SB 11; the so-called ‘budget repair bill’ as prescribed by the Governor himself. As many already know, the bill was stripped of certain budgetary language as to contain no ‘fiscal impact’ and thus be passed by the Wisconsin State Senate without the 14 Democratic Senators present for a quorum and and a vote. While the question as to the legality of this action remains open, the truth is that the bill contains measures that will indeed have a ‘fiscal impact’ regardless of how you slice it. The bill not only curtails collective bargaining rights for teachers, but also establishes limits on collective bargaining rights for day-care providers and employees of the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics Authority. The bill also eliminates two non-voting director positions on the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinic Board that are required to be members of the ‘collective bargaining’ units of said employeess. Further reading of the law brings a repeal of collective bargaining rights for home-care providers and an addition of administrators to the Wisconsin Department of Administration. These additions come while other positions shift from ‘classified’ (civil-service) to ‘un-classified’ (professional) status. This makes hiring easier as civil service requirements need not be applied, but the addition of administration positions will undoubtedly have a ‘fiscal impact’ just as repealing of collective bargaining rights will. An increasingly contradictory part of this bill is continued discovery of administrative salaries and fringe benefits. While increasing administrative positions, Gov. Walker is opening the door for greater patronage and bureaucratic control. He’s giving middle management the store while stripping  public employees of the scraps they already receive when compared to the salaries of administrators who many a Republican and Democrat alike accuse of being the true source of government waste, ie. the bloated bureaucracy.

Furthering his views concerning unions and privatization, SS SB/AB 11 also contains provisions for selling public property, in particular that property used for the purposes of powering the state’s grid and as well as heating and cooling of homes. Though the bill doesn’t specify dollar amounts for such property, its stipulations will indeed have a fiscal impact on the state budget while padding the pockets of private utility interests such as those of the now infamous, and parodied, Koch brothers. Walker does indeed take care of his own, but his own don’t resemble anyone representing middle America.

With respect to Gov. Walker’s proverbial movement of pawns with respect to Wisconsin State Employees, new information has surfaced in recent weeks showing that Walker has done this before. In his years as a Milwaukee County Executive in the early 2000’s, Walker repeatedly stated the need for austerity measures to shore up the county budget. These claims were not only opposed by the County Board, but also by budgetaryt experts within the county itself. Walker repeatedly over-stated county revenues by millions and when those revenues failed to materialize, he instituted his own ‘austerity’ measures to save the county from fiscal damage. The truth is Walker continually proposed budgets with revenue estimates that were off the charts while debating the county board, agency heads, and at one time Governor Tom Doyle.

Perhaps the most interesting tactic Walker used to bring the Milwaukee County Budget inline was to allow property taxes paid by average homeowners to increase by 20% while looking the other way as businesses snubbed tax-assessors and/or filed for tax-exempt status with little to no oversight. As reported by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal, a re-assessment of these properties would save the average homeowner in Milwaukee an estimated $800 per year. Not surpisongly, many of these homeowners are also union members who now find themselves in Walker’s budgetary cross-hairs once again.

While property tax tricks maybe the most intersting of Walker’s tactics, the most humorous event in his time as a Milwaukee County Executive involves the lay-off of unionized county security officers and the eventual re-hire of those same workers as Walker’s action were seemingly shot down in court. When Walker laid-off 26 security guards in 2010 against County Board wishes, the union representing the guards sued. As an arbitrator granted the guards the right to their jobs back, Walker and the County Board had already hired an outside security firm to replace the guards at a cost of 1.1 million per year. As we stand now, Milwaukee County how has two sets of security guards, because Walker failed to listen to the County Board, failed to understand contract law, and continued to attack unions from the county level to the state level within a year.

Soon SS SB/AB 11 will be challenged in court against the claim that it has no fiscal impact and thus requires a no quorum to proceed, as all budgetary measures require in Madison. A recall is underway for 8 Republican Senators and 5 Democratic Senators with the 2012 election cycle looming. Such measures are popping up in many states as public employee unions find themselves pitted against Republican legislatures and governors alike. The next 18 months will be quite the roller-coaster ride not only for Wisconsin, but for the nation as a whole.


Radicals Everywhere

In Issues and Debate on March 10, 2011 at 2:35 pm

On Wednesday’s post here on this blog, much was made of radicalism in many aspects of American life and within many groups thoughout the United States. This couldn’t be more true as many public officials suffer from radical thinking themselves. Before I go on about that topic, I would like to post a video link of Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison testifying before Rep. Peter King’s hearings today on the Radicalization of American Muslims. This video is courtesy of Youtube and C-SPAN3.

The emotions shared by Congressman Ellison underscore the greater point. Radicals exist in every religion, culture, and ideology and should not be held as a standard for any of them. As Congressman Ellison tells the story of Mohammad Salman Hamdani his emotions spread across the room. Hamdani gave his life on 9/11 to save the lives of people of all races, religions, and cultures who worked in the World Trade Center. In fact dozens of American Muslims died in the 9/11 attacks. Many were of middle class means, showing up for work everyday to support their families and should be applauded for their efforts as we applaud the workers of America en masse for their work ethic. Just as Rep. King faught against the so-called Ground-Zero Mosque that was indeed two blocks from Ground-Zero, he has opened the door for greater hatred and villification towards innocent and hard-working Muslims across the United States.

Despite the perception that the radicalization of American Muslims falsely requires a public hearing, Rep. King has his own issues relaying to the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Sinn Fein. Rep. King has done little to dispel  this reality as his support for the IRA  in the 1990’s and so on raises eyebrows concerning his own intolerance and radicalism. This brings back Rep. King’s issue with the Ground-Zero Mosque and mosques in general. Rep. King has been known for gaffes in relation to the number of mosques in America, inflating the number of which may be involved in Islamic extremism, and failing to decry the radical actions of Christian fundamentalists such as the Westboro Baptist Church.

Rep. King and Radical Islam

In Issues and Debate on March 9, 2011 at 7:15 pm

Coming to you live on C-SPAN3 this Thursday, Representative Peter King of New York is planning hearings on the “extent of radicalization of American Muslims.” Rep. King and Rep. Cantor have in recent days, defended the need for such hearings that many civil liberties groups are referring to as a witch hunt. Citing the Fort Hood incident of 2009 and the New York City bomb plot of 2010, the Republican Congressmen and their supporters argue the need for such hearings “to try and assess how we can better work with the Muslim community in America to stop the spread of radical Islam.” Considering the nature of these hearings the truth of such a statement will depend upon how these hearings are conducted and what policy ultimately evolves from them.

It is doubtful that these hearings could become another Red Scare a’la Joe McCarthy, though such hearings will surely feed a bias against American Muslims and fuel an already prescient fear. Rep. King appears to have to failed to appreciate other options in the interest of fostering positive relations with the American Muslim community. With that understood, Rep. King and his Republican cohorts do have more self-serving reasons to pursue such a course, as these hearings will undoubtedly give them a greater profile in the media, regardless of negative connotations, and serve to satisfy and ingratiate a vocal portion of the conservative base. They seek the debate more than the policy as the nation begins to roll into the 2012 election cycle.

With raised eyebrows, the spectre of scandals among organized religion should weigh greater upon elected officials as well as the malcontent of the mentally unhinged toward our government and populus alike. It is disingenuous to suggest that the radicalization of American Muslims is the only specific group by which the people of the United States should be concerned. This remains especially true as Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords remains in Texas under-going rehab from a gun-shot wound provided by a disaffected young man of caucasian origin. Unsurprisingly, we have yet to see the GOP majority conduct any meaningful investigation into severe mental illness and its deleterious affect upon the American public. Little investigation has been saught concerning the ongoing problem of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church as well. All of this while one of their own remains in a bed from an assassination attempt that was as far removed from Radical Islam as one could get.

Despite the fear of homegrown terrorism, the U.S. Congress has failed to investigate past and current indiscretions by both the U.S. Government as well as U.S. originated corporations sponsoring terrorist organizations abroad. For its part, the U.S. Government has saught to embolden both dictators and rebellious groups worldwide in the interest of furthering American foreign policy and hegemonic control. Today it is the deteriorating situation in Libya, but we have also found ourselves in bed with the likes of Saddam Hussein and Bin Laden himself less than 30 years ago. With respect to U.S. corporations, U.S. trade sanctions have less meaning now than ever before. Numerous U.S. corporations as well as corporations from Western Europe, including complicit behavior by European governments, operate in Iran where state-sponsorship of terrorism is the norm. Many operate with U.S. contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan such as Blackwater (now called Xe) and Haliburton with extra-lagal status and little to no oversight from the U.S. Congress. Concerning the allegations of rape, theft, and murder by these corporations, one would think that greater congressional hearings are in order. As with Rep. King’s hearings beginning tomorrow, congressional hearings concerning the use of military contractors was simply a smoke-screen. An attempt to convince opponents that action was being taken when little had in fact been done.

Further concern arises from a standpoint of one who has been struck by the economic downturn as have millions of Americans. Such hearings belie a focus on the economic issues of the day that play a far more predominate role in the everyday lives of the American public than any other single issue. The GOP ran on a platform of fiscal discipline with a focus on jobs and the economy and yet everywhere we turn, we find a social agenda being pushed between the lines. From Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s attack on collective bargaining rights, to Speaker Boehner’s obfuscation concerning abortion funding and Planned Parenthood, gun laws, gay-marriage, English as a national language, and the so-called anchor baby debate, we see that the GOP majority has little concern for what the American public truly elected them for. The ‘shellacking’ of November 2010 was not a signal to push a radical social agenda, but a signal that the nation needs jobs and a stable economy. If Speaker Boehner and his GOP allies are correct concerning public support for their social agenda, one would be compelled to ask them why that same public voted President Obama into office just two years earlier? The GOP is playing a game that will ultimately splinter the party as the Tea-Party movement has already begun to do. The argument that America is a center-right nation may contain some truth, but the moderates that swung the 2010 election will not remain with the GOP as the 2012 election cycle looms. Without a coherent message and platform on jobs and economic growth and a continued focus on slash and burn budget proposals, the GOP has failed to counter Obama’s budget policy and have only succeeded in alienating more of the electorate.

Representative King may indeed pursue a more positive relationship with American Muslims, but along with his Republican colleagues he has lost focus on what truly matters. America is watching.

Libya and the Moment

In Issues and Debate on March 2, 2011 at 7:20 pm

courtesy The New York Times

As Moamar Gadhafi digs in within the boundaries of Tripoli, some poignant questions across the Western World are beginning to take shape. From the likes of Anderson Cooper, Richard Engel, and numerous correspondents camped out near or within Libya report, the revolutionary forces in Libya have much further to go before Gadhafi’s brutal reign comes to an end. For us witnessing this unfold from afar on our televisions, we wonder what this means for the Arab and North African regions and what is the endgame?


From the annals of academics attempting to analyze what has occurred in Egypt, Tunisia, and now Libya we are confronted with some sense of realpolik. The overwhelming sense that political sea-changes in the Mid-East will be felt across the globe and the pragmatic reality of might be left in its wake. President Obama finds himself in a precarious position as he walks a tightrope in an attempt to avoid the hawkish mistakes of his predecessor while being decried as an American apologist from his right flank. In contrast, recent polls of the American public demonstrate a growing support for Obama’s more patient approach to foreign policy and the nature of multi-lateral diplomacy.

Adding to the concern of Western observers is a nascent sense that America has not done enough to sew the seeds of revolution in the Arab world. As expected, this sense has come from Republican Leadership who have perfected the art of subtlety by arguing to the point of, but never actually revealing their support for, an American military intervention in the region. The more unexpected tone against the Obama Administration’s chosen response to the current Mid-East crisis is from more liberal-minded Arab-Americans who believe that America has lost a chance to shape the moment in the name of democracy and human rights. Once such observer is Ahmad Tharwat, who writes that

American youths, who used the social network to elect the first black U.S. president, have been missing. They are on the social network mainly to be entertained and to pursue happiness as an empty zero.

Tharwat’s analysis misses anything resembling  facts concerning his currently negative view of ‘American Youths.’ Without facts his voice is that of a pundit, little better than the talking heads on cable news programs. Tharwat goes further to add

America’s youths, however, are nowhere to be found, except spending ever-more billions of minutes on Facebook. American women spend more hours watching cooking on TV than actually cooking, liberating themselves from the kitchen to the couch.

Tharwat’s continued frustration would have me wonder; what exactly would he have ‘America’s youths’ do in this moment in history?

Further on his diatribe Tharwat continues to toss blame in America’s direction, accusing the nation that he lives in with relative comfort, of hypocrisy concerning everything from the treament of women to propping up dictators for oil and even throwing down the term financial jihadists with respect to Wallstreet. While his views contain some truth, Tharwat misses the point of debate and has a difficult time separating the message from the messenger. The message is one of equality, tolerance, and acceptance of the differences one has with one’s neighbors. I agree that the United States falls far short of this grand ideal, but that does not diminish the truth of that ideal. In Tharwat’s mind the current Arab uprising is a demonstration of the Arab youth expanding upon and improving the technicues and technology of the West to provide a greater social good. His words are an attempt to placate his own sense of displacement while competing with the West. No such competition exists. Facebook and Twitter were not created to solely entertain their varied users. The diversity of views displayed on both allow for an exchange of cultural ideals never before possible. The Youth of America do not wish to compete with their counterparts from the Arab world, they wish to have solidarity with them from revolutionary ideals to the more solemn moments of everyday life. The modern tools of organization created by the West were not created to divide, but to unite and foster greater understanding. Until those ideals are realized en masse across the globe, Tharwat’s thinking will remain and we will be no better off.


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