Thursday, February 24, 2011

Koch Brothers “Prank” No Laughing Matter

Scott Walker in 2007 at Marquette University a...Image via Wikipedia

Koch Brothers “Prank” No Laughing Matter

Embattled Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker came under fire today after news broke about statements he made in a 20-minute phone call from a Boston-area alternative news reporter posing as David Koch, a billionaire whose PAC directly supported Walker and who has given millions to groups that have run ads to aid Walker's rise to the state's highest office. (Listen to the call here.)
As the Center for Media and Democracy has reported, the Koch PAC not only spent $43,000 directly on Walkers race, but Koch personally donated $1 million to the Republican Governor’s Association which spent $5 million in the state. Besides the Governor, Koch Brother’s has other “vested interests" in the state.
They include Koch Pipeline Company, which operates a pipeline system that crosses Wisconsin. It also owns Flint Hill Resources, which distributes refined fuel through pipelines and terminals in Junction City, Waupun, Madison and Milwaukee. Koch Industries also owns the C. Reiss Coal Company, a power plant company located in Green Bay, Manitowoc, Ashland and Sheboygan.
The Koch brothers opened a lobby shop in Wisconsin two days after Walker was elected, and many protesters have suspected that the “budget repair bill” provisions allowing the no-bid sell-off of any state-owned heating, cooling, or power plant, plus new rules on pipeline transport may be of interest to Koch. The company has denied any interest in these assets. Transcript Raises Legal and Ethical Concerns.
Pink Slips as Poker Chips Raises Legal Concerns
At the start of the conversation Walker eagerly reports on all he is doing: 

 First, he tells the fake Koch brother about a plan to change Senate rules on pay to reel-in the out-of state Democratic senators who are holding out to protect collective bargaining. The new rule would force the Senators to pick up their paychecks in-person. This rule was passed in a partisan vote in the Senate yesterday--a move that went unnoticed by the mainstream press. 

The fake Koch asks Walker how they might get others in Senate to vote to stop collective bargaining. Walker responds that he's involved the Justice Department in investigating whether the union is paying the absent Democratic senators to remain out of state, or providing them with food, shelter, etc., saying it would be an ethics violation or potentially a felony. Wisconsin legislators are well aware of these rules and have already stated they are using their own money while they are out of state.
But the Governor also explains how he is going to layoff thousands of Wisconsin workers as a tactic to get the Democrats to cooperate:  “So, we’re trying about four or five different angles. Each day we crank up a little bit more pressure. The other thing is I’ve got layoff notices ready, we put out the at-risk notices, we’ll announce Thursday, they’ll go out early next week and we’ll probably get five to six thousand state workers will get at-risk notices for layoffs. We might
ratchet that up a little bit too.”
The move has been called “despicable” and “ruthless “ and “sickening.” But most importantly, if he is choosing to lay off workers as a political tactic when he wasn’t otherwise planning to do so then it is not just morally repugnant but legally questionable. State and federal contract and labor law has protections against this type of abusive behavior and inappropriate quid pro quo.

This morning the Capital Times quotes the state’s former Attorney General: “There clearly are potential ethics violations, and there are potential election-law violations and there are a lot of what look to me like labor-law violations,” said Peg Lautenschlager, a Democrat who served as Wisconsin’s Attorney General after serving for many years as a U.S. Attorney. The head of the state teacher's association, Mary Bell, reminds us: “he literally planned to use five to six thousand hardworking Wisconsin taxpayers as political pawns in his political game. He actually thought through a strategy to lay people off – deny them the ability to feed their families – and use it as leverage for his political goals."
Kids and Hired Thugs
Walker also says he considers then rejected the idea of hiring trouble makers to disrupt the rallies which have been packed with elementary school children and highs schoolers. When fake Koch says “We’ll back you any way we can. But what we were thinking about the crowd was, uh, was planting some troublemakers.” Walker says: “we thought about that," but he rejected the idea in case it back-fired. He didn’t want to  “scare the public into thinking maybe the governor as to settle to avoid all these problems.”

Wisconsin Ethics Rules

Wisconsin has the toughest ethics law in the nation. Public officials are prohibited from soliciting or receiving anything of value if it could reasonably be expected to influence or reward official actions. The rules against “pay to play politics” say a public official is prohibited from taking official action in exchange for political contributions or anything else of value for the benefit of a candidate, political party, or any person making certain candidate-related communications. You can’t even take a cup of coffee from a lobbyist.

Earlier in the call, Walker had asked the fake Koch for help “spreading the word,” especially in the "swing districts," in defense of his determination to break the unions and help get calls in to shore up his Republican allies in the legislature. Walker benefited from a high-dollar "issue ad" campaigns by groups funded by Koch group before the election. Americans for Prosperity, which Koch chairs, promoted and funded a couple thousand counter-protestors last Saturday.
On the same day that the scandal broke here in Wisconsin, Americans for Prosperity went up with a $342,000 TV ad campaign in support of Walker – an enormous sum in a state like Wisconsin.  If such ads are effectively coordinated with the Governor's office they may be subject to rules requiring greater disclosure of expenditures and contributors.

Toward the end of the call, the fake Koch offers to fly Walker out to California, after they "crush the bastards," and show him "a good time," to which Walker responds with enthusiasm in his voice "All right, that would be outstanding." But, Wisconsin rules bar state officials from taking action for something of value.  After Walker agrees to the junket, the fake Koch adds, "And, you know, we have a little bit of a vested interest as well" to which Walker responds, "Well that's just it."

So, while Walker did not apparently not recognize Koch's voice, he certainly recognized his name, eagerly recounting his efforts to crush collective bargaining in Wisconsin to an out-of-state billioniare backer and thanking him for all Koch had done for him. The entire conversation raises ethical concerns that warrant much closer examination, especially with Wisconsin's tough pay to play rules. A week ago the Center for Media and Democracy filed an open records request for the Governor's phone records, email records, and other communications. Perhaps these records will help us understand all the influences behind the Governor's recent radical actions.

Wisconsin is not Illinois, it has a reputation for being a squeaky clean state and lesser scandals have brought down political officials. Governor Walker likes to complain of “outside agitators.” Hard to imagine an agitator with more influence and money than the Koch-family.
Mary Bottari
Mary Bottari is the Director of the Center for Media and Democracy's Real Economy Project and editor of their site.
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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Big Nuke Billions Lurk in Obama's Budget

Big Nuke Billions Lurk in Obama's Budget

Barack Obama's 2012 budget marks a major escalation in the nuclear war against a green-powered future, whose advocates are already fighting back.
Amidst massive budget cuts for social and environmental programs, Obama wants $36 billion in loan guarantees for a reactor industry that cannot secure sufficient private "marketplace" financing for new construction.
In the past decade the reactor industry has spent at least $640 million lobbying for these massive advance bailouts. But since 2007, safe energy advocates have succeeded in keeping them out of the federal budget.
The $36 billion Obama wants to underwrite new reactor construction would be added to $18.5 billion set aside under George W. Bush. In 2010 Obama allocated $8.33 billion of that for two reactors under construction in Georgia. The Continuing Resolution for funding the government until the end of the 2011 fiscal year slashes all loan guarantees for energy except those for nuclear reactors and uranium enrichment.
Obama's proposed 2012 budget does contain some additional money for renewables. But it also allocates $97 million for Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) which are untested and unproven. SMRs are vulnerable to public health, radioactive waste and potential terror problems that parallel those plaguing the larger light water reactors that have proven so economically and ecologically disastrous throughout the past half-century.
Industry allies in Congress are joining the White House in trying to classify both large and small reactors as "clean energy." Though cosmetic, the designation would allow reactor backers to fit atomic power under the rubric of long-term goals for cleaning up America's hugely polluting energy supply.
Price tags for proposed new reactors have recently doubled and tripled. Projected at $2-3 billion as few as three years ago, proposed projects in Florida, Texas and elsewhere have soared to $10 billion and more.
The Congressional Budget Office has warned that the failure rate for reactor loan guarantees could well exceed 50%. The economic history of atomic power has been catastrophic, with the previous generation of reactors coming in on average around 200% over original cost projections. Reactors now under construction in Finland and France have soared to billions of dollars over budget and are years behind schedule.
Vogtle nuclear power plant, Georgia, USA
In Georgia, where rate-payers are being forced to fund reactor construction even if the plant never opens, critics fear costs at the Vogtle site are certain to soar. New projects proposed for Texas, Maryland and South Carolina are also plagued by financial doubts.
At the same time, major breakthroughs in solar cell technology have prompted a wide range of studies showing deployment of green energy to be cheaper than new atomic power, and growing moreso.
But while slashing social programs, Obama seems determined to use taxpayer money to fund a radioactive technology that grows ever more expensive and uncompetitive.
Can the green power movement again stop the new loan guarantees, as it's done since 2007?
"This year, with more public attention on government spending, it seems even unlikelier that Congress will approve it," says Michael Mariotte, Executive Director of the Nuclear Information & Resource Service.
For a green-powered future, says Mariotte, "no funding for new reactors is acceptable."
Register your outrage at
Harvey Wasserman
Harvey Wasserman's SOLARTOPIA! OUR GREEN-POWERED EARTH, A.D. 2030, is at He is senior advisor to Greenpeace USA and the Nuclear Information & Resource Service, and writes regularly for
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Monday, February 14, 2011

How Wall Street Greed Fueled Egypt's Turmoil

Charlie Chaplin stands on Douglas Fairbanks' s...Image via Wikipedia

How Wall Street Greed Fueled Egypt's Turmoil

Many reasons have been cited for the runaway food costs that have plagued Egypt's citizens: increased global demand, floods and drought in grain-producing nations, reduced supplies because of biofuel production, Federal Reserve policies. But it's becoming clear that our own dirty little secret -- risky financial derivatives, like those that spurred the U.S. mortgage crisis -- have bubbled up from the toxic Wall Street pavement as a major cause. We need to dig deeper into the dirt.
The richest 1% of Americans, unlike lower-income earners who spend mostly on consumer goods, can spend much of their annual trillion dollar windfall from tax cuts and deregulation on high-stakes investment opportunities. And this they have done, with great success and little regard to the global consequences.
One of their strategies is the "long-only" commodities index fund, by which speculators keep buying even when a rising market would normally motivate them to sell. This can put massive inflationary pressure on a commodity. According to 25-year trading veteran Daniel Dicker, these investment vehicles, which didn't even exist a few years ago, have caused such a market imbalance that it's nearly impossible to avoid a bubble in food prices.
Dicker remarks about the importance to financial traders to "capitalize on the supply shortages," and about the need by governments to stockpile basic commodities to prevent food emergencies. He also notes the speed with which these trades occur. Apparently it all happens too fast for a humanitarian response.
As a result, according to the New York Times, wheat has reached its highest price in 28 years, and the effects are being felt in Egypt and Haiti and other countries whose citizens live on a few dollars a day. Harper's Magazine editor Frederick Kaufman notes that Egypt's inflation rate on food has reached 17% PER MONTH.
The financial players, says Kaufman, are investing in "imaginary wheat." In 2008 the publication Price Perceptions said, "index funds alone now own about 1 billion bushels of Chicago wheat compared to annual US production of about 500 million." 'Fantasy finance,' as Les Leopold calls it.
Not surprisingly, unregulated free market defenders deny all this. The Economist says, "there is little empirical evidence that investors cause more than fleeting distortions to commodity prices." Resource Investor claimed in 2008 that while "commodity market speculation by long-only index funds has increased markedly...most commodity futures markets experienced an equally dramatic or even greater increase in selling by commercial hedgers."
But Frederick Kaufman counters that "speculators are outnumbering the physical hedgers by about 4 to 1 in these markets." Revenues from speculative trading at Goldman Sachs alone more than quintupled over the past two years. Way back in 2007 a Market Club Trader's Blog commented that "As money has flooded into this (Goldman Sachs Commodity Index), prices have continued higher."
In his February 4, 2011 Common Dreams essay "Food, Egypt and Wall Street," Institute for Policy Studies writer Robert Alvarez cited one of the main reasons for this sordid financial state of affairs, the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000: "Before this law, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) served as a cop on the beat, enforcing rules that prevent distortion of manipulation of prices beyond normal supply and demand. But Wall Street Banks and companies such as ENRON, and British Petroleum were determined to make a lot more money from speculation by exempting energy-derivative contracts and related swaps from government oversight."
Alvarez quotes noted hedge trader Michael McMasters: "This amounts to 'a form of electronic hoarding and greatly increases the inflationary effect of the market. It literally means starvation for millions of the world's poor.'"
We're letting a few thousand well-positioned financial experts fashion games of chance that earn them billions with other people's money. And, now, with other people's lives.
Paul Buchheit
Paul Buchheit is a faculty member in the School for New Learning at DePaul University, author of and, and the editor of "American Wars: Illusions and Realities" (Clarity Press). He can be reached at
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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Sanders Defends Middle Class, Calls For Help

Bernie Sanders (I-VT)Image via Wikipedia

Organizing Help Wanted

We must defend America’s middle class before millionaires and billionaires own the entire country.

There is a war going on in this country and I am not referring to the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. I am referring to the war waged by the wealthiest people in America on the disappearing and shrinking middle class of our country. The nation’s billionaires are on the warpath. They want more, more, more. Their greed has no end and they are apparently unconcerned for the future of this country if it gets in the way of their accumulation of power and wealth.
On the floor of the Senate, we discuss a lot of things. But one thing we fail to talk about is who is winning in this economy and who is losing, and what that means for parents struggling to survive while working longer hours with lower wages, and worrying about whether their children will have the same kind of standard of living they have.
Right now, the top 1 percent controls more than 23 percent of all income earned in America. The top 1 percent controls more than the bottom 50 percent. It’s not only that the rich are getting richer. The very, very rich are getting richer. In the last 25 years, we have seen 80 percent of all new income going to the top 1 percent.
On top of all this, while the millionaires get richer and there are more and more billionaires, as a result of the Citizens United decision, what we are beginning to see in elections is unbelievable—a group of billionaires getting together and deciding where they are going to spend their money. Billionaires are going to flood states with all kinds of negative, dishonest ads in an effort to defeat people defending the middle class and to elect people who will stand up for right-wing billionaires.
The Republicans’ goal—and to their credit, they have been pretty honest about it—is to bring this country back to where we were in the 1920s. All of the progressive legislation that started with FDR is on the chopping block. Despite the great successes of Social Security over the last 75 years, despite the fact that Social Security today has a $2.6 trillion surplus, they are targeting Social Security. They are targeting Medicare. In Arizona today, people on Medicaid who need transplants are no longer able to get them—that is a real death panel.
Right now, according to a number of studies, we are losing about $100 billion every year because corporate America and the very wealthy are stashing their money in tax havens like the Cayman Islands and Bermuda. We should be aware that in 2009, ExxonMobil made $19 billion in profits and not only did the company not pay anything in taxes, it got a $106 million refund from the IRS. We should also be aware that since 1997, we have almost tripled funding for the military. So if we are serious about reducing the deficit, those are things we need to look at—not at Social Security, not programs everyday Americans need.
Our job now is to rally Americans to put pressure on a handful of Republicans—to tell them, go into your hearts, talk to your constituents and tell me if it is appropriate to hold hostage the future of this country for an agenda that benefits only the very rich.
If we act, we can win this fight. It is crucial that we do, because if we don’t—if they roll over us now—there is no stopping them. It is time we organize.
Your help is wanted. 
Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006 after serving 16 years in the House of Representatives. He is the longest serving independent member of Congress in American history. Elected Mayor of Burlington, Vt., by 10 votes in 1981, he served four terms. Before his 1990 election as Vermont's at-large member in Congress, Sanders lectured at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and at Hamilton College in upstate New York. Read more at his website.
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Friday, February 4, 2011

Egyptians Chant Bloody Freedom

View from Cairo TowerImage via Wikipedia
Egyptians Chant Bloody Freedom
By Genevieve Cora Fraser

Another day of rage
Freedom of expression
Explodes as pro and anti forces
Battle in Cairo square
As millions march to freedom
By horse and camel Mubarak
Supporter thugs gallop in
Strike fear, panic, whip and lash
Strike out charge
The revolutionary gathering
The rising tide of freedom
Pro-democracy seekers
Demand regime change
Chant freedom demand retribution
As the wounded are dragged away
The capital ablaze with passion
Molotov cocktails arc and daze
Left and right across Liberty
Square secret police forces
Mob rule on peaceful protests
Pro-government collaborators
Incite mayhem enforce past practices
Torture a tyrant’s tool 
Despotic controls rule push
Past the barricaded revolutionary
Doctors, farmers, students, shop keepers
Demand the end of tyranny
Create a make-shift holding cell
But cannot contain the evil 
Decades of repression
Pro-democracy heads bashed in
Stones fly, metal pipes
Sticks wound gunfire erupts
Tanks set-up positions
On the bridge military sentries
Wait as eye witnesses recap
Reports of shots in the head
The dead
Blood shed
Twitter Facebook
Feed hungry crowds
Muslim and Christian
Equals Egypt
As the total blackout
Blocking access lifts
Reveals a somber reality
Known by all
Mubarak is history
Waiting to be writ
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