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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Democracy has its costs, but not $7.5 million in "building repairs" for peaceful demonstrations for economic justice.

That's the figure that the Scott Walker administration said was the cost to date, a few days ago, of "repairing" the state Capitol due to demonstrations that reached 70,000 to 100,000 people on some days. And the advocates weren't there in support of the man who fashions himself the "new" Ronald Reagan. In fact, one Saturday, the Koch Brothers' Americans for Prosperity tried to get some Tea Party supporters of Walker to counterprotest, but could only scramble up a few hundred. They haven't been seen since in Madison.

Once again, we refer our BuzzFlash at Truthout readers to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Political "truth-o-meter," which investigated the claim of $7.5 million in damages to the Wisconsin Capitol and found the figure such an egregious exaggeration that it gave its infamous "pants on fire" lying award to the Walker administration.

But the Walker administration, under fire for trying to turn public opinion against the protesters for a viable middle class, revised its "estimate" down to $347,500.

As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel concluded:

While urging a judge to scale back protests, a state Department of Administration official said the state Capitol sustained $7.5 million in damage. State officials could not immediately provide a basis for the number, and later backtracked from it. The new estimate: $347,500, some 20 times less than the original one. And there are indications that even that could be high.

This smells like an effort to pour gas on the anti-protester fire. The claim was ridiculously high. And that gets a Pants on Fire rating.

Indeed, the $347,500 may include costs of normal upkeep of the building.

In the battle for whether or not corporations and the wealthy will run America, Walker is employing an army of lies.

*****

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Some states have laws to protect you from high-pressure sales men and women.

For instance, in Illinois, a person can receive a full refund on a health insurance policy if the actual certificate of coverage that they receive differs from what the agent said was in it.

But there is no law to protect voters from the "shock doctrine," arm-twisting deception of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

Take, for example, Walker's ongoing scare tactic of a catastrophic pension crisis in the Badger State. Well, it doesn't exist.

According to Stateline, which is a "a nonpartisan, nonprofit news service of the Pew Center on the States," Wisconsin's pension fund is in fine shape indeed:

Studies show that Wisconsin's state pension program is one of the most solid in the country and has enough funds to cover the promises made not only to current retirees but to those in the future. Wisconsin was hailed as a "national leader" in managing its long-term liabilities for both pensions and retiree health care in "The Trillion Dollar Gap," a Pew Center on the States report last year. (Pew Center on the States is Stateline's parent organization.)

As for the public employee contribution to pension funds, union leaders have already indicated that they would be willing to pay more, even though - in a collective bargaining agreement - pension fund contributions from the employer may simply mean that workers are accepting a lower salary in exchange for a higher pension-fund contribution from their employer. In this case, the state.

So, where is the pension-fund crisis in Wisconsin? It's not there.

"It is surprising that this pension debate is happening here," says Jerry Allen, executive director of the City of Milwaukee's Employees' Retirement System, according to Stateline. "There is no crisis."

The crisis in Madison is Walker and his disingenuous ideological use of the "shock doctrine."

To further reinforce that Walker's goals are to politically crush the unions and become a possible vice presidential candidate on the GOP ticket in 2012, he detached the section of the budget bill eliminating collective bargaining for public employees to pass it in the state senate on March 9, even though he said it was necessary to lower the budget.  But it's not; it's necessary to Scott Walker's strategy of establishing himself as a new "Reagan" in the GOP pantheon.

Harold Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Firefighters, has an additional thought on why Walker might be creating a false pension crisis:

"What is this all about? This is all about the money," Schaitberger says. "What this is really about is for Wall Street to be able to get their hands on the $2.7 trillion that are in institutionally managed [pension] plans."

If public employee pensions are converted from defined benefit plans to defined contribution plans such as 401Ks, "they know it's the next cash cow for Wall Street," he says. "Individuals will be charged higher fees, they'll be churning their investments and won't really have the ability to measure performance and objectives by those who will now be allegedly helping them prepare for retirement."

So Walker wants to eventually let the same people who crashed the world economy, the gamblers on Wall Street, play roulette with the pensions of middle class workers.

And what role did Wall Street play in Wisconsin's projected budget crisis (not as much in the pension fund, which is doing just fine now)?

According to at least one Wall Street analyst, Goldman Sachs was, in essence, betting that Wisconsin's debt would be increasing, "selling short" -- and thus Goldman Sachs would make money on the taxpayers having to pay more to compensate for a budget shortfall.

The crooks should be in jail, not pulling the strings on people running our government.  Just ask the public workers in Wisconsin. And they are just the first unions Walker will be attempting to take down.

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker believes a woman who has been raped and will die in childbirth should not be allowed to live, even if an abortion would save her life.

That's right, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Political Fact "truth-o-meter" confirms that Walker "'wants to make abortion illegal, even in cases of rape, incest, or to protect the life of the mother.' Walker acknowledges that is his position."

When Walker was running for governor, his opponent charged that Walker would seek an abortion ban without exception. Walker's campaign confirmed to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that this would indeed make it illegal for victims of rape or incest or those whose lives were imperiled to end a pregnancy.

Walker's pro-death stance for women who will die giving birth - and his indifference to the horror of rape and incest - exhibits a cruelty that is chilling.

That is why it is no surprise that, buried in his infamous budget, is a direct assault on family planning and Planned Parenthood, in particular. The Cap Times (Madison) gets right to the point: "Walker's elimination of family planning funds could jeopardize federal dollars, close clinics."

But, if Walker is successful, this will be just the first step in the further victimization of women who have been sexually assaulted - and it will be a death sentence for women who will die from complications due to pregnancy.

Walker isn't only trying to kill unions.

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

While tens of thousands of advocates for saving the middle class have come to Madison the past few weeks, Scott Walker is countering that he has received a few thousand emails in support of his assault on unions.

But even while the ratio of protesting bodies to Walker's alleged supportive emails is crushingly in favor of the pro-union advocates, Walker won't allow the public to see the fan email he claims to have gotten (and they could have been AstroTurfed from the Koch Brothers' "Americans for Prosperity," if they exist).

The Wisconsin Associated Press and the Madison "Isthmus" are, as a result, suing the Wisconsin governor to be allowed to review the electronic messages. On March 4, the lawsuit was filed based on the open record laws of Wisconsin.

As the "Isthmus" reported:

"Isthmus" made its request by hand-delivered letter on Feb. 18, a day after Walker referred to these 8,000 emails and about an hour before he held another press conference saying the number had since swelled to 19,000, again mostly positive. The paper followed this with two communications with Walker spokesperson Cullen Werwie (the second of which, on Feb. 24, was also sent to Brian Hagedorn, the governor's legal counsel). Both asked for an update on the status of the original request.

The Associated Press, through reporter Todd Richmond, emailed its request for the referenced 8,000 emails on Feb. 18. Richmond followed this on Feb. 25 with an email to Werwie and Hagedorn inquiring as to the status of his request and asking that it be expanded to include "all emails the governor has received that mention the budget repair bill."

As of today, the governor's office and his legal counsel have not responded to these requests for records, or provided information on their status.

As the [legal] complaint notes, the state's Open Records Law requires that open records requests receive responses "as soon as practicable and without delay." The complaint states: "Defendants have violated the Wisconsin Open Records Law and Wis. Stat. § 19.37(1) by withholding the requested email messages and delaying granting access to the email messages." It calls the defendants' failure to provide these records "arbitrary and capricious."

The Walker governorship is authoritarian and opaque, even when it comes to a relatively small number of emails of "support."

We're sure there are at least a few sympathetic missives from David Koch. He's got to buck up his investment in Walker.

*****

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT


Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck and Limbaugh are all members of a union that has a collective bargaining agreement.  As Cenk Ugyur of the Young Turks points out by playing a clip of O'Reilly, Bill actually brags that his union, AFTRA, took one his former television producers to court to enforce pension benefits agreed upon in a collective bargaining agreement.

You can watch it here. O'Reilly doesn't in any way do anything but praise his union because it prevented him from being "stiffed."

As a Florida newspaper commentator recently noted:

The "Health Fund" that is set up by AFTRA, also provides for mental health counseling. I am sure some of those Fox "reporters" could take advantage of that... especially with all of their conspiracy theories swirling around.

Meanwhile, O'Reilly and the FOX propaganda team for Murdoch and the Koch Brothers regularly bash pro-union protesters in Wisconsin and support Scott Walker's thuggish efforts to smash unions.

O'Reilly does imply that concessions will have to be made by unions to compete in a global economy, but the public unions in Wisconsin have already said that they would be willing to negotiate concessions. Scott Walker, however, has remained adamant that he will not negotiate about the collective bargaining process itself, which is the only way to guarantee that the union can negotiate and simply not have its members be subject to arbitrary pay, safety and benefits decisions by a Koch'd-up governor.

Yesterday, BuzzFlash at Truthout documented how the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel detailed that Scott Walker lied about receiving a mandate for eliminating (with some very minor exceptions) collective bargaining because he never mentioned or campaigned on such a draconian measure.

What's clear from Bill O'Reiley's admission is that he is grateful for the collective bargaining power and assertiveness of the AFTRA union protecting his benefits.

O'Reilly, Beck and Limbaugh make millions and millions of dollars for blabbering the most inane and bizarre bile on television (although O'Reilly has come to seem like the "senior statesman" of the disingenuous right wing echo chamber).

Teachers and custodians in Wisconsin make a tiny fraction of their salaries. Shouldn't the middle class working people  for the State of Wisconsin have the same union protection of collective bargaining that the paid shills of the plutocracy have?

You would think so, wouldn't you?

Because otherwise it might be blatant hypocrisy.

*******

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Scott Walker has claimed a mandate for eliminating collective bargaining. But he is not telling the truth. In fact, he's lying. How does BuzzFlash at Truthout know that?

Because a "Milwaukee Journal Sentinel" Political Fact "truth-o-meter" rates Walker's boast of running on his uncompromising anti-union stance a lie.

After a thoughtful, carefully researched analysis of Walker's claim, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel found no record whatsoever of Walker even mentioning in his run for governor that he was planning to unilaterally prohibit collective bargaining (with some minor exceptions) for public employees. The Journal also found that Walker very specifically detailed what actions he would take in "60-plus specific" areas, but none of them related to public unions.

Although Walker did indicate he would demand more "pay-in" from public unions for pensions and health care, he never, according to the Journal, mentioned basically ending collective bargaining and crippling unions in such devastating ways.

In fact, in the infamous prank call with a man he thought was David Koch, Walker - just a few days ago - described his assault on collective bargaining as a "bomb."

In its lengthy investigation of the Walker claim that he had campaigned on his devastating anti-union "plan," the Journal concludes:

Walker contends he clearly "campaigned on" his union bargaining plan.

But Walker, who offered many specific proposals during the campaign, did not go public with even the bare-bones of his multi-faceted plans to sharply curb collective bargaining rights. He could not point to any statements where he did. We could find none either.

While Walker often talked about employees paying more for pensions and health care, in his budget-repair bill he connected it to collective bargaining changes that were far different from his campaign rhetoric in terms of how far his plan goes and the way it would be accomplished.

We rate his statement False.

Why does this matter?

Because Walker claims he is acting on behalf of the people who elected him. But, in reality, he is pulling a bait-and-switch.

In short, he is lying.

*******

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Friday, 04 March 2011 07:26

Scott Walker's Kremlin on Lake Mendota

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

It took Scott Walker to make the seat of Wisconsin government the Kremlin on Lake Mendota.

BuzzFlash at Truthout has documented over the past two weeks Walker's disregard for accountability to the Milwaukee County Board when he was its executive director. Not only did he bypass the board's reviews on several actions, he ended up costing the taxpayers money because of his Nixonian sense of imperial decision making.

The video seen round the nation of a Wisconsin legislator, Democratic Rep. Nick Milroy, being tackled by Walker's police force as Milroy attempted to enter the State Capitol, is a visual reminder of the tactics employed in the Soviet Union and dictatorships throughout the world, not America.

Walker has turned the Wisconsin State Capitol, owned by all the people of the state, into his own Politburo fiefdom. It took a judge to make the building once again a public place, despite Walker's defiance.

Although public unions have expressed a willingness to negotiate compensation issues, Walker has acted as if he has assumed dictatorial control, insisting that there will be no negotiation on unilaterally terminating collective bargaining. But negotiation is the lubricant of democracy.

Either you believe in democracy or you don't respect the Constitution of the United States of America.

Walker is starting to make Dick Nixon look like a member of the ACLU.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Was Scott Walker asleep at the wheel as chief executive of Milwaukee County when it came to pension reform?

According to a 2007 article in Milwaukee Magazine, the answer is an emphatic yes: "Walker always seems to drag his feet when it comes to cleaning up the county's pension system."

Non-Wisconsin readers should know that Walker was elected in the backlash reaction to a pension scandal in the county in 2002, and has been riding the pension reform issue ever since. But talking pension reform and implementing it in a timely manner are two different things - and Walker is a very good talker.

At the heart of the huge pension budgetary increase that propelled Walker into county office as a reformer was a consulting firm, Mercer Human Resources. Of course, it would be contrary to Walker's privatization ideology to blame a "free market" firm for any extra costs to the taxpayers, so this assessment from Milwaukee Magazine portends some ominous developments for the people of Wisconsin:

It was nearly three years after he was elected that he finally got around to planning a legal suit against the actuaries at Mercer Human Resources Consulting for the advice they gave officials who passed the pension plan. Compounding this delay, Walker continued to use Mercer as fiscal adviser, which has left the county in the position of arguing that an expert it kept rehiring is guilty of flagrant malpractice.

But how he handled the pension debacle that got him into office gets even more worrisome for taxpayers in the Badger State:

He declined to pursue legal action against the Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren law firm for the advice it gave county officials on the pension plan. The head of the firm, back when Walker made this decision, was then state Republican chair Rick Graber, who had donated campaign money to Walker.

And what of Walker's "outraged concern" about the abuse of pensions:

He hired outside counsel, attorney Charles Stevens, to advise the county on its legal options, and to draft waiver forms for non-union employees to file a waiver of the extra pension benefits. Stevens put in a grand total of 25 hours work on an issue with huge financial implications, yet of apparently little interest for Walker.

There you have it. Walker, a man in a hurry to get elected, but whose word to taxpayers is about as credible as Nixon saying, "I am not a crook." Not that Walker is a crook (as far as we know at this moment); he just leaves the taxpayers to pick up the costly tab for his ambition and ideological excess.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Could Scott Walker's virtual blackmailing of the citizens of Wisconsin end up costing Badger State taxpayers millions of dollars?

Quite likely.

As BuzzFlash pointed out in an earlier column, "Walker Whacks Wisconsin Taxpayers With Bill for Wackenhut After Illegally Asserting Powers", Walker used the time-pressed coercion technique to fire union security guards at the Milwaukee County Court House and two other buildings. As executive director of the county, he bypassed the board to crush the union, claiming a fiscal emergency.

Sound familiar? Well, as we noted (hat tip to Rachel Maddow), an arbitrator has subsequently ruled against Walker. As a result, the taxpayers of Milwaukee will have to pay half a million dollars in back wages to the union security guards, who were ordered reinstated. That's on top of the money wasted on the union-busting Wackenhut firm, whose Milwaukee supervisor was allegedly a convicted criminal.

Fast forward to 2011 and we have another potential situation of claiming an emergency, taking precipitous ideological action, and the state taxpayers potentially ending up paying the bill as they are doing in Milwaukee County.

Already, at least one Wisconsin labor union has filed a formal complaint against Walker, charging him with refusing to bargain with them, in violation of current law.

Meanwhile, as Ruth Cuniff reports in The Progressive, fear of Walker's thuggish efforts to enrich wealthy backers at the expense of public workers is driving state employees to retire early at a record pace, causing confusion and disruption in state services.

Walker leaves a trail of bills and chaos in his wake. Unfortunately, the taxpayers will likely have to pay the debt down the road for his high-handed, high-pressure tactics.


MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

What if the alphabet only had the letters "A" and "B"?

In that case, Scott Walker would be a champion speller because, although he could offer a full alphabet of options for a state budget, he seems to have forgotten the rest of the letters beyond "A" (destroy the unions) or "B" (fire state workers).

BuzzFlash/Truthout staffer Dan DiMaggio wrote a commentary about Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, who offered another option: taxing the super rich:

But across the border from Wisconsin in Minnesota, Democratic Governor Mark Dayton has proposed an alternative idea: Raise taxes on the rich to help close the budget gap. Dayton's budget plan would increase taxes to 10.95 percent on Minnesota families earning over $150,000 a year (or single adults earning more than $85,000). He would also add an additional 3 percent surtax on the superrich - those earning more than $500,000 - for the next 3 years.

Dayton would still make some workforce and social service cuts, but he is putting more than two options on the table. The Republicans, as they did with the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, have basically limited the alphabetic choices to two, and neither of them require sacrifice for the wealthy and corporations. In fact, Walker is cutting taxes for that privileged group.

But what if the wealthy of Wisconsin paid their fair share for the services and abundance that democracy offers them?

Mark Levine, founder of the Center for Economic Development at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, wrote an op-ed in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel proposing a modest fair share contribution from the super wealthy. Levine also notes this stunning statistic: "Moreover, as a study by the Institute for Wisconsin's Future documented, Wisconsin corporations underpay state and local taxes by more than $1.3 billion annually: This is the difference between what businesses actually pay in state and local taxes and what they would be contributing if paying at the average national rate."

We had a president, George W. Bush, who had trouble with language, now we have a governor of Wisconsin who only knows two letters of the alphabet.

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