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We talked about Scott Walker's Orwellian rhetoric yesterday, but Michigan Tea Party Gov. Rick Snyder leaves Walker in the dust when it comes to turning the book "1984" into a reality.

Snyder recently signed a bill that gives him powers to unilaterally take over local governments by appointing "emergency financial managers" with near absolute powers to supersede decisions made by democratically elected officials.

If this strikes some as an example of the type of governmental tyranny that the Tea Party deplored (but never existed before in a state as far as we know), that is because it is.

The Tea Party - and the Republican Party - have shouted to the rooftops that local government and individual liberties are the true "patriotic" freedoms in America.

Yet, they elect a governor in Michigan who - as one of his first pieces of legislation - empowers himself to take those rights away, nullifying the will of the voters in a given town or city.

Snyder just made Orwellian Tea Party history when his appointed "emergency financial manager" for Benton Harbor, Michigan, prohibited elected officials of that city from making any decisions or otherwise carrying out their duties.

As an outraged Michigan blogger observes:

This is a complete disenfranchisement of an entire community, an entire city in my state. The voters are now denied the ability to be governed by the people they elected in a democratic election.

This is nothing short of an abridgment of democracy in raw form.

So where are the Tea Party's "Down With Tyranny" signs when you need them?



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Calling much of contemporary political rhetoric coming from the right "Orwellian" has become a cliche, but that's only because it is so true.

Take the recent "shock doctrine" tactics of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who bullied through legislation denying collective bargaining to unions almost exclusively on the claim that it was vital to reducing a future state budget deficit.

The House Republicans thought that this made Walker a hero and invited him to testify before a GOP-controlled committee on April 14. But what Walker must have thought would be a hero's welcome turned out to be a grilling that unmasked his deceit.

After claiming that he was accomplishing something "truly progressive," Dennis Kucinich got Walker to admit that his union-busting legislation would not save the State of Wisconsin any money at all.

According to the Madison CapTimes:

When Walker failed to address how repealing collective bargaining rights for state workers is related to state debt or how requiring unions to recertify annually saves money - one of the provisions in Walker's amended budget repair bill - Kucinich tried one more time.

"How much money does it save Gov. Walker?" Kucinich demanded. "Just answer the question."

"It doesn't save any," Walker said.

Furthermore, as BuzzFlash documented in an earlier commentary, Walker confirmed that despite his claim of a voter mandate to repeal collective bargaining for public employees, he had never once mentioned the plan when he campaigned for governor, not once.

If you define Orwellian as language uttered that is the opposite of reality, then Walker is a master Orwellian politician.


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There are words said by each of us that we regret, sometimes as soon as they pass our lips.

But there is a recurring pattern of disturbing hatefulness and violence in the statements of many right-wing political figures today.

Take David Prosser, the Scott Walker ally on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, who is still involved in an officially undeclared election against JoAnne Kloppenburg.

Just before the April vote, it was revealed that Prosser had called the chief justice of the state Supreme Court the "B" word to her face and threatened to "destroy her." As is often the case with people who feel self-justified, Prosser apologized, but basically blamed Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, the first woman on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, for his disgraceful behavior, according to ThinkProgress:

"In the context of this, I said, 'You are a total bitch,'" Prosser said.

"I probably overreacted, but I think it was entirely warranted ... They (Abrahamson and Justice Ann Walsh Bradley) are masters at deliberately goading people into perhaps incautious statements."

Meanwhile, another right-wing official, "Governor Christie of New Jersey told reporters Wednesday to 'take the bat' to 76-year-old Sen. Loretta Weinberg for collecting a taxpayer-funded pension while making $49,000 a year as a legislator," again according to ThinkProgress.

But Prosser and Christie are hardly alone in unleashing abusive and violent rhetoric. There's something wrong with our civility as a nation when so many bullies of the playground grow up to become judges and elected officials.


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If you don't fight for democracy and justice, then what you get may not be worth having.

That became clear as I saw an advance screening of a PBS documentary (to air within the next few weeks) on the "Freedom Riders." It was 1961, and led by the Congress of Racial Equality, a group of blacks and whites rode on interstate buses (Greyhound and Trailways) to end segregation on the buses and in bus station waiting rooms in the deep South. For their efforts, many of the Freedom Riders were nearly killed, their buses vandalized and burned and dozens of them arrested and sent to jail.

The Kennedy brothers are portrayed as being less than supportive of the Freedom Riders. Robert Kennedy, in particular, thought that they were causing political problems in what was still then a segregationist Democratic-run South.

So, the Freedom Riders knew that their lives were at risk, because neither the Kennedys nor the local segregationist police would protect them. Many got beaten to a pulp. Yet, busloads kept coming.

Ultimately, the Kennedys were embarrassed into action. They supported civil rights, but on their political timeline. But the increasing media attention and brutal treatment received by the Freedom Riders reluctantly forced RFK to get the Interstate Commerce Commission to ban segregated buses and waiting rooms on any carrier that drove any of its buses across state lines (for example, Greyhound and Trailways).

There is a tingling, inspiring feeling to watching these courageous blacks and whites engage in nonviolence, even as they are mercilessly attacked, wounded and jailed.

Power doesn't yield without a fight. Sometimes, even people you think will support you (the Kennedy brothers) have their own priorities and abandon you.

So, victory came - as it did to the Freedom Riders - to those who fought on, even signing their wills before they boarded buses into the deep South in 1961.

It was a moment that pushed an unwilling White House into the center of an activist civil rights movement, and there was no going back.

All because of the sense of moral justice and courage of a committed group of blacks and whites, who put their lives on the line.

May 4, 2011, will mark the 50th anniversary of the departure of the first Freedom Riders' bus. It was burned in Alabama and its occupants nearly killed.


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Although the dispute over the vote count in Wisconsin for a State Supreme Court position is of key anxiety to many progressives, it is perhaps overshadowing a promising trend: the nonviolent pro-worker movement is spreading across the nation.

In the past week, for example, the crowds standing up for economic justice have been growing in Ohio, where Republican Governor Kasich has passed an anti-union bill.

According to the Columbus Dispatch:

With chants of "We are Ohio," an estimated 11,000 union supporters rallied at the Statehouse yesterday to launch the effort to overturn the law that would weaken public workers' bargaining power.

The crowd was the largest since the debate over Senate Bill 5 began in February. Many also signed up to help collect the 231,000 signatures needed to get a referendum on the November ballot.

And in the State of Washington, pro-worker supporters conducted a three-day sleep-in in the state capitol in Olympia, according to Northwest Cable News:

Thousands of union members from all over Washington poured into the state Capitol Friday, calling on lawmakers to "put people first" by ending corporate tax breaks and painful cuts to public programs.

The protest was by far the largest of four days of boisterous demonstrations in Olympia over spending cuts legislators are considering in order to help close a looming $5 billion budget deficit for the next two-year cycle.

It is invigorating to see Americans vibrantly express their rights as citizens in a democracy, and to peacefully assemble on behalf of a "fair share" economy as the Wisconsin moment moves across the nation.


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When a GOP election official cites

"Human error," it seems that

The "error" --- for some reason ---

Never helps the Democrat.




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The Republicans in Wisconsin know how to embrace GOP incompetence, likely electioneering manipulation and cronyism, but denounce Democratic voter fraud that barely exists.

In fact, Wisconsin is just a mini-model of the Republican creation of a lie to keep minorities and the poor from voting (the myth of massive illegal voting, when it can actually be counted on a couple of hands, if that, in any given election.) This was the big lie that took down ACORN, among other organizations that worked to register disenfranchised voters.

Then, you have someone like Kathy Nickolaus come along as an elected election chief in Waukesha County, Wisconsin - with a media-covered rap sheet of shenanigans, legal immunity from prosecution, defiance of transparent election counting practices, employed at one time by both David Prosser and Scott Walker, and, among other corrupt practices, a person who sent out, in her official capacity, sample ballots awhile back marked with votes for Republican candidates.

Do you hear even a whimper of condemnation from the state or national Republicans about the integrity of the election process in the hands of someone like Nickolaus? No, and we didn't hear any complaints from the Republican Party about the partisan maneuvering of Katherine Harris back in 2000.

As noted on BuzzFlash at Truthout, Madison Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin detailed just some of the improprieties and questionable practices surrounding Nickolaus in a letter requesting that the US Department of Justice (DOJ) launch an investigation into the vote counting in the Wisconsin Supreme Court election.

It may or may not end up that the approximately 7,500 votes for Prosser that went missing are valid, but a full state recount is in order considering the conduct of Governor Walker and Prosser, as well as GOP election officials such as Nickolaus, during the recent election.

More importantly, the Feds should - as BuzzFlash has called for - seize the personal computer of Nickolaus on which she kept the "official" vote count in Waukesha, against directives not to do so. Whether or not the "found" votes for Prosser are accurate, it is almost universally agreed that her explanation that Microsoft Access was at fault is a virtual impossibility.

Furthermore, there is a strong possibility that there are incriminating emails on the hard drive of that computer that can explain why these votes - if valid - were held out for two days, or there might be correspondence pointing to a broader election counting "enhancement strategy" that was coordinated for Prosser.

Greg Palast did tremendous investigative work in revealing how emails and relationships with Harris's office played a decisive role in decreasing the Gore vote count in 2000.

The federal investigation should go much wider than Nickolaus because, as in Florida in 2000, something smells very fishy in Wisconsin. But, for the moment, it looks unlikely that the timidity of the DOJ when it comes to the GOP will lead to any formal attempt to get at the truth.

When it comes to election integrity, Democrats are guppies in a pool filled with sharks.


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Speaking on Fox New Sunday, Republican Leader Eric Cantor claimed that last week's budget deal will enhance the Republican's ability to use the looming vote to increase the Federal debt ceiling to leverage massive changes in Medicare and Medicaid.  The opposite is true.

Friday night - literally at the eleventh hour-- Congressman John Boehner's Republican caucus finally agreed to drop their threat to shut down the government over the continued funding of women's health clinics, family planning - and specifically, Planned Parenthood.

The agreement to avoid a government shutdown came as particularly good news to 800,000 federal employees who would not have been paid and the millions of recipients of federal services whose needs will be met.  It is also good news to anyone who cares about the creation of jobs in our economy.  A shutdown would have done major damage to the fragile economic recovery.

The fact that the shutdown was avoided owed a great deal to the work of the many organizations who highlighted the real-life damage of Republican proposed cuts to things like Head Start slots for kids, enforcement of the clean air act, college loans and of course the health services provided by organizations like Planned Parenthood.  These stories were particularly effective when combined with the fact that the Republicans insisted at the same time on continuing to provide subsidies to big oil and tax breaks for millionaires.

The tenacity of the President and Senator Reid - the fact that they refused to allow the Republicans to legislate about most major policy questions like the power of the EPA, and funding for women's health in the guise of a budget bill -- were also crucial.  So was the bargaining skill of Reid's Chief of Staff David Krone and Obama Legislative Liaison, Rob Nabors.

But what is particularly important about the events of the last week is how it informs future progressive attempts to limit the horrific damage that Republicans hope to inflict on Medicare, Medicaid, food assistance programs - and the role of the public sector in our society.

Three separate factors were particularly important to Boehner's decision to throw in the towel on the Republican caucus demand that any deal eliminate government support for women's health clinics - including Planned Parenthood.

1). First and foremost, their threat to shut the government in pursuit of the right wing social agenda would have been a political disaster.  The Tea Party Republican caucus was elected to office by swing voters who wanted something done about jobs - not "runaway" family planning.   Let's remember that this was not about funding abortion.  Federal law has banned taxpayer funding for abortion for decades. This was about funding family planning and women's clinics that do cancer screenings.

Had the Republicans "laid off" 800,000 federal workers and hundreds of thousand of additional contractors, delayed paycheck delivery to the troops, and stopped services to millions of Americans to pursue their fringe social agenda, swing voters would have stood open-mouthed in horror.

For Progressives, it would have been like shooting fish in a barrel - and the Republican political class knew it.

Friday, Democratic pollster Geoff Garin reported that a poll completed Thursday showed two-to-one opposition to cutting funding for Planned Parenthood.  Only strong "Tea Party" adherents favored such a proposal.

2). By agreeing to a deal - even one that was not entirely satisfactory to many of its "Tea Party" faction - the Republicans were able to put on the appearance they were willing to negotiate and compromise.  Had they decided to allow the shutdown and go to war - especially about Planned Parenthood, which has, at one time or another, served one out of five women in America - they would have bet they could win a "shootout at OK Corral."

A shutdown scenario would not have ended in a "kumbaya" moment - or with any semblance of "win-win" imagery.  It would have been someone's Waterloo. The odds were good that the gun-slinger who lay dead in the street after such a confrontation would have been Republican credibility with swing voters. Republicans would have been blamed not only for being intransigent, but also for being willing to risk our fragile economy to advance their ideological social agenda. That would have been the last thing swing voters wanted to hear- particularly independent suburban women.

3). Most important for the future is the role of the real base of the Republican Party - Wall Street and Big Business.  The Republican CEO caucus - and the Chamber of Commerce - are hell bent on destroying unions, shrinking the public sector, lowering tax rates for millionaires, etc.

Frankly, they could care less about the right wing social agenda.  In fact, they view social conservatives as cannon fodder to win elections.  And once they had gotten all that they could on the economic side, they were not the least bit interested in jeopardizing their political fortunes or the economy simply to advance the Tea Party agenda.

Apparently the Chamber and the CEO class's chief operative, Karl Rove, weighed in heavily against a Republican shutdown.

Now that the funding bill for this year is about to be completed, the focus of Congress will turn to the much more fundamental issues surrounding the 2012 budget.

The Republicans want to replace Medicare with a system of vouchers for private insurance.   In other words, they want to replace Medicare's guaranteed health care benefits and put seniors and the disabled at the mercy of private insurance companies.  The Center on Budget Priorities conducted a study that estimated this would increase out-of-pocket health care costs for seniors by $6,000.  It would in effect mean a $6,000 tax increase for America's senior citizens.  And recall that the average Medicare beneficiary makes only $19,000 per year.

Right now, Medicaid guarantees that if you are old or disabled you can afford nursing care that will help you stay independent -- or nursing home care if you can't.  The Republicans want to end that guarantee and replace it with a block grant to the states that will allow them to do whatever they want.

Republicans want to end the guarantee that when you're out of work or down on your luck, you and your kids won't starve for lack of money to buy food.  That's right, they want to end the food stamp program

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Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, who represents the Madison, Wisconsin, area may have read the BuzzFlash at Truthout commentary, "Impound the Private Computer of the Katherine Harris of Wisconsin and Bring in the Feds."

That is because Baldwin wrote to Attorney General Holder to launch a federal investigation into the election counting of the vote for Wisconsin Supreme Court justice, and curious two-day late emergence of approximately 7500 votes for Scott Walker's candidate, David Prosser.

Utilizing social media, Baldwin tweeted, "To assure public confidence in our election process, I have asked AG Holder to investigate the handling of vote records in Waukesha County."

Baldwin posted her letter to Holder on Facebook, in which she writes:

I share the concern of my constituents that these reports [about election count disparities] raise serious doubts as to the integrity of the electoral process in Waukesha County and, by extension, our entire state.

To ensure that the April 5th election for Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice is free, fair, and transparent, and to uphold faith in our democracy for ourselves and future generations, I ask for your immediate assistance in investigating these election inconsistencies in Wisconsin.

Specifically, I urge you to immediately assign the Justice Department Public Integrity Section, which oversees the federal prosecution of election crimes, to investigate the questionable handling of vote records....

Every election, the Republicans clamor that there is massive voting fraud among minorities, which has proven to hardly exist. But the Department of Justice should be particularly vigilant in overseeing those who count the votes, particularly when they have a history of partisan bias and election counting irregularities.


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Is Milton Friedman, the father of modern anarchistic capitalism and the economic "shock doctrine" a "true hero of freedom"?

That's how George W. Bush praised Friedman in a White House ceremony a few years back. (Ronald Reagan bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom on the "Republican revolution" guru.)

I came across a clip of the event the other night, and it brought home how fervently this nation's political and financial elite have embraced an extremist notion. America's domestic and foreign policy now proceeds on the assumption that democracy can only flourish with the existence of unfettered, unregulated, predatory corporate activity.

The Milton Friedman "Chicago School" economic model equates democracy with the consolidation of capital and power.

This explains, as Naomi Klein has pointed out, everything from our overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile to our attempt to convert Iraq into a mini-American "free market." For Friedman adherents - such as Bush and a good portion of the DC political figures and consolidated mainstream media owners - democracy does not exist without the "freedom" for corporations to accumulate as much money and power as possible, without any laws that let the common good supersede the acquisition of unlimited profit and corporate/Wall Street control of the marketplace.

When large corporate and financial industry assets are so vast that they, in essence, determine federal government policy in so many important areas, freedom for the individual is diminished, not enhanced.

Milton Friedman (who died in 2006) was no "hero of freedom," unless you believe that the rights of people are secondary to the "rights" of corporations and banks.


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