“Right now, all people are hearing about are the deaths,” Republican Senator Ron Johnson told the New York Times last week. “I’m sure the deaths are horrific, but the flip side of this is the vast majority of people who get coronavirus do survive.” The problem with this line of reasoning is that “the vast majority” is not a useful standard when measuring a pandemic that is projected to infect at least half the population.
Johnson is comparing the virus to auto fatalities. Around 37,000 people die every year in car crashes, which is certainly a lot. But losing 1 to 3.4 percent of people who get the coronavirus would mean millions of deaths. So no, we don’t shut down the economy to prevent 37,000 deaths, but we might shut down the economy to prevent 100 times that many deaths.
As the Wall Street Journal reports Thursday, Mexico and China have decided to target up to $986 million worth of American dairy exports with tariffs as retaliation for the Trump administration’s protectionist moves. Mexico is increasing its duty on cheese, while China is hitting cheese and whey. With their growing middle-class populations, both countries have become important markets in recent years for the U.S. dairy industry, which has found itself struggling with overproduction in the face of declining domestic milk consumption. Milk futures for July are down since Mexico announced its tariffs earlier this year—the last time the country imposed similar tariffs on U.S. cheese, shipments fell by 26 percent—and companies are already fretting. The president of Wisconsin’s BelGioioso Cheese called the situation “a nightmare.”
This is part of a larger pattern for the Trump administration, which the New York Times documents at length. So far, the administration’s efforts on trade and regulation have ended up hurting the very industries they claim to be helping. The 10 percent tariff Trump placed on aluminum, for instance, has made raw materials more expensive for most of the companies that actually produce aluminum products in the U.S., since they’re generally in the business of importing those raw materials and shaping them into more valuable upstream products. Steel tariffs have made pumping crude more expensive for oil companies by adding to the cost of building rigs and buying equipment. Soybean prices are crashing in response to Chinese tariff threats. Detroit’s car-makers are worried about potential tariffs on foreign autos, with executives warning about possible retaliation. The law of unintended consequences is playing out, or about to play out, in sector after sector of the economy.
I would guess many dairy company owners and employees in Wisconsin are starting to regret voting for the Trump trauma train…
Global Cheese, Kensington Market, Toronto
Cheese makers that rely on foreign sales are suffering as China and Mexico raise tariffs on U.S. mozzarella and provolone.
BelGioioso Cheese Inc., a second-generation family company in Wisconsin, has seen sales to Mexico drop since officials there implemented tariffs of up to 15% in early June on most U.S. cheese. The levies were a response to tariffs the U.S. placed on Mexican steel and aluminum.
On Thursday, Mexico was slated to raise its levy on most U.S. cheese to as much as 25%, while China on Friday is implementing tariffs on $34 billion of U.S. goods, including cheese and whey, a dairy byproduct often fed to livestock.
“It’s a nightmare,” said BelGioioso President Errico Auricchio.
The Trump administration’s trade agenda is threatening that growth, dairies say. The Mexican tariffs affect as much as $578 million in U.S. dairy goods, while China’s duties could hit $408 million of cheese, whey and other products, according to U.S. Chamber of Commerce data.
July milk futures have dropped 12% since Mexico announced May 31 that it would strike back with tariffs. The price for a barrel, or 500 pounds, of white cheddar last week hit its lowest level since 2009. More cheese is in cold storage in the U.S. than any time since the U.S. Department of Agriculture began keeping track in 1917.
U.S. dairy exports last year totaled $5.5 billion, including $1.3 billion to Mexico, the top market, according to the Export Council. China, meanwhile, bought more than $577 million in U.S. dairy products last year, nearly half of it whey. (The recent tariffs don’t affect all dairy exports to Mexico and China.) Almost half of U.S. whey sales went to China last year, the Export Council said. The threat of the Chinese tariffs that take effect Friday has already hurt those sales.
Less than a year after Waukesha secured permission to withdraw more than 7 million gallons a day from the lake, Taiwan-based Foxconn Technology Group could end up winning access to a similar amount of fresh water for its new Wisconsin factory with merely a stroke of a pen from Gov. Scott Walker, the company’s chief political sponsor.
Foxconn’s bid for Lake Michigan water is the latest test of the decade-old Great Lakes Compact, an agreement among the region’s states intended to make it almost impossible to direct water outside the natural basin of the Great Lakes unless it is added to certain products, such as beer and soft drinks.
At issue with both Waukesha and Foxconn is an exemption that allows limited diversions outside the basin for “a group of largely residential customers that may also serve industrial, commercial, and other institutional operators.”
Of the 7 million gallons of water withdrawn daily for Foxconn, 4.3 million gallons would be treated and returned to the lake and the rest would be lost, mostly from evaporation in the company’s cooling system, according to the application sent to Wisconsin officials.
That amount of lost water falls below a daily limit of 5 million gallons that would trigger a review by other Great Lakes states, including those that lost out on the factory.
Wisconsin voters, here is your reward for electing Scott Walker: the upcoming destruction of Penokee Hills and the Bad River. Gee, thanks…
But now, after the recent passage of a bill that would allow for the construction of what could be the world’s largest open-pit iron ore mine, Wisconsin’s admirable history of environmental stewardship is under attack.
The mine, to be built by Gogebic Taconite (GTac), owned by the coal magnate Chris Cline, would be in the Penokee Hills, in the state’s far north — part of a vast, water-rich ecosystem that President John F. Kennedy described in 1963, in a speech he delivered in the area, as “a central and significant portion of the freshwater assets of this country.”
The $1.5 billion mine would initially be close to four miles long, up to a half-mile wide and nearly 1,000 feet deep, but it could be extended as long as 21 miles. In its footprint lie the headwaters of the Bad River, which flows into Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world and by far the cleanest of the Great Lakes. Six miles downstream from the site is the reservation of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, whose livelihood is threatened by the mine.
To facilitate the construction of the mine and the company’s promise of 700 long-term jobs, Gov. Scott Walker signed legislation last year granting GTac astonishing latitude. The new law allows the company to fill in pristine streams and ponds with mine waste. It eliminates a public hearing that had been mandated before the issuing of a permit, which required the company to testify, under oath, that the project had complied with all environmental standards. It allows GTac to pay taxes solely on profit, not on the amount of ore removed, raising the possibility that the communities affected by the mine’s impact on the area’s roads and schools would receive only token compensation.
According to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a campaign-finance watchdog, GTac executives and other mine supporters have donated a total of $15 million to Governor Walker and Republican legislators, outspending the mine’s opponents by more than 600 to 1.
Your tears are wasted
If Governor Scott Walker does in fact run for President, this issue will not play well in the minds of most. Even many Republicans don’t want to turn our great country into a wasteland worse than Mordor. It’s hard to go hunting or fishing knee deep in mining slag and asbestos…
Special interests that back loosening mining regulations for a Florida company that wants to dig an open pit iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin have contributed $15.6 million to the Republican-controlled legislature and GOP Governor Scott Walker who are likely to approve mining permit changes in the coming months.
The Democracy Campaign review also found the campaign contributions made by mining deregulation interests swamped those of mining deregulation opponents – environmental groups – by a ratio of $610 to $1. Environmental groups which oppose the Republican mining proposal introduced in mid-January contributed only $25,544 to legislators between 2010 and June 2012 and to the governor between 2010 and April 23, 2012.
Support for a nearly identical GOP proposal last session to reduce groundwater, wetland, waste rock disposal and other environment laws for iron ore mining and impose deadlines on the state to review mine proposals so companies can get permits faster was led by manufacturing, construction, business, banking, transportation and four other special interests, according to state lobbying records.
This array of powerful special interests support mining deregulation because they will benefit from the short- and long-term construction and operation of Gogebic Taconite’s proposed mine in Ashland and Iron counties. Gogebic Taconite is a Wisconsin-based subsidiary of the Cline Group which controls large coal mining operations in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Illinois and Ohio.
Walker, who has campaigned around the state to gin up support for changing rules to attract mining projects, received $11.34 million from 2010 through April 23, 2012 from interests that support mining deregulation (Table 1) including $67,068 from the prospective mine’s owner, Christopher Cline, his employees and other mining industry executives. During the same period, Walker received only $650 from environmental groups.
To quote Mike’s email to alders and I this morning:
“The Office of the City Attorney (in compliance with State law) insists on 24 hours notice for any meeting, or adding any matter to an agenda, unless there is no way that 24 hours notice could have been given. Mere convenience or inadvertence is insufficient to meet the less than 24-hour notice. This is necessary to be in compliance with the Open Meetings Law. It is an essential element of government in Wisconsin.
“Today’s action does not meet that test. It does not comply with Wisconsin Law.
“The action taken today will be struck down if challenged in court.
“Sec. 19.84(3), Stats.:
“‘Public notice of every meeting of a governmental body shall be given at least 24 hours prior to the commencement of such meeting, unless for good cause such notice is impossible or impractical, in which case shorter notice may be given, but in no case may the notice be provided less than 2 hours in advance of the meeting.’
“Sec. 19.97(3), Stats.:
“‘Any action taken at a meeting of a governmental body in violation of this subchapter is voidable …’
“This aggression will not stand. If challenged in court, the action today would likely be voided as illegal.”
So how’s the drive to recall Wisconsin GOP state senators going? If these new numbers the Wisconsin Democratic Party shares with me are accurate, it’s already exceeding expectations in a big way.
Graeme Zielinski, a spokesman for the party, tells me that activists working on the recall push already collected over the weekend 15 percent of the total necessary signatures needed to force recalls in all eight of the GOP districts Dems are targeting. He says that the party — which is helping to coordinate and keeping track of outside efforts to gather signatures — set itself a goal of 10,000 signatures for the weekend, and has already exceeded it by 35 percent.
Zielinski also claims that recall forces over the weekend put more than 2,000 volunteers on the street to collect signatures. He also says volunteers have collected 26 percent of the signatures required in one district, and 20 percent in another, though he wouldn’t say which ones, because Dems want GOP senators to fret that they are the ones in question.
If these numbers are close to accurate, they are a surprising sign of the power of the grassroots energy uncorked by Scott Walker’s union-busting proposals. Under Wisconsin law, a recall requires a number of signatures totaling 25 percent of the number that voted in the last gubernatorial election.
…Also: As Ben Smith pointed out yesterday, the mechanics of recall drives favor unions, because of their organizing ability, and because many Republicans in Wisconsin occupy swing districts. Fourteen out of 19 GOP state senators preside over districts carried in 2008 by Obama.
From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, some details of the process:
Wisconsin requires petitioners to gather enough signatures to equal 25% of the votes cast in the most recent race for governor in the district of the targeted legislator, a daunting number. That barrier is even higher in some states – it’s 40% in Kansas – and lower in others – 12% in California for governor, 20% for state legislators.
Wisconsin law also dictates that a year must pass after the election of the targeted official before he or she can be recalled. In some states, that period is only 90 days.
That means that in the Wisconsin Senate, only the 16 members elected in 2008 are eligible to be recalled this year.
Recall drives have now been officially launched against every one, some by more than one committee, Kevin Kennedy, the state’s top election official, said Sunday. The other 17, elected in 2010, could be targeted for recall next year, as could the governor. It would take more than 540,000 valid signatures to force a recall election against Walker in 2011.
The other hurdle in Wisconsin for recall organizers is that they have only 60 days once they formally organize to gather the needed signatures – in some states that period is much longer. The signatures needed for the recall drives now under way range from 11,817 in Milwaukee Democrat Spencer Coggs’ district to 20,973 in the district of New Berlin Republican Mary Lazich.
In interviews last week, some experts said Wisconsin’s short window for petitions and the large number of signatures required means that recall efforts will need significant funding and paid canvassers.
On the other hand, social media offers today’s activists a tool that didn’t exist 10 or 20 years ago to rapidly mobilize and coordinate grass-roots political activity.
“I think this may actually become more common because of social media,” Moncrief said.
Under the timetables in state law, the 60-day petition period that’s under way in 16 Senate districts is followed by a 31-day period where signatures are challenged, defended and reviewed. That period can be extended by a court.
If enough signatures are declared valid, an election is scheduled for six weeks later. If more than one challenger in the same party files papers, then that election serves as the party primary, followed four weeks later by a general election.
Gov. Scott Walker says he wants state workers covered by collective bargaining agreements to “contribute more” to their pension and health insurance plans. Accepting Gov. Walker’ s assertions as fact, and failing to check, creates the impression that somehow the workers are getting something extra, a gift from taxpayers. They are not. Out of every dollar that funds Wisconsin’ s pension and health insurance plans for state workers, 100 cents comes from the state workers.
How can this be possible?
Simple. The pension plan is the direct result of deferred compensation- money that employees would have been paid as cash salary but choose, instead, to have placed in the state operated pension fund where the money can be professionally invested (at a lower cost of management) for the future.
If the Wisconsin governor and state legislature were to be honest, they would correctly frame this issue. They are not, in fact, asking state employees to make a larger contribution to their pension and benefits programs as that would not be possible- the employees are already paying 100% of the contributions.
What they are actually asking is that the employees take a pay cut.
That may or may not be an appropriate request depending on your point of view – but the argument that the taxpayers are providing state workers with some gift is as false as the argument that state workers are paid better than employees with comparable education and skills in private industry.
Maybe state workers need to take pay cut along with so many of their fellow Americans. But let’s, at the least, recognize this sacrifice for what it is rather than pretending they’ve been getting away with some sweet deal that now must be brought to an end.
which excludes most television news pundits, and most politicians [↩]
One of these years, I’ll get to Naomi Klein’s book in my stack of books-to-read. Paul Krugman explains why I should move it nearer to the top, in the context of Governor Wanker’s assault on Wisconsin.
The story of the privatization-obsessed Coalition Provisional Authority was the centerpiece of Naomi Klein’s best-selling book “The Shock Doctrine,” which argued that it was part of a broader pattern. From Chile in the 1970s onward, she suggested, right-wing ideologues have exploited crises to push through an agenda that has nothing to do with resolving those crises, and everything to do with imposing their vision of a harsher, more unequal, less democratic society.
Which brings us to Wisconsin 2011, where the shock doctrine is on full display.
In recent weeks, Madison has been the scene of large demonstrations against the governor’s budget bill, which would deny collective-bargaining rights to public-sector workers. Gov. Scott Walker claims that he needs to pass his bill to deal with the state’s fiscal problems. But his attack on unions has nothing to do with the budget. In fact, those unions have already indicated their willingness to make substantial financial concessions — an offer the governor has rejected.
What’s happening in Wisconsin is, instead, a power grab — an attempt to exploit the fiscal crisis to destroy the last major counterweight to the political power of corporations and the wealthy. And the power grab goes beyond union-busting. The bill in question is 144 pages long, and there are some extraordinary things hidden deep inside.
including the sale of public utilities with no-bid contracts, as the Governor sees fit
What’s that about? The state of Wisconsin owns a number of plants supplying heating, cooling, and electricity to state-run facilities (like the University of Wisconsin). The language in the budget bill would, in effect, let the governor privatize any or all of these facilities at whim. Not only that, he could sell them, without taking bids, to anyone he chooses. And note that any such sale would, by definition, be “considered to be in the public interest.”
If this sounds to you like a perfect setup for cronyism and profiteering — remember those missing billions in Iraq? — you’re not alone. Indeed, there are enough suspicious minds out there that Koch Industries, owned by the billionaire brothers who are playing such a large role in Mr. Walker’s anti-union push, felt compelled to issue a denial that it’s interested in purchasing any of those power plants. Are you reassured?
Tourism and culinary adventurism aren’t the only reasons to come to Illinois, having to flee reactionary Rethuglicans in your home state is a good excuse too.
As battles over limits to public-sector unions and collective-bargaining rights erupted in capitals in Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio, Illinois suddenly found itself as the refuge of choice for outnumbered Democrats fleeing their states to block the passage of such bills. By Wednesday evening, most of Indiana’s 40 Democratic state representatives were living in rooms (“plain but all we need,” in the words of one) at the Comfort Suites in Urbana, Ill., about 100 miles west of the state Capitol in Indianapolis. Wisconsin’s Senate Democrats were preparing to mark their first full week, on Thursday, somewhere in northern Illinois.
Republican leaders left behind in the various Capitols fumed, but Gov. Patrick J. Quinn of Illinois seemed to delight in the new arrivals, some of whom said Mr. Quinn, a Democrat, had telephoned them to offer his personal welcome. “We believe in hospitality and tourism and being friendly,” Mr. Quinn said on Wednesday, quickly adding, “I also believe in unions.”
The main reason Illinois was suddenly a magnet for vanishing lawmakers was a matter of geography. From both Wisconsin and Indiana, getting over the Illinois line before state law enforcement authorities might be able to find them and haul them back to their stately chambers was a matter of a few hours by car. Still, the state seemed a fitting getaway. As Republicans seized control in a number of Midwestern capitals in November, Illinois was one of the few where Democrats held on to theirs.
“It seems like very friendly territory,” said State Representative Win Moses, 68, one of the Indiana Democrats
Those questions point to a more profound question: Has Walker violated Wisconsin’s strictest-in-the-nation ethics rules, which require elected officials to “maintain the faith and confidence of the people of the state” when it comes to their actions?
Here’s the critical exchange:
Koch caller: “Well, I tell you what, Scott: once you crush these bastards I’ll fly you out to Cali and really show you a good time.”
Governor Walker: “All right, that would be outstanding. Thanks for all the support in helping us move the cause forward…. “
Koch caller: “Absolutely. And, you know, we have a little bit of a vested interest as well. ”
“Well,” replies Walker, “that’s just it.”
When someone who Scott Walker thought was a major donor to national groups that aided Walker’s 2010 gubernatorial run – as that gave the Walker campaign $43,000 directly, via Koch Industries’ KochPAC – said he had a “vested interest” in a budget plan being pushed by the governor, Walker replied” “Well, that’s just it.”
The conversation is so stunning in its brazenness that the Center for Media and Democracy, which had already filed a freedom-of-information requests for records of contacts between the governor and his aides and representatives of Koch industries, is stepping up those demands.
“One request is for the phone logs and the other is for their emails. We are looking for any contacts between Scott Walker and his staff and anyone with Koch Industries or the Kochs (brothers David and Charles),” says Lisa Graves, a former deputy Assistant Attorney General of the United States who now heads the Madison-based center. “We are interested as well in calls to and from the group Americans for Prosperity, with which Mr. Koch is closely tied.”
Says Graves: “We are interested in a number of things, especially contacts between the financial interests that helped elect Governor Walker and the governor and his staff. We are interested in whether the governor and his staff have maintained faith with the ethics requirements and responsibilities associated with their positions.”
Some things are known, though. Koch money helped get Scott Walker the governor’s seat in Wisconsin. And now a major Koch-related group is spearheading the defense of Walker’s radical plan to kill public employees’ right to organize in Wisconsin. The question is whether an actual majority of Wisconsin citizens want two of the richest men in the world, who do not live here — and who, as Lee Fang has pointed out, have eliminated jobs in this state — to be playing such an influential role in the rights of working people here.
The Kochs assert that they do not “direct” the activities of Americans for Prosperity or the Tea Party. No, they just fuel them with their riches from the oil business they inherited from their daddy.
And they did not vote for Scott Walker in the traditional sense in a democracy. Rather, as the Republican Governors Association spells out, they “invested” in him.
What is the return desired for their investment? It looks like the first dividend Walker wants to pay, through the help of the Koch-subsidized cheerleaders from Americans for Prosperity, is a death knell for unions and the rights of workers to organize. But tens of thousands of Wisconsin citizens have stood up this week to say this ROI will not be paid, that their rights will not be the price Walker exacts from them in return for the largess the Kochs have shown him as the anointed instrument of their agenda in this state.
[Scott Walker’s brinksmanship] could be forfeiting millions in transportation funding from the federal government if his anti-union legislation is signed into law.
Under an obscure provision of federal labor law, states risk losing federal funds should they eliminate “collective bargaining rights” that existed at the time when federal assistance was first granted. The provision, known as “protective arrangements” or “Section 13C arrangements,” is meant as a means of cushioning union (and even some non-union) members who, while working on local projects, are affected by federal grants.
It also could potentially hamstring governors like Walker who want dramatic changes to labor laws in their states. Wisconsin received $74 million in federal transit funds this fiscal year. Of that, $46.6 million would be put at risk should the collective-bargaining bill come to pass — in the process creating an even more difficult fiscal situation than the one that, ostensibly, compelled Walker to push the legislation in the first place.
He probably figures the jobs lost would be union jobs, so what the hell. Half a billion dollars and a crippled state economy are nothing if he can crush labor
and if you hadn’t heard, Ian Murphy of a Buffalo alt-weekly, Buffalo Beast, held a 20 minute prank call with Walker by posing as a member of the Kochtopus:
Ian Murphy, editor of the Buffalo Beast, just did something wonderful. Murphy, pretending to be billionaire industrialist and secretive conservative political activist David Koch, called Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, currently in the midst of attempting to crush the public employees’ unions. “Koch” got through to Walker (who hasn’t been taking calls from the Democratic state Senate minority leader). He taped the call and put it online.
So Walker will happily take a call from a Koch brother. He says that he considered “planting some troublemakers” among the protesters. He is convinced that everyone is on his side. Like most people who only watch Fox, he has a skewed impression of the popularity of his union-crushing proposals. (His plan is, nationally, roundly unpopular. Except on Fox.)
…Walker does reveal that he is planning to trick the Democrats into coming back into town for a “talk,” despite his lack of interest in compromising anything. He will ask them to open a session in the Assembly, and then take a recess for this talk. At that point, the Senate Republicans would hold the vote on the bill while Walker distracts the Democrats with this entirely pointless discussion:
They can recess it … the reason for that, we’re verifying it this afternoon, legally, we believe, once they’ve gone into session, they don’t physically have to be there. If they’re actually in session for that day, and they take a recess, the 19 Senate Republicans could then go into action and they’d have quorum because it’s turned out that way. So we’re double checking that. If you heard I was going to talk to them that’s the only reason why. We’d only do it if they came back to the capitol with all 14 of them. My sense is, hell. I’ll talk. If they want to yell at me for an hour, I’m used to that. I can deal with that. But I’m not negotiating.
Paul Krugman discusses why the Wisconsin-as-Cairo movement is important, especially for the Democratic Party.
The bill that has inspired the demonstrations would strip away collective bargaining rights for many of the state’s workers, in effect busting public-employee unions. Tellingly, some workers — namely, those who tend to be Republican-leaning — are exempted from the ban; it’s as if Mr. Walker were flaunting the political nature of his actions.
Why bust the unions? As I said, it has nothing to do with helping Wisconsin deal with its current fiscal crisis. Nor is it likely to help the state’s budget prospects even in the long run: contrary to what you may have heard, public-sector workers in Wisconsin and elsewhere are paid somewhat less than private-sector workers with comparable qualifications, so there’s not much room for further pay squeezes.
So it’s not about the budget; it’s about the power.
In principle, every American citizen has an equal say in our political process. In practice, of course, some of us are more equal than others. Billionaires can field armies of lobbyists; they can finance think tanks that put the desired spin on policy issues; they can funnel cash to politicians with sympathetic views (as the Koch brothers did in the case of Mr. Walker). On paper, we’re a one-person-one-vote nation; in reality, we’re more than a bit of an oligarchy, in which a handful of wealthy people dominate.
Given this reality, it’s important to have institutions that can act as counterweights to the power of big money. And unions are among the most important of these institutions.
You don’t have to love unions, you don’t have to believe that their policy positions are always right, to recognize that they’re among the few influential players in our political system representing the interests of middle- and working-class Americans, as opposed to the wealthy. Indeed, if America has become more oligarchic and less democratic over the last 30 years — which it has — that’s to an important extent due to the decline of private-sector unions.
And now Mr. Walker and his backers are trying to get rid of public-sector unions, too.
There’s a bitter irony here. The fiscal crisis in Wisconsin, as in other states, was largely caused by the increasing power of America’s oligarchy. After all, it was superwealthy players, not the general public, who pushed for financial deregulation and thereby set the stage for the economic crisis of 2008-9, a crisis whose aftermath is the main reason for the current budget crunch. And now the political right is trying to exploit that very crisis, using it to remove one of the few remaining checks on oligarchic influence.
So will the attack on unions succeed? I don’t know. But anyone who cares about retaining government of the people by the people should hope that it doesn’t.
According to Wisconsin campaign finance filings, Walker’s gubernatorial campaign received $43,000 from the Koch Industries PAC during the 2010 election. That donation was his campaign’s second-highest, behind $43,125 in contributions from housing and realtor groups in Wisconsin. The Koch’s PAC also helped Walker via a familiar and much-used politicial maneuver designed to allow donors to skirt campaign finance limits. The PAC gave $1 million to the Republican Governors Association, which in turn spent $65,000 on independent expenditures to support Walker. The RGA also spent a whopping $3.4 million on TV ads and mailers attacking Walker’s opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. Walker ended up beating Barrett by 5 points.
The Koch money, no doubt, helped greatly. The Kochs also assisted Walker’s current GOP allies in the fight against the public-sector unions. Last year, Republicans took control of the both houses of the Wisconsin state legislature, which has made Walker’s assault on these unions possible. And according to data from the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, the Koch Industries PAC spent $6,500 in support of 16 Wisconsin Republican state legislative candidates, who each won his or her election.
Walker’s plan to eviscerate collective bargaining rights for public employees is right out of the Koch brothers’ playbook. Koch-backed groups like Americans for Prosperity, the Cato Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and the Reason Foundation have long taken a very antagonistic view toward public-sector unions. Several of these groups have urged the eradication of these unions. In Wisconsin, this conservative, anti-union view is being placed into action by lawmakers in sync with the deep-pocketed donors who helped them obtain power. (Walker also opposes the state’s Clean Energy Job Act, which would compel the state to increase its use of alternative energy.) At this moment—even with the Wisconsin uprising unresolved—the Koch brothers’ investment in Walker appears to be paying off.
The NY Times adds, a couple of days later, responses from the Kochtopus itself:
Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity, told counterprotesters in what was otherwise a largely union crowd that the cuts were not only necessary, but they also represented the start of a much-needed nationwide move to slash public-sector union benefits. “We are going to bring fiscal sanity back to this great nation,” he said.
What Mr. Phillips did not mention was that his Virginia-based nonprofit group, whose budget surged to $40 million in 2010 from $7 million three years ago, was created and financed in part by the secretive billionaire brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch.
State records also show that Koch Industries, their energy and consumer products conglomerate based in Wichita, Kan., was one of the biggest contributors to the election campaign of Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, a Republican who has championed the proposed cuts. Even before the new governor was sworn in last month, executives from the Koch-backed group had worked behind the scenes to try to encourage a union showdown, Mr. Phillips said in an interview on Monday.
Wisconsin’s new Republican governor has framed his assault on public worker’s collective bargaining rights as a needed measure of fiscal austerity during tough times.
The reality is radically different. Unlike true austerity measures — service rollbacks, furloughs, and other temporary measures that cause pain but save money — rolling back worker’s bargaining rights by itself saves almost nothing on its own. But Walker’s doing it anyhow, to knock down a barrier and allow him to cut state employee benefits immediately. Mad In Madison: Wisconsin Workers Protest Against Governor’s Budget Proposals
Furthermore, this broadside comes less than a month after the state’s fiscal bureau — the Wisconsin equivalent of the Congressional Budget Office — concluded that Wisconsin isn’t even in need of austerity measures, and could conclude the fiscal year with a surplus. In fact, they say that the current budget shortfall is a direct result of tax cut policies Walker enacted in his first days in office.
Unfortunately, Walker has a political agenda that relies on the fantasy that Wisconsin is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. Walker is not interested in balanced budgets, efficient government or meaningful job creation. Walker is interested in gaming the system to benefit his political allies and campaign contributors.
To achieve that end, he has proposed a $137 million budget “repair” bill that he intends to use as a vehicle to:
1. Undermine the long-established collective bargaining rights of public employee unions, which have for 80 years been the strongest advocates for programs that serve the great mass of Wisconsinites, as opposed to wealthy elites and corporate special interests.
As Racine’s Democratic state Rep. Cory Mason says, the governor’s bill is designed not with the purpose of getting the state’s finances in order but as “an assault on Wisconsin’s working families and political payback against unions who didn’t support Gov. Walker.”
2. Pay for schemes that redirect state tax dollars to wealthy individuals and corporate interests that have been sources of campaign funding for Walker’s fellow Republicans and special-interest campaigns on their behalf.
As Madison’s Democratic state Rep. Brett Hulsey notes, the governor and legislators aligned with him have over the past month given away special-interest favors to every lobby group that came asking, creating zero jobs in the process “but increasing the deficit by more than $100 million.” Actually, Hulsey’s being conservative in his estimate of how much money Walker and his allies have misappropriated for political purposes.
There’s a PDF here that was written by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, explaining in detail these misappropriations. Or as the authors put it:
Annually, this office prepares general fund revenue and expenditure projections for the Legislature prior to commencement of legislative deliberations on the state’s budget.
In the odd-numbered years, our report includes estimated revenues and expenditures for the current fiscal year and tax collection projections for each year of the next biennium. This report presents the conclusions of our analysis.