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Five Years with No Raise for Minimum Wage Workers

By: WI Budget Project Thursday July 24, 2014 2:00 pm

Today marks the fifth anniversary of the last increase in the federal minimum wage, which has been stuck at $7.25 an hour since 2009.

NYC Raise the Wage Protest sign: "Fight for a Liveable Wage!"

It’s been too long since Wisconsin raised the minimum wage.

The minimum wage has about 11% of its purchasing power due to inflation since 2009, making it harder for low-paid workers to make ends meet. (In comparison, CEO compensation rose 46% between 2009 and 2013.)

Some states have increased their own minimum wages, rather than waiting for Congress to do it. Nineteen states have set their own minimum wage higher than the federal minimum wage, including our neighboring states of Illinois ($8.35) and Michigan ($7.40), where a Republican-controlled legislature approved a recent wage increase to $9.25 by 2018. In Minnesota, the minimum wage is scheduled to rise to $9.50 by 2016. In contrast, state lawmakers in Wisconsin have taken no action to increase the minimum wage.

It’s too bad that Wisconsin lawmakers have refused to raise the minimum wage, because such a move would have broad-based benefits for workers. If we increased the minimum wage to $10.10, one-fifth of all Wisconsin workers, or 587,000 people, would receive a raise. One out of six children in Wisconsin – a total of 234,000 children – would have a parent who would benefit. Some argue that teenage workers would be the biggest beneficiaries of an increase in the minimum wage, but 79% of the Wisconsin workers who would benefit from an increase to $10.10 are 20 years or older.

To highlight the difficulties of living on the minimum wage, a new challenge called “Live the Wage” urges people to walk in the shoes of a minimum wage worker by living on a budget of $77 for one week. That’s the amount that a full-time minimum wage worker brings home, after taxes and housing costs. By participating in Live the Wage, you can experience yourself how tough it is to put food on the table, get to work, and provide for your children while earning the minimum wage. You can share your experiences on social media using the hashtag #LivetheWage.

Five years is too long to wait to give a leg up to people working at the lowest wages. If we can’t count on Congress to raise the wage, then Wisconsin should follow the example of neighboring states and give a raise to hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin workers.

by Tamarine Cornelius

 

Over Easy: A Mental Health Break for Friday

By: msmolly
Calendar page date circled.

It’s Friday!

My train of thought derailed. There were no survivors.

This is the story of my week, when all of the news seemed to run the gamut from bad to awful to horrendous. Blown up Malaysia airplanes, bombed Gaza hospitals, botched Arizona executions, and then yesterday a 166-page secret government rulebook for labeling you a terrorist (proof not necessary).

The “March 2013 Watchlisting Guidance,” a 166-page document issued last year by the National Counterterrorism Center, spells out the government’s secret rules for putting individuals on its main terrorist database, as well as the no fly list and the selectee list, which triggers enhanced screening at airports and border crossings. The new guidelines allow individuals to be designated as representatives of terror organizations without any evidence they are actually connected to such organizations, and it gives a single White House official the unilateral authority to place entire “categories” of people the government is tracking onto the no fly and selectee lists.

I was feeling overloaded, and decided maybe you all are too. Here are a few interesting conversation starters, so grab a cup of coffee or tea and join in.

Thanks to Bill Moyers for pointing us to this nifty thing:

A self-taught 16-year-old coder from Seattle, Washington, has created a web browser plug-in that won’t let you forget the pervasive and corrupting influence of money in politics.

Called “Greenhouse,” the plug-in picks out the names of any members of Congress on a given web page. Users can then mouse-over those members of Congress to see their top donors, and what percentage of their funding came from small-dollar donations.

Get it HERE.

Chattanooga, TN is about to stick it to Comcast and AT&T. Cue the howling!

Like a publicly traded corporation, the utility [EPB] issued bonds to raise resources to invest in the new broadband project. Similarly, just as many private corporations ended up receiving federal stimulus dollars, so did EPB, which put those monies into its new network.

The result is a system that now provides the nation’s fastest broadband speeds at prices often cheaper than the private competition. As the Chattanooga Times Free Press noted a few years back, “EPB offers faster Internet speeds for the money, and shows equal pep in both uploading and downloading content, with Comcast and AT&T trailing on quickness.”

This one is sorta funny. Another government website that doesn’t work.
Error: You Have No Payments from Pharma

Doctors checking a soon-to-be-unveiled federal website that will publicly list drug company payments are encountering error messages if they have not accepted industry money.

The error message: “There are no results that match the specified search criteria.”

OK, that’s all I’ve got. Come share kitteh stories and weather reports and family news. Maybe Starbuck will come by with more wonderful pictures and nonquixote will give us a crop (or Scott Walker) report. Ruth should be back with more from her travels. There might be a Christie sighting. Maybe some lurkers will delurk and put in their two cents. Let’s make it a cheery Friday despite the gloomy headlines! They’ll still be there tomorrow.

UPDATE: Aaaaand we DO have a Christie sighting!
Rob Astorino: Chris Christie should consider stepping down as RGA chairman if he can’t support me

Christie said the RGA doesn’t “pay for landslides and we don’t invest in lost causes…”

Is it too early in the morning for popcorn?

Thursday Watercooler

By: Kit OConnell Thursday July 24, 2014 8:23 pm

 

Two activists in Anon mask with sign: Listen Close, I've Got Six Words for Obama. Long Live Palestine, Long Live Gaza!

July 23: These two Anonymous activists were among hundreds that came to stand with Gaza in Austin.

Tonight’s Watercooler is in solidarity with the thousands who took the streets in Chicago last weekend for a massive march to support the people of Gaza — and with the many thousands more participating in similar protests worldwide, including the West Bank.

A much more modest protest took place in Austin yesterday, sponsored by several local organizations that support an end to the conflict. About as many, or slightly fewer people came out as the last rally I wrote about in this watercooler. I quipped to my friend Gayle that in the Texas heat each person should count for 2. My friend, who is in Middle Eastern studies, retorted that during Ramadan every Muslim protester (unable to drink water in that sun!) should count for 4.

Bits and pieces: 

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The Watercooler is an open conversation. Ask questions, share links and your thoughts.

Ukraine, Negroponte & Missiles — Oh My!

By: Jane Stillwater

Poor Ukraine just can’t seem to catch a break. Its ancient history reads like a whole patchwork quilt of disaster stories and its modern history gets even worse. First there was that insanely terrible Ukraine famine of 1932-33, artificially manufactured by Joseph Stalin in order to forestall a revolt. And in just those two short years, 25,000 Ukrainians a day died of starvation — until more than 10 million people were dead.

A postcard of a Ukrainian train station

Ukraine has suffered from strife from its days in the Russian empire.

Then Hitler’s Nazis killed 150,000 Jewish Ukrainians at Babi Yar and used eastern Ukraine as a bloody staging area for the siege of Stalingrad. 3.5 million Soviet soldiers died in Nazi prison camps during World War II and many of those soldiers were local boys. Ultimately, more than five million Ukrainians died fighting Nazi Germany and most of Ukraine’s 1.5 million Jews were wiped out. Poor Ukraine!

Then Chernobyl blew up. Then there was a series of corruption scandals, assassinations, price de-regulations, worker strikes, coal mine explosions and a 3.5 billion deficit to deal with during the 1990s, and the new Ukraine republic was destabilized to the point where its major exports became online porn, mail-order brides and Mafioso types running protection rackets in Sacramento.

Then there was that famous CIA-backed “Orange Revolution” in 2004, yet another total disaster — followed this year by Kiev’s famous beer hall putsch.

Geez Louise, why can’t our CIA ever come up with a plan that Americans can be proud of?

The 2014 neo-Nazi putsch in Kiev, the various resultant slaughters of Resistance fighters in eastern Ukraine and the recent shooting down of Malaysia’s MH17 all seem to have one thing in common: Like any other CIA-backed “nation-building” operation throughout the known world, they are all sort of shadowy, shady and hard to define. However, I am certainly going to try to define them.

To try to understand the pattern of what just happened in Ukraine, you first gotta to go all the way back to Central America during Ronald Reagan’s reign and climb into the mind of John Negroponte — a one-trick-pony kind of guy whose major contribution to America’s international diplomatic policy was the judicious use of snipers and other Trojan-horse-style agitators to initiate various casus-belli false-flag operations.

And since that time when all Hell was unleashed on Central America thanks to John Negroponte (and we still have all those kids at our borders to prove it too), wherever there has been any kind of protests against CIA policy throughout the world, our John’s dead-eye sniper dudes would show up on the sly, take out a few key people on both sides and then just sit back and watch the fun as both sides began to tear each other apart. Negroponte’s signature handiwork soon became available in Iraq, for instance, happily starting wars between Sunnis and Shias.

And even before Iraq received the benefit of Negroponte’s ingenious full monty, there was also the bloody aftermath of 9-11 — wherein some crazy Saudi dudes blew up the Twin Towers and Negroponte’s homeys then blamed it on Afghanistan. And we taxpayers are still paying for that one.

And wasn’t Negrgoponte’s can’t-fail modus operandi also employed in Syria too? And Scotland? And Gaza? But I digress.

It’s almost 100% certain that Negroponte’s brain-children were also at play during the Ukraine protests in Maidan Square last winter too, when both police and protestors were shot at by snipers. And the result? Kiev’s very own beer-hall putsch and seizure of the government by pro-CIA thugs. Poor Ukraine.

The breadbasket of eastern Europe and a jewel in anybody’s crown is now once again wracked by war and killing and death. And the Odessa Steps run red with blood. Again.

“So get to your point, Jane.”

What am I really trying to say here? That perhaps Negroponte and his ballistic-favoring minions have now taken his sniper-attack method of starting conflicts to a whole new level — and are now using long-range missiles instead of long-range rifles to get the dance started? And thus shooting down the Malaysia airline and blaming it on Russia or Ukrainian Resistance fighters is an idea that he and/or his CIA buddies would definitely come up with? Just saying.

BDS: Beautiful, Delicious Summer

By: patrick devlin Wednesday July 23, 2014 3:12 pm

cross posted at the demise

A picnic spread on a blanket outdoors

Some politics for your next picnic.

Been thinking of having a summertime picnic – and as it always is with a picnic, trying to determine what yummy summertime portable food to bring, what other equipment to pack — and most importantly: the setting.

I’ve picnicked on the banks of Amphitheater Lake on the top of Wyoming’s Grand Teton, on the iron-stone shores of Lake Superior, in the springtime groves of the Hudson River Valley’s fragrant blooming apple orchards, on the banks of the Flathead River in the Great Bear Wilderness, watching the sun sink below Midwestern farm fields and the Mississippi River, on the beach at Mora in Olympic National Park, on the sandy shores of the Atlantic as it lapped up on Puerto Rico, on the knobby green mountains of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Parkway, at sacred Native American sites in Arizona (within both State and National parks), in the rolly green hills of Wisconsin’s driftless region, on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the Cocteau friendly town of Menton France, on the shore of the wild North Atlantic coast at the Giant’s Causeway in County Antrim Ireland, in the High Atlas Mountains of central Morocco, surrounded by a magnificent and usable piece of modern art by Frank Gehry in Chicago’s Millennium Park and even amongst the hundred year old trees that dot the Boston Common…so many beautiful spots to picnic in this world.

Breathtaking, delightful settings.

I read a story in the UK’s Guardian newspaper that described some Israelis who have been picnicking themselves over the past week – having a nice summertime meal, sharing wine and sharing community in this sweet and sweltery season, on the hills that overlook Gaza. I’m sure the view is remarkable – heard about those picnickers taking pictures and just basically enjoying themselves … even whooping it up together as they celebrate a meal al fresco in the summer evenings.

Bombing … destruction … senseless

If you are thinking about picnicking and are considering how to fill that picnic basket, here are some things you may want to remember to forget.

Food products:

  • Sabra Hummus: After capturing 60 percent of the American hummus market, Sabra also is attempting to capture the hearts of Israel by “adopting” an Israel Defense Forces unit. The company’s chairwoman says that IDF soldiers are “not army, Israeli soldiers are our kids.”
  • Tribe Hummus :The second largest hummus seller in America, one of whose owners has a long and cooperative relationship with the Jewish National Fund, which is the Israeli organization that buys up Palestinian land (from “absent owners”) and only leases the land to Israeli settlers. The JNF also has a nasty habit of using Caterpillar bulldozers to flatten Bedouin villages…repeatedly.
  • Jaffa Citrus: Grown in the Jordan Valley, 94 percent of which has been land-grabbed by Israel. Extracting wealth from stolen lands is against international law. Knowing this, Jaffa’s products may well leave a sour taste in your mouth.
  • Golan Heights Wine: Named after land stolen from Syria more than 40 years ago, this biz claims in its advertising that it grows its grapes in Israel’s world-class vineyards. More accurate; “grown on land Israel has occupied in contravention of international law for generations.”
  • Soda Stream products: Soda Stream manufactures its products on illegally occupied Palestinian land. Choose instead the similar product made by Cuisine Art called ‘Sparkling Beverage Maker’, and your soda glasses won’t get bloodstains on them.
  • Ahava Cosmetic Products: Ahava operates on land stolen from Palestine and, in a bizzaro fashion, is owned in part by settlement villages the establishment of which is a violation of international law. Another part owner manufactures motion detection systems used by Israel on it’s apartheid wall. Additionally, Ahava excavates the raw materials to make their products from illegally occupied lands. That’s an international law violation three-fer.
  • Medjool Dates: Medjool farms land stolen from Palestine using Palestinian child labor, while often labeling that their products come instead from Israel. Operating on stolen land, using child labor and misrepresenting the origin of the product? That’s a real blind date.

Picnic Togs:

Remembering A People’s Uprising: 1 Year After HB2

By: Kit OConnell Thursday July 24, 2014 4:02 pm

No expense was spared to oppress every Texan who needs access to reproductive healthcare.

On July 12, 2013, the deadly anti-abortion bill HB2 passed the legislature in Texas, forced through in an expensive special session despite the extremely loud opposition of thousands of people who came out to shake the granite building with their angry voices. On that same day this month, one year after the passage and the police brutality of the final night of protests, a few of us returned to the Texas Capitol to reflect on what’s been lost.

From behind, Joshua Pineda and another activist study the Senate hallway where a sit-in took place.

Joshua Pineda (left) revisits the Senate hallway where police violently broke up a sit-in he participated in, resulting in a hospital visit and cranial stitches.

In the previous weeks, there’d been numerous other events to mark what happened last year. Wendy Davis, Democratic gubernatorial hopeful and one of the primary legislators to side with reproductive rights, had packed a major events center in town on the anniversary of her filibuster. She seems to take all the credit for it in the media these days, despite the grassroots direct action which temporarily kept the bill from passing after her filibuster was shut down by male politicians.

The same night as the Davis fundraiser, another celebration occurred at a small bar attached to a local theatre — organized by some of those grassroots activists, but still featuring a stump speech by Leticia Van de Putte, the Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor. Both were upbeat, aimed at bringing activists together to honor the most powerful and positive moments of last summer and encourage hope for the upcoming election.

I hadn’t attended either. My requests for press credentials at the Palmer Events Center went ignored — unsurprising given the chilly and deliberately hostile reaction I got from the Texas Democratic Party last summer. And the tone of the other event felt off to me — too positive for a bill that is expected to close all but 6 clinics in Texas and which is already endangering lives and causing a rising number of self-administered abortions. I didn’t hate anyone’s desire to celebrate — summer of 2013 held some unforgettable moments of popular activism showing its true power, despite the defeat. But on the filibuster’s anniversary, I felt a lingering sadness when I rode my bike through the Capitol grounds and saw only tourists — not a single person there to claim that public space for free speech and reproductive liberty.

Days later Jay Kasturi, an ally and friend from those days, invited me to co-organize a small vigil on the Capitol grounds on the one year anniversary of the bill’s actual passage. It seemed perfect to me — a chance to honor what we’d done but also all that was lost by everyone who needs open access to reproductive healthcare.

In 2013 we’d held a sit-in the small hours of July 12, and Texas Department of Public Safety State Troopers — dozens of them, imported from all around the state — bore down on us in a spasm of violence and patriarchal rage. One woman had her pants pulled down as Troopers paraded her to detainment in front of witnesses. One temporarily disabled comrade of mine was pushed up and down a short flight of stairs by a pair of Troopers unable to understand why she wouldn’t comply with them until a third pointed out that she was trying to reach her cane.

Anti-police brutality activist Joshua “Comrade” Pineda was also part of that sit-in, and Troopers hurt him so badly he bled, half-conscious, onto the marble floors before being taken to the hospital for stitches in his head. He and about a dozen others still face charges for taking part in nonviolent civil disobedience.

But Pineda and all the rest we reached out to loved the idea of our vigil, and he and several others joined us that evening while others let us know they were “attending in spirit.” At 6pm, it was still in the 90s so we circled in the shade. The ritual Jay proposed was a simple one, drawn from Buddhist meditation. We’d sit in contemplative silence on the grass outside the Capitol for ten minutes, then spend about twenty on a meditative walk through the Capitol, before returning to discuss our experiences and share our feelings.

I looked around to new faces in the circle, like the family that drove out from Dallas for our vigil, and at others I’ve been working with now for years. The silence of the Capitol grounds — even broken by the voices of the handfuls of tourist families and a bride with a fleet of maids on a pre-wedding photography mission —  felt barren compared to the raucous energy that had filled them the year before.

After the sitting meditation, I followed Pineda up to that marble hallway where the final confrontation took place.

Domino Effect: Pension Cutters Gamble on a California Ballot Measure

By: Gary Cohn Thursday July 24, 2014 9:29 am


 

Jon Coupal is nothing if not blunt when he describes one motive behind a Ventura County ballot measure that would replace the “defined benefit” pensions currently enjoyed by county employees and replace them with 401(k)-type plans for all future hires.

“This is meant to be a template for other counties,” Coupal tells Capital & Main. By that, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association’s president means the measure’s conservative and libertarian backers see the “Sustainable Retirement System Initiative” as the newest and most promising weapon in their assault on California’s public employee retirement plans. Having failed to place similar measures on state ballots in  2012 and 2014, a coalition of wealthy individuals, anti-tax activists and government privatizers has seized on an aspect of California law that allows 20 counties to fashion their own public employee retirement policies apart from the CalPERS system that administers such policies for nearly all of the state’s remaining 38 counties.

Ventura, with its postcard shoreline, rugged mountains and groves of avocado and lemon trees, is one of the 20 so-called ’37 Act counties whose retirement systems operate under the County Employees Retirement Law of 1937. These range from Los Angeles County, the most populous in the nation with nearly 10 million people, to sparsely populated Mendocino County along California’s northern coast. Few people doubt that Ventura, which borders Los Angeles County, potentially represents the first domino in a series of future measures targeting public employee pensions.

“I guarantee you that when this passes,” Ventura County Supervisor Peter Foy has said, “in 2016 every ’37 Act county will have this on their ballot.” Foy, who was addressing a supervisor’s meeting, is a strong advocate for the county ballot initiative. He also happens to have served as chairman of the state chapter of Americans for Prosperity, the radical corporatist group funded by billionaire David Koch. (Foy, who has in the past denied such a connection with Koch, did not return multiple requests for an interview.)

County employees are generally paid less than their private sector counterparts and have long counted on traditional defined benefit plans as a kind of economic equalizer. The Ventura measure would phase out these retirement plans for anyone hired after July 1, 2015 and throw future retirees’ pensions into the riptides of Wall Street trading. (During the last stock market crash and resulting recession, an estimated $16 trillion in household wealth was lost in America.) Furthermore, new employees would be ineligible for the county’s existing death and disability plan. Although the initiative states a new death and disability plan “shall be established by the Board of Supervisors,” it provides no details about its terms.

“Ending the defined benefit plan is a time-bomb disaster for lower income people,” cautions Steve Bennett, chairman of the Ventura County Board of Supervisors. “It’s very difficult for them to save and they won’t be able to maneuver the 401(k) [system] to appropriately invest their savings,” Bennett told Capital & Main.

Proponents argue that the current system is not financially sustainable and is forcing Ventura County further into debt. Critics, however, say the claims of financial doom are greatly exaggerated and they counter that if the measure is adopted it will be harder to attract and retain good employees, particularly in the area of public safety.

Peter Van Buren: Undue Process in Washington

By: Tom Engelhardt Saturday July 16, 2011 4:03 pm

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

A seated Anwar al-Awlaki in front of a low table

The death of al-Awlaki is part of the destruction of our 5th Amendment right to due process.

What a world we’re in. Thanks to smartphones, iPads, and the like, everyone is now a photographer, but it turns out that, in the public landscape, there’s ever less to photograph. So here are a few tips for living more comfortably in a photographically redacted version of our post-9/11 world.

Even if you’re a professional photographer, don’t try to take a picture of Korita Kent’s “Rainbow Swash.”  It’s “one of the largest copyrighted pieces of art in the world,” painted atop a 140-foot-high liquefied natural gas tower in Dorchester, Massachusetts.  James Prigoff, a former senior vice president of the Sara Lee Corporation and a known photographer, tried to do so and was confronted by two security guards who stopped him.  Later, though he left no information about himself and was in a rented car, he was tracked down by the FBI.  Evidently he had been dumped into the government’s Suspicious Activity Reporting program run by the Bureau and the Department of Homeland Security.  (And when you end up on a list like that, we know that it’s always a living hell to get off it again.)  He sums up his situation this way: “So, consider this: A professional photographer taking a photo of a well-known Boston landmark is now considered to be engaged in suspicious terrorist activity?”

And while you’re at it, don’t photograph the water tower in Farmer’s Branch, Texas (as professional photographer Allison Smith found out), or planes taxiing to takeoff at the Denver airport (if you have a Middle Eastern look to you), or that dangerous “Welcome to Texas City” sign (as Austin photographer Lance Rosenfield discovered when stopped by BP security guards and only let off after “a stern lecture about terrorists and folks wandering around snapping photos”), or even the police handcuffing someone on the street from your own front lawn (as Rochester, New York, neighborhood activist Emily Good was doing when the police cuffed and arrested her for the criminal misdemeanor of “obstructing governmental administration”).

The ACLU has just launched a suit challenging that Suspicious Activity Reporting database, claiming quite correctly — as Linda Lye, one of their lawyers, puts it — that the “problem with the suspicious-activity reporting program is that it sweeps up innocent Americans who have done nothing more than engage in innocent, everyday activity, like buying laptops or playing video games. It encourages racial and religious profiling, and targets constitutionally protected activity like photography.”

You know the old phrase, “it’s a free world?”  Well, don’t overdo it any more, thank you very much.  Your safety, your security, and the well-being of an ever-expanding, ever more aggressive national (and local) security state and its various up-arming and up-armoring policing outfits increasingly trump that freedom.  And let’s face it, when it comes to your safety not from most of the real dangers of our American lives but from “terrorism,” freedom itself really has been oversold.  Remember the famous phrase from the height of the Cold War era, “better dead than red”?  It seems to have been updated without the commies.  Now, it’s something like: “better surveilled than sorry.”  And based on that, all behavior is fast becoming potentially suspicious behavior.

Since 2013, State Department whistleblower Peter Van Buren has been covering our new world of constricting freedoms in what he’s termed “Post-Constitutional America” for TomDispatch.  With this look at the government’s newfound “right” to kill an American citizen without due process, he completes a three-part series on the shredding of the Bill of Rights, the previous two parts having focused on the First Amendment and the Fourth AmendmentTom 

Dead Is Dead
Drone-Killing the Fifth Amendment
By Peter Van Buren

You can’t get more serious about protecting the people from their government than the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, specifically in its most critical clause: “No person shall be… deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” In 2011, the White House ordered the drone-killing of American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki without trial. It claimed this was a legal act it is prepared to repeat as necessary. Given the Fifth Amendment, how exactly was this justified? Thanks to a much contested, recently released but significantly redacted — about one-third of the text is missing — Justice Department white paper providing the basis for that extrajudicial killing, we finally know: the president in Post-Constitutional America is now officially judge, jury, and executioner.

Due Process in Constitutional America

Looking back on the violations of justice that characterized British rule in pre-Constitutional America, it is easy to see the Founders’ intent in creating the Fifth Amendment. A government’s ability to inflict harm on its people, whether by taking their lives, imprisoning them, or confiscating their property, was to be checked by due process.