My FDL
User Picture

Agency Requests Underscore Wisconsin’s Budget Challenges

By: WI Budget Project Tuesday September 16, 2014 2:11 pm
A dollar being cut with scissors

Wisconsin agencies need more money, but the state budget faces serious shortfalls.

Most state agencies have submitted their budget requests for Wisconsin’s upcoming 2015-17 budget. These requests are worth taking a look at because they can give some insight into Governor Walker’s priorities for the next budget. The requests can be found here, on the Department of Administration’s website.

Back in July, Governor Walker told state agencies that their 2015-17 budget requests should assume that there will be zero growth in General Purpose Revenue (GPR) appropriations. (He did carve out a few exceptions to that rule.) But nearly all the major agencies that have submitted requests so far requested at least modest increases in funding. The growing tab for these requests helps illustrate the significant challenge of balance a budget at a time when the state is expected to needs almost $1.8 billion of revenue growth just to provide flat funding.

One agency, the Department of Health Services, has indicated that it will require a big boost in spending to pay for health care for people with low incomes: $760 million over two years. Part of the added cost comes from the fact that the federal government  decreases the share it pays of the state’s Medicaid program as Wisconsin’s economy improves.  It’s unclear from the DHS document whether they are seeking a $760 million increase in General Fund spending or plan to make  to make very large Medicaid cuts to offset the increased costs.

The new Medicaid cost projections make it clearer than ever why Wisconsin should accept the federal funding for expanding BadgerCare coverage, which the Fiscal Bureau estimated could save as much as $300 million in the next budget period.

Other budget requests include:

  • No increase in GPR for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, the state’s lead economic development organization;
  • An increase of 1.9% GPR, or $45 million, for the Department of Corrections, with few large new initiatives proposed;
  • A 6.1% increase in GPR for the Department of Justice;
  •  $95 million in new GPR for the University of Wisconsin, to “fund a new plan to create jobs, boost graduation numbers, and deal with a tuition freeze;” and
  • A 10.1% increase in GPR for the State Public Defender Board, which includes funding for a pay raise for public defender attorneys, and an increase in the rate paid when the agency contracts with outside attorneys for services.

Not all state agencies have submitted their complete budget proposals at this point. In particular, the Department of Public Instruction has submitted a budget request that covers school safety and technology, but doesn’t plan to submit the request related to school funding until later this fall. DPI’s initial request asks for money to support a new school safety center, which would provide guidance to schools on school violence and emergency preparedness. DPI has also asked to provide additional funding directly to districts to support programs and activities that prevent school violence and protect students.

 

Jury Selection: The Most Important Part of Michael Dunn’s Retrial

By: Masoninblue
An artist's drawing of a jury box with 12 jurors in it

“Jury selection will be the most important part of the Michael Dunn retrial.”

Jury selection will be the most important part of the Michael Dunn retrial, which is scheduled to start next Monday. To have any chance to convict Michael Dunn of murdering Jordan Davis, the prosecution must screen for, identify and exclude any prospective juror who believes that it’s reasonable to assume that:

  1. a black 16 to 21-year-old male who likes to listen to loud rap music is an angry thug;
  2. a black 16 to 21-year-old male who lips off at an adult white male who orders him to turn down the volume is an angry thug;
  3. a black 16 to 21-year-old male who cranks up the volume after being ordered to turn it down is an angry thug;
  4. it’s reasonable for an adult white male to assume that an angry black thug who confronts him is armed and intends to kill or seriously hurt him; and
  5. it’s reasonably necessary for an adult white male to use deadly force in self-defense to prevent an angry black thug from killing or seriously injuring him.

The best way to determine if any prospective jurors hold these views is to ask them a series of hypothetical questions to discover if they fear black 16 to 21-year-old males.

For example, if you were walking down a sidewalk by yourself and saw a black 16 to 21-year-old male walking toward you, would you,

  • continue walking toward him and ignore him;
  • continue walking toward him and greet him;
  • cross the street and walk down the other side; or
  • turn around and walk the other way?

The use of hypothetical questions is the best way to uncover racial prejudice.

Can you think of any other hypothetical questions that you might ask during voir dire?

Finally, if you were a prosecutor, would you rather try this case to a judge according to the procedure followed in South Africa?

Would your answer change, if you were defense counsel?

The most important disputed questions of fact in the case are whether Jordan Davis was armed or had something that looked like a weapon in his hands, and if he was attempting to get out of the back seat of the SUV when Dunn squeezed off multiple shots at him.

FYI: Judge Healey denied a defense motion for a change of venue, preferring to take a wait-and-see approach to see if the extensive publicity about the shooting and the first trial has made it impossible to seat a twelve-person jury that can fairly and impartially decide the case (i.e., jurors have already formed an opinion about what the outcome should be). Once chosen, the jury will be sequestered.

President Obama’s High-mileage, Stupid New War

By: joe shikspack Tuesday September 16, 2014 1:39 pm

3_presidentsWould you purchase a used war from one of these men?

Three previous American presidents, Bush the elder, Bill Clinton and Bush the younger have all bombed Iraq, declared victory and moved on to lucrative post-presidencies.

President Obama, who called it a “dumb war” long before he developed the foreign policy doctrine, “Don’t do stupid shit,” has now purchased the stupid Iraq war.

Is this war really necessary?

After watching this war repeated over and over, so many things now seem familiar. Remember the bipartisan hype about Saddam’s “Weapons of Mass Destruction,” and how the proof of it could come from a mushroom cloud?

Compare to this:

But as President Obama prepares to send the United States on what could be a yearslong military campaign against the militant group, American intelligence agencies have concluded that it poses no immediate threat to the United States. Some officials and terrorism experts believe that the actual danger posed by ISIS has been distorted in hours of television punditry and alarmist statements by politicians, and that there has been little substantive public debate about the unintended consequences of expanding American military action in the Middle East.

Daniel Benjamin, who served as the State Department’s top counterterrorism adviser during Mr. Obama’s first term, said the public discussion about the ISIS threat has been a ‘farce,’ with ‘members of the cabinet and top military officers all over the place describing the threat in lurid terms that are not justified.’

With each successive administration’s military interventions in Iraq, the place seems to become increasingly unstable. After seeing the similar instability left behind in Libya, which is for most intents and purposes a failed state and the decline of Syria, it doesn’t instill much confidence in Mr. Obama’s similar proposed strategery for Operation Son of the Return of the Monster from the Land Between the Rivers.

As Andrew Bacevich put it in a recent post:

Destroying what Obama calls the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant won’t create an effective and legitimate Iraqi state. …

All the military power in the world won’t solve those problems. Obama knows that. Yet he is allowing himself to be drawn back into the very war that he once correctly denounced as stupid and unnecessary — mostly because he and his advisers don’t know what else to do. Bombing has become his administration’s default option.

Rudderless and without a compass, the American ship of state continues to drift, guns blazing.

This war is headed for failure

Why is it that President Obama is the fourth consecutive American president to declare wa…er, military action on Iraq? Why is it that Obama and the previous 3 presidents just can’t seem to get the job done there?

Consider this wisdom from Aristotle:

It is not enough to win a war; it is more important to organize the peace. — Aristotle

A century ago “peace” was organized in the Middle East by the colonial powers. Britain and France organized in a way that perpetuated their power and allowed them to loot the region. Their power was maintained by defeating any movement toward independence and self-determination by the people of the region – especially secular nationalist regimes. This article has an excellent summary of the history, including this:

In 1915, the imperial powers’ major goal in the Middle East was to smother any expression of Arab nationalism and prevent any unified resistance to the designs of Paris and London. …

The French put the minority Christians in charge of Lebanon to keep down the majority Sunnis and Shiites. They recruited the minority Alawite Shiites in Syria to head up the army that ruled over the majority Sunnis, while the British installed a Sunni king in Iraq to rule over the country’s majority Shiites. In Palestine the British used Zionism much as they were using Protestantism in Northern Ireland to keep down the native Catholic Irish and keep both communities divided. Communities ended up fighting one another rather than their imperial masters, which, of course, was the whole point of the matter. [...]

But chaos has always been an ally of imperialism. ‘The agenda has always been about imposing division and chaos on the Arab world,’ wrote long-time peace activist Tom Hayden. ‘In 1992, Bernard Lewis, a major Middle East expert, wrote that if the central power is sufficiently weakened, there is no real civil society to hold the polity together, no real sense of common identity…the state then disintegrates into a chaos of squabbling, feuding, fighting sects, tribes, regions, and parties.’ And that is just the kind of disintegration that foreign powers have sought to exploit.

As the years have passed in the century since the ascendant imperialist powers organized the peace, new western powers have risen to compete for dominion and resources in the region. Puppets, dictators and nationalist regimes have come and gone and representatives of various sects have strived for and acquired power, but the division of the Middle East created by the colonial powers has remained:

Engelhardt: The Great Concentration or the Great Fragmentation

By: Tom Engelhardt Wednesday July 27, 2011 11:04 am

Power Drain 
Mysteries of the Twenty-First Century in a Helter-Skelter World 
By Tom Engelhardt

It’s possible I’ve lived most of my life on the wrong planet — and if that sounds like the first sentence of a sci-fi novel maybe, in its own way, it is. I thought I knew where I was, of course, but looking back from our helter-skelter world of 2014, I wonder.

For most of the last several hundred years, the story in view might be called the Great Concentration and it focused on an imperial struggle for power on planet Earth. That rivalry took place among a kaleidoscopic succession of European “great powers,” one global empire (Great Britain), Russia, a single Asian state (Japan), and the United States. After two world wars that devastated the Eurasian continent, there emerged only two “superpowers,” the U.S. and the Soviet Union. They were so stunningly mighty and over-armed — great inland empires — that, unlike previous powers, they could not even imagine how to wage war directly upon each other, not without obliterating much of civilization. The full planet nonetheless became their battlefield in what was known as the Cold War only because hot ones were banished to “the peripheries” and the conflict took place, in part, in “the shadows” (a situation novelist John Le Carré caught with particular incisiveness).

Those two superpowers divided much of the planet into mighty blocs, as the “free world” faced off against the “communist” one. What was left, often called the Third World, became a game board and sometimes battlefield for influence and dominance. From Havana to Saigon, Berlin to Jakarta, whatever happened, however local, always seemed to have a superpower tinge to it.

This was the world as it was presented to me in the years of my youth and for decades thereafter.  And then, unexpectedly, there was only one superpower. In 1991, something like the ultimate step in the concentration of power seemed to occur. The weaker and less wealthy of the two rivals, its economy grown sclerotic even as its nuclear arsenal bulged, its vaunted military bogged down in an unwinnable war with Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan (backed by the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan), suddenly vanished from the planet.  It left behind a dismantled wall in Berlin, a unified Germany, a liberated Eastern Europe, a series of former SSRs in Central Asia fending for themselves, and its bloc partner (and sometimes-rival-cum-enemy) China, still run by a “communist” party, gunning the automobile of state onto the capitalist highway under slogans like “to get rich is glorious.”

Full Spectrum Dominance on a Unipolar Planet

As with the famous cheese of children’s rhyme, the United States now stood alone.  Never before had a single power of such stature, wealth, and military clout been left so triumphantly solitary, without the hint of a serious challenger anywhere. Economically, the only other system imaginable for a century had been banished to the history books. There was just one power and one economic system left in a moment of triumph the likes of which even the leaders of that winning state had neither imagined nor predicted.

Initially, Washington was stunned. It took the powers-that-be almost a decade to fully absorb and react to what had happened. After all, as one observer then so famously put it, “the end of history” had been reached – and there, amid the rubble of other systems and powers, lay an imperial version of liberal democracy and a capitalist system freed of even the thought of global competitors and constraints. Or so it seemed.

For almost a decade, we were told in no uncertain terms that we were, no bones about it, in the era of “the Washington consensus” and “globalization.”  The Earth was flat and we were all One, swimming in a sea of giant swooshes, golden arches, action movies, and Disney princesses.  What a moment to dream — and though it took a decade, you’ll remember the dreamers well.  Having prepared the way as a kind of shadow government, in 2000 they took over the White House (with a helping hand from the Supreme Court). After a single devastating terrorist attack (the “Pearl Harbor” of the twenty-first century), they were soon dreaming on a global scale as befit their new vision of power.  They imagined a “wartime” that would last for generations — some of them even called it World War IV — during which they would establish a full-scale military protectorate, including monster bases, in the oil heartlands of the Middle East and a Pax Americana globally aimed at preventing any other great nation or bloc of nations from arising to challenge the United States — ever.

Over Easy: Letty Owings, Age 89, Recalls More New Orleans History

By: Crane-Station Wednesday September 17, 2014 4:09 am
Ball gown and crown worn by Queen of the Krewe of Hiacynthians for their Mardi Gras ball, 1955.

Ball gown and crown worn by Queen of the Krewe of Hiacynthians for their Mardi Gras ball, 1955.

Letty Owings, age 89 and the author of this post, recalls history, customs and experiences in New Orleans in 1958-1959.

New Orleans Mardi Gras

No chapter on New Orleans would be complete without something about the Mardi Gras experience. We knew about the big parade, but beyond that we knew nothing of the festival. The secrets and functions of the city that revolves around a carnival remain obscure to outsiders. Mardi Gras is not just a celebration, it is a way of life meshed with social structure and status. Anyone who is anyone belongs to a krewe, an organization built on social status, occupation and ancestry. All year long each krewe prepares for the season which ushers in the balls and the parades.

The first balls begin on New Year’s Eve. Generally the functions closest to the New Year have the least prestige. That statement has many variations, so I should not be dogmatic with my pronouncement about the worst first. The parades, mostly at night, happen more and more frequently as the weeks approach the “real” Mardi Gras on Shrove Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. As an aside — “Shrove” days are set aside for celebration and excesses not allowed during Lent.

The date of Mardi Gras is strictly governed by the length of Lent in any given year. As Lent approaches, the parades pick up both in number as well as in prestige. People line the streets to view the floats and catch the trinkets thrown to the crowd by masked revelers. Why a cheap pair of beads thrown from a float takes on the mark of a status symbol is hard to say. It all has to do with the spirit of the occasion when good sense gets exchanged for excitement. I have still in a box somewhere the beads and trinkets we caught from the parades.

After a season of fever-pitch excitement and parades and balls, the Tuesday before Lent comes at last. This is the Mardi Gras tourists know about. Two Krewes are left to do their thing, Rex and Comus. Both Krewes parade in their finery, and their awesome collection of real jewels and royal robes. All participants remain masked until the Rex and Comus ball when the King (Rex, of course) and Queen are revealed to the public. Always the distinctive honor goes to well-known socialites of New Orleans. Few people ever get invited to the Rex and Comus affair. In fact, few outsiders or non-members of krewes ever get to go to one of the balls. Essentially they are closed affairs.

After the revelry and costuming and marching bands and drunkenness in the streets, at the stroke of midnight when Tuesday turns to Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, the doors close and the ball stops. The celebration is over until next New Years Eve. But even at that time, many are beginning to plan the next year’s floats and balls.

Most persons outside New Orleans who go to the city to experience Mardi Gras, see only the last day parades and the wild confusion. That is not all there is, but in order to see the real thing, residence in the city for a time is a necessity. Even then, the rituals and preparations are mostly kept from outsiders. We were fortunate in that our quarreling neighbors who belonged to a krewe wanted our oldest daughter to experience the real thing. I made her a formal and off she went. At the balls, all men are masked. The women have a card signed by different gentlemen who care to dance with them.

A flood

43 Million People Kicked Out of Their Homes

By: David Swanson Thursday June 30, 2011 1:18 pm
A soldier hands supplies to Afghan child refugees.

“Humanitarian wars have a homelessness problem.”

War, our leaders tell us, is needed to make the world a better place.

Well, maybe not so much for the 43 million people who’ve been driven out of their homes and remain in a precarious state as internally displaced persons (24 million), refugees (12 million), and those struggling to return to their homes.

The U.N.’s figures for the end of 2013 (found here) list Syria as the origin of 9 million such exiles. The cost of escalating the war in Syria is often treated as a financial cost or — in rare cases — as a human cost in injury and death. There is also the human cost of ruining homes, neighborhoods, villages, and cities as places in which to live.

Just ask Colombia which comes in second place following years of war — a place where peace talks are underway and desperately needed with — among other catastrophes — nearly 6 million people deprived of their homes.

The war on drugs is rivaled by the war on Africa, with the Democratic Republic of the Congo coming in third after years of the U.S.-backed deadliest war since World War II, but only because the war on “terror” has slipped. Afghanistan is in fourth place with 3.6 million desperate, suffering, dying, and in many cases understandably angry and resentful at losing a place to live.  (Remember that over 90% of Afghans not only didn’t participate in the events of 9-11 involving Saudis flying planes into buildings, but have never even heard of those events.) Post-liberation Iraq is at 1.5 million displaced and refugees. Other nations graced by regular U.S. missile strikes that make the top of the list include Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen — and, of course, with Israeli help: Palestine.

Humanitarian wars have a homelessness problem.

Part of that problem finds its way to Western borders where the people involved should be greeted with restitution rather than resentment. Honduran children aren’t bringing Ebola-infected Korans. They’re fleeing a U.S.-backed coup and Fort Benning-trained torturers.  The “immigration problem” and “immigrants rights” debate should be replaced with a serious discussion of refugee rights, human rights, and the-right-to-peace.

Start here.

Star Spangled Birthday

By: Elliott Monday July 9, 2012 7:18 am

 

Today is the 200th anniversary of the Star Spangled Banner.

Bursting in Air

Richard Armour gives us the background:

In an attempt to take Baltimore, the British attacked Fort McHenry, which protected the harbor. Bombs were soon bursting in air, rockets were glaring, and all in all it was a moment of great historical interest. During the bombardment, a young lawyer named Francis Off Key wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner”, and when, by the dawn’s early light, the British heard it sung, they fled in terror.

To celebrate here’s Whitney Houston, you gotta admit she nailed it.

 

And Jimi Hendrix nails it as only Hendrix can.

 

Not surprisingly Baltimore went all out for the bicentennial with a week long celebration, tall ships and all. And fireworks.

(Speaking of flags, what happens to the Union Jack if Scottish independence queues up Auld Lang Syne?)

 

Tuesday Watercooler

By: Kit OConnell Tuesday September 16, 2014 8:05 pm

 

Tonight’s music video is “All Night Long” performed by Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers at Bluesfest in Gaildorf, Germany.

‘America’s Hottest Accordion’ winner, Dwayne (Dopsie) Rubin, plays a unique, high energy style of zydeco. Dwayne hails from one of the most influential Zydeco families in the world. Although inspired by tradition, he has developed his own high energy style that defies existing stereotypes and blazes a refreshingly distinct path for 21st century Zydeco music. This singer/songwriter and accordionist has performed all over the world since debuting his band, Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers, at age 19.

Dwayne, born March 3, 1979 in Lafayette, Louisiana, was the last of eight children. Dwayne attributes his musical ablilities to his father, Rockin’ Dopise, Sr., a pioneer of Zydeco music. As a small child, Dwayne was interested in the washboard, but quickly realized he had incredible talent with an accordion. He has played the accordion since age seven and states, ‘This is my calling – Zydeco music is in my blood and it is my heart and soul.’ As a tribute to his late father, the most influential person in his life, Dwayne plans to record an album of his Dad’s greatest Zydeco hits.

Dwayne Dopsie holds his accordion in front of an outdoor stage.

Dwayne Dopsie raised Zydeco hell in San Antonio, Texas Saturday at the Arneson River Theater at La Villita.

Like Tsuumi Sound System, Dwayne Dopsie is another artist I saw at International Accordion Festival. The group had an intense energy that got the crowd to their feet. The theater was crowded and the efforts of two police officers to keep a walkway clear turned fruitless when Dopsie and his wickedly talented washboard player Paul Lafleur came into the audience to close out their set with a dance off. Everybody but the police was smiling and enjoyed this little bit of Louisiana hellraising in downtown San Antonio, Texas.

Is writing good for your health? Rachel Grate of Arts.Mic has compiled a collection of science that seems to support this idea.

No matter the quality of your prose, the act of writing itself leads to strong physical and mental health benefits, like long-term improvements in mood, stress levels and depressive symptoms. In a 2005 study on the emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing, researchers found that just 15 to 20 minutes of writing three to five times over the course of the four-month study was enough to make a difference.

By writing about traumatic, stressful or emotional events, participants were significantly more likely to have fewer illnesses and be less affected by trauma. Participants ultimately spent less time in the hospital, enjoyed lower blood pressure and had better liver functionality than their counterparts.

It turns out writing can make physical wounds heal faster as well. In 2013, New Zealand researchers monitored the recovery of wounds from medically necessary biopsies on 49 healthy adults. The adults wrote about their thoughts and feelings for just 20 minutes, three days in a row, two weeks before the biopsy. Eleven days later, 76% of the group that wrote had fully healed. Fifty-eight percent of the control group had not recovered. The study concluded that writing about distressing events helped participants make sense of the events and reduce distress.

Even those who suffer from specific diseases can improve their health through writing. Studies have shown that people with asthma who write have fewer attacks than those who don’t; AIDS patients who write have higher T-cell counts. Cancer patients who write have more optimistic perspectives and improved quality of life.

But does writing about the cancerous corruption in America make us more optimistic about our political prospects, too?

Thanks to Rachel Hurley for this link.

Bonus: Radical Librarians are protecting patrons privacy, via Boing Boing

Housekeeping notes:

  • Please review our About Us page if you need a refresher on site rules, and
  • We encourage you to use our flag system — if you see an abusive comment, user or post, please flag it rather than replying. We review every flag and take the best action available to us.
  • If you have questions or concerns about Firedoglake-specific issues, please limit their discussion to Watercooler posts rather than starting new posts or making off-topic comments in others. But remember,
  • Firedoglake editors and staff are not allowed to comment on any moderation decisions.

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