Thursday, April 16, 2015

How democracy happens: Scott Walker edition

Scott Walker, our probable next president,is a extreme right wing governor in a liberal state. Betsy Woodruff, herself a William F. Buckley at the right wing National Review Institute, explains how that happened.
Perhaps more than any other candidate eyeing the Oval Office, Walker has benefitted from home-state organizers and funders who have mastered the art of defending conservatives and making their foes look like dopes. And the MacIver Institute has been right in the thick of it.
MacIver, along with a host of other conservative groups, is backed in part by the Bradley Foundation, which has built a tiny empire in the Midwestern state and had substantial influence on Walker’s conservative agenda.
Bradley-backed groups have helped expedite Walker’s ascent to power, and their success shows just how much clout wealthy donors and strategic activists can have on the way a state gets governed.
This is a long story, so I’ll try to be concise.
In 2008, Wisconsin Republicans got totally shellacked.
By the end of Election Night, Democratic Governor Jim Doyle had cruised to re-election and his party controlled both chambers of the state legislature. One Wisconsin Democratic consultant said his party had a sort of embarrassment of riches; they’d had a great year in 2006 as well, so they found themselves with lots of power but (comparatively) little in the way of long-term strategy. Those were the salad days.
They didn’t last.
Around the time of the Tea Party wave, deep-pocketed Republicans started investing heavily in conservative infrastructure.
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported in 2011, in an in-depth look at the organization, that the Bradley Foundation spent more than $350 million between 2001 and 2010 to support a host of philanthropic endeavors, including arts organizations and national policy groups. Recipients included the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and Reason magazine.
Conservative activists in Wisconsin have been beneficiaries of much of that largesse.
In the Badger State, the Bradley Foundation has helped fund MacIver, as well as Media Trackers—a group that digs for dirt on Democrats—and the Wisconsin Reporter, a conservative news site that is a project of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, according to Wisconsin-based Cap Times. Bradley also helps fund the Wisconsin chapter of American Majority, a conservative organization that trains activists on how to volunteer on campaigns, do issue advocacy, and run for office.
Matt Batzel, American Majority’s national executive director, said its Wisconsin chapter has had about 140 activist training sessions since 2010. Among the people they’ve trained, 128 have gone on to win races for local- or state-level offices in the state.
Since they got hosed in 2008, conservative influence in the state has metastasized rapidly.
But Walker was their crown jewel.
Let’s start with the collective bargaining overhaul, known as Act 10.
A few weeks after Walker won the race for governor, MacIver’s then-communications director, Brian Fraley, wrote an op-ed arguing for changes in the laws regarding public-sector unions and collective bargaining. That op-ed is widely seen as the blueprint for Act 10.
“We used to be a state where we make things,” wrote Fraley. “Now we are a state that makes excuses for why the government behemoth cannot be tamed. That must change.”
And that changed.
Just two months after Walker’s inauguration, he signed Act 10 and set off protests of Biblical proportions.
MacIver not only helped lay the policy groundwork for Act 10, it also helped manage its aftermath.
Though the organization is a think tank, it also has an effective media arm.
MacIver sent staff members out with cameras to cover the protests, chatting up activists and making YouTube videos of the more eyebrow-raising encounters.
A handful of MacIver videos went viral, got picked up by the Drudge Report, and nabbed national cable news coverage. One particularly popular video showed protesters writing fake doctor’s notes so their fellow activists wouldn’t get in trouble for skipping work.
Critics charged there were problems with the video, and Democratic state Senator Chris Larson said it was “essentially made up.” But the push-back was powerless.
“‘There’s people giving out doctor’s notes at the protests—that became the dialogue,’” Larson said. “It ended up changing the debate.”
Another MacIver viral video showed protesters wearing zombie face paint crashing an event where the governor was trying to address Special Olympics participants. Nick Novak, MacIver’s director of communications, said there were many other media outlets at the event. But they didn’t seem interested in the zombie attendees.
“It seemed we were the only ones who were actually covering that aspect of it,” Novak said.
The Wisconsin press corps has faced the same problems as other local newsrooms around the country: shrinking budgets, smaller circulations, and fewer reporters.
Conservative news-gathering groups like MacIver have moved into that vacuum and used their resources to push stories that reflect right-leaning values.
“The media capacity to look into a governor and hold him accountable is diminishing at the same time this right-wing capacity to influence the media is increasing,” said Robert Kraig, who heads the progressive Citizen Action of Wisconsin.
Media Trackers and Wisconsin Reporter, along with MacIver, have had impact. And their critics have noticed.

“If there was no Bradley Foundation, there would be no Scott Walker,” Larson said. “They have provided the insulation from criticism as well as the lubricant to move him forward over the last 20 years of his career.”
Interesting piece, and raises two questions: will the Bradley operation be able to scale up for a national race and second, is the National Review Institute now at war with Bradley?

Fight for $15

The Fight for $15 action yesterday is a top story today in the Guardian:
Workers in Atlanta, Boston, New York, Los Angeles and more than 200 cities across the US walked out on their jobs or joined marches and protests on Wednesday during what organisers claimed was the largest protest by low-wage workers in US history.
Some 60,000 workers took part in the Fight for $15 demonstrations, according to the organisers. The protests are calling for a minimum wage of $15 an hour in the US, more than twice the current federal minimum of $7.25.
By late afternoon on the east coast no arrests had been reported, a marked contrast to last May’s action when more than 100 people were arrested during a protest outside McDonald’s Chicago headquarters.
The demonstrations were the latest in a series of strikes that began with fast-food workers in New York in November 2012. The movement has since attracted groups outside the restaurant industry: Wednesday’s protesters included home-care assistants, Walmart workers, child-care aides, airport workers, adjunct professors and other low-wage workers. It also sparked international support, with people protesting low wages in Brazil, New Zealand and the UK.
This movement looks like it might have legs. Did it get major news coverage?
Uh---no. My google news search yields this: 

Los Angeles Times-11 hours ago
“The taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for what we need to survive,” said the 25-year-old Olson, who plans on taking part in the “Fight for 15” ...
Students back Fight for $15 15, 2015
with many more stories listed in other local papers and tv outlets. But I couldn't find anything in the New York Times, or in the Washington Post. Maybe their editors are so well paid that they never eat at fast food outlets or go to Walmart. People in plain sight might be invisible to them.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Nuclear standstill in Japan

The robot stranded inside of the melted down unit one reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility was still able to transmit images.

Meanwhile, a Japanese court has issued an injunction against the restart of two different nuclear power plants.
A court in Japan has issued an injunction preventing two nuclear reactors from being restarted at the country’s Takahama plant, citing safety concerns.
It is a victory for worried locals but a blow to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push to return to atomic energy four years after Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant plant was seriously damaged by an earthquake-caused Tsunami.
The nuclear reactors at Kyushu Electric's Sendai plant have yet to restart, though that might happen soon.
Stay tuned.

email from fake publications: IJAST edition

The folks at IJAST must really, really want me, or somebody, anybody, to send them a paper. They've sent out another solicitation, barely two weeks after the first, this time sent under the name of "Julius Murden" (where do they come up with these names?). The journal is equally fake.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Job openings: Isis edition

Need a job?
A British jihadist who fled the UK to join extremists in Syria has posted a list of Isis "jobs" online for supporters who do not want to fight.
A man writing under the name of Abu Sa'eed Al-Britani insisted that an aversion to battle was a “sign of weak faith” but there was work available for press officers, fitness instructors and bomb makers.
According to the list of 10 jobs released earlier this month, volunteers are needed to indoctrinate children in Isis-held territories, implement its violent interpretation of Sharia law and care for injured fighters.
Number one on the list is press officers for the so-called Islamic State’s “media centre”.
 Less routine is the “bomb making department”, which includes making explosives and being willing to wear them as a suicide bomber.
Describing the post as a “beautiful job for those who truly wish to reap rewards”, Al-Britani writes: “The brothers in the bomb making department are the core and backbone of nearly every operation… imagine the reward in preparing a car packed with explosives for a brother to go detonate in enemy lines - you would get the same reward as the brother who pushes the button and sends 50 kuffaar (unbelievers) to hell.”
The list also stipulates the need for jihadists to man checkpoints in Isis-held territories, “a fun and rewarding job” searching cars for banned items like cigarettes and evidence of any contravention of its laws.
 Islamic police are also required, the document claims, to patrol the streets to violently enforce strict Islamic dress codes and rules.
“They are the ones who carry out the public lashings and beheadings,” Al-Britani writes.
You will have to move. You will also have to surrender your soul.

I can't tell whether this is for real, or whether the Independent has been duped. Hope it is the latter.

Conspiracies R Us

Thanks to Mother Jones, we now have a well organized compendium of all the Hillary Clinton conspiracy theories, including sources. My favorite (of course):
Rumor: Like most of the Washington elite, Hillary is in fact a blood-drinking extraterrestrial lizard in disguise.
Rumormonger: "Reptoid hypothesis" creator David Icke
For the record, Icke claimed Romney was a reptilian as well.
(h/t Gawker)

A new new way to be mad: reproductive technology edition

Has reproductive technology created yet a new way to be mad*?
A 65-year-old German woman who is due to give birth to quadruplets in the summer has defended her decision and says she is looking forward to the challenges ahead.
Annegret Raunigk, who is in her fifth month of pregnancy, said she had decided to get pregnant after her nine-year-old daughter, Lelia, told her she would like a baby sister or brother. “She’s a great kid and I wanted to fulfil her wish,” Raunigk told the German television channel RTL.
She said she found it “quite a strain battling against the cliches” as to what she should and should not be capable of at her age, and if science had enabled her to get pregnant “it should be up to everyone to decide for themselves”.
Raunigk, who has 13 children and seven grandchildren, was open about the fact that her pregnancy was the result of artificial insemination carried out in a clinic in Ukraine using sperm and eggs from anonymous donors, a practice forbidden in Germany. All four of the fertilised eggs placed in Raunigk’s womb developed into embryos, contrary to her doctors’ expectations. The chance of quadruplets being conceived naturally is otherwise one in 13 million.
Octomom meets the Duggars meets ---her slightly younger self?
She made headlines nine years ago when she became Germany’s oldest mother at the age of 55 after giving birth to Lelia, who she said was conceived naturally. She then appeared on German television with her 13 children, the oldest of whom is now 43.
Apart from Lelia, none of her children have this time wished to share the limelight with their mother, who has again become a household name in Germany since news of her pregnancy came to light last week.
Raunigk, who lives in Berlin but plans to move to a town in North Rhine-Westphalia to be closer to some of her other children before the birth, will hope to finance her children’s upbringing through media coverage and sponsorship deals. She told the RTL show Extra: “I don’t interfere in anyone else’s life and I don’t expect them to interfere in mine.”
Maybe this new form of madness has two mothers: reproductive technology and reality tv.

*The phrase comes from Carl Elliott musing on the appearance of a number of people who sought amputation of healthy limbs, following on Ian Hacking's discussion of what he called 'transient mental illness', ailments that emerge suddenly in a historical and cultural moment, and then just as suddenly abate.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Slow motion disaster: North Carolina edition

Charles Pierce has taken to calling North Carolina the 'newly insane state' and he might well be right. Take a look at this development, as explained by Rebecca Schuman:
In higher-ed parlance the herculean act of teaching eight courses per year is what’s known as “a 4-4 load” or, alternatively, a “metric ass-ton” of classroom time.And yet a new bill currently under consideration in the North Carolina General Assembly would require every professor in the state’s public university system to do just that. The results would be catastrophic for North Carolina’s major research universities. The region known as the Research Triangle—Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, so named because of the three “Research-I”–level universities that anchor it—would quickly lose two of its prongs—the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University—were this bill to pass. And it just might
According to the official press release from its sponsor, Republican state Sen. Tom McInnis, Senate Bill 593—called “Improve Professor Quality/UNC System”—would “ensure that students attending UNC system schools actually have professors, rather than student assistants, teaching their classes.” Another result would be more courses taught by fewer professors. But that shouldn’t matter, according to Jay Schalin of North Carolina’s Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, who recently explained to the Daily Tar Heel that “the university system is not a jobs program for academics.” What the bill’s supporters either fail to realize—or, more likely, realize with utter glee—is that this bill actually has nothing to do with “professor quality” and everything to do with destroying public education and research. Forcing everyone into a 4-4 minimum (so ideally an excruciating 5-5, I guess?) is a “solution” that could only be proposed by someone who either doesn’t know how research works or hates it. It’s like saying: Hey, I’ll fix this car by treating it like a microwave.
She spoke to UNC law professor Michael Gerhardt:
 I reached out to Gerhardt because I wanted a North Carolina legal expert to tell me to calm my hormones, that this bill is a silly anti-intellectual showpiece with no chance of passing. My hormones were not calmed. “I don’t know,” he told me after a pregnant pause. “I think there’s enough antipathy toward UNC and enough skepticism about UNC and education that [if SB 593 passes] it won’t surprise me.” It won’t surprise me, either—but perhaps if enough people start to recognize the disingenuous doublespeak of this kind of “improvement” legislation, the bill will be the last of its kind instead of the first.
I teach a 3-2 load (until a few years ago, it had been a 3-3) and I am well aware that a 4-4 load is an order of magnitude more taxing: all your energy is focused on keeping track of where you are in each course, with grading, with upcoming assignments, with little time to actually get to know your students, or freshen the course content with recent work, or to give meaningful and helpful feedback on student papers. How people manage to do all this, and to keep up with their field and publish as well (and I know a few who do) mystifies and humbles me. I know I couldn't.

I wouldn't be surprised if this bill passed, if not in North Carolina, in another state. And then another.The point isn't to save money, or increase efficiency, or decrease the use of adjuncts. The point is to show snooty state universities who their real bosses are. And it turns out they are the privileged assholes in the state capital who redraw legislative districts and rejigger voting rules to virtually guarantee they stay in office so they can pass bills written by ALEC and other lobbyists. Nice work. By the way, the North Carolina general assembly (including both the house of representatives and the senate) meets for a 6 month session in odd numbered years, followed by a 6 week short session in even numbered years. Super nice work.