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Ruth Conniff on George Lakoff

Posted by RUTH CONNIFF on March 19, 2014, on progressive.org

Wisconsin Progressives Bring George Lakoff to Help Fight the Right


The organized forces of the right have been busy dismantling the Wisconsin's progressive tradition, its public employee unions, its model environmental protections, its open-meetings laws, and funding for its great university system, technical colleges, and public schools. Citizens are fighting in scattershot, grassroots campaigns against all of these assaults.

If ordinary people are going to overcome the organized forces of greed, they are going to need to work together to develop a smart, winning strategy.

With that in mind, last year a group of progressive activists decided they needed help getting organized.

"We thought the perfect person to talk to would be George Lakoff," says Scott Wittkopf, chair of the Forward Institute, a public policy think tank. Lakoff, author of the best-selling books Don’t Think of an Elephant!; The Political Mind; and Whose Freedom? is the nation's leading expert on linguistic "framing" in politics and on how the left can recapture the rhetorical high ground, by speaking in the emotionally resonant language of values.

Wittkopf's group, along with a handful of other environmental, labor, and civil rights organizations, including the Wisconsin Grassroots Network, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, the Milwaukee Interfaith Coalition, teachers unions in Madison and Milwaukee, and United Wisconsin (the group that led the recall drive against Governor Walker) contacted Lakoff and began a series of trainings under his tutelage.


Lakoff took a keen interest in the uprising against Scott Walker, writing about how the labor and recall fights should be framed on his blog.

"I’ve followed Wisconsin politics for many, many years, beginning in my teen years when a friend of my brother’s worked with Gaylord Nelson," Lakoff said in a phone interview from his home in California. "I was really inspired by the protest movement at the statehouse. I wrote a piece about it and apparently it was printed out and posted on the statehouse wall, which won my heart."

Governor Scott Walker and the Republican legislature in Wisconsin are deploying what Lakoff calls "the conservative communication system."

"I’ve been fighting that system for fifteen years," he says. "Most people don’t even know that it exists."

Democrats, meanwhile, have failed to set up an effective communications system of their own, Lakoff says.

 "So when I was approached by Scott about what could be done in Wisconsin, I said here is what the Republicans have done, It is very smart. . . .When Republicans went to college and studied business, they took a course in marketing and found out how people really think."

Progressives need to learn from that, Lakoff says.

Working with the network of grassroots activists from around the state, Lakoff helped set up trainings in framing a progressive message.

"No matter what issue you're passionate about, his research gives us a foundation to unify everybody because it's about values--morals and values," says Wittkopf.

Pointing to all of the battles in Wisconsin, from education to voting rights to the expansion of lobbyist influence and campaign finance reform, Wittkopf says, "you have all these really core democratic issues at stake. As progressives we make this fatal mistake that each group does its own messaging . . . creating silos."

With Lakoff, the grassroots activists developed the "Wisconsin Progressive Freedom Campaign," to connect all of those issues. At two early meetings, Lakoff joined the activists on a in a video conference to talk about how they could unite around a progressive definition of freedom.

So far the activists have conducted four trainings in Western Wisconsin, the Fox Cities, Milwaukee, and Madison, building on this core notion of a definition of freedom that is not about the conservative idea of freedom, which Wittkopf describes as self-centered and serving the interests of business, but a more expansive notion of human freedom, that comes out of America's progressive roots--extending access to democracy for as many people as possible.

"We have had some little successes," says Wittkopf, who attributes "values-based messaging" to popular campaigns to pass school spending referenda in Appleton, despite a well-financed ad campaign by Americans for Prosperity, as well as organizing against sand mining and against school privatization at the state level.

Lakoff would like to see Wisconsin progressives raise enough money to set up a speakers bureau for ordinary citizens throughout the state, conduct more trainings, and solidify a single framing structure.

"You learn how to respond to conservatives, and not just to respond but to go on the offensive and get the message out in every possible way," he says. "That takes organization and will." "You never speak to conservatives using conservative language," he adds. "'The issue is jobs'—No. Freedom is an issue. Freedom from wage slavery is an example. To get that we need good paying union jobs, where you get paid fairly, and you are treated like a human being, where you get not “benefits” but health care that is part of your salary. That’s good for everybody—it’s good not to have employees that are sick, its good to have a population that is healthy . . . this is not rocket science. Everything I say is what you already know. My job is to tell you what you already know but are not saying." Wittkopf is energized by Lakoff's work in Wisconsin. "We have never had collaborative messaging before," he says. "That's where the conservatives are really beating us up." "Wisconsin is the laboratory" Wittkopf adds--for progressive politics starting a century ago, and for the rightwing takeover of civil society, which gained traction with Scott Walker's attack on public employee unions, voter I.D., the privatization of public schools, and the rest of the attacks on basic democratic freedoms. "That's why Lakoff took an interest in Wisconsin," says Wittkopf. "We are at the center of it." Plus, Wittkopf adds, "Any scientist will tell you that it is a life goal to see your work put into practice. Lakoff's work has not generally been put into practice by a lot of progressives or Democrats." That's another area where Wisconsin could lead the way, as a laboratory for resurgent progressive politics. —Ruth Conniff 


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The New Piketty Book

This book is receiving a lot of attention.
 APR 30, 2014

Piketty shrugged: How the French economist dashed libertarians’ Ayn Randian fantasies

"Capital in the 21st Century" reveals once and for all that the invisible hand of the market can't solve inequality

Piketty shrugged: How the French economist dashed libertarians' Ayn Randian fantasiesThomas Piketty (Credit: Reuters/Charles Platiau)
This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

AlterNetLibertarians have always been flummoxed by inequality, tending either to deny that it’s a problem or pretend that the invisible hand of the market will wave a magic wand to cure it. Then everybody gets properly rewarded for what he or she does with brains and effort, and things are peachy keen.

 Except that they aren’t, as exhaustively demonstrated by French economist Thomas Piketty, whose 700-page treatise on the long-term trends in inequality, Capital In the 21st Century, has blown up libertarian fantasies one by one.

 To understand the libertarian view of inequality, let’s turn to Milton Friedman, one of America’s most famous and influential makers of free market mythology. Friedman decreed that economic policy should focus on freedom, and not equality.

 If we could do that, he promised, we’d not only get freedom and efficiency, but more equality as a natural byproduct. Libertarians who took the lessons from his books, like Capitalism and Freedom (1962) and Free to Choose (1980), bought into the notion that capitalism naturally led to less inequality.

 Basically, the lessons boiled down to this: Some degree of inequality is both unavoidable and desirable in a free market, and income inequality in the U.S. isn’t very pronounced, anyway. Libertarians starting with these ideas tend to reject any government intervention meant to decrease inequality, claiming that such plans make people lazy and that they don’t work, anyway. Things like progressive income taxes, minimum wage laws and social safety nets make most libertarians very unhappy.

 Uncle Milty put it like this:

“A society that puts equality—in the sense of equality of outcome—ahead of freedom will end up with neither equality nor freedom.… On the other hand, a society that puts freedom first will, as a happy by-product, end up with both greater freedom and greater equality.”

 Well, that turns out to be spectacularly, jaw-droppingly, head-scratchingly wrong. The U.S. is now a stunningly unequal society, with wealth piling up at the top so fast that an entire movement, Occupy Wall Street, sprung up to decry it with the catchphrase “We are the 99%.”

 How did libertarians get it all so backwards? Well, as Piketty points out, people like Milton Friedman were writing at a time when inequality was indeed less pronounced in the U.S. than it had been in previous eras. But they mistook this happy state of affairs as the magic of capitalism. Actually, it wasn’t the magic of capitalism that reduced inequality during a brief, halcyon period after the New Deal and WWII. It was the forces of various economic shocks plus policies our government put in place to respond to them that changed America from a top-heavy society in the Gilded Age to something more egalitarian in the post-war years.

 As you’ll recall, if you watched the movie Titanic, the U.S. had a class of rentiers (rich people who live off property and investments) in the early part of the 20th century who hailed from places like Boston, New York and Philadelphia. They were just as nasty and rapacious as their European counterparts, only there weren’t quite so many of them and their wealth was not quite as concentrated (the Southern rentiers had been wiped out by the Civil War).

 The fortunes of these rentiers were not shock-proof: If you remember Hockney, the baddie in James Cameron’s film, he survives the Titanic but not the Great Crash of ’29, when he loses his money and offs himself. The Great Depression got rid of some of the extreme wealth concentration in America, and later the wealthy got hit with substantial tax shocks imposed by the federal government in the 1930s and ’40s. The American rentier class wasn’t really vaporized the way it was in Europe, where the effects of the two world wars were much more pronounced, but it took a hit. That opened up the playing field and gave people more of a chance to rise on the rungs of the economic ladder through talent and work.

 After the Great Depression, inequality decreased in America, as New Deal investment and education programs, government intervention in wages, the rise of unions, and other factors worked to give many more people a chance for success. Inequality reached its lowest ebb between 1950 and 1980. If you were looking at the U.S. during that time, it seemed like a pretty egalitarian place to be (though blacks, Hispanics, and many women would disagree).

 As Piketty notes, people like Milton Friedman, an academic economist, were doing rather well in the economy, likely sitting in the top 10 percent income level, and to them, the economy appeared to be doing just fine and rewarding talents and merits very nicely. But the Friedmans weren’t paying enough attention to how the folks on the rungs above them, particularly the one percent and even more so the .01 percent, were beginning to climb into the stratosphere. The people doing that climbing were mostly not academic economists, or lawyers, or doctors. They were managers of large firms who had begun to award themselves very prodigious salaries.

 This phenomenon really got going after 1980, when wealth started flowing in vast quantities from the bottom 90 percent of the population to the top 10 percent. By 1987, Ayn Rand acolyte Alan Greenspan had taken over as head of the Federal Reserve, and free market fever was unleashed upon America. People in U.S. business schools started reading Ayn Rand’s kooky novels as if they were serious economic treatises and hailing the free market as the only path to progress. John Galt, the hero of Atlas Shrugged(1957), captured the imaginations of young students like Paul Ryan, who worshipped Galt as a superman who could rise to the top through his vision, merit and heroic efforts. Galt became the prototype of the kind of “supermanager” these business schools were supposed to crank out.

 Since the ‘80s, the top salaries and pay packages awarded to executives of the largest companies and financial firms in the U.S. have reached spectacular heights. This, coupled with low growth and stagnation of wages for the vast majority of workers, has meant growing inequality. As income from labor gets more and more unequal, income from capital starts to play a bigger role. By the time you get to the .01 percent, virtually all your income comes from capital—stuff like dividends and capital gains. 

That’s when wealth (what you have) starts to matter more than income (what you earn).


Wealth gathering at the top creates all sorts of problems. Some of these elites will hoard their wealth and fail to do anything productive with it. Others channel it into harmful activities like speculation, which can throw the economy out of whack. Some increase their wealth by preying on the less well-off. As inequality grows, regular people lose their purchasing power. They go into debt. The economy gets destabilized. (Piketty, and many other economists, count the increase in inequality as one of the reasons the economy blew up in 2007-’08.)

 By the time you get to 2010, U.S. inequality, according to Piketty’s data, is quantitavely as extreme as in old Europe in the first decade of the 20th century. He predicts that inherited property is going to start to matter more and more in the U.S. as the supermanagers, the Jamie Dimons and so on, bequeath their gigantic hordes of money to their children.

 The ironic twist is this: The reason a person like the fictional John Galt would be able to rise from humble beginnings in the 1950s is because the Gilded Age rentiers lost large chunks of their wealth through the shocks the Great Depression and the deliberate government policies that came in its wake, thus loosening their stranglehold on the economy and society. Galt is able to make his fortune precisely because he lives in a society that isn’t dominated by extreme concentrated wealth and dynasties. Yet the logical outcome of an economy in which there is no attempt made to limit the size of fortunes and promote greater equality is a place in which the most likely way John Galt can make a fortune is to marry an heiress. So it was in the Gilded Age. So it may be very soon in America.

 Which brings us back to Friedman’s view that people naturally get what they deserve, that reward is based on talent. Well, clearly in the case of inherited property, reward is not based on talent, but membership in the Lucky Sperm Club (or marriage into it). That made Uncle Milty a little bit uncomfortable, but he just huffed that life is not fair, and we shouldn’t think it any more unjust that one person is born with mathematical genius as the other is born with a fortune. What’s the difference?

 Actually, there is a very big difference. It is the particular rules governing society that determine who amasses a fortune and what part of that fortune is passed on to heirs. The wrong-headed policies promoted by libertarians and their ilk, who hate any form of tax on the rich, such as inheritance taxes, have ensured that big fortunes in America are getting bigger, and they will play a much more prominent role in the direction of our society and economy if we continue on the present path.

 What we are headed for, after several decades of free market mania, is superinequality, possibly such as the world has never seen. In this world, more and more wealth will be gained off the backs of the 99 percent, and less and less will be earned through hard work.

 Which essentially means freedom for the rich, and no one else.

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Just because blogs are serious business most of the time, does not mean they have to be serious ALL of the time!



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Dems Should Act Like Dems

APR 9, 2014

The right’s wobbly electoral lifeline: How Dems can win back white working class

The way to take back Congress is not to move to the middle – but to offer pro-working-class economic progressivism


If the Democrats lose control of the Senate in the fall elections, the Republican party will control both Houses of Congress and a majority of state legislators. Even though President Obama was re-elected in 2012, the Republicans picked up a governorship in North Carolina and added to their majority of state legislative seats—3975 to 3319 for the Democrats.

While demography may favor the Democratic coalition in presidential elections, the Republicans have been able to mobilize enough white working class support to overcome the deficit of GOP voters among blacks and the most rapidly-growing U.S. minority group, Latinos. The Democrats have lost white working class voters not only in the racially-polarized South, but in the Northern states as well.

This means that unlike Franklin Roosevelt, who took office at another great economic crisis in American history, Barack Obama is unlikely to bequeath a new Democratic majority in Congress as well as the White House to his successors.

Ruy Texeira and Andrew Levison point out that low white working class support for Democrats might make a 2016 Republican presidential victory possible:

On the positive side, permanently increasing the level of Democratic support among white workers to just the 40 percent Obama received in 2008 (he received 36 percent in 2012) could actually ensure a genuinely stable and reliable Democratic majority for many years to come. On the negative side, if in 2016 white working class support for the Dems falls to or below the 33 percent it hit in 2010, a GOP president becomes a very real possibility. Not to mention the dire effects such low support would have on Democratic prospects in 2014: It would be essentially impossible for Democrats to retake the House and they might well lose the Senate in the bargain.

Why does the Democratic party do so poorly with the white working class and middle class? One standard narrative holds that white working class voters who support Republicans vote against their own economic interests. This economic irrationality is then explained in terms of racism, or cultural conservatism, or some other factor.

But are the Democrats really offering white working class voters economic policies worth voting for?

As Thomas Edsall notes, the white working class is positively left-wing on many economic issues:

There are a few — but very few — issues on which the white working class is more liberal than the general public, all of which capture the group’s bread-and-butter concerns: expansion of family, maternity and sick leave; a belief that “Wall Street hurts the American economy more than it helps”; and support for the protection of Medicare benefits.

Most members of the white working class also support a higher minimum wage, Social Security and oppose “free trade” deals with mercantilist nations like South Korea and China that lead to the destruction or offshoring of U.S. manufacturing jobs.

The progressive wing of the Democratic party supports many of these white working-class goals. But Democratic progressives are marginalized by establishment congressional Democrats and centrist presidents like Bill Clinton and Obama.

Let’s go down the list of the economic policies that working-class whites favor, and what the mainstream Democrats have offered them:

A higher minimum wage. Recently Obama and mainstream Democrats have endorsed this popular proposal—after decades in which “centrist” Democrats often argued for expanding the earned income tax credit, an indirect subsidy to low-wage employers, instead.

Expansion of family, maternity and sick leave. A few members of Congress have offered legislation for universal family leave paid for out of a payroll tax, of the kind that already exists in California and New Jersey. But this hasn’t been a priority either for Obama or congressional Democrats.

A belief that Wall Street hurts America more than it helps. While a few progressives like Elizabeth Warren have been strong critics of the financial sector, the mainstream Democrats continue to depend on the financial industry for donations and the revolving door continues to spin between Wall Street and the Obama White House and Democratic committees in Congress.

Support for the protection of Medicare benefits. The Democratic advantage on this issue has been weakened by the endorsement by President Obama and other leading Democrats of the conservative conviction that the deficit—driven chiefly by health care—is a grave crisis facing America.

Social Security. Working class voters, white and nonwhite, depend almost entirely on Social Security in their retirement. And yet President Obama proposed to cut Social Security benefits, by altering the measure of inflation adjustments (“chained CPI”), in return for concessions on slightly higher tax rates from the Republicans. The Obama White House has backed away from this proposal, but according to reports it is still on the table.

Trade. A majority of Congressional Democrats now share populist skepticism about trade deals that increase American deficits and erode American manufacturing. But the Obama administration, like the Clinton administration, continues to promote a trade agenda that chiefly serves the interests of U.S. multinationals (many of which avoid paying US taxes) and the investor class.

And then there’s the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare. The social programs that enjoy the greatest level of support from white working class voters are universal, non-means-tested programs like Social Security and Medicare which reward work by being funded with payroll taxes.

What, then, did Obama and the Democrats offer these voters, in 2009? A version of the right-wing Heritage Foundation and Massachusetts Romneycare plans, based on means-testing (not universalism), individual mandates (not universal payroll or other taxes) and subsidies to private insurance companies.

FDR and LBJ offered white working class voters universal social insurance programs—Social Security and Medicare—and were rewarded with huge Democratic majorities in Congress and presidential elections, even though the white working class was far more racist and culturally conservative than it is today. Obama and the Democrats in 2009 offered a deeply-flawed version of a pro-business, right-wing health care scheme and may lost Congress this year and the White House in 2016.

Would working-class white voters walk away from great deals like those offered by Roosevelt and Johnson today, because of racism or moral traditionalism? We don’t know, because no Democratic president since LBJ has offered anything resembling the popular New Deal/Great Society entitlements. Carter, Clinton and Obama all ran as populists, but then they governed as moderate economic conservatives with slightly liberal social views. Most of their policy innovations have been means-tested programs like Obamacare focused on helping the poor, not universal entitlements like Social Security and Medicare that help working-class families who may make too much money to qualify for welfare-program means tests.

What prevents Democratic candidates for the White House and Congress in 2016 from running in the primaries and the general election on a campaign to raise the minimum wage, expand Social Security, legislate universal paid family leave, and crack down on foreign nations that cheat at trade? We all know the answer: Democratic donors. Most, though not all, of the rich people who fund the Democrats tend to be economically conservative, even if they are socially liberal. A party funded by fiscally-conservative Wall Street financiers and the intellectual property rentiers of Silicon Valley is not going to pursue the interests of the working class of all races in expanding universal entitlements and substantially raising taxes on the rich, even if its successful candidates strike populist poses in campaigns. A genuinely progressive presidential candidate would never survive the fund-raising “money primary” that comes before the actual voter primaries.

But isn’t the white working class irrational to vote for Republicans who claim they want to destroy middle-class entitlements like Social Security and Medicare? Not necessarily. Paul Ryan can publish all the libertarian budget manifestos he likes, but when it comes to actually voting to cut Social Security or Medicare for the working class, Republican members of Congress inevitably flinch. Working-class white Republican voters have learned that, however much Republicans may slash spending on the poor, they will usually protect benefits for their constituents.

Between Democrats who talk like Roosevelt or LBJ, but offer little or nothing to working-class whites not poor enough to qualify for means-tested welfare, and Republicans who sound like Ayn Rand but end up supporting Social Security and Medicare, the white working class has little to choose from. So non-racist, non-Southern members members tend to identify with the one of the two economically-conservative, plutocrat-funded parties that is dominant in their states and neighborhoods.

The white working class has not rejected the party of pro-working-class economic progressivism, because in today’s America no such party exists. They can’t turn down a new New Deal that nobody offers them.


Michael Lind is the author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States and co-founder of the New America Foundation


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New York Times Op-Ed re Gogebic

In case you didn't see it ...

State's environmental heritage 'under attack' by Walker-backed mine, says New York Times op-ed

Although the Penokee Hills rest quietly under a blanket of snow, debate over a proposed iron mine in northern Wisconsin is again heating up.

The New York Times took note of the issue this weekend with an op-ed piece from Dan Kaufman, a Wisconsin native who has written about state issues previouslyfor the influential national publication.

Kaufman’s latest piece is titled “The Fight for Wisconsin’s Soul” and references the state’s proud environmental heritage, which dates to 1910 when voters approved a constitutional amendment promoting forest and water conservation. Kaufman also notes pioneering leaders like Aldo Leopold and Sen. Gaylord Nelson, who founded Earth Day in 1970.

The Capital Times made similar references in a story pegged to Earth Day 2013. Earth Day 2014 is April 22.

For those who have followed the Wisconsin mining fight closely, Kaufman doesn’t break any new ground but does a good job weaving the story together. He details how mining interests have contributed $15 million to Gov. Scott Walker and Republican legislators to grease the skids for what could be the largest open-pit iron ore mine in the world.

“Wisconsin’s admirable history of environmental stewardship is under attack,” Kaufman maintains.

For Kaufman, the main issue centers on the impact of the proposed mine on the surrounding streams and wetlands. The area rests entirely within the watershed of Lake Superior, the largest freshwater source in North America.

Kaufman recalls a speech by President John F. Kennedy delivered in Ashland 1963 where he lauded the region as “a central and significant portion of the freshwater assets of this country.” He notes how Walker was seemingly unmoved by the JFK speech when it was played for him by Mike Wiggins Jr., the chairman of the Bad River Chippewa tribe and the mine’s leading opponent.

The New York Times piece also contrasts the difference between the native people and supporters of Gogebic Taconite, the company owned by coal mining magnate Chris Cline that has promised up to 700 new jobs from the project.

“In the Chippewa tradition, a decision is made based on how it will affect people seven generations forward. By contrast, the company’s optimistic estimate for the life span of the first phase of the mine is 35 years,” Kaufman writes.

Voters in Iron County where part of the mine would be located are getting a taste of the national spotlight as well, with reports that the Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity has paid for negative campaign mailings against local candidates viewed as against the mine project.

Steven Verburg of the Wisconsin State Journal reported that story last week.

Read more: http://host.madison.com/news/local/writers/mike_ivey/state-s-environmental-heritage-under-attack-by-walker-backed-mine/article_d80db01e-b8ee-11e3-9e41-0019bb2963f4.html#ixzz2xgInHRH2

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The Bush Torture Years

In case you didn't hear abut this new report ...


Sorry, Dick Cheney: Torture doesn't work

A new report confirms what we've suspected all along: The CIA's interrogation techniques did not result in valuable intelligence

By Ryan Cooper |

I've written a couple posts now predicting that a Senate report on the CIA's interrogation practices during the Bush years would show that the CIA's foray into torture just didn't work. Also, that the CIA lied about the effectiveness of waterboarding and other controversial techniques. Now we have a test of that prediction — not the Intelligence Committee report itself, which is still under wraps, but a bombshell in the Washington Post that quotes people with firsthand knowledge of the report. Lo and behold:

A report by the Senate Intelligence Committee concludes that the CIA misled the government and the public about aspects of its brutal interrogation program for years — concealing details about the severity of its methods, overstating the significance of plots and prisoners, and taking credit for critical pieces of intelligence that detainees had in fact surrendered before they were subjected to harsh techniques.

The report, built around detailed chronologies of dozens of CIA detainees, documents a long-standing pattern of unsubstantiated claims as agency officials sought permission to use — and later tried to defend — excruciating interrogation methods that yielded little, if any, significant intelligence, according to U.S. officials who have reviewed the document.

"The CIA described [its program] repeatedly both to the Department of Justice and eventually to Congress as getting unique, otherwise unobtainable intelligence that helped disrupt terrorist plots and save thousands of lives," said one U.S. official briefed on the report. "Was that actually true? The answer is no."

Importantly, the Senate report apparently also recommends no prosecution for these war crimes. That's depressing, if not very surprising.

You might be wondering: How was I so prescient? In fact, I deserve no credit: that torture during the Bush era yielded no valuable intelligence was completely obvious from the beginning, despite what Dick Cheney might have you believe. All you had to do was pay attention to people who have studied torture carefully. Darius Rejali, a professor at Reed College, did just that in his masterpieceTorture and Democracy (see here and here). Rejali found that torture is good for two things: intimidation and extracting false confessions. As an intelligence-gathering mechanism, it's much worse than worthless. You get no good intelligence, while what you do get is decidedly bad, including a corrosion of the legitimacy of security agencies and a weakening of the foundation of liberal democracy itself.

Micah Zenko makes a good point that the major issue when it comes to torture is that it is blatantly illegal, immoral, and unethical. He's right that the rule of law — not to mention basic decency — ought to land every torturer in federal prison.

But it would be a mistake to ignore the fact that it is also ineffective. The ethos of the Bush-era CIA was "know-nothingism," as Paul Krugman put it at The New York Times, "the insistence that there are simple, brute-force, instant-gratification answers to every problem, and that there's something effeminate and weak about anyone who suggests otherwise." These national security officials see themselves as the hard-headed tough guys who won't let the pathetic moral qualms of liberal cowards keep them from doing the dirty work that keeps us safe. (This is a real-life version of Jack Nicholson's famous "You can't handle the truth!" scene in A Few Good Men.) Breaking the law, then, is a Badge of Seriousness, of a willingness to do what is necessary no matter the cost.

It's critically important, therefore, to break forever this macho chest-thumping myth. Anyone who advocates torture shouldn't be met only with moral condemnation, but also contemptuous jeers for being such a naive dupe. The members of the CIA torture cabal aren't tough. They aren't keeping us safe. They are a pack of incompetents who don't know what they're doing.


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Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act

This letter was submitted to the DeForest Times-Tribune newspaper as a letter-to-the-editor on March 29, 2014.

Dear Editor:

On March 22nd I attended a lecture on health care reform and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) at the Wisconsin Grassroots Network Festival in Mazomanie.  Robert Kraig of Citizen Action of Wisconsin reported that the ACA is succeeding, contrary to what one hears on right wing talk radio and TV.  Mr. Kraig said that research shows that most people approve of the component parts of the ACA, even though a majority disapproves of the ACA when it is disparagingly presented as "obamacare."  People seem to approve of health care reform that creates standards and outlaws abuses in the health care industry.  Interestingly, two single payer health care systems -- Medicare and the Veterans Administration -- have proven to be the most efficient health care systems in the country.

Wisconsin has not taken advantage of the new reforms.  By refusing the offers from the federal government to expand Medicaid, Wisconsin winds up paying more for health care while covering fewer people.  What foolishness. 

Wisconsin state government does not do well regulating the "medical loss ratio," which is the difference between the amount of money spent on care versus the amount spent on administration, advertising, and other non-care costs in the for-profit system.  The ACA regulates that ratio to make sure more of our health care dollars go into care provision than go into non-care costs.  In Minnesota, where the state has challenged health insurance companies when they apply for premium rate increases, insurance rates have dropped by 35 percent.  By contrast, Wisconsin state government has not challenged a single company rate increase, and our insurance rates are much higher.

Congress has been criticized for causing many insurance companies to cancel policies.  The truth of that matter is that most of those canceled policies were substandard -- did not meet the standards of the ACA -- and many were the equivalent of "snake oil," that is, the companies that sold them to people were cheating their customers by selling them substandard policies.  The standards set by the Affordable Care Act ended those practices.

The fact of the matter is that in the U.S. those who can afford it get very good health care.  The problems arise when we look at the cost of that care, the accessibility to it (or not), and the discrimination against certain classes of people that makes our system inferior to better organized systems in other countries.  The ACA moves us closer to a more equitable and accessible system.

Let us hope that Wisconsin embraces the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act better in the future, so that we may benefit from the advantages and advances it offers us.


John Scepanski


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Global Capitalism - February 2014 - Professor Richard D. Wolff

The must see main section of Professor Wolff's video update features "Capitalism and Inequality" begins about 33 minutes into the video. 

Video is below.


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Governor Walker's State of the State Speech

In case you missed this:

...just two sentences in to Scott Walker’s preview of the State of the State address...we’ve already counted four [items of misinformation].

 “The state of our state is strong and improving every day.  The economy is dramatically better and our finances are in great shape.”

  1. “The state of our state is strong” – Nope. We’re 37th in the nation in job creation and 70 percent of Wisconsinites say their personal financial situation has stayed the same or gotten worse since Scott Walker took office. [1]
  2. “Improving every day” – Wrong again. Ranking 45th in the nation in projected job growth and 48th in new business start-ups isn’t a sign of improvement. [2]
  3. “The economy is dramatically better” – Compared to what? Not our neighbors in the Midwest and most of the rest of the nation. Wisconsin is growing jobs at just half the national averageand two-thirds of the state says our economy won’t get better in the next year. [3]
  4. “Our finances are in great shape” – Under Scott Walker Wisconsin’s debt level has risen to an all-time high of more than $14 billion and his new tax plan adds another $100 million to our structural deficit. [4]

 Seriously, if these first two sentences are any indication, the WisDems Truth Team has a long night ahead of us. And an even longer nine and a half months til Election Day. 

 The WisDems Truth Team


[1] United States Bureau of Labor Statistics Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, MarquetteLawSchool Poll

[2] Forbes Magazine, The Kauffman Foundation

[3] United States Bureau of Labor Statistics Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, MarquetteLawSchool Poll

[4] Legislative Fiscal Bureau

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What You WON'T Hear in Governor Walker's State of the State Speech

37, 45, 48 – those are the numbers you won’t hear from Scott Walker tomorrow night during his State of the State address.
Those numbers represent some hard truths about the state of Wisconsin under Scott Walker’s failed leadership:
  • 37 is for Wisconsin’s 37th in the nation ranking in job creation, according to the latest and most accurate federal jobs data -- the “gold standard” numbers, per Scott Walker -- down from 11th in the nation the day Walker took office.
  • 45 is for Wisconsin’s 45th in the nation ranking in job growth prospects, according to Forbes magazine.
  • And 48 is for Wisconsin’s 48th place ranking -- almost dead last -- in new business start-ups.

(Source: Democratic Party of Wisconsin)

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