Wednesday, May 25, 2011

What democracy doesn't look like

Nothing, but nothing about Republican rule can surprise me anymore. This is the latest:

In a stunningly heartless move, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) put strings on emergency relief for the victims of the killer Joplin tornado, saying that other government services would have to be cut to offset aid spending. Yesterday afternoon, the House Appropriations Committee passed an amendment by Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) to add $1 billion in funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) disaster relief fund, offset by cutting $1.5 billion from the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program at the Department of Energy.
Though of course, because of the "This Is What Democracy Looks Like" panel I'll be moderating on Saturday, my attention is a bit more focused on Scott Walker's horror show at the moment. I recently saw this:
May 18, 2011--The Wisconsin bill stripping public workers of their collective bargaining rights garnered such huge opposition that another radical measure signed into law at the same time got less attention than it deserves. The Wisconsin Omnibus Tort Reform Act places huge "burdens on individuals who would sue businesses, which almost always enjoy a financial advantage," writes Lou Dubose in The Washington Spectator.
One of the most drastic reforms puts state records of abuse or neglect in nursing homes off limits to attorneys representing individuals suing nursing homes.

Wausau lawyer Christine Bremer Muggli [explained] that state investigations of abuse in nursing homes often begin with reports filed by aides who takes care of residents: "An aide who takes care of grandma returns from vacation and finds that grandma hasn't been rolled over for two days, or hasn't been changed for days, or has bruises on her."

The aide files a report, which by law is submitted to a state agency that follows up with an investigation. With the passage of the tort-reform bill, Wisconsin becomes the first state in the nation to deny attorneys access to state records that document abuse of their clients.

"The reports are now inadmissible as evidence," Bremer Muggli said.

Jeffrey Pitman sues nursing homes on behalf of residents who have suffered injury or neglect. He said he cannot recall a case in which he did not rely on an incident report. "Every one of my cases, I get the incident report and it has vital information not found anywhere else in a patient's medical record," Pitman said.

Restricting access to nursing home reports--opposed by AARP, the Wisconsin Alzheimer's Association, Disability Rights Wisconsin and a long list of advocacy groups--is a carve-out for an industry on the cusp of explosive growth, as baby boomers move into assisted living residences.

Incident reports have also been placed beyond the reach of the Wisconsin Department of Justice, which conducts criminal investigations and prosecutions of nursing homes and assisted living centers.

"This is payback time," Bremer Muggli said. "The governor is settling the score with trial lawyers who didn't support him. And he's taking care of his donors, the for-profit nursing home operators, especially the big ones like Kindred." (Kindred Healthcare is a Fortune 500 company that operates almost 700 health-care facilities across the United States.)*

And Mary Bottari's report on Walker's legislative moves to take the vote away from young people, old people, and African Americans from voting in the upcoming recall elections and--nifty concomitant--end public financing of elections at the same time:

The legislation would allow a narrow list of IDs for voting,  including drivers licenses and state issued ID cards. According to a 2005 UW-Milwaukee study, about 177,000 Wisconsinites aged 65 and older do not have state-issued IDs. Statewide, the percent of Wisconsin residents with a valid drivers license is 80 percent for males and 81 percent for females. For African-Americans, only 45 percent of males and 51 percent of females have a valid drivers license.

The bill makes it particularly burdensome for college students to vote, a group who overwhelmingly supported Obama in 2008. Student IDs have to be issued from an accredited public or private college, include a student's signature and have a two-year expiration date. The 182,000 thousand students in the UW system and 300,000 in state technical colleges currently do not meet this requirement.

Many analysts think the bill was implemented in a rush in order to have an impact on the Wisconsin Senate recall elections scheduled for July 12th. “Many voters will understandably be confused and will think that they cannot vote in the recall elections without the photo voter ID -- which is likely the intent of the bill's proponents,” says [Jay] Heck [of Wisconsin Common Cause].

Another Wisconsin Tradition Destroyed

Wisconsin has provided some degree of public financing for campaigns since 1977. The idea was to foster a debate over ideas, not a race for the money. As a consequence, many candidates were able to run that otherwise would never have been able to and candidates of both political parties regularly took public financing. This year, a little-known candidate named Joanne Kloppenburg was able to run for Supreme Court because of a public finance system for judicial races implemented two years ago. Kloppenburg came from behind to almost knock off a ten-year incumbent conservative Supreme Court Justice.

Perhaps this is exactly the type of democracy that the WI GOP is worried about. The money raided from the public financing system -- $1.8 million -- is insufficient to pay for the Voter ID bill, which is anticipated to cost $6 million over the next two years.

To Heck the tragedy is the destruction of another important Wisconsin tradition. “We were one of the first states in the nation to provide public financing for campaigns. We were held up as a model for the nation, passing public financing, open meetings laws, open records laws and the establishment of a state elections board and state ethics board after the Watergate scandal.”

“What the Walker administration has done in just four months, has been to unravel decades of good government and progressive reform designed to inspire citizen confidence in state government. The whole post-Watergate reform effort has been swept away in just a few months. It’s astonishing,” says Heck.
Welcome to administered reality, folks. This is what democracy doesn't look like.

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