Monday, September 26, 2016

Daphne Bramham: Lessons for Canada from how the Koch brothers hijacked democracy

 

image

Daphne Bramham
More from Daphne Bramham

Published on: September 25, 2016 |

This was supposed to be the year that the American billionaire brothers, Charles and David Koch, bought the presidency in their zealous bid to reshape the United States into a libertarian utopia.

Another Republican billionaire ended that dream. Donald Trump refused to seek either their backing or their blessing.

On the Democratic Party side, outsider Bernie Sanders nearly derailed the well-funded hopes of Hillary Clinton with his appeal to get big money out of politics.

But it’s folly to take this as evidence that money — especially “dark money” — isn’t a factor, says investigative reporter Jane Mayer.

The Koch brothers are the fifth richest people in the world, whose net worth Forbes estimates at $41 billion. They are at the centre of a tangled web of non-profit organizations and foundations that are spending $750 million this electoral season. That’s nearly equal to the campaign budgets of the Republican and Democratic parties.

While it is completely legal, Mayer calls it the “weaponizing of philanthropy.”

This year, largely because of the Koch brothers, two-thirds of all campaign funds are this so-called “dark money.” Eighty per cent will be spent by Republican candidates for the senate, house of representatives and state governor.

Mayer was in Vancouver Friday on a break from the election campaign to speak at UBC. She quotes former Bush aide (and Canadian) David Frum, who described the Kochs and their supporters as “the radical rich” who have moved Republican Party policies to the extreme fringe.

Others call the Kochs “anarcho-totalitarians,” according to Mayer, a New Yorker reporter who spent five years researching her book, Dark Money.

As Canadians watching the gong-show of the U.S. presidential election and hearing some Americans muse about coming north as political refugees, it’s tempting to be more than a little smug.

That too is folly. Mayer blames citizen apathy for what’s happened in the United States, a lack of vigilance over the ho-hum issue of election campaign financing and spending limits that brought the United States to this place and a failure to demand greater transparency.

Canadians can take some comfort in the fact that the federal government banned unions and corporations from making political contributions in 2015. Only individuals can make political donations and the maximum is $1,500 to each party and $1,500 in total at the riding level.

But the roots of an underground network for dark money are planted at the local and provincial levels. And the Koch brothers are connected to Canada as the largest foreign investors in Alberta’s oilsands and as donors to the Fraser Institute, which has reportedly received $765,000 from them in the last decade.

Given the Kochs’ investments in Alberta, it’s perhaps no surprise that one of the first things Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP government did was pass campaign financing laws that mirror the federal legislation.

But in British Columbia, the Liberal government has repeatedly refused to follow those examples. When a private member’s bill was introduced in the spring session of the legislature, it was shot down by the Liberal majority.

Finance Minister Mike de Jong reasoned that the cost of an election campaign should not be borne by taxpayers, but by people, corporations and organizations that “make their own decisions about whether or not they want to support a politician, a candidate or a party.”

As a result, the B.C. Liberal government has also refused to amend municipal campaign financing laws that also allow for donations by corporations, unions and non-profits.

So far, there is no Canadian equivalent to the attempts by the Koch brothers to radically transform the United States both through massive campaign spending and large donations to more than 300 colleges that now have Koch-funded programs, scholarships and academic-funded research.

But there’s no doubt of their influence in the United States. There, through surrogates, Mayer says, they are systematically implementing the Libertarian Party’s 1980 platform when David Koch ran as its vice-presidential candidate.

Included in that platform were promises to eliminate the FBI, CIA and the Environmental Protection Agency as well as end independent oversight of elections, income and corporate taxes, Medicaid and social assistance.

So, as much as the presidential campaign is a train-wreck that most of us can’t take our eyes off, it’s largely irrelevant.

Regardless of whether Trump or Clinton is president, a Koch-aligned Congress will make it difficult, if not impossible, to pass legislation — including campaign financing reform — that doesn’t fit with the Koch agenda.

Trump and Sanders reflected the fact that many Americans recognized that their country is no longer really a democracy. It’s more like a plutocracy or autocracy — a country ruled by the wealthy or ruled by someone with absolute power.

But is it fixable? Mayer is a cautious optimist.

“It’s why I do this kind of reporting to expose things that the public needs to think about,” she said in an interview.

“But the biggest problem now is people are not getting the information. They are sequestering themselves and only listening to things in their own little corners.”

dbramham@postmedia.com

Above is from:  http://vancouversun.com/news/politics/daphne-bramham-lessons-for-canada-from-how-the-koch-brothers-hijacked-democracy

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Chuck Sweeny: We can benefit from Great Lakes Basin railroad route

  •  

  • Boone County didn't want windmills. It didn't want the Great Lakes Basin railroad. The railroad's new route is through Winnebago County. We can take advantage of it. In a nation of 320 million people, are Hillary and Donald the best we can do for presidential candidates?
    •  

       

  • By Chuck Sweeny
    Staff writer

    Rockford Register Star

  • Chuck Sweeny is senior editor for the Rockford Register Star and rrstar.com. |

     

  • Residents of Boone County have made it clear that they don't want windmills that generate electricity, and they don't want a railroad rollin' past their houses, farms and fields. They have been successful in halting both projects, a dubious distinction in my opinion.
    However, that's what the Boonian people don't want, and that's what they're not going to get. "Welcome to Boone County. Get off my lawn!"
    The Great Lakes Basin Transportation Co. project has been rerouted once again, away from Boone County to an alignment that takes it through Winnebago County west of Rockford, around Chicago Rockford International Airport, down to Rochelle and through Lee County.
    The private venture is an $8 billion project that seeks to make money by routing freight trains more than 200 miles from southern Wisconsin, around Chicagoland and into northwest Indiana to avoid the bottleneck caused by 1,200 trains a day snaking through a city where the tracks were built in the 19th century and are inadequate to handle the number and length of trains today.
    This includes 500 freight trains a day on six major railroads, all of which converge in Chicago, as well as more than 700 Metra, South Shore Line and Amtrak passenger trains. Great Lakes Transportation estimates that up to 25 percent of the freight isn't bound for Chicago, just passing through.
    Transcontinental container freight takes two days to get from the port of Los Angeles-Long Beach to Chicago, and up to two more days to get through that city's jumble of trackage before heading to its ultimate destination. This is not competitive with the newly widened Panama Canal, which can now handle bigger container ships.
    This project is not a done deal, of course. There are millions of Citizens Against Virtually Everything today, and progress is not CAVE's top priority.
    We in Winnebago County should welcome such a venture and take advantage of it. There are many opportunities for rail-oriented economic development — if we do it right.
    The new route takes the railroad close to Chicago Rockford International Airport and south to Rochelle. This is a growth corridor. The airport is the nation's 25th-busiest airfreight hub, and it is getting busier. If there were modern rail access, we'd be able to sell that as another piece in our transportation infrastructure, as Rochelle has done so spectacularly over the past 30 years with its city-built, city-owned, privately operated railroad on which Fortune 500 companies and other firms have built distribution centers.
    Rochelle has taken full advantage of the fact that both the Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroads have main lines going through the city; the city-owned railroad links them both; switching freight cars earns Rochelle as much as $1 million a year, and all the city has to do is collect the money.

Above is from:  http://www.rrstar.com/news/20160924/chuck-sweeny-we-can-benefit-from-great-lakes-basin-railroad-route-plus-some-thoughts-on-presidential-race

Is Boone County really out of consideration for GLB RR Project?

 

Listen to what one group says about Boone County

 

 

3 hrs ·

Attention Boone County Residents!!!

This alternative route is just that a second choice if the surface Transportation board feels the first choice which would include Boone County does not work then they would move to the alternative route which would be Winnebago County. This sounds like a tactic to get us to stop fighting please keep your signs up and continue to fight against the railroad no alternative routes are good. we want no Railroad. When sending letters two Representatives or anything else there is no good alternative route.

Citizens against "The Great Lakes Basin Railroad" project

 

Note that two Boone County alternatives are still proposed if the “new preferred route” runs into environmental problems.  SEE Alignment #291 and #292 below:

image

Above is from:  http://greatlakesbasinraileis.com/documents/03_GLBT_OEA_Response_Sep20-2016_App2.pdf

 

The detailed response of Great Lakes Basis to the Surface Transportation Board is at:  https://www.stb.gov/ect1/ecorrespondence.nsf/UNID/9AC26D4336E03CF48525803600738E59/$file/EI-25375.pdf

Below is a map of the GLB’s preferred route.

image

What the H? Boone County sign curb raises free speech question

 

  • By Georgette Braun
    Staff writer

    Posted Sep. 23, 2016 at 4:41 PM
    Updated Sep 23, 2016 at 5:32 PM

    BELVIDERE — A lawyer who advocates for freedom of speech said today that it was wrong for Boone County to tell a Belvidere couple that their yard sign with the word "HELL" on it violated community standards.
    "Who gets to decide what is obscene, immoral or any of those other things?" said Don Craven, general counsel for the Illinois Press Association.
    But was the Boone County Building Department wrong to tell Richard and Terri Messling their sign in the 8300 block of Shaw Road violated a zoning ordinance? "I think so," Craven said.
    Craven's comments came after the Messlings were notified Thursday that their sign — it says "SLOW THE HELL DOWN, PLEASE" — violated the ordinance.
    The ordinance prohibits "signs which contain characters, cartoons, statements, works, or pictures of an obscene, indecent, prurient, or immoral character."
    "I know it when I see it," Craven said of obscene material, repeating U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's description of the difficulty of determining what constitutes obscenity, contained in a concurring opinion in a 1964 ruling. "But the government doesn't get to decide what is immoral."
    The county told the Messlings the sign would be acceptable if they took out the "ELL" in "HELL," which they did by placing tape over the three letters. If they hadn't fixed it, they could have been fined $500 for each day it was up after Sept. 27, the Messlings said.
    "This is right up there with burning the flag," Craven said. "It pisses people off. But it also provokes discussion, which is exactly what the First Amendment is all about."
    Richard Messling said he had erected the sign several years ago to get traffic to slow down to the 45 mph speed limit. He was asked to remove it the day after a Register Star story about the sign published online.
    Messling said this morning that he had been sitting by his phone taking call after call. "It's ringing all the time. People are 100 percent behind me," said Messling, a 70-year-old retired Chrysler worker. "They say the word 'hell' is in the Bible," so it can't be considered a swear word.
    "People are calling me up and wanting me to make them signs."
    Michelle Courier, Boone County state's attorney, said in an email today that the Messlings' case "had not yet reached my office to enforce, and at this point, will not reach my office as the property owner has since complied."
    Rockford has a zoning ordinance that addresses obscene signs. It says a sign would be in violation if the average person would find it obscene because it appeals to a prurient interest or depicts or describes in a "patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law" and if the work, "taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value."
Bob Walberg, chairman of the Boone County Board, said the ordinance in the Messlings' case had been enacted years before he joined the board, but that its merits could be discussed.
"I would think if anyone cared to have this looked into, we would certainly try to accommodate them," Walberg said.
Georgette Braun: 815-987-1331; gbraun@rrstar.com; @GeorgetteBraun

Above is from: 

http://www.rrstar.com/news/20160923/what-h-boone-county-sign-curb-raises-free-speech-question

    Friday, September 23, 2016

    UPDATE: Great Lakes Basin Railroad releases new route proposal

     

    From:  http://www.wifr.com/content/news/Boone-County-Board-to-Oppose-Great-Lakes-Basin-Railroad-Plan-379288081.html

    By Sabrina Bennett

    Posted: Thu 1:24 PM, Sep 22, 2016  | 

    Updated: Thu 11:40 PM, Sep 22, 2016

    UPDATE: WINNEBAGO COUNTY, Ill. (WIFR) – The Great Lakes Basin Railroad plan is changing its path.

    The controversial Great Lakes Basin Railroad project is taking a new turn after developers release a new route that avoids Boone County.

    Boone County residents can breathe a little easier knowing their property won’t be affected by the GLB Railroad project. Instead, it will now affect farmers on the west side of Rockford, including the only two dairy farmers left in Rockford township.

    Developers behind the controversial project submitted a new 260 mile route to the U.S. Surface Transportation Board that would run along the west side of Rockford instead of Boone County. The rail line aims to bypass Chicago moving Cargo from Northeastern Indiana to Southern Wisconsin.
    The rail line would come within 100 feet of the Wakeley’s dairy farm in west Rockford which will virtually put them out of business. The rail line will also affect another dairy farmer nearby going through 5 of his fields totaling about 400 acres.

    “It’s really sad because it’s not just my husband and I or the neighbor. This area, there's actually, we have a younger generation that wants to come back and farm and that opportunity may be taken away from them because of this,” says Tammy Wakeley.

    Jim Wilson, the Vice Chairman of Great Lakes Basin Transportation says it’s up to the Surface Transportation Board to decide on open comment and scoping sessions.

    The farmers found out about the new proposed route Thursday when the route was announced. Both famers say they feel that they have not been given the opportunity to voice their concerns, so they are working to reach out to the Surface Transportation Board and they will go from there.

    -----

    Updated: September 22, 2016

    STATELINE, Ill./Wis. (WIFR) – The railroad that has plans to bypass Chicago’s busy rail lines by passing through the Stateline has released a new route proposal.

    The new proposed route released by Great Lakes Basin Transportation, Inc. (GLBT) would pass through Rock, Winnebago, Ogle, and Lee Counties but does not go through Boone County as other previous versions did. This comes after multiple Boone County residents expressed their concerns at public meetings earlier this year about the rail line being built in some of their backyards.

    To see a map of the new proposed route, please click on the attached related link.

    This is a developing story and we will continue to update you as we learn more.

    Wednesday, September 21, 2016

    Gov. Rauner uses Facebook Live to announce bicentennial plans

    •  

      •  

    Gov. Bruce Rauner (AP)

    By Doug Finke
    State Capitol Bureau

    Posted Sep. 20, 2016 at 6:54 am Updated Sep 20, 2016 at 10:37 PM

    Gov. Bruce Rauner Tuesday issued an executive order creating a bicentennial commission and office to prepare for the state’s 200-year celebration in 2018.
    Rauner announced creation of the Governor’s Office of the Illinois Bicentennial during a Facebook Live session in which he answered questions from the public. Rauner said it was the first of what will be regular sessions on the social media site to answer voters' questions.
    The first of the questions that had been screened by his office was posed by Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, who wanted to know what the Republican governor was doing to prepare for the bicentennial. It provided Rauner with the perfect opportunity to announce formation of the new office and a newly reconstituted bicentennial commission.
    “We’re going to do a very big celebration of our 200th anniversary,” Rauner said. “The role of the commission is to develop the ideas and the recommendations for how to best celebrate this important milestone in our state’s history.”
    Rauner named Stuart Layne as executive director of the bicentennial office. Layne previously worked as sales manager for WBBM-FM in Chicago and was vice president of sales and marketing for the Seattle Mariners and Boston Celtics.
    The administration said Layne will be paid $142,000 a year through the end of December 2018 from a pool of funds from various state agencies involved in bicentennial planning. Layne will be paid for the next five months through an intergovernmental agreement between the governor’s office and the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, after which he will transfer to another agency to cover his salary.
    The Bicentennial Commission will have 51 members, 40 of whom will be appointed by Rauner. The four legislative leaders will each get one appointment, as will Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Treasurer Mike Frerichs, Comptroller Leslie Munger, Secretary of State Jesse White and Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Springfield Mayor Jim Langfelder will also each get one appointment.
    “We want leaders from all over the state coming up with their ideas and recommendations about how we can best celebrate,” Rauner said.
    Not much time
    The new commission will replace a 77-member commission created by then-Gov. Pat Quinn two years ago. In a recent column, Peoria Journal-Star columnist Phil Luciano documented how the Quinn commission has basically sputtered ever since it was formed.
    The new commission will have its work cut out for it. Illinois joined the union as a state on Dec. 3, 1818. That will give the commission less than 16 months to plan celebrations if they are to start early in 2018.
    Indiana is in the middle of celebrating its bicentennial. Then-Gov. Mitch Daniels named its bicentennial commission in December 2011.
    “We’ve been holding planning meetings ever since then,” said commission spokeswoman Valeri Beaman. “Our commission members have been working for five years.”
    In addition to the commission itself in Indiana, there are coordinators in each county for bicentennial events, she said. Funding for the celebration is a mix of both state funds and sponsored events. All of the big events are sponsored, she said.
    Events actually kicked off on Dec. 11, 2015, the 199th anniversary of Indiana’s statehood. They’ve been going on ever since and will culminate on statehood day this year.
    Familiar themes
    Many of the other questions taken by Rauner Tuesday allowed him to retread his well-worn talking points on everything from the need to reform state government to efforts to reduce Illinois' prison population. At the beginning, Rauner said more than 100 questions were submitted since he announced on Facebook last week that he would be answering questions. He answered eight of them during his 30-minute live session.
    Rauner said he was assured by Democrats that pension reform “would be front and center” as part of renewed, post-election budget discussions. Rauner said he thinks the issue can be dealt with this winter.
    He again said benefits already earned by workers should be protected, but added that they should be offered more affordable choices in the future. Rauner said he supports a plan advanced by Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, that would make workers choose between receiving annual increases in pension benefits or having future pay raises be covered by pensions.
    “That will save billions. It will help us balance our state budget for the first time in decades,” he said. “It will free up money that we can put into our priorities in schools and in human services.”
    Rauner again called for lawmakers to approve proposed constitutional amendments to impose term limits and change the way legislative boundaries are drawn to keep lawmakers out of the process.
    “Nothing would change the performance and the culture in our state government faster than term limits and also redistricting reform,” Rauner said. “If the General Assembly would put those on the ballot … immediately, right today, many elected officials would look and see 'Wow, the game is kind of over.' I think you’d see a number of people retire or resign soon.”
    Those issues are part of a lengthy agenda of things Rauner wants the General Assembly to tackle after the Nov. 8 elections. That includes passing a balanced budget to replace the stopgap measure that expires Dec. 31. Rauner said he's “cautiously optimistic” a balanced budget will be approved. He repeated, though, that he won’t entertain talk of higher taxes unless his reform measures are approved.
    -- Contact Doug Finke: doug.finke@sj-r.com, 78

    Above is from:  http://www.sj-r.com/news/20160920/gov-rauner-uses-facebook-live-to-announce-bicentennial-plans

    Boone County faces nearly $3 million deficit; low inmate numbers, health insurance costs blamed

     

    By Susan Vela
    Staff writer

    Follow @@susanvela

    Posted Sep. 20, 2016 at 2:51 PM
    Updated Sep 20, 2016 at 8:05 PM

    BELVIDERE — The Boone County Board is looking for ways to trim $2.7 million from next year's general fund budget, which takes effect Dec. 1.
    County officials are trying to balance a proposed $17.4 million budget for day-to-day operations without noticeable cuts to services. But programs, positions and resources are once again on the line.
    “It looks like to me we’re going to have our work cut out for us,” said board member Sherry Giesecke. “(But) it’s probably no different than any municipality or county in the state of Illinois.”
    County Administrator Ken Terrinoni said there are two main challenges: The county is projected to pay about $600,000 in health costs for the 175 employees signed up for the county's health insurance plan, and the Boone County Jail is holding fewer inmates from outside the county, which accounts for at least a $58,000 loss in annual public safety revenue.
    Typically, department heads make initial requests that add up to about $1.5 million more than projected revenue, which board members resolve before approving a balanced budget. No budget solutions have come out of committee meetings yet. In the past, the board has dealt with deficits by not replacing retirees and cutting services.
    “No stone can be unturned to try to get this problem under control,” Terrinoni said.
    Terrinoni pointed to several revenue challenges that persist in the wake of the Great Recession. Annual public safety sales tax revenue has declined since 2008 by at least $400,000 to $1.4 million. Regular sales tax revenue declined by about $330,000 to $1.5 million over the same period, and motor fuel tax revenue from the state has dropped by about $140,000 to $625,000.
    Also, the county is projected to pay $661,000 in health care premiums during the next fiscal year, compared to $362,000 this year. Medical claims are likely to cost $2.9 million, compared to $2.6 million this year.
    He said the county's older, less-healthy employees are being insured at a hefty cost.
    The county pays an average of $23,800 per employee each year for insurance, with each worker kicking in about $3,570 per year.
    But 11 employees have significant health issues — up from the average of two or three — that require the county’s maximum contribution of $75,000 per year.
    Boone County Sheriff Dave Ernest said revenue from housing nonresident inmates has waned over several years. County governments pay $60 per day to house inmates in the Boone County Jail. The U.S. Marshals Service pays $75 a day.
    So far this year, the jail has received $125,790 — or about $14,000 a month — from the U.S. Marshals Service and various governments, compared to $592,208 — or $49,350 per month — in 2010.

    “It’s an issue,” Ernest said. “If we have the space, we’re happy to take on the prisoners. (But) we can’t become dependent on it. We just really had the luxury over the last several years to make some revenue on that facility.”

    The jail can house 150 inmates, and has 20 beds for work-release inmates, Ernest said. It had 118 inmates on Wednesday, 25 of whom were from outside Boone County.
    “It’s going to be a very difficult process going through our budgets and just determining where we can reduce expenditures, and hopefully find a way to increase revenues,” said Karl Johnson, chairman of the board’s Finance, Taxation & Salaries Committee. “The facts of the recession are still definitely crimping our style, I guess, so to speak.”
    Susan Vela: 815-987-1392; svela@rrstar.com; @susanvela

    Above is from:  http://www.rrstar.com/news/20160920/boone-county-faces-nearly-3-million-deficit-low-inmate-numbers-health-insurance-costs-blamed