Tag: regulation

Wisconsin’s Melissa Sargent makes the case for legalizing recreational marijuana

Once again, Melissa Sargent, a Democratic member of the Wisconsin State Assembly from Madison, has proposed legalizing recreational marijuana in Wisconsin.

While Sargent’s bill has zero chance of being enacted by the Republicans who control Wisconsin’s state government, I strongly support all efforts to legalize marijuana for recreational use in this country. Sargent made a great case for legalizing marijuana in her home state of Wisconsin in this editorial, which was published by the Madison, Wisconsin-based alternative newspaper The Cap Times:

Adults choosing to use marijuana in the safety of their own home is a matter of personal liberty and freedom. As a matter of philosophy, the government must have a compelling reason to make something illegal in our society. If an individual action does not harm yourself, your neighbors, or your community, it is no business of the government. Likewise, Wisconsinites with ailments that could be alleviated through marijuana should have the freedom to use inexpensive and effective medicine that works for them.

As Wisconsin deals with devastating financial shortfalls created by Gov. Walker, we must look at all available options for generating revenue. While Republicans demonize the use of marijuana, what is truly criminal is the money Wisconsin is losing by not legalizing it.

As of today, each stop a police officer makes for simple marijuana possession costs taxpayers, on average, $425. Over 650,000 Americans were arrested in 2012 for marijuana possession. That’s one possession arrest every 48 seconds, and more arrests than for all violent crimes combined.

With limited resources, and an overextended prison system, it is not sustainable to continue imprisoning people for these offenses.

What Sargent is talking about are not just Wisconsin problems by any stretch of the imagination. They’re serious problems in every state in this country where marijuana is illegal. Legalizing marijuana for recreational use would bring states more tax revenue, save taxpayers money, reduce the number of people who are incarcerated, and provide more freedom to people. As Sargent herself stated in her editorial, “…the most dangerous thing about marijuana in our society is the fact that it remains illegal.”

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Wisconsin Republicans and corporate Democrats attack a successful business

A large number of Republicans and twelve corporate Democrats in the Wisconsin State Legislature have decided to target a successful Wisconsin business: Union Cab of Madison Cooperative.

The Wisconsin State Legislature is on track to pass legislation, Wisconsin Senate Bill 106 (SB106), or, as I like to call it, the Julie Lassa-Cory Mason Bill to Revoke Local Control on Taxicab and Ridesharing Services, that would allow ridesharing companies, such as Uber and Lyft, to operate statewide in Wisconsin with very few regulations. Ridesharing companies allow people who drive automobiles to offer rides to those who pay the ridesharing fee for a particular trip, usually via a mobile phone application that both the driver and the passengers are required to have.

These ridesharing companies engage in predatory practices that screw over customers, workers, and taxpayers. While I could write a 100,000-character blog post about the negative aspects of ridesharing companies, I’ll mention three of them in this blog post. First off, ridesharing companies screw over customers by raising their rates by using dynamic pricing, which is also called surge pricing. Surge pricing allows the ridesharing companies to raise their rates when their computer algorithms tell them that traffic is heavy, demand for rides is high, or something else that their algorithms factor in, such as, in at least one documented instance, a terrorist attack, allow them to raise their rates. Secondly, ridesharing companies screw over workers by taking a sizable chunk of the money that the drivers collect from offering rides. In some instances, ridesharing drivers are effectively paid a negative salary (i.e., effectively charged money to work) because the portion of the ridesharing fee that the driver keeps is less than the vehicle-related costs of the trip. Furthermore, ridesharing companies are a burden to taxpayers for two main reasons. First, taxpayers will end up on the hook for accidents involving ridesharing drivers who don’t have commercial automobile insurance. Second, there will be tons of lawsuits over liability claims over crashes involving ridesharing drivers, resulting in court cases that clog up the justice system and result in more taxpayer money being spent on trials.

However, the main reason why I oppose the Lassa-Mason Bill is because it’s clearly designed to take away local control from Wisconsin’s second-largest city, Madison, in regards to taxicab regulation. Furthermore, I highly suspect that this is part of a coordinated attack to put a successful business, Union Cab of Madison Cooperative, out of business for purely political reasons, something which I strongly oppose. Also, I strongly believe that any Democratic elected official who supports legislation that allows companies like Uber and Lyft to operate with very few regulations is effectively a traitor to the progressives who vote them into office, and I would have no problem supporting progressive-minded primary challengers to corporate Democrats who support the Lassa-Mason Bill and/or other parts of the political agenda of Uber and other ridesharing companies.

How frac sand mining companies are buying influence at the local level in Wisconsin

In the small cities of Blair, Wisconsin and Independence, Wisconsin, which have fewer than 3,000 people combined and are both located in Trempealeau County in the west-central part of the state, frac sand mining companies are getting around a county-issued temporary moratorium on sand mining, which serves an even more dangerous industry of fracking for oil and natural gas, by asking the two cities, which have weaker regulations on sand mining that supercedes the county’s regulations within the borders of the respective cities, to annex mining sites.

In the case of Blair, a sand mining company is literally bribing local officials into annexing their mining site into the city:

Sometimes there’s cash upfront. One company offered $1.5 million to the City of Blair — population 1,379, plus two mines — if the city annexed another site.

Cities like Blair and Independence also offer more-permissive rules for mines than the county. “We let them work 24 hours, ‘round the clock, you see, where the county don’t,” says Blair’s mayor, Ardell Knutson. Rules around noise can also be less strict.

This is not simply frac sand mining companies getting creative. This is outright bribery of local elected officials to annex sand mining sites into municipalities that have weaker regulations than the county or town (as townships are known as in Wisconsin) regulations that the mining sites. This flagrant corruption is putting the health and quality of life of many Wisconsinites at risk, as sand mining sites that operate continuously make it difficult, if not impossible, for nearby residents to sleep in their own homes, and sand mining sites put workers and nearby residents at risk of contracting silicosis, a breathing disorder caused by inhaling silica dust.

I’d like to thank James Rowen of the Wisconsin progressive blog The Political Environment for bringing this to my attention.

Conflict of interest: Bruce Rauner appointee to Illinois Department of Natural Resources took campaign cash from coal companies

Republican Illinois State Representative Wayne Rosenthal of Morrisonville has been appointed by fellow Republican and Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner to head the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), which, in addition to maintaining state parks and recreation areas and regulating hunting and fishing, is responsible for regulating coal mining and other forms of mining in Illinois.

This is a major conflict of interest in the Rauner Administration, since, as a candidate for state representative, Rosenthal has taken $13,000 in campaign donations from Foresight Energy and Hillsboro Energy, two coal mining companies owned by billionaire mining magnate Chris Cline:

Nearly two years ago, the Wisconsin newspaper Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported that one of Cline’s coal mining companies here in Illinois, Macoupin Energy, was violating state environmental regulations designed to prevent groundwater from becoming contaminated by refusing to adequately clean up groundwater contamination at the Shay 1 mine, which is located in Macoupin County either in or near Carlinville:

An Illinois coal mine owned by the same investor who is trying to develop an iron ore mine in Wisconsin has come under fire by Illinois’ pollution control agency for failing to adequately address long-standing groundwater problems.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency formally notified Macoupin Energy in December that it believes the company is dragging its feet with the cleanup at the Shay 1 mine in Carlinville, Ill., according to government documents.

The agency said it plans to refer the case to the Illinois attorney general.

Macoupin is one of four mines owned in Illinois by billionaire Christopher Cline, who is proposing to build a $1.5 billion iron ore mine in Ashland and Iron counties if the Wisconsin Legislature rewrites mining laws to the company’s satisfaction.

To use a Sesame Street analogy, putting Wayne Rosenthal, who is a shill for coal barons, in charge of regulating the mining industry here in Illinois is like putting Cookie Monster in charge of protecting cookies. For Governor Rauner to appoint someone like Rosenthal to IDNR is a flagrant conflict of interest, and, while I’m not completely opposed to mining for coal and other minerals by any stretch of the imagination, I’m very afraid that Rosenthal’s IDNR will allow mining companies to get away with polluting Illinois groundwater and waterways.

Tell Congressman Ron Kind to denounce attacks on progressives by his fellow corporate Democrats

Several members of the New Democratic Coalition, a group of pro-greed and anti-middle class Democrats led by U.S. Representative Ron Kind of Wisconsin, are attacking progressive members of Congress for opposing efforts by Republicans and corporate Democrats to repeal financial regulations, enacted by the Dodd-Frank bill, that are designed to protect American consumers from predatory banking institutions.

According to a report by POLITICO, at least three members of the New Democratic Coalition, U.S. Representatives Gerry Connolly of Virginia, John Carney of Delaware, and Jim Himes of Connecticut, openly attacked progressives for standing up against Wall Street greed:

Tension reached a boiling point during a closed-door caucus meeting Wednesday over the party’s stance toward Wall Street banks, according to multiple sources at the meeting.

Liberal Massachusetts Rep. Mike Capuano incensed the moderates when he said if Democrats support rolling back Dodd-Frank regulations, “you might as well be a Republican.”

[…]

At the New Democrat meeting, (House Minority Whip Steny) Hoyer was on the receiving end of impassioned concerns by his moderate colleagues. Reps. Gerry Connolly (Va.), John Carney (Del.) and Jim Himes (Conn.) all voiced strong opinions, according to sources in the room.

The 40-member group expressed anger at the liberal faction for name calling and for dismissing their point of view outright. The lawmakers told Hoyer that any future Democratic majority would look more like them than the liberal faction of the caucus.

You can read more about the New Democratic Coalition’s War on Progressives from DailyKos’s own Kerry Eleveld here.

The New Democratic Coalition is not new (they’ve been in existence for nearly two decades as a Congressional Member Organization), and they’re certainly not progressive. They are a group of corporate Democrats who support a pro-Wall Street, pro-special interests, anti-worker, anti-consumer, and anti-middle class agenda that is nearly as bad as the Republicans’ far-right economic agenda. Most notably, they’re known for supporting deregulation of the banking industry to make it easier for the American economy to crash because of greed and speculation on Wall Street and put American consumers even more at the mercy of predatory banks than they currently are now. Furthermore, New Democratic Coalition members support free trade agreements, such as the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), that drive down wages, move American jobs overseas, and destroy what little of our country’s economic sovereignty remains.

Regarding the New Democratic Coalition’s claim that regaining Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress is only possible by supporting giveaways to Wall Street and other Big Business special interests, that claim is absolutely absurd. Future Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress would, more than likely, be built mostly, if not entirely, by progressive Democrats who champion lifting Americans out of poverty, ending corrupt special interest giveaways, restoring the American middle class, protecting and expanding the social safety net, restoring protections of the American economy, and protecting American consumers, and other progressive, pro-middle class ideals. The only thing that the New Democratic Coalition is doing by openly antagonizing progressives is dividing the party and making it virtually impossible for Democrats to win congressional majorities in its current state.

As I stated above, the Chairman of the New Democratic Coalition is Congressman Ron Kind of Wisconsin. While it’s not known if Kind himself was part of the attacks on progressives (although Kind did brag on tape about being a key part of the “global trading regime”, as he called it, to enact free trade agreements and ship American jobs overseas), I believe that it is Congressman Kind’s responsibility to denounce the divisive attacks on pro-consumer and pro-middle class progressives by members of the organization that he leads. You can sign an online petition to call for Congressman Kind to publicly denounce the New Democratic Coalition’s attacks on progressives here.