Wednesday, December 18, 2013

MIssouri DESE Posts Story Suggesting Nicastro Unilaterally Made Decision On Contoversial Consultant

@MOEducation, the Twitter feed for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) posted a link today to a story by a Kansas City group called "Do The Right Thing For Kids:"

The post was full of the usual, "if caring about children is wrong, I don't wanna be right" fluff of Nicastro defenders that steadfastly avoids the actual issues at the heart of the controversy, but what was especially strange is that it included the following passage:
So according to this account, Nicastro "hire[d], in her judgment, the best consultant." That's funny, because I thought that the consultant was supposed to be determined by the scores of four separate evaluators who graded the different proposals according to different criteria like "cost" and "personnel".  The State Board President Peter Herschend said the process was "open and competitive." Of course, there are many reasons for questioning whether that evaluation process was rigged from the start, but I'm a little surprised that DESE would tweet out a story that openly states Nicastro made the decision herself given that they were claiming it was a fair process determined by a scoring system.  You would think they would at least offer some correction or note stating that the story incorrectly described the process.

Unless, of course, Nicastro really did unilaterally make the decision.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Tea Party's Star Gladney Witness Found Guilty of Fraud, Blames Gay And Pro-Abortion Activists

Remember when tea partiers were completely humiliated during their fabricated story about evil "union thugs" brutally beating a guy selling tea party merchandise?  One of the tea party's alleged "witnesses" of the "brutal beating" was Harris Himes, a Montana pastor oddly attending a St. Louis political event who told conflicting stories about what he saw.  After a jury took less than an hour to reach a not guilty verdict for the "union thugs," Himes sent a letter to Gateway Pundit Jim Hoft, one of the primary pushers of the fabricated story, declaring that the trial was a "miscarriage of justice."

So yeah, about that guy:
A Ravalli County jury found Hamilton pastor Harris Himes guilty on three felony counts of securities fraud Friday...

The charges followed a yearlong investigation by the state Office of the Commissioner of Securities and Insurance on accusations that Himes and another pastor, James “Jeb” Bryant, promised a Hamilton man a large return on $150,000 of his inheritance for his investment in the Mexican-based building materials company Duratherm Building Systems.

The man told the jury this week that he was surprised when he traveled to Mexico to find the factory was nothing more than an empty agricultural shed.
Oh, and guess who he previously blamed the charges on:
Himes went on to claim that gay and pro-abortion activists may be behind the charges against him and co-defendant James "Jeb" Bryant, another self-proclaimed pastor.
Himes seems like quite a guy.  He's the perfect spokesperson for Jim Hoft's right-wing victimization fantasies.

Monday, December 16, 2013

St. Louis Public Radio Story on the Nicastro Scandal

Dale Singer has a nice story up at the newly merged St. Louis Public Radio/Beacon site on the Nicastro controversy.  There's a lot in there, so please read the whole thing, but here are a few highlights:

Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal says that Nicastro has not been honest during her time at DESE:
“My total issue,” she said, “has been her not being transparent and telling the truth. She tells school board members one thing and she tells senators and representatives something else. Since I serve in both capacities, I’m hearing both sides.”
Specifically, Chappelle-Nadal complained that when Normandy absorbed the Wellston school district in 2010, she was told that the district would not lose accreditation for at least three years. The district lost accreditation two years later, leading to the student transfers that have resulted in serious financial problems and questions about whether the district can survive.
“When you make a commitment,” Chappelle-Nadal said, “you stick to your commitment. The one thing I will never ever ever ever tolerate is an administrator who misrepresents the truth and makes misstatements and outright lies.
It doesn't look like the controversy is going away any time soon.  The Kansas City School District filed suit to prevent the state's breakup of their school district, stating that Nicastro has been working "covertly to orchestrate a breakup of (the district) into charter schools."

And Tom Schweich has asked for documents to investigate Nicastro's decision to change wording on DESE's cost estimate (or lack thereof).  There are reasons, however, to be skeptical about the chances of Schweich taking any action that would negatively impact Sinqeufield's agenda. Many reasons.

Mike Jones, a senior policy adviser to Charlie Dooley and the vice president of the state board of education, had a jaw-dropping quote:
“But the process of making the sausage is a different issue. I’m big on accountability. I think transparency is fairly overrated. Transparency is a liberal fetish. It’s way overemphasized.”
 His full quote is a little more nuanced and contains some interesting observations:
“On one side you have the education reform establishment. There is a small group of people who want it to work for all children, then there are two other groups: libertarians, who live in a fantasy world and don’t believe in public education, and corporate interests, who see education as a cash cow.
“Then you have the education establishment. They are genuinely concerned about the education of kids, except they collectively seem to lack the will to fundamentally change the way we deliver public education. They have lost the moral high ground.”
It sounds like Jones is thoughtful about this issue, but I have a feeling the transparency quote is not going to go over very well and will lead to future headaches.

Finally, I wanted to make sure to flag this important tidbit:
Sinquefield has declined repeated requests for an interview on his stand on education issues.
Rex spends millions to bend state policy to his will, relying on slick advertising campaigns and predetermined "reports" from stink tanks rather than comprehensive, honest debate.  So it figures that he would not want to answer questions about his true views.  

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Usual Suspects Say Open and Transparent Government is Overrated

Republican Jay Barnes wrote a blog post claiming that the Nicastro scandal wasn't really a scandal because, I guess, unions are bad, and they have secret bad motives.  How exactly the claim that unions are big meanies gets Nicastro off the hook for pushing for a no bid contract and then rigging the process is left unexplained, but that didn't stop Rex Sinquefeld's favorite Democrats from declaring that the Republican's post was a vindication of Nicastro.

Martin Casas, of course, declared that the Nicastro scandal "is a total farce:"

(note the "favorite" by the director of one of Sinquefield's front groups)

And Robbyn Wahby linked to the post saying that it revealed "the full story:"

Wahby, however, is a member of CEE-Trust, so it's not exactly surprising that she's a fan of rigged processes that get CEE-Trust lucrative contracts:

Not surprising. But worth noting.  And twenty years from now, if school privatization has gone bonkers and the schools are still a mess, it will be worth remembering.

Every Nicastro Story Should Include These Details

The Kansas City schools scandal with Missouri Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro is worse than it is being portrayed in many media outlets.  Not only did Nicastro originally try for a no-bid contract to CEE-Trust and promise a job to a guy before the job was even created, but it's pretty clear that the process that was ultimately selected was rigged to ensure CEE-T would be chosen.  Below are a few relevant details from the original Kansas City Star story that don't seem to make it into many of the subsequent reports.

Two of the state administers working with Nicastro to create the original "memorandum of understanding" (ie no bid contract), were on the panel that "scored" the different bids:
State administrators Margie Vandeven and Robin Coffman, who emails showed had helped craft the original memorandum of understanding with CEE-Trust, were two of four evaluators who scored the bids.
With those two scoring, CEE-Trust won the evaluation process by a single point, after a competitor that cost 1/3 the price of CEE-Trust received ridiculously low scores on a category that is normally their strong suit:
CEE-Trust edged the closest competitor — Community Training and Assistance Center, known as CTAC — by a single point, 70 to 69.
CTAC, because its bid of $124,700 was less than one-third of CEE-Trust’s $385,000 bid, earned the maximum 45 points under the major category of cost.
CEE-Trust earned the maximum 45 points under the other major heading, “Experience, reliability and expertise of personnel.”
CTAC received only 20 points for its personnel despite a proposal that described a 34-year history of assisting school systems in 40 states. 
Here's what the executive director of the company that lost the bid by a point had to say:
"That’s a section (personnel qualifications) that we usually knock out of the water,” said CTAC executive director William Slotnik, who had not been aware of the details of the scoring until he was reached by The Star.
No one could look at this with clear eyes and not have alarm bells go off.  So though I agree with the group of Missouri Democrats calling for Nicastro to resign, I think the other part of their request is probably even more important:
In addition, we are asking the State Board of Education to open an internal investigation into potential bid-rigging by Dr. Nicastro to ensure that an education department contract was granted to an organization she favors, despite the fact that its bid was more than three times more costly to taxpayers than the bid of the next closest competitor.
This process needs to be investigated, transparently and by an independent entity. It's sad that the president of the state education commission, Republican Peter Herschend, so far has shown no interest in transparency or openness, and has not even discussed the possibility of investigation.

Read more here:

Read more here:

Read more here:

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Chris Nicastro Redux

Another scandal for the Missouri Commissioner of Education.

Strange. I seem to remember Rex Sinquefield's front group CEAM actively rooting for the failure of the Kansas City public schools as well.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Larry Conners Update

This was a while ago, but in case you missed it, Larry Conners lost a lawsuit.

Then he lost it again.

I predict he will lose many such lawsuits.

State Education Commissioner Helps Right-Wing Front Group Write Evasive Ballot Language

Here's a November 21 statement from the Missouri NEA site:
(Jefferson City, MO) Today education leaders from the American Federation of Teachers, Missouri National Education Association and the Missouri State Teachers Association issued the following joint statement regarding press reports of Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro’s covert conversations with Rex Sinquefield lobbyist Kate Casas. 
“As educators we are disturbed by Commissioner Nicastro’s covert communication with a registered lobbyist, her potential disregard of open meetings law, and the circumvention of input from anyone involved in the day-to-day operations of public schools. 
Published reports indicate Commissioner Nicastro actively assisted a special interest lobbyist in crafting language for an amendment to the Missouri Constitution and ordering DESE staff not to post items to the State Board of Education’s public agenda. Nicastro assured special interest groups the fiscal note outlining the financial impact would be favorable.
The professional staff at DESE developed language that disclosed the potential significant costs to local districts. However, Nicastro chose to personally override her financial experts at the expense of taxpayers. 
Government officials have a duty to act in an open and transparent manner for the benefit of the citizens of the state of Missouri – Commissioner Nicastro’s actions fall short of that duty.”
More soon.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Sinquefield Spokesperson Not Sure If Sinquefield Has Opinion On Sinquefield-Funded Project

From a recent Beacon article:
Better Together executive director Nancy Rice said last week that she hasn't talked to Sinquefield about the new organization.
Better Together is funded by the Missouri Council for a Better Environment (MCBE).  Nancy Rice is the media contact person for MCBE, a group previously funded exclusively by Sinquefield.  She's a spokesperson for Sinquefield.  She works for his lobbying group. Sinquefield was reported in August to be working on this project.

These games are silly.  Just stop.

Déjà Vu: Casas Confused About The Group He's Working For, Again

A long while back, I reported on how St. Louis "Democrats" were being paid off by extreme right-wing ideologue Rex Sinquefield to work on the ballot initiative restoring local control of the police department to St. Louis.  As I've said many times, I support local control, and in fact worked with the groups who had been pushing for local control long before it occurred to the St. Louis establishment that it might be a politically useful campaign. However, I had concerns about the way the campaign was being run as a PR campaign for Rex Sinquefield and anti-tax groups around the state.

Specifically, I was critical of one of Sinquefield's group's primary beneficiaries, Martin Casas, who repeatedly claimed to be clueless about the operation he was working on.  Casas wrote an article for Vital Voice asking people to sign a petition for United for Missouri, a right-wing group run by Sinquefield's employee Carl Bearden, who among many other things:

  • Voted to ban the existence of gay/straight student alliances in Missouri.
  • Was a co-sponsor of HB885 in 2004, which would "Prohibit public institutions or any entity receiving state funds from adopting discrimination policies that exceed state and federal protections against discrimination."
  • Voted in favor of placing a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in Missouri on the 2004 ballot.

  • So Casas wrote an article for St. Louis's premier LGBT news source asking people to hand their contact information over to a dude categorically opposed to equal rights.  And to make it worse, rather than just being honest about it, when I asked Casas about who was handling the emails from the petition, he responded by claiming: "I have no idea! I'm working on #LocalControl!" The idea that Casas, a failed candidate for state office, had been contracted to get signatures to an online petition without having any idea of what would be done with the signatures is pretty ridiculous, even for him.

    So now we have a new Sinquefield-backed initiative, described by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch way back in August, created to "study" various aspects of City and County services. Again, I personally think the City and County should be merged.  But like the Post-Dispatch editorial board, I think this discussion should be transparent and honest, rather than opaque and deceptive.  However, rather than being honest, the group, staffed by Rex's previous campaign operatives, is pretending to be unconnected to Rex Sinquefield.

    So for starters, let's just be clear that the Twitter feed for the group, Better Together St. Louis, is run by Martin Casas.  With his usual stealth, Casas managed to tweet and post on facebook an identical post using his personal account and Better Together simultaneously, demonstrating that he's running both.

    But what's really amazing is that Casas is again acting clueless about Rex Sinquefield's involvement in the group.  During a Twitter conversation, Casas initially said that Sinquefield wasn't involved in funding the group, then said he "didn't know" after it was pointed out that Sinquefeld was previously the only funder of the group, MCBE (Missouri Council for a Better Economy) that paid for "A Better St. Louis":
    So Casas, for the second time, gets very confused when he's asked about whether he's working for a Sinquefield group and in what capacity. Of course, in the grand scheme of things, Casas is pretty irrelevant to whatever policy outcomes might occur.  Yet this whole approach is suggestive of a broader disdain for the public from the group.  Rather than simply being up front about Sinquefield's involvement, the effort so far has been designed, rather sloppily I might add, to act as though Rex has nothing to do with it, though he clearly has been involved in the planning and financing of the plan for a long time.  And if they can't just admit that he's a key part of the effort, what else are they trying to hide?  And more importantly, as the Kansas City Star's Yael Aboulhalkah asked, "What's in it for Rex?"

    Friday, November 15, 2013

    St. Louis Journalism Review

    Gotta say, I don't really understand what the Gateway Journalism Review takes itself to be doing.  If you call yourself a "Journalism Review" and say in the mission statement that you aim for the public to have the "most credible, fair media possible," then shouldn't you be among the first to call out charlatans and grifters, rather than the last? Maybe write stories when someone is dishonest on CNN, rather than at teh Blaze?  It's not really providing any accountability if you only call out a media personality a full year after every thinking person stopped taking the person seriously.

    But yeah, don't get your news from the Blaze.  Can't argue with that.

    Wednesday, August 14, 2013

    2013 St. Louis Walk for Farm Animals

    Farm Sanctuary is a great organization that spreads a message of compassion for all, and provides homes to animals who have been abused in factory farms. So, when I was offered the opportunity to help coordinate the 2013 St. Louis Walk for Farm Animals to raise money and publicity for Farm Sanctuary, I jumped at the chance.

    From Farm Sanctuary's blog:
    Each year, Farm Sanctuary’s vital work is supported by funds raised during the Walk for Farm Animals, which stands as a testament to the value of positive, grassroots activism. The Walk for Farm Animals started with a small group of volunteers walking and raising enough money in 1989 to make a down payment on what is now our Watkins Glen sanctuary. Today, it has spread across the United States and Canada to more than 35 regional Walk events supporting Farm Sanctuary’s mission to end the abuse and suffering of farm animals and to provide life-long refuge to the individuals we rescue.

    This year's St. Louis Walk for Farm Animals will be held on September 14 in Tower Grove Park at the Sons of Rest Pavilion. Registration begins at 10 a.m., and the Walk begins at 11. Children and dogs are welcome. After the Walk, there will be free vegan food, massages, live music, a raffle, and face painting. There will also be a costume contest, so come dressed as your favorite animal for a chance to win a homemade vegan gooey butter cake – a St. Louis favorite.

    Early adult registration is $15, and event-day registration is $25. Children under 18 are free. Participants are encouraged to set a fundraising goal and ask their friends and family for donations to support Farm Sanctuary's life-saving mission. If you have mobility issues or can't make it to the Walk, you can still participate as a virtual walker.

    The Walk is only a month away, so if you're interested in participating, please register now, so you can start raising money!

    Thursday, May 30, 2013

    Larry Conners Claims KMOV is Keeping the White Man Down

    So first Larry Conners claimed that President Obama was "jetting around" too much and "going on all these vacations."  Now Conners says in a complaint that he, Larry Conners, was discriminated against for being a white male:
    Since his firing, his attorneys have filed a formal discrimination complaint with the Missouri Human Rights Commission alleging that his bosses terminated him in retaliation for a dispute he had with the station in 2010 regarding his salary. In that legal battle, Conners writes in the complaint, he had alleged that KMOV was unfairly paying him less than his co-prime anchor, Vickie Newton, "an African-American female; I claimed that I received less compensation than Newtown because of my race and gender."

    Update: Shockingly, a judge did not agree with Conners' claim that he was being discriminated against for being a middle-aged white guy (see update of the post):
    "The arbitration process was confidential and private and we honored that," Pimentel says. "But in light of Mr. Conners' election not to, we believe it's appropriate to point out that after a full two days of arbitration, the arbiter found no merit whatsoever to Larry's claims and ruled in favor of KMOV on all counts."
    Double hmmm.

    Update #2: For clarity, I should note that Conners' current complaint is that KMOV discriminated against him because of age and "retaliation."  But in his complaint, he noted that he previously had formally complained about race and gender discrimination at KMOV (basically he thought he should get paid more), while conveniently forgetting to mention that the arbiter found his claim meritless. As in: without any merit.

    Tuesday, May 28, 2013

    Important Facts About the Larry Conners Fiasco (Mostly) Ignored By the Media

    So, if you recall, back in September Larry Conners did a silly interview for KMOV where he asked President Obama if he takes too many vacation days. The interview was ridiculous because (1) it showed that Conners was completely out of touch with issues that actually matter and (2) Conners conveniently left out the fact that Obama had taken about 1/3 as many vacation days as Bush and 1/2 as many as Reagan at similar points in their presidencies.

    More recently, Conners was fired after using his KMOV Facebook page to absurdly suggest, without a shred of evidence, that he was targeted by the IRS for his "tough interview" with Obama.  In his original post, Conners conveniently left out the fact that his tax issues with the IRS predated the interview, and later claimed he meant to say that the IRS cancelled his repayment plan after the interview.  He never updated his Facebook or Twitter accounts with the truth, though he did record a statement for KMOV.

    Unfortunately, media reports during the Larry Conners Sympathy Tour have been leaving out a couple key facts that are telling about the amount of "integrity" of his actions.  First, Conners did not only use his KMOV facebook account to "ask questions" about the interview. He also used his KMOV "News 4" Twitter account to push the story to right-wing bloggers.  Here's how he described himself on Twitter before deleting his old account:
    And here's a screenshot of him tweeting the story to right-wing bloggers (at the bottom of the tweet:):
    You might recall the Daily Caller from their amazing display of "journalistic integrity" while reporting a completely invented story about a Democratic Senator visiting underage prostitutes in Haiti.  Instapundit is right-wing blogger Glenn Reynolds, and Red Alert is a blog for "young conservatives." (Conners also tweeted the story to and to one of their former employees. Yes, I have screen shots)

    This completely undermines Conner's claim that he was innocently "asking questions."  He did not tweet the story to neutral or liberal outlets.  He was clearly trolling for publicity from far right wing blogs, and was happy to throw them red meat he knew would be used to claim that the President was targeting him.  This is not responsible journalism.

    Now, to be fair to Conners, he has targeted his tweets at right wing blogs before, probably because he doesn't really put that much effort into pretending to be unbiased.  But given that he's done it before, and KMOV knows that he's done it before, he might very well be right that KMOV encourages him to engage in this type of trolling.  I don't really care to defend KMOV and wouldn't be surprised at all if they told him in the past to try to target right-wing blogs; however, I do think it's important not to pretend that Conners was engaging in responsible journalism. He was pushing a story he knew would be used to attack President Obama (while, by the way, further eroding people's trust in the government).

    Second, and even more importantly, Conners could not even answer a question from Charles Jaco about what reason the IRS gave for canceling the payment plan.  You can watch the interview here (the relevant bit starts at 2:12):

    Transcript of the relevant portion:
    Jaco: Did they tell you why they cancelled the monthly plan?
    Conners: I was paying everything on time and continued to do so...
    Jaco: And they didn't tell you anything...?
    Conners: I leave that to my tax attorney. I don't know what any of the background is, other than the fact that it was pulled from us....Charles, since 1980 I haven't even done my taxes. I leave that to folks who are a lot smarter than me.
    In other words, Conners can't even answer when asked what reason the IRS gave for canceling his plan, because he hasn't done his taxes in 30 years! Conners was willing to suggest that the IRS was "hammering" him for political reasons without even being engaged enough to know what the IRS's stated reason was! This is the height of journalistic irresponsibility.  It's the equivalent of a journalist saying on air, "I got a parking ticket the other day.  I didn't actually look at it to see what it was for, but I'm positive it's retaliation from the Mayor!"

    Finally, also in the Jaco interview, Conners says that KMOV "supposedly" sent him social media guidelines but he doesn't remember looking at them.  Hmmm, I wonder whose responsibility that is?

    Obviously, journalists have a reason to be sympathetic to one of their own and to protect themselves from bosses who probably don't know much about journalism, even if "their own" in this case is a guy like Larry Conners who was perfectly willing to cross picket lines while fellow news employees were striking (especially ironic now that Conners is now citing collective bargaining).  However, given that this story has important implications for what it means to do quality journalism, they need to take care to report all of the relevant facts, even those that clearly undermine his claims. Conners engaged in epically irresponsible "journalism," and whether or not he deserved to be fired, no one should pretend for a second that he was acting with journalistic integrity.

    Friday, May 17, 2013

    Tea Partiers Who Likely Violated 501(c)(4) Rules Are, Of Course, Leading the Complaints About the IRS

    Bill Hennessy, founder of the St. Louis Tea Party, was recently on Larry Kudlow's CNBC show complaining about the IRS targeting the tea party for additional scrutiny:

    Similarly, Missouri GOP Chair Ed Martin is in the Post-Dispatch talking about how the IRS "corruption" will galvanize the tea party.

    Their promotion of the issue by this pair is especially ironic considering that I documented, on multiple occasions, the St. Louis Tea Party publicly advocating their endorsement of Ed Martin in a Missouri Congressional race in violation of the rules governing 501(c)(4) organizations, which state that such organizations are not allowed to endorse candidates (see here, p. 7, first full paragraph) and communicate that endorsement to the public.

    Back in the 2010 elections, the tea party paid for billboards featuring Martin and his Democratic opponent Russ Carnahan that prompted former Post-Dispatch reporter Jake Wagman to write:
    But unless Carnahan supporters really do have their head down, it won't be hard to see through the intent of the billboard, which, if it sparks a legal challenge, could spell trouble for the Tea Party.  
    As I noted at the time, there were other tea party actions that were not "straddling the line" (Wagman's phrase);  they were clearly endorsing Ed Martin in a manner intended to communicate with the general public.  First, the St. Louis Tea Party posted advertisements around the web that led directly to a web page that stated "Ed Martin Deserves To Serve Instead of Russ Carnahan." They've deleted the original post now, but you can see it at the Way Back machine.
    Here's my screen shot of the ad at the conservative blog Reboot Congress:
    Similarly, here's a screenshot of an advertisement that appeared on that states, "Paid for by the St. Louis Tea Party Coalition:"
    Here's the ad appearing on Big Government:
    The ad that time took people to a tea party "Get Out the Vote" page that featured a video of Bill Hennessy saying the following:
    I'm going to ask you to take one hour, just one hour, Monday or Tuesday, to come to the St. Louis Tea Party Headquarters at 4512 Hampton Avenue in St. Louis Hills, just south of Hampton Village, and give one hour to phone calls or knocking on doors asking your friends and neighbors, your fellow citizens to go to the polls on Tuesday and vote for Ed Martin and the tea party candidates across the ballot.
    The tea party also put up yard signs and attended rallies with signs that read "Taxpayers for Ed Martin" but included "St. Louis Tea Party" decals.

    It would have been very easy for them to simply use advertisements or signage that simply said, "Vote for the pro-liberty candidate (wink wink)."  But they didn't.  They deliberately flaunted 501(c)(4) rules by endorsing Ed Martin.  And now they have the audacity to go on national TV and complain about the IRS looking at tea party groups. 

    One last irony from the Kulow video worth mentioning: another guest was an employee of Americans For Prosperity, the astroturf group funded by the billionaire Koch brothers.  This raises an issue that I think hasn't been discussed enough as part of the IRS "scandal." People say it would be wrong for the IRS to target particular groups just because of their political beliefs, and this, of course, is true.  But that isn't necessarily the only reason the IRS has for looking closely at the tea party groups.  As most people know, the tea party wasn't as "spontaneous" as they liked to portray, and they received a lot of help and coordination from big-money backed groups, including especially the Koch Brothers' Americans for  Prosperity.  So if there's evidence that a number of groups are coordinating with one another or being coordinated while applying for 501(c)(4) status, and that some of those groups are flaunting the rules, then that seems to me to provide a reason for carefully looking at the groups, entirely independently of their political beliefs.

    Update: Several people are telling me that Wagman's claim that 501(c)(4)s "can't communicate their endorsement to the public at large" is based on a misreading. If that's true, then the tea party doesn't seem to be violating the post Citizen's United interpretation of 501(c)(4) rules, just operating in the murky actually-functioning-as-a-political-organization-designed-solely-to-win-elections-while-technically-following-the-law landscape that we already knew about.

    Update #2: Think Progress gets to the heart of the matter.

    Wednesday, May 8, 2013

    Hazardous Conditions: New Report ranks Missouri 35th in nation on workplace safety

    As the Missouri legislature winds down and high-profile tragedies in the U.S. and worldwide are still fresh in our minds, a new report shows Missouri has a long way to go on workplace safety. According to “Death on the Job: The Toll ofNeglect,” released by the AFL-CIO on Tuesday, Missouri ranks 35th in the nation in workplace safety.

    Just one worker killed on the job is too many, but the report details 132 Missouri workers who went to work in 2011 and never made it back home. At a rate of 4.9 deaths per 100,000 workers, this puts Missouri behind 34 out of 50 states. Neighboring Arkansas and Kansas are among the worst states for workplace fatalities, along with North Dakota, Wyoming and Montana.

    Missouri AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer Mike Louis said politics is a factor. “While too many people are dying on the job right here in Missouri, too many of our elected officials are trying to make it more difficult for Missourians to exercise their collective bargaining rights to ensure health and safety protections at work,” said Louis.

    “Some of the most dangerous states in the country are so-called ‘right to work’ states – and that’s no coincidence. In states were fewer workers are able to have a voice on the job and to advocate for better working conditions, corporations cut corners and take risks that cause devastating consequences.”

    Another issue cited in the report is underfunding of enforcement agencies. Due to a lack of staffing it would take the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) a whopping 111 years to inspect each workplace in Missouri – just once.

    Louis said “Our elected leaders should find ways to make things better and reduce these tragic numbers, not push more dangerous legislation like ‘right to work’ and paycheck deception. Workplace safety needs to be a priority on the federal, state and local level.”

    Across the country there’s much work to do. The report notes that in 2011, there were 4,693 workplace deaths due to traumatic injuries and more than 3.8 million workers across all industries, including state and local government, who experienced work-related illnesses and injuries.

    Friday, January 25, 2013

    today's Peabody action: a personal bit

    About to hop on down to the fun at Peabody today (starting at 11 at Kiener Plaza ... you can still make it!). Here's a personal statement I was asked to write up for the occasion. You can read the rest of the personal statements at the RAMPS website. They'll cover both Tuesday's Arch Coal action, and today's action(s) at Peabody.

    No doubt that there will be lots of media coming out from MORE, RAMPS, BMIS, and some local news sources during the day. Check all that out and have fun on this moderately warmer day.

    Here's the personal crap:


    I came to Saint Louis for graduate school, hoping to do research that would bring about technological solutions to climate change.   Underlying this standard graduate student naivete was the far more ubiquitous and far, far more dangerous overreliance on and faith in technology. In the context of our world, where global industrial Capitalism reigns supreme and demands continuous growth and exploitation, the question "which technology will save us from climate change?" is moot. There is no fancy solar cell, or wind turbine, or nuclear whatever that could ever hope to address the crises of Capitalism.

    On this day I'm going off to participate in the rally at Peabody to stand in solidarity with everyone in Appalachia, the Navajo and Hopi Nations, Saint Louis, and every other living community. I want to draw attention to the decades of exploitation that the Navajo and Hopi nations have endured due to Peabody's role in this repugnant system. I want to draw attention to the way we exploit our planet, and how that is driving us to the brink.

    Will today's actions significantly stop emissions, or stop Peabody? No, probably not. Will this give people who work at Peabody or the lines upon lines of police that will inevitably be protecting Peabody's headquarters any time to pause and really consider what it is that they're defending? Almost certainly not. Will it bring a renewed sense of hope and ease and invigorate the ongoing struggle? That would be nice and I hope that happens. This is just one action and one day.

    We're steadily marching towards a future that will see a 4 degree Celsius rise in global temperature, if not more. This scenario at least ensures a global level of suffering and death that we've never witnessed before and can hardly imagine. At worst it means there won't be a human species any more, let alone countless other species.

    The actions that I and everyone else take on this day should be judged in this context. Is today's action enough? Of course not. Is it too rash or radical? Give me a break. We will all learn from the experiences of today, and we will experience the mounting pressures, and change accordingly.

    There is no hope for an environmentally just world as long as giant fossil fuel companies such as Peabody are allowed to exist. I hope that others will join in the fight against this corporation and all that it represents. Standing on the sidelines will not ensure our safety or the safety of those we care for.

    Monday, January 14, 2013

    climate change ennui / discussion / training

    Here are some more or less direct quotes from people when I talk to them about environmental issues:

    "I don't know enough." "I'm not sure what to do." "The problem is too big." "Well we're screwed anyway. Let's drink PBR and be apathetic until the climate refugees come knocking on our doorstep and our ridiculous food system falls apart." "I got mine." "I would prefer it to be 100 degrees and 100% humidity." (a direct quote from myself. winter go away.)

    These sentiments and their variations are understandable given the society we live in. In order to move past these points to a place where we can take action together we're hosting a discussion next Monday, the 21st, at 7 PM in the SEIU Office (5585 Pershing Ave). If you feel as if you don't have the information needed to act then please stop on by. If you also feel as if you aren't empowered to act, that the problem is too big, etc., then again please come on out. These concerns are perfectly understandable, and it is sometimes useful to work through them with other folks. This isn't going to be a therapy session, but it's worth acknowledging that this world is pretty adept at making people feel not empowered and not in control.

    Other upcoming activities ...

    The MORE-RAMPS-BMIS Winter Action Camp has an intensive two-day training this weekend that you can still sign up for. This will be an excellent opportunity for people who want more skills in tackling environmental issues. The organizations involved will bring their experiences from working and living in Saint Louis, Appalachia, and the Navajo and Hopi Nations and will blast you with all sorts of knowledge and skills. This really is a rare opportunity and I would highly recommend attending if you can!

    And for those that are interested in more spectacular things ... There are some particular local corporations that are guilty of a great deal of environmental devastation that are no doubt gearing up security measures and having chats with local law enforcement. While police lines protecting corporations that are culpable for the most violence and destruction in this society is passé, there may be some fun surprises in store for those that keep their eyes peeled in the upcoming days. January is for having fun!

    Thursday, January 3, 2013

    STL Climate Change Year in Review - Drought, Cease-and-Desists, and Acción!

    Hello everyone.

    Have you enjoyed your nice turkey dinners? Have you enjoyed / endured your families? Have you done away with your ironic Christmas sweaters and steeled yourself for the reality of the new year? Time for resolutions and reflection and etc.!

    2012 was a bit of a doozy for climate change shenanigans. Globally we had the Doha climate talks and record high carbon emissions, nationally we had many environmentalists nearly weep with joy since Obama was still physically capable of speaking the words "climate change" (acting on it appropriately still a different matter), regionally we suffered from one of the worst droughts in US history, and locally Saint Louis still reigns supreme as CO2 Emissions HQ.

    Also locally, concerned groups and individuals have continued to hammer at Peabody Energy, the world's largest coal company, for its unique role as a perpetrator of climate change. Unions and environmental groups took aim at the tax-dodging polluter at its shareholder meeting as part of the 99% Spring. The city-wide sustainable future ballot initiative has taken off, and 2012 also saw the first concerted targeting of institutions in Saint Louis that provide cover for or legitimize what Peabody does. The message is that cities are not havens or playgrounds for powerful, polluting corporate interests.

    Lots-o'-laughs, bit of police state and corporate intimidation, and new strong relationships formed ... but what's the point? How do you know you're doing anything useful? Well one way to measure success is by the reaction of the interests you are opposing. Peabody Energy was nice enough to acknowledge in the kindest terms (by way of a cease-and-desist letter) the work that a number of people in Saint Louis have been doing:

    It's hard to interpret this cease-and-desist letter as anything other than a glowing review and so we were delighted to accept it. Because they are so supportive, Peabody should know that "disruption of its annual shareholders meeting, vandalism of one of its billboards, ... and an untruthful claim" regarding one of its "philanthropic partners" is just a preview of what's headed their way this year. Until they take the keen business advice given to them by some disruptive shareholders of not existing, then their continued exploitation of people and the planet will be brought to light in potentially unflattering ways.

    Of course Peabody is really just a collection of legal documents, folks collecting paychecks, and executives capable of the normal sort of cognitive dissonance-enabled death wishes needed in order to satisfy their shareholders while avoiding reality. The struggle is broader than a handful of corporations, and there will be plenty of discussion to go around on how best to address climate change (see below for such opportunities). Anyone can get involved!

    So what's some stuff going on right now??!?....

    The STL Sustainable Energy Future Ballot Initiative is on its way to collecting the requisite number of signatures to get on the next ballot for a city-wide vote. No longer will giant extractive industries (or their lobbyists and lawyers) be able to get tax breaks from a city that needs to get its head on straight about who should benefit from such tax breaks. There are signature-gathering caravans heading out regularly so if you'd like to get involved then contact Arielle at

    MORE, RAMPS, and BMIS are jointly hosting a Winter Action Camp this month. You can still register for a two-day intensive training open to the public on January 19th and 20th (contact for info). In addition to this intensive training there will be a community-wide discussion on January 21st at 7 PM at the SEUI Office (5585 Pershing Ave) to address what should be done on the ground to confront climate change. This discussion will go beyond the usual suspects of what's generally offered as a solution to climate change and allow for people to get informed and get empowered.

    On a personal note, because climate change is the most important issue in my life, I spend a great amount of time trying to figure out how to convey my thoughts on the matter. Am I being too radical or not radical enough? Am I being too preachy or am I not being honest about what I know is at stake? Am I not acknowledging the high amount of privilege I have to be able to say and do things I think are necessary? How should I appeal to every type of person? I really don't like writing, and I hate "messaging."

    I don't know what it takes to convince anyone reading this to act for the preservation of the environment. I can relate personal stories, I can give dire facts, I can share what gives me hope, but I don't know what of that will work. And so what I would ask is that you take the time to consider your actions, and constantly reassess what is best for you to do, and to be honest when doing so. I beg that you do this, because so far what we have been doing collectively as a species is not working, and we are running out of time. I have reason to believe that we can succeed, and I know that you don't have to feel powerless. You're not.