Rallies planned in all 50 state capitols Sat. Feb. 26 12 noon.
Updates on Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio uprisings; Michigan, Boston, New York City, Atlanta protests
Indiana GOPers Pull Union-Busting Bill
Here’s a run-down on events and key analysis on the fast-moving events in Wisconsin’s state capitol — and nationwide.
February 21, 2011 |
(VOD editor: the following updates as published by Alternet have been re-arranged to emphasize national spread of Wisconsin uprising and protests planned for this Sat. Feb. 26.)
The groups are planning “Save the American Dream” rallies in all 50 state capitals for Saturday at noon (local time). You can find out more about the rallies here.
|Saturday, 26 Feb 2011, 12:00 PM||The Rally to Save the American dream
Lansing State Capitol
232 registered participant(s) (1000 maximum)
100 South Capitol Ave
Lansing, MI 48922
Directions: Steps of the State Capitol Building
Hosted by Carlos Whitmore
Description This Saturday, we will stand together to Save the American Dream. We demand an end to the attacks on worker’s rights, a focus on the creation of decent jobs for the millions of people who are out of work, and that the rich and powerful pay their fair share.
Share this event on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=204818579532575
Nationwide protests are scheduled for this Saturday to fight back against balancing the budget on the backs of working people while corporate America shelters hundreds of billions in potential tax revenues. Find out more at US Uncut.
Over at the HuffPo, Van Jones argues that we may be seeing the emergence of a new movement centered on social and economic justice.
Reinvigorated by the idealism and fighting spirit on display right now in America’s heartland, the movement for “hope and change” has a rare, second chance. It can renew itself and become again a national force with which to be reckoned.
Over the next hours and days, all who love this country need to do everything possible to spread the “spirit of Madison” to all 50 states. This does not mean we need to occupy 50 state capitol buildings; things elsewhere are not yet that dire. But this weekend, the best of America should rally on the steps of every statehouse in the union.
Moveon.org and others have issued just this kind of call to action; everyone should prioritize responding and turning out in large numbers.
On Saturday, the powers-that-be (in both parties) should see a rainbow force coming together: organized workers, business leaders, veterans, students and youth, faith leaders, civil rights fighters, women’s rights champions, immigrant rights defenders, LGBTQ stalwarts, environmentalists, academics, artists, celebrities, community activists, elected officials and more — all standing up for what’s right.
Update: Big news out of Indiana, as the Indianapolis Star reports that GOP lawmakers have pulled their controversial right-to-work-for-lower-wages bill. They’ll send it to a committee for further study. But the Dems who fled the state will not return yet “because they have additional issues they want resolved.”
Last night they issued a statement saying they had concerns about 11 bills, including other labor-related bills, education reforms and the proposed next state budget. They singled out two in particular: the right-to-work bill and one which lets state tax dollars pay for private school tuition for some families.
Update: Solidarity rallies are being held across the country. In Boston, the local NPR station reports that “union members and Tea Party supporters clashed over the stalemate 1,200 miles away, between teachers and the governor of Wisconsin.”
TPM reports that a conservative deputy attorney general in Indiana took to Twitter and called for Madison police to use live ammunition to end the protests in the capitol. “[A]gainst thugs physically threatening legally-elected state legislators & governor?” he tweeted in an exchange with a Mother Jones editor. “You’re damn right I advocate deadly force.”
He’s not alone. A rally to show solidarity with the protesters in Wisconsin is being held at 4 pm today at the Gold Dome in Atlanta, and the Journal-Constitution points to another threat of right-wing intimidation posted on the hard-right Free Republic.
If you are within three hours drive of ATL, come join us. Dan and others from RTC will be there, with the usual accoutrements. As always, each participant is responsible for compliance with all applicable local laws.”
Congressman Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, spent three hours greeting workers and union members who gathered in 26 degree temperatures around the Ohio State Capitol to protect their right to organize. He called it, “a defining moment in the history of our state that will determine the rights of workers for years to come.”
“The hundreds of workers who I personally spoke to feel betrayed. The federal government has no hesitation to hand out billions to Wall Street, but when it comes to workers there is an effort in Ohio and other states to destroy the right to bargain collectively,” said Kucinich.
“This is the beginning of a long and drawn out battle between state government’s corporate philosophy and the workers. I am proud to stand on the side of the workers.”
CNN estimates 10-15,000 protesters in Columbus, Ohio. There are reportedly 1,500 at a protest in Canton.
Via Twitter, Matt Stoller sends this pic of a demo he describes as a “Fairly large block-long Cheesehead rally outside Fox News” headquarters in New York:
Update (by AlterNet staff): “Existential struggle”
A New York Times editorial calls the protests in Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio an “existential struggle” between organized labor and conservatives trying to decimate a major force behind Democratic victories and a hindrance to the right-wing agenda.
The piece points out that in the past, conservative politicians in states with strong unions have generally left them alone, but that “changed this year after wealthy conservatives poured tens of millions of dollars into the election campaigns of hard-right candidates like Mr. Kasich and Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin.” These include the right-wing billionaire Koch brothers, as Adele Stan reported on AlterNet.
If the stand-off were really about the states’ budget woes, the piece points out, Gov. Scott Walker would have agreed to negotiate by now — union leaders have offered a ton of concessions, including using up more of workers’ wages for pension costs and upping their health insurance payments. But Walker refuses to negotiate. The NYT concludes:
His true priority is stripping workers of collective-bargaining rights and reducing their unions to a shell. The unions would no longer be able to raise money to oppose him, as they did in last year’s election, easing the way for future Republicans as well.
The game is up when unionized state workers demonstrate a sense of shared sacrifice but Republican lawmakers won’t even allow them a seat at the table. For unions and Democrats in the Midwest, this is an existential struggle, and it is one worth waging.
Update (by AlterNet staff): Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) has called on Obama to join the protesters in Wisconsin. Ellison went on MSNBC last night, and said that he would “like to hear more from President Obama” and that the President should “should come to Wisconsin and stand with the workers.”
Update (by AlterNet staff): The AP is reporting that the Wisconsin state Assembly has reached a deal that will force a vote on Gov. Scott Walker’s union-busting legislation. After some 43 hours of deliberation, state Democrats agreed “to limit the number of remaining amendments and time spent on each in order to reach a vote on the union rights bill sometime later in the day.” So the vote is coming up later in the day, but the state’s lawmakers have to track down the 14 senators who defected from the state last week in protest of Walker’s union-busting bill. As we mentioned earlier, state troopers have been deployed to the senators’ homes. According to the AP, “The lawmakers can’t be arrested, but Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said he hoped the move would pressure them to return. He would not say how many Democrats were being targeted, but said it was more than one.” As of Thursday, the defecting senators continued to refuse to return until Gov. Walker compromised on his bill. “It’s not so much the Democrats holding things up, it’s really a matter of Gov. Walker holding things up,” said Democratic Sen. Jon Erpenbach, who fled to the Chicago area.
Update (by AlterNet staff): Yesterday, Gov. Scott Walker admitted to plotting to trick the missing Democratic lawmakers into returning to the Capitol. Walker said he’d draw Democrats back by pretending to want to talk, then make use of a loophole that would let Republicans hold a quorum without the Democrats present. (Walker admitted this to liberal blogger Ian Murphy from the Buffalo Beast, who posed as right-wing billionaire David Koch in a hilarious prank). His plan exposed, the Governor has resorted to a different strategy: sending state patrol officers to the homes of the missing Democrats to put pressure on them to return, the AP reports.
The Democrats are holding strong though. According to the AP, “Democratic Sen. Jon Erpenbach says all 14 [of the missing Democrats] are out of state and won’t be returning Thursday.”
Update (by AlterNet staff): Wisconsin could lose $46 million in federal funds thanks to Walker’s anti-union bill, explains Joan McCarter from DailyKos: “His budget and transportation officials have informed him that he’d could be forfeiting millions in transportation funding from the federal government if his anti-union legislation is signed into law.”
Update (by AlterNet staff): Cops called on unwelcome Tea Party activist hunting for Wisconsin Dems at hotel in Harvard, Illinois.
Update (by AlterNet staff): Milwaukee police are sending a unit to Madison — From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
A “Major Incident Response Team” from the Milwaukee Police Department will be sent to Madison to help maintain order at the state Capitol, the department announced Wednesday.
The 37-member unit will be deployed in response to a mutual aid request from the state Department of Administration, according to a police department news release.
The Capitol has been the scene of massive demonstrations by opponents of Gov. Scott Walker’s budget-repair bill.
“Our officers will assist in insuring that the rights of all parties in this debate are respected and protected,” said Milwaukee Police Chief Edward A. Flynn.
Just as they’ve done in Wisconsin and Indiana, as an Illinois state rep Abe Lincoln once fled the state house — exiting out a window — to prevent a vote on a controversial bill. But all week, conservatives — as well as a few confused pseudo-liberals — have been advancing the argument that when a minority in a legislature uses parliamentary procedures it’s some kind of assault on democracy. There’s even an effort underway to recall the 14 Wisconsin senators who left the state last week.
Today, Think Progress reports that not all conservatives have bought into this argument.
Yesterday, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) defended his state’s vanished senators, saying their fleeing is “perfectly legitimate“:
Daniels, a Republican, said earlier Tuesday he supported the Democrats’ right to deny Republicans a quorum to do business and the rights of labor unions to protest at the Statehouse.
“The activities of today are perfectly legitimate part of the process,” he said. “Even the smallest minority, and that’s what we’ve heard from in the last couple days, has every right to express the strength of its views and I salute those who did.”
Today, appearing on conservative radio host Laura Igraham’s show, Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) — who has been one of Walker’s most reliable defenders and whom Walker says he talks to “everyday” — refused to condemn the senators’ actions or Daniels’ comments, saying to a displeased Ingraham, “If you were there, you might end up walking out the chamber too!”
In Michigan, the House passed the Republicans’ “emergency measure” (VOD editor: see upcoming VOD story), which will now be taken up in the state senate.
Earlier, we brought you the story of a far-right deputy attorney general in Indiana who urged Wisconsin cops to use live ammo on protesters. Today, he was fired. Good riddance.
Michigan’s right-wing governor hasn’t introduced a bill to break his state’s unions, but local law-makers are warily eyeing another “emergency measure” being sold as an answer to the state’s fiscal problems. The proposal on the table would allow “emergency financial managers” appointed by the state to simply nullify union contracts.
Democratic lawmakers aren’t pleased. And, as the Michigan Political Report notes, “Detroit has strong and vocal unions that won’t take kindly to a state appointee tearing up their contracts.” “I think the push back that you see in Wisconsin will look like a tea party compared to what you’ll see in Detroit with our strong union representation marching on Lansing — if the intent is to break union contracts,” Detroit City Councilman Gary Brown told a local radio show on Monday. (Ed.—wish that HAD been the case, the push back was pitiful. VOD story coming shortly.)
CBS reports that “hundreds of Detroiters converged on the state capital to protest pending legislation, including a bill that would broaden the powers of emergency financial managers.”
Update (by AlterNet staff):
Ethics watchdog CREW is requesting an investigation into Scott Walker’s use of the Wisconsin State Patrol by ordering the (WSP) to the home of Democratic Senate Leader Matt Miller:
“Governor Walker has many tools at his disposal to fight the state’s public employees, but using troopers to track down a political opponent crosses the line,” said CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan. Sloan continued, “The governor’s conduct is especially egregious in light of a Wisconsin law specifically barring troopers from taking part in any dispute between an employer and employee over wages, hours, labor, or working conditions — the subject of the governor’s bill.”
Update (by AlterNet staff): Gov. Walker issues new ultimatum. Wisconsin Journal Sentinel: “Walker also said that if Senate Democrats do not return to the Capitol to debate his budget-repair bill by the end of the week, layoff notices will go out to 1,500 state employees, and additional state jobs could be on the line.”
Update (by AlterNet staff): House Dem Keith Ellison compares Gov. Scott Walker to a “dictator.” Via Raw Story, “Ellison accused Walker of having ‘a vision of America that’s similar to somewhere like Nigeria or Pakistan,’ saying he’s ‘been extreme, radical, reckless… and he’s going to fail.’
Update (by AlterNet staff):
Buffalo Beast’s Ian Murphy does an interview with Salon about his widely-reported prank call with Gov. Scott Walker pretending to be Tea Party sugar daddy David Koch (see AlterNet’s coverage of the call):
“I wasn’t expecting to actually get through. I was wildly unprepared,” Murphy says.
Murphy simply called Walker’s office, saying he was Koch, and was ultimately connected with Walker’s chief of staff, Keith Gilkes. “The most ridiculous thing to me is when I get on line with the chief of staff and he wanted to take my number down, and I said I couldn’t give it to him because my maid Maria had thrown my phone into the washing machine,” Murphy says.
According to the Washington Times, “Dozens of leaders of the tea party movement have come out in support of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in his standoff with Democrats and public-sector unions over the state’s budget deficit.”
That sentence is telling. The battle is not, in fact, “over the state’s budget deficit,” as those confused tea partiers have been led to believe; among other things, it gives the governor the power to sell off state-owned infrastructure — possibly to his well-heeled patrons — in a no-bid process. As we reported below, government watch-dogs call that a major “red flag.” It also contains a provision that centralizes power over the state’s public health programs iwith a measure that the legislature’s legal analyst warns may be a violation of the separation of powers doctrine.
So, these folks who believe in transparency and “cleaning up” the state house are being sold on a “deficit reduction” bill, but they’re in fact fighting for a bill that would be ripe for Big Government corruption and what may be an un-Constitutional centralization of power. Telling.
Over at the National Journal, Tim Fernholz has a nice run-down of why Scott Walker’s union-busting bill offers a classic example of bait-and-switch:
While Walker argues that his budget-repair legislation must be passed soon to avoid job cuts, the most controversial parts of his bill would have no immediate effect.
The state’s entire budget shortfall for this year — the reason that Walker has said he must push through immediate cuts — would be covered by the governor’s relatively uncontroversial proposal to restructure the state’s debt…
The bill includes a provision that would allow the state to sell or contract out the operation of heating, cooling, and power plants without a bidding process and without consulting the state’s independent utility regulator. Democratic legislators worried aloud that the process would attract abuse, and Jon Peacock, Director of the Wisconsin Budget Project, called the no-bid approach a “red flag.”
The bill also employs “emergency” powers that would allow the governor’s appointed Secretary of Health to redefine the foundations of the state’s Medicaid program, Badgercare, ranging from eligibility to premiums, with only passive legislative review. The attorney in the legislature’s non-partisan reference bureau who prepared the bill warned that a court could invalidate the statute for violating separation of powers doctrine.
The legislation, the lawyer wrote in a “Drafter’s Note” about the bill, would allow the State Department of Health Services to “change any Medical Assistance law, for any reason, at any time, and potentially without notice or public hearing … in addition to eliminating notice and publication requirements, [the changes] would leave the emergency rules in effect without any requirement to make permanent rules and without any time limit.”
Yesterday, we told you about the Gallup poll which found that 61 percent of respondents opposed stripping workers of their right to bargain collectively. Media Matters caught Fox “News” simply reversing the results of the poll.
This wasn’t just an “error” in their graphics, by the way. Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade also made the claim on-air. No wonder protesters are shouting “Fox Lies” this week.
There appears to be some regulations re armed protests on the Washington Street side of the Capitol, so attendees are requested to be flexible in your attire. We will attempt (but no promises) to get some additional clarity regarding the situation and post it here prior to the show.
Jay Bookman of the Constitution explains, “‘RTC’ is an acronym for ‘Right to Carry’ firearms. The advice that ‘attendees are requested to be flexible in your attire’ is apparently a suggestion to keep firearms concealed.
Update (by AlterNet staff): Speaking of right-wing billionaires trying to destroy organized labor … Americans for Prosperity, the right-wing group founded and partly funded by the Koch brothers, is blanketing Wisconsin airwaves with a new ad demonizing teachers and other public employees and slamming Democratic lawmakers who left the state to block a quorum on the anti-union legislation. The AFP blog brags that the group spent $342,200 on the ad buy; it will run both on network and cable TV.
Update: Alex Pareene sums up our own feelings at Salon:
Tonight, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker had a “fireside chat” to dismiss the claims of protesting Wisconsin public employees and the millions of Americans who sympathize with them in their fight to retain collective-bargaining rights.
Walker warned that outside agitators were being shipped in from Nevada and Chicago. He claimed that his union-busting bill was aimed purely at deficit reduction, and not intended as a “battle with unions.” If he’d meant to cripple unions, he said, “we would have eliminated collective bargaining entirely or we would have gone after the private-sector unions.”
“Our bill is about protecting the hardworking taxpayer,” he said. “Unless the taxpayer is a teacher,” he didn’t add. “It’s about Wisconsin families trying to make ends meet and help their children,” he said. “Although I have no idea how any specific family will be helped by depriving state employees of the right to negotiate for benefits,” he also didn’t add.
Economist Dean Baker destroys WaPo columnist (and former Bush speechwriter) Michael Gerson’s anti-union spin:
On the Washington Post opinion pages you can make up anything you like as long as you are using it in an argument against working people. Therefore we get columnist Michael Gerson telling readers that:
“…public employee unions have the unique power to help pick pliant negotiating partners – by using compulsory dues to elect friendly politicians.”
Nope, that is not true in this country. Unions are prohibited from using dues to pay for campaign contributions. (If Mr. Gerson knows of any violations of the law, I’m sure that there are many ambitious prosecutors who would be happy to hear his evidence.) Unions do make contributions to political campaigns, but these are from voluntary contributions that workers make to their union’s PAC. They are not from their union dues.
As Barry Goldwater once said, “making things up in the service of the wealthy is no vice,” or something like that.
Emily Loftus at Mother Jones reports that Indiana’s GOP-dominated state senate passed a measure stripping teachers of their right to bargain collectively. As is the case in Wisconsin, Democratic lawmakers in the House have fled the state to deny Republicans a quorum to vote on the matter — are in an “indefinite” caucus meeting.
The billionaire Koch brothers — major funders of the Tea Parties, Scott Walker’s campaign and much of the Right’s infrastructure — have “quietly” opened a lobbying shop in downtown Madison, according to The Capital Times.
Scott Walker is pushing a hard-right agenda, and the one thing he’s said that is accurate is that this should come as no surprise to anyone who paid attention during his campaign.
David Dayen at Firedoglake noted this today:
I got a sense from Sen. Chris Larson and some others in Wisconsin that the Governor and his Republican allies had run amok in the Capitol before attention was paid to their machinations due to the assault on public workers. But I didn’t realize how bad it was until I saw this come across the transom:
Madison – Today, Governor Scott Walker signed Special Session Assembly Bill 5 which requires a 2/3s vote to pass tax rate increases on the income, sales or franchise taxes.
“I went to work today, met with my cabinet, and signed legislation that will help government operate within its means,” Governor Scott Walker said.
These proposals, which I wrote about in November, allow a minority to hold state legislatures hostage. Law-makers can’t raise taxes when necessary, so they are forced to cut — it’s a method of entrenching conservative policies and making elections moot.
In other words, Walker has already destroyed Wisconsin state government for a generation to come. We learned that the hard way here in California.
According to a new USA Today/ Gallup poll, 61 percent of respondents oppose limits on union bargaining power.
Let’s talk numbers. The National Institute for Retirement Security conducted a study (PDF) using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and came up with this finding:
Benefits make up a slightly larger share of compensation for the state and local sector. But even after accounting for the value of retirement, healthcare, and other benefits, state and local employees earn less than private sector counterparts. On average, total compensation is 6.8% lower for state employees and 7.4% lower for local employees than for comparable private sector employees.
The Economic Policy Institute put out a fact-sheet last week (PDF) that noted that wages in the public sector have grown more slowly than they has for comparable workers in the private:
The total growth of inflation-adjusted wages for high school educated workers in the private sector between 1989 and 2010 was 4.8%, slightly faster than the 2.6% wage growth for comparable public employees. This means that inflation-adjusted wages have been essentially flat for two decades for high school educated workers regardless of sector. In contrast, productivity growth, reflecting the increase in the economy’s overall gains, grew 62.5% in the 1989-2010 period.
For those with a bachelor’s degree (but no further education), inflation-adjusted wages grew by 19.5% in the private sector from 1989 to 2010, far more than the 9.5% growth seen by state employees.
A common refrain from people wishing to destroy public employees’ unions is that their workers are ‘demanding more from the tax-payers.’ It’s a testament to how confused the Right is about the role of government.
Public employees are not demanding anything from “the taxpayer.” They are workers demanding fair wages from their bosses.
We live in a democracy, and tax-payers get to participate by voting. If, for example, one doesn’t like our public education system, one can vote for a representative who shares his or her view on the subject.
However, a sizable majority of Americans do want a decent public school system. It’s a democracy, so we’ll have public schools. That’s the end of the role of the tax-payer in this story.
Now, our schools need to hire teachers, and those teachers are workers, and our school system is their employer. They’re not making any demands on the tax-payer — the tax-payers role was deciding to have public education in the first place. And the same can be said of garbage collection, law enforcement or anything else the public sector does.
Here’s The Uptake on Scott Walker threatening layoffs if he doesn’t get his way today:
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker said today if his proposal to eliminate collective bargaining on all issues but pay does not become law, Wisconsin will need to layoff 1,500 state employees. As Walker spoke to the media, thousands of protesters converged on the Capitol, eventually becoming so loud that they could be heard where the Governor was.
Walker said there was “no room for compromise” on the collective bargaining issue. “We’re broke”, said Walker.
Read on to see how mendacious this claim really is — the state isn’t broke and stripping workers of their right to negotiate would result in insignificant savings for the state budget.
The United States’ last general strike — with workers from different industries all walking out at once — occurred in 1934. They’re illegal under the Taft-Hartley Act enacted in the 1940s.
But last night, the Madison AFL-CIO local issued a press release raising that possibility:
Motion 1: The SCFL endorses a general strike, possibly for the day Walker signs his “budget repair bill,” and requests the Education Committee immediately begin educating affiliates and members on the organization and function of a general strike.
Motion 2: The SCFL goes on record as opposing all provisions contained in Walker’s “budget repair bill,” including but not limited to, curtailed bargaining rights and reduced wages, benefits, pensions, funding for public education, changes to medical assistance programs, and politicization of state government agencies.
Mike Elk notes that because of Taft-Hartley, “the key word is the phrase ‘begin educating affiliates and members on the organization and function of a general strike’.
Many private sector unions would not go out on a general strike out of fear of being of sued by their employers. However, local labor observers say many public sector unions and some of the construction unions would go out on a strike. Threatening a general strike creates even more pressure for Scott Walker in the business community.
A major protest is being organized in Columbus, Ohio this afternoon. Ohio Dems:
Now is the time. If ever there was a time to show up, stand up and let our voices be heard, it is now. The fate of Ohio’s middle class is on the line at the Ohio Statehouse.
[Today,] the legislature is scheduled to move on Senate Bill 5, a bill that would strip away collective bargaining rights, hurt the middle class, kill jobs and destroy communities. I want to invite you to come to the Statehouse in Columbus on Tuesday to voice your opposition to this bill. Please click here and let us know that you can attend.
It’s day 2 of labor’s show-down against “right to work for lower wages” legislation in Indiana. As they have in Wisconsin, Democratic lawmakers have left the state to prevent a vote. According to the Indianapolis Star-Tribune, Democrats are headed to Illinois, though it was possible some also might go to Kentucky.
They need to go to a state with a Democratic governor to avoid being taken into police custody and returned to Indiana.
The House was came into session this morning, with only two of the 40 Democrats present. Those two were needed to make a motion, and a seconding motion, for any procedural steps Democrats would want to take to ensure Republicans don’t do anything official without quorum.
Hundreds of workers are reportedly staging a sit-in outside the capitol building.
Wisconsin Dems say Walker has cut off internet access to opposition websites in the capitol building. Maybe calling him “Hosni Walker” isn’t so uncivil after all.
The more we learn about Scott Walker and his proposal, the clearer it becomes that this has little, if anything, to do with balancing Wisconsin’s budget.
We reported earlier that Walker single-handedly killed high-speed rail between Milwaukee and Madison, and is trying to establish regulations that would make wind-farms very difficult to set up in Wisconsin. But there’s more to this story, as Dave Johnson reported yesterday for PRWatch. Tucked into Walker’s bill is a provision which allows the sale of “any state−owned heating, cooling, and power plant … with or without solicitation of bids.”
And just who is the likely recipient of no-bid state sales of publicly-owned heating, cooling and power facilities? That would most likely be companies controlled by the brothers David and Charles Koch, owners of Koch Industries, and big financial supporters of Governor Scott Walker. The Koch brothers have also funded groups that are attempting to create a crisis atmosphere over the state’s budget, leading up to the attempt to pass this bill that could result in the low-cost transfer of state assets to their company.
In addition to the Koch brothers being backers and big financial supporters of Governor Walker, they are also primary funders of the Tea Party via their general financial support for Americans for Prosperity, which David Koch Chairs.
So, largely un-reported is this stealthy provision that allows no-bid privatization of state-owned energy infrastructure. And Walker has a history –not a good one — privatizing state agencies. As Mother Jones reported, “as Milwaukee County executive, Walker fought to fire the county’s unionized prison guards and replace them with private contractors.”
Walker’s initial attempt to sweep out unionized prison guards was blocked by the Milwaukee County board. But in March 2010, he unilaterally rammed through the measure under the guise of a budget crisis, a power grab that angered officials in Milwaukee County. To replace the union workers Walker hired Wackenhut, a controversy-riddled British contractor. (It was employees of a Wackenhut subsidiary at the heart of the Kabul embassy scandal, where, as Mother Jones first reported, contractors were revealed to be a crew of drunken, debaucherous hooligans that hazed other contractors and partied like out-of-control frat brothers. Think vodka butt shots.) In another controversy, Wackenhut security guards were videotaped sleeping on the job at a nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania, revelations that shook the industry and resulted in a heap of criticism for the company.
How did it work out in the end? As privatization for its own sake often does, it ended in a (costly) disaster.
Walker’s hiring of Wackenhut quickly became a nightmare. After ramming through the proposal, an arbiter said Walker overreached, and repealed the firing of the unionized prison guards. That arbiter ordered Milwaukee County to rehire the union workers and repay them for the wages they lost, costing the county upwards of $500,000.
Update (by AlterNet Staff):
Yesterday Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker vowed to continue his fight against public employee unions for the sake of the “taxpayers of the state.” But a new poll suggests that Walker is losing public support in his stand-off with Wisconsin’s teachers and other state workers. Here’s a breakdown of a new GQR Research poll by Talking Points Memo:
Sixty-two percent of respondents to the poll said they view public employees favorably, while just 11% said they had an unfavorable view of the workers whose benefits packages Walker says are breaking the state budget.
Meanwhile, just 39% of respondents had a favorable view of Walker, while 49% had an unfavorable view of the freshman Republican governor. Voters are split on his job performance, with 51% saying they disapprove of the job Walker has done.
“Since the protests began, Governor Walker has seen real erosion in his standing,” the GQR pollsters write in their analysis, “with a majority expressing disapproval of his job performance and disagreement with his agenda.”
The poll was sponsored by the AFL-CIO, so there’s a possibility of bias. But as Josh Marshall points out, the polling company is respected.
All of the focus this week has been on Scott Walker’s antipathy towards labor. But at Mother Jones’ Andy Kroll reports, “Walker has a history of striking hard-line positions, and nowhere is that more true than on the most controversial social issue of them all: abortion.”
Walker’s nearly nine-year record in the Wisconsin Assembly, the legislature’s lower house, reads like a pro-life handbook, an all-out assault on abortion rights. What’s more, the many anti-abortion initiatives he backed are perfectly in sync with the assault on reproductive rights now unfolding on the national level, where House Republicans recently gutted funding for Planned Parenthood and controversially tried to redefine “rape” to limit the long-standing exceptions to the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funding for abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or to save a mother’s life.
Last Friday, Walker told a Milwaukee radio station that his state’s public employees right to bargain collectively would be “fully intact” under his proposal. It took some nerve to make the claim, prompting the Journal-Sentinel’s fact-checkers to rate Walker’s claim as a “pants on fire” falsehood.
Many state, local government and public school employees — including those represented by the largest state workers union — have said they would be willing to pay more for pensions and health insurance, as called for in a budget-repair bill introduced by Walker.
But the workers continue to protest provisions in the bill that would restrict most public employee unions to bargaining only over wages, and then only within caps.
It’s the central issue in the protests, which have drawn national attention.
Walker has announced that he will address Wisconsinites in a “fireside chat,” at 6pm on Tuesday evening.
Folks in the Badger State sure love their Packers, and several have come out in support of the protesters. Sports writer Philip Bondy:
Last week, seven current and former Packers – Brady Poppinga, Jason Spitz, Curtis Fuller, Chris Jacke, Charles Jordan, Bob Long and Steve Okoniewski – also expressed support for the public employees. Maybe that doesn’t sound like a revolution, but among athletes this is a considerable step forward in understanding that community extends beyond the goal line. We’ve learned long ago that stars such as Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods would film a thousand commercials before they’d even consider taking a meaningful stand on any social issue.
The sad truth is that politicians are more likely to be swayed by the popularity and fame of professional athletes than they are of any mere worker. The Packers have considerable clout as an institution, even more so now with a Super Bowl trophy in hand. This is a public-owned franchise. Viewed in that light, the Packer players are state employees, not so terribly unlike those picketing along State Street and Capitol Square.
Today, Charles Woodson lent his support to the state’s public workers, prompting former NFL Players’ Association head (and Madison resident) Ed Garvey to note, “Woodson is in a fight with Walker-like NFL owners. He needs his union, we need ours! Thank you, Charles Woodson.”
More on the governor’s broader far-right agenda from the Milwaukee Examiner’s Amy Lou Jenkins.
Wisconsin imports all its coal and oil, yet has the potential to produce all its energy using renewable resources. Scott Walker continues to chase away cleaner energy options. Firmly entrenched in the paradigms of fossil-fuel based automotive transportation, he single-handedly killed high-speed rail between Milwaukee and Madison. Now Walker is setting his sights on killing wind-energy and has has proposed legislation would require wind turbines to be constructed with a 1,800-foot setback from neighboring property lines.
Talking Points Memo reported that Wisconsin Dems and unionists were concerned that the Republican majority had found an end-run around them, and might pass the bill while they remained out of state. But in a subsequent update, Josh Marshall reported, “the Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald is saying he won’t take the legislation up until the Democrats come back.”
The backstory seems to be that there’s a moderate faction among the Republican senators. And they are apparently refusing to go ahead with that approach. We don’t know that latter point for certain yet. But it seems to be the most logical inference to draw from Fitzgerald’s statement. And his clear ruling out of such an option seems to leave the standoff in place, with no clear option for Walker absent some agreement with the Democrats.
Update (by AlterNet Staff):
According to sources on the scene, pro-union protesters were on every floor of the Indiana state house this morning to fight against a union-busting bill similar to that being pushed in Wisconsin. The St. Louis Courier-Dispatch reports, “An Indiana House committee approved legislation Monday to let employees opt out of paying union dues or fees, despite protests from union workers who crowded into the tiny meeting room and yelled and booed as lawmakers voted 8-5 to send the bill to the House floor. The so-called right-to-work bill would ban employers from requiring workers to join unions or pay dues or other fees to unions. Some businesses agree to such fees in contacts with unions.”
Update (by AlterNet Staff): Lauren Kelly draws attention to the bogus Republican “compromise” extended to protesters today:
The news out of Wisconsin today is that the state’s moderate Republicans have tossed out something of a compromise to the protesters. The proposed compromise “calls for most collective bargaining rights of public-employee unions to be eliminated—per Mr. Walker’s bill—but then reinstated in 2013.” The state’s Democrats are rejecting the offer, noting that unions have already compromised enough, having made concessions on their pension and healthcare. As Sen. Jon Erpenbach noted, “If it’s OK to collectively bargain in 2013, why isn’t it OK today?”
One concerns what health care plan teachers sign up for, which is mainly an issue of the Governor seemingly wanting to strip the health care choices of workers (if you like what you have, you can keep it!). The next is some gotcha issue about Viagra in Milwaukee, which state courts ruled against a few years later. The third, and the only state issue, is overtime rules for corrections officers. Somehow I’m not convinced that this is such a scourge. The President of the Wisconsin State Senate didn’t do the job on that either today.
Grasping at straws, that.
Update (by AlterNet Staff): Amid much excellent coverage of the Wisconsin union protests, Paul Krugman’s column in the Times yesterday is worthy of a close read:
[W]hat’s happening in Wisconsin isn’t about the state budget, despite [Wisconsin Governor Scott] Walker’s pretense that he’s just trying to be fiscally responsible. It is, instead, about power. What Mr. Walker and his backers are trying to do is to make Wisconsin — and eventually, America — less of a functioning democracy and more of a third-world-style oligarchy. And that’s why anyone who believes that we need some counterweight to the political power of big money should be on the demonstrators’ side.
Indeed. He goes on:
[I]t’s not about the budget; it’s about the power.
In principle, every American citizen has an equal say in our political process. In practice, of course, some of us are more equal than others. Billionaires can field armies of lobbyists; they can finance think tanks that put the desired spin on policy issues; they can funnel cash to politicians with sympathetic views (as the Koch brothers did in the case of Mr. Walker). On paper, we’re a one-person-one-vote nation; in reality, we’re more than a bit of an oligarchy, in which a handful of wealthy people dominate.
Given this reality, it’s important to have institutions that can act as counterweights to the power of big money. And unions are among the most important of these institutions. You don’t have to love unions, you don’t have to believe that their policy positions are always right, to recognize that they’re among the few influential players in our political system representing the interests of middle- and working-class Americans, as opposed to the wealthy.
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1. Democratic Lawmakers in Exile Want Fair Negotiations
According to the Huffington Post, the Democratic lawmakers who crossed state lines last week to block the passage of Walker’s bill aren’t going to return until the governor agrees to sit down and negotiate in good faith. Monday is the fifth day of their self-imposed exile. “We’ll be here until Gov. Walker decides that he wants to talk,” Sen. Tim Carpenter (D) told Amanda Terkel on Saturday.
He added that so far, the governor refuses to meet with them or even return the phone calls from members of the Democratic caucus.
“He’s just hard-lined — will not talk, will not communicate, will not return phone calls,” said Carpenter. “In a democracy, I thought we were supposed to talk. But the thing is, he’s been a dictator, and just basically said this is the only thing. No amendments, and it’s going to be that way.”
On Sunday, AlterNet posted video of Wisconsin State Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, angrily chastising the GOP majority for pushing Scott Walker’s union-busting bill through without giving lawmakers time to read it or allowing for public hearings of any kind. You can watch it here.
Joshua Holland is an editor and senior writer at AlterNet. He is the author of The 15 Biggest Lies About the Economy (and Everything else the Right Doesn’t Want You to Know About Taxes, Jobs and Corporate America). Drop him an email or follow him on Twitter.