Category: Worker’s rights


Martin Luther King, Jr. (New York Wold-Telegram & Sun Collection, via The Library of Congress and Wikipedia)

Preaching nonviolence, Martin Luther King Jr. was a key figure in the American Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. His career as a civil rights activist began with the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which began in response to Claudette Colvin, who refused to give her bus seat up to a white man, and later, Rosa Parks who was arrested for not giving up her seat. His famous 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech can be recognized by just about any person who hears it as it is one of the most famous speeches by any American ever. His efforts pressured the U.S. government to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that outlawed most forms of discrimination against African Americans. As a result, he became the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize to date.

After his civil rights victories, Martin Luther King Jr. began to press for worker’s rights. In this efforts, he supported unions and cast a wide net, supporting the rights of white and black workers alike, though his final few days were spent during a rally in Memphis in support of black sanitary workers who were sent home on a day with bad weather, receiving 2 hours of pay, though white workers in the same department were compensated for an entire day. There was a lot of tension in the air and there had been death threats against Reverend King and it was on this day in 1968, that he was assassinated, ostensibly by James Earl Ray, and a good deal of work in the areas of human and workers rights remains to be done.

Wikipedia: Martin Luther King Jr.

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser and Assistant State Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg (Madison Capitol Times)

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011 may well be a day in which Wisconsinites take their first major victory against the Tea Party that has attempted to repeal a century of progress in the State Capitol. Expect rather heavy voter turnout for what would otherwise be a rather sleepy spring election for State Supreme Court Justice.

It is almost fitting that the campaign for the seat should involve a solid doctrinaire in the incumbent Prosser, who has made it known that he intends to “complement” Tea Party Governor Scott Walker’s effort. That is hardly the unbiased perspective that one would hope for in a Supreme Court Justice, but it certainly should be expected from the current crop of Republicans in the State Government, who have attempted to bend the law by interpreting it maximally in their favor at every turn. Do as they say, not as they do.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court is sharply divided at the moment, with a 4-3 conservative advantage. This is a very important point, considering that there are sure to be a plethora of legal challenges to Republican bills that attack labor, human rights and environmental regulations. There has been a good deal of sniping between the Justices as well. Most famously, Justice Prosser called the current Chief Justice, Shirley Abrahamson, a ‘bitch’ and threatened to destroy her. Again, this is not conducive either toward impartial judgement, nor toward a well-functioning Supreme Court. A vote for Kloppenburg could change the dynamic of the court, removing one of the key problem Justices in order to create a more harmonious court.

The long list of tirades, questionable campaign behavior and political machinations of the Prosser campaign demonstrate the urgent need for his replacement. But do not take our word for it, watch the March 22nd and the March 28th debates between Kloppenburg and Prosser yourself.

So Wisconsin, here is your first chance to turn back the forces that are arrayed against you. Wisconsin’s Winter has been spent in the cold outside the Capitol protesting the redaction of the rights of workers. Wisconsin’s Spring begins with the first replacement of a Supreme Court Justice who, rather than decide on cases impartially, has publicly state where he stands: With Walker’s repeal of union and labor rights. Good luck everyone, go to the polls and VOTE KLOPPENBURG!

Ex-Lobbyist Valerie Cass (Left), Wisconsin State Senator Randy Hopper (R-Fond du Lac) (Right) (Republican Family Values)

As the brouhaha over Governor Walker’s Budget “Repair” Bill continues, more and more details about just the sort of dealings that Republicans have brought to the Wisconsin state government. Meanwhile, we also learn just how similar the Tea Party candidates are across the country.

Err…Pay for Play?

Senator Hopper has had a rough time since it came out that he has been living outside of his district with a 25-year old ex-lobbyist after abandoning his wife. More has been revealed about the details of the new job his mistress, Valerie Cass. After leaving her lobbying group, Persuasion Partners, Ms. Cass landed a nice job working with the Walker Administration. (Persuasion Partners is the lobby firm that caters to a number of other prominent Wisconsin Republicans including Governor Walker and Attorney General Van Hollen.) As it happens, she received a remarkable pay increase over her predecessor – earning fully one-third more with a total salary of $43,200 per year.

Appealing the hold on the Budget “Repair” Bill

When Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen submitted his petition to appeal the recent Dane County court ruling that blocked the enactment of the anti-union bill, he did something interesting: He did so in the name of Secretary of State Douglas La Follette. The problem with the petition is that Sec. La Follette was never consulted prior to the Attorney General’s filing the petition. Says La Follette:

“The circuit court that entered the Temporary Restraining Order has scheduled a March 29, 2011 hearing to determine whether the Wisconsin open meetings law was violated. I intend to fulfill the public trust in my office by abiding by the Temporary Restraining Order, by respecting the court’s decision and by allowing the judicial process to reach a conclusion regarding 2011 Wisconsin Act 10.”

The claim Van Hollen makes is that the judge had no authority to review the case. However Ismael Ozanne, the Dane County District Attorney who filed for the injunction against the bill, responded to the Attorney General’s actions:

“If the attorney general’s office had its way, no court could overturn a law even if everyone agrees that the state legislature violated every requirement of the states open meetings law”

And more:

“Nothing in the open meetings law limits the authority of a court, in the appropriate case, to enjoin publication of legislation that results from a violation of the open meetings law, so long as the balancing of public interests supports that outcome.”

Running to end the office

Another Republican in Wisconsin State Government, State Treasurer Kurt Schuller, ran for the office of State Treasurer so that he could end the office. Among the duties of the State Treasurer, according to Article X of the Wisconsin Constitution, includes the Treasurer’s duty to oversee the proceeds of the appraisal and sale of public properties including school and University lands. The Treasurer also oversees the $3.1 billion state investment pool, tracks unclaimed property within the state and runs a state-run college savings program.

Schuller has a problem though. According to the Wisconsin State Journal, Schuller was hoping to “be active and visible and possibly build a credible political resume that shows the voters I can serve in the public interest, then hopefully run for another political office.” Now Schuller is in the uncomfortable position of having run to eliminate his office, only to realize once he is there that he would like to expand his current budget.

Governor Walker’s first attack against Wisconsin’s Domestic Partnership Law

After the state of Wisconsin approved a law that provides limited rights for same-sex couples to live and work in the state, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen refused to enforce and protect the law, despite the law’s importance in protecting the rights of a large minority of the state’s citizens. Because of the Attorney General’s refusal to protect established law, then-Governor Doyle hired a law firm, Cullen Weston Pines & Bach, to protect the law against political attacks. Now Governor Walker has fired that law firm. In response, Pines says:

“Gov. Walker is ideologically opposed to equal rights for gay and lesbian and transgendered people as is everyone in his administration as far as I can tell and they will be probably want to take steps to ensure that gay and lesbian and transgendered people do not have equal rights.”

“Everything that Gov. Walker is doing is ideological. I don’t see that his administration has any particular respect for the law per se.”

How the Wisconsin Republicans have worked together so far

A recent article in the Wisconsin State Journal show the types of comments and ideas that were bandied about to retaliate against the 14 Democratic Senators who left the state in order to allow a number of issues to come to light. On February 20, a legal aide of Scott Fitzgerald said, “I say we not only make it hurt for them, we have to make it hurt for their staff as well,” an interesting attitude considering that none of the interns who work for the Dems would have had any say in their decision to leave. The draconian nature of the punitive actions proposed and enacted by the Republicans has led to ethics complaints against Scott Fitzgerald by groups such as the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics.

Reaction to the Republicans

Recall efforts against incumbent Republicans continue well ahead of schedule. Meanwhile, more and more attention is focusing on electing Kloppenburg against the Supreme Court Justice who has argued that he intends to “complement” Governor Walker’s actions against the citizens of the state. The election is coming up on April 5th – be sure to register ahead of time! Good luck Kloppenburg!

Minnesota State Capitol (rbw)

Good news and bad news: Bad news first

As part of the nationwide Republican efforts to undermine public education, Minnesota House Member Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington), who is Chair of the House Education Committee, plans to eliminate state funding for programs that promote racial integration in Minnesota schools. The programs, which in Minneapolis provide some $480 per year per student, are intended to close the achievement gap between racial minorities in the classroom. Worse, Garofalo’s plan would re-work the formulae used to determine funding levels in state schools. The results could end up taking money from under-funded schools and give that money to schools that are already well-funded.

MinnPost reports:

Speaker Kurt Zellers said House Republicans are working “hand in glove” on both the state’s $5 billion budget deficit and on a “fundamental change in how we deliver government.”

Republicans highlighted efforts to streamline state agencies, improve the use of technology and consolidate operations, but the only specific figure was a $172 million savings from a proposed 15 percent state workforce reduction.

Indeed. The Republicans in Minnesota, just as in many other states are seeking to end government’s ability to deliver services.

In fact, the Minnesota State Government has published its bi-annual Tax Incidence Report. It reports a heavily regressive tax burden within the state, even when compared with historical averages. According to the report, the effective state tax rate for a member of the top 1% of income earners within Minnesota was 9.7% in 2008. Meanwhile, the effective tax rate for the poor is 32.5%. Hence, the wealthy are not paying their fair share in taxes.

Yet, the Republicans are also looking to slash funding for the state Medicaid programs, especially programs geared toward the poor and the infirm.

But that is not all. The Republicans are waging all-out war on the poor. Representatitve Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) has introduced a bill that would prevent those who use government assistance EBT cards from withdrawing cash on the cards at ATMs above – get this – $20 per month. The bill, H.F. 171, would also create problems because one of the reasons that people are now able to use the cards to withdraw cash is that many stores are not connected to the state EBT system.

$20 is not even enough to purchase a Minnesota Drivers license (current price – $43). And there are already Republican proposals to require a photo-ID in voting.

In addition, the bill appears to make it illegal for people under the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP) to carry cash at all! Nor could they put any money into a checking or savings account.

Crooks and Liars relates testimony of Angel Buechner, from the Welfare Rights Committee, referring to the efforts of the Republicans on the House Health and Human Services Reform Committee:

“We’ll leave you with this. It is not right to punish a whole group because of the supposed actions of a few. You in this room could have a pretty rough time if that was the case. It is not right to stigmatize and dehumanize women living the hard life of trying to raise children while living 60% below the poverty level. It is not right to use racist, bumper-sticker hate to inflict human misery for political gain.”

Where would the sort of thinking that would make it illegal for poor people to carry cash come from? Well, let’s take a look at a Republican strategy meeting that too place at the conservative Hudson Institute to find out. There, National Review editor Kate O’Beirne suggested that the parents of children on school lunch programs were “child abusers”, because they can not afford a meal. “What poor excuse for a parent can not put together a bowl of cereal and a banana?” as she puts it. She argues that despite the fact that more and more families across the nation are finding it difficult to make ends meet (due to conservative economic policies), that there is no national solution to the problem because it is not “in Washington’s interests” to solve the crisis of child poverty. Perhaps that is because for her, national interests are solely geared toward tax cuts for the wealthy and wars abroad to fight over resources.

Republicans discuss public education and decry school lunch programs (Crooks and Liars)

Another panelist at this hearing said that safety in schools could not be guaranteed because, despite the national scope of the problem, it should not fall under the purview of the federal government. Yes, he essentially makes those two very statements one right after the other. That is the sort of callous bastard that is driving the economic and educational policy of the Republican Party right now.

Some good news…

Luckily, the press is beginning to ask some pointed questions, because Republican Party policies are currently being driven by their corporate benefactors who believe that the sole reason for the existence of the government is to load their own coffers. That is precisely why Republicans would begrudge the poor of any money to spend and why they believe that school lunch programs as a waste of money, despite the fact that they have been shown to improve student performance and help to increase upward mobility in society. There is a way to prevent corporations from holding such a grip on the political process that the process would realign itself to work against the interests of citizens.

Minnesota Democrats have introduced bills in the House and the Senate to rectify the problem. The bills, S.F. 683 and H.F. 914 would amend the Minnesota Constitution to define “person” to mean a “natural person”.

The distinction between “person” and “natural person” is vitally important. British common law has always made a distinction between “natural persons” (meaning people) and “artificial persons” (meaning organizations like churchs, businesses, etc.). Well, the Citizens United decision effectively eliminated the many of those distinctions by allowing corporations to spend an unlimited amount of money on elections. And they did. Now we can see how that has effected the political process. We now have people cutting back on schools so that big companies – already earning record profits – can earn more in tax breaks.

Minnesota is no different in this regard than other parts of the country. A recent article by the Star Tribune highlights the largest lobbying efforts in Saint Paul for 2010. More than $3 million in big business lobbying expenses arose that year and $1.8 million (60%) was due to the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce alone. Big business is trying to buy the political process.

Author Thom Hartmann discusses corporate personhood (The Daily Take, RT)

So be sure to contact your Minnesota State Senators and House Representatives to give support to S.F. 683 and H.F. 914 in order to help the constitutional amendments to come to fruition. You had better believe that they will meet with strong resistance from the Republicans who currently hold majorities in the House and Senate.

Scott Walker at a press conference, February 28th (MinnPost)

Scott Walker’s lie to the Press is exposed

Now that Governor Walker has released thousands of emails that he claimed supported his efforts to strip unions of their collective bargaining rights, we find that Scott Walker harbors an interesting perspective on support. The vast majority of the emails are decidedly against his plan, which indicates that he was lying to the press when he claimed the opposite. Then, after the largest protests to that point, he argued that he was getting even more support, which made the lie even worse. It was therefore predictable that Walker would fail to respond to the Madison Isthmus’Freedom of Information Act request to see the emails. When the Isthmus filed suit, Walker capitulated, but managed to negotiate a settlement in which there would be no allegation of wrongdoing, despite the fact that a breach of the Freedom of Information Act is a violation of federal law. Walker’s office will pay legal fees for the case totalling some $7,000.

So what was the level of support for Walker’s policies? According to the Houston Chronicle, the vast majority of the emails are against. Here is a sample from the Chronicle:

“Your handling of the current situation in Madison is an embarrassment to the people of Wisconsin. You appear to be an ignorant puppet and I am ashamed to have you as governor of the state I call home,” wrote a person who said he lived in Wisconsin and is married to a teacher.

Another email compared him to “maggot puke”. Here is another, posted by the Chronicle:

“WHY ARE YOU TRYING TO TAKE WHAT WE HAVE WORKED SO HARD FOR? WE ALL HAVE FAMILIES AND HAVE CHILDREN OF OUR OWN TO FEED! TIMES ARE HARD ENOUGH WITH THE ECONOMY THE WAY IT IS!”

In Walker’s defense, there were a few letters of support, though they were outnumbered by views opposing him.

Judge blocks anti-union measure

Dane County District Judge Maryann Sumi has blocked a Wisconsin Secretary of State Doug La Follette (who has already held back signing as long as legally possible) from signing the anti-union law signed by Governor Walker last Friday. The judge ruled that the passage of the bill in the state Senate violated the state’s Open Meetings Law, which require 24 hours public notice except in cases of an emergency. Dane County Distrcit Attorney Ismael Ozanne successfully argued that there was no cause for an emergency in the passage of the law.

In her ruling, Judge Sumi said, “Some may wonder how something as minor as failure to (properly) notify the public really stops this bill in its tracks. My answer is, it’s not minor,” referring to the importance of open and fair procedures in government.

The ruling is certain to be met with more legal challenges by the Republicans.
When the Democrats filed for an injunction, they filed with the Dane Country District Attorney as well as with the State Attorney General, J.B. Van Hollen. After this initial ruling by Judge Sumi, the Capitol Times is reporting that Van Hollen will appeal the restraining order against the signing of the anti-collective bargaining bill. But according to the Capitol Times, because the ruling was a “non-final order,” the Attorney General will have to “petition the court for permission to file an appeal.”

Attorney J.B. Van Hollen is a client of the same conservative lobby group, Persuasion Partners, as Governor Walker. Persuasion Partners gained public notoriety when an ex-lobbyist for the group was found to be the mistress of a State Senator, Randy Hopper, who is currently facing recall action. The group also has corporate and third party clients such as Americans for Prosperity, a public advocacy group that is funded by the Koch brothers. That Van Hollen would attempt to defend the anti-union measure should not be considered a surprise.

What can be done? Well… Contact Attorney General Van Hollen to let him know what you think about his defense of stripping collective bargaining rights from workers. Van Hollen can be reached through the Wisconsin Department of Justice here:

Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen
114 East State Capitol
Madison, WI 53707-7857
Phone: (608) 266-1221
Fax: (608) 267-2779

When you contact Van Hollen, remind him that he could be subject to a recall. Here is how to recall J.B. Van Hollen. Defending Wisconsin is a new organization that is already seeking to recall Van Hollen.

Budget Proposal

The next battle in the Wisconsin Legislature will involve Governor Walker’s budget proposal. The plan still includes provisions to sell state-owned power plants in no-bid contracts so that they can become privatized. The state would then purchase power from the plants at a higher cost, which instead of going back to the state would then go to the coffers of a private firm such as Koch Industries.

Other provisions in the budget proposal would violate federal law. Walker is proposing to eliminate municipal stormwater standards to abrogate the Clean Water Act. The provision has been supported across the country by Koch Industries, a major polluter worldwide.

Despite a growing population, the budget would also end growth in the state Medicaid program, by hacking $500 million in spending over the next two years. This would entail dropping up to 50,000 Wisconsin residents from the Medicaid program.

Education, however, takes the biggest hit – nearly $1 billion in cuts – in addition to at to local municipalities. That measure would eviscerate education within the state and it would force a number of schools to close. Even if the budget were not enacted as it currently is, a good deal of damage to the state’s education system has already been done because of Walker’s boorish threats in is handling of the union issue. Teachers have been urgently seeking early retirement in the hopes of receiving the retirement pensions that they were promised in their state contracts before Walker renegs on them.

Keep in mind that the state budget can easily be closed if only the state’s billionaires would pay their taxes.

Here is a link leading to the current budget proposals submitted to the Assembly and the Senate.

Walker on jobs

Jobs continue to leave Wisconsin under Governor Walker, though Walker did recently report that he has brought in a new company, Catalyst Exhibits, Inc., which will be moving to Pleasant Prairie from Illinois. Of course, the state will gain very little from it. A $500,000 gran and $1.25 million in low-interest loans (with an actual value of $750,000) from the state to the company enticed them to enter Wisconsin, but the company will not pay taxes and most of the Illinois workers will simply drive further to work. Paul Stahlberg, the firm’s design manager is a rather solid Republican donor.

More ethics complaints against Scott Walker

The Democrats filed another ethics complaint against Scott Walker on the 17th, stemming from a conversation with Republican strategist Frank Lutz on the day after his infamous phone conversation with a faked “David Koch”. Lutz met with Walker in the Governor’s Office, which is by law off limits to use for political machinations. The complaint argues that Walker is using his office for personal political gain.

Rick Snyder, Oligarch (Recall Rick Snyder for Michigan)

Now that Tea Party Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has signed the emergency financial manager bill into law, efforts are now beginning to remove him from office.

His adoption of the anti-constitutional legislation sparked massive protests in Lansing, where more than 6,000 people came to show their disgust for the measure that would allow corporate rule of local municipalities within the state.

Protesters in the Michigan Capitol Gallery (Political Ruminations)

Information regarding the recall efforts can be found at http://www.firericksnyder.org, though only preparations are being made at this point because Snyder will be eligible for recall in July. The Michigan Department of State lists their recall procedures in PDF document online. The number of signatures that the recall efforts will requires is 25% of the total vote count for Governor in the last election – that is about 1,000,000 signatures. According to Fire Rick Snyder for Michigan, the recall petitions will be distributed beginning on July 1st and the group will have 90 days to collect the signatures required for a recall election.

Democratic leaders in the state are also pushing for a constitutional amendment to void the emergency finance manager law. It is unlikely that the Michigan Legislature would vote for such a measure, but state law also gives another route: A constitutional amendment can be brought to the fore via a statewide referendum. According to Scott Walker Watch, such a referendum would require 300,000 votes to place it on the ballot in the next election.

Facebook: Recall Rick Snyder for Michigan

Wisconsin State Capitol, Madison (rbw)

Last night, while Wisconsin Republicans were being thanked for their services by billionaires in Washington, a couple of thousand people decided to keep them company so that they would feel at home, despite being a long way from home.

Several hundred protesters filled the atrium of the building where the BGR Group Fundraising dinner was held to pay off Wisconsin Republicans and more people spilled down the street – over a thousand people in total. The Nation quotes Russ Feingold:

“Today, Wednesday March 16th, Republican state senators from Wisconsin are in Washington, D.C. attending a big fundraiser at the headquarters of a corporate lobbying firm. That’s less than one week after Republicans rammed through an anti-worker bill that polls showed was heavily opposed by Wisconsinites — but was heavily favored by corporate lobbyists,” said Feingold. “If your senator is Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau, Glenn Grothman of West Bend, or Alberta Darling of River Hills, your senator is at the fundraiser. But no matter where you are in Wisconsin, your interests just got sold out to big corporate interests.”

Protests at BGR Lobbyist dinner for Wisconsin Republicans (Thom Hartmann, YouTube)

Sourcewatch.org gives a list of clients of BGR and this list shows a long line of companies and foreign governments that are interested in energy – especially petrochemical companies. Feel free to boycott each and every one of these companies.

The close ties between petrochemical lobbyists and the Republicans may be why Governor Walker is planning to sell state-owned power plants and why he is trying to ban wind power in Wisconsin. This is a bad move for the state and it will cost jobs as well.

Back in Wisconsin, Dane County District Attorney fIsmael Ozanne filed a complaint to a Dane County Judge to void the Governor’s anti-union measure because the Republicans violated the state Open Meetings law in the process of its approval. Hearings on the issue will continue Friday to discuss in Ozanne’s efforts for an injunction that would bar Secretary of State La Follette from publishing the bill, an act that allows it to become law.

On one last note – a Wisconsin farmer gave a terrific speech at the rallies last Saturday. It is because Wisconsin has a great education system (now under attack) that Wisconsin has eloquent farmers like Tony Schultz.

Farmer Tony Schultz speaking to the protesters in Madison on March 12 (Geof Hermann, YouTube)

"The Spirit of Detroit" (DetroitDerek, Flickr)

Over 1000 senior citizens are staging a protest in the Michigan capital of Lansing tonight in opposition to Tea Party Governor Rick Snyder’s tax plan that removes tax exemptions for retirement pensions, which will bring in up to $900 million in revenue to the state government. This follows announcements that Governor Snyder plans $1.8 billion in tax cuts to corporations and $600 million in cuts to funding for education in the state. Detroits public schools are already likely to raise class sizes to 60 students per classroom after state financial emergency officials have order the city to close 50% of its schools.

Meanwhile, Governor Snyder is expected to sign a new emergency finance bill that is highly controversial to say the least. The bill has passed both the Republican Senate and the Republican House and it grants sweeping powers to the Governor to eliminate the locally elected government of municipalities that are under a financial emergency to replace them with Financial Emergency Managers, who ostensibly oversee the town’s financial recovery. How does a city know it is in a financial emergency? The Governor gets to say so, and he has the power to appoint the manager, while declaring all existing union and worker’s contracts null and void. The law also allows corporations to take control, represented by the Financial Manager appointed by the Governor.

Check here for the complete text of the Emergency Financial Manager bill

Michigan Congressional Representative John Conyers has made the following statement about the bill:

The takeover provision of the legislation – allowing the dissolution of locally elected bodies — implicitly targets minority communities that are disproportionately impacted by the economic downturn, without providing meaningful support for improved economic opportunity.

Worse yet, this bill raises serious constitutional concerns. Article I, Section 10 of the U.S. Constitution explicitly prohibits any State from impairing a contract, which is exactly what this legislation does. As the Supreme Court has held in Home Building & Loan Association v. Blaisdell (1934), the sanctity of contracts cannot be impaired by a state law “which renders them invalid, or releases or extinguishes them . . . . Not only are existing laws read into contracts in order to fix obligations as between the parties, but the reservation of essential attributes of sovereign power is also read into contracts as a postulate of the legal order.”

Further, the bill empowers this financial czar with the Governor’s approval to force a municipality into bankruptcy, a power that will surely be used to extract further concessions from hardworking public sector workers. And, by making the risk of bankruptcy a reality, the bill will make it more not less expensive for municipalities to obtain financing given this risk, which will make the financial circumstances of municipalities even worse.

Conyers describes the situation well. This bill could encourage corporate representatives to run for office and drive a town into the ground so that it can be taken over by his or her company. It represents another corporate takeover of public interests, just of the sorts found in Wisconsin Governor Walker’s Budget Proposal. This is about a power grab because State Senator Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing) and others attempted to cap the salary of the financial managers at $150,000 per year, but the response was to encourage cash-strapped schools to invite volunteers to teach in their classrooms. Watch here:

Michigan State Senator Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing) speaks out against Emergency Financial Manager bill (Michigan Senate Dems, YouTube)

Big protests are expected in Michigan today in Lansing! Good luck everyone!

Wisconsin Republicans look on as Governor Walker signs their anti-worker bill (Dangerous Minds)

Though once quite self-contented after signing the provision to end collective bargaining rights for state employees, the state Republicans are facing a few new problems, even as they prepare for tonight’s big fundraising event in Washington D.C., where they hope to be rewarded by billionaires and corporate PACs for their efforts to undermine unions.

Huge Madison Protests, March 12, 2011 (Digby's Blog)

The Republicans plan to attend a fundraiser tonight that will be put on by the BGR Group, a bi-partisan lobbying group based in Washington and London that has (according to BGR) been “Dubbed a powerhouse by CNN and Newsweek” and they claim to be a leader in government affairs, strategic communications and investment banking. Senator Ron Johnson will be there, too (Russ Feingold would never go to this event!) The Republicans plan to fill their coffers at the $1,000 per plate dinner tonight. BGR has deep ties with Wisconsin. According to Digital Journal,

BGR has a long list of ties to the Republican Party. Bob Wood, a former aide to Tommy Thompson, the Republican governor of Wisconsin for 14 years is among BGR’s executives and BGR’s past client list includes Wisconsin Energies Corp. who provides electrical service to much of Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Wisconsin Energies Corp. also serves natural gas customers in Wisconsin.
The Public Campaign Action Fund, a nonprofit advocate for campaign finance reform, pointed out that Wisconsin Energies has spent $320,000 on lobbying with BGR since 2009, and that BGR executives donated at least $10,800 to Republican Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s campaign. Wisconsin Energies stands to benefit greatly from a provision in Walker’s budget that would privatize state-owned companies through no-bid contracts. Adding fuel to the controversy is the fact that Wisconsin Energies has ties to the Wisconsin’s State Senate caucus: Heather Liebham, who has worked for Wisconsin Energies state regulatory advocacy, is the wife of Republican Wisconsin State Senator Joe Liebham, who was one of the eighteen who illicitly pushed Walker’s “budget repair” bill through the Wisconsin Senate, producing a major conflict of interest.

Read more: http://www.digitaljournal.com/print/article/304654#ixzz1Gjdqlg8h

BGR also maintains an active client base with a number of foreign banks, governments and power companies,

The Center for Responsive Politics and the National Institute on Money in State Politics are two informative resources for people wanting to follow the money in politics. In addition to representing Wisconsin Energies Corp., BGR represents a significant number of foreign interests and governments including The Republic of India which paid BGR $1.2 million to represent its interests in Washington, India’s Reliance Industries which has paid BGR $1.52 million from 2009 and 2010, The American Chamber of Commerce in China and the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai, which paid a combined total of $280,000 to launder money into the U.S. political process, The Kurdistan Regional Government which paid BGR $1.13 million from 2009 to 2010, and Russia-based Alfa Bank which paid BGR $510,000 in 2010 to help subvert U.S. politics.

Read more: http://www.digitaljournal.com/print/article/304654#ixzz1Gjeyuy6A

Meanwhile, attempts to sell Wisconsin power stations have reappeared in Walker’s budget bill.

It was a weekend of record-breaking. Last Saturday, while the largest protests in the history of the Wisconsin took place, the largest protest in the history of Washburn, Wisconsin also took place. When Governor Walker arrived to give a speech to Republicans at a local steakhouse, governor Walker was met on location by up to 5,000 protesters. What is special about this is that the city of Washburn only has 2,280 residents! Here is a video from the huge protest in the little town:

Protests in Washburn, WI, March 12, 2011 (SunRidge Video)

Walker was also met the following evening by 4,000 protesters when he was to give a speech in Green Bay.

But that is not even half of it!

More legal problems are mounting on the Wisconsin Republicans. The International Commission for Labor Rights has declared Governor Walker’s anti-union provisions illegal, and so have the National Lawyers Guild. According to truth-out.org, statement by the ICLR says:

As workers in the thousands and hundreds of thousands in Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio and around the country demonstrate to protect the right of public sector workers to collective bargaining, the political battle has overshadowed any reference to the legal rights to collective bargaining. The political battle to prevent the loss of collective bargaining is reinforced by the fact that stripping any collective bargaining rights is blatantly illegal. Courts and agencies around the world have uniformly held the right of collective bargaining in the public sector is an essential element of the right of Freedom of Association, which is a fundamental right under both International law and the United States Constitution.

There is more. State Senator Randy Hopper, already considered the least likely Senator to survive a recall election, has a new heap of trouble. When protesters showed up at his house in Fond du Lac to demonstrate, they were surprised when his wife came to the door and mentioned that they were now estranged. It seems that Hopper has been living in Madison for the past few months with a 25-year old lobbyist named Valerie Cass. Several reports mention that his former wife and maid were apparently happy to sign the petition for Hopper’s recall, though this is not confirmed.

He is in a lot more trouble, though. Madison, as it happens, is not technically inside his legislative district – if he has been living outside of his district, that would be a felony violation of elections law. So would be conspiring with lobbyists while acting in a state office. Ms. Cass no longer works for her former lobbying firm, Persuasion Partners of Madison, located one block from the State Capitol. The group touts itself for “Turning blue states into red states”. I have three screenshots, showing their “Candidate Clients” as well as their “Grassroots, Corporate and Third Party Clients”, shown here:

Persuasion Partners Inc. Candidate Clients, part 1 (Persuasion Partners Inc. Screenshot, March 15, 2011)

Persuasion Partners Candidate Clients, Part 2 (Persuasion Partners Inc. Screenshot, March 15, 2011)


Persuasion Partners Inc. Grassroots, Corporate and Third Party Clients (Persuasion Partners Inc. Screenshot, March 15, 2011)

There are a couple of interesting things to note here. First, the firm Persuasion Partners is involved with Koch-sponsored groups. It is also involved with the Minnesota Republican Party and the Republican Party of Tennessee and Republicans in both states are pushing for draconian cuts to state services and benefits for public workers just as they are in Wisconsin. The Kochs are apparently embedded with the Republicans quite deeply. Another surprise is that Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is also a client, along with Scott Walker and Wisconsin Congressional Representative Paul Ryan – who gave the Republican address after the most recent State of the Union speech, in which he called for draconian cuts for federal services and public employee benefits. It seems as if there may be a connection…

Will the State Attorney General investigate whether Hopper has been living outside of his district and whether there are ethics violations involving his ex-lobbyist girlfriend? He should, a complaint has already been filed against him by a citizen, Dawn Meyer.

Remember when the Republicans put arrest warrants out for the Wisconsin 14? Well, that was a felony. Wisconsin State Senator Jon Erpenbach discusses this and very clearly explains what is happening in the video here.



Video streaming by Ustream

The recall efforts are progressing ahead of schedule as well – the recall of the Republicans, that is. A new poll indicates that at least three Republicans would lose in recall elections, by sizable margins. And mswsm at Daily Kos has found out that the Americans for Prosperity “Stand with Walker” Bus Tour must be faking its signatures. They had about 1,000 signatures when they left Green Bay, and after meeting 200 supporters in Wausau (pop 38,000), they somehow arrived in Rhinelander (pop 7,700) with 115,000 signatures! Someone on that bus has a very sore wrist!

Meanwhile, calls for boycotts are picking up steam. A “move your money” campaign has already begun to spread statewide with firefighters spontaneously closing their accounts with M&I Bank, conveniently located at the site of the Madison protests. It turns out that M&I bank is not in the best financial shape as it is. They gave out lots of bad loans and hold a high ratio of toxic assets. For information on companies that supported Scott Walker, check out my link as well as the list at Scott Walker Watch. Boycotts are the way to go:

Cenk Uygur discusses how to fight billionaires (MSNBC)

It is disappointing that the Obama Administration has not come out more strongly in favor of the workers in Wisconsin, however in his defense,
he is trying to manage negotiations with the Republican House of Representatives who would like to make all sorts of crazy cuts to everything that middle class people need to remain in the middle class. Standing firmly behind the crowds could inflame the his problems with the House is probably what he is thinking, but why not take control of the bully pulpit of the presidency and promote the idea of worker’s rights? Obama is running the show at the moment and he could really get a boost from people who are already fighting for their rights. Besides, President Obama should be concerned about his re-election prospects if labor chooses one of its own to run for the Presidency.

Other Democrats are helping a bit more. Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich gave a great speech last week at the Madison Worker’s Rights Rally. It pretty much sums up what is at stake and how to make sure that the U.S. remains a democracy, free from corporate control.

Cenk Dennis Kucinich in Madison, March 12, 2011 (Uptake)

And on one final note – more rallies are planned throughout Wisconsin! Keep up the great work! The schedule can be found at SEIU with information on free buses to the events.

Newsboys selling newspapers on the Brooklyn Bridge, 1908 (Lewis W. Hine, via Wikipedia)

In 1898, in an attempt to boost earnings from the increase in sales brought on by the onset of the Spanish American War, newspaper publishers raised the price of a bundle of newspapers 20%, from 50¢ to 60¢. While it does not seem like a very steep price today, the price increase made it very difficult for newsboys to purchase bundles for distribution because many of the boys who sold newspapers were poor and sometimes homeless. Wages were already low and most newsboys earned only about 30¢ per day.

Because the price increase made it difficult for newsboys to earn a living, they went on strike. This was the Newsboy Strike of 1899. They refused to sell newspapers owned by Joseph Pullitzer and William Randolph Hearst. The strike had immediate effect as Pullitzer’s New York World newspaper circulation dropped by two-thirds. After two weeks, the newspapers began distributing their papers at 50¢ per bundle once again.

Do not feel too sorry for William Randolph Hearst. He actually helped to start the Spanish American War. See how in tomorrow’s Pseudo-random Wiki-link.

Wikipedia: Newsboy Strike of 1899

A "tractorcade" joined the protests in Wisconsin as farmers joined the action (John Hart, Wisconsin State Journal)

Huge Protests

The size estimates vary, though everyone is in agreement that the protests in Madison yesterday were the largest to date. The AFL-CIO reported a crowd up to 150,000, though most estimates suggest between 85,000 and 100,000 people. Governor Walker’s signature on the anti-union bill has only strengthen the resolve of protesters.

Firefighters joined the protests, partaking in an unplanned “Move Your Money” event. One by one, the firefighters walked to the Marshall and Ilsley Bank (M&I Bank) across the street from the Capitol, a supporter of Scott Walker, and closed their accounts. They withdrew a total of $190,000 and the bank closed the door behind them to prevent more withdrawals.

Recall Action

Chants from the crowd were heard to the effect that protesters were exchanging their signs for clipboards as recall efforts accelerated yesterday. All 16 state senators eligible for recall are under recall. However, the Madison Capitol Times is reporting that more Democrats than Republicans are safe from the efforts, though given the current political climate in Wisconsin, the Republicans are heavily disfavored from making gains through the recalls. Pro-union groups have had little trouble gaining signatures and anecdotal reports from friends of rbw indicate that many people across the state are trying to add their signatures to the recall clipboards.

The only group trying to recall the Democrats is a Utah-based group called Americans Against Immigration Amnesty. According to Sourcewatch.org, this group is affiliated with both the American Recall Coalition and the American Patriot Recall Coalition. There were some problems with their filings, however, because it is against state law to recall state officials from out of state. The group took back their early filings and replaced them with new paperwork once they had found operatives in the appropriate precincts.

According to PR Watch, the group is also trying to recall Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, who upset conservatives by linking the Gabriel Giffords shooting to the vitriol and violent rhetoric that has been used in the media and the political environment that led to the shootings.

Each of the groups have 60 days after the initial filing to garner the signatures required for a recall, 25% of the number of votes cast in the past election in each district. One the signatures have been gathered, an election is set for a time six weeks out, though a judge can extend the period. This means the time frame for recall elections will be mid-July or August. If the presence of farmers at the protests yesterday is any indication, the state is likely going to see a number of Republican seats going to the Democrats.

Heroes’ Welcome

Another part of the festivities yesterday was the return of the ‘Wisconsin 14’, the 14 Democratic Senators whose hold out gave the state time to learn more about Republican plans for the state. They were greeted to a heroes’ welcome. Here is a shaky video with audible speeches – from newlyconservative on YouTube – there are several parts and be sure to leave comments showing what you feel about recent actions by conservatives on his message board. ; )

The Wisconsin 14 Return to Madison (newlyconservative, YouTube)

On the other side… Jeaslousy and Spite

The Wisconsin 14 said that the protesters ‘have created a new political dynamic’ in the state and the country, and they renewed the effort to fight for worker’s rights. Here is Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald’s response:

“Today, the most shameful 14 people in the state of Wisconsin are going to pat themselves on the back and smile for the cameras. They’re going to pretend they’re heroes for taking a three-week vacation.

“It is an absolute insult to the hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites who are struggling to find a job, much less one they can run away from and go down to Illinois – with pay.

“Their appearance at the Capitol today is in direct violation of the contempt order issued by the state Senate earlier this month, and it proves their absolute disregard for the institution of the Senate and the constitution they took an oath of office to serve.

“But the people of Wisconsin won’t forget what they were really doing these past few weeks.

“Sen. Tim Cullen refused to come back to save 1,500 jobs.

“Sen. Bob Wirch refused to come back to save countless middle-class jobs at the state and local levels.

“Sen. Mark Miller refused to come back even to make sure his own staff were safe in the Capitol he abandoned.

“Sen. Fred Risser refused to come back out of respect for the institution and dignity of the state Senate.

“Sen. Bob Jauch refused to come back even though our side was negotiating in good faith to try to find a reasonable compromise.

“Sens. Jon Erpenbach, Chris Larson and Lena Taylor were all too happy to pat themselves on the back and smile for the cameras in Illinois, never mind their constituents here in Wisconsin.

“And Sens. Dave Hansen, Kathleen Vinehout, Tim Carpenter, Spencer Coggs, Jim Holperin, and Julie Lassa refused to come back to actually do the job they were elected to do.

“To the Senate Democrats: when you smile for the cameras today and pretend you’re heroes, I hope you look at that beautiful Capitol building you insulted. And I hope you’re embarrassed to call yourselves senators.”

Spoken like a truly sore loser. There will be no parades or cheers for Fitzgerald. He and his Republican allies got a very different treatment when they muscled through the anti-union bill. As they say, it is karmic.

Minnesota State Capitol (rbw)

Women’s Labor Rights

While the state of Minnesota has not made the same national headlines as its neighbor Wisconsin, the 2010 election had a major impact there as well. The political situation would be identical to the conditions in Wisconsin and Michigan were it not for the election of Democratic Governor Mark Dayton. During the last term, the State Senate had a Democratic supermajority + one, while the State House had a Democratic supermajority – one. The tables have now turned as both houses hold modest Republican majorities.

Other than their majorities, there is little modest about the group. There have already been clear indications that the Republicans are intensely ideological with the debate over the state budget now well under way.

The extremism has been broadly-based. Senator john Carlson (R-Bemidji) was forced to apologize for his attempt to repeal equal pay for women. Now, one may consider that a fluke occurrence, but just read his glib response to his pulling of the bill from the rolls (courtesy of the Bemidji Pioneer, via the Minnesota Independent):

“That bill’s been pulled and it won’t see the light of day. I would admit I didn’t do my homework very well.

“So I author the bill, put it in the hopper, and the next thing I know, all hell breaks loose and I deserve it for being naïve. Quite honestly, I deserve that. I did it with good intentions.

“Obviously, I’ve been married for 32 years, I have a daughter out in the workforce, and I have a granddaughter — I can’t believe anyone would think I would harm that relationship.”

Indeed. How could one have the foresight to realize that telling one’s wife and daughter that they do not deserve equal pay simply because they are female would endanger those relationships?

One might argue that it was all a simple mistake – that it was one Senator who made a bad decision. Unfortunately, that is not the case: This was at least the fifth attempt to do so in the state legislature. The original form of the bill was authored by Rep. Steve Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa) and it ranged further, with additional restrictions on part-time police officers and cuts to library funding.

The Republicans are gunning for the 1984 Pay Equity Act for local government jobs. Each of the attempts are being supported by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. In a December 2010 statement on Fiscal Policy they state:

    Pay Equity/Comparable Worth:

The Legislature should repeal the state’s pay equity/comparable worth law. It is outdated and hampers a government entity’s ability to manage the workforce. It is also an unfunded mandate to local governments.

There you go – equal pay for women is now “outdated” as our future begins to look a lot like the past. The Chamber of Commerce statement on women has been revised since December. A February 1st post by Politics Daily quotes the same source in the following way:

“The state’s pay equity/comparable worth law should be repealed. Its purpose is outdated, and requiring governments to correct perceived ‘errors’ in labor markets based on bureaucratic and subjective assessments of the relative value of government jobs is an
unnecessary and costly mandate.”

The current economic crisis has hit men very hard. Women now comprise a slight majority of the workforce. One can see the cynical thinking: Rather than increase the salaries for struggling men, Republicans seek to cut pay for women. Such a move would only make life more difficult for families that are already facing financial crisis.

Worker’s Rights

Minnesota residents can expect more action on labor issues as time goes on. Here is what the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce says about outsourcing and arbitration:

    Competitive Sourcing:

The Legislature should remove any restrictions to competitively sourcing services. This does not mean that the state or local governments should outsource all services. Instead, the Chamber supports having public employees compete with the private sector for the provision of services.

    Arbitration Considerations:

The Legislature should require labor arbitrators to consider the total compensation and prevailing benefit levels offered in the private sector. This should help make sure that future compensation and benefit decisions do not become out of line with private-sector counterparts.

One can see there in essence the same provisions that Governor Walker has passed through t he legislature in Wisconsin. The difference in Minnesota is that thanks to a narrow voting margin, that state has a Democratic Governor who is likely to veto any such measure.

Reproductive Rights

A total of four bills have been introduced to ban state funding for abortion. Some contain wording that state that if one portion of the law is repealed by a court, the rest should stand. Such wording is intended to reverse court decisions of the past 40 years that have ensured reproductive rights for women.

Republicans added more fuel to the fire by challenging the Roe vs. Wade decision with three bills to ban abortions that take place after 20 weeks of pregnancy – regardless of consideration of medical conditions that could injure the mother.

In response to this flurry of anti-reproductive rights action, the Democrats introduced a bill, HF646, that guarantees that all people have a right to use or refuse birth control and abortions, containing the same severability language that protects the remainder of the bill if one part of it is overturned.

Stay tuned, there is a lot more to report on the Minnesota legislature as it continues to work against 20th century progress. Luckily, there is a Governor in Minnesota who can prevent these laws from taking effect.

Thousands of workers protest in the Wisconsin State Capitol (Wikipedia)

Nearly a month ago, a Tea Party governor who was elected on a tidal wave of corporate money that was legalized by the Citizens United Supreme Court decision took power in Wisconsin. Governor Scott Walker began work on a billionaire-supported regressive agenda in a state long known for its progressive stances on labor and human rights. Once people realized what was happening, they took action and while the first bill got through, efforts to remove the Governor and the Legislators who are responsible are progressing rapidly. The protests are the largest ever seen in Wisconsin and they continue to grow in size. At stake are the right to vote, the right to bargain for wages without a power differential between the worker and the management, the public maintaining control over the infrastructure that it built and maintaining a high quality of life, health and education within the state.

Great work so far everyone. Keep it going!

Wikipedia: 2011 Wisconsin Protests

A record showing is predicted for the protests that are scheduled for today in Madison, Wisconsin. Adding to the crowds that could be larger than the nearly 100,000 people who protested in Madison on February 26 will be a host of teachers from Minnesota showing solidarity, thousands of farmers who will drive their tractors to the capital, and the 14 Democratic Senators, who are expected to speak this afternoon.

According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the Democratic Senators have seen a large spike in fundraising since they left the state and that fundraising accelerated after the passage of the anti-union bill. Here is how the Journal-Sentinel puts it:

But the fight over collective bargaining has also helped Democrats fill their coffers. The state Democratic Party raised $300,000 in less than a day after the Senate vote, party Chairman Mike Tate said. That brings to $800,000 the total the party has raised in recent days.

The fundraising arm of Democratic Senate candidates has taken in nearly $750,000 since Democrats fled the state.

“I have confidence that although we lost the battle, we may win the war through the ballot box,” Sen. Fred Risser (D-Madison) said in an interview in Grayslake, Ill.

For their part, Republicans have a big fundraiser planned for Wednesday in Washington, D.C. The event costs $1,000 per person to attend. State legislative leaders for the GOP are being featured at the fundraiser.

That’s right, the Republicans are raising money to protect themselves from recall efforts in by wining and dining bigwigs Washington. How appropriate that they should be rewarded for their efforts to make labor cheaper for billionaires – the only thing that is amazing about it is that it is not called graft.

Good luck everyone!

Minneapolis Truckers' Strike of 1934 (Minnesota Historical Society)

Minneapolis had been a non-union city because business leaders had kept the unions at bay through the Citizens Alliance, a populist sounding group of business leaders and supportive lackeys who served to enhance the power of millionaire plutocrats – the Tea Party of today. The excesses of industry had bought about the Great Depression and by the time the economy had ebbed to the depths of those in 1934, unions were even gaining strength in Minneapolis. During the month of May that year, over 3,000 truckers began a strike that crippled transport of goods in the hub of Minneapolis. They were led by a local Trotskyist group. Only certain farmers were allowed to transport food into town and the strikers had shut down most markets. At one point in July police shot to kill, taking aim at peaceful picketers and the governor declared martial law. The National Guard raided the strike headquarters but the protesters retook control the next day. By August 14th, the military was shipping goods in and out of town but the strike continued until August 21st, when the union won each of its major demands. After the strike, more unions began to organize in Minneapolis and across the country.
Wikipedia: Minneapolis Teamsters Strike of 1934