Unions finance seniority-scam power-grab

Proposition 93 would reduce the maximum time future lawmakers and most current legislators could serve from 14 years to 12, but it also would allow about a third of sitting lawmakers to remain in office longer than the current 14-year limit.

If voters approve the initiative, the 38 state senators who served previously in the Assembly could still run for up to three, four-years terms in the Senate, while the four Assembly members who have spent time in the Senate would be eligible for as many as six two-year terms in the Assembly.

The new 12-year limit could be served in one house. Under the current term-limits law, lawmakers have to run for a seat in the other house to remain in office once they have completed their six years in the Assembly or eight years in the Senate.

Major supporters of Proposition 93 include:

_ Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Republican

_ Former Gov. Gray Davis, Democrat

_ Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, Democrat

_ State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell, Democrat

_ Former state Controller Steve Westly, Democrat

_ Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, Democrat

_ Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, Democrat

_ California Democratic Party

_ California Labor Federation

_ Service Employees International Union, which has contributed $2.4 million to the yes-on-93 campaign.

_ California Teachers Association, which has given $2 million to the yes-on-93 campaign.

_ California Common Cause

Major opponents of Proposition 93 include:

_ Former Gov. Pete Wilson, Republican

_ State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, a Republican who has given $2.5 million to the No-on-93 campaign.

_ California Republican Party

_ California Chamber of Commerce

_ California Correctional Peace Offices Association, which has given $2 million to the No-on-93 campaign.

_ Mexican American Political Association

_ Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association

_ National Tax Limitation Committee

_ U.S. Term Limits, which has given $1.5 million to the no-on-93 campaign.


Government unions go hog wild

As endorsements go, Hillary Rodham Clinton has hit a trifecta in New York, getting an edge before the Feb. 5 primary by winning the backing of the state’s three most powerful unions.

Hundreds of members of the American Federation of Teachers, which represents 470,000 workers in the state, are making calls on her behalf from phone banks in Manhattan, Hauppauge, Utica, Plattsburgh and a dozen other communities. The Service Employees International Union has sent out a pro-Clinton mailing to more than 360,000 doormen, janitors, nurses, nurses’ aides, home care workers and others.

And District Council 37, a Manhattan-based division of the nation’s largest union for government employees, dispatched dozens of activists to ring members’ doorbells this weekend to urge them to vote for Mrs. Clinton.

“By and large, our membership follows the leadership, and we are expecting the majority of our membership overwhelmingly to support Hillary Clinton,” said Wanda Williams, director of political action for District Council 37, which represents 121,000 municipal workers, about 90,000 of them registered Democrats.

But in a trend that could hurt Mrs. Clinton and embarrass union officials, many of the rank and file do not seem inclined to play follow the leader. Outside the headquarters of the city’s Administration of Children’s Services last Thursday, one District Council 37 member after another — even those who backed Mrs. Clinton — said they would not reflexively follow what their union leaders were telling them.

“I do my own thinking,” said Heidi Seifert, a child welfare worker, as she was leaving work. “Out of the three candidates, I think John Edwards is best.” Still, she said, she might opt for Mrs. Clinton or Barack Obama if Senator Edwards fades before the New York primary.

Ronell Dunham, an administrative assistant, said he was “not affected” by his union’s pro-Clinton campaign.

“I back Obama,” he said. “It would be great to have a black president. He’s firm. He’ll take charge of a lot of things. He’ll help the poor.”

With political prognosticators expecting Mrs. Clinton to win New York easily, pro-Clinton unions could have chosen to sit out the New York primary or campaign at half speed. But union leaders understand that there is a lot at stake for her, including making sure that she wins her home state by a large enough margin to avoid embarrassment.

Mike Fishman, the president of Local 32BJ of the service employees’ union, which represents 60,000 building-service workers in New York, is pressing his union to do its utmost.

“Far more than in recent years, the primary in New York means something because the delegate count is going to matter,” he said. “We have to help her get as many delegates as she can.”

The candidates are looking to unions to deliver for them, partly because candidates are doing little broadcast advertising in New York, where ad rates are high.

“Given that the candidates will be low on financial resources and the party can’t participate, labor unions might play a bigger role than ever before in targeting the vote and pulling it out,” said Jennifer Cunningham, a political consultant and the former political director of the giant health-care union, 1199 S.E.I.U. United Healthcare Workers East. That 300,000-member union has endorsed Mrs. Clinton and done a mailing for her, even though many of the union’s members strongly support Mr. Obama and Mr. Edwards.

In political races, people from union phone banks often first call members to ask which candidate they support and then, a day or two before the election, call back those who support the union’s preferred candidate to remind them to vote.

This year’s Democratic campaign has led to embarrassment and disappointment for many unions. In the Iowa caucuses, Mr. Obama had minimal union support, yet he bested Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Edwards, both of whom had heavy labor backing. In the Nevada caucuses, the union that is by far the largest in the state, Culinary Local 226, representing 60,000 hotel and restaurant workers, endorsed Mr. Obama a week before the caucuses, yet Mrs. Clinton won more votes.

“Unions aren’t very influential in persuading members which candidate to vote for,” said Joshua B. Freeman, a history professor at City University Graduate Center and the author of “Working-Class New York.”

“But unions are very good at getting people to vote. In general elections, unions can make a big difference if they get union members to turn out in big numbers because union members tend to be Democrats.”

Bruce S. Raynor, president of Unite Here, the parent union of Nevada’s culinary local, argued that unions can play a powerful role in persuading members whom to back.

“Unions are effective when they have enough time to educate our members and make the case why we endorse a particular candidate,” Mr. Raynor said. “Merely saying that a union has endorsed a candidate has limited effect. Members have minds of their own.”

He said that his union did not have enough time to conduct a full-scale educational campaign in Nevada on behalf of Mr. Obama.

“One way unions have a great effect in elections is they provide the foot soldiers” to knock on doors, run phone banks and be poll watchers, Mr. Raynor said.

The teachers’ union has taken pains to educate its members about why they should support Mrs. Clinton. The union has distributed literature, made phone calls to persuade members and asked Clinton backers to urge co-workers at their schools to support her.

“Our members don’t want to just hear from their union about whom we endorse,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the teachers’ union local in New York City, the United Federation of Teachers. “They want to know why.”

Mrs. Clinton has certainly wooed the teachers’ union, attending its convention last year and phoning in to a Jan. 16 meeting of 1,000 U.F.T. delegates while she was campaigning in Nevada.

“People were incredibly buzzed by her call,” Ms. Weingarten said. “We are unequivocally supporters of her because of her lifelong commitment to working families and children and to seeing the promise of education to change people’s lives.”

Ms. Weingarten said that judging from her union’s phone bank surveys, about 70 percent of the city’s teachers back Mrs. Clinton, with 10 percent opposed.

“We have a lot of African-American members who are torn,” she said. “There is a lot of pride about Barack Obama. But citywide it’s overwhelming for Hillary.”

The city’s unions have largely stayed out of the Republican primary. The International Association of Fire Fighters has campaigned vigorously against former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani in Florida and several other states. It has not campaigned against Mr. Giuliani in New York, with union officials believing that if he places poorly in the Florida primary on Tuesday, he might drop out before Feb. 5.

Firefighter officials say the union’s New York City affiliate, the Uniformed Firefighters Association, is considering endorsing Senator John McCain.

Just one New York union has endorsed Mr. Obama, the Correction Officers Benevolent Association, which was the only union to endorse Michael R. Bloomberg when he ran for mayor against Mark Green in 2001.

Norman Seabrook, president of the union representing 9,000 correction officers, said he hoped his union would help Mr. Obama win just as it had helped Mr. Bloomberg. Unlike most union leaders, he waits until the last minute to do political mailings.

“When you do a mailing to members long in front of an election, it just sits on the dresser,” he said. “It doesn’t resonate with the person.”

Within the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the parent of District Council 37, there has been some friction about its full-throated support of Mrs. Clinton. Some executive board members of the national union wrote its president to complain that it was undercutting Democratic efforts by attacking Mr. Obama unfairly.

In New York, District Council 1707, another division of the same union — it represents 25,000 child care workers and home care workers in the city — has bucked its parent union by remaining neutral. And five of its members are running as Obama delegates.

“Hillary we see as a friend, and Obama’s not an enemy,” said G. L. Tyler, the union’s political action director. “Our members are open to vote for whomever they want.”

Some union leaders are eager to maximize the involvement of their members during the primary to make sure their union’s political muscles do not atrophy before November.

“A lot of it is about continuing the activity of our members,” said Mr. Fishman of the service employees union. “We have 60,000 members. It’s an exciting time, and everybody’s watching.”


Leftist front-group pulls Dems toward unions

The Working Families Party has endorsed NY Democratic Assemblyman Darrel Aubertine in the 48th SD race.
"We looked at the records of both candidates and really liked what Darrel had to say,” said Tony Arquiett, president of UAW Local 465 and a member of the committee of local WFP members who interviewed the candidate. “Aubertine shares our values, he’ll be a fighter for economic development, living wage jobs, and fair tax reform that New York’s working families need."
The WFP invited Aubertine's Republican opponent, Assemblyman Will Barclay, to interview, too. Unsurprisingly, he didn't take the party - a major ally of Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who has made ousting the GOP from control of the Senate into a personal quest - up on that offer, even though the WFP does have a history of sometimes endorsing Republicans.

(Case in point: Former Sen. Nick Spano, although the party's decision to remain neutral in 2006 likely contributed to his loss, since it had arguably provided the 18-vote margin of victory for him in the 2004 race against the woman who finally ousted him two years later, Democratic Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins).

The WFP press release announcing its endorsement of Aubertine ends with this interesting line:

"The endorsement by the Working Families Party sets up a contest between at least two of New York’s minor parties. The Conservative Party endorsed Republican Will Barclay, who will run both party lines."

The WFP has been trying to supplant the Conservative Party from Row D for some time now, after it successfully sealed the fate of the Liberal Party in 2002 by convincing then-Democratic gubernatorial candidate, former state Comptroller H. Carl McCall, to run on its line.

And, it should be noted that the WFP is running the field operation for the Democrats in this race - just as it did in the February 2007 special in the 7th SD. (A note of clarification: The WFP is getting paid by the DSCC, which is overseeing the Aubertine race, not running field on its own).

The real outstanding question in the 48th is: What will the Independence Party do? (Have they already endorsed someone and I missed it?) The GOP has a big enrollment edge in the district - 46,824 enrolled Democrats to 78,454 Republicans - but there are also 42,805 "blanks" and they could make the difference in this race.

The Independence Party only has 7,176 enrolled members in the 48th, but having that third line could be key to either Aubertine or Barclay.

NOTE: And since we're on the topic of the 48th, check out this negative mail Aubertine sent out that brands Barclay one of those nasty "wealthy Albany politicians" who is contibuting to jobs being sent overseas.


Union organizers divide religious community

Labor organizing can be tense under the best of circumstances, but in bucolic Sonoma County, one such effort has escalated to a theological debate of sorts, pitting Catholic nuns against their ecclesiastic brethren in a dispute involving labor rights, the church's social teachings and a multibillion-dollar business.

On one side are the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange, who operate Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital as part of the $3.35 billion St. Joseph Healthcare System, a business that supports their order. On the other are local priests, labor leaders and hospital employees who have accused management of creating an atmosphere of intimidation.

The tension has escalated in recent months, which have been punctuated by marches, vigils and meetings. For their part, hospital officials say they respect their workers' right to organize and deny any union-busting agenda.

"We support our employees' rights to choose for themselves whether or not they want to have union representation, and we're committed to following federal laws of how our employees go through the process," said Kevin Andrus, spokesman for St. Joseph Health System. Calls for comment by the Sisters of St. Joseph were referred to the system's public relations staff.

The nuns' critics, however, say hospital officials have sought advice from anti-labor firms, required workers to attend mandatory meetings discouraging union support and pressured employees to avoid organizing activity.

And that, they say, is not practicing what the Catholic nuns are supposed to preach.

The church has a long history of supporting labor rights. Catholic leaders, including the Sisters of St. Joseph, have publicly backed workers in such campaigns as the Janitors for Justice, which began in the 1980s. The church also played an integral role in helping resolve the farm workers' disputes of the 1960s and '70s.

"The Catholic Church has been the greatest supporter of the workers' right to unionize," said Monsignor John Brenkle, pastor of St. Helena Catholic Church, who was asked by the local bishop to help mediate the dispute.

"Our tradition has been such, but all of a sudden, when it comes home and we are the ones whose workers want to be unionized," Brenkle said, "it's a little different."

Despite his friendship with Sister Katherine "Kit" Gray, general superior of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange who also chairs the health system's board, Brenkle said he believes the order might be allowing business interests to dominate its decisions.

St. Joseph Health System, based in the Southern California city of Orange, operates 14 hospitals along with nursing homes, hospice care, clinics and doctors groups with operations in California, West Texas and Eastern New Mexico. In Northern California, it runs Santa Rosa Memorial, Petaluma Valley, Queen of the Valley in Napa, Redwood Memorial in Fortuna and St. Joseph in Eureka. In 2006, the system generated $3.35 billion in revenue.

The system is the largest in the state to employ workers who are not represented by the Service Employees International Union Healthcare Workers-West.

The union has made efforts to organize various St. Joseph hospitals around the state, but its latest attempts have been focused on Santa Rosa, with the more recent additional of Petaluma Valley Hospital, along with several hospitals in Orange County.

Brenkle and other local priests have sided with the SEIU-UHW and other religious leaders who support the union. They've joined workers participating in candlelight vigils and marches. The Santa Rosa Diocesan Priests' Council last year adopted a set of guidelines established by the national Conference of Catholic Bishops to ensure fair labor elections and has urged the Sisters of St. Joseph to do the same.

Unlike many other Catholic health systems where members of the founding order have little active role in running the hospitals, members of the Sisters of St. Joseph make up the majority of St. Joseph's board of trustees. Sisters also serve on boards of the individual hospitals.

Several veteran employees of Santa Rosa Memorial remember when the nuns were active on the hospital's floors as nurses and administrators.

"The nuns were very much a presence when I first worked there, and now you don't even see them," said Lori Serrano, a former medical coder who worked at the hospital for 28 years before her job was eliminated and outsourced to a Colorado firm in October. "Everything is now the bottom line. It's just dollars."

Serrano said she loved the work, but that supervisors clearly were anti-union.

"They said the unions would be bad for us and we didn't need it, but I don't see why we don't have the option for a fair election," she said.

After a failed effort by Teamsters in 1999 to organize technical and service workers at Santa Rosa Memorial, workers in 2003 approached SEIU about representing more than 800 workers, including nursing assistants, respiratory therapists, radiology technicians, housekeeping and other staff. Nurses and engineers already are represented by other unions.

Despite a petition with more than 30 percent of the staff supporting a vote, SEIU called off a scheduled election in 2005 because the union feared it had lost support. Workers said they were discouraged from showing union support and were required to attend meetings that presented the union in a negative light.

Rocio Allen, a nursing assistant at Santa Rosa, said she experienced intimidation firsthand when she wore a button in support of the union several years ago. A manager told her she could not wear the button and made her wait while he checked her job status with human resources before allowing her to return to work.

"They preach every worker has a right to justice and dignity, but they do not allow that in their own place," said Allen, adding that she supports a union so workers would have representation in disputes such as firings and schedule changes.

SEIU and workers have filed several complaints against Santa Rosa Memorial with the National Labor Relations Board.

Of three charges filed in recent years, one resulted in a settlement in which the hospital did not admit any wrongdoing, and two were dismissed, said Tim Peck of the NLRB's San Francisco office. One case, which involved a former employee alleging an unfair firing, was dismissed because it was filed after the statute of limitations had expired.

More recently in Southern California, an administrative law judge ruled Dec. 18 to set aside a vote held at St. Mary's Medical Center in Apple Valley in August. Workers at the hospital, which also is operated by St. Joseph's Health System, voted narrowly against representation, but the judge found hospital officials interfered with the process by engaging in intimidation tactics.

Before attempting another vote, union supporters want hospital management to agree to a set of ground rules that would guarantee a free and fair election. A similar hospital operator, Catholic Healthcare West, a 42-hospital system based in San Francisco, has labor agreements with SEIU and other unions that include election ground rules.

But St. Joseph officials have refused, saying such ground rules are unnecessary because guidelines already are established by the NLRB.

"We will move through the election process following NLRB rules and following personal rules of conduct," said Andrus, spokesman for the health system. "It's a time-tested process that has proven to work long term."

The union's position that the NLRB rules are inadequate and the hospital's refusal to budge have created a stalemate. Hoping to resolve the protracted dispute, priests and others have appealed directly to the sisters.

"The religious community very much supports us. They're challenging the sisters to step up and do the right thing here," said Michael Hartnett, a respiratory therapist at Santa Rosa Memorial who was part of a group of workers invited in November to meet with Gray at the system's corporate headquarters.

Harnett said the meeting was cordial but did not result in any changes. "We left the meeting with them telling us it's OK to disagree," he said.

JoAnn Consiglieri, a former Sister of St. Joseph, also met with Gray, whom she found gracious but unmoving.

Consiglieri, who left the order in 1979 and now works as a marriage and family therapist in Santa Rosa, said she has become involved in the labor dispute because she supports workers' rights and believes that is part of Catholic thinking. "My conscience tells me this is not OK," she said. "I believe strongly in Catholic social teachings and these workers need to have a voice."

Joe Fahey, a professor of religious studies at Manhattan College of New York who traveled to Santa Rosa to attend a vigil on Jan. 17 in support of the union, said St. Joseph is not the only Catholic health institution embroiled in union controversy.

Similar disputes are continuing with hospitals affiliated with Resurrection Health Care in the Chicago area and with Providence Health & Services in Oregon.

"Unfortunately, Catholic employers, in many cases, act no different than other employers, even though Catholic social teaching is firmly on the side of the right to form labor unions," said Fahey, founder of a newly formed group, Catholic Scholars for Worker Justice.
At a glance

-- St. Joseph Health System, owned by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange, has been locked in a protracted labor dispute with union officials and workers at Santa Rosa Memorial, Petaluma Valley and other hospitals the system.

-- Local pastors from the Catholic Diocese of Santa Rosa support the hospital workers' right to organize. The diocese last year adopted guidelines by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that call on Catholic hospitals to work with union leaders to establish a mutually agreeable elections process.

-- Union supporters want hospital management to agree to a set of ground rules that would guarantee a free and fair election. St. Joseph officials refuse, saying such ground rules are unnecessary because guidelines already are established by national labor law. No vote is scheduled.


Pro-union journalism fails democracy

Democracy is fragile. This year's presidential primary proves that our democracy is approaching a breaking point. The triumvirates of capitalism, democracy and American values are the pillars that have made the United States a great nation, but our democracy is crumbling and American values are eroding. The burden to correct these frightening trends rests on each of us.

American values oscillate and shift over time, but seven long years of aggressive conservative ideology under George W. Bush has accelerated the corrosion of our core principals and values. National complacency, apathy and a lack of American spirit has empowered the brazen shift in America by the ideological influencers of this administration.

Today, if America speaks of freedom, democracy and human rights, we are hypocrites, despite our long record of standing on high moral ground. As a nation, we can begin to restore our American values by acknowledging the mistakes and incompetence displayed by our government (the government, not the troops) in invading Iraq, neglecting the war on terrorism in Afghanistan, and the abuse of executive power by the Bush administration.

The demise of our democracy has progressed over the decades from small cracks of concerns to major fissures requiring decisive steps to mend. Our founding fathers recognized that a majority rule democracy requires the electorate to be informed, knowledgeable and vested in the government. Fostered by the First Amendment to the Constitution (freedom of the press), we became a nation of newspaper readers; journalism was the glue that fortified our democracy and informed and educated us. Many journalists helped expose corruption, held politicians accountable, and provided the facts and perspectives the candidates avoided.

A healthy democracy requires participation and easily accessible and accurate information to function effectively. Over the years, the emphasis of the media shifted to entertainment and away from the conscious of our democracy. Without independent, trusted, fair and unbiased journalism, our election process has insufficient checks and balances. The information void has been filled by political factions leveraging the tools of mass marketing; focus groups, fear, faith, uncertainty, doubt and celebrity endorsements to manipulate enough emotions to create a majority.

Through the Internet, cable TV programs, blogs, and radio talk shows, there are more media options, but these are almost exclusively focused on serving niche markets. Political mass marketing is now tailored to manipulate each market segment, many of which are now owned by News Corp. (Fox) or GE. This is capitalism at work. We have options to choose from countless slanted sources. The neutral, factual, informative information is available, but requires a commitment and an effort beyond what most Americans are willing to invest. We are a capitalistic society in a competitive world, so we have no choice but to accept the evolution of our media.

We have arrived at the point where the Jan. 11 Wall Street Journal promoted a presidential primary story by Dorothy Rabinowitz as "the best drama on TV." That pretty much sums up what the presidential primary is for the media. They build the drama, from putting the leading characters front and center in the debates, moderator questions and time pandering to those they have designated to be the main characters, lead stories focused on mudslinging and building suspense for the big show.

In New Hampshire, we had seen much of Sen. Clinton's marketing efforts, including leveraging the gender differential. Voting to make history is irresponsible and only achieves an academic footnote. We do not make history; history makes lessons and Sen. Clinton proved that drama takes center stage. Can a nation infatuated with reality TV programs discern the difference between a campaign stunt and reality?

In the weekend preceding the N.H. primary, Sen. Clinton's emotional moment was not the tears from crushed ambitions, the fear of failure and the specter or facing all those wealthy donors, rather scripted lines about wanting to do so much for our country. The well-documented performance with an all-female group of supposedly undecided voters garnered front pages, top spots on Internet news feeds, and the nation's attention.

Will America be able to break free from the grip of money, media and factions controlling our government? If we continue to forfeit control of our government to well-funded and organized extremes, we have no one to blame but ourselves. It is our taxes, our elected officials, our value system, our country and our responsibility to make America, America again.

Here are a few suggestions to help the people regain control of our federal government.

First, the presidential primary system must be restored to a process that lowers the barriers to allow for more candidates to participate, a process that favors informed voters and allows for individuals to debate, discuss and create a much more thorough hiring process for U.S. president. Today's front-loaded primary schedule is slanted to protect the investment in a candidate by minimizing the opportunities for a critical stumble (remember Howard Dean's scream) and to maximize the money advantage of a campaign that is dependent on mass advertising and media coverage.

The Iowa caucus, New Hampshire primary, South Carolina and possibly a small Western state should remain since they force candidates to meet one-on-one with the voters. These proving-ground states must be separated by at least two or three weeks.

The rest of the states should be divided into six or seven regions of roughly equivalent delegates. The regions will vote three weeks apart and the order will rotate each election cycle. Some years, the last vote will be critical, others the first or middle; the key is that no state will be marginalized by the process. These regional voting blocs will provide much-needed savings for a broader field of candidates (resources and travel).

Second, we must get the nation to participate. Approximately half of all eligible voters register and make it to the polls for a presidential election. That is a failing grade by any measure. All citizens need to be energized and committed to participating in our democracy.

Patriotism, a great pride and personal commitment to protect our American values and rights, needs to part and parcel with voting. There should be no limit to the "carrot" approaches we use to reinvigorate a national participatory movement. However, we have so much ground to cover and so little time, a few "sticks" will be required.

One approach is to make the existing tax credits and deductions (including dependents eligible to vote) conditional on being registered to vote and ideally voting. Nothing is being taken away; we just need to earn the right to receive the tax deduction by participating in our democracy. The federal government can deploy this at the federal income tax level and leave the states and municipalities to implement solutions that match the varying tax codes. For those who do not participate, they are not entitled to the same benefits as their neighbors who choose to keep our democracy healthy.

While adding any governmental step is inherently bureaucratic, costly and inefficient, I would like to believe with today's and tomorrow's technology, this incremental burden can be minimized.

Third, we still face the same dilemma of how to ensure that the electorate is focused, understands the issues, and is independent of the never-never land mentality the media and extreme political factions create. A real demand to understand the strengths and weaknesses of all the candidates and their positions creates a market. If journalists cannot capture the attention of the electorate, then the entertainment industry or other entrepreneurs will step up to fill the void.

As the primaries role across the country, so will the education and factual interest of the voters. We can have Celebrity Election Jeopardy — debate winners and losers will be tracked real time through the Internet and text message voting, and registered voters win prizes and money participating in online and in-store educational games. Voting wards, then towns, cities and counties, would compete to win incremental funding for the local school systems. Funding will be provided by a dollar-for-dollar match from the nonvoting entities of corporations, PACs and unions as well as individuals who contribute above a threshold amount.

As a nation, we can choose to implement these types of changes to restore democracy or allow our country and our money to be controlled by the winners of popularity contests and a government catering to extreme factions and oligopolies. If we do not act, democracy will continue to degrade to the point were we have the Evangelist Capital Building, the GE or Fox FCC, the UAW Department of Labor, the Halliburton Statehouse, the Planned Parenthood Department of Health, the ExxonMobil District Court, the Department of Blackwater Security, or the local Viagra Fire Department.

We have no excuse for not recognizing that our democracy is approaching a breaking point. All those celebrity-style Rudy and Hillary campaign signs are screaming, "Democracy is falling."


AFSCME will do or say anything to win

On January 25, Hillary Clinton said she will work to seat Michigan and Florida delegates to the Democratic National Convention, but shortly afterwards, Barack Obama’s campaign criticized her for that stand. John Edwards’ campaign has not yet commented on the issue.

Florida has 210 delegates, and Michigan has 156 delegates, out of the total of 4,048 delegates. The Democratic National Committee had said those two states may not have any delegates, because they broke national party rules on the timing of their presidential primaries. Clinton said, “I will ask my Democratic convention delegates to support seating the delegations from Florida and Michigan. I know not all of my delegates will do so.”

Obama’s campaign manager David Plouffe responded by saying, “It seems like Hillary Clinton will do or say anything to win an election.” See this story about the Obama campaign’s response.


AFSCME crosses ethical lines

Politics can be a rough game. Candidates need to hold their competitors accountable, to challenge distortions and lies. And God knows, we need a Democratic nominee who's willing to fight. But Hillary Clinton's campaign has crossed so many ethical lines it risks embittering so many potential supporters as to cost the Democrats the November election. If all the new voters that Obama's bringing in are so angered they decide to stay home, it's going to be extremely difficult for the Democrats to beat a candidate like McCain, particularly if the Republicans have Hillary to mobilize against.

Hillary Clinton's campaign has crossed so many ethical lines it risks embittering so many potential supporters as to cost the Democrats the November election.

The media finally seems to be paying some attention to Clinton's scorched-earth campaigning, particularly to Bill Clinton's role as attack dog. We've seen plenty of recent examples of ways that Clinton and her political allies have embraced an approach in which truth and fairness become expendable. But the pattern of questionable approaches runs deeper than just the most recent arguments. You're probably familiar with many. But it's the broader pattern that disturbs me--how much the Clinton campaign goes beyond drawing legitimate political lines to an all-too-Rovian approach where they'll do whatever's deemed necessary to take down her competitors. Here's a representative list of actions that, taken together, offer a disturbing portent, even if Clinton does get in.

Start with the hiring of chief campaign strategist, Mark Penn. He's CEO of a PR firm, Burson-Marsteller, that prepped the Blackwater CEO for his recent congressional testimony, is advising the giant industrial laundry corporation Cintas in fighting unionization, and whose website proudly heralded their union-busting expertise until it became a potential Clinton liability and they removed that section. B-M has historically represented everyone from the Argentine military junta and Philip Morris to Union Carbide after the 1984 Bhopal disaster.

Then there are Clinton 's campaign donors. Any major candidate has some dubious supporters, but Clinton 's gotten money from a succession of particularly noxious sources. Start with her donation from Rupert Murdoch, who's given to no other Democrat. Add in massive amounts of money from Washington lobbyists and from industries like defense, banking, health care, and oil and energy providers (though Obama's also gotten a lot from some of these industries). Then there's Norman Hsu, who brought in over $850,000 to Hillary's campaign after returning to the US following his flight to evade a fraud conviction (Hsu was subsequently rearrested, sentenced to three years, and is facing further federal charges, and the campaign eventually returned the money he'd raised). There's the Nebraska data processing company InfoUSA, whose CEO, Vin Gupta, used private corporate jets to fly the Clintons on business, personal, and campaign trips, gave Bill Clinton a $3.3 million consulting contract, and is now being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission for allegedly diverting company money to his own personal uses. Mississippi attorney Dickie Scruggs recently canceled a major December 15 Hillary fundraiser (with Bill Clinton headlining) after being indicted for trying to bribe a judge. Major international sweatshop owners, the Saipan-based Tan family, have given Clinton $26,000, complementing their previous massive support for Jack Abramoff and Tom Delay. That doesn't even count dubious supporters from the past, like Peter Paul, the convicted con-artist turned event producer who coordinated a massive Hollywood Clinton fundraiser during the 2,000 election, but has now become a bitter Clinton critic. Yes, Obama has Tony Rezko, but even there, Clinton grossly exaggerated the relationship. Taken together, it's a tainted constellation of backers.

Like most candidates, Clinton spends the bulk of her money on ads and mailings, and she's taken some pretty problematic approaches there too. I wonder how many of the New Hampshire women who voted last minute for Clinton were swayed by a mailing claiming that Obama wasn't really committed to abortion rights because he'd voted "present" on some abortion-related legislative votes. Except that Obama had done so as, mentioned, as part of a strategy devised by Illinois Planned Parenthood to protect vulnerable swing district representatives. New England Planned Parenthood's Board Chair strongly refuted Clinton's letter, pointing out that Obama had a 100% record on all the votes that really mattered. But the misleading mailing may well have helped give Clinton her narrow margin.

The distortion of Obama's position on abortion echoes both Bill and Hillary taking Obama's statement that Reagan created major political shifts and rewriting it to imply approval of Reagan's politics. It also echoes Hillary's audacious argument that Obama really wasn't against the Iraq war and betrayed his promises by failing to vote against war appropriation bills after the Democrats couldn't override Bush's veto. I wish Obama had bucked the Democratic leadership and taken a stronger stand. But it's a gross distortion of history to equate his positions with Clinton 's overt support for the war authorization, refusal to apologize for her vote, and claim that she and Bill were really against the war all along.

We can find further distortions in a mailing sent out before the Iowa caucuses by the independent expenditure committee of a key Clinton ally, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The AFSCME mailing attacked Obama on his health care plan by using a John Edwards quote that was featured so prominently that recipients could assume that his campaign was the source of the attack piece. This and other actions so disturbed a group of seven AFSCME International Vice Presidents wrote a public letter to their union president, saying that although the union had endorsed Clinton on a split vote, the political committee had no mandate to attack Obama. They demanded the committee stop what they called "fundamentally dishonest" attacks.

Other surrogates have attacked Obama's character. Twice they've tried to raise Obama's early drug use as a campaign issue--despite his having addressed it directly and frankly in his book Dreams From My Father. Hillary's New Hampshire campaign chair, Billy Shaheen, mentioned it first, claiming that he was only worried about how the Republicans might use it. Sheehan resigned from the campaign after a storm of criticism, then Black Entertainment Television CEO Robert Johnson (who's backed Bush on issues like the estate tax and privatizing social security, and been virulently anti-union in his own company) raised it again, with Clinton standing next to him at a South Carolina rally. After Johnson's words drew major heat, Clinton belatedly distanced herself from them, but the smear still stands, along with the disingenuous claim that those making it were just neutral participants, only trying to serve the Party's best interests.

Clinton's campaign also attacked the John Edwards campaign for appearing in New Hampshire with the parents of Nataline Sarkisyan, the 17-year-old leukemia patient who died after CIGNA refused her a liver transplant. Clinton press secretary Jay Carson claimed that the US needs to elect "somebody who's actually going to help people and not use them as talking points." Never mind that the Sarkisyans had initiated the chance to speak out by contacting Edwards about appearing at a Manchester New Hampshire town hall campaign appearance. To the Clinton campaign, their appearance had to be suspect, because they were supporting Edwards and his ideas.

The campaign has also attempted more directly to discourage participation by voters who might support Clinton 's opponents. Think of the lawsuit filed by the pro-Clinton leadership of the Nevada teacher's union (and supported.overtly by Bill Clinton), which sought to prevent long-scheduled caucuses from being held at central locations on the main casino strip, under the assumption, which turned out to be false that Obama's endorsement by the dominant Culinary Workers Union would lead these caucuses to give him massive support. New Hampshire saw parallel voter suppression tactics, as the campaign encouraged the New Hampshire Democratic Party to evict Obama get-out-the-vote observers from the polls. In Iowa , the Clinton Campaign tried to discourage out-of-state students from returning to their campuses to participate in the caucuses. In the Michigan primary, Clinton kept her name on the ballot after the state violated Democratic National Committee rules by moving its primary ahead of the Feb 5 "Super Tuesday" vote, while Edwards and Obama took theirs off. She's now arguing that the DNC should reverse its rule and count the delegates from Michigan and from a somewhat similar situation in Florida .

When the Nevada caucuses actually took place, eye-witnesses produced repeated accounts of Clinton supporters who tried to close the doors before supporters of other candidates supporters could get in. Pro-Clinton registrars tried to stop people from checking in if they were planning to caucus for another candidate. Others told Edwards supporters that they had to go home after the initial vote--without giving them the opportunity to switch to Obama. Still others had Clinton literature blanketing the supposedly neutral registration tables, and pre-marked voter cards for Clinton , while telling supporters of other candidates that they'd run out. There was even one reported case where Clinton supporters who'd just finished caucusing and voting in one precinct attempted to have their votes counted again in another adjacent one. These efforts may not have had official sanction. They may have been just overzealous supporters confused about the rules. But the volunteer instruction sheet created by the Clinton campaign did include the line "it's not illegal unless they tell you so," which certainly seems an invitation for abuse.

Campaigns can have either closed or open information styles. Clinton 's comes far too close to the Bush-Cheney model, as when the Clintons successfully killed a major story in the national men's magazine GQ about Clinton campaign infighting. Author Josh Green had written a long critical previous piece on Clinton for The Atlantic, and campaign press secretary Jay Carson threatened to deny the magazine access to Bill Clinton for a separate cover story on his international foundation work. GQ acquiesced and pulled the critical piece.

The flip side of trying to stop negative coverage is manufacturing praise. Clinton 's campaign did this when they gave planted questions to Iowa student Muriel Gallo-Chasanoff, and according to Chasanoff, to other students as well. After being driven to a public event by Clinton interns, Chasanoff was introduced to a Clinton staffer who showed her a list of suggested questions to ask, one of which she used at Clinton 's forum. It's not quite like Bush inviting the softball inquiries of former male-prostitute turned right-wing blogger Jeff Gannon. But it isn't so different either.

Taken together, these examples echo the Bush's administration's tendency to attack anyone who challenges them. They echo Clinton 's refusal to apologize for her Iraq war vote or for an Iran vote so reckless that Jim Webb called it "Dick Cheney's fondest pipe dream." They hardly bode well for reversing the massive erosions of transparency of the past seven years.

The list could go on, but it's the pattern that's important. It's true that one person's cheap shot artist is another's fierce competitor. Obama himself has called politics "a full-contact sport," and used legal maneuvers to block a long-time state legislator when he first ran for office. And Democrats will need to be fierce in their campaigning if they're going to defeat the right-wing Swiftboating machine that gave Bush the last two presidencies. So maybe I'd be more charitable if I didn't disagree so strongly with Clinton 's Iraq and Iran votes, and utter failure to take leadership in standing up to Bush when he was riding high in the polls. But I think I'd still have a problem. I look at the actions of her campaign, and see an ugly example, a ruthlessness not remotely equaled by either Obama or Edwards. I'll vote for the last Democrat standing, because the Republicans will continue the current administration's disastrous priorities. But Hillary's scorched-earth approach threatens to fracture the party if she does get the nomination, and to leave a trail of bitterness even if she wins. We can do better for the Democratic nominee.


UFCW faces decert vote in labor-state

With their contract set to expire in mid-March, about 1,000 employees of Woodman’s Food Market in Janesville, Beloit and Madison (WI) soon will learn if their union will be around to negotiate on their behalf.

That’s because a petition successfully made the rounds at the four stores to decertify United Food & Commercial Workers Local 1473 as the employees’ bargaining unit. At least 30 percent of the represented workers signed the petition, which was forwarded to the Milwaukee office of the National Labor Relations Board.

The NLRB conducted a hearing Thursday in Madison, where an examiner heard testimony from those involved, said Irving Gottschalk, the NLRB’s regional director in Milwaukee. The examiner will weigh the testimony and recommend within a couple weeks either that the NLRB dismiss the petition or schedule a date for employees to vote on decertification of the union.

UFCW 1473 is the largest local union in Wisconsin and represents more than 16,000 members in a variety of industries, including those in food stores.

Decertification proceedings are not rare. Several hundred are initiated each year around the country, and they typically pop up as contracts near expiration.

Employees who no longer want a union typically trigger them. In circulating a petition for a decertification election, employees can’t get help from their employer, which the union likely would charge as an unfair labor practice tainting the election.

In addition to workers at Woodman’s in Janesville and Beloit, the petition before the NLRB covers employees at two Woodman’s stores in Madison.

Union-represented workers at other Woodman’s locations are not involved, primarily because they are on different contract cycles, one local employee said.

The employee, who requested anonymity, said he’s worked at Woodman’s for years and is generally pleased with his union representation.

“The people at Wal-Mart would love to have what we have,” he said.

The worker said he believes Woodman’s majority owners and managers are driving the decertification process. He hopes the process is derailed because petitions were circulated in the stores while employees were on the clock, which he said is a violation of the NLRB rules governing the process.

The Janesville Gazette was not able to reach John Eiden, president of UFCW 1473, or Phil Woodman, Woodman’s president and chief executive officer.

In addition to the four stores involved in the NLRB hearing, Woodman’s operates four other stores in Wisconsin and three in Illinois.

Woodman’s, which is owned in part by its employees, will open its 12th store in April in the Milwaukee suburb of Oak Creek. Last week, Woodman’s announced plans in Sun Prairie to build a 225,000-square-foot grocery store, a 2,000-square-foot convenience store with 10 gas pumps, an oil and lube center and a car wash.


Governator's kiss of death?

For weeks, Democratic legislators had been crossing their fingers, figuratively at least, and hoping that Republican voters could be induced into voting for Proposition 93, a measure to modify legislative term limits and extend the careers of termed-out lawmakers.

They were pleased, therefore, when Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger did a 180-degree political pirouette and endorsed the measure, saying he had developed a good working relationship with Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez and Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata and wanted them to stick around.

Schwarzenegger's endorsement, however, may turn out to have been the kiss of death for Proposition 93. Two statewide polls show the measure's already marginal support plummeting with less than two weeks remaining before the Feb. 5 election.

The sharp drop, from the 50 percent range to the 40 percent range, is also mirrored in several private polls being conducted as the campaign enters its final days. It largely stems from a severe erosion of support among conservative voters, who had previously seen Proposition 93 as punitive because of the odd manner in which it was written.

One of the public polls, conducted by Field Research Corp. for newspaper clients, found that support for Proposition 93 among self-described conservatives, 55 percent in December, had dropped to 39 percent by last week – just after Schwarzenegger declared his support.

Overall, the Field Poll found support declining from 50 percent to 39 percent, exactly matching the anti-Proposition 93 sentiment among likely voters. The Public Policy Institute, meanwhile, also found a tie at 42 percent in its mid-January polling.

Anti-Proposition 93 advertising and widespread denunciation of the measure in newspaper editorials undoubtedly contributed to the decline, but Schwarzenegger's endorsement may have played a role as well. Why? Because his unexpected action drew lavish media attention, and his praise for Núñez and Perata reminded conservatives that they were the measure's chief beneficiaries, which the pro-Proposition 93 campaign had downplayed.

It goes back to Democratic Attorney General Jerry Brown, who issued a "title and summary" for the measure that stressed reduction in term limits from a maximum of 14 years (six years in the Assembly and eight in the Senate) to 12 years, which could be served in either house.

Both Núñez and Perata would be forced out of the Legislature this year, along with several dozen of their colleagues, should Proposition 93 fail. Passage would give the speaker another six years in the Assembly and Perata another four in the Senate.

Given strong voter support for term limits generally, many voters evidently believed that Proposition 93 would punish the Legislature, whose public standing is very low, rather than help lawmakers extend their careers. One aspect of the PPIC poll validates the theory; it found that 65 percent of voters like reducing the limit from 14 to 12 years, when that question is asked by itself.

Whatever its underlying causes, voter rejection of Proposition 93 would immediately and dramatically alter the dynamics of the Capitol, setting off a scramble for leadership positions, altering the lineup of who's running for what this year, and making agreement on the year's most important issues, health care and the deficit-ridden state budget, more problematic.

Núñez and Perata have provided, for example, the major legislative pressure for Schwarzenegger's highly controversial proposal to expand health insurance, which was already in grave danger of rejection. But if they become lame ducks, they lose much of their internal power, and the struggle among Democrats to succeed them creates a major diversion that could preoccupy the Capitol for months.


Bickering preoccupies Dems

On the eve of one of the most wide-open and unpredictable presidential primaries in memory, the Contra Costa Democratic Central Committee is preoccupied with internal squabbles.

"We're headless," said Rich Verrilli, the outspoken editor of the party's "Democratic Dispatch" newsletter and a member of its executive committee. "This is a time when the party needs to be at its most active, and we're nonfunctional."

Committee Chairman Nagaraja Rao has been in India since November and may not return until March. (He's seeking permission for his wife to come to the United States.) Vice chairwoman Cecilia Valdez is taking care of her sick mother. The committee's executive board held no meetings in November or December.

As newsletter editor, Verrilli publishes the chairman's message, minutes and agendas.

"But I have no message, no minutes, no agenda. I have nothing," he said.

That's nonsense, countered Treasurer George Van Hasselt.

The executive board didn't meet in November and December because the dates fell near major holidays, he said. And Secretary Carlyn Obringer quite capably led the Central Committee's January meeting, he added.

"We have a couple of dissidents who are acting as obstructionists," Van Hasselt said. "I don't agree with them, and I've said so. I think our primary mission has to be winning elections."

Van Hasselt and Verrilli do agree on one point: The rift in the group surfaced after the committee voted Nov. 15 to oppose the recall
of Pinole councilmembers Maria Alegria and Stephen Tilton.

Verrilli says Rao railroaded the vote through the committee after failing to give recall proponents equal time.

Van Hasselt says Verrilli is angry because he didn't get his way. "Rich appears to be in support of the recall," he said.

A related flap later emerged when Alegria said it was up to Rao to decide whether to make public the only copy of a videotape taken of the Nov. 15 meeting.

Rao passed the buck to the Central Committee, where Verrilli planned to call for a vote on the tape's release.

But it's moot now: Alegria's political consultant deleted most of the tape.

"The whole idea behind not holding (executive board) meetings is that (Rao and Valdez) didn't want the committee to address the Pinole recall issue before the election," Verrilli said.

There's serious talk of finding a new leader when Rao's term expires this summer, a person who will take the committee in a different direction, Verrilli says.

The pro-recall folks have joined the melee, too, calling for Rao to resign.

They're furious over Rao's speech at a Pinole City Council meeting where he said that he had received recall-related death threats. Police later said the phone calls had nothing to do with Pinole.

In response to all this, Rao wrote in an e-mail, "Perhaps Rich Verrilli is planning on running for the chairman's post ... Members on the Central Committee are quite satisfied with my leadership and they would want me to stay on and not resign for some silly reason."

Rao clearly has supporters. On the other hand, some of the county's Democratic leaders view Rao as an exceptionally nice guy, but a weak leader.

The bigger question is whether it matters. The Democratic Central Committee, an elected board nearly invisible to the general public, plays a far smaller role in county politics than it did during its kingmaker days when it could make or break political careers.

True, the committee endorses candidates, and its chairman often serves as the voice of the county party.

But Democratic activists have over the years shifted their time and money into popular local groups such as the Lamorinda Democratic Clubs. Others wield their political leverage through specialized organizations like EMILY's List, labor and the environment.

And changes in campaign finance law prompted the formation of an affiliated political action committee that specifically raises funds for Democratic causes.

It sounds like the Central Committee needs to figure out its role in the new political landscape.

GOT POLITICS? Check out my politics blog at http://www.ibabuzz.com/insidepolitics for the week's happenings such as:

A highly placed source confirms that Pulitzer-prize winning journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein will appear Nov. 17 in Walnut Creek as part of the 2008-2009 Lesher Speaker Series: Newsmakers.

Woodward and Bernstein, best known for their work at the Washington Post covering the Watergate scandal, have also written multiple books. Bernstein is one of CNN's presidential primary political consultants.

The Lesher Foundation will unveil this spring its full list of speakers in the Newsmakers series and tickets will go on sale.

As for the identity of that "highly placed source," you'll have to read the blog.

AND FINALLY. A pesky rumor making the rounds in Contra Costa County has Supervisor Federal Glover dropping out of his re-election bid. In his place, the rumor goes, close friend and former Assemblyman Joe Canciamilla is abandoning his state Senate campaign and running for the supervisor's job.

No, no, no, echoed both men prior to Thursday night's Contra Costa Council USA dinner in Concord.

Glover said he feels great -- he nearly died during a prolonged hospital stay last year -- and he has no plans to quit.

Canciamilla pulled out a campaign flyer from his suit pocket and said, "See, I'm running for the Senate."

Well, there you have it.


Discouraging non-union labor in Michigan

It could be a busy spring in Lansing, Michigan. A steady collection of development projects are making their way to the City Council for final approval. Council members face a host of issues over the next few weeks - from granting tax incentives to rezoning land - on big and small projects throughout the city.

At least eight projects that have been publicly announced are in the pipeline awaiting some aspect of council approval. More are expected to be added. "This will be a strong indication of how much construction will start and how many jobs will be created in the spring," said Bob Trezise, president of the Lansing Economic Development Corp.

But despite promises of new jobs and visions of a more dynamic city, those projects won't necessarily have an easy time making it through the process.

With new council leadership and two members newer to council than some of the projects before it, tax incentives for multimillion projects could get a fresh dose of skepticism.

Other issues, including concerns about the city's neighborhoods and a prevailing wage ordinance proposed last year, also are likely to come up.

None of the concerns raised so far has risen to the point where officials and developers say they jeopardize a project.

"We've given out a tremendous amount of abatements," said council President Brian Jeffries, who in the past helped usher projects through the process as chair of the council's development committee. "There's beginning to be comment from the neighborhoods (that) we seem to be focused on the downtown and we're letting the neighborhoods go."

Trezise, who leads the city's economic development efforts, said the city is helping neighborhoods, too.

He points to a number of projects moving through the council process, including projects on East Michigan Avenue and the redevelopment of Holmes Street School into the home of Spartan Internet Consulting Corp. and a technology education program.

"We get just as excited about an East Michigan Avenue new building as a downtown building," Trezise said.

Big, tall buildings

Downtown projects, however, tend to grab the most attention.

"We're talking about tall buildings visible from a long way," he said.

Top among them is an $182 million plan by Christman Co. to turn the Ottawa Power Station into the headquarters for Accident Fund Insurance Co. of America Inc.

The sale of the power plant could come before the council within weeks.

Walnut Neighborhood resident Penny Gardner is generally supportive of what developers have proposed recently in the city. But she is concerned about how new tax abatements could affect a tight city budget.

Over the last two years, Lansing has used 30 cents worth of incentives for every $1 of private investment, according to data from the Lansing Economic Development Corp.

"I'm worried about the streets," Gardner said. "I'm just worried that the politicians will cut taxes and cut more and more services because of the recession we're in right now.

"That's not going to help us at all."

Using incentives

Lansing would give up a lot if it didn't have those incentives, officials say. In 2006 and 2007, incentives were tied to the creation of more than 2,000 jobs and more than $500 million of private investment in the city.

Those deal sweeteners can range from nearly tax-free zones - such as one for the proposed downtown Capitol Club Tower - to reimbursement to developers for cleaning up environmental contamination.

Officials argue incentives are necessary for city land to be competitive with undeveloped property in the suburbs.

And the city still is picking up some increased tax revenue from most of the projects.

Developer Gene Townsend is working on a $12 million plan for the Lansing Gateway building. Formerly called Kalamazoo Gateway, the building would include condominiums, apartments and retail space at Kalamazoo and Cedar streets.

Townsend's also finalizing plans for a housing development at Ottawa and Sycamore streets on a largely vacant block.

Both development projects require council approval of some tax incentives.

'One wild card'

But it's not getting the incentives that worry the developer. Townsend said he's sat down with every council member to talk about the two projects.

Instead, he's among the developers concerned about the prevailing wage issue left unresolved from last year.

Trade unions are pushing for an ordinance that would require construction workers on most projects that get local tax incentives be paid the prevailing wage - essentially, union wages. The proposal stalled out last year.

"There's one wild card," Townsend said. "That's the idea of what they call project-labor agreements. There's talk about council stipulating them. It's really hard to know what that's going to amount to."

A project-labor agreement, or PLA, would set wages for all workers on a project and could stipulate from where those workers could come.

Council members also are likely to hear concerns from residents and small-business owners that they're getting left out as developers and large companies get tax breaks.

Colleen Davis, who owns Gone Wired Cafe, wishes for a more uniform and attractive look along Michigan Avenue, a thoroughfare connecting East Lansing to the state's Capitol.

"For most of the businesses down here, it's a struggle to keep the doors open," she said. "We don't get the benefits that large corporations get. That's probably going to become a worsening problem."

She's a proponent of the creation of a Corridor Improvement Authority, which would span East Lansing, Lansing Township and Lansing to support projects along Michigan Avenue.

The three local governments are exploring the creation of such an authority. That issue, too, soon could be before council.

"The biggest problem to the avenue right now is that it looks blighted," she said, mentioning decrepit houses. "It really needs a cohesive, aesthetic look."


NYT: Spare time agonizing to striking writers

“Of course I have time to talk to you,” Kevin Bleyer, a writer for “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” said at the beginning of a recent interview. “Let me just put down this copy of ‘War and Peace’ that I now have time to read.”

Like his fellow members of the Writers Guild of America East, Mr. Bleyer, 36, has been on strike for nearly three months. He was joking about “War and Peace,” though not about having enough hours to embark on a project of that magnitude. As the fight has dragged on between the guilds — East and West — and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers over compensation for the use of material on the Internet, cellphones and other new media, he and his compatriots have had to find ways to fill their days, and their wallets. At press time, writers and producers had just started informal talks, the first meetings since early December.

“Writers don’t tend to be very good at time management or organization — if they were, they’d be producers, and therefore evil,” another “Daily Show” writer, Sam Means, wrote via e-mail. “So I think a lot of people are pretty frustrated right now, and some are downright bored.”

Mr. Means, 26, who has been using his spare time to pitch cartoons to The New Yorker, has been fortified, financially and creatively, by the fact that a satirical book he wrote, “The Practical Guide to Racism,” was published this month (under the pseudonym C. H. Dalton); his advance has helped offset his unemployment, he said.

For his part Mr. Bleyer has covered the primaries in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina for National Public Radio and an online humor site, 23/6, an offshoot of The Huffington Post. Like most striking writers who have turned to freelancing to keep busy, he did it mostly for professional growth, and still frets about finances.

A few writers have returned to gigs they had hoped to forget: waiting tables, bartending, copywriting, tutoring. Some who began as performers have returned to the grind of auditioning for commercials. Many — especially on the West Coast, whose guild recommends 12 hours a week on the picket line (less is asked of the East Coast contingent, especially in the cold) — have discovered that striking is nearly a full-time job in itself. And as the picketing has continued, whatever excitement there was at its outset — The solidarity across genres! The networking opportunities! The Web videos! — began to fade.

“There’s definitely a winter malaise setting in,” said Bryan Tucker, a writer for “Saturday Night Live.” “The fun group dynamic that we had the first week or two has dissolved. It’s tough to see any kind of hope on the horizon.”

Mr. Tucker, 34, was speaking from the Upper East Side home he shares with his wife and two young daughters. A veteran comedy writer whose credits include “The Chris Rock Show” and “Mad TV,” he has been struggling to keep afloat, and has returned to his roots as a stand-up comic to keep busy and funny. Performing in comedy clubs, he said, he has been paid “between nothing and $100,” averaging about $20 to $40 per gig. He has also written humor articles for newspapers and magazines. But, he said, “if I added all the money up for all those, it probably would not make a week’s pay for what I make writing in television.” Though his wife, Rachael, has a secure job in finance, they are cutting back; even joining a gym to make the most of the time off was deemed too costly. At one union benefit performance Mr. Tucker joked about having to be a temp worker, a solution he later said he would seriously consider: “I’m certainly not too proud to go back to doing that.”

Aaron Solomon, 32, who lives in Burbank, Calif., has weighed the same option. Mr. Solomon, who has written questions and host patter for “The Weakest Link,” “One Versus 100” and “The New Pyramid,” has actually been on strike since August, when he and three other union members walked off “Temptation,” a syndicated pop culture game show. The show’s production company, FremantleMedia, would not negotiate a guild contract. (About half of all game shows are covered by the guild, a union spokeswoman said; most reality programming is not.)

Mr. Solomon went on unemployment, earning the maximum compensation, $450 a week — about a quarter of what he made in TV — but that is about to run out. His prolonged joblessness, and unexpected car repairs, have nearly wiped out his savings, he said. Still, he serves as a volunteer strike captain, spending up to 20 hours a week picketing, attending meetings and sending e-mail updates. He has also turned down seven invitations to be interviewed for reality-show jobs, he said.

“I don’t believe in contributing to the genre that we’re trying to get covered,” he said. “They work as hard but don’t get any health care or the same salary, or even the respect of being given the title of writers. I think it’s absolutely the right thing to do.”

So he has cut back on expenses and started eating at two Los Angeles-area restaurants, the Bob’s Big Boy in Taluca Lake and Swingers, where an anonymous celebrity benefactor has offered to pick up the tab for any card-carrying writer. He has also looked into temp work as a closed-caption writer.

Career shifts may be more common in the coming weeks, as residual checks dwindle. Depending on many factors — including the length of the show and whether it is on cable or a network — payments can be lucrative for first-time reruns, but they decrease exponentially with each broadcast. Still, for people like Nina Bargiel, who wrote 17 episodes of the Disney hit “Lizzie McGuire” a few years ago but isn’t currently working in television, that money is much appreciated. “If they’re doing a marathon, and they play six of your shows, that’s $300,” she said. “I’m lucky if I make that in a week.”

The unions have tried to stress that, while some of their 12,000-plus members nationwide are Hollywood-level talents, with multi-million-dollar incomes to match, many more are middle class. According to union statistics, nearly half of the West Coast members are unemployed at any time. (There are no such statistics for East Coast members, but the union spokeswoman said the figure was similar.)

Among the unlucky in Los Angeles are Ms. Bargiel, 35, whose last guild writing job, for the Nickelodeon show “Romeo!,” was in 2003. She has also been employed by nonguild shows like “The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy” on the Cartoon Network, but by 2006 those jobs had dried up. She wound up working part-time behind the desk in a gym where she was once a member, and software testing for an Internet start-up while hustling for more television work. She also pickets four or five days a week, which sometimes means working from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Because any settlement is not likely to be retroactive, “I personally may not gain anything,” she said. “But ideally the person who comes behind me will not be scrambling to get from the gym to the software beta-testing job to the picket line.”

One benefit of the strike, said Michele Mulroney, a screenwriter, “is, you’ve inadvertently radicalized a bunch of otherwise mellow people. Like, maybe we will make our own Internet content.”

Ms. Mulroney, 41, quickly added that she and her husband and writing partner, Kieran Mulroney, were among the privileged few who could ride out the strike: they have polished scripts for films like “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” and were juggling three projects when the walkout began.

But newcomers like Andrés du Bouchet, 36, who joined the union in August, when he received his first television writing job, on “Talkshow With Spike Feresten,” a new late-night program on Fox, may not be so fortunate; he has not even finished paying his initiation dues yet, and the lag might cost him career momentum. Also, he’s not much of a self-starter at home. “I get easily distracted,” he said.

Having writers like these march side by side on the picket lines has thrown some of the industry’s class differences into sharp relief. (Ms. Bargiel admitted feeling “a little embarrassed” about her recent career turn, though she added that everyone picketing, from a Farrelly brother on down, has been welcoming; she also emphasized that she considered having day jobs par for the course for a writer.)

And there is a sense that complaining about the fine print on a job that many would jump at is whiny or elitist. So despite the malaise that comes from being in a professional limbo — and the increased opportunity for procrastination that a life without deadlines affords — some writers have seen a silver lining.

Mr. Tucker, from “Saturday Night Live,” is actually able to spend more time with his family. “It’s nice to have the kind of life that most people have, where everyone is home and we have dinner together,” he said. Mr. Solomon, the game show writer, just formed a new band, Super Duper, which includes a percussionist and reality-show writer (employed), and a horn player and sound editor (unemployed). “On the upside we have more time to rehearse,” said Mr. Solomon, who plays bass and does some songwriting.

Ms. Mulroney has gone back to writing a play and said many friends had picked up “passion projects,” like unfinished novels, children’s books and developing screenplays. After the strike “the town will be flooded with new material,” she said.

As Mr. Bleyer of “The Daily Show” put it: “I believe it was Lisa Simpson, on ‘The Simpsons,’ who said, ‘This is a crisatunity.’ It’s a small crisis and I’m looking for an opportunity.” He thought a minute and added: “Are you offering? You need a ghostwriter? I could be a ghostwriter for a journalist. I could punch it up.”


FL teachers union sets anti-School Choice fight

An unconstitutional school voucher program could be restored and a ban on state aid to religious organizations and institutions could be at least partly lifted through a proposal introduced Friday.

The proposed state constitutional amendment would undo two court decisions that threw out one of former Gov. Jeb Bush’s pet projects in 2005. The Opportunity Scholarship Program gave students from failing public schools vouchers to attend religious and other private schools at taxpayer expense.

Taxation and Budget Reform Commission sponsors said their proposal, though, will serve a broader purpose of ending bias against faith-based providers who offer all kinds of public services.

“To get rid of that religious discrimination that’s in our constitution you have to ensure that there’s choice for health care, for elder care, for juvenile justice care, for substance abuse, for homelessness,” said Commissioner Patricia Levesque.

Levesque is executive director of two foundations Bush has established to advance his educational policy goals. She sits on the commission’s Governmental Procedures and Structure Committee, which introduced the proposal.

The measure will be discussed more before a decision whether to send the measure to the full commission, which could then put it on the November ballot.

The proposal drew opposition from the Florida Education Association. The statewide teachers union was one of several groups that challenged the Opportunity Scholarship Program.

Union lawyer Ron Meyer told the committee that the proposal, which doesn’t specifically mention vouchers, would undermine the foundation of the state’s public school financing program and result in more challenges based on equal rights provisions of the U.S. Constitution.

“Stop hiding what you’re doing here,” Meyer said. “This is about vouchers.”

The commission proposal would create exceptions to two existing provisions in the Florida Constitution by saying the Legislature can enact programs using private providers “in every field as permitted by law” without regard to their religious nature.

One of the existing constitutional provisions requires a uniform system of high-quality public schools. It was cited by the Florida Supreme Court in striking down Bush’s voucher program. The justices ruled the program created a separate and unequal system of publicly supported schools.

The commission proposal also would lift an existing constitutional ban against direct or indirect state aid of any kind to churches and other religious organizations and institutions.

The Supreme Court said there was no need to decide if it also made the voucher program unconstitutional. The 1st District Court of Appeal, though, earlier had ruled that it did.

School choice advocates are afraid the appellate ruling could be used as a precedent to attack other state programs that use faith-based providers. That includes state scholarships for students attending private colleges, Florida’s voluntary prekindergaten program and two other voucher programs.

The Florida Education Association has no plans to challenge those programs, Meyer said, but committee members said he couldn’t guarantee the union or some one else wouldn’t do so in the future.


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