AFSCME shout-down unsettles Dems

Hillary Clinton won the Nevada popular vote, and Barack Obama's campaign is claiming he won more delegates, but it was hard not to worry that the Democratic Party could wind up the loser as I sat watching a nasty caucus battle at the Paris Hotel and Casino Saturday afternoon.

At the end of the day, having called around to Democrats and reporters who were at other caucus sites, I'm pretty sure I witnessed one of the most extreme and ugly standoffs between Clinton and Obama supporters. But it's still a window on the tensions in the Democratic Party as it faces a future in which its nominee will almost certainly be either African-American or female. And it's unsettling.

The good news for Democrats is that the party boosted turnout beyond even Harry Reid's wildest dreams. More than 114,000 Democrats caucused Saturday, when the party was saying on Friday it thought 40,000 was a realistic estimate. While Nevada Democratic Party officials deny the Obama camp's claim that its candidate won more delegates, saying delegates won't be chosen until county and state party conventions, it's likely the final delegate count will be close. But the results showed disturbing splits in the party: Latinos broke 2-1 for Clinton, according to CNN entrance polls, while African-Americans went almost 4-1 for Obama. Whites favored Clinton over Obama 52-34, women backed her 51-45 (and women made up 59 percent of Nevada voters). Meanwhile, voters under 45 supported Obama 48-34; those over 45 went for Clinton 54-33.

I saw it all at the Paris: It was union member vs. union member, men against women, blacks against Latinos. An AFSCME worker (she wouldn't give me her name) was riling up the Clinton crowd, and got into a shouting match with an Obama supporter. "Hillary Clinton has never walked a picket line in her life," shouted Ray Wadsworth, an African-American pantry worker at Bally's casino who was just laid off. "I've walked picket lines with Hillary Clinton," the AFSCME woman shouted back. A Latina worker at Paris started yelling at Wadsworth: "Show respect, she's a woman!" At the worst of it, Wadsworth and other Obama supporters were yelling insults about Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, while the heavily Latino Clinton caucus was trying to shout them down with chants of "Hillary!" In the end only a handful of Latinos seemed to be among Obama's 98 caucus supporters; African-Americans were, by comparison, better represented in the Clinton delegation, but most caucused for Obama. (Only five caucus-goers supported John Edwards, which seemed to herald his dismal showing in the caucuses overall; he got only 4 percent of the vote.)

I watched the caucus battle with one of my oldest friends, someone I attended the 1984 Democratic convention with, a California labor organizer and politico who happened to be attending as an official Obama observer. Back then, in San Francisco, we cheered speeches by Jesse Jackson and Geraldine Ferraro together, so happy for the step forward both candidates provided to the party. There was little to cheer today. "Have you ever seen anything like this?" he asked me, with some alarm. I had to tell him no. Maybe we have to pass through this state of bitterness and chaos to get to a multiracial promised land, but it's not going to be a fun trip.

There's some reason to think the Paris situation was an only in Las Vegas aberration. The ugly atmosphere was certainly fueled by overreaching by the Culinary Workers Union, which faced accusations of strong-arming workers into supporting Obama. While Bill Burton, Obama communications director, told me those charges had been "debunked" on Friday, it was clear they were still roiling workers. I interviewed Sylvia Antuna on Friday, after her account of CWU intimidation was dismissed by both the Las Vegas Sun and the Obama campaign. Even if she was just one potential voter, her tale of coercion by CWU Obama supporters was disturbing. But it was clear on Saturday that she wasn't alone. "It has been really bad," cocktail server Nicky Nicolescu told me Saturday before the caucus began. "We could have a black president or a woman president, it should be great, but the union made this deal for power." Nicolescu said her boss was more help getting her free from work to caucus than the union was.

"I think the union is gonna be very surprised," Paris banquet server Patricio Gajardo told me a few minutes later. "They misjudged the Hispanic population. We don't think with an accent," he said, adding, "Write that down." I wasn't clear what he meant, and he elaborated: "A lot of us come here, we don't speak much English, they think we're naive, and they take advantage of us. We may never lose our accent, but we don't think with an accent; we understand what's going on." Paris worker Pauline Tilley added: "I came here almost 40 years ago, I'm a citizen, I still have my accent, and I support Hillary!" Tilley and Gajardo told of witnessing CWU leaders harassing Clinton supporters, refusing to help them get off work to caucus, removing Clinton fliers from the cafeteria. "We had to get H.R. to tell them to put them back," Gajardo said. In the end the Paris caucus site broke 2-1 for Clinton.

When I got back to my room at the Paris after the caucus, I found five housekeeping workers speaking in Spanish about Clinton's surprising win. Except it wasn't surprising to them: All had caucused for her. One of them told me she's a CWU leader who was appalled at the union's decision to support Obama; she asked that I not use her name. "They were going to stay neutral. They wound up pushing too much. Yesterday, when Chelsea Clinton came here, we had shop stewards saying, 'Kick her out! Kick her out!' I thought that was real rude; it sounded dirty to me." This Paris worker was also appalled by the Spanish-language ad sponsored by CWU's parent, UNITE HERE, that claimed Clinton didn't "respect" Latino people. "Hillary's been there for us. They just pushed too hard. It was dirty."

While not directly defending the UNITE HERE ad, California state Sen. Gilbert Cedillo, attending the Paris caucus as an Obama observer, pointed to the context of the lawsuit that tried to stop the at-large casino voting. While Clinton said she didn't support the suit, she never opposed it, either, and it was filed by some of her supporters. The ad, he noted, "was separate from the Obama campaign, but clearly labor is under siege. The reaction seemed to be one that is sincere, and comes from having to fight for the union's very existence here. People were genuinely shocked at what they saw as an effort to suppress their voice, not by an employer, but by someone who had been courting their endorsement." Cedillo believes Obama will do better among California Latinos, though he was dispirited by the Paris vote. "He's the son of an immigrant, he supports the Dream act, he supports driver's licenses" for undocumented residents, Cedillo said. "We know his vision, as well as his words and deeds, and we need his leadership."

There was more to Clinton's win than the CWU endorsement backfiring, of course. On Friday morning I saw her in a small group setting billed as a "round table," with about 40 workers and a few invited guests -- and 200 reporters -- at A&B Printing in Las Vegas. A small union print shop run by two women partners, Cathy Gillespie and Barbara Allan, it was a perfect setting for Clinton. She fielded questions from a multiracial crowd on healthcare, illegal immigration and education with her trademark detail, which can be mind-numbing in big speeches but worked in this small group.

She also blasted Obama without naming him for remarks that seemed to praise Ronald Reagan and Republicans, which may, in the end, have been as detrimental to his campaign as the CWU excesses. "He thought Republicans had better ideas than Democrats in the last 10-15 years? To shut down government and drive us into debt?" The crowd loved it. Allan, who introduced herself to me as Gillespie's life partner as well as business partner, said the pair moved to Las Vegas from Syracuse, N.Y., and "we've just always supported Hillary." But Clinton won support from Gregory Bullock, an African-American printer who came in undecided, and asked her, "What are you going to do for America?" A&B employee Sandra Agudelo, 27, was beaming after Clinton let her ask one last question (a softball about how she would give "voice" to women across America). "She's the next president," Agudelo told me.

This was a bewildering day, and we'll be sorting it all out for a while. There was some irony in seeing the two camps suddenly switch sides, with Clinton praising the results in the at-large casino precincts, which some of her supporters had complained made a mockery of democracy. (She won seven of the nine casino sites, according to the Las Vegas Sun.) Meanwhile, the Obama camp hailed the delegate boost its man got as a result of Nevada party rules weighting rural voters' ballots over urban voters -- the very people they were defending when backing the at-large casino precincts. On the other hand, whether the Democratic base likes it or not, it may be that Obama has a rare and valuable gift in pulling in red-state voters and others who haven't been Democrats in a while, or ever. We'll figure that out as the primary process unfolds.

Still, the battle of Paris will stay with me, and both candidates' campaigns should look closely at what went on here, and try not to repeat it as the campaign moves to other diverse states. Bally's casino bartender Jennifer Blair came into the caucus undecided, and left that way -- only bitter and disgusted. "They're trying to flip the state from red to blue? This is how they do it?" she said, blasting her union. But she wasn't happy with the Clinton supporters' behavior, either. "This all got too corrupt. We're going to have to work together. This is gonna cause a lot of conflict for a long time." She was talking about her union and her workplace; Democrats have to hope her words don't apply to the party.


Reaganism gone missing, GOP apes Dems

Running for president on a third-party ticket in 1968, George Wallace famously claimed that there wasn't "a dime's worth of difference" between the Republican and Democratic nominees. Would anyone tuning in this year's crop of candidates say the same thing?

Consider some recent sound bites:

"You said we would fight for every job! You said that we would fight to get healthcare for all Americans! You said we'd fight to secure our border! You said we'd fight for us to be able to get lower taxes for middle-income Americans!"

"Guess what they're doing in Washington: They're worrying, because they realize, the lobbyists and the politicians realize, that America now understands that Washington is broken. And we're going to do something about it."

"Washington told us that they'd get us better healthcare and better education - but they haven't. Washington told us they'd get us a tax break for the middle-income Americans - but they haven't."

You don't have to be a political junkie to recognize those as specimens of populist Democratic boilerplate, right? The only challenge is to match each quotation to the Democratic candidate who said it.

Except that no Democrat uttered those words. The three big-government platitudes above were taken from Republican Mitt Romney's Michigan primary victory speech on Tuesday.

No one is surprised when Dennis Kucinich or John Edwards insists that it's the federal government's responsibility to "get us better healthcare and better education." Coming from Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, the claim that the Bush tax cuts shortchanged middle-income Americans is all too familiar. But from a Republican like Romney, who casts himself as the truest, most Reaganesque conservative in the GOP field?

Romney's message used to be one of unabashed small-government conservatism: "Government is simply too big. State government is too big. The federal government is too big. It's spending too much." Those words still appear on his website, but there was nothing like them in his remarks last week. He told his supporters that Washington is broken and needs to be fixed - which is decidedly not the same as saying it needs to be shrunk. Romney used to boast of the hundreds of spending line-items he vetoed as Massachusetts governor; "I like vetoes," he told audiences. But these days he's singing from a different hymnal.

To be sure, Romney is not the only Republican candidate to distance himself from the gospel of less-intrusive, less-expensive government. Certainly no one would confuse Mike Huckabee - who as Arkansas' governor raised taxes, hiked spending, and expanded state regulation - with Barry Goldwater, the original "Mr. Conservative." And the man who succeeded Goldwater in the Senate, John McCain, is guilty of such big-government abominations as the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law and opposing the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts.

But it is Romney whose pitch has shifted the most as he (again) seems to be reinventing himself, this time as a big-government planner with more faith in the power of top-down federal intervention than in the innovations and efficiencies of the free market.

In Detroit last week, Romney vowed to resurrect the moribund US auto industry - which has been declining for decades - with massive corporate welfare and other government largesse. He derided as "baloney" McCain's blunt reality check that many auto manufacturing jobs are gone for good. He condemned "the absence of a federal policy designed to strengthen the US automotive sector," sounding for all the world as if he just stepped out of some 1970s statist time warp. He promised "a fivefold increase - from $4 billion to $20 billion - in our national investment in energy research, fuel technology, materials science, and automotive technology."

Whatever else it might be, this is not fiscal conservatism.

"If I'm president of this country, I will roll up my sleeves in the first 100 days I'm in office, and I will personally bring together industry, labor, congressional, and state leaders, and together we will develop a plan to rebuild America's automotive leadership," Romney now says. "Washington should not be a benefactor, but it can and must be a partner."

It must? That sure wasn't the Gipper's view.

"What is euphemistically called government-corporate 'partnership' is just government coercion, political favoritism, collectivist industrial policy, and old-fashioned federal boondoggles nicely wrapped up in a bright-colored ribbon," President Reagan declared emphatically in 1988. "It doesn't work."

Not a dime's worth of difference between the parties? No, I wouldn't go that far. But it would be nice if Republicans who claim to be Reaganesque conservatives occasionally paused to ask themselves: What would Reagan say?


Out-of-state union cash fuels property-tax war

The TV and billboard battle pits grim-faced firefighters, teachers and paramedics against a cheerfully determined governor standing tall for tax-weary homeowners.

But the shadow war over Amendment 1, and its promise of a five-year, $9.3 billion property tax reduction, is populated by combatants as diverse as Donald Trump, Reddy Kilowatt, Mickey Mouse and the head of the national AFL-CIO, John J. Sweeney.

When Floridians go to the polls Jan. 29, visions of laid-off firefighters, or a $240 tax windfall, will fill most minds. But the various special-interest groups paying millions of dollars to plant those images will be far from sight.

Crist and Amendment 1 supporters want voters' minds fixed on the image of Leonard and Donna Foster, the retired Edgewater couple who have struggled for the past three months to sell their $250,000 home so they can move into a smaller home. The couple would save $1,000 in taxes if Amendment 1 passes.

"You get to make the call. This is your decision. It's your future. It's your family's future," Crist told supporters gathered on the Fosters' front yard in a campaign swing last week.

"Yes on 1," the political action committee behind Crist's bus and airplane tour, is backed by big business. The single-largest contributor is the Florida Association of Realtors, a group that claims 150,000 members and 17,000 real estate firms.

The group kicked in $1 million of the $3.8 million Yes on 1 has reported collecting so far.

Other large contributors include the largest investor-owned utility in the state, Florida Power & Light, which gave $500,000. St. Joe Company, the largest private landowner and developer in Florida, kicked in $25,000, as did Disney World Services. Wal-Mart stores rang up a $10,000 donation.

Donald Trump, the Palm Beach millionaire, donated $1,000 in-kind through a Manhattan restaurant for a fundraiser.

Trey Price, a veteran Tallahassee lobbyist for the Florida Association of Realtors, said the group wants to be a good citizen and support Crist's efforts to give taxpayers relief and spur the economy. The group also wants to revive a comatose housing market, he said.

The group is so determined, it's willing to put up money on a proposal even Price acknowledged may not do enough to lift the economy. But don't underestimate the value of an average $240 to the individual homeowner, he said.

"Amendment 1 won't solve all of our problems, but we believe it's a step in the right direction," Price said. "I kind of compare it to a winning lottery ticket. Am I going to tear it up and throw it away?"

FPL could see comparatively modest savings from a provision that extends a new $25,000 tangible personal property tax exemption to businesses.

Brian Ballard, a veteran Tallahassee lobbyist who represents the company, said investing in a proposal designed to spur home sales makes sense for a company that relies on an expanding power grid for its economic security.

But Ballard also acknowledged the donation is an important peace offering to a governor whose popularity ratings remain stellar. And there's fence mending to do.

FPL gave generously to Crist's 2006 GOP primary rival, Tom Gallagher, who was defeated.

Crist responded with an endorsement of the Public Service Commission's decision last summer to pull the plug on FPL's proposed, $5.6 billion coal-fired power plant on the edge of the Everglades. Now the two stand as one on Amendment 1.

"The governor asked them to get involved and they wanted a relationship with him that was improved," Ballard said.

If supporters of Amendment 1 claim Leonard and Donna Foster as their public face, opponents want voters focused on Tuffy Dixon.

The veteran Destin fire chief commands a 50-member, two-station force. Its $7 million budget relies on taxes from property owners living in a special district in Okaloosa County. The projected $500,000 hit from Amendment 1 won't be a knock-out punch, but it will be stunning, Dixon said.

"If people vote for this, mark my words, it will come back to haunt them," Dixon said.

Should the issue pass, local governments will take a revenue hit. That would be in addition to lower revenue expected from a sinking real estate market. Lee County Commissioners have taken no stand on Amendment 1, choosing instead to leave it to voters.

The county contracts a lobbying firm to follow the Legislature, but the lobbyist is not advocating either way for the board, said Assistant County Manager Pete Winton.

Firefighters, teachers, law enforcement and social service organizations such as the League of Women Voters have formed their own opposition coalition and accompanying PAC, Florida is Our Home Inc.

The group has raised more than $900,000, and spent much of it on rallies and an ominously worded flier. Florida Professional Firefighters, the firefighter and paramedic union, gave $100,000.

Behind the uniformed army of public servants fighting Amendment 1 are lesser-known but powerful labor organizations, such as the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the national and state chapters of the AFL-CIO.

AFSCME donated $100,000 and the group claims 1.4 million members nationwide. The state chapter claims more than 110,000 active members, with seven regional offices and a professional staff of 33.

Another labor group, the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, claims 1.9 million members in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. It gave $200,000. Teachers unions, through either the Florida Education Association or the Florida Public Education Defense Fund, gave more than $400,000.

The AFL-CIO, both the state and national, gave about $2,000 in in-kind donations.

The Florida League of Cities is one of Amendment 1's largest opponents. The League is not a financial contributor to Florida is Our Home, but it is sponsoring forums and sending out word to its members about potential problems.

Amendment 1 won't force every local government to lay off police and firefighters and first responders, acknowledged the league's executive director, Mike Sittig.

"Not exactly," he said.

But voters should oppose the measure because of the uncertainty it represents. It's impossible to predict how much homeowners will save because it's unclear how many may take advantage of a portability feature that allows them to keep their Save Our Homes accumulate tax savings when they move, Sittig said.

And voters shouldn't believe all the claims of economic revival, he said.

"The first casualty in any war is the truth," he said.


Liberal Fascism: Their Friend, the State

In 1932, H.G. Wells, the British socialist, gave a speech at Oxford urging the progressives of his time to become "liberal fascists." As the phrase suggests, Wells favored, to say the least, an authoritarian solution to society's problems. Not surprisingly, he admired both Mussolini and Stalin. He was also an intellectual hero for American liberals, including Franklin Roosevelt.

Jonah Goldberg cites Wells's speech as the origin of his own book's provocative title. In "Liberal Fascists," Mr. Goldberg argues that American liberalism -- dating from the Progressive era of the early 20th century to the present -- can be best understood as a softer, smiling version of European fascism. Modern liberalism, in Mr. Goldberg's view, prefers a bullying, moralistic, oppressive statism to individual freedom.

A Dark Tradition

Mr. Goldberg rightly notes that American liberals have long been aggressively uninterested in the darker elements of their own tradition. One purpose of his book, he says, is to make them interested again. All well and good. But he confesses that he also wants to pay back all those "know nothing" liberals who have tried to smear conservatives as fascists in recent years and who have likened the Bush administration to an evil dictatorship. ("Bushitler" is one of the kinder epithets.) Alas, Mr. Goldberg's second purpose -- a kind of counter-smear -- undermines his first.

Mr. Goldberg begins his argument by noting that Mussolini -- who brought fascism to power in Italy in 1922 -- emerged from a militant socialist background. Such a background was not untypical of European fascists, who understood themselves to be nationalists rather than internationalists (of the Bolshevik variety). Though avowed enemies, Brown and Red socialism -- the national and international types -- had far more in common with each other, in their grim statism, than with liberal democratic capitalism. They were both organized around the principle that parliamentary democracy was a fraud -- that the working class, unable to grasp its own predicament, was best served by an elite that knew what was best for it.

For Mr. Goldberg, this socialist pedigree is important to understanding the kind of "liberal fascism" that made its way to America. He claims that for American progressives -- including Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson -- Bismarck's Prussia was a lodestar: It featured a welfare-state apparatus and authoritarian control over society and culture. "Progressives," Mr. Goldberg argues -- self-consciously borrowing the rhetoric of Marxists -- "did many things that we would today call objectively fascist, and fascists did many things they would today call objectively progressive."

Thus Mr. Goldberg sees in the progressive impulse a presumptive right to ensure the overall well-being of the populace -- with intrusive and potentially dangerous results. He observes that Hugh Johnson, the head of FDR's ill-fated 1934 National Recovery Administration -- which proposed a corporatist solution to the ills of the Depression -- was an ardent admirer of Mussolini and hung a looming picture of Il Duce in his NRA office. Going back to the late 1920s, Mr. Goldberg notes that Herbert Croly of The New Republic, whose book "The Promise of American Life" was a founding document of modern statist liberalism, defended Mussolini by comparing fascist violence to the (implicitly justified) martial means by which Lincoln preserved the Union.

Croly was also something of a eugenicist, saying that the state needed to "interfere on behalf of the really fittest." And indeed, American liberalism once had a strong eugenicist strain. Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, was a close ally of the white supremacist Lothrop Stoddard, the author of "The Rising Tide of Color Against White World Supremacy." Eugenics was at the time the natural expression of the Progressives' public-health movement. Mr. Goldberg does not hesitate to note that it proved to be an inspiration for the Nazi Party.

There is some truth to Mr. Goldberg's comparisons, but it is limited. By cherry-picking liberal transgressions -- or noting continuities between unappealing statist regimes and Progressive agendas -- he demonizes American liberalism unfairly and ignores a counter-history. The social safety-net reforms of David Lloyd George, during the Liberal Party governments in Britain from 1906 to 1914, mattered more to American Progressives and New Dealers, as a model, than Bismarck ever did. But Lloyd George goes unmentioned in "Liberal Fascism," as does a key political moment.

The term "liberal" came into common use following World War I, in reaction to the postwar Red Scare and to Wilson's wartime conscription and autocratic measures (e.g., jailing people for their antiwar sentiments). In his seminal book, "Liberalism in America" (1919), Harold Stearns defined the new liberal creed by its "hatred of compulsion," its "tolerance" and its "respect for the individual." It was from this anti-Progressive strain of liberalism that we get both the modern First Amendment, rightly beloved by liberals and conservatives alike, and (perhaps to Mr. Goldberg's chagrin) the American Civil Liberties Union.

In short, liberalism in America is an unstable mix of statist and libertarian tendencies. But Mr. Goldberg is eager to see everything in a simplifying, Manichean way: All that is not libertarian is at least proleptically fascist. Sizable government, even in moderate forms, is always about to roll down a slippery slope or take the road to serfdom. Thus he sees in Hillary Clinton's misguided efforts to give children rights against their parents a modern form of "fascism." But where Mr. Goldberg sees fascism liberals saw an attempt to use the state to protect vulnerable individuals -- in this case, children -- from the egregious neglect of their underclass parents.

Sarcastic Humor

Mr. Goldberg, who writes regularly for National Review and the Los Angeles Times, is known for his sarcastic sense of humor. Thus when in his late chapters he insists that the centrist Democratic Leadership Council and the retailer Whole Foods are in one way or another expressions of fascism, the reader has to wonder whether he is writing with a wink. How is the DLC fascist? Well, Mr. Goldberg says, the fascists talked about themselves offering a "the third way," neither left nor right. Don't centrist Democrats use the same language? Similarly, since Hitler saw organic foods as part of a return to nature that would redeem humanity -- and Whole Foods now claims that eating naturally can save the environment -- they are kindred spirits. Let us hope that Mr. Goldberg intended some degree of irony in both cases.

In "Politics and the English Language," George Orwell wrote that "the word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies 'something not desirable.' " Finishing "Liberal Fascism," the reader is likely to come to the same conclusion.

- Mr. Siegel is a professor at The Cooper Union in New York.


AFSCME conquers SEIU in desert

Hillary Clinton won the Nevada caucuses today by about a 5 percent margin over Barack Obama. (Almost 51 percent went for Clinton and just over 45 percent for Obama with 90 percent of the precincts reporting). John Edwards came in a distant third with less than 4 percent of the vote.

Billed as the “first test in the West,” the Nevada date was moved up this year in order to bring early attention to western issues. It’s also been called the “Latino Iowa” and the first sample of the Mexican American and Latino vote.

The big story was the Democratic turnout, which topped 100,000, smashing all predictions, according to Reno Gazette Journal blogger Anjeanette Damon. The Republican turnout also topped expectations. Mitt Romney, the only GOP candidate to campaign in Nevada, won.

For all you Midwesterners, Southerners and Easterners: Western issues include water, Native American rights, land use, environment and the role of the federal government.

In Nevada, whether Yucca Mountain will be the receptacle for the nation’s nuclear waste is a specific issue for the state. As far as I know, all the Democratic candidates are against dumping the toxins there.

But some critics contend that outside of Yucca Mountain, the “western issues” were not addressed.

Then there are two issues in Nevada that are national issues as well: the housing crisis and immigration. Immigration — and especially the anti-immigrant crackdown and rhetoric that has been coming out of the Republicans and right wing — has roiled a large section of the Mexican American and Latino vote away from the GOP. Latinos make up a sizeable percentage of the Nevada population and voters.

Clinton has consistently polled double-digits ahead of Obama among Latino voters. She has her husband’s presidency, name recognition and numerous well-known Latino figures behind her, among them United Farm Worker co-founder Dolores Huerta. As a law student and child advocate, Clinton did a lot of work on issues affecting children of farmworkers. She has a national profile that has translated to strong showing in the polls against her main rival, Obama, who doesn’t have such a strong national reputation, or the Democratic Party infrastructure ties that Clinton has.

Women, especially those 55 and over, favor Clinton, while it seems that younger women have gravitated to the Obama campaign.

Obama went into Nevada with a deficit and gave Clinton a good run for her money. He garnered the very important endorsements of the culinary workers union, the state’s largest with 60,000 members and a large Latino membership, and the state SEIU, another organizing powerhouse. He has also begun to pick up endorsements from Latino leaders, such as the personal endorsement by Maria Elena Durazo, the head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.

Obama’s and Clinton’s stands on immigration are similar: they are for legalization, family reunification and “border security” — something that has become a way to try to blunt (or appease?) the right-wing anti-immigrant forces as well as to acknowledge the crime that does happen at the border by human and drug traffickers from many countries, including the U.S.

Obama’s campaign has a lot of catching up to do in the West, especially if he wants to take the delegate-rich state of California. Its primary, along with 21 other states, is Feb. 5 — known as Super Tuesday.

With Las Vegas being the fastest-growing union city in the country, and the overall explosion of growth in the region, many people bought homes in the area, often with subprime mortgages. Now Nevada is an epicenter of foreclosures, with the accompanying decline in housing prices.

One frequent visitor to North Las Vegas told me, “You see lots of for-sale signs. It’s really eerie.”

The Nevada campaign saw a lot of political wrangling and even some dirty tricks. The state teachers association, which backed Clinton, sued over caucuses being held in casinos because they said it gave casino workers, whose union backed Obama, an “unfair advantage.” The teachers lost their suit. Clinton alleged the union was “strong arming” its members to go with Obama.

Clinton also went after Obama’s position on raising the income cap on Social Security, calling it a “tax hike.” Now only the first $90,000 of income gets taxed for Social Security. Progressives have long advocated lifting that cap since wealthier people don’t pay their fair share. The increased money flowing into Social Security could raise benefits for all, and do other positive things.

Obama was forced to fire back at the Clinton campaign for distorting his stances. This has put his campaign on the defensive, and most people get turned off by such political wrangling.

Unidentified persons also made calls attacking Obama and using his middle name, Hussein, over and over again.

Interestingly enough, Obama won several northern Nevada counties, but did not win Clark County where Las Vegas is. Yet Obama won the “battle” at the Caesar’s Palace caucus by a delegate. Apparently it was evenly split with some casino workers going with Clinton despite their union’s endorsement of Obama, and steelworkers from a nearby work site also caucusing for Clinton. (The steelworkers union has endorsed Edwards, so I don’t know if this is an indication that they are now throwing their support to Clinton.)

But in the end, after much reported shouting between the red t-shirted Obama supporters and the white t-shirted Clinton supporters, Obama won that casino caucus. But Clinton won the strip.

And now it’s on to South Carolina.


MLK III stiffs SEIU's candidate

On a strange day in Atlanta, where snow actually descended from the Georgia sky, the press corps following John Edwards was dealt a slightly strange moment itself.

Following a rally at a local IBEW union hall, Edwards made a stop at the King Center, a memorial dedicated to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We were told that Edwards would be meeting with Dr. King’s son, Martin Luther King III, but no cameras or reporters were allowed inside. A campaign official said Edwards and King discussed the legacy of Dr. King and “their shared commitment to fighting poverty.”

Meanwhile, the press sat outside in an idling van, refreshing Web browsers for Nevada caucus results. Suddenly an Edwards staffer dashed out and urged us to grab our cameras because Mr. King could be accompanying Edwards outside to his van. It would be a great photo-op not only for us, but for the campaign as well.

We hustled out of our van as quickly as possible to get into position at the bottom of the stairs. Moments later, Edwards emerged – alone – and stood briefly outside the entrance. Without explanation, Edwards turned and walked back inside. Several seconds later Edwards walked back out and made his way into the van. MLK III was nowhere in sight.

Edwards campaign spokesman Mark Kornblau apologized to us for not delivering the big photo-op and we hurriedly loaded back up into the van.

On any other day it would have been a meaningless episode. But on a day when the former North Carolina senator struggled to pull 4% of the vote in Nevada’s caucuses, a simple stroll from a building entrance to a waiting van struck a poignant – if not symbolic – note.


U.S. freed from anti-collectivist mooring

The coalition is fractured. Have you noticed this, like I have?

To use a cliché, it’s kind of like telling the Emperor that he has no clothes. Yet, as painful and embarrassing as that may be, it’s time that the “leaders” (whoever “they” may be today) of the “conservative movement” (whatever that may consist of today) step out of their state of denial, and come to terms with reality.

The Republican Party, having consisted of a coalition of three broad issues categories since the early 1980‘s, just isn’t what it used to be.

Historically, if your primary concerns for the country had to do with defense and national security, the Republican Party championed your issues. If you were mainly concerned about a high-functioning economy and reducing the burden of excessive taxation, you had a home within the Republican Party. And if your concerns were primarily about so-called “social issues” - the definition of marriage and family, the rights of the unborn person, and so forth - the Republican Party was where you belonged.

And as this three-pronged coalition has been meshing together over the past twenty-five years or so, the Democratic Party has often presented itself as a polar-opposite on key policy issues.

You don’t like increased federal spending on the military? You think our foreign policy is a little too “pro-America?” The Democratic Party is replete with rhetoric about “ending the war” and being more “collaborative” with entities like the United Nations.

If free-market enterprise makes you uncomfortable, the Democratic Party envisions a more collectivist-oriented economy that takes away from “the wealthy,” and gives back to the “poor” and the “middle class.”

And while some Americans might be alienated by the Republican Party’s concern about the rights of the unborn person and the definition of marriage, the Democratic Party has provided clear alternatives to such policies - “progressive” ideas like partial birth abortion, and same-sex civil unions.

Under the leadership and vision of President Reagan, the Republican Party managed to hold these three categories of voters together pretty well. During the 1990’s the coalition seemed to become more galvanized, especially in the face of the far-left leaning policies that emerged from the early days of the Clinton Presidency.

And for a good five years or so, President Bush held the coalition together - barely.

But now, as we move forward through yet another presidential election cycle, the coalition is fractured. And it would seems that there isn’t one viable Republican presidential candidate who can keep all three issues groups happy.

What about Mike Huckabee? He’s got the goods for the social conservatives (at least in Iowa), but he’s questionable, at best, when it comes to fiscal policy. Equally as troubling, he has demonstrated a lack of discretion as to when and where to play his “faith card” (can I guy who wants to “take back America for Christ” really get elected???). Worse still, he’s been quite willing to play upon the ungrounded fears many evangelicals have of Mormons, exacerbating an already contentious alliance.

John McCain? It’s tough for any “Reagan conservative” to not love a leader who valiantly wore the uniform, suffered torture at the hands of communists, and then went on to become a “pro-defense” Senator. It’s also tough for a Reagan conservative to embrace a Senator who voted against tax cuts, no matter what his party affiliation is.

How about Mitt Romney? A former Governor who has “real world” private sector business experience, plus MBA and J.D. credentials from Harvard, would seem like a Republican presidential dream come true. But he may be too recent of a convert to his conservative views of marriage and abortion, to satisfy the social conservative movement. And as shameful and narrow minded as it is, many religious social conservatives (including the movement‘s “leaders” ) simply refuse to embrace a candidate whose theology isn’t “correct,” even if his policy positions are.

Maybe Fred Thompson can unite us. He would seem to have the correct policy positions on all three fronts (not withstanding Dr. James Dobson’s assertions that Thompson is “not a Christian”). Unfortunately, Thompson for whatever reason has made a point of repeatedly reminding us how much he dislikes campaigning, and even insinuated to a news reporter last fall that he doesn’t believe that he can get elected anyway. And regardless of how Thompson feels about himself, primary election voters have thus far felt very little for him. But frustration with the candidates is a small part of the problem. The real dilemma facing the Republican Party today is the fact that the “leaders” of the three big issues categories don’t get along very well. While in reality the three groups form a relationship of core necessity, they nonetheless act as though their relationship is merely one of short-term political convenience.

The “short term” may soon be over. And the future of the party, as well as the presidency, is anything but clear.

- Austin Hill


Workers advance without union OK

Smithfield Packing Co. workers for the first time will have a paid day off to observe the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

Officials at the world’s largest hog processing plant decided last month to add the holiday for its 5,200 workers. The new policy marks a shift from the company’s stance last January, when a few dozen workers — rallied by union organizers — walked off the job in protest of having to work on the King holiday.

The United Food and Commercial Workers, which has long fought with Smithfield over union organization, considers the paid holiday Monday a victory. But the company said the decision had nothing to do with the UFCW.

Still, several workers said they were pleased.

“Dr. King stood for workers’ rights, and if he were alive today we know he would be fighting with us to help stop the abuse and make conditions better at the plant,” said Julia McMillian, a worker at the Tar Heel plant. “We know that he would appreciate this victory that we fought for.”

On last year’s King holiday, a few hundred workers more than usual failed to show up to work. A few dozen walked out in protest. The workers said the company refused to accept a petition asking for a paid holiday. Smithfield officials said at the time they could not shift paid holidays on short notice and without a vote. The petitions were presented to company officials two weeks before the holiday.

Employees, many of whom are Hispanic, voted last spring for their holidays. A majority chose Easter instead of the King holiday.

Smithfield gives eight paid holidays each year: New Year’s Day, the Monday after Easter, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving and two days at Christmas.

The company decided in December to give the employees the additional holiday, said Dennis Pittman, spokesman for Smithfield Packing Co.

“Upon evaluation, the company decided to add an additional holiday,” Pittman said. “The company felt that it was the right thing to do. The UCFW is trying to take credit. Every time we have listened to the employees and responded, the union tries to make a victory out of it.”

Morale boost

McMillian, who has worked at the plant for eight years on the kill floor, said morale has improved since the decision to add the King holiday.

“This was something that the employees were pushing for, and it feels good to get it,” she said. “We do not have to prove a point like we did before.”

Lois Burns, who has worked in livestock for four years, said there was some discussion among employees about another walkout this year.

“I guess they got word of it and gave us the holiday,” he said. “Everyone is happy about it. A lot of people weren’t going to come to work anyway if they hadn’t given it too us.”

Burns said the company should give employees the paid holiday.

“If it wasn’t for Martin Luther King, a lot of people wouldn’t be where they are today,” Burns said. “The employees all stood up for the holiday. Now, they need to all stand up to get the union because we sure do need it.”

Burns said many of the employees plan to attend an event commemorating Martin Luther King and Hispanic civil rights leader Cesar Chavez on Monday at First Baptist Church at 302 Moore St. in Fayetteville. Chavez was a leader of the United Farm Workers before his death in 1993.

The event will begin at 11 a.m. The guest speaker will be Michael Battle, president of the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta.

The program is sponsored by the First Baptist Church and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.


Writers strike scabs: Beyonce, Foo Fighters

The Foo Fighters and Beyonce have announced that they will be attending the threatened Grammy Awards.

Many acts up for prizes are thought to be boycotting the awards because of the ongoing strike by Hollywood writers, which forced the cancellation of this year's Golden Globes awards after actors backed the writers and would not cross any picket lines by attending the event. Globes' organisers were forced to abandon the ceremony and simply announce the names of the winners at a press conference.

However, Foos' manager John Silva issued a statement saying the Foos were looking forward to attending this year's Grammy Awards as they do every year.

"We are hopeful we will see a resolution to the current situation as Foo Fighters have always had nothing short of amazing experiences with the writers, producers, fellow artists and audiences at the Grammys," the statement said.

Matthew Knowles, Beyonce's father and manager, made a similar statement assuring his daughter's attendance.

The 50th Grammy Awards take place on February 10.


UAW leaders prefer pickets to contract vote

Locked-out Gunite Corp. workers in Rockford (IL) stood outside the plant’s back gate Friday in a bracing wind that was expected to reach a chill factor of 17 degrees below zero overnight.

It’s a far cry from their usual jobs where the roaring heat of a foundry churns out molten iron for brake drums. But members of United Auto Workers Local 718 are getting used to the outdoor shift since management locked them out two months ago Friday after labor talks broke down.

Since then, the union and company representatives have met once, a Jan. 3 session where union negotiators asked questions about the company’s contract offer. The two sides aren’t set to talk again until Jan. 29 and 30.

Workers say they’re still united to get a better contract but admit that two months on picket lines collecting unemployment is a strain on their families. While the unemployment benefit is about two-thirds of a worker’s pay, it’s based on a 40-hour workweek. Gunite’s 136 union workers average 66 hours a week, according to the UAW.

“It’s getting tougher all the time,” millwright Mark LeFevre said. “It gets a little frustrating. For one thing, they stretched the talks out.”

In the meantime, security guards hired by the company keep a constant eye on the pickets. Replacement workers and salaried employees are operating the plant.

“Customer orders continue to be filled on time, with quality products coming from the facility,” said Eva Schmitz, spokeswoman for Accuride Corp., Gunite’s corporate parent.

The company will answer the contract questions at the upcoming bargaining session, a meeting the union requested, Schmitz said.

The company proffered a contract Nov. 16 that included 2 percent annual raises, then locked out union workers Nov. 18 when they did not vote on it. The company didn’t give the UAW enough time to ask questions on changes to contract language regarding job classifications and worker safety, said Rick Kardell, Local 718 president.

“It’s going very slow,” Kardell said. “That’s my impression. A lot of people ... they’re forgetting that they locked us out. We didn’t strike the plant.”

Accuride locked out workers at a similar wheel-parts plant in Henderson, Ky., for four years in a devastating labor dispute that resulted in the United Auto Workers International dissolving the union local after its members voted down several contracts that would have cut the work force by 75 percent.


Workers World: On the picket line

WGA strike developments

In early January two movie companies and one television company—United Artists, Weinstein Co. and David Letterman’s Worldwide Pants—signed agreements with the Writers Guild of America. That created the first crack in the wall erected by the Hollywood producers (AMPTP), who have refused to negotiate with the WGA since early December. The WGA has filed a complaint against the AMPTP for failure to bargain in good faith. (blog.aflcio.org)

Ever since Nov. 5, more than 12,500 WGA members in Hollywood and New York City have picketed to publicize their demands for a fair share of revenue from Internet and electronic media sales of their work. The biggest club they hold is that the award season has begun, and award shows need writers. Case in point: the Golden Globe awards were totally sidelined on Jan. 13. A ho-hum press conference was held, instead of the usual glitzy celebration, after the Screen Actors Guild announced its members would not cross a picket line.

The big question: Will the producers come to the table in time for the Oscars to proceed on Feb. 24? The WGA is asking supporters to sign a petition, which already has 65,000 signatures, addressed to the AMPTP. Go to www.petitiononline.com/WGA to show solidarity with the striking writers.

Ever since Jay Leno, Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert returned to their late-night posts without agreements in early January, their shows have been picketed. The entire faculty of Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations sent a letter of solidarity to WGA when one of its professors appeared on Stewart’s “Daily Show.”

In a related development, 500 CBS News employees represented by WGA finally negotiated a decent contract Jan. 9 after voting to strike. All workers will receive a 3.5 percent raise both this year and next. CBS had tried to impose a two-tier system with workers at the national network receiving a 3 percent raise in contrast to a 2 percent raise for writers at several local stations.

In another development, the Directors Guild began negotiations with the AMPTP on Jan. 12, involving some of the same issues as those of the WGA. The directors’ contract expires on June 30, as does that of the Screen Actors Guild.

Starbucks’ anti-union efforts exposed

On Jan. 8 the Wall Street Journal received a series of e-mails written by Starbucks managers detailing the company’s anti-union campaign. Since 2004 managers had covertly monitored Internet chat rooms and eavesdropped on party conversations to identify employees spearheading an organizing drive.

Starbucks’ workers (called baristas), who number 150,000, have been trying to win union representation by the Wobblies, the Industrial Workers of the World. A lawsuit is currently pending in a New York City court. The WSJ notes that “the e-mails could prove embarrassing because they show managers using various methods to identify pro-union employees.” Organize the unorganized!

S.F. letter carriers: Rebuild New Orleans

By unanimous vote on Jan. 9, Branch 214 of the Letter Carriers union, which represents 2,500 workers in the San Francisco Bay Area, adopted a resolution calling for a federally funded public works program like the Works Progress Administration of the 1930s to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. The resolution, which stipulates that workers should be paid prevailing wages and have the right to organize, also calls for the right of return for evacuees and an end to state repression, racial profiling and police brutality. The resolution was modeled after one adopted by the Central Labor Council of Alameda County in November.

IRS rules against FedEx

On Dec. 21, FedEx was ordered to pay the government $319 million for falsely classifying 15,000 FedEx Ground workers in 2002 as independent contractors instead of as employees. This is good news for the Teamsters, which has been carrying on an organizing drive among these workers. The union estimates that FedEx might eventually have to cough up more than $1 billion once penalties for subsequent years are assessed. (New York Times, Dec. 23)

Worker’s art at NYC Transit Museum

A show of inspiring watercolors painted by track worker Marvin Franklin, who was killed on the job in April 2007, was unveiled Dec. 18 at the New York City Transit Museum. In a fitting tribute to Franklin, Roger Toussaint, president of Transit Workers Local 100, said, “Marvin’s work shows the other side of transit workers. Not only do we lead full and productive lives on the job, but we do so off the job as well.” (The Chief-Leader, Dec. 28)

Since Franklin’s death and that of Daniel Boggs, who was killed on the job five days before Franklin, Local 100 has worked with NYC Transit to improve track safety. In December a joint task force issued more than 60 recommendations for new work protocols.


'What it means to be a right-to-work state.'

A couple of readers have taken me to task over my commentary of Jan. 6 when I repeated a local businessman’s idea that perhaps Tuscarawas County should become a right-to-work county. That prompted, as I should have figured it would, an array of angry e-mails, some laced with words that shouldn’t be used in a family newspaper. A couple of Readers’ Viewpoints passionately extolled the virtues of unions.

One claimed that “right-to-work laws are an assault on workers and their families. They open up the door to fear tactics and intimidation, promoting a race to the bottom mentality that is not only destroying the middle class but is having a devastating impact on the economic stability of this country.”

I’m OK with a debate over whether right-to-work laws are good or bad. But I think we need to clarify what it means to be a right-to-work state.

In a right-to-work state, employees of a particular employer, who collectively bargains with a union, don’t have to belong to that union if they don’t want to and they are not forced to pay union dues even though they reap the benefits or suffer the consequences of such bargaining.

Employees who opt not to join the union are called “free riders” (or maybe something worse by their union colleagues).

Our letter writers are not wrong when they underscore the good that unions have accomplished and their importance to the development of the middle class. That’s a given. But here’s another one: The economies of right-to-work states (such as Oklahoma and Alabama) generally are robust while the economies of non-right-to-work states (such as Michigan and Ohio) generally are not. Twenty-two states are right-to-work states.

Certainly the argument could be made that factors (read: high taxes) other than right-to-work enter into the equation.

But many of the new manufacturing jobs, including thousands in the automobile industry, created in the country over the last 15 or so years have been in right-to-work states. Nissan built plants in Tennessee and Mississippi; Mercedes-Benz, Honda and Hyundai in Alabama; and BMW in South Carolina.

On the flip side? Honda (Ohio and Indiana) and Toyota (Kentucky and West Virginia) are doing quite well in non-right-to-work states.

My point of that Jan. 6 commentary was not meant as an argument to turn Ohio or Tuscarawas County into right-to-work entities. It was meant to sound an alarm in the collective brain of Gov. Ted Strickland and his fellow politicos that high-tax Ohio needs innovative thinking. We have to change the way this state does business because industry generally is looking elsewhere now to locate its new jobs. In time, that certainly will have a devastating impact on the economic stability of our state.

- Dick Farrell is editor of The Times-Reporter.


Strike-happy union finally allows contract vote

Nurses will vote late this month whether to accept contract terms Fremont-Rideout Medical Group has called its "last, best and final" offer.

Up to 450 nurses will vote Jan. 28-29 on the proposal, which Fremont-Rideout management unveiled earlier this month. A "yes" vote would end months of contract wrangling that included two strikes last year.

Dan Lawson, a representative of the California Nurses Association, confirmed the vote Friday. Results are to be announced the evening of Jan. 29.

CNA-represented nurses and Fremont-Rideout officials have battled over pay increases, benefits and the "floating" of nurses from one department to another during times of low staffing.

The hospital group said its latest offer, which it released Jan. 8, would improve nurses' benefits, add employer matches to the 403b retirement plan and provide employee discounts for hospital services.

Meanwhile, the nurses' union has lodged a complaint against Fremont-Rideout with the National Labor Relations Board. The complaint alleges management failed to bargain in good faith and interrogated nurses about whether they would take part in the first strike, on Aug. 31.

A hearing on the union's complaint is set for March 3 in Sacramento.


Has tremendous faith in AFSCME

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