Leftist racism infects Dem primary campaign

... On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton now has a slight but real edge coming out of Nevada. Here is what we know. Hillary Clinton won narrowly in the overall vote among Nevada Democrats, thanks to a huge edge among Latinos as they contemplated voting for a black man. But she lost amongst the overall tally of national convention delegates, as rural Nevada whites proved more than ready to vote for a black guy.

Obama needs to solve the chronic black/brown divide in the Democratic Party. Part of Hillary’s edge with the Latino vote in Nevada is due to strong campaigning. She has strong Latino backers, such as LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, California Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, and United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta. But part of her edge seems due to racial politics.

The Nevada Democratic caucuses saw a massive turnout of participants, nearly 120,000, which is well over even what Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had hoped for. “Today’s caucus was a tremendous success,” said the pumped up, usually phlegmatic Nevadan. “Well over 100,000 Nevadans got out and made their voices heard, including 69 in my hometown of Searchlight.”

Clinton beat Obama by nearly 3 to 1 among Latinos. Which was quite interesting, in that Obama was backed by two potent unions with many Latino members, the culinary workers and the service employees. But the turnout at the at-large caucus sites, casinos along the Las Vegas Strip, which were set up to allow lower-income casino workers to participate while working a busy holiday weekend — this is Martin Luther King Day weekend in Vegas, a big-time holiday there — was less than expected. And Clinton confounded expectations, essentially matching Obama along the Vegas Strip and sweeping to a big win in the Las Vegas metropolitan area.

This more than matched Obama’s wins in most of Nevada’s other counties. Hillary’s ability to win big among Latinos, even when many of their leaders, such as in the unions I mentioned, went with Obama, raises very interesting questions about the internal racial politics of the Democratic Party as the first very serious black candidate for president continues his closely fought contest with the former first lady. Reports from around the state indicate that the big labor forces backing Obama found it tough to deliver for him. At issue, Latino workers pushed to vote for an African American. And so the race issue reared its head in yet another way this year.

If Obama can’t do much better with Latino voters, he won’t be able to win the California primary, the biggest prize on February 5th. Hillary leads here and has a strong organization, but independents voters — who generally favor Obama — are shut out of the Republican primary and could give him a big boost.

He has time to rethink his approach on Latinos, since this week’s contest, the Saturday primary in South Carolina, doesn’t have many Latinos. Perhaps half the vote will be African American, and there Obama has overtaken the Clintons’ longstanding edge. Hillary led for a long time in South Carolina, but now Obama has the lead. He needs a sizable win to stay in the race with the formidable Clinton political machine.

Speaking of the Clintons, another fascinating thing to watch this week will be the behavior of the former president. He’s gotten very aggressive in promoting his wife’s candidacy, attacking Obama personally, getting visibly upset with a TV reporter questioning him about the lawsuit he backed to block those at-large caucuses on the Las Vegas Strip.

Unfortunately, I missed his performance on Saturday when he personally campaigned inside a caucus site at the Mirage on the Vegas Strip. I wish I could have beamed over there to see it.

Old friend and colleague Marc Cooper was there, and reports that Clinton, accompanied by longtime fundraising honcho Terry McAuliffe, the ex-Democratic national chairman, aggressively buttonholed the various maids and bellhops gathering to cast their caucus votes. Some were apparently intimidated.

Clinton is certainly behaving in an unusual way for a president of the United States. I don’t remember former President Bush attacking John McCain when his son was running in 2000. But politics ain’t beanbag, and its safe to say that Bill Clinton really does want Hillary to win.


Strike-Free Education Act opens can of worms

Teachers in Western Pennsylvania's largest school district gave themselves a powerful bargaining tool when they authorized a strike. They reached a tentative contract with Pittsburgh Public Schools last week without a walkout. In the fall, striking Seneca Valley teachers shut down schools for five weeks in one of the area's fastest-growing districts.

The founder of a group dedicated to stopping teacher strikes does not see a statewide ban coming soon. "I do not think we will ban strikes overnight, given the massive power of the teachers unions. But we feel there is growing attention to this," said Simon Campbell of Bucks County, who started Stop Teachers Strikes in Pennsylvania after his three children were put out of class during a strike in the Pennsbury School District in the 2005-06 school year.

The Pennsylvania School Boards Association has not reached a consensus on banning strikes, which 37 other states have done, and has assembled a task force of 11 school directors from across the state to study the issue. The task force meets for the first time Tuesday in Harrisburg.

"School board members generally see collective bargaining as their responsibility," said Tim Allwein, a spokesman for the association.

Some members of the association said they believe strikes could increase as a result of Act 1, which limits the ability of school boards to raise property taxes, which pay teachers' salaries.

Some legislators are pushing for a strike ban.

"This is a change that needs to be made for the good of our communities. It's hard to believe you would allow such an interruption to occur," said state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry, who represents the majority of Seneca Valley residents.

The district's strike ended in November without a new contract because of a 1992 law that effectively sets limits to the duration of walkouts. The law requires a district to complete 180 days of instruction by June 30.

"In the '70s, there were 25 or 30 school strikes a year. The number of strikes is down a lot, and you do not have a whole array of people pressuring to ban strikes. And, as long as Democrats control the state House, they will never even bring this to a vote," saidG. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster.

Metcalfe signed on as a co-sponsor to the proposed Strike Free Education Act, which was introduced last year by two Republicans from Franklin and Somerset counties. It has no support from Democrats.

There have been three teacher strikes in Pennsylvania this school year.

Jake McElligott, an education law specialist at Duquesne University, said proposals to ban strikes could quickly lead to a debate about unionism in general.

"You are asking for significant changes to the state's labor law, and this is a very union-friendly Legislature and state. Pittsburgh itself is lauded as the birthplace of unionism," McElligott said.

Any move to outlaw strikes faces opposition from the state's largest teachers' union, the Pennsylvania State Education Association, a powerful organization in Harrisburg and local communities.

"We see a strike as a basic right to withhold work to achieve fair compensation. A strike ban would hand all the power to the school board," PSEA President James Testerman said.

Campbell predicted opposition to strikes will gain momentum because of the tie between taxes and teacher salaries.

"This is about property taxes, and taxpayer outrage is a hot issue," he said.

School board members aren't so sure.

"It would certainly be good for kids. But as far as a ban? Well, the devil is in the details, so I really don't know how I feel," said Marilyn Reed, who left the Pine-Richland School Board last month after serving 12 years and voting on three teacher contracts.

Lynn Evans, a member of the Avonworth School Board, echoed Reed. "I'd really have to see what gets gained and what gets lost," Evans said.


Out-of-state union cash colors Florida ballot

The confusing amendment about taxes on the ballot for the Jan. 29 election (and for early-bird voters now) is truly dreadful.

It is a simplistic "solution" that plunges Florida - and Lake County - further into the abyss of inequity. It punishes small businesses, newcomers and those who chose not to own property at the expense of longtime homeowners.

But I'm going to hold my nose and vote for it.

The reason is simple: getting even a portion of what taxpayers are entitled to is better than nothing.

After all that blather from legislators this fall about a thoughtful, intelligent reform of the tax system, voters now are stuck with something that could have been dreamed up by trained chimps using calculators from the Dollar General.

Make no mistake: this is not a reform; this is not a solution; it's not even a middling good idea.

This is only a tax cut, and not a big one, either.

The fact that it's even being offered to voters is a measure of two important things -- the inability of the state Legislature to create a fair tax structure and, most importantly, the inability of elected officials to control themselves with a credit card.

This amendment wouldn't be on the ballot if local officials who levy property taxes had been even remotely reasonable during the last four years. Instead, they were greedy, even here in traditionally conservative Lake County, which is ruled by alleged "Republicans." All the taxing authorities in Lake County combined are collecting 90 percent more property tax this year than they did in 2003, and they think they need more, more, more.

There is no excuse. Their "needs," their "demands" and their population did not increase by 90 percent in three years, when the amount of taxes collected rose from $198 million to $377 million.

Instead of leaders asking themselves what really was needed, they blissfully voted for budgets set before them by empire-building staffers. The fault does not lie with the staff. It falls squarely on the shoulders of local officials -- county commissioners, city council members, hospital district board members and water authorities.

They should have said no. Just because my 15-year-old wants a BMW for her birthday and makes an articulate case for its safety and features does not mean that she must have one.

A perfect example of the result of excessive taxation is coming up on Tuesday at the Lake County Commission meeting. Tucked back in what's called the "consent" agenda, where items are voted on as a group, is a recommendation from staffers to award $30,000 in bids to buy "promotional items." You know what those are? Trinkets. Pens, pencils, water bottles, coffee cups -- little nothings with Lake County rah-rah slogans printed on them.

Junk that ends up in the trash. Thirty thousand dollars for knickknacks.

It is obscene. Lake County shouldn't have enough money to even consider spending it on something like that. It makes one wonder what else lurks in the budget.

This is an attitude problem, not a tax problem. It invites trouble to try to fix the attitude by changing the tax structure, which is precisely what this amendment would do. Because voters clip the way that elected officials can take their money means only that the officials will find increasingly creative ways to get the cash.

Too late now.

The question at hand is whether to approve the amendment.

Here's the short explanation of the amendment and what it would do if passed:

Your homestead exemption likely would get bigger than the current $25,000. If your house is on the tax rolls for $80,000 or more, your exemption would be $50,000. (The second $25,000 wouldn't apply to school taxes, however, which make up roughly 40 percent of property taxes.)

Save Our Homes would stay, which means that after your first year on the tax roll, the assessed value of your house can't rise by more than 3 percent. That is why some neighbors in the exact same houses now can be paying dramatically different amounts of property taxes -- one has simply lived there longer.

Homeowners who move to a more valuable house in Florida can take Save Our Homes benefits with them, up to $500,000. Taxes still will rise, but not by as much as they would if they moved to a more valuable home now.

Assessments for businesses and second homes would be capped at 10 percent, and businesses would get a $25,000 exemption for equipment.

If the amendment passes, the tax burden unfairly will shift to newcomers, businesses and renters.

People who have -- appropriately -- paid a fortune in impact fees to move here will keep paying while longtime homeowners get a break. As a 28-year resident, I say that's wrong. Newcomers, once they have paid the admission fee, are part of the community like anyone else. Taxes should reflect that.

Second, small businesses in particular -- and Lake is filled with them -- will get maimed in this proposal. How can these supposedly pro-business "Republicans" justify that?

Third, non-homestead properties, such as rental apartments, are a target of this tax shift. Why should renters be hit for more taxes than homeowners? Do they use more services or cost the government more money than homeowners? Of course not.

So there you have it. It's bad, but leaving things the way they are is probably worse.

Happy voting.


Brian Howard - NoUAW.com

The United Auto Workers have 576,000 members. Brian Howard has a friend named Marv.

The UAW collects almost $200 million a year in dues. Howard pays for his "NoUAW.com" Web site out of his own pocket.

The UAW has $1.2 billion in assets. Howard has a new home in Williamstown, Ky., and a 7-year-old car with 166,000 miles on it.

It's a Camry, of course, because that's what he builds at the Toyota plant in Georgetown, Ky., where UAW officials have been trying to wedge a foot in the door for 20 years. "The media tries to portray it like it's big, bad Toyota preventing the union," Howard said after he finished a shift painting cars last week. "No, it's people like me."

He's winning. So is Toyota. Last year it passed GM in sales for the first time. And Toyota wages have now passed UAW wages for the first time - $30 an hour to $27 (including bonuses).

"When I tell people where I work, they say, 'You guys have got it made,'" said Howard, a former tax examiner who been with Toyota 17 years. With bonuses and overtime, "Making $70,000 is very common," he said. "A lot make $90,000 to $100,000 a year."

Fewer than 20 percent would vote to join the UAW, he said. "Hard-core, dead-set against it, I'd say 40 percent or more."

"The UAW knows they do not have and will never have the votes to win an election," says Howard's co-worker Marvin Robbins. "So they want to take the rights of the workers away and not have an election."

Robbins and Howard have been mocked and threatened on the union's Web site. But they have raised money for a billboard and newspaper ad because a lot of what the UAW says "is just not true," Howard says.

"If we provide these (Toyota) team members with factual information, they will make the right decision," he said.

"The majority are sick of the harassment," Robbins said. "You would think the UAW would get the message after 20 years, but they are so desperate for membership they continue to show up where they are clearly not wanted or needed."

He's right about the shrinking union. With downsizing by U.S. automakers, UAW membership dropped 11 percent in 2005 and 3.4 percent in 2006. So the UAW is trying to recruit 7,000 workers in Georgetown, or trash Toyota to hurt sales, Howard says.

Union front groups such as Toyota Owners for Fairness and Jobs With Justice protest and hold "hearings" to hear only the pro-union side. At the Toyota Workers Rights Hearing in Georgetown last summer, four pro-union workers "drew considerable local media attention," according to the UAW.

But two had been fired by Toyota, one had quit, and the fourth could not back up her complaints. The panel was pro-union politicians and activists; several had taken contributions from the UAW, Howard pointed out in a newspaper ad purchased with local donations.

Unions don't have to send arm-twisters named "Knuckles" to rough up workers if they can use the media to rough up the reputation of non-union companies. They call it a "corporate campaign," and the attacks on Toyota look just like union attacks on Wal-Mart and Cintas of Cincinnati.

Howard says the press is sympathetic to unions. "They quote all these accusations by the UAW, and put in one generic comment by me. If they're giving them three paragraphs, I'd like three paragraphs too."

His NoUAW.com campaign is not encouraged or supported by Toyota, he said.

But Toyota is smart, too.

Attendance is linked to quality (remember the adage to never buy a car built on Monday or Friday?). So they throw an annual Perfect Attendance party for workers at Rupp Arena in Lexington, with Jay Leno, David Copperfield or the Beach Boys, and give away 14 new cars.

They have an on-site pharmacy, clinic, day-care and fitness club. Toyota's 6.3 percent injury rate is half the industry average for mostly UAW plants.

And Toyota managers meet monthly to listen to workers, who call each other "team members," not "shop rats."

The UAW has been unable to get even half of Toyota's Georgetown workers to sign cards in support. But the union could win anyway if Congress eliminates secret ballots.

The doublespeak "Employee Free Choice Act" introduced by Democrats would force companies to accept a union if 51 percent of workers sign cards in support. And it's too easy to bully workers into signing cards.

In a 2001 battle at a Nissan plant in Smyrna, Tenn., 70 percent of the workers signed cards for the UAW. But when they voted by secret ballot, the UAW lost by two to one.

Japanese automakers build factories in places like Georgetown, away from pro-union cities. A new $550 million Honda Civic factory in Greensburg, Ind., just west of Cincinnati, drew a hiring circle that intentionally excluded hundreds of unemployed UAW members.

The UAW played an important role in American history, bringing fairness and decent benefits to millions of families. But their Cadillac tail-fin contracts gave four flat tires to GM, Ford and Chrysler.

The cost of UAW benefits adds $1,500 to $2,300 to every union-built car.

"I definitely have concerns that quality would suffer if the UAW comes in," Howard said.

The UAW may have 576,000 members. But I think Henry Ford will drive a Camry before another 7,000 in Georgetown vote to join a union.


TV writers choose Fi-Core, the show goes on

As the writers’ strike approaches the three-month mark, it has conveyed new cachet, such as it is, on soap operas. Shows like “General Hospital” and “As the World Turns” have become virtually the only reliable option for viewers interested in watching rerun-free, serialized drama on broadcast television.

None of the eight daytime dramas on network television have gone into reruns, and none have plans to do so. But in a genre that thrives on drawn-out cliffhangers, the most sensational mystery in daytime may be how these shows are being written at all, considering that nearly all of their writers are guild members on strike.

A handful of writers, for “All My Children,” “One Life to Live” and “General Hospital” on ABC and “The Young and the Restless” on CBS, have officially crossed picket lines to return to work in recent weeks, invoking a guild designation known as “financial core,” or financial need. But they are the exception. The sexual shenanigans, back-from-the-grave miracles and double-dealing that are the lifeblood of such shows are being scripted by mostly uncredited, ragtag staffs variously made up of network executives, producers, secretaries and, some union members insist, scabs who are either writing sub rosa or slipping plot points to management.

Consider that “The Young and the Restless,” which before the strike carried a writing staff of more than a dozen, now lists just three writers in its closing credits, each a guild member granted financial core status.

“There’s just no way three people can be doing that job,” said Sandra Weintraub, a striking writer who has written for the show for more than three years. “With the Internet, people don’t ever have to cross a picket line. So we’ll never know.”

While many of the soap episodes shown last week were based on scripts written by guild members before the strike — each daytime drama tends to ready episodes at least two months in advance — network representatives refused to say exactly how they were preparing the shows that will be seen as those stockpiles are depleted.

“The shows are staffed, and we have people in place to continue producing original programming,” ABC said in a statement, which also noted that “producers are aiding in the process.” The actors are typically members of unions that are not on strike, and some have joined the picket lines during breaks.

In an interview a woman who had been an office assistant on a network soap during the last writers’ strike, in 1988, described a frenetic, all-hands-on-deck approach that provides clues to the contingency plans being implemented in the writers’ rooms this time around. She said that she was quickly drafted to become her show’s head writer — she said she would have been fired had she declined — which had the immediate effect of raising her salary from $150 a week to $2,500 a week, a raise that lasted for the six-month duration of the strike.

“People from all different areas were suddenly writers — the assistant director, people who ran errands for the show,” said the woman, who agreed to recount her experience as long as her name, and that of her show, were withheld because she still occasionally writes for soaps. “If you were associated in any way with that show before the strike came, opportunity was knocking on your door, no matter what position you held.”

At first, the woman said, the replacement writers relied on a document known as “the bible,” in which the regular writers had mapped plots for the next few months, a process they would have followed regardless of the strike. But when those story lines ran out, the woman said, she began making clandestine visits to the home of one striking writer to take notes on what that writer thought should happen next. Though the writer risked being branded a scab, the woman said, the writer was more wary of returning to the show someday and having to undo whatever damage had been done to the plots.

After the strike, the woman said, she returned to her assistant’s job but eventually left the show. This time around the few soap writers who have openly returned to work have engendered rancor among the more than 100 still walking the picket lines.

Megan McTavish, a striking former head writer for four soaps — “General Hospital,” “Guiding Light,” “One Life to Live” and most recently “All My Children” — said in an interview she was particularly incensed by the recent return of James Harmon Brown and Barbara Esensten to “All My Children.” The two, who write as a pair and have been doing so for more than two decades, cited the financial strains of the strike in asking for a guild exception. Ms. McTavish said she was dubious of their reasoning.

“These are not youngsters struggling to make mortgage payments or feed their children,” Ms. McTavish said. “Their sole intent now seems to be piling up more money for themselves.”

Mr. Brown and Ms. Esensten became head writers of “All My Children” last year, several months after ABC declined to renew Ms. McTavish’s contract as head writer. The pair declined, through a network spokeswoman, to respond to Ms. McTavish.

One reason that soap producers have so doggedly refused to go to reruns during the strike is that several of the shows — most notably, “Guiding Light,” the 70-year-old warhorse on CBS that averages 2.6 million viewers an episode — could risk cancellation if they lose any more viewers. Faced with some of the same pressures as prime time (including the competition posed by the Internet and cable), soaps have been losing viewers for more than a decade.

Since the television season began in September, all eight network daytime dramas have lost viewers when compared with the same period a year ago. The biggest losses have been for “Days of Our Lives” (19 percent) and “All My Children” (14 percent), according to figures provided by Nielsen Media Research.

A critical goal of the overall strike, increasing revenues from the Internet and other new media, is relevant to daytime writers as well. “As the World Turns” is among those soap operas now available daily on cbs.com, and some soap writers believe that other struggling shows could eventually be seen exclusively on the Web. NBC’s newest soap, “Coastal Dreams,” is available only through the Internet.

Which is not to say that the soaps aren’t valuable to their networks. The most popular, “The Young and the Restless,” draws an estimated 5.6 million viewers, many of them women in their 30s, 40s and 50s that advertisers might not otherwise reach in such high concentration. While that show is produced by Sony Pictures Television, two other CBS dramas, “As the World Turns” and “Guiding Light,” are produced by a sponsor, Procter & Gamble.

And so the shows have gone on. The singer Mary J. Blige recorded a guest turn on ABC’s “One Life to Live” late last week that is scheduled to be seen in early February. Shirley Jones, known to television viewers of a certain age as the mother on “The Partridge Family,” will soon be seen on NBC’s “Days of Our Lives,” where she will play Colleen Brady, who was thought to be dead. And among the beloved characters returning to “All My Children” over the next few weeks are Greenlee (the former stepdaughter of Susan Lucci’s Erica Kane), and Angie and Jesse, once a daytime supercouple — at least before Jesse was presumed dead two decades ago.


Gov't unions keep secrets from public

There is little doubt that financial transparency is a major deterrent to labor union and political corruption. Yet, where the two meet--unions of government employees--there is virtually no financial transparency.

Unions composed entirely of government employees at the state and local level are not covered by the federal Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA), also known as the Landrum-Griffin Act. Among other things, the act requires labor unions to file annual financial reports with the U.S. Department of Labor.

Unions of federal employees are required by the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 to file financial disclosure forms with the U.S. Department of Labor.

Right to Know

Public-sector labor unions take an active role in the election of candidates for local office--school board, city council, etc.--and transparency of their political expenditures is in the public interest, says Brian M. Johnson, policy director for the Alliance for Worker Freedom.

"As we have seen, unions often act contrary to the best interest of their members," Johnson said. "By mandating public-sector union financial disclosure, union members and the general public will finally get to see where all these coffers of money are going."

A few states have laws requiring public-sector unions to file financial reports or make them available to members on request. Where financial reports are required, however, it does not appear any effort is made to make them generally available--on the Internet, for example.

The law in Connecticut specifically states the reports "shall not be open to public inspection" and authorizes the state Labor Commissioner to "destroy any report filed under the provisions of this section after such report has been on file two years."

Requiring unions to make financial statements available only to members does little to help public officials or the general public, because this requirement does not enable those outside the union to gauge the political influence of unions on public policy.

Court Rulings Help

Some public employees receive their union's financial information thanks to the efforts of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. These are employees in states where the laws giving public-sector unions monopoly bargaining power also sanction contracts requiring non-members to pay a fee for union representation.

In 1977, in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unions could force non-member-fee payers to pay only for the actual cost of union representation.

In 1986, in Chicago Teachers Union v. Hudson, the Court ruled unions must provide non-member-fee payers with a financial statement, based on audited information, showing expenses by category and indicating how much of each expense is chargeable as a representation expense and how much is not.

In yet another right-to-work Supreme Court case, Lehnert v. Ferris Faculty Association, the Court established a three-part test for determining what expenses were chargeable and which were not.

The Supreme Court did not delineate the expense categories for these states, but they include items such as collective bargaining, grievance representation, administrative costs, lobbying, public relations, litigation, organizing, publications, contributions, and politics.

"Under the Hudson decision, non-members of public-sector unions receive more information about union finances than does the average member," said Mike Antonucci, director of the Education Intelligence Agency.

Good Starting Point

Legislation requiring unions to provide copies of the so-called Hudson statements to a state agency and for the agency to make them public could be a starting point for financial transparency reform. Because the reports must be prepared, such a requirement would avoid the common union objection that preparing the reports is too burdensome. However, the process would fall short of providing adequate information.

The greatest need for public-sector union financial transparency is in states that have enacted compulsory public-sector bargaining laws. This is where unions are stronger and where resistance to transparency will be greatest.

But the likelihood of strong resistance shouldn't discourage proponents of open government from advocating public-sector union financial disclosure legislation. Promoting the passage of such laws will increase public awareness of the need for union financial transparency.

- David Denholm (david@psrf.org) is president of the Public Service Research Foundation, an independent, nonprofit organization that studies union influence on public policy.


How a labor-state maintains gov't-union security

Governor Ted Kulongoski has given public employees another 5 percent raise. The governor states this was the result of a collective bargaining agreement. The outrage was almost immediate, but by and large the outrage missed the essential problem.

There are two essential problems and they will be ignored completely by the mainstream media. The first is how the raise is categorized. it is classified as an "additional step increase." For the uninitiated, a a step increase is a salary increase that is granted for simply remaining employed for another year. It is in addition to the regular (and usually annual) salary increase. When the public is told about the salary increases bargained for by the public employee unions, the amounts disclosed do not include the step increase. Thus, what appears to be relative modest annual salary increases are in actuality, compounded by the addition of the "step increase." For the public employee unions and their supporters, it is important to mask the true amount of annual raises to minimize adverse public reaction.

But it is the second issue that is the most important and which is routinely ignored by the mainstream press, even though they have an undue fascination with "public corruption," real or perceived, in every other facet of government.

In traditional labor-management relationships, there is organized labor on one side and management on the other. The unions are ostensibly beholden to their members, the employees, while management is beholden to the owners or shareholders. There is is a tension that exists which is likely to result in an appropriate balance - sufficiently robust wages to attract quality workers vs. low enough wages to ensure that business remains competitive in an open marketplace.

But that tension does not exist in the case of the public employee unions simply because the management structure - elected and appointed officials - are beholden to those who place them in office rather than the shareholders - the taxpayers. In Oregon, the Democrat party is largely financed by the public employee unions. In Oregon, the public employee unions have a substantial influence on who is selected to run in the Democrat party. In Oregon, the current governor acknowledged this during his last gubernatorial campaign on July 25, 2006, in a speech to the AFL-CIO which is dominated by the public employee unions: " ... I've never lost sight of who I represent, and that's you."

In response to the substantial financial and "volunteer" support Kulongoski received from the public employee unions, he has returned the favor in spades. Kulongoski appointed three former public employee union officials to his three top administration spots - chief of staff, deputy chief of staff and communications director. He negotiated a generous wage increase for the public employee unions and thereafter secured the funding for it through the Democrat-controlled Legislature. He declared reform of the burdensome and overly generous PERS system off limits. Kulongoski has routinely authorized "sole source" contracts with the public employee unions, which prohibit the state from outsourcing any function that was previously performed by a public employee union member, thus ensuring continuing inefficiency. Kulongoski signed into law a provision that deprives public employees the right to a secret ballot as to whether to unionize and thus makes them vulnerable to intimidation by the public employee union representatives - many of whom would scare the bejeezus out of a professional wrestler.

And when the public employee unions whined about the exorbitant salary increases Kulongoski granted to his supervisors, including the three previously mentioned former public employee union officers, Kulongoski immediately folded and granted the public employee unions yet another salary increase, all of this in the space of 12 months.

The system we have in place in Oregon is pernicious at best. Men and women are required to join the public employee unions as a condition of employment. They are required to make mandatory payments to the public employee unions. These mandatory payments result in more than $55 million dollars being available to the public employee unions each biennium to fund political activities designed to ensure that officials like Gov. Kulongoski are elected and remain in office. By using these vast sums to ensure that people who depend on their political largesse are elected, the public employee unions ensure that those with whom they negotiate are beholden to them and grant them robust salary increases, handsome pensions, ease in imposing mandatory membership on new employees, and unlimited political power. And all of this at the expense of the taxpayers.

This is a system that goes largely unnoticed and unappreciated by the average Oregonian, in part because average Oregonians are so busy trying to put food on their table that the cannot pay attention to the nuances of political power, and in part because Oregon's mainstream media refuses to disturb the liberal status quo.

In the end, the public employee unions and their Democrat stalwarts will overstep their bounds. They can't help it - power and greed are insatiable masters. But until they do, the public employee unions, the single most powerful political force in Oregon, will continue to pick the pockets of the taxpayers as they have done expertly during 2007.


Power-tripping AFL-CIO backs state income tax

Massachusetts unions' political goals for 2008 reflect hope and fear.

For the last seven years, unions on the national level have been on the defensive, given the anti-labor tendencies of the nation's highest political leader. Meanwhile, the past year in Massachusetts has been the best in some time for labor, with the first Democratic governor in 16 years making at least some efforts to help unions out.

So it may seem odd that, as Massachusetts union leaders look toward the coming year, they are planning for a bold move to increase union power on the national stage while also bracing for a big defensive fight on the state one.

'Absolute Insanity'

The state-level fight is against the ballot initiative to repeal the income tax, and it's a fight union leaders seem baffled that they even have to engage in. State AFL-CIO Legislative and Communications Director Tim Sullivan and Massachusetts Teachers Association President Anne Wass both independently described the ballot measure as "absolute insanity." They say it would decimate the state's roads and bridges, slash funding for schools and generally wreak havoc on the quality of life in the state. Labor leaders seem to feel voters won't want to face that kind of situation, but, just to make sure, they are planning some serious persuasion campaigns.

Meanwhile, at the national level, unions are poised to fight for the Employee Free Choice Act, which would let workers join a union when a majority of them sign union cards. The proposed law would be an end-run around the current system of National Labor Relations Board elections, which many unions have essentially given up as impossible to win.

"I think what this is going to do is take away management's ability to intimidate and frighten workers, and scare them basically into backing away from supporting the union," said Jim Durkin, a spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 93, which represents workers in Massachusetts and three other states.

Currently, Durkin noted, it typically takes six months or more from when workers file for an election to the actual vote. In that time, unions allege that managers call employees into their offices and demand they not support a union, threaten to close down operations if workers vote yes and use other tactics that have proven effective in avoiding unionization.

The House of Representatives passed the act last year, but it got hung up in a filibuster by Senate Republicans and a promised veto by President Bush.

Getting Out The Vote

Realistically, the act probably won't become reality in 2008. The unions' hopes for it depend on getting the Democratic Party into the Oval Office, and probably also increasing its numbers in the Senate. So, this year, labor will be focusing hard on elections. Some unions have already endorsed one of the three major Democratic presidential contenders, but all seem ready to line up behind whoever wins the party's nomination.

Harris Gruman, Massachusetts political director for the Service Employees International Union, said SEIU members from the state headed for New Hampshire to work for John Edwards in the primary but were not at all distressed to see members of other unions supporting the other candidates.

"That was clearly something that people of goodwill could disagree on," he said.

That won't be labor's perspective on the contest in November. None of the Republican candidates has a record that labor likes, and unions are gearing up for a serious fight. Members will go door to door in New Hampshire and Maine, urging members of Massachusetts-based unions to vote for the Democrat. They'll make phone calls and take buses to whatever turn out to be this year's swing states. They'll do whatever they have to do, because, ballot questions notwithstanding, the unions' best hope right now is to have someone in the highest office in the country who likes them as much as the person in the highest office in Massachusetts.


State gov't welcomes unions, public-be-damned

Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter (D) has signed an executive order recognizing labor unions and permitting them to negotiate with the state. The order allows the state and public employee unions to negotiate for the first time.

The governor insists the agreements will be non-binding to the state, but the plan nevertheless has raised serious concern from citizens, politicians, and some of the largest newspapers in the state.

Unions Were Ready

The move to establish "partnership agreements" with the state's public employee unions took almost everyone but the unions by surprise after the governor's November signing. Within four days, the state's largest public-sector unions--the Service Employees International Union (SEIU); American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME); and American Federation of Teachers (AFT)--had signed a power-sharing agreement creating Colorado Workers for Innovation and New Solutions (WINS). Colorado WINS calls for the unions to cooperate with each other.

It's difficult to imagine the intensely competitive unions were able to negotiate and formalize such an agreement in so short a time without the groundwork having been laid much earlier.

Unions have targeted Colorado since Ritter's predecessor, former governor Bill Owens (R), rescinded the state's authority to deduct union dues from state employee paychecks, making it more difficult for unions to recruit members and collect dues. Hoping to regain that ground and then some, unions had shepherded a bill through the legislature that eliminated the current two-step election process to implement union security clauses. Ritter vetoed the bill.

Veto Enraged Unions

The unions reacted vehemently, jeopardizing the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver with threats to strike and picket the convention and prompting national Democratic and AFL-CIO leaders to intervene. Those negotiations set the stage for the November executive order.

While the order prohibits strikes and stipulates any resulting agreements are "non-binding," Colorado WINS has one primary purpose, according to the Education Intelligence Agency: To push a collective bargaining law for Colorado public employees through the legislature and make Colorado WINS their exclusive representative.

The agreement stays in effect until December 30, 2012, but the Education Intelligence Agency notes, "if there were any remaining doubt as to the overriding purpose of the organization and the transitory role of Gov. Ritter's partnership agreements, it is erased by the provision that allows the member unions to terminate the merger and dissolve Colorado WINS."

The agreement reads, "in the event that no state employee collective bargaining legislation is in effect by July 1, 2009," Colorado WINS will be terminated.

Public Bypassed

The Independence Institute in Golden, Colorado noted in a statement, "Something is missing from Gov. Bill Ritter's executive order. ... The order emphasizes 'partnerships' between state officials and employees, but it does not discuss any 'partnerships' with the taxpaying public."

The statement observed, "No one working to improve customer service should have any reason to fear an open negotiation process. After all, Coloradans deserve to see everything that transpires in collective bargaining over their tax money."

- Ryan Bedford (rbedford@effwa.org) is a labor analyst with the Evergreen Freedom Foundation in Olympia, Washington.


School canceled due to union strike threat

The Danville (PA) School District has canceled school on Monday because of a planned strike by support staff. The move comes after workers on Saturday overwhelmingly rejected a contract offer that included raises of $2.45 over five years.

Officials had originally planned to start school late on Monday. But now classes are canceled because there are no provisions for feeding the district's 2,600 students.

Cafeteria workers, secretaries, teachers' aides and custodians are among the support staff planning to strike. Representatives for the Danville Education Support Professionals union say the 137 workers plan to walk the picket line 24 hours a day starting at 5 a.m. Monday.


Dem unionists edging Edwards out

On a sunny weekend day in front of San Francisco's Ferry Building, volunteers at the Barack Obama for president table were selling an inch-thick booklet explaining Obama's policy positions for $5. A few feet away, volunteers supporting John Edwards were handing out campaign flyers - that they made and paid for themselves.

One flyer read: "It's not over until everyone votes. Don't let the pundits take away your voice for 2008."

Edwards hasn't won a primary yet. He admitted Sunday that "I got my butt kicked" in Saturday's Nevada caucus. And he is routinely overlooked by the national media at near-Kucinichian levels. In CNN's 10-minute recap of the Democratic White House battle Sunday morning, Edwards' name was mentioned once - to point out how far back he was in the national polls.

But Nevada's debacle aside, if the former North Carolina senator continues to draw at least 15 percent of the vote in forthcoming contests, analysts say he will be a player in the campaign. It is hard to write anyone off yet in this most unpredictable campaign season, especially with so few of the 2,025 delegates needed to win the Democratic nomination having been decided.

According to a tally from the Associated Press, Edwards so far has collected 50 delegates, which means he's still within shouting distance of New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (236) - the winner in Nevada - and Obama (136). Edwards reaffirmed Sunday that he's in the campaign for the long haul, but analysts say he needs a strong showing Saturday in South Carolina, the state where he was born, to remain relevant. He has spent $2 million in advertising there, more than his rivals.

"He could go to Denver (site of the Democratic National Convention) with 200 delegates, and that will give him some kind of power," said Bryan Blum, political director of the California Labor Federation, which represents 2.1 million workers in the state.

"But you gotta win something soon to show that you can win the nomination, or at least get your name into the conversation," Blum said. "He'll continue to get some support because he has a compelling message that resonates with a large part of the Democratic Party."

Edwards will shape the race by remaining in it. In South Carolina, Democratic strategist Bill Carrick said Edwards will help Obama by pulling white voters from Clinton. But in the Feb. 5 California primary, Edwards' union support will take voters away from the Illinois senator, said Carrick, who grew up in South Carolina and has worked on campaigns there.

The mystery as to why Edwards' campaign hasn't drawn more support is simultaneously baffling and simple to explain. His positions on most major issues are similar to Clinton's and Obama's; often he has been the first to state a position only to have them follow with a similar policy.

His health care plan offers universal coverage where Obama's doesn't. Clinton's plan is similar to Edwards', and was released seven months after his.

This month, Edwards called for a quicker and more complete pullout of U.S. troops and training forces from Iraq than either Clinton or Obama. In 2002, then-Sen. Edwards voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq, as did Clinton. Obama publicly opposed it.

Lost in Clinton's boasting of her political experience is that Edwards is the most experienced and vetted national candidate; he was the Democratic vice presidential nominee four years ago. Clinton has been pulling in strong numbers of working-class voters thus far, despite Edwards counting on the support of many major unions throughout the country - the folks experienced at doing the thankless grunt work of a political campaign.

He was among the first candidates to fully embrace online campaigning - even experimenting with new social networking tools like Twitter - yet he has only a fraction of Obama's presence on Facebook, the online tool that proved valuable in organizing young voters in Iowa.

Edwards has talked most aggressively about removing the power of corporate influence from politics, but voters have been telling exit pollsters that Obama is the candidate most likely to bring the amorphous concept of "change" to Washington.

Even Edwards' supporters admit that his problems have less to do with policy differences than with Edwards getting overlooked in the media's focus on the historic candidacies of Clinton and Obama, the best-funded woman and African American to run for president. Even after Edwards finished second in the Iowa caucus this month, he received only a fraction of the media coverage that Obama and Clinton did in the following days, and slightly more than former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a Republican who barely competed there, according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism's campaign coverage index.

"There's no oxygen left in the room after Obama and Clinton," said Carrick, who ran Richard Gephardt's 1988 presidential campaign. "It's hard to get any when there's a three-candidate field. Look at the Michigan primary. Rudy Giuliani is one of the best-known men in American, and he didn't get more than 3 percent of the vote there."

"Talking about the substantive issues of the campaign, which John is doing, is getting drowned out by the rush to judgment or the rush to celebrity," said Jeff Soukup, a co-chair of California for Edwards.

But as Carrick and others say, those "who love Edwards really love him."

He raised $4 million in California through October, the last federally mandated filing deadline - more than all but four candidates in both parties. But that's only about a third of what Clinton and Obama raised in the state. He has the backing of several of the state's major unions, including the 650,000-member Service Employees International Union in California. But he was the choice of only 13 percent of the respondents in a December Field Poll of likely California voters, behind Clinton and Obama.

Because Edwards accepted federal matching funds that limit him to spending about $50 million for the primary season, he will be vastly outspent by his rivals, who didn't accept such limits.

Still, his supporters hold out hope.

"The race is still very fluid," said Sal Roselli, president of United Health Care Workers West, a 150,000-member union that supports Edwards. "He would be the best president for union members."

Passing out flyers she had made herself in front of the Ferry Building recently, Edwards supporter Kelly Briley said, "I would love to support a woman for president or an African American. But Edwards is the only one who is talking about taking the corporate influence out of politics."

Briley, a 37-year-old San Francisco Web designer, has put a couple hundred dollars into making and copying flyers for the campaign. With its finances stretched thin, the Edwards national campaign relies on such volunteers to spread the message. "The first day we were out here, one woman ran up and hugged me and said, 'Where have you been?' "Briley said.

Walking away from the Ferry Building were 29-year-old Tim Sullivan and his fiance, 21-year-old Caitlin Moe. Both feel that "corporate media" conglomerates have tamped down Edwards media profile because he represents a threat to their power.

Sullivan said that while Edwards may seem to be a long shot at this point to be president, he hopes he remains in the race.

"If he does that, he'll have a significant impact on the agenda," said the Emeryville resident. "I'll consider that to be something."


Teamster wins City Council presidency

In his distinctive raspy voice, Mark Sobczak professes optimism for Toledo and City Council - despite schisms among its members that played out during his election as council president.

Now, he views the first step of his presidency is to foster unity among the 12 members as they continue deliberating major issues, including the city's 2008 budget.

Mr. Sobczak - vice president of Teamsters Local 20 and the son of a retired Toledo police officer - took City Council's helm Jan. 2 when Mayor Carty Finkbeiner broke a 6-6 tie vote between him and former president Michael Ashford.

His critics say he's aligned too closely to the mayor.

"Well, let's put it like this: Of you talk about leadership, his leadership should be to the citizens we serve, and that's where we split," Mr. Ashford said. "He is a total supporter for the mayor. … He supported everything from the $10,000 shower to the $40,000 Christmas lights in front of One Government Center."

Mr. Sobczak brushes those criticisms aside.

"People try to say I am some kind of Carty sycophant and that's not true," he said. "The mayor and I have been at odds plenty of times."

He added: "Carty and I share a vision for what we need for a community, and that's pro-jobs and pro-growth."

Mr. Sobczak grew up in West Toledo on Densmore Drive, attended the all-male St. John's Jesuit High School, went to the University of Toledo, and now lives near Toledo Hospital.

"I grew up with civil service around the dinner table and the city, politics, and how things went on," Mr. Sobczak said.

"It just kind of sat in the back of my mind and I never really aspired to this type of work," he said.

He says politics was never a lifelong goal, and sidesteps questions about the local hype he will someday run for mayor himself.

"It's civil service and if people say, 'We need you to do this,' it has to be driven by people," Mr. Sobczak said.

"It has to be driven by people. It shouldn't be driven by power or ego. That's how I answer that question."

Mr. Sobczak got a job at UPS as a sorter while in college, and in 1981 he was recruited into the Teamsters' ranks by Bill Lichtenwald, who was then a business agent and is now president of Teamsters Local 20.

Mr. Sobczak said his union experience helps him on council.

"It's basically the same thing," he said. "You are dealing with people's needs, wages, and benefits."

In January, 2000, he was strike coordinator after a union walkout at the giant trucking firm Overnite Transportation.

Mr. Sobczak is now the top aide to Mr. Lichtenwald, who played a part in establishing Sandy Isenberg as the Democratic Party's chairman in the spring of 2004.

At the suggestion of Ms. Isenberg, a former county commissioner, Mr. Sobczak screened with the Lucas County Democratic Party's executive committee for Pete Gerken's seat on council, which was vacated after his November, 2004, election to county commissioner.

The following January, the Democratic-controlled City Council voted 7-4 to appoint Laborers Local 500 official Phillip Copeland to the vacancy, rebuffing the county party organization, which had endorsed Mr. Sobczak.

Mr. Sobczak was supported for the appointment by one other Democrat, Bob McCloskey, and three Republicans, Rob Ludeman, Betty Shultz, and George Sarantou.

Mr. Sobczak was also backed by the so-called "B Team" Democrats who took over control of the party in 2004. Mayor Finkbeiner, a Democrat, is also a B-teamer.

"I am not one for labels and I wish that label thing would go away because I think it's divisive," Mr. Sobczak said.

"And I've said before, there is no Republican way to fill a pothole or Democratic way to pave a street."

Both Mr. Copeland and Mr. Sobczak were elected in November, 2006, for at-large seats on council.

Today, Mr. Sobczak still sees support from his Republican colleagues on council, and that has been ammunition for criticism from some of his detractors.

"I think he has been divisive since he's been on council by playing Republicans against Democrats," said Democratic councilman Frank Szollosi, an A-Team player along with councilmen Joe McNamara, Mike Craig, and Mr. Ashford.

"It's almost like he should be assistant to the mayor," Mr. Szollosi said.

"I think he misunderstands the role."

Mr. Szollosi, a critic of the mayor and his new council leader, said the legitimacy of Mr. Sobczak's presidency "was dealt a pretty severe blow by the dishonest way he was put there."

Democratic Councilman Lindsay Webb cast the sixth vote to elect Mr. Sobczak. Her vote shocked fellow Democrats and Mr. Ashford, to whom she had pledged support 90 minutes earlier.

Mrs. Shultz painted a different picture of Mr. Sobczak.

"Leadership, honesty, integrity, attitude, and he tries to work things out," she said of the council president.

"I think he's attempting to close the gap now."

Both sides agree that the president can wield a lot of power.

Under the city's charter, the leader of council sets its agenda, presides over the meetings, and meets with the mayor.

Mr. Sobczak sided with the mayor on his controversial "trash tax," a $5.50 monthly fee enacted last year and proposed to be permanent in the 2008 budget.

Council is expected to divide again over that issue.

Mr. Sobczak says he sides with the mayor on redevelopment plans for Southwyck Shopping Center, development of the Marina District in East Toledo, and the future of the city-owned Erie Street Market near downtown, back in city hands after CitiFest, Inc., ran out of money last autumn.

They differed back in 2006 on a waiver for the living-wage ordinance for wholesale giant Costco at Westgate Village Shopping Center.

The mayor was against it while Mr. Sobczak sided with seven other councilmen in approving the measure.

Then in June, 2007, council voted 9-2 to override Mayor Finkbeiner's veto to allow Imagine Schools to buy 1517 Madison Ave., the home of the Zenobia Shrine since 1949, and convert it to a charter school.

Mr. Sobczak, who had previously opposed the permit, voted for it, providing the ninth and needed vote to override the mayoral veto.

"I've been steamed a time or two over something Mark has done," Mr. Finkbeiner said. "There are issues we disagree on, but we always have respect for each other."

But generally, the mayor supports the Teamsters' official and favored him over Mr. Ashford.

"Mark is very conscientious about what he does," Mr. Finkbeiner said. "He is a strong person in that he has come through the challenges of the Teamsters' leadership and he doesn't play games."


Advance Auction Sale of Stolen Goods

A co-chairman of Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign is a top Washington lobbyist. So are Mitt Romney's national counsel and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's top advisers.

To an electorate weary of political scandals – lobbyists played starring roles in recent ones – the deep involvement of lobbyists in campaigns may look dubious. After all, Congress passed a law last year that purged gift-giving from a lobbyist's arsenal and required fundraisers to disclose "bundled" contributions from lobbyists.

But the law can't deter lobbyists from playing major roles during campaigns – even as some of the candidates zing one another for ties to special interests.

For lobbyists, the stakes are high – their clients collectively spend millions to shape legislation, influence regulation and compete for valuable government contracts.

Whether recruiting donors or dispensing political advice, campaign trench-work can mean better access for clients if the candidate is elected.

"That doesn't guarantee a result," said David McIntosh, a lobbyist and domestic policy adviser to Republican candidate Fred Thompson, himself a former lobbyist. "But if you know somebody, they will at least look at what you have to say."

While campaigns sometimes announce advisers who are lobbyists, disclosure isn't systematic. Many lobbyists aren't paid for political work, so their names don't appear on campaign-finance reports.

No one truly knows how many lobbyists are advising candidates.

"They want to be involved in the campaign because they want their issues on the agenda," said James A. Thurber, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University. "There is this whole crush of people trying to give advice. It's huge."

The revolving door between lobbying and campaigns has become so common that journalists even quote lobbyists as political "strategists" – without mentioning they are primarily paid to influence policy.

On Jan. 4, MSNBC interviewed Todd A. Boulanger, a former Republican aide whose lobbying clients have included Freddie Mac and the state of Texas, and called him a "Republican strategist."

Mr. Boulanger said the two terms – lobbyist and strategist – are "interchangeable."

"A strategist is someone who has inside knowledge of how a campaign works and how the Beltway works," Mr. Boulanger said.

Charlie Black, a lobbyist who is a senior strategist for the McCain campaign, said he's so often involved in presidential campaigns that he considers lobbying his "second career."

"Most lobbyists who devote a lot of time to it are politicos who did that before they got into lobbying," said Mr. Black, who worked for former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush and now lobbies for AT&T, lottery contractor Gtech and General Motors.

In some cases, the lobbyists and candidates say their relationships predate the current campaign.

Tom Loeffler, a former Texas congressman and now a prominent lobbyist, said he's known Mr. McCain since the 1970s and raised the "original seed money" for the senator's first congressional campaign in the early 1980s.

Now Mr. Loeffler is one of Mr. McCain's national co-chairmen, a position that demands raising huge sums of money.

Mr. Loeffler also served as a co-chairman of President Bush's 2000 campaign.

Saudi Arabia is among Mr. Loeffler's top clients.

In the first half of 2006, the kingdom's ministry of commerce and industry paid Mr. Loeffler's firm almost $5 million to represent it before Congress, the Bush administration and the World Trade Organization, according to U.S. Justice Department records.

Mr. McCain, meanwhile, has been one of the kingdom's most nettlesome critics. He has blamed Saudi leaders for fomenting extremism by supporting madrasas, Islamic religious schools that have been blamed in some Muslim countries for promoting militancy.

Mr. Loeffler said he doesn't need to lobby Mr. McCain for the Saudis because the senator "is a global expert and understands the Middle East better than anyone I know."

As for Mr. Loeffler's other clients, which include automakers and telecom firms, "I expect absolutely nothing in return," he said. "When I represent my clients before policymakers, I represent them based on my integrity and the argument of the moment."

Rudy Giuliani, a name partner in a prominent law firm that lobbies for clients, has several lobbyists advising him, including Joe Allbaugh, President Bush's former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Mr. Giuliani's top immigration adviser is Stewart Verdery, a former assistant secretary of Homeland Security who represents firms that want Congress to raise the number of foreign workers. Mr. Verdery didn't return a phone call seeking comment.

Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, also has several lobbyists in his Cabinet. Benjamin Ginsberg, Mr. Romney's national counsel, and Brian Reardon, a senior economic adviser, are both lobbyists.

Mr. Ginsberg, whose firm is a lobbying powerhouse in Washington, also is an expert in election law. He served as national counsel to President Bush's campaigns and represented Mr. Bush in the 2000 Florida recount.

Craig Stevens, a Romney spokesman, said the campaign hired Mr. Ginsberg for his expertise in election law and political strategy.

The campaign expects Mr. Ginsberg would use "good judgment down the road" if he lobbied a Romney presidency, Mr. Stevens said.

"It's not necessarily that he's a lobbyist, but that he's a highly skilled attorney and highly skilled political strategist that make him valuable to a campaign," Mr. Stevens said.

On Thursday, Mr. Romney was challenged about the involvement of lobbyist Ron Kaufman in his campaign, culminating in a heated exchange with an Associated Press reporter. Mr. Romney's reliance on lobbyists for advice clashed with his self-image as an outsider who would shake up Washington's establishment.

Offering valuable services to the winning candidate can mean better access later on as a "friend of the family," Dr. Thurber said.

"If you're a friend during a war – and that's what campaigning is – then you're a friend later on," Dr. Thurber said. "If you only lobby when you need something from the person ... you're not as effective as a person who is a friend of the family."

Mr. Ginsberg, who did not return a phone call seeking comment, lobbies for IAP Worldwide Services, a defense contractor that competes for military business. He also represented AIG Technical Services, which markets insurance coverage specifically for the cleanup of shuttered military bases.

Even the three major Democratic candidates, who have attacked one another's ties to lobbyists, have leaned on people with deep ties to the lobbying world.

Mrs. Clinton's team includes Harold Ickes, a lobbyist whose clients include the owner of A&P grocery stores, for-profit nursing homes and local governments in New York. Mrs. Clinton's finance director, Jonathan Mantz, was a lobbyist until 2006 for defense contractors Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics.

Mr. Ickes, a former deputy chief of staff in Bill Clinton's White House, did not return a phone call seeking comment. A Clinton spokeswoman also didn't return a call for comment.

Sen. Barack Obama, whose New Hampshire campaign chairman was a lobbyist in that state, employs at least three former lobbyists.

Mr. Obama has criticized lobbyists for having outsized influence in Washington, where he's taken credit for pushing through the law that improved disclosure of campaign donations coordinated by lobbyists.

An Obama spokesman said the former lobbyists no longer represent clients.

Two of them, Emmett Beliveau and Brandon Hurlbut, quit lobbying to join the campaign last year.

Mr. Beliveau, who oversees Mr. Obama's campaign stagecraft, reported at least $720,000 in revenue to his firm from lobbying clients the first half of 2007, according to Senate lobbying records.

Mr. Beliveau worked at the same lobby firm, Patton Boggs, where Mr. Ginsberg is a partner.

Mr. Hurlbut, whose clients included insurance companies and Environmental Defense, reported income to his firm of $360,000.

"The folks who work here all work here because they think [we] have the ability to truly transform our nation and bring a fundamental change to how Washington does business," said Bill Burton, a spokesman for the Obama campaign.

Even former Sen. John Edwards, who has fulminated against special interests and vowed to ban lobbyists from the White House, employs three former lobbyists.

All of them previously worked for labor unions.

David Medina, Mr. Edwards' political director, lobbied for the AFL-CIO from 1998 to 2003, according to Senate records. Two other advisers, Chris Chafe and Matt Morrison, worked for unions that endorsed Mr. Edwards' rivals, Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama.


Forced Out?

Alright, now what? Well, in the way of significant events during the 2 ½ month old writer’s strike, this week probably takes the prize. Since the beginning of the strike, speculation has run rampant that the studios would use the work stoppage to clean house.

For the uninitiated, it is common practice for studios to give what are called “overall deals” to A-list writers. In exchange for healthy pay checks, writers are asked to develop new programming and in some cases this pays off for the networks. On average, the vast majority of these writers never generate anything that makes it to air. This means that the studios are paying a lot of people, a lot of money with little or nothing to show for it.

Another circumstance involves these same production deals that manage to produce a show that becomes a series. Take shows like Journeyman or The Bionic Woman as examples. Both became shows and were developed by writers with overall deals. When the ratings were less than stellar, these projects became albatrosses around the necks of their respective studios. They invested all that money to produce shows that didn’t generate anything in return. Both were or are likely to be cancelled due to the low ratings but the writers still receive paychecks from the studios even after the show is cancelled because they have “overall deals”. Typically, these deals are setup with 2 to 3 year contracts which means whether the writer generates a hit or not the studio is on the hook until the end of the contract. Now you may be asking yourself “what’s in it for the studios”? Well, when a writer does manage to churn out a hit TV show, the studio has them under contract and has the rights to anything he/she produces during the contract. It’s a calculated gamble that rarely pays off but when it does it can make the studio a HUGE return on their investment.

The speculation I alluded to above relates to a clause in all of these overall deals that allows the studios to invalidate their contracts with writers and incur no penalty in the event of a major work stoppage. It’s called “Force Majeure” and it started last Friday. ABC began the process and was quickly followed by all the major studios by midweek. Dozens of deals were axed, essentially cleaning house of what all the studios considered to be dead weight. The speculation has always been that the studios had no reason to return to the bargaining table until they could use force majeure to jettison these deals and start anew. With this move the studios have wiped the slate clean of these costly deals and can go back to the bargaining table, strike a deal, then bring the writers they cut loose back when it makes financial sense. However in reality, it’s more likely that many of the writers who lost their deals won’t be back anytime soon.

DGA Strikes a Deal!!

Last week I reported that both the Director’s Guild of America and the AMPTP (the producers) had agreed to begin formal contract talks this past Saturday. And to pretty much no one’s surprise, Thursday saw a formal agreement announced. Both sides had agreed to a media blackout and the week saw little in the way of leaked information about the status of the talks until Thursday’s announcement. The initial terms of the deal that were disclosed included:

* Increases both wages and residual bases for each year of the contract.
* Establishes DGA jurisdiction over programs produced for distribution on the Internet.
* Establishes new residuals formula for paid Internet downloads (electronic sell-through) that essentially doubles the rate currently paid by employers.
* Establishes residual rates for ad-supported streaming and use of clips on the Internet.

These were the major issues that had held up a deal between the AMPTP and the WGA in their own contract negotiations. So now comes the $24,000 question, what will the WGA think of the deal and can it lay the framework for a new agreement between the two? Reactions from the various factions of the WGA have been mixed. Some seem to think it’s good enough and want to strike a similar deal now so they can get back to work. Some think it’s a good starting point. While others have panned the deal insisting that it was another example of the DGA’s poor bargaining skills. Obviously, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. The fact is that the AMPTP and studios have played their game according to the playbook everyone assumed all along. First they let the WGA strike and waited things out until they could use force majeure to cut loose the deals they didn’t like. Then they gave the DGA a little more than they were willing to give the WGA in their negotiations and got a deal done. Finally, they announced to the world that they were ready to return to the bargaining table with the WGA once the deal with the DGA was in place. Obvious? Yes. Effective? Maybe. This puts significant pressure on the WGA to get back to the table and hammer out a contract. The real question is whether the WGA can stomach the basic framework of the DGA’s deal and use it as a starting point for legitimate negotiations. Nobody but the WGA leadership can answer that question. The next week should bring us some answers.

I for one believe that the DGA’s deal, while not optimal, should be enough to get things jump started. At the very least it should setup new bargaining sessions that actually have the potential to generate a contract, unlike the last session back in early December. I believe the studios got what they wanted with force majeure. Now that it’s done they are likely to be serious in future negotiations. I can only hope that the WGA isn’t so inflexible that they decide not to get down to serious bargaining.


Union nod didn't sway Latino Dems

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