Power-grabbers try to lock-in seniority system

California voters launched a national movement nearly 20 years ago when they approved a ballot measure to limit state legislators' time in office to 14 years, split between the state Senate and Assembly.

The Legislature's current leadership, spearheaded by Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, D-Los Angeles, is urging voters to mark their ballots for the Feb. 5 primary in favor of a measure, Proposition 93, which would trim lawmakers' terms by two years but allow all of that time to be spent in the same chamber.

Proponents of the measure, including Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, say it strikes a reasonable balance between the need to elect new people with fresh ideas and the need to keep experienced lawmakers on the job.

But opponents, led by Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, say the measure is a trick and a power grab. They point out that Prop. 93 provides a transition period that would give current office holders a windfall term extension of up to 12 years in their current legislative house.

While the two sides battle, voter surveys show that most Californians are happy with the 1990 term-limit measure that restricted legislators to six years in the Assembly (three two-year terms) and eight years in the Senate (two four-year terms).

And voters have shown little interest in changing things.

"Consistently for the past decade, the number of voters who say term limits is a good thing is much higher than those who say it's a bad thing," said Mark Baldassare, a pollster and president of the Public Policy Institute of California.

"When we ask if the Legislature would be more effective if they stay in office longer, most voters say 'No,' " he said. "When we tell them how long legislators are currently allowed to stay in office, most voters say that's a good amount of time."

But some labor groups, business organizations and legislators say term limits need adjusting.

"Just about anyone will tell you that we need a Legislature with experience - but today, 12 of the 34 committee chairs in the state Assembly are freshmen," said Steve Westly, a former state controller and Democratic candidate for governor in 2006.

"That's not good."

Other supporters of Prop. 93 include the California Business Roundtable, the California Teachers Association and the Sierra Club.

Westly said the measure would allow lawmakers to settle into one house or the other and develop roots in the legislative system and expertise on the issues.

"Members of the Assembly, with two-year terms, almost from day one begin focusing on their next race," he said. "This would give them a chance to settle in."

Not so, said Poizner, a Republican whose major complaint is that current office-holders would benefit from the passage of Prop. 93 - including the legislature's two top Democrats who otherwise would be termed out of office at the end of this year: Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, and Núñez.

If the measure passes, Perata, who is in his second full term, would be able to run for one more four-year term in the Senate; Núñez, who is in his third term, would be eligible for three more two-year Assembly terms.

"There's no question that Proposition 93 was written in a clever way in order to lead voters to conclude that it would shorten terms - that's totally false," said Poizner. "It will lengthen them."

Poizner argued that the average career in the Legislature today is six or seven years. Passage of Prop. 93, he said, would ensure that most lawmakers would serve the full 12 years.

"I don't think it's a good idea to lengthen terms; it's bad for California," he said. "Voters passed term limits with the idea of limiting career politicians in the Legislature for good reason."

So far, voters have not focused much on Prop. 93, although media campaigns began this month. Supporters of the measure have received contributions from the teachers union and other unions, and businesses including Chevron and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. That campaign spent about $5.7 million through the end of December but is expected to more than double that amount by election day.

The opposition campaign, with support from Poizner and a Virginia nonprofit that seeks to limit career politicians, U.S. Term Limits Inc., has spent about $2 million but has about $4 million more in the bank, according to reports filed last month.

A Field Poll conducted in December found just 25 percent of voters had heard or seen anything about the proposal. When voters were read a summary of the measure, 50 percent said they would support it.

A new Field Poll on the proposition is expected to be released Thursday.

Poizner said the measure's placement on the February ballot was no accident. If Prop. 93 passes, incumbents would have time to file their paperwork and run in the June state primary.

"The whole thing is a power grab," he said.

Westly conceded that there are aspects of the proposal that "could have been done differently." But he insisted the measure is still a good idea.

"If you are going to wait for perfection, you will be waiting a long time," he said. "This is a good-government proposal."


Labor unions flood Florida with out-of-state cash

When Florida voters go to the polls here on Jan. 29 they will be asked to do more than vote for their choices among the Democratic or GOP contenders for the White House. They’ll also be asked to vote on a controversial constitutional amendment on property taxes that has pitted Florida’s teacher and public service unions against Florida’s governor and some wealthy allies such as real estate mogul and television celebrity Donald Trump.

In an election season that has seen the race for the Democratic nomination evolve into a neck-and-neck contest between Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, and with no clear front-runner on the Republican side, the issues at hand are already compelling. But there’s more.

When Florida Democrats go to the polls they will be acting in open defiance of the Democratic National Committee which has threatened not to recognize any of the state’s delegates to the Democratic National Convention. This is an internal Democratic Party battle that has pitted DNC National Chair Howard Dean against Senator Bill Nelson, with the Florida Democratic Party lining up solidly against the national organization.

For some, the DNC threat not to recognize the results of the primary vote harkens back to the disenfranchisement of broad segments of the Florida vote in 2000 at the hands of Florida’s then governor John Ellis “Jeb” Bush, the brother of the current president, and his then Secretary of State Katherine Harris; an election that brought the term “pregnant chad” into the political lexicon.

The move has angered Florida’s Democrats, still smarting from the lessons of eight years ago, and resulted in all the major contenders for the Democratic nomination honoring a DNC-instigated ban against campaigning in the state. In the minds of most experienced political observers here, in the last analysis, the DNC will be compelled to accept Florida’s delegates in the interests of winning this November.

On the GOP side, most of the strenuous campaigning has been done by former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. Republican strategists, like their Democratic counterparts, have identified Florida as a “must win” state. In contrast to the Democrats, however, GOP contenders have campaigned with impunity—another factor making local Democrats irate. Giuliani hopes Florida Republicans will jump-start his sagging campaign fortunes and revive him as a force to be reckoned with in a race with no clear front-runner.

Floridians will also be drawn to the polls by a controversial constitutional amendment that proposes an increase in the state’s homestead exemption for homeowners from $25,000 to $50,000 along with a provision giving second home owners future tax breaks by ensuring the assessments on their homes would increase by no more than 10 percent a year. The average Florida taxpayer would realize savings of $240 per year.

The amendment was hastily put together by Florida’s GOP-dominated state legislature and Governor Charlie Crist, a Republican who has wasted no time in distancing himself from some of the policies of his predecessor. The Florida Association of Realtors has donated $1 million to the pro-amendment drive; the Florida Medical Association has donated $50,000; and real estate mogul Donald Trump hosted a $1,000 a plate dinner in early December to support the initiative. Trump paid about $1 million in taxes last year on his $56 million Palm Beach estate, according to a report appearing last month in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

The amendment is opposed by numerous forces, anchored by the Florida AFL-CIO, Florida Teachers Association, the Firefighters union, and the Florida PTA. These forces point out that the “portability” provision in the amendment will result in decreased funding for a variety of public services, including the police and fire departments, and see a loss of $1.5 billion in revenue for public schools over the next five years.

Most of Florida’s major newspapers, including most recently the Miami Herald, have opposed the amendment. “[I]n exchange for a small measure of relief, residents are guaranteed deeper cuts in local services,” said the Herald in its Jan. 21 editorial. Meanwhile, the state’s creaky, inefficient and archaic tax system will remain in place. “They say that it is bad manners to look a gift horse in the mouth, but this is an exception to the rule. Give this nag back to the Legislature and tell lawmakers that voters want something better.”


UFCW racketeers usurp MLK Day service

Their yellow shirts filled the first few rows inside First Baptist Church on Moore Street. Those who couldn’t understand English heard the service translated through headphones.

Some raised their hands in praise when a preacher’s words moved them. Some raised their voices in song when the choir’s melody touched them. Some sat silent and simply listened.

The service on Monday honored the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. It honored Cesar Chavez. But it also honored the people in the yellow shirts: the Smithfield Packing Co. employees and the people who have been working to increase their rights.

And it celebrated a minor victory in that fight for workers’ rights: For the first time, Martin Luther King Jr. Day was a paid holiday for employees of the Smithfield Packing Co. plant in Tar Heel.

About halfway through the 2-hour service, four Smithfield workers climbed behind the pulpit. One by one, they told stories of the problems faced by workers at the Tar Heel plant:

* Fingers lost to the plant’s cutting machines.
* Hours worked but never compensated for.
* Intense killing schedules that lead to accidents.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union has, since 1992, tried to unionize the workers at the Tar Heel plant without success.

Gene Bruskin, director of UFCW’s national Smithfield campaign, said that without a union, workers have no way to voice those problems.

“They are injured every day, they face disrespect from their supervisors, sexual harassment,” he said. And while this year, Monday was a holiday, “next year, they could say, ‘We’re busy, we’re going to take it back.’”

King fought for workers’ rights, and Chavez co-founded the United Farm Workers, which fought for benefits and fair pay for farm workers.

Organizers hoped the service on Monday would inspire the workers.

And in fiery sermons delivered by clergy from a range of religions, it did.

The Rev. Maria Palmer, a pastor who founded a Spanish-speaking church in Orange County, looked around the church and said King and Chavez would have been proud to see “black and brown and white people committed to struggling together for justice.”

She admonished the people in the church to stand up for immigrants.

“We have to face what happens in every Smithfield packing plant, in every Perdue plant and in every field around North Carolina.”

A projector flashed images on the wall throughout the service: Photographs of King. Quotes from his speeches. Pictures of Chavez. The “Justice at Smithfield” logo.

The Rev. Michael Battle, president of the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta and the service’s keynote speaker, said if King were alive, he would be fighting for the Smithfield workers.

“King would be right here in Fayetteville, North Carolina,” Battle said. “He would say to the brothers and sisters: ‘Give me a yellow shirt that I may wear it as well.’”


Which -ism best fits Dem left?

Tonight, at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, CNN is hosting with the Congressional Black Caucus a debate with Clinton, Edwards and Obama. Tonight's debate is five days before the South Carolina Primary, expected by many to re-launch the Obama campaign's opportunity.

Here's a round-up of five questions that the candidates should answer.

- To John Edwards: Which perspective best describes your philosophical world-view: a) collectivism, b) central planning, c) Marxism, or d) Trotskyism? And explain why.

- To Hillary Clinton: A two-part question. Why were you denied a security clearance while First Lady of the White House? And, without a security clearance, what experience were you able to have with critical foreign policy issues?

- To Barack Obama: What experience or practical engagement have you had with leading an organization near the size and complexity of America's largest employer, the U.S. Federal Government?

- To all candidates: On the issue of education, the current Administration has raised Federal funding for public education from $30 billion to $90 billion to finance No Child Left Behind. What will be the level of funding in your Administration?

- To all candidates: Given America's second highest , in the world, corporate income tax, would you be willing to fight the special interests to cut this tax and help America's job makers compete in a global market?

Those are just 5 simple questions I'd like to see answered.

What are your questions to the Democratic candidates?


Fascism's legacy: Liberalism

Liberal fascism sounds like an oxymoron – or a term for conservatives to insult liberals. Actually, it was coined by a socialist writer, none other than the respected and influential left-winger H.G. Wells, who in 1931 called on fellow progressives to become "liberal fascists" and "enlightened Nazis." Really.

His words, indeed, fit a much larger pattern of fusing socialism with fascism: Mussolini was a leading socialist figure who, during World War I, turned away from internationalism in favor of Italian nationalism and called the blend Fascism. Likewise, Hitler headed the National Socialist German Workers Party.

These facts jar because they contradict the political spectrum that has shaped our worldview since the late 1930s, which places communism at the far left, followed by socialism, liberalism in the center, conservatism, and then fascism on the far right. But this spectrum, Jonah Goldberg points out in his brilliant, profound, and original new book, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning (Doubleday), reflects Stalin's use of fascist as an epithet to discredit anyone he wished – Trotsky, Churchill, Russian peasants – and distorts reality. Already in 1946, George Orwell noted that fascism had degenerated to signify "something not desirable."

To understand fascism in its full expression requires putting aside Stalin's misrepresentation of the term and also look beyond the Holocaust, and instead return to the period Goldberg terms the "fascist moment," roughly 1910-35. A statist ideology, fascism uses politics as the tool to transform society from atomized individuals into an organic whole. It does so by exalting the state over the individual, expert knowledge over democracy, enforced consensus over debate, and socialism over capitalism. It is totalitarian in Mussolini's original meaning of the term, of "Everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State." Fascism's message boils down to "Enough talk, more action!" Its lasting appeal is getting things done.

In contrast, conservatism calls for limited government, individualism, democratic debate, and capitalism. Its appeal is liberty and leaving citizens alone.

Goldberg's triumph is establishing the kinship between communism, fascism, and liberalism. All derive from the same tradition that goes back to the Jacobins of the French Revolution. His revised political spectrum would focus on the role of the state and go from libertarianism to conservatism to fascism in its many guises – American, Italian, German, Russian, Chinese, Cuban, and so on.

As this listing suggests, fascism is flexible; different iterations differ in specifics but they share "emotional or instinctual impulses." Mussolini tweaked the socialist agenda to emphasize the state; Lenin made workers the vanguard party; Hitler added race. If the German version was militaristic, the American one (which Goldberg calls liberal fascism) is nearly pacifist. Goldberg quotes historian Richard Pipes on this point: "Bolshevism and Fascism were heresies of socialism." He proves this confluence in two ways.

First, he offers a "secret history of the American left":

* Woodrow Wilson's Progressivism featured a "militaristic, fanatically nationalist, imperialist, racist" program, enabled by the exigencies of World War I.
* Franklin D. Roosevelt's "fascist New Deal" built on and extended Wilson's government.
* Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society established the modern welfare state, "the ultimate fruition" (so far) of this statist tradition.
* The youthful New Left revolutionaries of the 1960s brought about "an Americanized updating" of the European Old Right.
* Hillary Clinton hopes "to insert the state deep into family life," an essential step of the totalitarian project.

To sum up a near-century of history, if the American political system traditionally encouraged the pursuit of happiness, "more and more of us want to stop chasing it and have it delivered."

Second, Goldberg dissects American liberal programs – racial, economic, environmental, even the "cult of the organic" – and shows their affinities to those of Mussolini and Hitler.

If this summary sounds mind-numbingly implausible, read Liberal Fascism in full for its colorful quotes and convincing documentation. The author, hitherto known as a smart, sharp-elbowed polemicist, has proven himself a major political thinker.

Beyond offering a radically different way to understand modern politics, in which fascist is no more a slander than socialist, Goldberg's extraordinary book provides conservatives with the tools to reply to their liberal tormentors and eventually go on the offensive. If liberals can eternally raise the specter of Joseph McCarthy, conservatives can counter with that of Benito Mussolini.

- Daniel Pipes


Striking union can't stop Financial Core members

The daytime soap operas might be losing their bubbles in the weeks ahead as networks resort to episodes not penned by WGA writers.

The guild, which has been on strike since early November, has picketed for several days in front of ABC headquarters in New York, primarily to protest its airing of "All My Children" episodes written by non-WGA members. ABC is the only network to produce all of its soap operas, while "Days of Our Lives" on NBC is produced by Corday Prods. and all of the CBS soaps are produced outside the network, including two by Procter & Gamble and one by Sony.

The networks and soap production companies have gone radio silent about how many scripts they still have from WGA writing staffs, and the writers themselves say it varies from soap to soap.

"Our daytime shows have remained in production and have continued to produce original episodes" is all Chris Ender, senior vp communications at CBS, would say. An ABC statement simply read: "The shows are staffed, and we have people in place to continue producing original programming."

Regarding the number of remaining WGA-written soap scripts, Courtney Simon, who writes for "As the World Turns," which is produced by P&G for CBS, said: "There is a huge variation from show to show. Some do not want to get too far ahead with their story lines." But Simon said she's heard that scripts written by her team will run out this week.

It remains to be seen what impact this will have on viewership.

Simon does not believe that the writers behind the new scripts will be able to maintain the integrity and focus of the story lines. "It will be painful for us to see what happens to our story lines and know that when we return, we will have to clean up what these makeshift teams do," she said.

So far, the ratings and viewer levels for the soaps on all three networks have been pretty much flat since the strike began -- not a surprise since the scripts being used were from the regular writing teams. Going forward, however, ratings could take a melodramatic turn.

All the networks and production companies that own soaps said they have enough scripts and a system in place to remain on the air and produce fresh episodes indefinitely. That has been facilitated by a government rule that allows WGA members to cross picket lines by filing for "financial core" status. Technically, they resign from union membership but still pay dues, and the guild can't stop them from returning to work.

Two writers on "All My Children," James Harmon Brown and Barbara Esensten, have returned to work under the "fi-core" provision, and other soaps might each have a couple of writers who also exercised the provision. ABC, without naming names, did acknowledge that some soap writers have returned under fi-core and that producers are aiding in the writing process.

Over at CBS, for example, "The Bold and the Beautiful" executive producer Brad Bell also is the head writer.

But Simon said it is a struggle to stay ahead with scripts even with a full complement of writers, which could number from 10-15 depending on the soap.

Although SAG has supported the WGA by not crossing its picket lines for televised TV and movie awards shows, SAG members have not boycotted show production and continue to show up for work. That could change, however, if soap producers begin using scripts written by non-WGA writers.

Despite that, Shirley Jones recently joined the "Days of Our Lives" cast and will appear in episodes beginning Jan. 31. And Mario Van Peebles has joined the cast of "All My Children" and will first appear in a Jan. 29 episode.

The networks maintain that keeping the soaps on the air during the strike is vital to the future of the daypart. They argue that if the soaps were to go into repeats or be pulled during the strike, viewers might defect and never come back.

Clearly the ratings support the notion that daytime is a declining daypart. Compared with last season, soap ratings among women 18-49 and 25-54 are down anywhere from 5%-25%, with most soaps averaging about 300,000 fewer viewers per day.

However, while soap ratings are down from last year -- almost a regular annual occurrence during the past decade -- advertisers so far are not complaining. With the other dayparts so tight, and with daytime ad inventory cheaper than most, it is still a desirable place to run messages, particularly for advertisers targeting women. The soaps are still averaging between 2.4 million ("Days of Our Lives") and 5.5 million ("The Young and the Restless") viewers a day.

But if audiences begin to notice changes in story lines written by non-WGA writers and producers, they could start tuning out. "Good shows can't be written when the situation is panic-driven," Simon said. "Soap opera story lines have to be well thought out and take time to play out. Makeshift, temporary writing teams can't do that."

Although the soaps are part of the overall negotiation process, the WGA can negotiate separate deals with the individual production companies such as Corday, P&G or Sony. WGA sources said none of the companies has so far been willing to do an individual deal.


Unions speed Cal. speaker's rise to power

Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez fidgeted with his BlackBerry as he sat in a leather seat in the back of a black Buick Park Avenue and zoomed south on Interstate 5. He checked voice mail, read e-mail and barked his ideas for fixing California's ailing health care system to his staff in Sacramento.

The image is fitting for one of the state's most powerful public officials. But Núñez's image and his life were vastly different a few years ago, when he arrived at the state Capitol in 2003 as a 36-year-old rookie assemblyman from downtown Los Angeles.

He was a novice politician who had just won his first election. He also was a divorcé struggling to reconcile with his ex-wife, who had been his college sweetheart. And he was recovering from personal bankruptcy. Five years later, he is living a rags-to-riches American success story, and more.

He's regarded by many as the second-most-powerful public official in California, next to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. He has remarried his ex-wife, and the couple and their three children live in a $1.2 million home in a woodsy East Sacramento neighborhood.

In the Capitol, he has emerged as an effective dealmaker who helped craft the landmark legislation to fight global warming two years ago and is a key player in efforts to provide health care to 6.8 million Californians who lack insurance.

But Núñez also has been dogged by reports that he used his campaign funds to pay for trips overseas and for lavish gifts.

Still, his personal tale - one of 12 children born to a gardener and a maid from Tijuana - is a remarkable story, and his quick rise to political power is even more surprising.

And if voters side with him Feb. 5 by supporting Proposition 93, not only would Núñez be labeled the most powerful Assembly speaker in the era of term limits, he could be considered among the likes of Willie Brown.

Núñez, 41, is the mastermind behind Prop. 93, and he enlisted his top political consultant, Gale Kauffmann, to lead the campaign for the measure. He would be able to serve six more years in the Assembly if the measure passes, rather than being termed out at the end of this year.

Life began modestly for Núñez, who was born Dec. 26, 1966, at a San Diego hospital to Pablo and Soledad Núñez. The couple, who lived in Tijuana, wanted to have at least one child born on the other side of the border, and their opportunity came thanks to a program that allowed impoverished Mexicans to work in the United States.

Growing up in Logan Heights, a tough neighborhood east of downtown San Diego with its share of gangs and drugs, Núñez often wore mismatched hand-me-down socks. But he kept off the streets, family and friends say.

"I think it was the ability to peer around the corner or think two or three steps ahead of what decisions you might be making," said Assemblyman Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, who met Núñez in high school and remains one of his closest friends.

Maria Robles met Núñez in 1985 when they were students at UC San Diego and helping organize events surrounding Cesar Chavez's visit to the campus. He was going days without food and living sometimes out of his beat-up Volkswagen when student aid checks did not arrive on time, she said.

But when Robles was diagnosed with thyroid cancer about a year later, the couple dropped out of school and decided to start a family. They moved to east Los Angeles, where their son was born and, two years later, a daughter. Robles' cancer was in remission after two surgeries, but their marriage was on rocky ground.

Many of their troubles had to do with the couple's finances. Robles found steady income as a registered nurse, but Núñez spent the bulk of his time working as a volunteer for an immigrant advocacy group in Pomona and later in a paid position with the same organization.

He also had to work odd jobs, including a stint as a security guard in Los Angeles, selling security systems and working briefly for a mortgage broker.

In 1989 they saved enough money to buy a house in Upland (Riverside County), but after the real estate market tanked in the early 1990s and their adjustable-rate mortgage skyrocketed, they filed for bankruptcy in 1994.

The financial ruin pushed Núñez and Robles into a divorce.

"We were so young and green ... . We had no clue," Robles said of the house purchase and the eventual bankruptcy. "It was one of the darkest times of our lives."

But it was also when Núñez began to get involved with labor unions, landed a job with a utility workers union and came across Miguel Contreras, the head of the powerful Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.

Núñez got his big break among the labor circles when Contreras hired him as political director of the labor federation. He kept that post until 2000, when he took a job as lobbyist for the Los Angeles Unified School District.

In the fall of 2001, then-Assemblyman Gil Cedillo declared he was running for a state Senate seat and called Núñez to run for his Assembly seat, de Leon recalled. Núñez won the primary election, and soon there was talk of him aiming for the speakership in the Assembly.

"There was a breakfast meeting with (Núñez), myself and Miguel Contreras, and I suggested Fabian go for the speakership," then-Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson said, "and he said, 'What?' "

Núñez arrived at the Capitol in 2003 and became speaker the following year. While the first two years of his leadership were marked by political battles against Schwarzenegger, 2006 proved to be a remarkable legislative year.

The speaker struck deals with the governor on bills that increased the minimum wage and, more importantly, made California the U.S. leader in efforts to curb greenhouse gases.

There have been grumblings that the original author of the global warming bill - then-Assemblywoman Fran Pavley, a Southern California Democrat - should have received more credit.

"I put the power of the speakership behind it," Núñez said of the emissions bill. "Otherwise it wouldn't have moved."

While 2006 was a banner year for Núñez, 2007 was difficult. He announced his support for legislation that sought to make physician-assisted suicide legal in California, bucking his Roman Catholic mother.

Soledad Núñez later said she was OK with her son's decision, but the Catholic Church wasn't as forgiving. Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony even mentioned the Assembly speaker by name during a noon Mass in denouncing his support of the bill, which eventually stalled in the lower house.

"When the cardinal singles you out in a sermon, it's no small thing, to say the least," Núñez said.

But Núñez took the most heat from labor unions, his power base, for supporting state agreements to allow four wealthy Southern California Indian tribes to add thousands more slot machines - deals that labor unions opposed because they did not allow casino workers to more easily organize.

"The bottom line: It was all about Prop. 93 and (Núñez's) ambition to continue to be speaker and his terror that Big Four gambling tribes would put money against (the measure) if he didn't do their bidding," said Jack Gribbon, California political director of UNITE Here, a labor union that opposes the gambling deals. "It was one of the coldest political calculations that I have seen in my life."

The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, which helped propel Núñez into the Assembly, protested outside the speaker's Los Angeles office.

"It's the price of leadership. You always try to make sure that your friends are always happy with you, but you also have the responsibility to govern all of California," Núñez said.

Most recently, he has been dogged by news reports that he used campaign funds to pay for trips abroad to Paris and elsewhere and spent thousands of dollars for wine.

"I think that people need to understand that California is the eighth-largest economy in the world and has trade relationships with many nations ... and leaders come here to visit us and ask us to visit them," he said. "Every one of these were either education or trade mission trips."

But Barbara O'Connor, director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and the Media at Cal State Sacramento, said that while Núñez's use of campaign funds might not be illegal, it was imprudent and disappointing to those who considered him to be someone who found success through hard work.

"He's a metaphor for the American dream ... it's like, 'How can he violate that?' " O'Connor said. "Well, he can because everyone else (in Sacramento) does, and he's part of the process. He went with the flow, as they say."

Núñez says that for all his political victories, his greatest success was remarrying Robles in 2005, after many counseling sessions to work out their relationship.

"Having your family united gives you a sense of purpose that you otherwise would not have," he said. "It's a sense of purpose, a sense of belonging, and solidifies you as a human being. You've got a family to come home to, kids to come home to, a wife to come home to."
Who he is

Name: Fabian Núñez

Age: 41

Career: Current speaker of the California State Assembly; formerly a lobbyist for Los Angeles Unified School District, political director for Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and regional director for nonprofit OneStop Immigration

Education: Pitzer College, B.A. in political science and education

Family: Wife Maria Robles; children Esteban, 19; Teresa, 16; and Carlos, 7


Teamsters go on strike in West Virginia

There is a labor dispute between Waldorf Distributing and Waldorf employees represented by the Teamsters Union. Waldorf Distributing is a beer distributor that delivers around West Virginia's Northern Panhandle.

Jake Vdovjak, Secretary Treasurer for Teamster Local 697, said the six members on strike want a fair wage and benefit package that is comparable to other beer distributors in the area. Vdovjak said the biggest hold up is the heath and welfare portion.

Negotiations for a collective bargaining agreement began last July between each side. Both parties have met several times since July and even met on Saturday. According to Waldorf Distributing, each side has agreed on terms during negotiations. The union and Waldorf Distributing said and agreement has not been reached on health and welfare benefits.

The six employees include four drivers, a warehouse employee and a clerk. Waldorf Distributing said if it would grant the union its request, that would result in an almost 75 percent increase in the company’s health care premiums for this year.


Union operatives joined by leftist billionaires

Just three years ago the Democratic Party was in disarray. Despite record high-dollar donations from affluent supporters, Democrats had failed to reclaim the White House and Congress. Shell-shocked by their defeat, George Soros and other wealthy liberals formed a loose-knit group to consider how to fund a political comeback. Their answer: Create a permanent political infrastructure of nonprofits, think tanks, media outlets, leadership schools, and activist groups — a kind of “vast left-wing conspiracy” to compete with the conservative movement. The group they created – called the Democracy Alliance (DA) — is meant to be a financial clearinghouse. The Alliance got off to a rocky start, but to date it’s brokered more than $100 million in grants to liberal nonprofits. The goal is not merely to elect Democrats this November, but to permanently realign U.S. politics.

The Democracy Alliance (DA) is maturing. After several years of internal strife, management squabbles, a few political purges, and frustrating electoral setbacks, the group whose mission is to tilt American politics leftward has found its footing. The DA is becoming what leftist blogger Markos Moulitsas of DailyKos fame called for in 2005: “A vast, Vast Left Wing Conspiracy to rival” the conservative movement. It relies less on traditional Democratic Party “machine” politics, which typically draws upon fat cats, institutions (the party itself, labor unions), and single-issue advocacy groups (pro-abortion rights groups, the National Education Association and other teacher unions). Although it is officially nonpartisan, the DA has cultivated deep and extensive ties to the Democratic Party establishment.

Senator Hillary Clinton’s good friend, Kelly Craighead, runs the Alliance’s day-to-day operations. Clinton brags that she has helped create what she calls “a lot of the new progressive infrastructure.” Last August Clinton told the YearlyKos convention of left-wing bloggers that she “helped to start and support” Media Matters for America and the Center for American Progress (CAP), two recipients of DA grants. Media Matters is headed by conservative turncoat David Brock; CAP is headed John Podesta, Bill Clinton’s White House chief of staff. (Washington Times, December 3, 2007)

The Alliance’s principal architect, Democratic operative Rob Stein, has promised that the Alliance will become less secretive as it starts to fund a wider array of political programs and projects. In fact, the DA has engineered to date more than $100 million in contributions from its wealthy members to liberal groups sympathetic to the Democratic Party, and it has the blessing of Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairman Howard Dean.

But problems remain. Democrats can’t be sure that they are masterminding a grand reversal of Newt Gingrich’s 1994 Republican “Revolution.” Democrats control Congress and the prospects for retaining Congress and capturing the White House this year look better than ever. Still, the liberal grip on power is tenuous, and anything can happen. They haven’t forgotten that the resurgence of their party had seemed improbable just three years ago when the Alliance was created, a time when the Washington punditry pronounced a national Republican realignment a done deal.

DA members have concluded that the Democratic Party still lacks a coherent message despite its victories in the November 2006 elections. That midterm vote was more against the GOP than for Democrats. “What was done was to fire some people in Washington and give other people a chance,” said Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius at a Miami meeting of the Alliance after the midterms. “But it’s not an endorsement of an agenda.” Said CAP’s Podesta: “We still haven’t cracked the übermessage. We still haven’t gotten into people’s minds a picture of what a progressive America would look like.”

Former New York Governor Mario Cuomo believes the Iraq war is a political godsend filling up the Democrats’ political void. At the Miami meeting Cuomo bluntly told DA members: “Now it’s 2006 and we’re all rejoicing. Why? Because of Iraq. A gift. A gift to the Democrats. A lot of whom voted for the war anyway.” The liberal icon who wowed Democrats at the party’s 1984 convention with his “Tale of Two Cities” speech, added: “Where does that leave you? It leaves you in the same position you were in 2004—without an issue. Because you have no big idea.” Democracy Alliance chairman Rob McKay, the Taco Bell heir, cautioned members against becoming complacent despite winning the midterms: “The wounded right-wing beast may be more dangerous than ever.”

Many Democracy Alliance members think the Democratic Party’s future success requires ideological re-branding. They may question whether the word progressive is a political winner, but they know liberal isn’t. Asked last summer if she would call herself a “liberal,” Hillary Clinton backed away from the label, noting that liberalism “describes big government.” She preferred “progressive,” which has a “real American meaning.” The Gallup Poll suggests Clinton is on to something: A survey last fall showed that 43% of Americans called themselves Democrats while only 30% called themselves Republicans. By contrast, only 23% of voters called themselves liberals, while 39% said they were conservatives.

“The liberal brand is tarnished,” said Alliance member Rob Glaser, who heads the online multimedia company RealNetworks. He wants to “change the political paradigm” and treat the word “progressive” as a thing “that’s nurtured and managed just like any other brand.” To test his theory, Glaser teamed up with Podesta’s CAP and spent $600,000 on TV ads in the Midwest over a three-week period. He proudly claims liberals in the test areas subsequently rechristened themselves progressives. However, CAP research shows that as much as 40% of the public has no clue what “progressive” means. (The Politico, December 6, 2007)

- For the full report from the January 2008 edition of Capital Research Center's Foundation Watch log onto http://www.capitalresearch.org


Anti-democracy votes in Congress for sale cheap

We always knew politicians could be bought and sold, so there's no surprise there. In fact, it seems these days, the whole darn town of Washington is nothin' but a den of elected whores and hillbillies.

What we didn't know until tonight though was how cheaply the US Congress could be bought ... I mean, we're talking really, really cheap. Especially cheap, it seems, when it comes to buying a vote to do away with the rights of American citizens.

Hell, by today's standards, it's cheaper to buy a congressional vote than it is to buy a Chevy Silverado. Talk about the Heartbeat of America!

According to MAPlight.org, a new website we were turned on to (so to speak) this evening, labor unions spent a measly $32,940 on each legislator who voted "yes" to support the cynically-named Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA).

EFCA, for those who may not remember, is that piece of legislation that strips the American worker of his (or her) right to vote in a secret-ballot election on whether or not (s)he gets unionized. You know, it's that law that, if passed will probably cause just a ton of companies to outsource or die a slow death (sort of like the US auto industry).

Conversely, the proponents of preserving workers right to vote on the matter of unionization only gave $22,705 to legislators who voted "no." However, those proponents also gave $10,872 to the "yes" voters(!).

Yeah, it didn't make sense to us either. Therefore, we can only assume that there are some proponents who are secretly sleeping with the enemy.

After all, we are talking about Washington, DC are we not? The land where politicians are bought and sold cheaper than the chaw spit, spilled and stuck on the bottom of a cowboy boot.

Yeah, we though you'd think that was gross too.

But, then again, so are politicians.


SEIU fights against investment in elderly care

In late 2007, the investment firm The Carlyle Group purchased one of the country’s largest nursing home chains despite the concerns of regulators, lawmakers and workers’ groups that the acquisition would lead to staffing cuts and cause a decline in quality of care for residents. The $6.3 million purchase of Toledo, Ohio-based Manor Care Inc. closed after a Michigan judge lifted a restraining order that temporarily halted the sale.

“The problem is, in the nursing home industry, making money means cutting care,” says Julie Eisenhardt, a spokeswoman for Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents employees at about 15 Manor Care homes and which spearheaded a campaign to raise awareness about the buyout.

In 2006, Manor Care, which operates more than 500 nursing, rehabilitation and assisted living facilities in 32 states, posted $167 million in profits and $3.6 billion in revenues. Manor Care shareholders were slated to get $67 for each share as part of the deal.

The Carlyle Group has holdings in several industries, including healthcare, defense and energy. Former President George H.W. Bush was one of its advisers until 2003.

Officials from both firms have denied plans to reduce staffing or slash services following the takeover, and have said Manor Care will continue to be run as it was before the buyout. “There’s not going to be a cut in staff and there’s no reason for quality to go down,” says Rick Rump, a spokesman for Manor Care. “Carlyle is going to realize a return in investment by our company growing and becoming a better provider of healthcare.”

The deal’s critics also say investment companies create Byzantine ownership structures that impede regulation and shield the firms from accountability for negligent care or wrongful death accusations.

Rump says that Carlyle would not separate its assets from its operations as some private equity firms have done and that the Manor Care management team would remain the same.

Carlyle officials did not return calls by deadline, but Karen Bechtel, the company’s managing director and global head of healthcare, said in a statement: “We are pleased to back a high-quality company and management team. We support [Manor Care CEO] Paul Ormond’s strategic vision and support his commitment to quality patient care.”

But a preliminary study of a large nursing home chain owned by a private investment firm found that staffing of registered nursing homes dropped by 8 percent and deficiencies that harmed residents doubled.

“They’re not there to invest in the care for the residents, they’re there to make money,” says Charlene Harrington, a professor of nursing at the University of California, San Francisco, and author of the 18-month study. “The way these chains have made money is by cutting the staff to the bare bones and pocketing the profits.”

Harrington, who is part of a team that has researched nursing homes for 25 years, says the privatization of chains allows companies to shirk regulatory scrutiny because they are not required to file financial documents with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) or state regulatory agencies.

“These chains have had so many quality problems that they have wanted to go private in order to keep from having the litigation they have,” she said.

A recent New York Times analysis of government data from 2000 to 2006 found that the quality of care declined at nursing homes that were taken over by investment firms such as Warburg Pincus and Carlyle because of cost-cutting and staff reduction.

David Adams, 40, entered one of Manor Care’s homes in Pittsburgh, Pa., after he ruptured his Achilles tendon playing basketball. He says the care at the Shadyside Nursing and Rehabilitation Center was substandard before the takeover, and he’s concerned it will only get worse.

“They’re coming up short—they do the minimum they can get away with and no more,” says Adams, a former construction worker and cook, who testified during state hearings in Pennsylvania on the buyout. Adams says he contracted infections because his bandages weren’t changed regularly, received the wrong medication and was stranded for 45 minutes after falling in his bathroom.

“One day I will leave,” he says, “but there are people that are going to die here.”

The Carlyle Group’s buyout was announced last summer and given the green light by the SEC. Shareholders approved the deal in a December 2007 meeting. After the sale, several state health departments, including those in Illinois and Michigan, still had to approve the transfer of licenses from Manor Care to Carlyle, but Manor Care’s Rump says he expected the transfers to be granted.

In November, legislators in Washington, D.C., held hearings on the issue of care at facilities owned by private investment firms, and hearings took place in several states.

In West Virginia, regulators reconsidered their initial approval of a deal just days before the completion of the sale. But after a Dec. 14 hearing, the state Health Care Authority lifted a stay on the approval, which would affect seven West Virginia nursing facilities. Manor Care had protested the stay, saying the delay was costing investors $1 million per day.

In Illinois, legislators and union leaders voiced concern about the deal.

“I think the size of the transaction, the nature of the business of the proposed buyer and the effects that could be felt by our most frail and vulnerable populations require us to give the proposal extra scrutiny,” said State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) at a December hearing before the Illinois Department of Public Health, which regulates the state’s nursing facilities.

In December, financial news service Bloomberg reported that the Manor Care purchase was the eighteenth sale of a nursing home operator in the United States in four years. Experts say investment firms’ interest in nursing facilities is partially an effort to cash in on the aging of baby boomers into the system.

“As boomers get older, taking care of them is going to be big business,” says Eisenhardt of SEIU. “The question is: Do we as a society think it’s right that people are trying to make money off taking care of our most vulnerable population?”


Decert vote for labor-state meatpackers

Workers at the notoriously anti-union Dakota Premium meatpacking plant in South St. Paul (MN) will take a decertification vote Friday, Jan. 25. Their union, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 789, will hold a plant-gate action to distribute fliers the evening before the vote takes place.

Workers at Dakota Premium have been without a contract since July 1, 2007, and the company has failed to negotiate in good faith with Local 789. Instead, the union says, Dakota Premium has resorted to union-busting and stalling techniques – like next Friday's decertification vote.

What's more, Local 789 claims Dakota Premium convinced workers to sign a decertification petition under false pretenses. Many workers, the union says, were not told clearly that they were signing a document to get rid of their union representation.

For further details on the Jan. 24 plant gate action at Armour Ave. and Concord St., including the start time, call Local 789 at 651-451-6240.


Strike by NEA unit cancels school in labor-state

School board members are preparing for a closed meeting prior to a 7 p.m. public meeting to discuss the strike by support workers in the Danville Area School District.

The board has called off classes for a second day Tuesday as cafeteria workers, custodians and secretaries picket. The board will consider whether to change its contract offer, then seek public input on issues including pay.

Superintendent Susan Bickford says the board may consider opening for half days to get children back in class without operating cafeterias.

Workers in the Montour County district overwhelmingly rejected a contract offer Saturday. The 137 members of the Professional Support Personnel at Danville have been without a new contract for two years.

The school district serves 2,600 students.


Writers on strike, day 74

Only eight picketers on the line at Paramount when I went by at 8:30 this morning. I didn't stop to say hello. As Dean Martin says in some movie: "I don't go into Hollywood anymore. Too depressing." It looks to me like the picket schedule is getting leaner too, but I don't have much historical data to go on.

Then again, don't believe any numbers coming out of me ...

It's the 74th day of the strike, right? Not the 84th or 85th. I don't know what's more discouraging: that I keep getting this simple figure wrong or that nobody bothers correcting me.

More economic ignorance partially corrected

Boy do I not know how many people are entitled to catered meals in this town! Devoted Opinion L.A. readers, if such people exist, remember that I tried to dope out the average salary of late-night gabfest staffs back in December, by doing some back-of-the-envelope calculations from Bill Carter's claim that the hosts were paying figures "from about $150,000 a week to as high as $250,000 a week" to keep their non-writing staffs off the dole. This is now old news, but a quote from Jay Leno in an L.A. Times business story earlier this month makes a mockery of my confidence that you could pull off one of these shows with no more than 50 people. Said Jay: "We had to come back because we have essentially 19 people putting 160 people out of work." So that means the average Jay Leno non-writer is making anywhere from $48,750 and $81,250 per year. Much smaller ranges than I had guesstimated, but with a much, much larger staff.

So there you have it: 160 people, plus 19 writers, plus Jay, plus Mavis, to put out The Tonight Show. I repeat my earlier question about the lean, mean agility of this dynamic and rapidly changing industry.


PLA-violator kicked off Kentucky sewer project

Go home. That was the word from local officials to a Kentucky outfit performing work without permission on the new Union-Rome Sewer District plant.

Doug Cade, engineer with E.L. Robinson and Associates, said he discovered last week that Shook Heavy and Environmental Group, of Dayton, general contractor for the project had subcontracted some of the work to Samson Steel Corp. of Franklin, Ky., and that the Kentucky firm did not meet the responsible bidder qualifications for the project. Cade said Samson Steel did not have an apprenticeship program and did not meet the requirement regarding the employment of local labor.

“Their workers are not from here, they’re not from the local union hall,” Cade said.

The Lawrence County Commissioners passed a resolution requiring Samson to stop work immediately.

“We want to nip this thing right in the bid,” Commissioner Doug Malone said.

Cade said Samson Steel employees were hired to prepare rebar for concrete.

Work on the new, $23 million sewer plant began last year should be completed within two years. It will serve Union and Rome townships and will replace the existing plant that does not meet some Ohio Environmental Protection Agency standards. During an inspection two years ago, state officials determined the system did not inadequately remove ammonia from its sewage discharge. The ammonia is deadly to species such as flathead minnows and water fleas that live in local waterways. The new plant will more than double the capacity of the old one.


Look out to the left

Related Posts with Thumbnails