Ad ruffles labor unionist's feathers

Related video: "Maine ad exposes card-check"

Prefers anti-democratic, 'no-vote' union recognition method

Local union representatives are hitting back at a national nonprofit agency that has been running targeted television advertisements, including some in Maine markets, slamming labor practices.

Jack McKay, president of the Eastern Maine Labor Council, said the Center for Union Facts of Washington, D.C., claims to support workers’ rights but "everything they do undermines workers."

"The biggest thing, I think, is that these ads are deceitful and they misrepresent what unions are asking for," McKay said Friday of the ads, which ran on local NBC, ABC and CBS affiliates in recent weeks but have since stopped. "Truthfully, they know what we want and they are deliberately misrepresenting that."

One of the ads in question portrays children voting in a class election and then depicts union bosses hijacking the process.

Related video: "How card-check works"

The ad campaign is centered on the Employee Free Choice Act, a piece of legislation that has been supported by the U.S. House but has yet to make it through the Senate. Union supporters and many Democrats are in favor of the bill, but Republicans have generally opposed it.

The Center for Union Facts claims the Employee Free Choice Act would strip workers of their right to vote privately when forming a union.

McKay said unions have always conducted their elections in the open and will continue to do so.

The reason the ads have flooded the Maine market is because of the contested Senate race between Sen. Susan Collins and U.S. Rep. Tom Allen, who have differing views on the Employee Free Choice Act.

McKay said the ads are particularly outrageous because the Center for Union Facts is little more than a nonprofit arm of Berman Associates, a powerful Washington lobbying firm. McKay said its founder, Richard Berman, has represented interests of the tobacco and fast food industries.

Center for Union Facts managing director J. Justin Wilson issued the following statement regarding the group’s advertising campaign in Maine:

"Union bosses are the ones with a long history of corruption, deception, and mismanagement. Given that, we think Mainers should be especially concerned with their deceitful attempt to eliminate workers’ fundamental right to a private-ballot election when unionizing."

McKay said his first instinct was to ignore the ads, but he wants the public to have both sides.

"It was important for us to come out and denounce these ads because they received so much air time," he said. "And I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of them."


Salvation leftism

U.S. lurches away from conservative traditions

If all it takes to win the U. S. presidency is oratorical style and the ability to lift a stadium audience off the floor, Barack Obama today holds the keys to the White House. With little apparent effort, Mr. Obama routinely brings people to their feet and awe to their hearts. He performs this small miracle with a blend of soaring evangelical cadence laced with hard-boiled liberal policy pandering. Call it salvation leftism.

A perfect sample of the Obama style swept out over an arena of voters -- and millions of television viewers Tuesday night -- from his final primary season event in St. Paul, Minnesota. As he ended his speech, Mr. Obama soared into the final flourish:
The journey will be difficult. The road will be long. I face this challenge with profound humility, and knowledge of my own limitations. But I also face it with limitless faith in the capacity of the American people. Because if we are willing to work for it, and fight for it, and believe in it, then I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth. This was the moment -- this was the time -- when we came together to remake this great nation so that it may always reflect our very best selves, and our highest ideals.
The religious tones are unmistakable. In the sequence surrounding the standard, even hackneyed, political promise of "good jobs," he bridges immediately into the miracle claim that, like the parting of the Red Sea, this week marked the moment when "the rise of the oceans began to slow." And then he suggested, in another miracle, "our planet began to heal."

With this uplifting promise of healing and transformation and change, Mr. Obama lifts the soul, but not without also filling the pocketbook. He promised to bring in universal health care, more school funding and to recruit an army of new unionized teachers "and give them better pay."

Has there ever been a U. S. presidential candidate so firmly entrenched in the union camp? For a man officially dedicated to bringing unprecedented change, Mr. Obama promises to dig the

United States back into a policy trench that Ronald Reagan led the country out of when he stood up to the air traffic controllers.

Mr. Obama's first public task yesterday, as likely Democratic leader, was to deliver satellite comments to the annual convention of the Service Employees International Union in Puerto Rico. The SEIU's Web site is dominated by an Obama image, as might be expected with a union that, under leader Andy Stern, has just moved to consolidate local funds under central control, the better to send millions to the Obama campaign.

The union pandering continues with promises to rework or even rescind free-trade agreements, including NAFTA. Mr. Obama supports a range of legislative changes to enhance union bargaining and organizing powers.

Mr. Obama's salvation leftism promotes deliverance from standard politics in Washington through the adoption of some of the most standard liberal policies. His speeches are peppered with references to corporate devils -- Wall Street, big corporations and CEOs. He promises tax breaks for the middle class, but tax hikes for others, and more regulation on business, forcing auto-makers to raise fuel standards and oil companies to invest in energy projects "that will create millions of new jobs that pay well and can't be outsourced."

Speaking yesterday in Washington, Mr. Obama played again with a dangerous theme he has advanced in the past. "We must free ourselves from the tyranny of oil. The price of a barrel of oil is one of the most dangerous weapons in the world. Petrodollars pay for weapons that kill American troops and Israeli citizens." The illogic of such claims -- that the price of oil is a weapon used by foreigners against America -- can only foster foreign and economic policies that are even more illogical and threatening to world peace and economic stability.

Salvation leftism has so far given Mr. Obama what appears to be a better chance at winning the presidency than John McCain. The question is whether the salvation part of Mr. Obama's appeal is strong enough to overcome the radicalism of his platform. America is a complex political and ideological place, but it is not a place that in the recent past has taken well to extreme liberalism in its leaders.


Calif. labor unions add to political power

Seniority-obsessed GOP hoisted by own petard

Tuesday's primary election cost the state and counties an estimated $100 million, and it produced the lowest turnout since records have been kept. Less than 25% of registered California voters bothered to vote, according to the secretary of state's office.

The turnout was so dismal because the state's presidential primary had been split off and moved up to Feb. 5. Democrats and Republicans said the change was necessary so that California could play a role in choosing the two parties' presidential nominees. Usually by the time California's regular June primary rolls around in presidential election years, the nominees have already been selected. Indeed, the last time the state played a significant part in choosing a nominee was in 1984, when Gary Hart's defeat of Walter Mondale helped revive his flagging campaign.

But adding insult to the injury of last week's historically low turnout, California's effect on the presidential nominating fights turned out to be minimal, as 24 states voted on that same day in what amounted to a national primary. (And if the state's presidential primary had been held on its original June 3 date, California, with its 441 Democratic delegates, would have been the kingmaker in the drawn-out and closely fought race between Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton.)

Here's the final indignity. The notion of giving California a bigger say in the presidential nominating primaries was just a sales pitch. The real reason that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger teamed up with Democratic legislative leaders last year to move up the primary was to allow Democrats to qualify an initiative that would have changed the state's term-limits law. If Proposition 93 had passed, termed-out legislators, among them then-Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez and Senate Pro Tem President Don Perata, would have been able to extend their careers in the Legislature.

Well, the term-limits initiative went down to defeat.

Schwarzenegger's decision to peel off the state's presidential primary from the June 3 primary has now come back to haunt him. Part of the deal was that Democrats would pair a redistricting-reform plan, a goal long sought by the governor, with the term-limits measure. The Democrats promised that they would take the map-drawing power out of the hands of the Legislature and give it to nonpoliticians. Advocates of such reform contend that the change would produce more politically balanced districts, which, in turn, would elect more moderate candidates who would be less beholden to organized labor and other interest groups in the Legislature.

The Democrats broke their promise, and Tuesday's record low turnout did not produce the moderate candidates that Schwarzenegger needs to get things done in the Legislature. Consider:

* In San Diego County's 78th Assembly District, a classic primary fight between a Democratic liberal, Marty Block, and Democratic moderate Maxine Sherard, was settled by just 400 votes, with Block winning.

* In San Mateo County, the more liberal Gerald Hall, though clinging to a small lead over moderate Gina Papan, was expected to win in the 19th Assembly District.

* In the Sacramento area, the more liberal Democratic candidate, Mariko Yamada, defeated the more moderate Christopher Cabaldon by slightly more than 1,000 votes in the 8th Assembly District.

Organized labor's track record was truly impressive Tuesday. The Service Employees International Union was victorious in all of its competitive Assembly primary fights. The California Teachers Assn. also won big, successfully backing Yamada as well as Robert Blumenfield in the 40th Assembly District, which includes much of the San Fernando Valley. Labor's one defeat was in the state Senate primary contest in the 25th District, where Roderick Wright bested 82-year-old Mervyn Dymally.

Would any of these races have turned out differently if the vote had been in February, when the Democratic and Republican presidential races brought nearly 58% of eligible voters to the polls? Most political analysts say lower-turnout elections mean that a higher percentage of more partisan voters from both parties come to the polls.

But we will never know the answer to that question.

What we do know is that Schwarzenegger faces a more polarized Assembly in his final two years in office, and the power of interest groups, particularly organized labor, will likely strengthen in the Legislature come November.

What a deal.


Macaray: Unions should be more democratic

Stern's delegate voting mimics Soviet democracy

One of the bitterest ironies of recent political campaigns is that the Republican party has managed, with some success, to tar their Democratic foes with the label of “elitist.” Mind you, these are the same Republicans who have opposed any and all attempts to loosen up bureaucratic procedures that would allow more people to register to vote.

They are the same Republicans who opposed allowing same-day, on-site voter registration, or having 18-year olds automatically registered to vote at the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) when they get a new license or register a car. These ideas were simply too wildly egalitarian to suit them.

Republicans don’t want everyone to vote. They don’t want minorities to vote; they don’t want the young, the progressive, the disenfranchised or the unemployed to vote. These are the same Republicans who argued against the 1964 and 1965 Civil Rights Acts, the same ones who opposed repeal of the poll tax in order to prevent African-Americans from voting. And yet, they have the nerve to piously accuse the Democrats of being “elitist.”

Labor unions are different, at least in principle. Because there is a fundamental trust involved in a workers’ collective, a genuine bond linking the rank-and-file and their officers against a common “adversary,” unions generally want as many members as possible to vote in elections. A large turnout is a symbol of unity and commitment.

That’s not to say that a small turnout can’t be a healthy, encouraging sign. Frequently, voter apathy is evidence of the rank-and-file’s belief that things are purring along well enough not to want to change them. Rightly or wrongly, in this scenario not voting is interpreted as tacit approval of the status quo.

But there seems to be a growing dissatisfaction among union members regarding how their votes are actually cast. Instead of voting directly for a candidate, many union members (especially those belonging to the larger unions) are required to vote for a convention delegate who, in turn, does the actual electing.

This arrangement is not quite the same as the electoral college system we use to elect our president, but it shares some similarities. And one critical similarity is that it’s a procedure which overwhelmingly favors the “professional” politician over the “amateur.”

There is currently an internecine battle raging in the SEIU (Service Employees International Union), America’s fastest-growing union, between Sal Rosselli, the president of a large and influential California SEIU local, and Andrew Stern, president of the International. One of the sticky issues in this dispute is Rosselli’s insistence that the SEIU abandon the convention delegate format and allow its members to vote directly for national candidates.

Although Stern opposes this change, he can’t condemn Rosselli too harshly for being “radical,” or for wanting to rock the boat, since it was Stern himself who, in 2005, rebelliously led the charge that resulted in seven huge unions (including the Teamsters) leaving the AFL-CIO and forming a labor coalition of their own, called Change to Win.

Taking on the estimable AFL-CIO was a risky move by Stern. Had he lost, he would have been cast as an overly ambitious malcontent; but by winning, he instantly leap-frogged into the national limelight, and is now generally recognized as America’s most important labor figure. Andy Stern now does things like meet face-to-face with President Bush, and fly to China as a guest of Lee Scott, Wal-Mart’s CEO.

So why do labor unions still cling to the delegate format? Why do unions prefer a large and robust voter turnout for elections, yet, simultaneously, not wish to go the direct vote route? Arguably, it’s for the same reason that both American political parties oppose jettisoning the electoral college system—i.e., because it’s a system that favors the “ruling class.” After all, if you start allowing everyone’s vote to count the same, you risk setting in motion something you can’t control.

To be fair, there’s always been a decent counter-argument to this—an argument against having too much “raw democracy” in the mix. Namely, that there’s a fine line between the noble “will of the people” and the scary “whim of the mob.” People are easily influenced. If they weren’t, beer and auto companies wouldn’t spend billions of dollars a year on advertising.

Still, we shouldn’t overlook the fact that, bad choices aside, we’ve managed to stay in business as a Republic by voting directly for our mayors, state legislators, congressmen, senators and governors. Unless you have an intrinsic mistrust or contempt for the common man, what would be so wrong in extending this “raw democracy” to include electing a president?

And the same certainly goes for labor unions. Over the years, unions (not counting some rare exceptions) have elected their Local officers via a direct vote. Workers have been allowed to directly choose their own leaders. Why not adopt this same format for choosing the leaders of their Internationals? If nothing else, it would demonstrate to the membership that organized labor (unlike the politicians in Washington) has the utmost confidence in their constituency . . . the people.

- David Macaray, a Los Angeles playwright and writer, was a former labor union rep.


Support for nurses needn't include union

Not buying the political agenda

Darren Cardoza, a registered nurse at the intensive care unit at Fremont Medical Center, purports to represent the good intentions of the benevolent special interest group, the California Nurses Association, in a column published in the Appeal-Democrat on May 18, 2008. The CNA, one of the most powerful special-interest groups in California, was instrumental, along with the California Teachers Association, in politically castrating the once motivated conservative activist, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

A little recent history: At the time that former Gov. Gray Davis was being ousted from office, Schwarzenegger was elected by a majority in California to replace Davis on a platform to gain control of our state legislature's propensity for undisciplined spending and to reel in the untethered power of special interest groups. The new governor was no match for the CTA, CNA, and other unions. In a special election, propositions on the ballot designed to contain elements contributing to budget increases and controls on deficits were defeated, primarily due to advertised opposition financed by union organizations.

With a huge cache from dues paid by nurses, teachers, and other union members, the wealthy unions were successful in thwarting the efforts of the new governor in a very impressive, expensive campaign to prevent any loss of power to the so-called representatives of workers. Many workers are unwillingly forced to be members and pay dues that subsidize political causes and candidates that they may not support. Now the governor works hand-in-hand with those who are most responsible for our budget crises. Watch the budget grow undeterred at an unprecedented rate!

Darren Cardoza and his colleagues have enlisted the "help" of the CNA under the auspices of improving patient care at Fremont-Rideout Health Group. His associates' efforts have proven to be little more than an encumbrance for FRHG with numerous allegations of deficiencies to the National Labor Relations Board but producing little to justify those allegations. Most were cleared with little notice. If a single significant aberration of health care was observed through the several comprehensive inspections, the CNA and company would certainly have it broadcasted and exaggerated in order to harm the integrity of FRHG. That didn't happen.

The intention of the union is to disrupt the services provided by our health facilities, intimidate the administration, and embarrass the employees of FRHG to attain their goal: "closed shop". They claim that their purpose is to improve patient care and protect the rights of nurses. With a "closed shop", requiring all nurses employed by the FRHG to join and pay dues to the CNA, the union would wield more power in all concerns of services provided by the FRHG.

Many union causes will not pertain to our community but would suit the statewide agenda of the union and may lead to strikes that obstruct health services in our community and others. In addition, this means that all facilities of this nonprofit community organization, FRHG, and its non-nursing employees, would be under the thumb of the CNA by having policies in their workplace heavily influenced by the union.

The nurses' strikes have further impacted the non-nursing personnel and patients by bringing on unwarranted scrutiny with baseless claims of unfair practices and by creating inconvenience due to the increased security necessary to prevent interruption in health services by the strikers. All FRHG facilities have frequent inspections by all levels of government at regular frequency and have routinely met or surpassed the standards required by law. Suffice to say, the activities of the union are not popular among many of non-nursing and nursing personnel.

If Cardoza and his colleagues are unhappy with policies and provisions of the previous negotiations, which meet or exceed contracts of other facilities that the CNA has settled, not including "closed shop", perhaps they should find happiness paying dues at any of those approximately 150 (according to Cardoza) locations with existing contracts with the CNA.

Admit it, "closed shop" is the issue and power is the objective. Do not force nurses to pay dues to support agendas and candidates that are backed by the CNA. Thank FRHG for holding out to preserve nurses' rights to choose and for negotiating in good faith so that nurses are treated fairly.

- Dale H. Henderson of Yuba City is a clinical technologist in the labs of Fremont and Rideout hospitals.


UAW caught up in picket line violence

UAW wants to know victim's name

Robert Darrell Tibbs’ hearing in Smyth County General District Court, set for 3 p.m. Monday on a charge of throwing maliciously throwing an object at an occupied vehicle, was continued to 1:30 p.m. Monday, June 19, court records show. Tibbs, 55, of Marion, was charged with the Class IV felony following a May 14 incident reported on the strike line outside General Dynamics Armaments and Technical Products Plant 1, according to Virginia State Police spokesman Sgt. Michael Conroy.

The incident involved a passenger car leaving Plant 1 and entering Brunswick Lane, Conroy said. A strike post has operated there since the strike began April 11.

“A ball bearing was thrown or shot, thrown, I’m pretty sure, at the car,” Conroy said. “It hit the passenger side and caused minor damage.”

Conroy said he could not release the name of the vehicle’s occupant because that person is considered a victim.

Three police officers, one each from the state police, Smyth County Sheriff’s Office and Marion Police Department, were in the vicinity at the time of the incident, Conroy said. A trooper arrested Tibbs after being identified by the victim, he said.

Tibbs was later released on bond, Conroy said.


Rep. David Loebsack, Iowa DINO

Democrat wants to end secret-ballot union elections

A message to labor from the House of Representatives’ Committee on Education and Labor: On Feb. 14, HR 800, the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), was ordered favorably reported out of committee to the House by a vote of 26 to 19. Only one Iowan is on this committee: Voting Yes: David Loebsack (member of AFT Local 716)

The bill currently has 234 co-sponsors, more than enough to insure passage in the House, says committee chair Democrat George Miller.

EFCA could transform America. How? It would without a doubt signal the long-awaited opening of the most massive union organizing effort since 1947.


'Clean diesel' means 'Teamsters-only'

With both ports ready to replace dirty diesels, it's the wrong time to sue. Truckers agree that cleaning up their high-polluting diesel engines is a priority. They just need to make it a higher one. But that's not what's happening at either the Port of L.A. or the Port of Long Beach, which are targets of lawsuits planned by the American Trucking Association. The association doesn't like the ports' Clean Trucks program.

So the truckers want a Dirty Trucks program? Oh no, they say, they support a cleanup, but they're suing anyway. In so doing, they are turning deregulation into a grimy word.

The trucking association is bothered especially by a Teamsters-backed plan at the Port of L.A. that would require independent truck operators to take salaried jobs with employers (and thus make it easier for the union to organize them). Since 90 percent of the drivers at both ports are independent operators, that plan is unwieldy and invites legal challenges.

For those reasons, the Port of Long Beach came up with its own version of Clean Trucks, strongly supported by Mayor Bob Foster, which would allow both independent operators as well as employee operators to participate. You'd think the trucking association would have been happy with that.

In fact, association officials at first did take a liking to Long Beach's plan and still do support the idea of replacing high-polluting trucks. But they should revert to their original thinking.

Clean Trucks is supposed to begin Oct. 1, when both ports planned to implement container fees to help finance replacing or retrofitting dirty diesel truck engines. Only trucks meeting the ports' rising standards would be allowed on port property.

Both ports' plans, though differing on employee drivers, are creative ways to get around having to wait years for federal agencies to clean up pollution. There is no reason to wait any longer.

Ships, trucks, trains and equipment serving the ports are the region's biggest single source of diesel pollution, which is the likely cause of cancer, asthma and other serious illnesses. The ports already have attacked some sources of pollution and now are ready to start replacing the oldest and dirtiest diesels.

Truckers should either help with the cleanup, or get out of the way.


Union backing earns attention

Politics can have a long memory

It's not every day that the Washington, D.C., right-wing message machine takes off after Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev. But that's what happened recently, when her constituents were treated to recorded telephone calls accusing Berkley of being insufficiently supportive of the military.

Berkley was among about 30 Democratic representatives targeted by Freedom's Watch, a national conservative advocacy group, with the "robo-calls." Those on the list are mostly freshman House members or represent Republican districts, making them potentially vulnerable in November.

But Berkley doesn't fit.

She's well loved by her urban Las Vegas congressional district, which sent her back to Washington for a fifth term with 65 percent of the vote in 2006. There are 56,000 more Democrats than Republicans in the district. Seven Republicans are vying to run against her in November, but to call them long shots would be generous.

To Berkley, the answer to the riddle of why she was singled out is obvious: a decade-old political and personal feud with one of Las Vegas' mightiest casino executives.

"Sheldon Adelson," she said when asked about the calls. "There's only one reason this could be happening. There is no way Freedom's Watch would have picked my congressional district to run robo-calls, unless Sheldon Adelson directed them to do so. It's as simple as that."

Adelson is the multibillionaire chairman of Las Vegas Sands Corp., owner of The Venetian.

He's also a major donor to Republican and conservative causes and is reportedly the driving force behind Freedom's Watch, a year-old group that's been running pro-war, anti-tax political ads across the country.

Berkley was Adelson's vice president of legal and government affairs in the 1990s. Before her first run for Congress in 1998, they had a falling-out; Adelson fired Berkley, then spent lots of money trying to thwart her election campaign. Tactics in the bruising race included the release of tapes of confidential conversations in which Berkley seemed to advocate buying off politicians.

A Freedom's Watch spokesman flatly denied Berkley's claim that Adelson ordered the calls in Nevada's 1st Congressional District.

"The congresswoman, along with dozens of other members of Congress who claim to support the troops, made a bad choice that put troop paychecks in jeopardy," Ed Patru said. "They have a responsibility to stand up to the liberal leadership in Washington and ensure that the troops receive their funding before Congress goes on vacation."

Patru wouldn't say how much money the group gets from Adelson. Freedom's Watch is not legally required to disclose its donors.

Asked how much input Adelson has in what Freedom's Watch decides to do, Patru said, "To the extent that he's a supporter of this organization, he has a voice at the table. He is a voice at the table among others."

Adelson does not call all the shots, Patru said.

Through a company spokesman, Adelson declined to comment on the matter.

For longtime watchers of Nevada politics, it is hard not to connect the dots, despite the denials from Freedom's Watch. Adelson's animosity toward Berkley is no secret.

"I think that it reflects Adelson's long dislike for Berkley," said Michael Green, a historian at the College of Southern Nevada and liberal commentator.

Green noted that as Freedom's Watch has increased its role on the national stage, it has been criticized as ineffective.

"He (Adelson) has as much right to dislike somebody as I do, but it strikes me as a reason this organization has not been that successful," Green said. "In politics, you cannot personalize these things. If Berkley's in a safe district, which she is, why waste your time and money? It comes across as petty."

A flashback to 1998 is instructive.

Determined to fight the influence of the Culinary union, Adelson waded into local politics in a big way, putting hundreds of thousands of dollars into Republican accounts and trying to oust Democratic county commissioners.

Berkley was a former Nevada assemblywoman and two-term university regent when she decided to run for the House seat being vacated by Republican John Ensign, now the state's junior senator.

According to Berkley, Adelson, with whom she had never seen eye to eye on labor issues, said he would back her run if she would switch parties and oppose unions.

Adelson claims Berkley violated attorney-client privilege, though he did not specify the circumstances. In any case, Berkley was fired.

Berkley's Republican opponent was former District Judge Don Chairez, but the true dynamic of the race was Berkley vs. Adelson -- Shelley vs. Sheldon.

A tape recording emerged that featured Berkley talking about giving Adelson political advice. If he wanted his hotel project approved, she told him, he should do favors for commissioners, like giving jobs to their relatives. In company memos, she urged him to contribute to judges' campaigns in exchange for favors.

Berkley defended herself, saying she was just explaining the realities of doing business in Las Vegas and didn't condone the way the system works.

Despite a barrage of ads calling her unethical, she won, getting 49 percent of the vote to Chairez's 46 percent.

Berkley said what bothers her most about the Freedom's Watch calls is that they misrepresent her record on war spending and veterans issues.

"Hello, I'm Beverly Perlson calling for Freedom's Watch," one of the two calls begins. "My son John just returned from his fourth tour in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I'm tremendously proud of him. But I'm not proud of Congress. Last week, Congress left for vacation without providing our troops the funding they need.

"As a result, Admiral Mike Mullen, our nation's highest-ranking military officer, warned our troops' paychecks were in jeopardy. This is one military mom who takes it personally. I'm not just embarrassed by our ungrateful and irresponsible Congress. I'm angry. And no matter your view on the war, you should be, too. Call Congresswoman Shelley Berkley at 702-220-9823. Tell her to wrap up her vacation, get back to work and vote to pay our troops."

Patru, the Freedom's Watch spokesman, said the ad is aimed at taking Berkley to task for not demanding that a war funding bill be passed before Congress recessed for Memorial Day.

But Berkley said the ad implies that she is one of the many Democratic representatives who are trying to stop the war by voting to cut off funding for it.

While she respects their position, she isn't one of them. She has taken heat from antiwar groups for her hawkish stances.

"There is no rational reason for this, and what is being said is an out-and-out lie. It is so far from the truth that it comes around and bites you. I have consistently voted to fund operations in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Berkley said her office has gotten very few calls as a result of the robo-calls and many of those have been sympathetic.

"I take a back seat to no one on support of our troops and our veterans, and there isn't a vet in Southern Nevada who doesn't know it," said Berkley, a member of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee.

An irony of the Shelley-Sheldon relationship is that both are stalwarts of the Las Vegas Jewish community and both are militantly pro-Israel. The two are said to have mutual friends in local Jewish circles who occasionally find themselves caught in the middle.

"I don't know what Sheldon's got on his mind, but there's not a lot of daylight between our position on Israel," Berkley said, noting that she also is a close ally of the gaming industry in Congress.

"It is a bit ironic, I would note, that he would single me out for attack. You'd think he would be running commercials for me."


Lawmakers employed by labor unions

Unwatched foxes guard the chicken coop

It was a bad spring for transparency and fair play in Connecticut government. It began when the New Haven Register laid off its long time capitol bureau chief Greg Hladky and ended with the new ethics commission ruling lawmakers are entitled to special treatment.

The Hladky lay off means little by itself, but it continues a trend that has seen the number of reporters assigned to cover state government and politics shrinking over the last 20 years. Few cry over such a trend but it should be a concern to all of us, because if there is no one guarding the gate on behalf of the public, there’s no telling what those in power will get away with.

The lack of commitment on behalf of many news organizations to covering state politics led — in part — to the high-profile ethical transgressions of the last 10 years. Journalism awards for coverage of Connecticut scandals have been scarce because judging committees have correctly pointed out, if the press had been doing its job, our decade of darkness would never have happened. The Connecticut political press has shriveled to the point it can only provide us with detail of the obvious.

Helpful Reporting

There are flashes of illumination. In late March, the Hartford Courant reported on a decision by the new citizens’ ethics commission that will allow attorneys who work for the legislature to represent lawmakers accused of violations. Commission members voted against adopting a staff recommendation that said such use of taxpayer funding is unfair.

The public embarrassment created by such reporting might force the commission to reverse its position or it might lead the legislature to fix it by changing the law. But because coverage of this issue is limited by news media resources to one paper and one day, the ethics commission and the legislature may decide that keeping things as they are is just fine since the consequences are limited. The legislature is slow to make rules that challenge the freedom of its members and slower still when the news media fails to bring public pressure to bear.

The Courant story on the ethics commission ruling pointed out that two members voting to reject the staff opinion — that would have forced lawmakers to hire their own defense counsel — were former lawmakers themselves. This is the kind of transparency needed from the scrappy band of reporters still left on the job in this era of translucence.

Lawmaker Gigs

A good place to begin coverage of the conflicts of interest we live with everyday would be our part-time citizen legislature. It would be a great public service if every mention of a lawmaker in the day’s news coverage included a brief description of what they do for a living when they are not representing the public in Hartford. This simple disclosure would be illuminating and is as essential as the label Democrat or Republican.

Without citing specific examples; it would be helpful to know which members of the Judiciary Committee work for which law firms. It would be helpful to know which lawmakers have ties to lobbying firms. It would be helpful to know which lawmakers also happen to be employed by some of the state’s major employers or labor unions because we may find where they stand on the issues has a lot to do with how they feed their families.

With the pack of journalist watchdogs getting smaller, the need for citizen involvement grows; which means we need more basic facts to render our own judgments on the motives and conflicts of those we elect.


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