ACORN undermines integrity of elections

Related ACORN stories: here
Related Wade Rathke stories: here

To the Left, counting all the votes matters but curbing fraudulent voters doesn't

Without a second thought, many of us will exercise the right to vote today. But there is emerging evidence that the integrity of elections nationwide may be compromised due to the influx of noncitizens who have registered to vote.

In Texas, Florida, Maryland, California and even in Georgia, there is evidence that illegal aliens may have voted in past elections. The discovery has been made when clerks of court in some Georgia counties have received correspondence from potential jurors declining to serve on juries because they were not citizens. In 2005 in one federal district court alone, the U.S. General Accounting Office found that up to 3 percent of the 30,000 people summoned for jury duty were not citizens, according to the Heritage Foundation. Considering that the majority in the Georgia House changed hands in 2004 due to just six races with a combined margin of victory of 3,000 votes, the integrity of every vote should be important to both political parties.

It is now time to take steps to make sure illegal aliens are not voting, especially since an estimated 800,000 of the 20 million in this country now live in Georgia. No matter how you feel about illegal immigration, no one can dispute that voting is a right reserved only for United States citizens. The concept seems so simple, yet there is only one state that has taken bold steps to prevent noncitizens from tainting its elections - Arizona.

In 2005, Arizona voters adopted Proposition 200, which mandates that anyone who registers to vote must prove they are a U.S. citizen with documents such as a birth certificate, passport, naturalization credentials or other papers that prove citizenship for employment.

Since Arizona's adoption of Proposition 200, about 30,000 noncitizens have been denied voter registration because they could not provide evidence of citizenship, according to the Heritage Foundation.

Proving citizenship is particularly important in Georgia as we have allowed outside groups such as ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) to register voters. Under our current system, a convicted felon could theoretically be released from prison and start registering voters for groups with political agendas the next day.

Outside groups that register voters don't have to ask for identification, let alone proof of citizenship when registering voters. Potential voters do have to sign a form swearing they are citizens but don't have to offer proof, making the form meaningless.

It is interesting to note that eight of the 19 hijackers on Sept. 11, 2001, were registered to vote although none were in this country legally.

According to Georgia elections officials, an additional 300,000 people have registered to vote in our state since Jan. 1. That compares with 500,000 names added to voter rolls between the 2004 presidential election and Jan. 1 of this year.

In addition to requiring proof of citizenship to register, the Legislature should change state law so that any person who refuses jury duty citing citizenship would automatically be purged from voter rolls.

Federal law says it is a crime for any illegal alien to vote in any federal election. Each state has laws requiring voters to be citizens prior to voting. But evidence emerging in metro Atlanta alone shows that noncitizens do show up on voter rolls. Somewhere along the way, there has been a blatant disregard for the law.

In 2000, George W. Bush won the presidency by just 500 votes cast in Florida. In Georgia, we have had state House members win seats the past two election cycles by margins as close as 35 votes, and one primary race as close as five votes. From the presidency down to the smallest city council race, election integrity is vital to all Americans.

One of the greatest freedoms we possess as U.S. citizens is the right to vote. Every illegal vote cast dilutes the votes of those of us who are legitimate citizens and undermines the credibility of our great democratic republic.

- State Rep. Mark Burkhalter, a Republican from Johns Creek, is speaker pro tem of the Georgia House.


Collectivists' political-charity front exposed

Related TIDES Foundation stories: here

Running away from rotten ACORN investment

Tides, the unique hybrid philanthropic institution headquartered at the Presidio in San Francisco, will host its third "Momentum" gathering next Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, July 20-22, at the swanky W Hotel in the South of Market area of San Francisco.

"Momentum" is an invitational gathering of progressive donors and advocates focused on cutting-edge ideas and innovative practitioners in the social change field. "Momentum" aims to create a "forum where some of the most creative minds in the progressive community come together to challenge, inspire and energize each other."

"Momentum" comes at an important juncture, amidst the controversy surrounding the Obama candidacy and his perceived tacking center or rightward as he attempts to appeal to wider audiences after a bruising marathon Democratic primary season. A big question for the innovators and funders who will attend "Momentum" will no doubt be: What are the most creative and pragmatic innovations that need to be teed up in order to address the myriad problems the nation faces, whether it be in health care, mortgage crises, job loss, climate change or many more issues that are crowding the progressive and national agenda?

And perhaps more to the point: Where do progressive ideas and innovative approaches fit into the Obama campaign and potential presidency? How much heat do progressives apply during the campaign leading up to November to ensure that progressive values and vision are in play? And what is the strategy, come Jan. 20, if Barack Obama is in the White House? When Bill Clinton got elected 16 years ago, many thought, mistakenly so, that many of the problems of Republican rule were solved, especially when a lot of their friends and colleagues went into the administration in key policy positions.

While Tides is a nonpartisan entity and no campaigning or endorsements will be part of the "Momentum" proceedings, it seems clear that the potential change of power in the country after eight long years of right-wing conservative rule will serve as the backdrop for the presentations.

To find out some specifics about what "Momentum" is going to be about this year, and who some of the progressive innovators are, AlterNet's Don Hazen sat down with Drummond Pike, the longtime head of Tides and the creative force behind "Momentum."

Don Hazen: Let's start with the big picture: What's "Momentum" all about?

Drummond Pike: "Momentum" is about the intersection of the progressive community and the current social and political landscape. What does it all mean? How can we achieve success? How do we move forward?

"Momentum" is an educational conference where we bring funders, leaders of key nonprofits, think tanks and activist organizations together into the same room and expose them to a set of new and emerging ideas. And there will be updates on things of which we are already very aware. For example, Tanya Harris, the head of ACORN /New Orleans, is coming to tell us, "Here's where things are now in New Orleans, nearly three years after Katrina."

DH: So why Tides as the convener? How does Tides' experience and role enhance this conversation?

DP: "Momentum" reflects the role of Tides as an intermediary. We are engaged in philanthropy. We granted $93 million dollars last year and manage grant-making for more than 400 individual and institutional donors. At the same time, we provide financial infrastructure and management tools to more than 200 nonprofit projects and activities. Tides also promotes the development of green nonprofit centers nationwide.

DH: And how will "Momentum" be structured?

DP: We've decided to do something quite different than at previous gatherings. It's not going to be the conventional, representational progressive conference with three plenaries and 95 workshops on every topic under the sun. We at Tides have a significant reach. We'll be bringing together some of the brightest lights and the new, interesting thinking about some of the central issues of the day. With "Momentum," we are creating a venue that's about new ideas. Take Back America is about every constituency having an opportunity to say, "This is what I've been working on for the last 20 years," and that's great. That is community building and consciousness-raising. But "Momentum" is the only event in the progressive community that really focuses on new, innovative thinking -- ideas that need to be considered and have an audience.

DH: Let's try to get a sense of who some of these innovators are and what they are.

DP: Jacob Hacker, resident fellow at the Yale Institution for Social and Policy Studies and a fellow at the New America Foundation, is coming. He is doing some extraordinary work on trying to figure out how we get universal health care: What does it take to get from here to there, legislatively, in terms of policy objectives; what are all the things we have to do to actually move that agenda? That's just one example. We're going to be really pushing some new thinking. Alex Gibney, the Oscar-winning director of the indie film "Taxi to the Dark Side," which examines the controversial death of an Afghan taxi driver at Bagram Air Base, is speaking. He also produced "Enron." Ken Cook from Environmental Working Group is coming as well as Daniel Levy, who has served as an official member of Israeli delegations for peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

DH: At first I got the sense that some of the people you're talking about are slightly below the radar. But I get the feeling that you're talking about some well-known figures.

DP: That's right: For example, John Edwards is going to be there.

DH: Right. He's the kickoff guy on Sunday night.

DP: Yes. The thing that many progressives like about Edwards is that he drove the issue of economic justice into the dialogue, and he aims to keep it there. He's developed a campaign including working with ACORN and other leading groups to keep this issue visible. The big picture goal is to cut the U.S. poverty rate in half in 10 years.

DH: Apparently Obama got Edwards' endorsement in part because he agreed to that 10-year commitment on poverty. Is that going to be part of the dialogue at "Momentum"? How can Edwards and "Momentum" -- assuming Obama gets elected -- help Obama and progressives work together to reach this goal?

DP: That gets into a larger, more general question that I think AlterNet and others are talking about, which is, "OK, we're at this moment in time. There's an opportunity for the kind of change that most of us haven't seen in most of our lives. How do progressives relate to that?" When Carter came in, and again when Clinton came in, the only two Democrats in the White House in last 30 years, the progressive community didn't quite know what to do.

I remember the feeling when Clinton came in, that when progressives go into the administration, everybody tends to get quiet because they are driving the policies from within the administration. But I don't think things work that way. You can have all the best intentions, but without outside pressure, policy change just won't happen. We're looking at a very different situation than when Carter or Clinton came in, with a slim majority that quickly went in the other direction. Besides, today is more like the '30s than the '90s. What do we do? I think we need to be very noisy and to actually drive ideas in a stronger way than progressives have done in the past.

DH: So how noisy should progressives be between now and November, versus how loud on Jan. 20 -- again, assuming Obama is elected, which, of course, isn't a sure thing.

DP: What really matters is going forward after Jan. 20. Tides, of course, is nonpartisan and doesn't endorse candidates.

DH: Here at AlterNet, our readers are hugely interested in the perceived move to the center or the right by Obama. Even the L.A. Times recently had an article about Obama abandoning his brand of change since he became the presumptive nominee. So it's not just progressives who are wondering what's up.

DP: I understand how they would drive toward the center between now and the election. Obama is an African American who has to worry about the Bradley Effect, and there are plenty of other things that could make him vulnerable. But if he doesn't stand for something, he will be in trouble. People have voted for McCain because they thought he stood for something. Voters, even though they disagreed with what he stood for, liked the fact that he had the moxie to stand for something.

Practically speaking, there is not a whole lot people can do between now and the election. Obama should be criticized, appropriately. But what's really going to matter is after Jan. 20, when there are real opportunities to do things. Many are hopeful that there will be a good Congress. In economic and political terms, there are more opportunities for change than there have been for a long time. But to make the gains, the progressive community needs to be loud and impolite. We can't just stand and watch.

DH: What are your criteria for new and innovative? Are there people who have brilliant ideas but nobody knows who they are? Anybody come to mind that you've got coming that you want to talk about?

DP: Well, you know Rob Johnson; you know his background with (George) Soros and the Senate Finance Committee. He'll explain the mortgage crisis. Most of us don't really understand what happened. Rob developed a slide show, which explained how the banks got themselves into this mess. That's one example.

Then, there's a young man, Eboo Patel, who is a Rhodes Scholar, grew up in suburban New Jersey. He wrote a book called Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation about fundamentalists. He grew up as a Muslim in America. As we know, Arabs and Muslims are the new bad guys in our movies, the new pariahs in many social categories. Patel believes that reconciliation or dialogue across religious lines is a really essential part of what needs to happen to change some of our attitudes. He's a really interesting guy, and he founded the Interfaith Youth Core. ... He's very thoughtful about what the American experience uniquely has to offer.

Do you know Angelica Salas? She's a wonderful, dynamic, 30-ish young mom in Los Angeles -- great, thoughtful organizer of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights in Los Angeles (CHIRLA). She's one of the people who organized the huge pro-immigration demonstrations. As you know, comprehensive immigration reform was recently defeated in Congress. So the big question is, "Now what are we going to do?" It's interesting seeing this issue from the perspective of someone who walked across the border when she was 5. She has grown up and is now driving voter registration efforts and helping to lead the immigration reform movement. It is challenging to understand what might be the viable elements of immigration reform in the future. Public perception is so important. If you explain to people the details of what would be required by people -- all the steps that would be necessary to get on the path to citizenship -- around 70 percent say they support it.

DH: Yes, the hard-core anti-immigration folks were successful in framing the issue around amnesty, which is not something U.S. voters favor. But, of course, it really isn't amnesty at all. There needs to be far more effective communication on immigration -- communication and organizing.

DP: Then there's the effort to organize the car wash workers, led by Jon Hiatt, general counsel of the AFL-CIO. He's a very smart guy pushing to get car wash workers in L.A., part of the so-called informal workforce, some labor protections including some wage minimums.

DH: You mention the progressive movement. Do we have a movement? Where is it headed?

DP: We have a progressive community. We're not a movement at the moment. People often use the word movement when what they mean is a community of organizations made up of people who care about these issues and are driving an agenda. A movement is when you get people out on the streets supporting your efforts. We have a lot of elements of a movement -- including national organizations, media, online communities and emerging leaders. I'm really excited about the next generation of leaders that I think are coming up, and we're trying to make room for them.

DH: Do you think there is a big problem for the progressive community -- that there are too many of us aging baby boomers standing in the way? Do we have to make room for young people to get in? Do young people need to carve out their own positions?

DP: I think a combination of things needs to happen. I think that young people need to build their own organizations. Not everything was figured out by people like you and me 20 years ago. So yes, new organizations need to emerge: The League of Young Voters is a good example. I do think that there is an emerging generation. I think they need to push us aside and that's great, but I don't think we're holding anybody back. I think there are lots of opportunities, and there is going to be a changing of the guard, even for well-established organizations.

DH: In your materials, you underscore the hard issues of making change. Do you have thoughts about how bringing people together like this increases the chance of change?

DP: What we're aiming to do is to get the right people in the room. A substantial number of the people attending will be part of the funding community, and a large portion will be from nonprofits. And, they will be in a collaborative environment, experiencing the same download of new thinking -- engaged and not in isolation.

This is going to be a different kind of conference. There will be no introductions to speak of; there will be no comments couched as questions from the audience. Everything will be one big plenary session for the presentation of ideas. People will come to announce a new campaign. It's a very different format, which really focuses on content, and there really isn't a venue for that. Hopefully it will be a different kind of experience. I hope people will identify and share their thoughts. The progressive community is only as good as the ideas it promotes.

DH: One of the challenges to change is what we refer to as the silo effect -- this narrowing of issues, the difficulty of connecting various single-issue constituencies on behalf of an overall agenda. One issue that comes to mind is the problem of water, which, so far, has not been central to the climate debate. One of the causes of the problem is funding; many funders fund very specific, narrow issues. If the funding is narrow, and there's no funding to cross-connect among the ideas, we don't get very far. Can you talk a little bit about how the funders and the idea people and activists might grapple with that and think of a broader, bigger vision? One that can get us further than everyone focused on getting a small piece of legislation or small part of an agenda?

DP: Absolutely. I think it depends a little bit on the field. There are some areas that lend themselves to that kind of thing. But I agree. Fresh water is a huge issue. It's a social equity issue, but it's even more than that. It relates to climate change, but it's different and it's huge. Certainly, water politics underlie a lot of what's going on in the Middle East. And people almost never talk about that.

The silo challenge is a huge issue within the entire arena of philanthropy. What I hope we'll bring to "Momentum" are people who are able to connect more dots -- leaders who can see the social dimension of environmental issues or the climate change dimension of an economic issue. I think there'll be some people like Lawrence Lessig, who will be pushing beyond campaign finance reform, to restrict the role of lobbying in the democratic process, to make all sorts of things that lobbyists can take off their taxes have to come out of their firm's profits instead. You know the effect of lobbying in Washington, and the corporate welfare system that it's become. We're not going to get much social change unless we deal with this problem. Donors who fund health who are attending "Momentum" are going to hear about health from a lot of different perspectives that they wouldn't usually run across. And that's the point: to get people out of their normal outlook and into an environment where they can think together.

DH: So to sum up, what's the message? What do you want people to think about the conference? What do you want to have communicated to the audience? Basically, what is it that people should come away thinking about in terms of the progressive vision for the future? How does it all fit together?

DP: This is a moment in history where there's more of an opportunity for change than any other time I can recall in my adult life. Progressives cannot be silent, going into this prospective victory in the fall. If the Democrats do take back the executive branch ... and there's a Democratic majority in Congress, it's a tremendous opportunity. We can't be quiet. And we have to figure out what to be noisy about.

Democrats and progressives been out of power for so long that we are simply used to being the opposition. And we have not authored significant thoughtful strategy about how government can become the solution to social problems and how it can drive the social agenda toward more equity and a more diplomacy-driven international role. We need to create an opportunity where people can come together and talk about these ideas.

Hopefully at "Momentum," we'll encourage a sense of what's possible to do out there and ground it in solid policy discussions, but also ground it in the tools and strategies needed to get it out there. Maybe in the future we'll need to get all of the constituency-based organizations in the same room. But "Momentum" is about new, nontraditional ways of thinking -- new approaches to things that people haven't aired broadly either in the funding community or in the publishing community. Getting them out of the silo and into broader dialogue -- that can become the basis for being noisy in the future.


Teamsters begin organizing InBev's global ops

Related A-B/Teamsters stories: here

Militant union ready to rumble v. CEO Carlos Brito

There was little else on the minds of St. Louisans yesterday than the sale of one of the city’s most famous icons to Belgian brewer InBev. From bartenders and analysts to charities that benefit from Anheuser-Busch’s largesse, everyone was speculating on the future of a city that no longer will be headquarters for the King of Beers.

Somber-looking Anheuser-Busch workers had little to say as they walked into work.

Financial analyst Juli Niemann of Smith Moore & Co. investment brokers said workers are fearful and angry about the possibility of losing jobs, and they might have good reason.

Anheuser-Busch’s cost-cutting plan, aimed at thwarting InBev’s takeover effort, had already spread the pain across the board.

But InBev’s approach is more surgically precise, Niemann said. In a company that watches costs very carefully, employees must justify their job every year.

Where Anheuser-Busch executives travel by private jet, Niemann said InBev folks will be flying coach to St. Louis - and taking the city’s light rail system, not a cab or limousine, from the airport to A-B’s Pestalozzi Street headquarters.

"They’ll start cutting from there," she said. "They’ve got it down to a science. They’re very smart people."

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said just about everyone who lives in the region has been touched in some way by the brewery - from visits to Busch Stadium, or company-sponsored community events, to charities that benefit from the millions of dollars Anheuser-Busch donates each year.

"We know Anheuser-Busch," Slay said. "The concern is we don’t really know InBev."

InBev CEO Carlos Brito has said St. Louis would be the company’s North American headquarters should the deal go through, but it isn’t yet clear what that will mean in practical terms.

"They’ve never promised me they wouldn’t eliminate jobs," Slay said.

If Anheuser-Busch had fought the sale, the city likely could have helped in some way, Slay said. Now that the companies have agreed to a deal, the city will focus on keeping the brewery’s presence strong in the city, with a focus on maintaining the quality of pay and employee benefits.

Jack Cipriani, who heads the brewery workers division of the Teamsters, said he has called for a meeting of InBev unions in Canada, Brazil and Brussels, and has asked Brito and A-B for more information. He’s gotten no response.

"We worry about employees losing jobs, we worry about their communities," he said. "Their" labor relations "record has not been a good one."

At Hammerstone’s bar, near the brewery, off-duty bartender Brian Adams said he likes drinking the local beer, like his father before him.

"You know what’s surprising, some brewery people have come in, and nobody really wants to talk about it," said Adams, 25. "I think we’re in a limbo, a decision-making stage."

He fears a possible loss of jobs, but said what InBev had promised thus far sounded good.

"I think people have a lot of questions that can only be answered in time," he said.

Not everyone is wary of InBev’s takeover.

Benjamin Akande, dean of Webster University’s school of business, said St. Louis hasn’t lost an iconic company; it has gained a global operation.

InBev, he said, isn’t just buying A-B beer, but also its intellectual powerhouse - the people from the top executives to the foot soldiers who ensure product quality and delivery.

"Anheuser-Busch-InBev needs to be led by trusted faces," he said. "If they miss this opportunity and have the notion of cutting and slashing employees, they would expose themselves to incredible execution risk."


Gov't workers unit organizes to oust Teamsters

Militant union faces dues hit in labor-state

A petition has been filed by Doug Insko of the Public Works Department to hold a vote to decertify their union, Teamsters Local 325.

The case is being investigated and no determination has been made at this time by the Illinois Labor Relations Board. If an election is held, notices of election will be posted giving complete details for voting. In the event of an election the Illinois Labor Relations Board wants all eligible voters to be familiar with their rights under the law if it holds an election.

Any interested labor organization may petition to intervene in this proceeding according to Illinois Relations Board rules.

Village Attorney David Kurlinkus said the village received the notice around July 1 from the Labor Relations Board.

“Because we are the employer, we had to post the notice in village hall,” Kurlinkus said.

The village was also required to send a listing of people in the bargaining unit. There are only five permanent full and part-time people in the bargaining unit. The supervisor, Rick Gibson, is excluded from the union as well as seasonal employees hired to mow and remove snow.

Kurlinkus stressed that the DPW contacted the Labor Relations Board, not the village, about the vote to decertify.

“The village is just involved in this because it is the employer. The village just complies. The Labor Relations Board asked us to post that notice and provide some information to them,” Kurlinkus said.

The next step will either be a hearing or an election to decertify. Employees with inquiries about the election can contact Phillip Kazanjian at (312)793-7247.

Insko didn't return calls by press time to explain why the petition was filed.

Earlier this year, DPW employer Mike Niedermeier was suspended for 60 days after allegedly pulling the plug on a new fingerprint time clock. There was some discussion about whether he was unfairly targeted because of his union activities. Niedermeier said the time clock incident was an accident.

After a lengthy meeting in October with Niedermeier's seven co-workers, the village board decided to suspend him for 60 days without pay and then reinstate him as an employee.


Can federal gov't curb union organizers?

Big Labor set to roll over Congress in 2009

The United States Supreme Court has just struck down a high-profile California law that used taxpayer dollars to grease the skids for the coercive unionization of businesses and employees. Although the Chamber v. Brown decision represents a heartening rebuke of Big Labor’s overreach, employees nationwide remain vulnerable to the practices encouraged by the unconstitutional California statute.

By a vote of 7 to 2, the high court agreed with arguments raised by U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Right to Work Foundation attorneys that California’s law was pre-empted by provisions of federal labor law intended to secure an “uninhibited, robust, and wide-open debate” in the workplace on the question of whether to unionize.

California Democratic Gov. Gray Davis originally signed the bill into law in 2001. Similar laws are either on the books or under consideration in more than 20 states.

Under the guise of workplace “neutrality,” the voided California statute barred employers performing government contracts (or receiving over $10,000 annually in state grants) from using the funds to “assist, promote, or deter union organizing.”

The law gagged employers from providing factual and non-coercive information to employees about the possible downsides of unionization, and it essentially blackballed employers from government contracts unless they cleared the path for union organizers to recruit new mandatory dues-paying members.

The law effectively gave union organizers additional clout to pressure employers to assist union organizing by preventing employees from enjoying even the limited protections afforded by secret-ballot elections. Union agents obtain approval for the coercive “card check” organizing process and gain sweeping access to employees and their personal information.

The California law and others like it further open the door for union organizers to harass workers to authorize union “representation” they may not want. Card-check organizing methods have proven to be detrimental to employee free choice because they force workers to publicly declare their support or opposition to unionization when confronted by unrelenting (and often burly) union organizers.

The Supreme Court saw through the California law’s claim of supposed “neutrality.” As Justice John Paul Stevens noted in his majority opinion, the statute “permit[ted] use of state funds for select employer advocacy activities that promote unions.”

Although the court ruled in favor of employer free speech and employee free choice, workers remain vulnerable to an onslaught of intimidation brought on by card-check organizing drives. In one article about the ruling, an AFL-CIO union lawyer snickered that the outcome would only encourage union bosses to pour more money into passing the erroneously titled “Employee Free Choice Act.” That bill passed the House this year, but a filibuster has stalled it in the Senate. Even if Big Labor and its allies in the Senate don’t get it through this year, you can be sure they’ll be back in ’09.

This legislative power grab—endorsed by union-label politicians and bankrolled by union political funds—is designed to allow union bosses to bypass government-supervised secret ballot elections in favor of card check, tilting the playing field in favor of union organizers.

Union officials continue to expand the reach of coercive card-check organizing. Data obtained from the National Labor Relations Board by Right to Work attorneys show that, in the past six months, union officials successfully used card check to “persuade” employers in more than 250 American workplaces to bargain exclusively with union agents who did not even win a secret-ballot election of employees.

Focused on raising forced-union-dues dollars, union officials have made expanding Big Labor’s government-granted special privileges a top priority.

So, although the Supreme Court’s decision in Chamber v. Brown may slow coercive union organizing down from its current breakneck speed, workers likely face a renewed assault on their freedom of association after the November elections.

- Mr. Gleason is vice president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.


Franken welcomes nod from vote-fraud group

More ACORN stories: here

Union-backed Dem disregards taint from criminal scandal

U.S. Senate candidate Al Franken said Wednesday that a primary challenge from a fellow DFLer won't stop him from focusing his attention on Republican Norm Coleman. Franken's comments were his first on the candidacy of Priscilla Lord Faris, an attorney and the daughter of former state Attorney General Miles Lord. Lord Faris said earlier this week that she agrees with Franken on the issues but thinks Democrats should be concerned that he won't be able to beat incumbent Coleman.

"Anybody's entitled to run," Franken said. "I just know this is going to come down to me and Norm Coleman."

Franken said he hadn't given any thought to whether he'd be willing to debate Lord Faris, which she has suggested.

Franken made his comments while accepting the endorsement of ACORN, a community organization that's been providing financial counseling to low- and middle-income Minnesotans facing problems with mortgage payments. Franken said if elected he'd support a temporary moratorium on home foreclosures.

Meanwhile, state DFL Party chairman Brian Melendez held a Capitol news conference where he accused Coleman of "out and out lying" on the campaign trail when it comes to offshore oil drilling issues and employee unionization issues.

Melendez played video of Coleman recently suggesting that China has a foothold on oil drilling near Cuba when American companies can't tap into those deposits. Vice President Dick Cheney made a similar claim in a speech last month, but days later his office acknowledged that such drilling isn't currently happening.

Coleman campaign spokesman Mark Drake said the senator was expressing the view that China is better positioned to go forward with drilling there because of strong ties to Cuba.

He dismissed Melendez's accusation of lying as "a series of baseless attacks by Mr. Melendez on behalf of Al Franken."


Teamsters strike Coca-Cola in RTW states

Related Coca-Cola strike stories: here

Militant unionists stand their ground in hostile territory

By 10:00 a.m. Larry Evans had been yelling at trucks crossing the picket line on Highway 90 for six hours Wednesday. He said one of the trucks was driven by his supervisor at the Coca-Cola plant in Tillman's Corner.

Evans has 31 years with the company and he says his retirement is in jeopardy. "It’s the first time we struck, and I didn't want to do it, but I don't want to lose my pension." he said.

Dan Krulewicz is the shop steward for the sales department in Mobile. He was on the negotiating committee for the Teamsters Local 991. The negotiations for nearly 300 workers came to an end this weekend. Krulewicz says the company wants to switch the workers from a pension plan to a 401K retirement savings plan. But, the union says the workers will lose too much.

"I can't go to my fellow union members and say this is a good thing to go with the 401K when it's lost money in the first 3 years. Now, they want to do away with our pension plan and go with the 401K." he said.

Right now the dispute is between the company and its striking workers, but folks on the picket line say it won't be long before many others are feeling the effects of the strike.

"It's gonna affect everybody in Mobile before it's over if they drink Coke." said Krulewicz.

And the workers say there's no end in sight right now.

"Their position was to just to pull the pension from the table, period. Just get completely out of it, and we felt that was unfair." James Tricksey. "We just want to keep what we've always had. We're not asking for nothing extra," he said

The strike affects four Coca Cola bottling facilities in Alabama and Mississippi. So far, the company has had no comment.


Andy Stern stiffs SEIU retirees

More Andy Stern stories: here
More SEIU stories: here

Controversial unionist puts politics, union-dues first

The Service Employees International Union is staging nationwide rallies this week, vowing to "Take Back the Economy" from wealthy private equity firms. Based on the evidence of union policies, however, SEIU members would do better to take back their own pensions from their union chieftains.

SEIU President Andy Stern is the drama king of Big Labor, and Thursday's publicity blitz will feature all of his signature choreography: Rallies in 18 states and even overseas, in which thousands of union activists will march against companies and politicians they don't like. Themes include "Buyout Monsters On the Loose" and "The War on Greed." To listen to Mr. Stern, this is about getting Congress to close tax "loopholes" for private equity firms, while funding national health care and "middle class" tax cuts.

That's a sideshow. The real targets are private equity firms such as Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and Carlyle Group, which own companies that have resisted SEIU attempts to organize their workers. Mr. Stern wants to pound these firms with bad publicity and political retribution until they break.

Mr. Stern's "middle class" spin would be more believable if the SEIU did more for its own members, especially their pensions. Public records based on the SEIU's own filings show that the SEIU National Industry Pension plan – which covers some 101,000 workers – was only 75% funded in 2006. Put another way, the plan had only three-fourths of the money it needs to meet its retirement obligations. And the national chapter is only the start. Some 13 local SEIU pension plans in 2006 were less than 80% funded; several didn't reach 65%.

Some of this might be the result of poor investment performance, but the main problem is that the SEIU hasn't negotiated adequate employer contributions to the plans. This is a common practice: Unions and management take credit for bargaining deals that promise generous retirement benefits, even as they ignore how they'll be funded.

On the other hand, SEIU leaders are highly attentive to their own pension funding. A separate fund run by the national union, this one covering the benefits of SEIU officers, was 103% funded in 2006. The top SEIU guns are set for their golden years.

The SEIU is now disputing some of these figures, claiming the information it publicly filed is wrong. It now claims its national plan was 92% funded in 2006, and as of January 1, 2008, was 96% funded. Here's the catch: The union says these new numbers are based on calculations required under a 2006 pension reform that hasn't yet taken effect. It didn't release its new math either, though we're eager to see it.

By the way, fear of damage to pension-fund returns caused Mr. Stern's fellow labor leaders to thwart his initial campaign against private equity earlier this year. The SEIU had pushed for a California law to restrict state pension funds from investing in sovereign wealth funds that in turn invest in SEIU targets like KKR. Both the California Public Employees' Retirement System (Calpers) and the California State Teachers' Retirement System estimated that such a ban could cost them billions of dollars in foregone investment returns. This has earned Calpers the honor of a protest tomorrow too.

Good for them. As always with these political campaigns, it pays to look behind the union libel.


NYT labels unions a 'special interest'

More Eliot Spitzer stories: here

New Gov. rains in union-dues for politics

Gov. David A. Paterson has raised $3.3 million since taking office, by tapping into a broad array of special-interest groups and casting aside the self-imposed fund-raising limits of his predecessor, Eliot Spitzer, according to reports made public on Tuesday. Nearly 50 individuals and groups gave more than $25,000 each to the campaign of Gov. David A. Paterson, who has cast aside the self-imposed donation limits of his predecessor, Eliot Spitzer.

Mr. Paterson’s campaign chest was amassed in only two months of active fund-raising, according to aides, who said its size and rapid accumulation were intended to signal the new governor’s strength at a time when he has struggled to assemble an administration and define his agenda.

But a close look at Mr. Paterson’s reports also suggested a pronounced return to the kind of fund-raising practices that have long raised the ire of government watchdog groups.

His contributors span the gamut of Albany’s special-interest groups, including its most powerful unions and business groups, like the dentists’ political action committee, real estate interests and a variety of state and local labor unions. Nearly 50 individuals, business groups and labor unions gave contributions of more than $25,000 each, a sharp contrast to the $10,000 limit Mr. Spitzer voluntarily imposed on himself.

Some of Mr. Paterson’s most generous donors have crucial business before the state. They include District Council 37, the New York City public employees’ union, which is seeking expanded pension benefits; a political action committee associated with the New York Racing Association, with which Mr. Paterson is completing a deal for a lucrative state horse-racing franchise; and the real estate developer Larry Silverstein, a major player in negotiations over rebuilding the World Trade Center site in Lower Manhattan.

“The most remarkable thing I’ve seen is Paterson raising so much money in such a short period of time,” said Blair Horner, legislative director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, a government watchdog organization. “It just shows when you put your mind to it and control the levers of government, you can raise a ridiculous amount of money.”

Mr. Horner also said that Mr. Paterson appeared far more interested in raising campaign money than in putting his weight behind lowering the state’s campaign-donation limits, which are among the highest in the nation.

“This governor is not interested in pushing for meaningful reforms,” Mr. Horner said. “If he was raising lots of money and still trying to get reform — redistricting, ethics, campaign finance — we’d be singing his praises.”

A spokesman for the governor’s campaign denied that he had abandoned the issue. “The governor is deeply committed to campaign-finance reform, but in order to compete on a level playing field, he has to adhere to the limits that are set under current rules,” said the spokesman, Jonathan Rosen.

Mr. Paterson also won financial support from a wide swath of New York’s wealthy individual donors, both Republican and Democratic. They include James H. Simons, a hedge fund investor; the real estate developer Royce A. Mulholland; and Leonard Riggio, the founder of the Barnes & Noble bookstore chain.

He also received large donations from Donald Capoccia, a New York developer with ties to President Bush, and Richard Gilder, an investor and longtime supporter of conservative causes.

All in all, Mr. Paterson’s midyear amount was one of the largest recorded recently for a governor not facing re-election. Mr. Spitzer and his immediate predecessor, George E. Pataki, each had one larger filing, over a six-month period. Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat and the closest thing Mr. Paterson has to a potential primary opponent in 2010, reported raising $2 million in the first six months of the year, according to an aide.

Dean Skelos, a Long Island Republican who became the Senate majority leader late last month, took in nearly $400,000 in contributions over the last six months and has close to $1.4 million on hand. His donors include a long list of labor and business interests on Long Island and statewide, including corrections officers in Nassau County and corporations like Amgen and Sunoco.

He passed on some of those contributions to support fellow Republican Senate candidates.

Like Mr. Paterson and Mr. Skelos, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver — now Albany’s longest-serving leader — drew heavily from established interest groups, including trial lawyers, the insurance industry, banking interests and an array of labor unions. Mr. Silver also received money from some groups that opposed Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s plan to charge a fee for cars entering parts of Manhattan, including limousine services and rental car companies. Though Mr. Silver said he personally supported the idea, he did not allow it to come up for a vote in the Assembly.


Worker-choice picks up an endorsement

More worker-choice stories: here

Who wants forced-labor unionism?

The Colorado Automobile Dealers Association announced Wednesday that it supports the right-to-work initiative, which will appear on the November ballot as Amendment 47.

The measure would ask voters to amend the state constitution to say that union membership and the payment of dues or fees could not be mandated as a condition of employment.

A Better Colorado, the group pushing the initiative, said Wednesday that the Mountain States Employers Council, the Rifle Area Chamber of Commerce and the Huerfano County Chamber of Commerce also have endorsed the measure.


Progs: McCain is not one of us

Collectivists defend a cherished brand-name

John McCain has long sought to identify himself with Theodore Roosevelt. In a New York Times story last week, he repeated that identification, portraying himself as a "conservative" Republican like TR who disagrees with his fellow conservative Republicans about the role of government.

As an progressive historian, I feel like saying to McCain something like what Lloyd Bentsen said to Dan Quayle in a vice presidential debate in 1988 when Quayle tried to compare himself to John F. Kennedy: I knew TR and believe me you are no TR.

The only real comparison between TR and McCain that can be made is that both identified strongly with militarism, both sought military glory, and both in all probability preferred military rather than diplomatic solutions to international conflicts.

Historians with a bent toward psychology have contended that, for Roosevelt, his militarism derived from the embarrassing fact that his father paid for a substitute to avoid the draft during the Civil War, which wealthy men could do for $300. For McCain, it may have something to do with the fact that his grandfather and father were admirals, the former a naval hero or World War II.

McCain and TR were also big blusterers who often got into public conflicts with the bosses of the Republican Party.

But the comparison really ends there. TR began in the 1880s as a New York State assemblyman who sponsored pioneering legislation to regulate the production of cigars in New York tenement buildings. The legislation was declared unconstitutional by the New York State Supreme Court, using "freedom of contract" arguments that the judiciary sustained until the New Deal and which the Republicans have sought to restore since the Reagan presidency.

Using an ideology of social service and stewardship, Roosevelt also identified with the immigrant poor and labor, even though he always contended that social reforms were necessary to make sure that labor and the poor did not fall into the hands of radicals and socialists. This was a time, long since gone, when there was a large progressive wing in the Republican Party, the majority party of the country. Still the levers of power were clearly in the hands of the conservatives.

TR was a leading progressive, who was put on the 1900 ticket in large part because he had alienated Tom Platt, the powerful boss of the New York Republican machine, by supporting progressive legislation and refusing to give the machine the patronage it wanted as governor of New York.

John McCain's conflicts with conservative party bosses have not been on principle but on personality.

Rather than continue this history lesson by simply citing the differences let's ask what actions McCain would put forward as president along with his talk.

One of Theodore Roosevelt's first acts as president was to use the Sherman Anti-Trust Act against the Northern Securities Company, a holding company railroad monopoly controlled by J. P. Morgan, even though the law was considered a dead letter. Will McCain use anti-trust legislation against the oil companies, the medical insurance companies, and others who collude to sustain and increase profits against the public interest? Will he take anti-trust legislation, which Republican administrations have avoided like Anthrax, to a new level, as Theodore Roosevelt did?

Theodore Roosevelt also intervened in a national coal strike without busting the union. This was the first time the federal government had both refused to use force to break a strike and had used its influence to compel employers to negotiate. Will McCain act to strengthen collective bargaining and send a signal to employers that his administration will use the NLRB and the department of labor to foster fair union settlements, not to protect their interest? How about rescinding his hero, Ronald Reagan's 1981 federal employment blacklist of members of the air traffic controllers? How about support the rights of workers to join or organize unions by supporting the Employee Free Choice Act? Don't hold your breath.

Theodore Roosevelt was the most important environmentalist in US history, up to that time, fighting against the conservative leaders of his own party to place millions of acres of land into national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. Given McCain's environmental stands on oil drilling and everything else, expecting him to emulate Theodore Roosevelt's environmental policies is a little bit like expecting George W. Bush to enact a national health program.

John McCain is an "old guard," "stand pat" Republican (the terms used in the early 20th century) of the kind that Theodore Roosevelt both fought and negotiated with as president. He is the kind of Republican who kept Roosevelt from winning the 1912 GOP nomination over incumbent conservative President William Howard Taft, his former protegee, whom he had decisively and overwhelmingly defeated in Republican primaries.

Roosevelt then led a third party, the Progressive Party, which had the unintended consequence of turning the machinery of the national Republican Party over to conservatives. They have controlled that machinery now for nearly a century, although the meaning of conservative has moved further and further to the right, and today there is no progressive wing of any kind that any rational observer could find in the Republican Party.

Theodore Roosevelt tried to move the presidency and the Republican Party away from the conservatives and reactionaries whom John McCain represents today. McCain may gain some emotional satisfaction by vicariously identifying with TR. But, in reality, he has as much to do with Theodore Roosevelt as his real role model, Ronald Reagan, had to do with Franklin Roosevelt.

- Norman Markowitz is a contributing editor of Political Affairs.


Anti-trade Missouri Dems flirt with RICO

More UFCW stories: here
Related RICO stories: here

UFCW organizers damn the torpedoes

Union operatives and some political officials have planned an anti-Wal-Mart rally for 6 p.m. this evening at the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 655 in Ballwin, MO. The union workers are attacking Wal-Mart for selling Chinese goods as opposed to American. Though the stores also stock American products, the union says that buying American-only would help producers here.

The rally is also backed by WakeUpWalMart.com, a campaign affiliated with the national UFCW.

The list of planned speakers:

* Clint Zweifel, (D-78th Dist.), candidate for State Treasurer
* Jake Zimmerman, State Representative (D-83rd Dist.)
* Tony George, State Representative (D- 74th Dist.)
* Tod DeVedt, candidate for State Representative (D-111th Dist.)
* Neal St Onge, (R-88th Dist.), candidate for State Senator (R -7th
* Margo McNeil, candidate for State Representative (D-78th Dist.)
* Sue Schoemehl, State Representative (D-100th Dist.)
* James Morris, candidate for State Representative (D-58th Dist)
* Jeff Roorda State Representative (D-102nd Dist.)
* Tom George, Retired State Representative (D-74th Dist.)

The Union Hall is at 300 Weidman Road.


Educators shrug off AFSCME strike

More AFSCME stories: here

Nothing to learn from illegal gov't-union strike

While classes are still being held during the service workers' strike this week, UC Santa Cruz students are playing catch-up with the transportation system. Santa Cruz Metro bus drivers are refusing to cross the picket lines and are ending their routes at the base of campus and UCSC bus drivers are on strike. So, many students are forced to find other means of trekking across campus.

"I've had to hitchhike twice in the past two days," says junior Helen Yamamoto, who is living in College Eight. Both of her classes have had changes to their syllabus because students could not make it to campus to turn in assignments.

The picket lines have some professors moving their classes off campus. The five-week summer session does not permit professors to cancel any of the classes during what union organizers say will be a five-day strike, leaving students with no choice but to adapt.

UCSC professor Roxanne Hamilton, a member of the University Council American Federation of Teachers, encouraged students Wednesday to arrange carpools because she planned on having her Thursday class meet off campus. She also plans on joining the strikers at the picket line to show her support.

About 550 UCSC employees are participating in a statewide UC strike. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union is requesting a wage increase to $14.50 an hour for the minimum salary for custodial workers,
grounds crews and other workers as well as across-the-board increases for employees who earn more than that now. UC's offer would raise the minimum wage for the lowest-paid employees from $10.28 per hour to $11.50 or $12, depending on location.

As the strike continued Wednesday, downtown businesses were welcoming the influx of students. Cafe Pergolesi saw its share of classes.

"We have tons of space," said Stout Thompson, cafe manager. "The more the merrier. They're good people just trying to better themselves."

Professors are also flocking to the Veterans Hall, which has converted itself into a temporary campus extension for the week.

Bombarded with phone calls from the campus, the hall's executive director, Tim Brattan, said he has booked every room he has available, accommodating five to six different teachers. The hall was prepared to offer its building space to students when the union was threatening to strike six weeks ago before the action was cancelled at the last minute.

Professors remain determined to show their support. Rachel Bryant-Anderson brought her Family and Society sociology class and Sherwin Mendoza taught his Labor History section out of the Vets Hall on Wednesday. Steve Carter plans on teaching his politics section on Thursday.


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