ACORN outraged at anti-fraud efforts

More ACORN stories: here

Elections officials in swing states overwhelmed by union-backed voter fraud group

The Macomb County Republican Party chair who told Michigan Messenger earlier this week that Republicans planned to challenge voters at the polls using a list of foreclosed homes has changed his story.

James Carabelli now says the party has “no plans to do anything,” according to a story in the Macomb Daily. Reports of the plan for foreclosure-based challenges have spurred outrage and the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) planned a demonstration today at the Macomb County Republican headquarters.

Eric Doster is former counsel for the Michigan Republican Party and a lawyer who plans to represent GOP election challengers on Election Day. Doster returned a call Wednesday afternoon and in a 30-minute conversation told Michigan Messenger that while he is unfamiliar with plans to use foreclosure lists to challenge voters, he does expect party volunteers to challenge voters in other ways.

When asked whether Michigan Republicans plan to create a challenge list based on returned direct mail, a practice known as “vote caging,” Doster replied, “I think so. I know this has been done in years past … both parties may be doing this.”

Doster said that the party’s deputy political director, Kelly Harrigan, would have more information about the challenge lists. Harrigan did not respond to a call from Michigan Messenger.

“Voter caging” is controversial because it can be used to target certain groups of voters. Some say that a piece of returned mail should not be enough to challenge a person’s claim of residency.

Last week Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner acknowledged that the use of mail for vote caging has disproportionately affected poor and minority communities and she instructed that returned mail should not be considered reasonable evidence that someone has moved.


Stern preps SEIU embezzlement whitewash

More Andy Stern stories: hereSEIU stories: here

Andy Stern refuses to take responsibility

The bitter feud between the national Service Employees International Union and its Oakland-based local, United Healthcare Workers West, continues to escalate, even after a federal judge threw out SEIU’s lawsuit against UHW’s leaders in late July.

The Washington, D.C.-based SEIU said Monday it’s selected former U.S. Labor Secretary Ray Marshall to act as an “outside hearing officer” in its proposed trusteeship proceedings against longtime UHW President Sal Rosselli and his leadership team. Late last month, SEIU said it planned to undertake a review of “significant evidence that (UHW’s leadership) engaged in a pattern of financial malpractice and fraud” allegedly involving millions of dollars of union funds. “We will not tolerate any action by any leader that harms the interests of our membership,” SEIU President Andy Stern said in a statement at the time.

SEIU wants Marshall to investigate allegations that UHW’s leaders “engaged in a pattern of retaliation, financial malpractice and fraud” — basically the same allegations dismissed in federal court without a hearing by U.S. District Court Judge John Walter. SEIU filed the suit April 29 in federal court in Los Angeles, accusing Rosselli and others of allegedly diverting millions of dollars in UHW funds to an educational fund under their control.

SEIU now wants to put UHW into a trusteeship, replacing the local’s leaders with its own “handpicked appointees,” according to UHW, which represents about 150,000 hospital and long-term care workers in California.

In response to SEIU’s latest moves, UHW organized a Sept. 6 rally in San Jose to oppose what it characterizes as “politically motivated retaliation” against Rosselli and other top local officials. Sadie Crabtree, a UHW spokeswoman, said about 4,000 UHW members participated, including about 2,000 union stewards and other members attending an annual UHW leadership conference in San Jose.

But SEIU says an ongoing lawsuit filed May 20 against Rosselli and team by UHW members makes many of the same allegations as the suit that was dismissed.


Secret ballots protect rights of union workers

Related video: "Employee Forced Choice Act" • More EFCA stories: here

Labor bigs: Who needs secret-ballots, anyway?

The right of workers to form a union is vital to American freedom, but the secret ballot is fundamental to it. Yet, Barack Obama and most Democrats in Congress are acting like marionettes as labor unions pull the strings to deny workers a secret vote when deciding whether to organize.

The so-called "card-check" legislation would allow a union to form when a majority of workers publicly affix their names to a document stating their desire for representation. The potential for abuse is obvious. Forget peer pressure, and instead think about union goons strong-arming members to sign up. Toe the line, or else!

Related video: "Employee Forced Choice Act"

The Democrats have given the pending legislation the Orwellian name of the "Employee Free Choice Act." It should be called the "Sign Up, Or We'll Break Your Kneecaps Act."

Floridians should be outraged. This is a "right to work" state, where voters can't be forced to join or contribute dues to a union as a condition of employment. The Democrats' knee-capping legislation wouldn't change that, but it would undermine Florida workers who understand unionizing doesn't necessarily lead to greater prosperity. Just look at the thriving auto industry in right to work states, and the dying one in Michigan.

Kingsley Guy Kingsley Guy E-mail | Recent columns

The patently undemocratic legislation should be a source of shame for an organization that refers to itself as the "Democratic Party." Yet, few of its members have had the courage to speak out against it.

George McGovern, the 1972 Democratic presidential nominee, is one who has. A decorated bomber pilot in World War II, McGovern is no stranger to flak, and he's received a lot of it from all the anti-democrats among his fellow Democrats.

"Voting is an immense privilege," McGovern wrote in a column printed in The Wall Street Journal. "As a longtime friend of labor unions, I must raise my voice against pending legislation I see as a disturbing and undemocratic overreach not in the interest of either management or labor."

He could have added that it's not in the interest of the United States of America, a nation that has pressured despots throughout the world to hold free and fair elections using secret ballots. What kind of despots would deny workers in this country the secret ballot when deciding whether to organize?

Sen. Obama, you now stand as the head of the Democratic Party. Find the courage to join McGovern in setting your fellow Democrats straight.

- Kingsley Guy


Fraud looms over November vote

More ACORN stories: here

States' election officials are overrun by ACORN registration abuse

With the court battles solved and the dust settled, Florida has begun to enforce the "No Match, No Vote' law that was passed in 2006, stayed by injunction in 2007, with the state winning on appeal in 2008. On September 8, 2008, enforcement began. The "No Match, No Vote" law requires Floridians to have their identification match up with state or federal databases in order to be able to register to vote.

The Miami Herald reports that on September 5, 2008, Kurt Browning, Secretary of State, notified the 67 state supervisors of elections, telling them the 2006 law would start being enforced as of September 8, 2008. If a Florida voter's identification does not match the state or federal databases, they will be given a provisional ballot and two days to prove their identity in order for their ballot to count.

Proponents of the law maintain this will help prevent voter fraud on election day and opponents of the law assert this will disenfranchise voters.

Floridians wishing to register, under the "No Match, No Vote" law will have to provide their drivers license number or the last four digits of their social security number to election officials, who then match those numbers up with their databases. If no match is found, the person registering will be asked to provide more information.

Changes were made to the law this year to accommodate the opponents of the law, where county elections officials will scan all voters registrations and if there is not a match with the databases, it will then be reviewed by the Bureau of Voter Registration. If no obvious errors are found on the application, then applicants will be asked for further information.

The law was not enforced during the primaries, according to Browning, to give election officials time to make the appropriate changes to the computer systems and registration had already closed by the time the court order became final.
Voters whose information doesn't match the databases may still show up to vote on Election Day, but they will be given a provisional ballot. Their vote will then be counted only if they verify their identity by showing a valid identification card, a social security card or a Florida driver's license to election officials within two days of casting the vote.
One of the plaintiffs who challenged the law unsuccessfully was Alvaro Fernandez from the Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project, says, "This 11th-hour decision is an ill-advised move to apply a policy the state has never enforced in its current form, at a time when registration activity is at its highest."

Browning, who was a former Pasco County supervisor of elections himself, says opponents of the law are just being "sore losers," and he continues on to say, "They just don't want to admit the system might just work'' so they are ''loose with the facts."

Another opponent of the law from a civil rights group, Elizabeth Westfall who is a senior attorney with the Washington, D.C.-based Advancement Project believes the law will adversely effect Latino and African American voters who sometimes have double last names that do not register accurately in data files.

Voter fraud has been a problem in the U.S. for decades which prompted Congress in 2002 to pass the Help America Vote Act in 2002 and as of June 2008, reports were still showing voter fraud as an ongoing problem with dead people still being registered in certain states as reported by Fox News and other news organizations.
Jane Drury voted last year in an election in Stonington, Conn. The only problem is, she died eight years ago.

Her daughter, Jane Gumpel, thought someone must have goofed.

“I was surprised because this is not possible,” she said.

But it did happen. The town clerk’s record clearly shows Drury’s vote, marked by a horizontal line poll workers put next to her name. And it turns out Drury isn’t the only voter who apparently cast a ballot from the grave.
Other problems show that it is not only dead people who are being registered but as OPB News reports, children and pets are getting voter applications as well.
The misplaced invites come from special interest groups, not the state. And Oregon elections director John Lindback says it’s not just dead people getting voter registration cards.

John Lindback: “Some people are receiving cards in the name of their pets. One card that was returned to us said that the person was six years old. So we just thought it was important to notify the public that these cards are not coming from the Secretary of State.”
One of the interest groups that have made headlines as well as having certain members indicted for voter fraud in previous elections, and has been in the headlines this campaign season, was the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, which is the nation's largest community organization of low- and moderate-income families.

According to the Milwaukee Election Commission and reported by JS Online, up to 15 members of ACORN are under scrutiny now for signing up dead, imprisoned or fictitious voters.

Via PennLive .com, Milwaukee is not the only area this season where workers for ACORN are being investigated by authorities.

Wikipedia shows a list from 2004 of legal problems for members of ACORN and false voter registrations by their employees.
• In Ohio in 2004, four ACORN employees were indicted by a federal grand jury for submitting false voter registration forms.

• In January 2005 two Colorado ACORN workers were sentenced to community service for submitting false voter registrations. ACORN's regional director said, "we find it abhorrent and do everything we can to prevent it from happening."

• On November 1, 2006, four part time ACORN employees were indicted in Kansas City, Missouri for voter registration fraud, after being caught, fired, and turned in by ACORN. Prosecutors said the indictments are part of a national investigation. ACORN said in a press release that it is in large part responsible in these individuals being caught, and has cooperated and publicly supported efforts to look into the validity of the allegations.

• ACORN was investigated in 2006 for submitting false voter registrations in St. Louis, Missouri. 1,492 fraudulent voter registrations were identified.[citation needed]

• In 2007, five Washington state ACORN workers were sentenced to jail time. ACORN agreed to pay King County $25 000 for its investigative costs and acknowledged that the national organization could be subject to criminal prosecution if fraud occurs again. According to King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg, the misconduct was done "as an easy way to get paid [by ACORN], not as an attempt to influence the outcome of elections.
Voter fraud has been a problem for years and there is no reason to assume that elections officials will not have to be as vigilant in the 2008 elections as they have had to be in all the previous years.

Voter ID laws and other laws geared toward preventing voter fraud have been passed in multiple states with Florida now being the latest to implement precautions against this type of fraud.


Nebraska fails to force workers into unions

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Worker-choice actually exists in 22 states

On their annual tour of 35 Nebraska communities, representatives of the State Chamber of Commerce and Industry, along with Senator Tom Hansen, shared breakfast and messages with community members Thursday at the Holiday Inn Express.

The State Chamber tours the state every year to update legislative successes and to address upcoming concerns that will impact the Nebraska business community. The Chamber is the key lobbying group that attempts to influence legislative efforts in a favorable direction to businesses.

Not all legislation the Chamber supports is popular, such as LB846, which raised the state gas tax to pay the $14.5 million in salary and benefits increases to Department of Road employees. Hansen too supported the bill, saying at the time the state was sitting in a precarious position.

"The Federal Highway Trust Fund was in limbo and we didn't know if we were going to get any funding as we debated that bill," said Hansen. "After the bill was passed we ended up getting the funding. It's a variable tax though. I think since July, the tax increase has reached 3 cents, but with oil prices dropping we hope to see the tax drop by 3 cents."

Hansen acknowledged what most consumers already know, which is gas prices drop a lot slower than they rise. Hansen supports federal efforts to increase the nation's energy independence and said Nebraska should also be investing in wind technology.


The Chamber also supported the successfully passed LB895, the Nebraska Super Advantage Act, intended to provide new incentives for businesses that provide high-paying jobs within the state. Qualifications for the incentives are designated to larger businesses that would create at least 75 jobs and make a capital investment of $10 million.

A business that would only create 50 jobs would have to make a $100 million capital investment to qualify for the incentives outlined in the act. It also enhances the Nebraska Rural Advantage Act. Through the Nebraska Advantage programs, enacted in 2006, there have been 14,104 new jobs created in the state.

According to Jamie Karl, vice president of Public Affairs and Policy for the Chamber, the benefits of Nebraska Advantage also created more than $5 billion in investments.

The Chamber is also proud of their efforts to help LB888 pass through the legislature, which provides small business tax relief. The bill raises Nebraska's lower corporate income tax bracket from $50,000 to $100,000. Businesses that had previously crossed the $50,000 threshold were automatically placed in the higher of the state's two corporate tax brackets.

Legislative battles

Legislature that was defeated and opposed by the Chamber included the sales tax holiday, an excise tax on ethanol, and mandatory union fees to name a few.

The Chamber also opposed worker's compensation expansion that would have included mental trauma for employees who witnessed violence while on the job. Karl said worker's compensation insurance costs would have increased dramatically to the business owner. The bill passed in the legislature, but was vetoed by the governor.

The mandatory union fees bill would have forced non-union employees to pay their "fair share" of union fees back to the unions for labor representation. The payment would have amounted to 85 percent of what union employees pay in union fees.

Supporters of the bill argue that non-union employees are benefiting from union labor agreements without paying for that representation. However, Nebraska is a "right to work" state, where employees do not have to be union members, and the bill could have brought into question the constitutional state right to work.

Hansen, who often supports the Chamber's legislative proposals, but went against the Chamber's support to send State Fair funding to Grand Island, said he expects some key issues to resurface.

"The things we didn't do were equally important to western Nebraska and small businesses," said Hansen. "That includes stopping the veto override on the workman's compensation expansion and if you look at who supports that, it's mostly the lawyers. I'm sure we will be seeing it rear its ugly head in the near future."

How Nebraska fairs

Nebraska faired better in some rankings over previous years, but remains stagnant in others. Last year, the state was ranked seventh highest in individual tax burden, which encompasses all state and local taxes. This year, the state is ranked ninth highest.

"We were able to get a little better thanks to record tax cuts in the legislature," said Karl.

Nebraska is ranked 43rd in the business tax climate, but third best in cost of doing business. Karl said while taxes burden businesses in Nebraska, the environment of low public utility costs and cheap industrial rental locations offset some of the tax burden.

For the individual income tax, currently 6.84 percent, Nebraska is ranked 37th most expensive and the state's unemployment insurance costs for businesses are 14th best.

Nebraska climbed from seventh place in overall quality of life to fourth best in the nation.


AFL-CIO engages front-group for EFCA

More EFCA stories: here

New deception promotes effort to eliminate secret-ballot elections

A group calling itself Food and Medicine is supporting the Employee Free Choice Act. Members say it will help protect workers rights. The group says people have been hearing a lot of misinformation about the issue and it's time to set the record straight.

Members say it's important for workers at Wal*Mart and other non-union companies to be able to form unions so they can negotiate for better deals with their employers.
"It's important because we stand for rights and protection and democracy in America." Said University labor educator Bill Murphy on Thursday. "And we have democracy through the political process. It's also important to have it on the job. And organizing a union provides workers with that important opportunity."
The group also delivered petitions to Senator Susan Collins' office asking her to support the Employee Free Choice Act.

Organizers of the protest say she supported a filibuster on the act and is now echoing the lines of the current anti-union ads.

They're urging her to change her position.


Union-backed Gov. ripped over bargaining

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Labor-state leaves conflict of interest undefined

Democrats are expected to make strong gains in state legislatures this fall, but what do these stronger Democratic majorities mean? A look at Washington State may show what is in store for the rest of the country.

Public employee unions are handing over vast amounts of money to the incumbent governor's re-election campaign, while the governor is simultaneously sitting at the bargaining table negotiating contracts with these very unions. If it seems inappropriate for the governor, Christine Gregoire, who is locked in a very tight re-election, to benefit personally from the parties that her office is negotiating with, that's just your conscience, not the law.

As of Aug. 28, a number of unions — the Washington Federation of State Employees, AFSCME, National Education Association and Washington Education Association, Service Employees International Union, and the AFL-CIO — had already contributed more than $1.5 million to the Evergreen Progress PAC.

The current negotiations are covering everything from general government employees, home health care workers, home child care workers, and nurses in state institutions to staff in the public universities. According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the PAC's ads have unleashed "a drubbing" of her Republican gubernatorial opponent, Dino Rossi.

Amazingly, neither union members nor the taxpaying public knows the details of these negotiations until after the legislature approves the budget funding the resulting contracts. Even the members of the legislature do not know the details of the contract negotiations before they vote.

That wasn't the way it was supposed to be. A joint committee from the state House and Senate was originally supposed to consult the governor during the negotiations, but that committee never met. The Democratic-controlled legislature has simply chosen to ignore the costs of the collective bargaining agreements that burdened taxpayers with more than one-half billion dollars in the last budget. By law, the contracts themselves are not public records until after the legislature approves the budget.

Even worse, while the negotiations are going on immediately before this fall's election, the budget votes won't occur until next year. Because of term limits, this November is Gov. Gregoire's last election for governor, and she will never have to face the voters again after the contracts eventually become public.

Washington state collective bargaining laws invite more abuse than some other states because they cover wages as well as hours and benefits.

If nothing questionable is going on, the legislature could easily solve this "appearances" problem by either disallowing campaign contributions from unions while they are sitting at the bargaining table, or, even better, require that collective bargaining sessions be open to the public. Yet, there appears to be little public pressure to do either.

Currently, 39 states lack any transparency for their public-sector negotiations. Michigan law goes so far as to explicitly prohibit any documents related to the negotiations from being disclosed. Other states don't even let union members have access to the documents related to the negotiations on their behalf.

Twenty-three of those 39 states also have compulsory unionization for public employees, giving the unions access to tens of thousands of paychecks per state. Unions not only get to help re-elect the politicians who give them favorable contracts, they can impose dues on people who don't want to be union members to accomplish this.

It is not even clear how happy public-sector employees are with their unions. When government workers have a choice whether to join a union, union membership rates are only about a third the rate that they are in agency-shop states with mandatory membership.

Unfortunately, just as Barack Obama's and congressional Democrats' promises to end the secret ballot for union elections next year are largely being ignored, state labor issues are also going undiscussed.

Yet, some minor changes in current state laws could create problems similar to those in Washington state. The big money for unions is in wage negotiations. Covering wages under secret collective bargaining would not only guarantee more abuses, it would ensure that unions care even more over what politicians get elected to office.

November's elections may mean that voters will soon wake up to even much higher taxes than they had expected.

- Sonya D. Jones is director of the Labor Policy Center at the Evergreen Freedom Foundation.
- John R. Lott, Jr. is author of "Freedomnomics" and a senior research scientist at the University of Maryland.


ACORN: Let all the fraudulent votes count

More ACORN stories: here

Union-backed voter fraud group intends to cripple GOP

In this year of historic firsts, it should surprise no one that political prognosticators predict Election Day turnout to exceed 60 percent of the voting age population for the first time in 40 years. Americans have “change” on their minds. But they’re getting decidedly different visions of it from two presidential candidates who stand diametrically opposed on almost every issue.

Despite the stakes, there remain some conservatives who see little reason to exercise that which Samuel Adams called one of the most solemn trusts in human society -- the right to vote. So, with voter registration deadlines looming, let me offer three reasons why this year especially, to vote or not to vote should not be the question for conservatives.

Every vote counts. Some voters don’t vote because they feel their single vote will not change the outcome of the election. And while that statement may be strictly true, it’s also true that recent elections have often come down to just a few votes.

Ask voters in Washington State. In 2004, Democrat Christine Gregoire won the governor’s race by only 129 votes out of almost 2.8 million cast. And recall the 2000 presidential election, when a few hundred more votes in Florida (527) or a few thousand (about 3,000) more votes in New Hampshire would have given the presidency to Al Gore.

And if 118,000 or so conservative Ohioans (about 2 percent of Buckeye State voters) had woken up on Election Day 2004 and decided that their votes didn’t matter, we’d have John Kerry as president, defeat in Iraq and two leftwing Supreme Court justices.

With polls 53 days from Election Day showing a dead-heat between the presidential candidates, there is little reason to believe this year’s election will not be as close as the last two. Even Barack Obama’s top advisor agrees. At the Democratic Convention, Obama’s chief campaign strategist David Axelrod told reporters “This is a close election. There’s not a whole lot of play. We have no illusions that this is going to be anything but close.”

The Left is energized as never before. USA Today recently reported, “Outside groups have spent more than $25 million since Jan. 1, 2007, on ‘independent expenditures,’ and more than 70 percent has gone toward Democratic candidates.” Among the top spenders this year are Planned Parenthood, the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union -- all leftwing groups.

While conservative groups like my political action committee, Campaign for Working Families, are conducting get-out-the-vote campaigns, the Left is registering millions of new voters, and in some unlikely places. Recently, the Washington Post reported that a number of organizations -- the ACLU and the NAACP among them -- are leading a nationwide push to get as many felons registered to vote as possible. That’s right -- felons, not ex-cons, but current inmates. The Post noted that in Ohio, “The NAACP will hold a voter-registration day at the Justice Center in downtown Cleveland ... to register 'people caught up in the criminal justice system.” In California, activists "register[ed] people visiting prisoners and encourage[d] them to take registration cards to their incarcerated friends or family members, some of whom can legally vote."

I've heard of all kinds of voter registration efforts, but this may be the first time there’s been a coordinated effort aimed specifically at those behind bars. But not all the Left’s “outreach” is on the up and up. In the past few weeks, there have been reports of voter fraud linked to the leftwing Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) in battleground states like Wisconsin and Ohio. Voting is a cherished right, acquired by the blood of patriots. Voter fraud strikes at the core of our representative democracy, cheapening the value of your vote and mine.

All this should serve as a reminder to conservatives of how determined the Left is to win.

- Gary Bauer


Will: Gov't unions take the cake

All the money is gone

Mayor Osby Davis, who has lived in the waterfront city of Vallejo across San Pablo Bay from San Francisco for 60 of his 62 years, says: "If you have a can that's leaking two ounces a minute and you put an ounce a minute in it, it's going to get empty." He is describing his city's coffers.

Joseph Tanner, who became city manager after this municipality of 120,000 souls was mismanaged to the brink of bankruptcy, stands at a white board to explain the simple arithmetic that has pushed Vallejo over the brink. Its crisis — a cash flow insufficient to cover contractual obligations — came about because (to use figures from the 2007 fiscal year) each of the 100 firemen paid $230 a month in union dues and each of the 140 police officers paid $254 a month, giving their respective unions enormous sums to purchase a compliant City Council.

Rich Firefighters

So a police captain receives $306,000 a year in pay and benefits, a police lieutenant receives $247,644, and the average for firefight ers — 21 of them earn more than $200,000, including overtime — is $171,000.

Furthermore, police and firefighters can store up unused vacation and leave time over their careers and walk away, as one of the more than 20 who recently retired did, with a $370,000 check. Last year, 292 city employees made more than $100,000. And after just five years, all police and firefighters are guaranteed lifetime health benefits.

Even the City Council has at last faced facts and voted 7-0 for bankruptcy. "The day after they voted," Davis says, "I didn't go out of the house — I was that embarrassed."

Retiring At 50

In other states, municipalities can pay for improvident labor contracts by increasing property taxes. But Vallejo's promises were made in the context of Proposition 13, which 30 years ago wisely restricted California politicians' reach for property taxes. In 1996, the Navy base in Vallejo closed, which probably pleased some local liberals who share the anti-military mentality of San Francisco, to which some Vallejo residents commute by ferry. Liberals who, Tanner says dryly, "want Vallejo to look a certain way," were pleased when Wal-Mart moved to an adjacent town, which now reaps the sales tax revenues.

Vallejo is an ominous portent for other cities, and some states, few of which are accumulating financial resources sufficient to fulfill pension promises they have made to their employees. Are you weary of worrying about the crisis du jour — subprime mortgages and all that? Get a head start on worrying about the next debacle by reading Roger Lowenstein's new book, "While America Aged: How Pension Debts Ruined General Motors, Stopped the NYC Subways, Bankrupted San Diego, and Loom as the Next Financial Crisis."

"Next"? It has arrived in Jefferson County, Ala., which includes Birmingham. Like Orange County, Calif., a few years ago, Jefferson County made risky investments in a desperate attempt to achieve a growth of assets commensurate with reckless promises regarding pensions. When San Diego was in the process of earning the sobriquet "Enron by the sea," firemen could retire at 50 with 90% of their pensions — almost full pay for not working during half of their expected adult lives.

Credit Suisse estimates that state and local governments have a cumulative $1.5 trillion shortfall in commitments for retiree health care.

But it is the pension crisis that most dramatically illustrates Lowenstein's thesis about the slow accretion of power by the unions.

Pensions "are a perfect vehicle for procrastination; in the financial world, they are the most long-enduring promises that exist." Human nature — the propensity to delay the unpleasant — rears its ugly head: When pension benefits come due, the people who promised them, thereby buying labor peace and winning elections, are long gone.

Protected From Unions

Vallejo's unions contend that the city is solvent enough to meet its obligations. But last Friday a court disagreed, holding that the city is eligible for bankruptcy protection. A lawyer for Vallejo says the unions will have to negotiate a "plan of adjustment." Other cities are watching, perhaps including the one across the bay.

San Francisco recently reported that 184 of its employees made at least $30,000 apiece in overtime in the first half of this year. A nurse at the county jail made $128,000 in overtime, putting him on track to top his total 2007 compensation of about $350,000. Nice work if you can get it, and you can get it many places.

- George F. Will is a columnist for The Washington Post and Newsweek.


Expert writes Rx for labor-state

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Worker-choice option leads list for Michigan

The Michigan Supreme Court ruling that keeps the Reform Michigan Government Now proposal off the ballot has focused attention on the ballot measure process itself. RMGN — rejected by the court for technical reasons — was extraordinarily bad public policy, but that doesn’t mean citizen-led initiatives are bad.

The right ballot measures would let voters bypass legislators who are unwilling or unable to fix Michigan’s urgent problems. Here are eight ballot measures that would each offer voters a single, honest, straightforward opportunity to fix the fundamentals.

A Right-to-Work Measure. A right-to-work law means that employers cannot agree to fire a worker for not supporting a union. While unions would retain their monopoly bargaining status, right-to-work protection would be a sure step toward workplace fairness and state economic recovery. From 2002 to 2007, Michigan lost 5% of its jobs while the 22 right-to-work states increased their payrolls by 9%.

State Spending Limitation. Allow state spending to increase, but only in proportion to growth in population and inflation. If a version of this plan had been in effect, it would have returned about $8 billion to Michigan taxpayers between 1995-2007 and built a $2.5 billion rainy day fund.

Universal Education Tax Credit. This option would leave intact the constitutional prohibition on vouchers while allowing parents to choose the safest and best public or private schools for their children. The tax credit would be available for income earners, property owners and businesses that support the education of a child attending the school of his or her choice. The credit would be limited to half of the state’s per-pupil spending allotment, which we estimated would have saved the state’s School Aid Fund more than $500 million in the 10 years prior to 2008.

Compensation for Regulatory Takings of Property. Property regulations can be an invisible tax that chases businesses from the state or keeps them from locating here. For example, overzealous wetlands regulation can effectively “take” property from its owner by severely restricting its use. One way to better balance the public benefit and private cost of such regulations would call for governments to either compensate a property owner for legal restrictions placed on property or let the owner use the land as intended.

Paycheck Protection. When unions take dues right out of worker paychecks, some of those dollars inevitably get spent on politics. For example, the MEA took $66.6 million from school employee paychecks in 2007 and it spent $2.3 million on politics that year (not counting PAC money). Paycheck protection would require the union to get workers’ consent first.

A Right-to-Work Measure Limited to Public School Teachers. Gov. John Engler told the Legislature in October 1993 that no teacher should lose his or her job for deciding not to support a labor union. MEA disbursements in 2007 totaled $124.7 million, of which the union reported spending $16.4 million on representation and $56.3 million on overhead.

Supermajority or Voter Approval of Tax Increases. Sixteen states have at least some sort of legislative supermajority requirement to raise taxes. One innovative proposal would require voter approval of all tax increases unless passed by a 3/5 supermajority of both houses. This likely would have prevented last year’s unpopular $1.4 billion tax hike.

Part-Time Legislature. Michigan can be governed with a part-time Legislature like those in 40 other states. In 2007 our state lawmakers became the second-highest paid in the nation.

Michigan is one of just 27 states where residents have the legislative power to vote directly on constitutional and certain legislative questions, and one of only 15 states that let the people enact and overturn laws and constitutional amendments.

Michigan lawmakers are unlikely to pass any of these ideas soon, even though a case can be made that each one would help turn around Michigan’s moribund economy. Sometimes the people have to act when legislators won’t.

- Joseph G. Lehman is president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich.


Iranians ponder Barack

The progressive rise of Obama 'nation'

Eight years of Bush administration foreign policy have finally nailed shut the coffin of mass international support and admiration for American foreign policy, completing the 180 degree shift from the post-WWII image of compassionate liberators (dubious in any case) to that of the most dangerous nation on earth.

Opinion in the Arab world has plummeted to even greater depths than during Bill Clinton's presidency following the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and the unashamed disregard for Palestinian dignity, with the terrifying spectacle of mass shoe swatting and flag burning ready to ignite in any given place across the region at any given time, even in the puppet states.

Many in the Arab world have lately bestowed the role of savior on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of a people traditionally viewed 'unfavourably', purely on the merit of his overt anti-Americanism.

Latin America has also apparently had enough of United States intervention, rejecting the Munroe Doctrine on a large scale and, with a few exceptions, electing leftist governments independent of the 'Washington Consensus' throughout the region.

The supposedly pro-US governments of Brazil and Chile continuously undermine Washington's posturing by aligning themselves with the continent's Great Satans Hugo Chavez and Cuba, while Ecuador plans to close the strategic 450-strong US military base in Manta, which recently underwent a $61.3 million renewal, when the lease expires in November 2009. The move is part of a shift in constitutional law that prohibits the establishment of all foreign military bases in the future.

Regions overtly subjected to the joys of the 'freedom' campaign are not the only ones highly skeptical of Bushite propaganda and disgusted by the devastating actions it justifies.

Esteem for the US is at an all time low in Europe and Japan, traditional strongholds of pro-US sentiment (although Poland continues to bask in the glory of being the latest 51st state), and the anti-globalisation movement is gathering momentum throughout the world. China and Russia offer diplomatic clout, albeit with self-interest, by continually tempering US aggression as they set themselves up as the next great superpowers and make alliances with 'rogue states'.

Domestically recent years have seen conspicuous consumption of dissent dominate the mainstream, continuing the trend of petty-rebellion set by the likes of Kurt Cobain, Bruce Springsteen and Rage Against the Machine. “F*** Bush!” has become a fashion statement, corporate rockers churn out multi-million selling albums dissing American idiocy and rap stars promote their 'edgy' credentials by attacking the administration through the power of rhyme. But behind this commodification lies a genuine internal disdain for American governance, from the disenchanted hordes to those who knew better all along.

America now seeks to reinvent itself to once again align public and world opinion with its ideological role of grand bestower of justice, humanitarian crusader and land of opportunity for all. Step up Barak Obama: young(ish) and youth aware; African-American(ish); charming and affable; happily married with blandly perfect children; from humble beginnings - a true testament to the old American Dream and just the ticket to "renew American leadership in the world."

Obama has successfully wooed progressive types with his message of change, going beyond the 'lesser of two evils' mantle to be considered a genuinely positive candidate in his own right. While acknowledging certain limitations, a left clutching for hope sees in him the ability to provide something of that for which more radical means have been fighting a losing battle.

Progressive opinion lauds his willingness to meet with presidents Ahmadinejad and Chavez, his distancing from the jingoism and militarism of George W. Bush and John McCain, even his novel ethnicity.

There is also a readiness to forgive his corporate sponsorship, elite connections and more blatant right-wing policies as 'necessary evils' on the road to the White House. In short, he is seen as the pragmatic choice for change in the here and now.

The image of 'pragmatic progressive', well worn weasel words for complacency and inaction, is a vacuous complement to Obama's rhetorical 'change', assisting his usurpation of what there is of leftist momentum for decidedly conservative ends.

The use of term itself has little relation to what is actually pragmatically possible in wider terms but simply refers to what Obama is willing to do, or rather less, to his campaign claims. That he professes some willingness to divert from established conduct only when it will not provoke the crippling wrath of US democracy's benefactors (benefitters) is pragmatically meaningless from anything but the most shortsighted progressive viewpoint.

Yet in the absence of an alternative in the two-party system, the Democrats are able to define themselves as progressive since anyone who might beg to differ is automatically directed to the only standard by which to judge; the Republican Party.

Thus in the dominant discourse anything, even an utterance, to the left of the war-mongering, corporate interest-serving, bible-bashing New American Century is heralded as a radical shift towards uncharted political territory, a message absurdly trite in the context of all possibilities yet stupefying enough to be dangerously alluring for those who long for change.

Thus Obama is running on progressive faith, commandeering the impulse for an alternative and selling back its mockery in a readily available package - an echo of the metaphysics that says commodity identity and 'lifestyle choice' can fill the void carved out by capital.

The Obama sales pitch, directed to this target audience's repulsion at Bush et al's war record, purports to radically alter a much maligned foreign policy. But behind the shiny grandiloquence lies a policy of much the same aggressive imperial ambition, albeit in a less overt and therefore more ideological and potentially dangerous form.

Obama's audacious claim to 'oppose' recent US war policy is rendered transparently unfounded by the fact that as a senator, he never voted against increases in war funding and the practical implications of his proposals for the future are consistently aggressive.

His supposed policy of full troop withdrawal is contingent on a stable US-friendly Iraqi government with domestic military dominance. That the very presence of US troops is the greatest obstacle to stable governance makes for a subtle Catch 22 that has eluded mainstream media, although Karl Rove was quick to point it out.

Furthermore the realisation of this goal is to be assessed by Obama's military advisors, effectively meaning an Obama administration will engage solely with itself in deciding when it feels like leaving a sovereign country.

This paradoxical policy masks the real deciding faction in troop withdrawal - the time when enough troops have been killed to make it impossible to quell public opinion and/or it is no longer profitable to stick around.

Were troops in fact to be withdrawn on a significant scale under Obama, US presence would still be strongly felt in the command of Iraqi forces, the continued imposing presence of the 'Green Zone', as 'counter-terrorism' agents and in the only people less culpable and more cavalier than the US army - mercenary 'contractors' and their masters; corporate America's imperial pillagers.

Obama is similarly consistent with Bush policy in his plans to expand the war on Afghanistan and his recognition of the potential 'necessity' of an attack on Iran, Pakistan and even the wider area he archaically and ambiguously refers to as “Mesopotamia.”

For these ends Obama intends to expand the current US military budget, already over than half that of the rest of the world's budget combined, and add "65,000 soldiers to the army and 27,000 marines" (speech to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, 24thApril 2007).

Aggressive posturing on South America shows Cuba, Venezuela and Ecuador may also find themselves in his crosshairs. Obama stated at a Cuban-American National Foundation function in May this year that he considers Bush administration policy on Hugo Chavez "negligent", referring to the democratically elected president as a "demagogue" who filled a "vacuum" left by the absence of US intervention. That is, Bush has not been quite aggressive enough for the Democratic candidate.

Obama would continue the embargo on Cuba and has also expressed support for the illegal Columbian attack on Ecuador in March this year, disclosing that his conception of foreign policy favours US interests over national sovereignty and international law.

He made it clear at the March AIPAC meeting and again on a visit to Israel that the country has his unwavering support to continue its role as imperial trailblazer.

He then appointed as advisors seasoned Zionists Madeleine "half a million dead children is worth it" Albright and Dennis Ross, who Robert Fisk notes are "two of the most lamentable failures of US Middle East policy-making" in their murderous policy on Iraq and the scuppering of the Oslo accords, respectively.

Thus while the novelty of the Obama product may be a shift away from the brazen unsubtleties of Bush administration foreign policy towards a more progressive-friendly and understated form, the policy behind the evasive subtleties means content remains the same.

Obama supporters' touting of his ethnic credentials as evidence of progression, aside from being innately logically unsound, is similarly devoid of reasoned justification. For the benefit of the African-American, Hispanic and 'ethnic minority' vote (and that of whites who need their burden superficially lifted) his ethnicity is fetishised to sell his worth as a novel candidate-commodity, keeping something of the imagery yet effectively erasing all that is progressive in the black movement.

His calls for 'empowerment' and 'affirmative action' are coupled with the traditional counterpart to these corporate slogans of blaming their objects for not being 'empowered' in the first place.

In his Father's Day speech, Obama paid dismissive lip service to state intervention before following the old line of placing the onus for poverty directly on the poor:

"Yes, we need more cops on the street. Yes, we need fewer guns in the hands of people who shouldn't have them. Yes, we need more money for our schools, and more outstanding teachers in the classroom, and more afterschool programs for our children. Yes, we need more jobs and more job training and more opportunity in our communities.

But we also need families to raise our children. We need fathers to realize that responsibility does not end at conception. We need them to realize that what makes you a man is not the ability to have a child - it's the courage to raise one."

Obama's insight into what it means to be a 'real man' here echo the "Pound Cake" speech made by Bill Cosby a few years back in which he placed the blame for African-American disparity almost entirely on African-American males, although Obama stopped short of such comedic profundities as:

"With names like Shaniqua, Taliqua and Mohammed and all that c**p, and all of them are in jail […] They are standing on the corner and they can't speak English."

Indeed Cosby is an apt figure for Obama to emulate. When Cosby claims he is 'tired of losing to the white man', he is saying he has had enough of not participating fully in the white man's game, not questioning in the slightest the win/lose capitalist bivalency that spawned African-American and indeed all poverty.

In the 'success' morality that Cosby espouses, his billionaire status and public profile give him the moral high-ground to preach to deprived youth, just as Obama's ascent in the power game now gives him cause to moralise.

Such pseudo-scientific moralising serves to obscure the materially verifiable social conditions where the responsibility should more rationally lie. The power to which this rhetorical gibberish refers is of course not such 'utopian' pipe-dreams as, say, community, genuine individuality or freedom from exploitation but simply the individual accumulation of capital and commodities, being the only empowerment which Obama's political insight can conceive of.

As such in the Obama conception, African-American community problems start and end with its individual members, and the solution is to encourage them to further identify with a system that is itself responsible for their inequality.

Obama thus carries the baton of identity politics conservatism, replacing critique of social structure and its ideology with what the University of Pennsylvania's Adolph Reed less than hyperbolically refers to as "the pop-psychological, big box Protestant, Oprah Winfrey, Reaganite discourse of self-improvement/personal responsibility" that forever dotes on the fortunate few who 'make it' (such as Obama himself) to let the remaining millions know that the fault in their predicament lies solely with themselves.

Like a true opportunist Obama entrepreneurially capitalises on the greatest force of deradicalisation Reaction has devised since post-'68 disenchanted French 'intellectuals' came up with 'postmodernism', attempting to fully divorce race disenfranchisement from its true source: class.

The Obama character itself is an instance of yet another distraction from the actual material reality responsible for the ills he purports to address. Just as capital must perpetuate and expand itself in an infinity of new marketable forms to both maintain and justify itself, yet at its base has remained simply a mechanism of extraction of surplus value since its inception, the presidential cycle must churn out novelty figures to further instill the purported axiomatic necessity of its existence and distract from the spuriousness of it and the age-old sameness of domination.

Couching conservative policy in progressive terminology is part of an aggressively ambiguous campaign that seeks the full spectrum of public opinion as its market.

'Obama' means young and mature, black and white, progressive and conservative, family man and object of desire, pater familias and feminist, worker and boss, authority figure and servant of the people, war and peace.

Yet this assimilation of contradictions, rather than giving a voice to every interest, simply serves to diffuse tensions that would otherwise offer an alternative were they allowed to synthesise.

As such, a vote for Obama is a vote for the single-cell established order that can be anything but change.


Harvard unionist shocked by Jack Welch

More EFCA stories: here

Writer provides insight into Barack's anti-management views

I was privileged to be having lunch with Jack Welch a while back, and took the opportunity to ask him what he thought the most pressing issue facing American management today was. His answer really surprised me.

He was worried, he said, about proposed 'card check' legislation (more formally known as the Employee Free Choice Act or EFCA). In a nutshell, the legislation would allow workers to unionize if a simple majority sign authorization cards. In his view, it would be all too easy for union organizers to coerce workers into giving their signatures, and far easier than it is today to unionize operations. The consequences would be a far less flexible workforce, higher costs, lower productivity and a loss of management discretion over workplace decisions, all of which in the long run would be bad for the economy.

Since that conversation, the EFCA has gotten a tremendous amount of press, most recently in Business Week and in Wall Street Journal columns that express alarm at how few senior-level executives in the US are paying attention to and are aware of the implications of the legislation.

Regardless of the merits of the legislation, which Democrats on the whole support and Republicans are less enthused about, it's interesting to speculate on why pro-labor policies are becoming increasingly palatable.

In my view, it's one fairly predictable outcome of a change in the zeitgeist, resulting from the erosion of the implicit contract that many workers in America endorsed. Work hard, be productive, and you too could aspire to your own version of the American dream. Or so the story went when I was a young college grad in the early 80's.

When I took my first job in 1982, I was forced to pay union dues (although I never did officially join the union at the City of New York, my first employer). That allowed me to be covered by a collective bargaining agreement that had been negotiated by the union on behalf of all the workers in my title. Now that I look back on it, the deal was pretty good. Right off the bat, I got 4 weeks of vacation, some number of personal days, 13 public holidays, and although I didn't get overtime, I was entitled to 'comp time' which meant that when I worked more hours than my standard 35 per week, I could take that time off at a later date. I also got health benefits, of course, and contributions to a government pension fund, which would have materialized after some decades of dutiful service, had I remained in that job. In fact, when I did leave, I recall getting paid for something like six months due to the accumulated comp time I'd received.

But despite the attractive employment terms the union had negotiated, bright young things back then felt that being part of a union was sort of quaint, and even a little distasteful. We were, we thought, going to go out there and forge our own futures, grabbing our piece of the American dream through hard work and pluck. Our employers would recognize our merits - why let some fusty old union boss speak for us? Reagan was in the White House and America was going to shake off it's 70's era slump. The future looked bright. We didn't need unions -- or so we thought at the time.

Fast-forward 30 years, and what happened to that attitude? Well, it's still there among many (particularly the highly skilled and highly compensated who are doing better than ever, thank you very much).

Among others, however, there is a creeping feeling that no matter how hard you work, or how much of a contribution you make, the deck is stacked against you:

* Take CEO pay. The Institute for Policy studies note that in 2007, compensation for the CEOs of the S&P 500 averaged 344 times the average US worker's pay. Thirty years ago, the ratio was about 35 to 1. That money is coming from somewhere, workers realize, and one possible source is their own paychecks. Indeed, The Center on Budget Policy Priorities found that "the share of national income going to wages and salaries in 2006 was at its lowest level on record, with data going back to 1929. The share of national income captured by corporate profits, in contrast, was at its highest level on record."

* What about the bailouts of financial firms? Whatever the merits for the case that these companies needed government backing, the symbolism is of super-smart Ivy Leaguers being protected from the consequences of their own mistakes, while ordinary people deal with the fallout of the credit crunch. That's hard to overlook.

* Add in off-shoring, the willingness of employers to downsize at the first whiff of an earnings miss, and the erosion of benefits -- such as health care and pensions -- that were once taken for granted. It's not hard to understand why employees would find it increasingly attractive to have some more power on their side. Even if you're not a huge fan of unions, they offer the promise of security, known and agreed-upon workplace rules, and predictable outcomes. Not terribly exciting, maybe, but I suspect a lot of workers would come running at the chance to have such buffers from the vicissitudes of an increasingly volatile global economy.

To me, it's a powerful testament to the laws of unintended consequences and the idea that every action prompts an equal and opposite reaction. If the ways in which large corporations wield power over their people is increasingly seen as unfair or even illegitimate, we can expect a lot more momentum on the part of labor.

Is that good? Bad? Are there alternatives? What do you think?

- Rita McGrath


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