Saturday wrap

What did Andy Stern know? When did he know it? ... When States Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald announced the investigation of the pay-to-play scandal centered around Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich there came to light a meeting between Blago and a top officer of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). There was no indication of what the meeting was about and at first no one knew who the SEIU representative was. Later it came out that Blago met with Tom Balanoff, president of the Ill. chapter of the SEIU. This was blown off as of little importance ever since. However, now it has been learned that the president of the SEIU, Andy Stern himself, also met with Blago during the period of time that Blago was trying to sell Obama’s Senate seat. So, what was SEIU President Andy Stern doing in Illinois and at this meeting? What was discussed? Was Stern in Illinois to offer a special deal? If not, why did he come all the way to Illinois for this meeting? What was so important to drag him out of D.C. to fly to Chicago for this meeting? What was so important that the local Ill. SEIU president could not handle? (stoptheaclu.com)

California workers: Get us out of SEIU ... In response to letters, petitions and other requests from members employed at healthcare facilities and worksites across California, the Executive Board of SEIU United Healthcare Workers-West (UHW), consistent with provisions contained in the Service Employees International Union International Constitution, has sent a letter today to SEIU President Andy Stern requesting that he schedule a vote of the local union's 150,000 members to formally disaffiliate from the Washington, D.C.-based SEIU. In its letter to Stern, the UHW executive board acknowledges its obligations regarding disaffiliation under the SEIU Constitution, and adds that, "Nonetheless, we consider ourselves required by our duties to our members and to the SEIU to report to you that we believe there is widespread and profound opposition within our membership to any efforts to dismember our local union or to take away its rights of democratic governance ..." (news.prnewswire.com)

Bam confronted by Pay-to-Play epidemic ... The federal investigation that prompted Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico to withdraw his nomination as commerce secretary offers a rare glimpse into a long-simmering investigation of possible bid-rigging, tax evasion and other wrongdoing throughout the municipal bond business. Three federal agencies and a loose consortium of state attorneys general have for several years been gathering evidence of what appears to be collusion among the banks and other companies that have helped state and local governments take approximately $400 billion worth of municipal notes and bonds to market each year. People with knowledge of the evidence say investigators are not just looking at a few bad apples, but also at the way an entire market has operated for years. “It’s rare to sell a Senate seat, but it’s not rare to sell a bond deal,” said Charles Anderson, who retired as manager of tax-exempt bond field operations for the Internal Revenue Service in 2007. “Pay-to-play in the municipal bond market is epidemic.” (nytimes.com)

Court-backed Pay-to-Play chases privatization away ... School union leaders say a court ruling allowing employees to continue being represented by their unions even after their jobs are outsourced could chill a statewide trend toward privatization. A U.S. Appeals Court in Washington, D.C., on Friday ruled the company that hired Grand Rapids Public Schools bus drivers in 2005 will have to bargain with the MEA and not a union recognized by the company ... "In essence, this decision picked one union over another to represent employees at our Grand Rapids Public School transportation facility," he said. Companies might shy away from taking public school jobs if they have to deal with the MEA. (mlive.com)

Bam charts a familiar course ... Republican Ronald Reagan once quipped that the most "terrifying words" in the English language were: "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help." Democrat Bill Clinton proclaimed in a State of the Union speech 13 years ago that "the era of big government is over." But in an address Thursday, President-elect Barack Obama said that government is the solution. (mercurynews.com)

Federal prosecution of union embezzlers ends ... The U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS) today announced its criminal enforcement data for December 2008. During the month, OLMS obtained six convictions and nine indictments, and payments or orders of restitution totaled more than $57,700. The office's December results bring its totals for fiscal year 2009, which began on October 1, 2008, to 31 indictments, 24 convictions and payments or orders of restitution of $1,585,872. The bulk of the cases involved the embezzlement of union funds. In addition, OLMS' cumulative enforcement results from the beginning of fiscal year 2001 include 1,004 indictments, 929 convictions, and payments or orders of restitution of $93,110,576. (news.prnewswire.com)

Related video:
Solis won't commit to funding OLMS

Union bigs: Who needs elections, anyway? ... A campaign is being aggressively waged to eliminate employees’ ability to vote in a secret-ballot election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board to determine whether they want to be represented by a labor union. Supporters label the legislation the Employee Free Choice Act. This is a wolf in sheep’s clothing; it severely limits employees’ right of free choice. We have enough restrictions on our democratic right to self-determination. We do not need another area in which we cannot indicate our preference by secret ballot. If “card-check” is such a great way to determine the will of the people, why don’t we elect political leaders based on which special-interest group can get the most cards signed endorsing its candidate, instead of by secret ballot? (cantonrep.com)

Bam makes it cool to be a socialist again ... Conservatives are often accused of scaremongering when they claim left-wing environmentalists are actually socialists hiding behind green disguises. But with Carol Browner, incoming President Barack Obama’s freshly appointed Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change – the so-called White House “Climate Czar” - there is no question about the socialism. Browner is a member of the Commission for a Sustainable World Society (CSWS), which is a formal organ of the Socialist International. Oddly enough, the group’s web site was recently scrubbed to remove Browner’s picture and biography, but her name is still listed next to the photo-biographies of her 14 colleagues on the commission. (dcexaminer.com)

Reid, Pelosi set to rig labor markets for union bigs, Dems ... John Engler, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, said that if Wal-Mart's U.S. work force of 1.4 million were unionized, that could mean $500 million in additional union dues collected each year — tens of millions of which might be used to support Democratic causes and candidates. Acknowledging that Wal-Mart presents a formidable challenge, labor leaders say they hope to unionize up to 100 of Wal-Mart's more than 4,000 U.S. stores for starters, which might add 30,000 members. "We are against any bill that would effectively eliminate freedom of choice and the right to a secret ballot election," said a Wal-Mart spokesman, David Tovar. "We believe every associate" — Wal-Mart's term for employees — "should have the right to make a private and informed decision regarding union representation." (denverpost.com)

Seamless wealth-spreading at Treasury Dept. ... Barack Obama's economic team is talking with the Bush administration about having Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson ask Congress within the next week for access to the $350 billion remaining in the financial bailout fund, officials on both sides said Friday. A request by Paulson would allow Obama to begin tapping the fund — the last half of a $700 billion rescue package authorized by Congress in October — promptly after his Jan. 20 inauguration. Obama's transition team also has asked Neel Kashkari, the head of the rescue program at the Treasury Department, to stay on for "a couple of weeks" under the new Obama administration to ensure a smooth transition, an Obama official said. (chron.com)

International Collectivism

Leftist Hollywood filmmaker in Venezuela ... U.S. filmmaker Oliver Stone accompanied Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez on a tour of the state and town where the latter was born as part of the groundwork for shooting a documentary about the head of state. The press office at the presidential palace provided photos of Chávez and Stone together but offered no details on what they talked about or how the documentary is progressing. The first indication that Stone was planning a work on Chávez appeared in the Hollywood press last month. Stone told Variety at the time that his next work would focus on Chavez and the rise of leftist politicians in South America in recent years. (laht.com)

Communists take charge in Nepal ... The coming to power of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) – CPN (M) – under the new Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who is called Prachanda, or “the fierce one”, has significant repercussions for India. The legitimate concern in India is whether Maoist Nepal would come under Chinese influence or whether it would be able to chart a policy of equidistance between India and China. Though the new government in Nepal has stated that it would like to do the latter, this cannot be taken at face value. The Maoists have close links with China and have received material and moral support from it during their 10 years of armed struggle. They are a communist organization, and as with the Communists in India, they seem to look up to China as the fountainhead of all wisdom, and financial, technical and military assistance. However, it is hoped that they are also aware of the dangers of excessive Chinese presence, proximity and influence. (indiajournal.com)

Venezuelans hurl shoes, tag embassy ... Protesters condemning Israel's offensive in the Gaza Strip sprayed graffiti and hurled shoes at the country's embassy in Venezuela on Thursday, backing President Hugo Chávez's decision to expel the Israeli ambassador. Demonstrators waved Palestinian flags and chanted "Gaza, hold on! The world is rising up!" Journalists estimated the crowd at more than 1,000. Some threw their shoes at an outer wall, while others spray-painted "Israel Get Out" and "Long live a free Palestine." Objects hurled by protesters smashed several windows of the seven-story building that houses the embassy along with businesses. (google.com)

Jordanians honor Saddam, Chávez, Arafat ... While protests broke out all over the Kingdom of Jordan, it seems most of the attention was drawn to a very small corner in Amman - the emerging protests by the Kaluti Mosque in the Rabia district. Right after the Friday prayer, a sea of people shouting at the top of their lungs came out to join an ever-growing crowd.. Every so often, various objects would be thrown at the police: a small rock or even a shoe. In the crowd, Jordanian and Palestinian flags were flying high, as well as one Venezuelan flag. People waved pictures of Saddam, Hugo Chávez and Arafat almost simultaneously. On the roofs of the buildings overlooking the crowd below, people gathered for a better look, and on one occasion, burned an Israeli flag much to everyone’s delight. (7iber.com)
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