Free Markets, Free People

astroturf


Wisconsin heats up while "civility" takes a holiday on the left

Wisconsin is a great example of special interest constituency politics. I’m not talking about politics that focus on the constituents in your district or state if you’re an elected representative or senator.  I’m talking about special-interest constituents who provide you money and backing when you seek election or reelection – whether from your district or not.

That’s pretty much what is going on in Wisconsin boils down too.  Wisconsin’s Republican Governor, Scott Walker has proposed a number of ways to “repair” the budget.  In summary, those aimed at public service unions place limits on their existing power:

It would require most public workers to pay half their pension costs – typically 5.8% of pay for state workers – and at least 12% of their health care costs. It applies to most state and local employees but does not apply to police, firefighters and state troopers, who would continue to bargain for their benefits.

Except for police, firefighters and troopers, raises would be limited to inflation unless a bigger increase was approved in a referendum. The non-law enforcement unions would lose their rights to bargain over anything but wages, would have to hold annual elections to keep their organizations intact and would lose the ability to have union dues deducted from state paychecks.

Apparently such limits are simply outrageous.  Unions hold annual elections?  Public workers pay more toward their pensions and health care costs?  And, of course, the bargaining “rights” curtailed in everything but wages?

So that’s prompted an astroturf campaign which has involved organizations outside Wisconsin, to include the White House.  The one thing public sector unions can do effectively it seems is “flash mobs”.  Reports of advertisements in Illinois aimed at recruiting activists for protests in Wisconsin were common.

The Democratic National Committee also has involved themselves in the local fight

The Democratic National Committee’s Organizing for America arm — the remnant of the 2008 Obama campaign — is playing an active role in organizing protests against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s attempt to strip most public employees of collective bargaining rights.

[…]

OfA Wisconsin’s field efforts include filling buses and building turnout for the rallies this week in Madison, organizing 15 rapid response phone banks urging supporters to call their state legislators, and working on planning and producing rallies, a Democratic Party official in Washington said.

So anyone who thinks this is all “spontaneous” might want to buy a clue.

Meanwhile, all the Democratic state senators in Wisconsin have run off to Rockford, Ill to avoid having to do their jobs.   You see, Republicans hold a majority, but are one short of a quorum needed to pass legislation.  So without the Democrats, the Senate is unable to act on legislation.  Democrats have issued a “list of demands”:

“We demand that the provisions that completely eliminate the ability of workers… to negotiate on a fair basis with their employers be removed from the budget repair bill and any other future budget,” Miller said.

He also demanded legislative oversight on changes to the state’s medical programs, which are targeted for changes in the bill. The bill would also require union members to contribute to their health care and pensions.

My guess is there’s some negotiating room there, but if I were the governor I’d tell Dems that there’ll be no talk about their demands until they act like adults and show back up in the capital ready to do their jobs.   And Governor Walker has laid out the alternative fairly clearly:

Walker said the only alternative would be layoffs of 10,000 to 12,000 state and local employees.

Of course, without a quorum, that isn’t the strongest hand in the world.  But what Democrats are doing sure seems like a childish tantrum in my eyes.  Republicans may not have a quorum and state government may grind to a halt because of it, but I doubt that voters are going to blame members of the GOP for that. 

All of this has spawned the usual misinformation as charges and counter-charges fly.  Ed Schultz provides an example of a completely false statement about the controversy according to Politifact Wisconsin.  Said Shultz:

Under changes being debated, state employees in Wisconsin "who earn $30,000, $40,000, $50,000 a year might have 20 percent of their income just disappear overnight."

Not true.  Although state employees would have to pay a higher percentage for their benefits (in the 6 to 11% range) none are looking at “20 percent of their income disappear[ing] over night”.

Unions have been losing favor in the eyes of the American public for years, with a fairly sharp downturn in their popularity in 2007.  Since then their favorability rating has stayed about the same, but unfavorable numbers continue to build:

Americans’ attitudes about labor unions changed only slightly over the past year, following a sharp downturn between early 2007 and early 2010. Currently, 45% say they have a favorable opinion about labor unions, while nearly as many (41%) say they have an unfavorable opinion.

In January 2007, 58% said they had a favorable opinion of unions; 31% had an unfavorable opinion.

Tantrums like this, astroturfing and the plain old uncivil behavior aren’t going to help their case.  Ann Althouse has some examples of the latter.   It appears that Adolph Hitler has made a comeback among the left in Wisconsin.   Civility is only a requirement for those on the right, apparently.  The left – well it’s the left and any insult and comparison, no matter how outrageous, is perfectly fine. Godwin’s law is in effect in Wisconsin.

I think Wisconsin is only the beginning of these sorts of spectacles and fights.  Entrenched bureaucracies and unions aren’t going to give up their power easily and go quietly in the night.  How they conduct themselves in this sort of fight will be important though.  The point, one assumes, is to bring visibility to their arguments and persuade the public to back them.  If that’s the case, I don’t think the way the Wisconsin protesters (and legislators) are prosecuting their case will be held up as a model to be emulated.

Cuts are coming – whether made willingly or forced by reality.   There’s no escaping that.   Gov. Walker is trying to get ahead of that curve.

Human nature says no one wants to see their ox gored, regardless of reality’s demands.  But in a battle for public opinion, acting like children, calling people Nazis and importing out-of-state protesters in what is really  a local fight doesn’t seem to be the best way to get the public on your side.

~McQ


Questions And Observations #6

For new readers, Questions and Observations is, in full, what QandO means.

  • Still pining for that “public option” Bunky? Well you might want to take a gander at a public option our government has been operating for quite some time. That would be the Indian Health Service for Native Americans. It would be no pun to say the natives are restless about the service they get.
  • Irwin Stelzer lays out 7 lessons learned from Cash for Clunkers. My favorite is “government forecasters are really bad at their job”. Wow, there’s a surprise. Anyone – can you name a single major program that was touted by government at one cost that didn’t actually end up costing far, far more than their estimate?
  • It appears that President Obama’s pledge that “95% of Americans won’t see their taxes go up one dime” is being modified to add “but I didn’t say anything about a nickle – or a bunch of nickles”. Yes, given the rosy deficit projections that we’ve seen it appears higher taxes – much higher taxes – are now in the “when” not “if” category. As the Brookings Institute’s William Gale said:

    “If you rule out inflating our way out of the problem and defaulting on the debt, there are two ways: Cut spending or raise taxes”.

    Of course, I’m on the “cut spending” bandwagon personally.

  • Here’s an announcement that should warm the cockles of your heart – Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, Inc., the California Housing Loan Insurance Fund (CaHLIF) and Freddie Mac, have put together a program that allows teachers working within the state to purchase a home with a downpayment of just $500. Wait a minute – isn’t that exactly the sort program that supposedly got us into this mess in the first place?
  • Investors Business Daily finds that its rather roundly panned claim that Stephen Hawking wouldn’t have fared well under the NHS is, in fact, correct, but certainly not for the reason that he isn’t British. In fact, Hawking didn’t fare well at all with the NHS which didn’t even provide what anyone would call minimal care for his condition. His care ended up being provided for by private donations and private health care providers.
  • Apparently Democratic Colorado Representative Betsy Markey didn’t get the talking points memo in which President Obama claims there won’t be any cuts to Medicare benefits. Either that or she’s actually read the bill and in a fit of honesty said, to a constituent asking about that very point:

    “There’s going to be some people who are going to have to give up some things, honestly, for all of this to work. But we have to do this because we’re Americans.”

    Actually we don’t have to do this and for precisely the same reason.

  • The real astroturfing of townhalls has begun in earnest as Organizing For America – the successor to the campaign’s “Obama For America” – begins to finally stage a supposed “grassroots” push back against the rabble from the other side. Of course OFA claims they’re all about grassroots movements. BTW, if you’re wondering which side is which at a townhall, OFA is the “grassroots” organization with same color t-shirts and the preprinted signs.
  • Wandering through Europe, Roger Simon is hardly surprised that the predominant English language news channels carried there are the BBC and CNN International. What did surprise him was discovering English language Al Jazerra and finding it more balanced and better than the BBC or CNN International.
  • Anyone know who or what really saved the whales? Well it wasn’t Greenpeace – whales were saved well before Greenpeace ever became an organization. No it was actually capitalism and the petroleum industry which saved them. When petroleum became available in large quantities and at a low cost, the whale oil business went extinct almost over night. You’re not likely to read that in any environmental, animal liberation, “man is an eco-tumor” literature you might pick up. But think about it …

~McQ


Podcast For 16 Aug 09

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, Lance, and Dale discuss the furor over the Health Care bill, and the sate of the economy.

There is no direct link to this week’s podcast, since my computer went TU right in the middle of it.  You’ll have to listen at BlogTalk radio.

Observations

The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2007, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.


Podcast for 09 Aug 09

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, and Dale discuss the furor over the Health Care bill.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2007, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.


Got My Bit Of Astroturf (update)

Back during the presidential campaign, I signed on to Barack Obama’s website to receive email “alerts”. As an avid blogger, I wanted the info firsthand.

Obviously that information is now part of a coordinated astroturfing campaign:

organizing_america_email_header

Friend –

I wanted to send you an urgent invitation to an important town hall with Rep. Hank Johnson on Monday evening (August 10th). He’ll be talking to constituents and gathering feedback — this is an ideal opportunity to make sure your support for health insurance reform is seen and heard at exactly the right time.

Our congressional representatives are back home this month, and they’re facing more and more pressure from special interests on health insurance reform. It’s critical that we get out there and show them where we stand.

I hope you can join us.

What: Health Care Town Hall with
Rep. Hank Johnson

Where: Georgia Perimeter College
555 North Indian Creek Drive
Clarkston, GA 30021

When: Monday, August 10th
7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

RSVP

Our representatives are under attack by Washington insiders, insurance companies, and well-financed special interests who don’t go a day without spreading lies and stirring up fear. We need to show that we’re sick and tired of it, and that we’re ready for real change, this year.

Please try to arrive early to the town hall, and make sure that the most powerful voices in this debate are those calling for real reform, not angrily clamoring for the status quo.

RSVP here:

http://ga.barackobama.com/ClarkstonTH

Thanks,

Lee

Lee Goodall
Georgia State Director
Organizing for America

P.S. — Before the event, please print off a flyer to display and make sure that your support is visible.

I’m not in Hank Johnson’s congressional district, but apparently that doesn’t matter. So feel free to copy the url and “RSVP”. If you’re in the area, feel free to drop by.

UPDATE: More astroturfing. This time from Mitch Stewart, the Director of Organizing America (a subsidiary of ACORN International – just kidding, kind of):

Friend –

All throughout August, our members of Congress are back in town. Insurance companies and partisan attack groups are stirring up fear with false rumors about the President’s plan, and it’s extremely important that folks like you speak up now.

So we’ve cooked up an easy, powerful way for you to make a big impression: Office Visits for Health Reform.

All this week, OFA members like you will be stopping by local congressional offices to show our support for insurance reform. You can have a quick conversation with the local staff, tell your personal story, or even just drop off a customized flyer and say that reform matters to you.

We’ll provide everything you need: the address, phone number, and open hours for the office, information about how the health care crisis affects your state for you to drop off (with the option of adding your personal story), and a step-by-step guide for your visit.

According to our records, you live near Rep. John Linder’s office in Lawrenceville, GA.

Sign up now to visit Rep. John Linder’s office in Lawrenceville this week.

(Not your representative, or think there might be another office that’s easier for you to get to? Click here to find a different office.)

As you’ve probably seen in the news, special interest attack groups are stirring up partisan mobs with lies about health reform, and it’s getting ugly. Across the country, members of Congress who support reform are being shouted down, physically assaulted, hung in effigy, and receiving death threats. We can’t let extremists hijack this debate, or confuse Congress about where the people stand.

Office Visits for Health Reform are our chance to show that the vast majority of American voters know that the cost of inaction is too high to bear, and strongly support passing health reform in 2009.

Don’t worry if you’ve never done anything like this before. The congressional staff is there to listen, and your opinion as a constituent matters a lot. And if you bring a friend, you’ll have more fun and make an even greater impact.

Click below to sign up for an Office Visit for Health Reform:

http://my.barackobama.com/OfficeVisit

Wherever you live, these visits matter: Many representatives are pushing hard toward reform, and they are taking a lot of heat from special interests. They deserve our thanks and need our support to continue the fight. But those who are still putting insurance companies and partisan point-scoring ahead of their constituents must know that voters are watching — and that we expect better.

Earlier this week, the President wrote that “this is the moment our movement was built for” and asked us all to commit to join at least one event this month. This is the way to answer that call, and rise to the challenge of this moment together.

Thank you for going the extra mile when it matters the most,

Mitch

Mitch Stewart
Director
Organizing for America

I’m just flattered beyond belief. This time they got it right – Rep. Linder is my congressman. Of course he’s not going to vote for this nonsense, but apparently it again doesn’t matter if you are a member of his district or not. You are encouraged to stop by, deliver your preprinted flyer and “discuss”" health care with him. And you may want to take a square of astroturf as well just to let him from whence this all came.

~McQ


THIS Is What “Astroturf” Looks Like

We now have real paid organizers promising to produce bodies to confront the citizenry showing up at townhall meetings to loudly voice their disapproval.

The nation’s largest federation of labor organizations has promised to directly engage with boisterous conservative protesters at Democratic town halls during the August recess.

In a memo sent out on Thursday, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney outlined the blueprint for how the union conglomerate would step up recess activities on health care reform and other topics pertinent to the labor community. The document makes clear that Obama allies view the town hall forums as ground zero of the health care debate. It also uses the specter of the infamous 2000 recount “Brooks Brothers” protest to rally its members to the administration’s side.

What could go wrong with this scenario? First, who says they’re all “boisterous conservative protesters?” This is about union members going to an event expressly to confront those who are voicing a dissenting opinion and quelling that. Talk about setting themselves up for a huge “fail”. Talk about setting themselves up for a huge backlash.

AFL_CIO

AFL_CIO

“The principal battleground in the campaign will be town hall meetings and other gatherings with members of Congress in their home districts,” reads the memo. “We want your help to organize major union participation to counter the right-wing “Tea-Party Patriots” who will try to disrupt those meetings, as they’ve been trying to do to meetings for the last month. …

Yeah, nothing could go wrong here.

But, of course, since this is true astroturfing, there’s a political payback being demanded:

But while the union conglomerate seems poised to flex its political muscle on Obama’s behalf, it may find some friction on the policy front. Detailed in Sweeney’s memo are certain legislative priorities that are clearly at odds with what seems likely to be produced in the Senate Finance Committee’s compromise bill.

Sweeney describes it as a “requirement that ALL employers ‘pay or play,’” that the final bill have “a robust public health insurance plan to compete with private insurers and drive down health costs,” and that the legislation contain “relief for company/union funds providing pre-Medicare retiree coverage, and no taxation of health benefits!”

Yes friends, these protesters will truly be paid protesters. If they help intimidate the citizenry at the townhall meetings, then they expect to see their legislative desires fulfilled.

As the AFL-CIO spools itself up to confront the “mobs”, its secretary issues the battle cry of the astroturfer:

Every American has the inalienable right to participate in our democratic process. Our politics is passionate, heartfelt and often loud — as was the founding of our nation. But that is not what the corporate-funded mobs are engaging in when they show up to disrupt town halls held by members of Congress.

Major health care reform is closer than ever to passage and it is no secret that special interests want to weaken or block it. These mobs are not there to participate. As their own strategy memo states, they have been sent by their corporate and lobbyist bankrollers to disrupt, heckle and block meaningful debate. This is a desperation move, meant to slow the momentum for change.

Mob rule is not democracy. People have a democratic right to express themselves and our elected leaders have a right to hear from their constituents — not organized thugs whose sole purpose is to shut down the conversation and attempt to scare our leaders into inaction

We call on the insurance companies, the lobbyists and the Republican leaders who are cheering them on to halt these ‘Brooks Brothers Riot’ tactics. Health care is a crucial issue and everyone – on all sides of the issue – deserves to be heard.

Does anyone out there have to wonder what tactics they’ll use to ensure others are “heard”? Republican can only pray they do.

~McQ

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