Free Markets, Free People
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.
The campaign to push the health care reform bill has moved into a new dimension with Obama’s “grassroots” organization, Organizing For America, urging members to target right-wing radio shows and helpfully providing both tips on how to get on and talking points for those inclined to do so.
OFA has put together a handy helpful website to facilitate this campaign. It’s an interesting effort, but reading through the talking points, my guess is it will become quickly obvious to any listener who the OFA members are as soon as they begin their presentation of those points. Callers are encouraged to use those discussion points, but OFA reminds them that “the most important part of your call is your own story about why you support reform.”
Of course such a campaign costs OFA nothing except the cost of the website. And, as you’ll see at the bottom of that screen, they ask participants to submit their reports – I assume so OFA can refine their approach or at some point use the information in an attack on various right-wing hosts.
OFA provides a portal with which to listen to right wing shows (although clicking through, I saw various left wing hosts such as Ed Schultz, Bill Press, Stephanie Miller and Mike Malloy listed as well) and their call in numbers.
It’s a pretty cool effort – how effective it will be remains to be seen. Talk radio listeners are pretty savvy listeners and fairly quickly identify such efforts as disingenuous and tune them out. And call screeners will soon find a way to ferret them out. But listening for them for as long as this lasts should at least be entertaining anyway.
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 …
“For anyone who questions why the President has offered this plan, these pledges will be the answer.”
Obama’s army of cultists is very hard at work.
Like (I assume) most other news junkies who closely followed the election, I am still receiving emails from Obama’s political action people. Much of it is aimed at getting the recipients to participate in the “Organizing for America” politicking. It has always seemed a little creepy to me because the election is over. I mean, why the endless campaign unless the real purpose is to propagandize the voters? But I also figured that my biases made it seem worse than it really is. That is, until viewing this video:
Neo-neocon provides an excellent analysis of why this sort of White House driven organizing just seems wrong. For example, she notes the rather troublesome fact that the Obama administration intends for people to simply pledge blind support to his agenda:
Some of the most disturbing things about this video are its vagueness, its focus on Obama himself in what I can only call his cult of personality, and its use of the word “pledge” (at minute :56, note the words, under “The Pledge” and next to a check box, “I support President Obama’s bold plan….”)
The vagueness comes from the fact that whatever people are pledging to support is never described in any detail whatsoever. The petition, or pledge sheet, or loyalty oath, or whatever you want to call it, is very short. It appears that each policy area—energy, health care, education—has but a single sentence describing it.
Think about this for a moment: people are blindly pledging loyalty to policies about which they know virtually nothing except the fact that Obama is behind them, and he says it’s for our own good.
Moreover, reasonable dissent from Obama’s agenda is not possible according to the training video:
The trainer gives only one reason that “the establishment in Washington” would oppose this: opposition to change. Never mind principled opposition; there is no such thing where Obama is concerned. Never mind the cost of these policies in a recession.
Never mind; just sign on the dotted line. And is anyone else as perturbed as I am by this statement: For anyone who questions why the President has offered this plan, these pledges will be the answer.
I think that definitely qualifies as creepy, biases or not.
[HT: Bird Dog]