Mojo - March 2011

Wisconsin GOP Bill Allows State to Fire Employees for Strikes, Walk-Outs

| Thu Mar. 10, 2011 10:09 AM EST
Inside the Wisconsin state Capitol rotunda.

On Wednesday night, Republicans in Wisconsin's state senate rammed through a retooled version of Governor Scott Walker's controversial "budget repair bill" with the 14 senate Democrats still in hiding in Illinois. The senate bill eliminates collective bargaining rights for most public-sector unions, a provision that has labor leaders and protesters up in arms. But there's another explosive provision in the bill that's received little attention: The bill authorizes state officials to fire any state employee who joins a strike, walk-out, sit-in, or coordinated effort to call in sick.

According to an analysis (PDF) of the Senate bill by Wisconsin's Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB), the legislation gives state officials the power to fire workers during a "state of emergency" declared by the governor under several conditions. If a state employee misses three working days without an approved leave of absence, that's grounds for being fired. State workers can also be dumped if, according to the LFB's analysis, they participate in a "strike, work stoppage, sit-down, stay-in, slowdown, or other concerted activities to interrupt the operations or services of state government, including mass resignations or sick calls."

The implications of this under-the-radar provision are significant. After the state senate passed its bill, talks swirled of organizing a coordinated strike or walk-out to protest the bill's attack on collective bargaining. In the state Capitol, chants of "general strike!" broke out among protesters stuck outside the building. On Wednesday night, Madison Firefighters union president Joe Conway said he's "in total agreement" with the idea of a general strike. "We should start walking out tomorrow and the next day, and see how long they can last," Conway said. Under this measure, if such protests occur, Walker could declare a state of emergency, and protesting workers could be canned.

One labor umbrella group, the South Central Federation of Labor, which includes 97 member unions and more than 45,000 employees, endorsed the idea of a general strike as early as February 21. The SCFL's affiliates include the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, the American Federation of Teachers, Service Employees International Union, UNITE HERE, and many more. Other union groups have organized "solidarity" events throughout the state for Thursday morning—from Green Bay to Fond du Lac to Platteville—to peacefully protest the Senate's blitz vote on the bill.

The bill's provision giving state officials the power to fire workers for striking or walking out isn't entirely new. It was included in Walker's original "budget repair bill" but received little attention amidst the controversy of the collective bargaining ban and Walker's perceived threat to use the National Guard against protesting workers.

The Wisconsin Assembly, the state's lower house, is expected to take the Senate GOP's version when it convenes today at 11 a.m. Central time.

Here's the Legislative Fiscal Bureau's analysis of the senate's retooled bill in full. The provision for firing workers in on page 16:

WI LFB Analysis Senate Bill

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 10, 2011

Thu Mar. 10, 2011 6:30 AM EST

Soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division ride in a C-130 Hercules during an air transport mission in support of Operation New Dawn. A C-130 crew from the 746th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron transported the Soldiers out of Iraq on the first leg of their return trip home after completing their deployment. U.S. Air Force Photo/ Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz

Navy Report Attacks "Pervasive" Tailhook Mentality

| Wed Mar. 9, 2011 4:06 PM EST

When last we checked in with Navy Capt. Owen Honors in January, the second-highest-ranking officer on the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Enterprise was sinking in some heavy seas. He'd planned and starred in a bunch of "movie night" video skits for the ship's 5,000-plus sailors—skits "whose coarse language and sexual frankness led his sailors to complain...and led the Navy to investigate," as we put it back then. (A short compilation of some of Honors' ill-advised cameos is here.)

That Navy inquest (PDF) was completed earlier this month. Predictably, several heads (including Honors') have rolled. But the investigation—authored by Rear Adm. Gerald R. Beaman, a former FBI agent—went much, much farther: It launched a broadside attack on "the continuing remnants of a pervasive culture in Naval Aviation that mistakenly accepts that a certain, extreme level of coarse humor is acceptable" in training warfighters.

Minnesota GOP Looks to Pass Fetal Pain Bill

| Wed Mar. 9, 2011 2:42 PM EST

It's getting hard to keep up with the litany of bills across the country that would seek to drastically limit abortion rights. The latest comes from Republicans in the Minnesota legislature, and, if passed, would be one of the most restrictive laws in the country.

From the Minnesota Independent:

The bill, SF649/HF936, makes it illegal to perform an abortion after 20 weeks, and, in anticipation of legal challenges to the law, it creates a defense fund for the state using taxpayer money and “any donations, gifts, or grants made to the account by private citizens or entities.”

The bill, dubbed "The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act," claims that there "is substantial medical evidence that an unborn child is capable of experiencing pain by 20 weeks after fertilization." It also states that there is a "compelling state interest in protecting the lives of unborn children from the stage at which substantial medical evidence indicates that they are capable of feeling pain."

It's the fifth bill that the state's Republicans have introduced this legislative session to restrict abortion rights, the Independent reports.

This type of "fetal pain" legislation isn't really new—Nebraska passed a similar bill last year, and state lawmakers in Iowa and five other states are attempting to do the same, as RH Reality Check reports. All are based on the argument that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks into a pregnancy—but that isn't actually supported by the science, which indicates that it's closer to the 27-week point in the development of the fetus. More broadly, though, the bills seek to substitute the opinion of politicians about when a fetus can feel pain for what a woman and her doctor believe is best in a particular case. The Des Moines Register has a heart-breaking story this week about how Nebraska's law forced one woman to give birth to a dramatically premature child that her doctor knew would not survive.

This is just the latest in a slew of anti-abortion measures around the country. Last month, Virginia passed a law that will regulate abortion clinics the same way as hospitals, which abortion rights advocates say will make it much harder to obtain first-trimester abortions. Georgia, Ohio, and Texas have also offered bills that would dramatically limit access to abortions. Iowa and Nebraska have put forward justifiable homicide bills that could potentially legalize the killing of abortion providers. And while South Dakota recently shelved a similar justifiable homicide measure, the state passed a bill last week that forces women to seek counseling at so-called "crisis pregnancy centers," which are generally run by anti-abortion groups, and triples the time women must wait before they can receive an abortion.

Barbour's New Hire: Dark Money and Voter Suppression

| Wed Mar. 9, 2011 1:03 PM EST
Facebook/Haley Barbour

In the first presidential race post-Citizens United, what will candidates do to catch the wave of corporate cash? Here's a good indication, from The Fix:

Former Republican National Committee communications director Jim Dyke has signed on with Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour's political action committee, a major signing in the below-the-radar fight for staff talent in advance of the 2012 GOP presidential primary fight.

Dyke's deep connections in South Carolina politics should be a boon for Barbour, but his more recent place of employment might be more relevant: Dyke's a co-founder (along with Karl Rove) and until this week, secretary of American Crossroads, the shadowy conservative soft-money group that, along with its partner Crossroads GPS, funneled unprecedented levels of corporate cash into the 2010 midterms. As we told you this morning, American Crossroads has even bigger plans in 2012.

Dyke won't be holding onto his old job when he joins Haley's PAC—Crossroads spokesman Jonathan Collegio explained via e-mail that Dyke "will not attend any board meetings, be involved in any decision making or receive any correspondence from AC durings his absence." (Update: In case I wasn't clear, Collegio writes that Barbour has "taken a leave of absence" from the Crossroads board). But he should be able to help Barbour, who's already something of a fundraising machine, tap into an even deeper network of corporate donors. It's also not the first Crossroads co-founder Barbour has courted; as MoJo's Andy Kroll reported last month, the Mississippi governor has already wooed former RNC-chair Ed Gillespie. Collegio said Crossroads "has made no plans" about whether to spend any of its expected $120 million on the presidential primary.

The Wide-Open Fight to Woo Iowa's Evangelicals

| Wed Mar. 9, 2011 11:19 AM EST
Former Arkansas governor and presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee. Flickr/Aaron Webb

The church-going, plainspoken, socially conservative voters of Iowa: They're the key electorate for GOP candidates in that state's curtain-raising presidential caucus. Unlike in years past, when the GOP field featured an obvious favorite of the Iowa evangelical crowd—Mike Huckabee in 2008, George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004—the 2012 Republican caucus is shaping up to be a wide-open battle. Huckabee has yet to say if he's in or out, while Sarah Palin, who boasts a strong evangelical backing, remains on the bubble, watching her public support plummet.

Here's Politico's Maggie Haberman with a smart look at how the 2012 GOP field might fare out in the heartland come January:

Both Huckabee and Palin skipped the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition confab on Monday night, yielding the stage to a second tier that included Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum, Buddy Roemer and Herman Cain, all of whom are seeking the votes of the state’s influential evangelicals.

Because many of the likely-to-run hopefuls are close together on social issues, conservatives have one of their biggest candidate pools to chose from in some time...

National top-tier hopeful Mitt Romney will face struggles with some evangelicals, but he has a base to start from thanks to his competition in the caucuses in 2008, although how hard the former Massachusetts governor plans to compete in Iowa remains a question mark.

Other options for evangelical voters are Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who many believe will fare strongly in Iowa's retail-based political system, and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, a tea party favorite who seems poised to score voters who might have been with Palin.

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Quote of the Day: American Crossroads Edition

| Wed Mar. 9, 2011 10:33 AM EST

Buried in Playbook this morning is the news that American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, the Karl Rove-led soft money groups unleashed by the Citizens United decision, are setting there sights even higher in 2012 (they're already running ads about Wisconsin). Via Mike Allen, here's Crossroads' press release:

American Crossroads and Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies (Crossroads GPS) announced a collective fundraising goal of $120 million … American Crossroads (the 527) also announced a new Presidential Action Fund, a new initiative that will be dedicated to shaping the issue environment and driving high-impact messages and themes… You can't outspend the unions—but you can outcompete them with a faster and leaner organization that offers more bang for the buck.

Actually, you can outspend the unions. By a lot. Per Open Secrets, American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS spent a combined $39 million on outside expenditures during the 2010 election. The top union donor, the SEIU, contributed $17 million. The top four conservative outside groups outspent the top four unions $97 million to $40 million. For more, check out our reporting on the rise of dark money groups.

Update: A reader points out a WSJ report noting that AFSCME was the largest donor of the 2010 midterms (the Open Secrets data offered a more narrow look at outside spending beyond the confines of political parties). But the second and third largest donors in that report were the Chamber of Commerce and Crossroads. So even by that measure, corporate groups still managed to outspend unions.

Birther Bill Surfaces (and Dies) in New Hampshire (UPDATED)

| Wed Mar. 9, 2011 10:28 AM EST

Birthers are making inroads in the New Hampshire statehouse, which is slated to examine a bill that would require presidential candidates to provide a long-form birth certificate to get on the ballot, the Associated Press reports. State Rep. David Bates, Republican chair of the election law committee, is behind the measure—an outgrowth of the conspiracy surrounding President Obama's birth in Hawaii. Arizona was among the first states to introduce a birther bill in January, and a handful of other states are trying to follow suit, as my colleague David Corn reported.

The New Hampshire House's election law committee will take up the birther bill on Wednesday, according to the AP. It's unclear whether it will go anywhere: Arizona's birther bill died in a Senate committee last month. Bates has tried to quiet some of the controversy surrounding his New Hampshire bill by offering to push its start date to 2013, in an effort to prove that it's not directed at President Obama. But even other GOP lawmakers in the state—which has long prided its position as one the first states to kick off the presidential primary contests—aren't having any of it.

"It is unnecessary and detracts from important business, namely our economy… Moreover, this potential amendment could represent a threat to our first in the nation primary as it gives other states reason and desire to try to jump us in line," New Hampshire House GOP Leader D.J. Bettencourt said in a statement.

*Update: New Hampshire's birther bill died in committee, 10-8, on Wednesday, which will likely end its chance of passing any time soon.

Obama's Transparent Recovery?

| Wed Mar. 9, 2011 7:00 AM EST

My friend of many years, author/thinker/activist Micah Sifry, who is co-founder and editor of the Personal Democracy Forum and TechPresident.com, has a new book out on the WikiLeaks affair. It's not a dig-up-the-dirt-on-Julian-Assange volume. Entitled WikiLeaks and the Age of Transparency, this book, as Sifry puts it, is "a report from the trenches where a wide array of small-d democracy and transparency activists are hard at work using new tools and methods to open up powerful institutions and make them more accountable, and to situate WikiLeaks in that movement." In this work, Sifry examines other fronts in the battle for openness.

One telling case study from the book—which was excerpted on TechPresident.com—involves the Obama White House's effort (that is, promise) to make the stimulus a model of transparent government. Sifry writes:

Two years ago, Barack Obama promised the public that he was going to run government in a more transparent and interactive way. Indeed, at public rallies meant to build public support for the signature initiative of his fledgling administration, the $787 billion "Economic Recovery" stimulus spending program, he told audiences that he would "enlist all of you" to help watchdog the spending. The centerpiece was going to a new dynamic and interactive website, Recovery.gov.

But….

Here’s what actually happened with Recovery.gov. According to a White House insider, during the transition planning, Obama was indeed shown a mock-up of an interactive site that would allow citizens to track all federal spending, not just the stimulus. But that vision was whittled down rather quickly, hobbled by a board made of up of the various agency Inspectors General, all of whom come from the old-school way of doing things. The "clay layer" of government bureaucracy, through which no light travels, was in charge.

At first, Earl Devaney, a former Secret Service agent who was appointed as the inspector general to run the stimulus program’s Recovery and Transparency Accountability Board, seemed to embrace Obama's stated vision. He promised that the site would invite Americans to be “citizens inspectors general,” helping track whether the money was indeed being used properly. “The website will unleash a million citizen IGs [inspectors general],” Devaney said in August 2009. “After getting a taste of this, people will not want to go back to the old ways,” he said.

No such thing has happened. First of all, the Recovery.gov site doesn’t really engage the public as “eyes and ears” apart from offering a way for people to report fraud, waste, or abuse via a standard electronic complaint form. In other words, all the real information processing about possible problems with government spending is hidden from the public; people have no way of seeing each other’s complaints or tracking whether something has been addressed. This isn't "Yelp for Government." All the real work is done by a sophisticated “Recovery Operations Center” where traditional law enforcement authorities use data-mining tools to uncover potential fraud. In no way has a community of citizen inspectors general been formed, and it’s not surprising that Recovery.gov has had no discernible effect on public trust in Obama.

Recovery.com yielded no revolution in citizen e-oversight of government.

You can read the rest of Sifry's account of this lost opportunity for government transparency here and find his new book here.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 9, 2011

Wed Mar. 9, 2011 6:30 AM EST

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is shown the inside of a MEDEVAC helicoptor during a visit to the Pedro Medevac unit at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan, March 8, 2011. Defense Department photo by Cherie Cullen