Mojo - July 2011

Unions Launch New Legal Fight Against Wisconsin Anti-Union Bill

| Thu Jul. 7, 2011 12:09 PM EDT

A group of labor unions including the AFL-CIO filed a second lawsuit in federal court on Wednesday challenging Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker's anti-union budget bill that curbed collective bargaining rights for most public-sector unions.

The unions behind this latest suit, which represent 2,700 employees in state capitol Madison and surrounding Dane County, say Walker's law violates the US Constitution because it exempts certain public employees—among them cops and firefighters—from the bargaining ban. "There is not a constitutionally reasonable basis to justify such unequal treatment under the law," the suit reads, "and [the provisions in Walker's bill] are in derogation of the rights secured at the XIVth Amendment to the United States Constitution."

The lawsuit mirrors one filed by Wisconsin's main teachers union in June that also challenges Walker's bill on same constitutional grounds.

It also comes after a state-level effort to overturn Walker's bill fell short. In March, the Dane County district attorney sought to throw out Walker's bill, alleging that Republicans in the Wisconsin legislature violated the state's open meeting law by failing to give proper disclosure of a meeting where Senate Republicans voted to approve the bill. A county judge agreed with the DA, and in May struck down the bill. However, a bitterly divided Wisconsin Supreme Court last month reversed the lower judge's ruling and upheld Walker's bill. In mid-June, the legislation went into full effect.

Read the AFL-CIO's new suit here:

July 6 Suit Against Walker Bill

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Flashback: Bachmann Praises Huck's Birther Ally

| Thu Jul. 7, 2011 9:37 AM EDT

Two months back, I reported on Mike Huckabee's ties to Janet Porter, a social conservative crusader who has suggested that President Obama is a Soviet mole, that Haitians are "dedicated to Satan," and that gay marriage caused Noah's flood. Now Kyle Mantyla points out that Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), floated by some as Mike Huckabee 2.0, also has ties to Porter; Bachmann spoke at her conference in September, 2009—six months after Porter accused the President of being a spy:

Of course, the radical views held by Porter and the others in no way dissuaded Bachmann from attending. In fact, Bachmann appeared on Porter's radio program ahead of the event and used it as an opportunity to [praise] her and endorse the May Day at the Lincoln Memorial prayer event Porter was planning for the following spring.

That May Day event ended up being so infused with Seven Mountains Dominion Theology that Porter lost her radio program and almost ended her career at a Religious Right activist, until she showed up in Ohio earlier this year where she began scheduling fetuses to "testify" on behalf of her extremist anti-choice "Heartbeat Bill."  In her downtime, she was busy praying for God to give Christians control over the media and every level of government.

Seven Mountains Dominion Theology, for the uninitiated, posits that Christians have an obligation to fill the ranks of government and other key areas—mountains—of life ahead of the second coming. Bachmann's relationship with Porter isn't as deep as Huckabee's (who called her a "prophetic voice"). But it does underscore a problem she'll face as she looks to establish her credibility with mainstream Republicans: Bachmann has made it in politics by forging alliances with folks whose ideologies make her own conspiratorial views and anti-gay positions seem downright pedestrian.

Could Going Green Actually Help Mitt Romney?

| Thu Jul. 7, 2011 6:00 AM EDT

Mitt Romney's confession several weeks back that he believes humans contribute to global warming led some pundits to prophesize doom for his presidential prospects. For Rush Limbaugh, it was "bye bye nomination." Indeed, almost the entire Republican field seems to have concluded that the only viable political option is to sneer at climate change science, previous statements to the contrary be damned.

But according to a new study (PDF) out of Stanford, Romney might just be onto something. Not only do Americans overwhelmingly believe that addressing global warming should be a federal government priority, candidates risk alienating voters more when they deny climate change than when they take a green position on the issue.

For the study, researchers polled potential voters' likelihood of supporting a hypothetical Senate candidate based on a series of policy-related quotes attributed to him or her. In some calls, one of the quotes attributed to the "candidate" indicated a green position on climate change (belief in global warming, support for investments in renewable energy). In others, the candidate was attributed a non-green position ("climate science is junk science," "cap and trade is a job killer"). In still others, the topic was never mentioned.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 7, 2011

Thu Jul. 7, 2011 6:00 AM EDT

U.S. Army Soldiers assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division, wait to perform personnel airdrops during a the Joint Operations Access Exercise, (JOAX), June 25, 2011, Fort Bragg, N.C. JOAX is a two-week exercise to prepare Air Force and Army to respond to worldwide crisis and contingences. U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Asha Harris

Shocker: A Governor Scores a Big Victory for Workers' Rights

| Wed Jul. 6, 2011 4:25 PM EDT
Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy.

This year, we've been inundated with news of states stripping collective bargaining rights, slashing unemployment benefits, and generally reducing workers' rights. Connecticut, however, is bucking the trend.

Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy, a Democrat, announced on Tuesday that Connecticut will be the first state in the nation to mandate paid sick leave for employees. Malloy's bill says companies with 50 or more employees have to allow workers to accumulate an hour of sick leave per 40 hours worked, and the bill is expected to impact as many as 300,000 workers in Connecticut.

Here's more from the Washington Post:

Malloy made his support of paid sick leave a campaign issue last year, saying it was to safeguard public health. He persuaded wavering lawmakers to vote for it, Prague said. "He was the key factor, there’s no doubt about it," she said.

Backers have compared the legislation with workplace standards such as the minimum wage, which was enacted in the 1930s, and occupational safety and health standards, which were adopted in the 1970s.

"When we raise the minimum wage, it raises wages for everyone," said Jon Green of Connecticut Working Families, which lobbied for the legislation. "I think we’ll see paid sick time follow a similar trajectory over time."

The passage of Malloy's bill was a long time coming for workers' rights groups. Similar bills failed to make it through the Connecticut legislature on three previous tries. Here's the Women's Media Center on the backstory behind Malloy's bill:

The win is the result of years of work by Connecticut Working Families, a grassroots organization that spearheaded the Everybody Benefits Coalition, which brought together labor unions and business owners, school nurses and janitors, faith leaders and public health experts, waitresses and restaurant owners. All of them recognized that paid sick days are critical to promoting a healthier, more productive workforce and strengthening the economy.

Lawmakers heard moving testimony from workers like Cheryl Folston, a livery service driver who felt pain in her chest, but couldn’t miss a day’s work to see a doctor. Only after Cheryl was laid off and finally had time to see a doctor, did she learn she had a serious heart tumor—a tumor her doctors say that could’ve killed her if she had waited any longer for treatment.

Workers like Cheryl Folston were joined by business leaders like Louis Lista, owner of the Pond House Cafe in Elizabeth Park. He provides paid sick days because it wouldn’t be fair to his employees to make them work sick and would be bad business to put customers at risk of getting ill from sick workers. Louis told legislators he found that paid sick days saved money in the long run because of reduced turnover. He has dishwashers who’ve been on staff for more than five years—a rarity in the food service industry.

Personal stories like these moved lawmakers to defy the powerful Connecticut Business and Industry Association, which had made its opposition to paid sick days a centerpiece of its agenda. And amidst their lobbying against a few paid sick days, new research showed that the business community’s concerns about paid sick days legislation were unfounded.

Tim Pawlenty's Small, Small World

| Wed Jul. 6, 2011 1:52 PM EDT

The Wall Street Journal has a piece today on former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty's "homespun tale"—looking at his roots as the son of a truck driver in South St. Paul that the Republican presidential candidate often cites. Most interesting, though, is a bit of presidential trivia: If elected, Pawlenty would be the first president to have spent his entire life in a single state.

That's right: Pawlenty has lived his whole life in Minnesota. Within the same 20 mile stretch of Minnesota, to be exact. Were he to win the election, his presumptive move to the White House would be his first extended stay in another state (well, if you want to call DC a state, but that's a different discussion entirely). Pawlenty attended the University of Minnesota as an undergraduate and later for law school, settled in the suburb of Eagan, and even when he resided in the governor's mansion, it was only about 10 miles from South St. Paul. Our Founding Fathers had to take ships and horses to travel about, but they still managed to survey other locales before their election. In the age of interstate highways and air travel, Pawlenty's story seems even more unusual. 

The only other president who could lay a similar claim was Grover Cleveland, the 22nd and 24th president of the US. While he was born in New Jersey, he moved to New York as a toddler and remained there his entire life until taking up residence in the White House. He, too, claimed his roots as part of his allure. "He was an outsider, and that was critical to his candidacy," Rick Shenkman, editor and founder of George Mason University's History News Network, tells Mother Jones. Cleveland's run for the presidency was notable, too, for his rapid rise to national prominence, jumping from sheriff of New York's Erie County, to mayor of Buffalo, to the presidency in just three years.

Pawlenty has lived his whole life within the same 20 mile stretch of Minnesota.

So will this little bit of trivia have any impact on Pawlenty's candidacy? In the last election, Sarah Palin was mocked for her lack of worldliness. But even she had lived in Idaho and Hawaii before settling in Alaska. By contrast, Republicans criticized Obama for being "rootless," because he'd lived in not just several states but also Indonesia (and had written a book about visiting Kenya) before his White House bid. Then again, while his sedentary lifestyle is exceptional for a presidential candidate, he's hardly an outlier among the American public; according to a 2008 Pew study, four in ten Americans have never lived outside their hometowns.

T-Paw, who likes to call himself a "Sam's Club Republican," is hoping his Minnesota roots will help him come across as folksy to Republican primary voters. But so far that charm doesn't appear to be working all that well.

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Rape in the Ranks

| Wed Jul. 6, 2011 1:47 PM EDT

Yesterday, Mother Jones' Tumblr posted a link to a jarring GOOD magazine infographic with the title "Female soldiers more likely to be raped by their own troops than killed by enemy fire." The response was huge: 800 people reblogged the link in less than 24 hours. "No one can tell me that feminism has reached its goal and is now obsolete," wrote one reblogger.

Servicewomen face twice the rape rate as civilians.

Yet few Americans seem interested in the armed forces' gender issues. To the extent that military affairs get any attention from networks or big news sites lately, the headlines are dominated by debates over the defense budget. (We've reported our share of such stories, too.) Beyond that, the occasional story about Afghanistan, Iraq, or killer drones gets through. And beyond that, when journalists do cover social problems in the uniformed services, Don't Ask Don't Tell gets the lion's share of the attention.

Beneath the surface, gender conflicts are roiling the ranks, and few commentators are taking notice.

Chart of the Day: Utah's Incredible Shrinking Tea Party

| Wed Jul. 6, 2011 1:20 PM EDT

For Utah tea partiers, the last several years have been aces.

On Tuesday, Politico published a story on the rising influence of freshman Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah), calling him a "must-see for GOP candidates hoping to channel the energy of the tea party movement." And for months, the same groups that ousted three-term conservative Republican Sen. Bob Bennett in a state convention last year—paving the way for their favored candidate Lee—have had their crosshairs set on Sen. Orrin Hatch, with the thought of drafting tea party favorite Rep. Jason Chaffetz to take his place. Movement leaders have also talked of ousting Republican Gov. Gary Herbert, along with state legislators who supported a recently passed guest-worker law.

Life is good if you're a tea party Republican from Utah. With all that momentum, there's little reason to doubt the the movement's long-term viability in the Beehive State. Right?

Well, no. A recent poll conducted by Brigham Young University's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy shows that overall support for the tea party in Utah has dropped from 53 percent during last year's elections to 46 percent in April. A closer look at the numbers, though, shows that while overall and independent support for the movement has eroded, diehard Republicans are even more committed than before:

Among independent voters, support for the tea party has plummeted by nearly fifty percent, potentially helping moderate Democrats. But for "strong Republicans," support for the tea party climbed from 76 to 82 percent. The poll issues a clear warning for candidates like Chaffetz, Hatch—and, down the road, even Lee—who hope a hard push to the right will secure their political futures.

The takeaway: as the tea party continues to consolidate its support among Republicans, independents (i.e., the voters who end up deciding elections) are drifting away in increasing numbers. Whether this trend continues taking hold in Utah—the heart of the conservative heartland—could be a bellwether for its national viability.

Bill Clinton: Debt Talks Missing One Big Point

| Wed Jul. 6, 2011 1:10 PM EDT

Talking to more than a thousand student activists gathered for a Campus Progress conference in Washington, DC, former President Bill Clinton on Wednesday commented on the ongoing negotiations on the debt ceiling. He complained that "nobody is talking about one of the central points." The conversation is focused so much on spending cuts, he explained, and not the vital fact that "we shouldn't do any of them until the economy is clearly in recovery."

Clinton also offered his analysis on why the Democrats received a worse-than-expected drubbing in November: the electorate wasn't aware of President Barack Obama and the Democrats' multiple accomplishments. He cited a list of examples: most people didn't know that Obama and the Democrats had given them a tax cut, had enacted a stimulus (insufficient, as it was) that had created or saved millions of jobs, had spurred significant innovation in green technology with a refundable tax credit, had passed reform legislation that would lessen the chances of a future Wall Street bailout, had rescued the auto industry, had taken hundreds of millions of dollars in Medicare savings and used these funds to send checks to seniors to help them plug the hole in their prescription medicine coverage, and had saved $60 billion in the student loan program and shared those savings with students in the form of lower-interest and more flexible loans.

"Nobody knew," Clinton said.

He was urging the students to become well-informed regarding policy debates in order to educate others. But was this also a critique of the Obama administration's communications operation? Clinton offered nothing but praise for Obama and his economic vision. But it was hard not to wonder whether Clinton was thinking, Oh, what I could have done, with a record like that.

Michele Bachmann’s Marcus Bachmann Problem

| Wed Jul. 6, 2011 10:04 AM EDT
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and her husband, Marcus Bachmann, greet the crowd at a campaign stop in South Carolina.

Politico's James Hohmann published a story Tuesday on the unique role of Rep. Michele Bachmann's husband, Marcus, on the campaign trail. Aside from the obvious points about how he's had to pick up the slack on the home front since his wife left for Washington, the piece notes a few of the recent controversies that could become "liabilities" on the campaign trail—namely, the fact that his family farm received subsidies, and that his Christian therapy practice accepted Medicaid funding.

That might be a stretch. The fact that Marcus Bachmann received farm subsidies is bad because they're the kind of government handout the candidate loves to hate, but it's really not the kind of thing that sways voters—especially when you consider that a lot of Republican primary voters also receive farm subsidies. There is one part of the Marcus Bachmann story, though, that is already becoming an issue for the Bachmann campaign.