Portland Working America Joins Wisconsin Solidarity Rallies

Working America Members in the New York Times

Readers of this blog may have found a familiar name and a familiar story in Bob Herbert’s New York Times column this Saturday.

Last summer, when Lynda Hiller told her story here, she and her husband were struggling to keep their home. She had been unable to work while she fought to survive breast cancer, and during that time her husband also lost his job. Things have not gotten better:

“He looked for two years,” Ms. Hiller said. “He applied every place he could, sometimes four or five times at the same company. He went everywhere, to every job fair you can think of, to every place where there was even a mention of an opening. But for every job that came available, there were 20 people or more who showed up for it.”

Last fall, Mr. Hiller took a part-time job as a dishwasher at a Red Lobster restaurant. “It’s a job,” Ms. Hiller said. “It’s not fancy. It’s not truck driving.”

And it was not enough for them to keep their home. Ms. Hiller lost her job at a bank when she became ill. With both paychecks gone, meeting the mortgage became impossible. The Hillers lost their home and are now living day to day. “If my husband can get 30 hours of work in a week, then maybe we can pay some bills,” Ms. Hiller said. “If he can’t, we can’t. We’ve downsized our lives so much.”

Things have looked up a little for Liz Lassiter since Kim McMurray described her situation last fall. She had been struggling with homelessness, but last week, she was able to host the gathering Herbert described. “She doesn’t earn a lot or get benefits,” Herbert writes, but she has found more regular work.

As Herbert says:

These are the kinds of stories you might expect from a country staggering through a depression, not the richest and supposedly most advanced society on earth. If these were exceptional stories, there would be less reason for concern. But they are in no way extraordinary. Similar stories abound throughout the United States.

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Calling on Boehner for a Fair Budget

Yesterday, Working America joined with the NAACP, MoveOn, and other groups to rally outside Speaker John Boehner’s West Chester district office asking him to maintain vital services in the federal budget.

Though many of the budget fights going on now are at the state level, and state cuts are already being felt, the federal budget has an enormous impact on the shortfalls states face. From the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

States’ current fiscal conditions remain extremely weak even as the economy appears to be moving in the direction of recovery. Indeed, it appears increasingly likely that due to declining federal assistance, fiscal year 2012 will be more difficult than 2010 or 2011. In fiscal year 2011, states have approximately $59 billion in federal aid to assist in closing budget shortfalls that totaled some $130 billion. For 2012, states are already reporting shortfalls that total $125 billion with only $6 billion in federal Recovery Act dollars remaining available.

So what the U.S. Congress does about the federal budget in coming weeks will affect Ohioans and people in every other embattled state very directly. And Speaker Boehner has everything to do with that.

Here’s what one woman at the rally told the Cincinnati Enquirer:

“He has led the fight against working people. He wants to destroy the health care bill. He wants to institute severe budget cuts of all kinds of social services,” said protestor Martha Stephens, a retired university of Cincinnati English professor from Paddock Hills. “He represents all Americans. We feel we have a perfect right … to appeal to him to let up, let up on working people.”

In the Middletown Journal:

Pamela Taylor of West Chester Twp. stood along Cincinnati-Dayton Road with a sign that stated, “Boehner, stop the attack on working families now.”

“I got motivated when I heard they were going to cut home heating assistance for the elderly, but not oil subsidies of companies that saw profits (rise) 50 percent last year,” she said. “I want to balance the budget, but not on the backs of working people.”

Hopefully Boehner will pay attention. But it doesn’t sound too hopeful:

All Gary Hines, president of the local NAACP, wanted was for Boehner’s staff to listen and take notes on his concerns about federal budget cuts.

Instead, he and a few who entered the office to speak to staffer Ryan Day, questioned whether their voices would be heard. Hines said they tried to share their thoughts on a variety of political issues, but Day didn’t write anything down.

“Use Live Ammo”

This is a chilling story. From Mother Jones:

On Saturday night, when Mother Jones staffers tweeted a report that riot police might soon sweep demonstrators out of the Wisconsin capitol building—something that didn’t end up happening—one Twitter user sent out a chilling public response: “Use live ammunition.”

From my own Twitter account, I confronted the user, JCCentCom. He tweeted back that the demonstrators were “political enemies” and “thugs” who were “physically threatening legally elected officials.” In response to such behavior, he said, “You’re damned right I advocate deadly force.” He later called me a “typical leftist,” adding, “liberals hate police.”

Only later did we realize that JCCentCom was a deputy attorney general for the state of Indiana.

A deputy AG for the state of Indiana suggesting that riot police use live ammo on Wisconsin protestors.

Copies of Jeffrey Cox’s tweets and blog posts are available at the link. They are disturbing, especially coming from a guy who is a public official.

Update: The Indiana attorney general’s office has confirmed to Mother Jones that Jeff Cox was terminated Wednesday.

Protestors in the US haven’t been fired on since May 4, 1970. It’s chilling to think that we could be headed into that sort of action again.

This man wanted to kill people who believe in organized labor. I’m speechless.

“We are Wisconsin”

Interesting Things Around the Internet

  • So a prank caller called Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker claiming to be one of the billionaire Koch brothers, a major campaign donor. They had quite a detailed conversation. Ezra Klein hits on one of the most important things about it:

    The state’s Democratic senators can’t get Walker on the phone, but someone can call the governor’s front desk, identify themselves as David Koch, and then speak with both the governor and his chief of staff? That’s where you see the access and power that major corporations and wealthy contributors will have in a Walker administration, and why so many in Wisconsin are reluctant to see the only major interest group representing workers taken out of the game.

  • The rightwing war on public schools gets a little more blatant.
  • White people without college degrees are especially pessimistic about the economy.
  • Big oil lobby announces it will start donating directly to candidates.

    In its proposed 2012 budget, the Obama administration suggested, once again, removing the billions in subsidies that taxpayers give oil companies every year. API has been at the forefront of the lobbying fight to preserve Big Oil’s subsidies, demonizing the removal of them as new “energy taxes,” even while admitting that cutting the subsidies and plowing the money back into clean energy technology would create “a lot more jobs.”

    So no problem with them giving more and more money to political candidates, right?

Factual Rebuttals to Union-Busting Claims

Claim: Public workers are “pampered,” says the president of “Americans for Prosperity.”

Fact:

“What Mr. Phillips did not mention was that his Virginia-based nonprofit group, whose budget surged to $40 million in 2010 from $7 million three years ago, was created and financed in part by the secretive billionaire brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch.

“State records also show that Koch Industries, their energy and consumer products conglomerate based in Wichita, Kan., was one of the biggest contributors to the election campaign of Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, a Republican who has championed the proposed cuts.”

As for Phillips’ claim of “pampered” public employees, various studies, including one by University of Wisconsin economics professors Keith Bender and John Heywood, found that state and local employees’ wages and salaries are, on average, 6.8 percent lower than those for private-sector workers of equal education.

The professors also found that public employees’ earnings have been in relative decline for 20 years.

Claim: “Unions are trying to break the middle class,” says New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Fact: Under Christie, the number of unemployed workers in New Jersey has grown. And:

As David Madland and Karla Walter pointed out, “the middle class is markedly stronger when workers join together in unions.” In fact, the decline in unionization rates over the last forty years has been almost perfectly mirrored by a drop in middle-class incomes. Income inequality in the U.S. is the worst its been since the 1920′s, with nearly 25 percent of the total income in the country going to the richest one percent. The richest 10 percent of Americans control 2/3rds of the country’s net worth.

When unionization rates were high, prosperity was broadly shared, and workers were able to enjoy their fair share of productivity gains. But the overall economy is also stronger when unions are strong: “From 1947 to 1973, the period when unions were strongest and nearly one-third of workers were organized, U.S. economic output nearly tripled in size, growing at an average of 3.8 percent annually.” Since 2001, economic output has been just 2.2 percent annually.

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US Infrastructure at a Crossroads

This is what happens when playing politics is more important than dealing with the very real problems we face:

From the NY Times:

Of the nation’s 85,000 dams, more than 4,400 are considered susceptible to failure, according to the Association of State Dam Safety Officials. But repairing all those dams would cost billions of dollars, and it is far from clear who would provide all the money in a recessionary era.

and

Nationwide, the potential repair costs are staggering. A 2009 report by the state dam safety officials’ group put the cost of fixing the most critical dams — where failure could cause loss of life — at $16 billion over 12 years, with the total cost of rehabilitating all dams at $51 billion. But those figures do not include Lake Isabella and other dams among the approximately 3,000 that are owned by the federal government. The corps, for example, says that more than 300 of the roughly 700 dams it is responsible for need safety-related repairs, and estimates the total fix-up bill at about $20 billion.

Check out the Report Card on America’s Infrastructure:

2009 Grades:
Aviation D
Bridges C
Dams D
Drinking Water D-
Energy D+
Hazardous Waste D
Inland Waterways D-
Levees D-
Public Parks and Recreation C-
Rail C-
Roads D-
Schools D
Solid Waste C+
Transit D
Wastewater D-

America’s Infrastructure GPA: D
Estimated 5 Year Investment Need: $2.2 Trillion

The US invests 2.4% of our GDP in our infrastructure. Not only is more investment crucial to our future – it would also create jobs. This is the direction we should be moving in to fix our economy. These are solid investment, unlike the kind favored by Wall Street tricksters over the past decade. This should be our national priority.

“We Stand Together or We Fall Together”

From the Wisconsin AFL-CIO:

Income Growth – Income Disparity

An interactive chart from The Economic Policy Institute.

Start at the year you were born and see how things have changed – it’s a real eye opener.