Clocking Out: Aud Lang Syne Edition

Remember Joey? His dramatic exit from a bad hotel job inspired a platform for others to share their stories.

Hope on the horizon: U.S. government receives record demand for bonds.

Are you ready for Jan. 17? Occupiers file permit for “largest Occupy protest ever” in DC.

Related: Week of Occupy action will parallel Iowa caucuses.

First target? Wells Fargo’s undisclosed donations to Mitt Romney.

Surprise! More #RickScottFail. Beach Peanuts looks back on the Gov. Scott’s “train wreck” administration, NPR examines how the Florida economy will affect the 2012 vote, and Progress Florida reviews the unlikely year for activism.

10 Reasons Why the Affordable Care Act rocks our socks.

What the tax code would look like under President Michelle Bachmann.

An OWS press staffer on how big money has corrupted Congress.

Can Wall Street bankers take out their own trash? 22,000 Tri-state office cleaners could go on strike Saturday.

Time Magazine thinks you are stupid.

Privatization Watch: Kasich prepares to turn Ohio state prisons over to Utah-based company.

Another reason we strongly dislike Michigan Governor Snyder. (And another reason why Michigan is “rising” in 2012…)

Run, Scott, run! While raising money in Orange County, Scott Walker changes location to avoid protests.

Finally, from all of us at Working America, have a wonderful, happy, healthy New Year!

How We Fought Back: Ohio

Face it, folks: when you fight for working families against well-monied politicians and their corporate friends, you don’t get used to winning.

When newly minted Republican legislators in Ohio rammed through the union-busting, middle-class wrecking Senate Bill 5, stripping collective bargaining rights from over 350,000 workers, the pundits declared it a done deal. Nice try, working class. Try again next time. Let’s pack it in.

But Ohio workers didn’t want to take this one lying down. Maybe it was the way Governor John Kasich, fresh from his latest gigs at Lehman Brothers (whoops) and Fox News, sneered at the state’s public servants. A police officer who issued him a ticket was called an “idiot.” The teachers unions who didn’t support his 2010 campaign were asked to publicly apologize.

Ohioans, said Kasich, could either get on the proverbial “bus” – his misguided, job-killing, blatantly corporate agenda – or get “run over.”

Turns out, the people of Ohio chose option C: fight back and win.

What was so great about rejecting Senate Bill 5 at the ballot box? It wasn’t just the enormous win margin. It wasn’t just that more people voted No on Issue 2 than voted for John Kasich in 2010. It wasn’t just the 1.3 million signatures gathered to get the issue on the ballot, nearly six times the required amount.

The victory in Ohio showed that prevailing assumptions about the direction of the country, the progressive movement, and the labor movement were all just bunk. It disproved the idea that a coalition of unions and organizations couldn’t go toe-to-toe with a massive corporate-backed machine. Is disproved the idea that public and private sector workers were too bitter at each other to stand in solidarity. It disproved the idea that American labor couldn’t execute a world-class field and new media campaign rivaling any in political history.

What’s even better? It proved that elections in Ohio don’t have to be close. Sometimes, just sometimes, struggling working class families can be the ones who win big, and the Wall Street Koch-fueled Fox-backed zillionaire politicians can be dealt a shattering, embarrassing, soul-crushing defeat.

Photo by ProgressOhio on Flickr, via Creative Commons.

The Year-Long GOP Obsession With Urine-Testing

In October we told you about the governors and legislators proposing mandatory urine testing in order to qualify for food stamps or welfare.

few weeks ago, we wrote about Rep. Jack Kingston from Georgia, who wants the unemployed to undergo mandatory drug testing to “qualify” for unemployment benefits.

The latest entrant into the drug testing wars is Michigan. From Huffington Post:

Officials in Michigan’s Department of Human Services want to bring back drug testing of welfare recipients, a controversial practice that Michigan courts struck down more than a decade ago. The new policy would differ from the one enacted under Republican Gov. John Engler in 1999, which required a urine test to apply for benefits and would have subjected recipients to random drug screenings.

and

Michigan state Rep. Jeff Farrington (R-Utica) introduced a bill on Dec. 13 that would require applicants take a drug test to qualify for FIA benefits. Under the proposed bill, which is still up for discussion, recipients who passed a drug screening would have the cost of the test deducted from their first benefits payment.

Great. Not only do they want to demonize the poor, they want the poor to pay for that demonization. Rep. Farrington should heed the lesson of Governor Rick Scott of Florida, whose misguided urine test policies lead to record low approval levels. From Mother Jones:

But with 96 percent of applicants passing the test with flying colors (and another 2 percent getting inconclusive results), the state is having to buy back a lot of clean pee: 11.5 gallons at $34,300 every month, assuming an average sample size of 1.5 ounces and and average test price of $35.

That’s spending an awful lot of taxpayer money just to harass poor people. It’s certainly not creating the big savings that Governor Scott promised his constituents.

I wrote in October:

On the one hand, we hear a lot of gnashing of teeth from DC about job creation, yet on the other, we have the ongoing blame being heaped upon those who aren’t able to find work and are living in poverty, as if being unemployed or poor were somehow voluntary.

It is deeply distressing to see this becoming a national trend.

Photo by micahb37 on Flickr, via Creative Commons.

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New Hampshire Legislators Embrace the Magna Carta

In the December 20th edition of Clocking Out was yet another story about the nutty NH legislature. Some members of the NH House are in favor of putting WARNING signs near the Massachusetts border, so that the good folk of NH know when they’re about to enter into that socialist republic. The best part of this inspired bit of lunacy, is that Rep. Jennifer Coffey, the lead sponsor, moved to NH in 2005. Guess what state she moved here from?

This week brings a new story. From the Concord Monitor:

House Bill 1580 is the product of such a brainstorming session this summer between three freshman House Republicans: Bob Kingsbury of Laconia, Tim Twombly of Nashua and Lucien Vita of Middleton. The eyebrow-raiser, set to be introduced when the Legislature reconvenes next month, requires legislation to find its origin in an English document crafted in 1215.

“All members of the general court proposing bills and resolutions addressing individual rights or liberties shall include a direct quote from the Magna Carta which sets forth the article from which the individual right or liberty is derived,” is the bill’s one sentence.

Yes, that’s right. These three state representatives want quotes from the Magna Carta; an 800 year old British document, in new bills going before the NH legislature.

I’ve been told by legislators that the average cost to the NH taxpayer for filing a bill is about $1500. Each bill that is filed by a state legislator goes to Legislative Services, where the bill is checked for compliance with other NH laws. Then it is printed up. So far, the members of the NH House have filed 840 potential bills.

Kingsbury said the “primary motivation” for the bill was to honor the Magna Carta’s upcoming 800-year anniversary in 2015. Citing quotes from the document will bring its historical importance to the public’s attention, he said.

And if they have to waste taxpayer dollars to bring that anniversary to the public’s attention, they will!

The majority of the people in this state don’t read ANY of the bills that go before the legislature. This is truly a bizarre vanity exercise by a trio of freshman legislators.

A translation of the Magna Carta certainly provides some interesting fodder for the 2012 legislative session:

19] No constable or his bailiff is to take corn or other chattels from anyone who not themselves of a vill where a castle is built, unless the constable or his bailiff immediately offers money in payment of obtains a respite by the wish of the seller. If the person whose corn or chattels are taken is of such a vill, then the constable or his bailiff is to pay the purchase price within forty days.

and

21] No sheriff or bailiff of ours or of anyone else is to take anyone’s horses or carts to make carriage, unless he renders the payment customarily due, namely for a two-horse cart ten pence per day, and for a three-horse cart fourteen pence per day. No demesne cart belonging to any churchman or knight or any other lady (sic) is to be taken by our bailiffs, nor will we or our bailiffs or anyone else take someone else’s timber for a castle or any other of our business save by the will of he to whom the timber belongs.

and

[34] No-one is to be taken or imprisoned on the appeal of woman for the death of anyone save for the death of that woman’s husband.

I can hardly wait to see these quotes worked into New Hampshire law.

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Clocking Out: Achtung Baby Edition

The U.S. could learn a thing or two from the strong labor laws and high wages in the German auto industry.

Occupy Karma: A whistleblower opens up financial giant BNY Mellon to a multi-state lawsuit.

The grassroots campaign to (change the law and then) recall Rick Scott.

Privatization Watch: A new bill would allow Florida schools to sell the naming rights of their cafeterias.

Today’s Cartoon of the Day is the last #RickScottFail of 2011…or is it?

The Iowa caucus is less than a week away. Why isn’t unemployment topping the debate there?

A Republican state Senator from Indiana explains why the push for so-called ‘right-to-work” laws is misguided at best.

War on Voting: A 93 year old state capitol custodian was denied the right to vote in Tennessee.

Related: Republican voting restrictions backfire in Virginia.

Letter of the Day: Scott Walker needs to learn the difference between “legal” and “right.”

Related: Wisconsin legislators gave up $1.3 billion in federal money – it could be helping those hardest hit by the recession.

During tough economic times, a key program is providing health coverage for more than a million kids.

One way big banks could cheat taxpayers.

“The best way to save for retirement is to live in a country with a properly functioning Social Security system.”

Turnout: it matters.

Finally, the year in Google searches.

How We Fought Back: #Occupy Everything

It started small: a few people came together in lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park in mid-September, united by their shared frustration at a broken economy, an unresponsive political system and a financial industry that seemed to benefit as the rest of us got left behind. But the Occupy movement grew to encompass thousands of people at dozens of sites around the country, and it fundamentally changed the national conversation this year.

We’ve written about the Occupy protests frequently over the past few months, and one thing that sticks with us is how they circumvented the usual filters and political spin to force real issues onto the national agenda. The debate about inequality and corporate power sparked by Occupy Wall Street isn’t one that was handed down by well-connected pundits or focused-grouped by well-funded political operatives. The protesters expressed themselves through the simple assertion that America needs to work for the other 99% of us, not just the over-represented wealthiest 1%. In this way, the Occupy movement created a new language to talk about the problems facing our economic and political systems—not just for young people camped out in public parks, but for people in neighborhoods and workplaces around the country, as an outpouring of support from our members illustrates.

And the pillars of corporate power took notice. Their sneering dismissals of Occupy Wall Street are tough talk masking a real unease with rising discontent over inequality and economic injustice.

In recent days, many of the Occupy protests have been beset by municipal crackdowns, and Zuccotti Park is surrounded by barricades now. But as has been said, fresh ideas are like baby chickens—they can’t really be put back in the shell once hatched. The Occupy movement isn’t over and a political conversation about what to do for the 99% has only just begun.

Photo by david_shankbone on Flickr, via Creative Commons.

How We Fought Back: Wisconsin

Let’s get real: You can’t talk about 2011 without talking about Wisconsin.

You can’t talk about 2011 without mentioning Governor Scott Walker, the most vilified state executive in recent memory, and his so-called “budget repair bill” that stripped collective bargaining rights from thousands of teachers, nurses, and other public workers.

You can’t talk about 2011 without talking about the enormous crowds that flocked to Madison – first hundreds, then hundreds of thousands; the occupation of the state capitol many months before “Occupy Wall Street” was even conceived; and how the world watched as police officers and firefighters joined in solidarity with their union brothers and sisters, even though Walker’s law exempted them.

You have to mention Ian’s Pizza, blocks from the State Capitol in Madison, which received calls from all over the world to order pies for the protesters. When protesters in Egypt, who had just weeks earlier overthrown their tyrannical leader, called in to order pizzas for the American students standing up to Scott Walker, you knew something big had started. It wasn’t 2010 anymore.

Scott Walker and his friends thought they could pull off the greatest swindle in Wisconsin’s history – campaigning on broad promises of jobs in 2010, but enacting a radical right-wing agenda in 2011. They didn’t anticipate the enormous response of the working people of Wisconsin, who recognized that their own fate was connected with those who taught their kids and plowed their driveways. They didn’t anticipate the power of social media and web video, which documented the uprising minute by minute while the cable news giants stayed silent. They didn’t anticipate the time, money, resources, and commitment that we were willing to give to the effort to erode the Republican majority in the State Senate and put a major roadblock in front of Walker’s agenda. They didn’t anticipate that within six months of rubber stamping the collective bargaining bill, Sens. Dan Kapanke and Randy Hopper would lose their jobs in a historic summer recall election.

The uprising in Wisconsin, the first revolt of the Middle Class in decades, set the tone for the rest of the year. Whether it was the fight against Kasich in Ohio, clawing back voting rights in Maine, or taking to the streets in New York City, the voices that echoed in the Rotunda in Madison reverberated across the country. Months before anyone ever said “We are the 99 percent,” the students and teachers and seniors and thousands of others shouted: “This is what democracy looks like.”

We started talking about the “Age of Wisconsin.” We started saying “this wasn’t possible before Wisconsin, but it is now. Wisconsin shows we can do it.”

As volunteers trudge across every inch of the state, preparing to oust the governor who picked the first fight, we can see that Wisconsin is still showing us what is possible.

Photo by ra_hurd on Flickr, via Creative Commons.

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2011’s Attacks on Workers and How We Fought Back

When 2011 began—as the economy struggled, and as new governors and state legislators headed to state capitols and new members of Congress headed to Washington—we knew this would be a tough year for working people.

What was most striking to us were the ways that, in the face of such determined attacks by politicians and the corporate interests that bankroll them, working people stood up and fought back. Across the country, we saw people taking to the streets, writing letters and getting to the ballot box to say no to the corporate-funded agenda.

We’ll need to stay vigilant throughout the months to come and be prepared to hold legislators accountable for their inattention to jobs and their attacks on workers’ rights and vital programs. But we should be encouraged by the successes, and learn from them.

Today and tomorrow, we’ll be looking back at some of those critical moments this year, how Working America got involved and how working-class people like our members won against the odds by joining together.

Cuts to Block Grant Program Hurting Cities

Cities are already suffering from budget shortfalls, decreasing tax revenues, foreclosures, and unemployment. Now they’re being hit hard by cuts to the federal block grant program. From the New York Times:

The shrinking federal program, called Community Development Block Grants, was devised by the Nixon administration to bypass state governments and send money directly to big cities, which were given broad leeway to decide how to spend it. This year the federal government is giving out just $2.9 billion — a billion dollars less than it gave two years ago, and even less than it gave during the Carter administration, when the money went much further.

and

Cuts to the block grants program were cited in a recent report by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office, which noted that the number of vacant properties in America has jumped to 10 million from 7 million in 2000, threatening to attract crime and cause blight. “With sustained high foreclosure and unemployment rates and further declining home values, local officials said that continued, flexible C.D.B.G. funding would help them maintain efforts to address vacant properties in their areas,” the report noted.

Stabilizing neighborhoods that have been hard hit by foreclosure seems like a really good idea. Over 10 million vacant properties in the US is a recipe for disaster.

But mayors see it as an invaluable tool — one of the few federal programs that sends money directly to big cities, without going through the middlemen at the state level. Before its creation, mayors had to apply for small grants in many specific areas — leading to complaints of the this-food-is-terrible-and-the-portions-are-so-small variety. Tom Cochran, the executive director of the United States Conference of Mayors, said that mayors were thrilled when the Nixon administration agreed to consolidate the various grants into a single block grant program, which could be used broadly for community development, with local officials choosing their priorities. It was signed into law by President Gerald R. Ford.

It makes sense to let the cities decide what their own needs are, and not force them into one size fits all solutions.

From the website of the Community Bock Grant Program:

The CDBG program works to ensure decent affordable housing, to provide services to the most vulnerable in our communities, and to create jobs through the expansion and retention of businesses. CDBG is an important tool for helping local governments tackle serious challenges facing their communities. The CDBG program has made a difference in the lives of millions of people and their communities across the Nation.

With poverty and homelessness on the rise, it seems more than a little short sighted to cut the funding for this program, especially given that this funding is a proven source of job creation.

Photo by Loozrboy on Flickr, via Creative Commons.

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Clocking In: Mr. Millionaire Goes to Washington Edition

Wealthy lawmakers, struggling constituents.

“It has become clear that the man and woman on the street and our elected officials are living in two different countries.”

Speaking of the wealth of politicians, Mitt Romney is much richer than you and pays a lower tax rate.

Entitlement”: The cynical language tricks of attacks on the social safety net.

People under 30 will be pivotal in the 2012 election…

…and Republican legislators’ attacks on voting rights will have a strong impact on young voters.

How the Department of Justice is taking a stronger role in protecting voting rights.

Winning moments for the 99% in 2011.

Eight states will raise the minimum wage next year.

Fairness for home care workers, at last.

The year in austerity-mania.

Shared sacrifice? Michigan’s Gov. Snyder cracks down on unemployed people and families with young children while he offers tax breaks for corporations.

Occupy activists protect a Minnesota family from foreclosure.