Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

Archive for February 2011

News, comedy people surprised by union busting in WI, even if they belong to unions

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When The Daily Show, Colbert Report, and the other late-night shows are covering the story in Wisconsin, they have an obvious conflict of interest. After all, their writers belong to the Writers Guild of America (WGA). And we became so aware of this when Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Kimmel, and Jay Leno were forced back to work in the middle of the strike. (David Letterman and Craig Ferguson worked out their own individual deals with the WGA, and went back with writers.)

The primary concerns of the striking writers was to be compensated for material on digital technology, and how the union covered reality show writers.

But these union employees had the right to negotiate those contracts. (Full disclosure: I know Michael Winship, then presidents of the WGA East.)

Those who are on and off the air at CNN, MSNBC, even Fox “News” Channel also belong to unions, and they all have benefits negotiated by their union representatives.

But the majority of the news people seem confused by what is going on in Wisconsin as well as Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan. Maybe they can ask their union rep to explain to them what is going on.

These people also know the difference between negotiating specific compensation issues, as union workers in WI have been very clear that they are willing to negotiate on pay and health benefits, and losing the right to negotiate.

Anderson Cooper was on Jon Stewart on Tuesday, and talked about how he was attacked for telling the truth about outgoing Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker hasn’t been telling the truth about what is going on in Wisconsin, and suddenly most of the MSM is mute.

Scott Walker says WI has a $2.2 billion budget deficit.

This is actually next year’s budget deficit, not this year’s. This year’s budget deficit = $137 million. This year’s tax breaks for businesses is more than the budget deficit.

Scott Walker feels that this is a broader issue and all public employees should consent to this.

However, Walker specifically is targeting groups that did not support him in the 2010 elections. Groups that did support Walker get to keep their bargaining rights.

Scott Walker is a liar.

And if you still aren’t convinced that Walker is a liar, consider that he has done this before, also lying about the circumstances as to why it was “necessary.”

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t problems. Even in the settlement of the 2007-2008 WGA strike, the writers didn’t get everything they wanted. The producers gave up some. Negotiation. Compromise. People went back to work.

Both sides of the political process talk about the middle class. Let’s save the middle class. The middle class has been shrinking in the last 30 years. Though the GOP is largely responsible for the ideas and implementation, the Democratic Party has done its small share.

This is why public unionized employees shine so brightly. Okay, their salaries aren’t that much better than comparable private-sector salaries. But they usually have better benefits and reassurance that they can’t get let go on a whim, something that over 80% of private-sector employees do not have.

The enemy is not the public unionized employees. The enemy is those that ship jobs overseas, that try and underpay workers, those that reward companies for selling those jobs overseas.

Can unions be overwrought? Sure. Are they? A little. Is this the worst reason why our economy is suffering? Not even close.

We’re not saying that the news and comedy shows will turn into labor TV – would look like “Morning in America” in a parallel universe. But a lot of the outlets – news and comedy – seem confused about the union busting elements from the GOP governors. And because they belong to an union, they shouldn’t be this confused.

Also, those in these news and comedy shows make way more money than the police officers, teachers, and firemen potentially affected by these actions.

Saying Walker is doing this for the budget is a news element. Letting Walker get away with the lie – well, that is uninformed, lazy journalism. And the sources to straighten you out are closer than you think.

Past coverage:

The ban on content from the writers strike has been lifted

Taking a stand and not posting anything from a TV show affected by the writers strike

Democracy needs the voices of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert (and their talented writers)


Egypt isn’t Chicago, but both suffer from atrophy in voting muscles

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Egypt has gone through 30 years of a dictatorship since the death of Anwar Sadat. As the country is discovering freedom, there is fear that the citizens won’t make the “right” decision. Some of this sentiment stems from the fact that going without democracy for so long atrophies the democracy muscles.

Chicago is having its first real mayoral race since 1989, and its first serious mayoral race since 1983. As the city is discovering freedom, there is fear that the citizens won’t make the “right” decision. Some of this sentiment stems from the fact that going without democracy for so long atrophies the democracy muscles.

Comparing Egypt to Chicago? A bit audacious, don’t you think?

Yes, it is. And this isn’t a literal comparison. Comparing Egypt to Chicago, line for line, would be insulting to the suffering Egyptians have faced. And journalists in Chicago aren’t being beaten and sexually assaulted.

But the atrophy of democracy muscles happened in East Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall, is happening in Tunisia, Egypt, and whichever Middle East countries follow in those footsteps. They also happen in U.S. Congressional districts that are so badly drawn that one-party dominance reigns supreme.

One forgotten element of democracy is giving citizens a real opportunity to participate in the democratic process. In 2008, we saw millions of Americans feeling like they had an actual say in the primary process unlike any other year in the modern political era.

Indiana has its primary in May, and hadn’t had a serious race until the Democratic Party primary in 2008 since, well, no one could remember.

Chicago has had a mayoral race every four years since Richard M. Daley was elected in 1989 to finis the remaining two years of the term of the late Harold Washington. But during the entire time of Daley’s 21-year reign, there has been little if any debate, no chance to engage the mayor with the citizens he represents, no chance to say what was on their minds.

Now, each citizen in Chicago has an alderman, a person who can represent the views of the citizens in the City Council. However, Daley has successfully controlled most of them, and appointed a number of them to fill vacancies. In Chicago, getting a 44-6 vote is a big story since the margin isn’t as large as usual.

And though some aldermen occasionally lose a race, the replacement isn’t any more likely to take on the establishment. Soon, citizens become frustrated that they have no voice in city politics.

Citizens in Chicago and Indiana have more opportunities than those in Tunisia, Egypt, and elsewhere to express how they feel. The media allows more chances to speak up, even if you feel nothing will change as a result. This is a key difference between the two situations.

While the levels of atrophy aren’t the same, there is that uneasy feeling that you can’t fight city hall.

Regular readers will know that this columnist is not a fan of Rahm Emanuel. His arrogance was clear when he represented the 5th district in Congress; his ineffectiveness as Chief of Staff didn’t endear him; and now he wants to be Chicago’s next mayor. Well, not Chicago’s next mayor – more like the continuation of the old mayor in the sense of power and loftiness.

Hyperbole? Daley’s strength or weakness – depending on how you look at it was diffusing opportunites for his enemies to speak up. Emanuel is challenging Ed Burke (powerful Chicago alderman) and Emanuel hasn’t even been elected yet.

We won’t bore you with the particulars of the aldermanic race, but in the last 8-9 years, this columnist can’t remember having a real choice. Sure you can vote for the person who will score 25%-30%. Having a choice – a real choice – blows the minds of those now faced in that dilemma.

As you can imagine, having so little choice in elections produce pathetic voter turnout, further damaging democracy. Richard M. Daley was the most powerful city mayor in the United States – yes, much more than Bloomberg. But factor that the turnout for the last mayoral race in Chicago was about 33%, and Daley got about 71% of the vote.

So Daley won re-election with 23% of those registered to vote, and this doesn’t count those who were eligible but not registered. These aren’t Communist China numbers, but they shouldn’t be numbers in one of the world’s most powerful democracies.

When democracies are young, they make mistakes. Heck, the United States didn’t have a mechanism to elect a vice president; the person who came in second got to be vice president for awhile.

When democracies seem young, because those democracy muscles haven’t been used in awhile, they make mistakes.

The best solution isn’t political Ben-Gay; just work those muscles more often. Having non-partisan groups draw U.S. Congressional boundaries. Make it easier to get people onto the ballot. The cruel irony to the trouble that Rahm Emanuel had in getting on the ballot is that in Chicago and Illinois, the threshold – officially and unofficially – to stay on the ballot is much higher than a democracy should tolerate. Those with much less clout and money don’t have the chance to stay on the ballot.

News coverage should include all the candidates for a race, whenever possible. Ask most Chicagoans how many people are running for mayor, and they will tell you 4 (the correct answer is 6).

Chicago does have early voting, but voters need to feel like their vote means something. The United States isn’t Egypt – but right now, the enthusiasm in Egypt is much more alive than it is in the United States. Americans could learn a little about being enthusiastic about participating in the democratic process.

Written by democracysoup

February 18, 2011 at 7:58 am

Economy needs political help, but not from politics

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Jobs are supposed to be the biggest priority in the United States. Our unemployment rates are astounding, now in the 4th calendar year. When politics mixes directly with business, the results are more tragically amusing than effective.

President Barack Obama had an opportunity to correct two major wrongs in our economy: fix infrastructure and put people back to work. The bridge collapse in Minneapolis in 2008, the electrical damage from an ice storm in Kentucky in 2009. These were signs that infrastructure should have been a national priority.

The United States have tried to rebuild Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Panama, Grenada, Bosnia, and countless other countries in the last 40 years, and of course, Germany, France, Japan, Italy, and England earlier in the 20th century. But no one is trying rebuild the United States, not even China.

As we now know, Obama pitched a weaker stimulus than we needed, and watched as the GOP filled in 1/3 of the total with unneeded tax cuts. Then, Republicans crowed about the do-nothing stimulus.

So now, the president is on his knees to the business world: the Chamber of Commerce that has worked so hard against him; the big business community that has sat on record profits without opening the idea of new jobs; Wall Street for which he saved them from the punishment they deserved, and yet was treated shabbily in return.

Companies that would rather keep the money then employ Americans – that would be unpatriotic if a) they were people (well, the Supreme Court says they are people) and b) they were beholden to American interests, but they’re not.

So if President Obama gives them whatever they want, and they’ve had it pretty good, will they open up and help Americans get back to work? From what we’ve seen of this relationship, no matter how well they are treated, the American worker will always be their least concern.

European countries have close neighbors, so you would think that this would create a frenzy of companies competing to find the lowest common denominator to build a factory.

Somehow, in Europe, this isn’t a problem since, well, they tend to be adults about such things.

Not so for the United States. These states, that are “united,” fight among each other to lower the costs of factories that stick around long enough to get the benefits and then leave for even greener pastures.

“Buy American” is a slogan that patriotic people can gather around, but when it comes to cars, to borrow from John Edwards, there are two Americas.

There is the America where American companies make cars in America. And there is the America where foreign companies make cars in America. Chrysler’s Super Bowl commercial reminded people of Detroit, still the auto capital. But foreign companies remind us in their commercials that their cars are made in America by American workers.

The parts for both categories of automobiles are made in China, South Korea, Japan, and Mexico. A lot of both types of cars come from Canada, eh.

A lot of the foreign companies come to the Southern U.S. because they lower the common denominator. There are fewer unions, and being a “right to work” state is almost the unofficial motto.

Even in good times, there aren’t enough good jobs in the United States. When states have to compete for those few jobs, wages suffer. And surprise, surprise, Americans find it more difficult to buy those products. Who learned that lesson well? Henry Ford, from Detroit.

When states compete for those few jobs, they usually take the high road, at least in public. But if the new trend matches what Wisconsin and New Jersey are doing, this country is in more serious trouble than we thought.

Illinois had the “audacity” to raise its state income tax from 3% to 5% and raised business taxes to cover some deep budget woes. Now, the state has high sales tax (Chicago is still #1) and high property tax, but a low state income tax.

Now, my personal feeling was that the state should have left the tax at 3% up to $100,000, 4% up to $250,000, and 5% after that. Michael Jordan and the Chicago TV newscasters would have had to pay more, but they can afford it.

Wisconsin and New Jersey reacted by actively begging Illinois-based companies to come to their state. Never mind that their states aren’t that different from Illinois, and that New Jersey is still not a better destination, their efforts got loud.

New Jersey is taking its taxpayer money and running radio ads in Illinois, touting the advantages of setting up business in New Jersey.

You could read something into the fact that Illinois has a Democratic governor while Wisconsin and New Jersey have brand new Republican governors.

Southern governors are much worse at actively picking off jobs from the North and West, but they at least keep it classy on the surface.

Before Ronald Reagan came along and said government was part of the problem, there was a vibrant middle class in this country. Before Reagan came along, business treated their workers, their American workers, with more respect. Before Reagan, there were plenty of jobs in all different sectors, and this was a country that made things.

Many of the pundits spent a lot of newsprint, TV time, and online pages trying to tell you the legacy of Ronald Wilson Reagan. All those things that were here before Reagan are gone, and haven’t come back in the 22 years since Reagan left office to collect a big payoff from Japan. This isn’t the complete legacy of Reagan, but economically, this is a lot of where we are today, and why.

Written by democracysoup

February 11, 2011 at 7:47 am

GOP’s attempt to change rape definition is low, but sadly not surprising

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Update: The term “forcible rape” has been taken out of the House bill. As reprehensible as the bill was, would have been curious to see how far Republican males (and maybe even females) would have gone with this bill.

Rape is a sufficiently horrible occurrence that we should all agree that no one should have to lie about what happened. But once again, a Republican-led movement would force women to lie about what happened to them, all in the name of abortion.

You might think we are talking about the proposed legislation in the House by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ). And we are. But this isn’t the first time we have seen the GOP behind such tactics.

I was working as the afternoon news anchor at a radio station in Michigan in the early 1990s when the push came to not allow underage girls to get an abortion without a parent’s permission, unless they were the victim of rape or incest. Other states passed similar laws.

And none of those states considered that they had passed a law that would give incentive for young women to lie about how they got pregnant.

If her boyfriend got her pregnant, she couldn’t get an abortion. But if a stranger (or a family member) got her pregnant, then she could get an abortion. (Obviously, the boyfriend could also rape her, but just follow the example.)

At the time, I thought the law was unfair in part because it forced young women to lie, possibly getting an innocent man in trouble as a result.

Now, the GOP on the national level wants to force adult women (and young girls) to lie in order to get an abortion, this time by politically changing the definition of the word “rape.”

The simple basic definition of rape — a lack of consent — is something even the most sexist pig will admit is true. The GOP wants to change this cases of “forcible” rape.

Those who have watched Law & Order for more than 20 years might not be able to tell the difference. And I certainly can’t either.

So a woman who is raped — raped raped — is led to alter the details of said rape in order to get an abortion. Imagine if you have just been raped, in whatever fashion this happened. There is a lot of your mind, and to add literal insult to literal injury, you have to come up with an alternate excuse for what happened to you so that you can get an abortion if you need one, which is horribly insulting because you are hoping at that moment that you aren’t pregnant.

The other side would scream that this isn’t about rape, it’s about abortion. The other side of the other side would say this is about controlling women’s bodies. And that side has a great point.

While men do get raped, the majority of the victims of rape are women. Again, the most sexist pig knows this. Watching white men (full disclosure: I’m a white male) decide the fate of women in such a personal fashion — while prevalent throughout history — is pretty disturbing.

Then again, you can’t be shocked that the GOP white men have this attitude toward rape. When Sen. Al Franken suggested an amendment that played off the Jamie Leigh Jones/Halliburton case, Republican women in the Senate drew the line and voted for the amendment. The Republican men, by and large, did not. Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), he of the prostitutes, did not vote for the amendment.

These aren’t the same white men — the ones in the House that want to pass this bill. But the mentality is the same. The woman who is pregnant or raped or both doesn’t matter.

The moral setup of those who tsk tsk over women who get pregnant (not the men, of course) is bad enough. After all, if you don’t have sex, you can’t get pregnant.

But passing moral judgment on those who get raped, not sure there’s a word for that level of horribleness. Oh sure, there is the standard “what was she wearing” as if that mattered. Or whether the woman was “loose” or “already sexually active” again, as if that mattered.

This bill, if it were to pass, would tell a woman who was clearly raped that you aren’t a rape victim — by some Orwellian definition — because you aren’t politically expedient enough to be a rape victim.

The good news — the only shining light — is that the bill won’t pass the Senate, and certainly won’t be signed by the president. But the fact that the bill is being pushed should at least get some votes on the record.

In politics, you are called upon to exercise judgment and make some risky votes if you think the populace will be helped. The MSM holds the feet to fire on votes on taxes, spending, and taxes.

What if the MSM held the feet of the white men (and possibly men of color) who will vote for this bill? What if the MSM noted the GOP women who would vote for this bill? What if Michele Bachmann voted for this bill?

Most people — who knew about the GOP white men who voted against the Franken amendment — were horrified at the votes. But the MSM gave them a free pass. Would that “olé” move happen again with the Chris Smith bill vote?

Being angry about this proposed bill isn’t enough, if it upsets you. Track the careers of those who vote on the bill; make them sweat in 2012. Ask yourself if people would do this to rape victims — whether they deserve to be called Congressmen.

Chick-Fil-A or gay: the choice is in your corner

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The latest Chick-Fil-A vs. gay controversy was a ripe topic for a food/politics story for our sister blog,

If you don’t have a Chick-Fil-A nearby or you don’t believe in gay rights, you likely might not care. But you might want to use this as a case study in other food/politics conflicts.

Here is the column from

Written by democracysoup

February 1, 2011 at 7:36 am