February of 2011 may prove to be a turning point in the direction this country is heading. There may no longer be a choice. In early March the Congressional Budget Office released a report that said the deficit for the month of February alone was $223 billion. At an annualized rate, that would put the deficit for the year at a more than $2.6 trillion. That’s the deficit—for just one year! It will probably end up between $1.5 and $2 trillion, but that is still a stunning figure. It was less than 50 years ago that the total U.S. annual budget exceeded $100 billion for the first time. The next budget will be in the neighborhood of $3.7 trillion.
But February 2011 was a turning point for another reason as well. Push came to shove, literally and figuratively, in the state of Wisconsin, and has spread across the heartland of the country, reaching Indiana and Ohio, with signs of life in a number of other states as well. Fourteen Democratic Wisconsin state senators crossed the border into Illinois in order to avoid having to vote on Governor Scott Walker’s “budget-repair” bill that was intended in part to alter the relationship between public employee unions and the state and localities of Wisconsin. It has been a painful but revealing experience that has brought issues to light that have been simmering for many years.
The lesson of the turmoil is that elections have consequences. Jon Meacham, then-editor of Newsweek, wrote in February 2009 that “without a great deal of fanfare, the America of 2009 has become a more socialist country.” He thought that was a good thing. The cover story that week was, “We are all Socialists Now.” That same month President Obama and Congress passed the $787 billion “stimulus” bill without any Republican support, and the phrase that captured the zeitgeist was, “We won, you lost, get over it.”
That same month, Rick Santelli of CNBC called for a Tea Party revolt. These were some of the key events in the run-up to the turmoil and gridlock that is paralyzing our country today. In November of that same year, Republican Chris Christie easily defeated incumbent Governor John Corzine in New Jersey, a heavily Democratic state, in which President Obama had campaigned for Corzine. He won by promising to cut taxes and to take on the public employee unions. And then the Democrats pushed through ObamaCare in ways that seemed rather undemocratic. Yet another milestone on this path was last July, when the Los Angeles Times broke the story of Bell, California, a poor suburb of L.A. with a population of about 36,000, where, it was revealed, that the salaries and pensions of city employees were huge. Several were making well more than the U.S. President, who makes $400,000 a year. The City Manager received nearly $800,000 a year. With benefits, he received $1.5 million in one year, and with his pension he was set to receive $1 to $1.5 million a year. His assistant made over $375,000 a year, and the police chief was paid $457,000. They all resigned in the wake of the scandal, but it brought to the surface a troubling aspect of American life. What was going on in state and local governments, and by whom and how was it supposed to be paid? How extensive were these government rip-offs of the American people?
Wisconsin, for example, is facing a $137 million budget shortfall this fiscal year and a $3.6 billion deficit over the next two-year budget cycle. Gov. Walker’s plan, the so-called “budget repair” bill, would take away much of the collective bargaining rights from teachers and other state and local employees, but police, firefighters and state troopers would be exempt.
This gets to the crux of the issue. While the overwhelming number of people who are part of public sector labor unions, such as the National Education Association (NEA) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), are hardworking people, the problem is the relationship between those unions, the elected representatives at the state and local level, and the Democratic Party. There is an inherent conflict of interest. The elected officials make sweetheart deals with the unions, and thus their members receive substantial salary and benefit packages. Some of that taxpayer money goes into union coffers, which is then used to get the same, or other Democrats elected, who then vote larger and sweeter deals for the people who just helped them get elected, and tax hikes for the average hardworking citizens who work in the private sector and foot most of the bills.
Just how one-sided are these public-sector unions? According to the Center for Public Integrity, in a report released in early March, this is the status of the largest public employee unions: The NEA has a membership of 3.2 million; assets: $216 million. Of the $3.7 million NEA spent on political activities in the last election cycle, 98% went to Democratic candidates. The NEA has 98,000 members in Wisconsin.
• SEIU: Membership: 1.8 million; assets: $187 million. The SEIU…has been organizing hospital, home care and nursing home workers, along with local and state government employees, janitors and security officers. Over the past two years, SEIU gave almost $2 million to Democratic candidates and $8,500 to Republicans. It has 18,000 members in Wisconsin.
• American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees: Membership: 1.5 million; assets: $78 million. Over the past two years, AFSCME has donated $2.3 million to Democratic candidates and $78,500 to Republicans.
• American Federation of Teachers: Membership: 887,000; assets: $115 million. AFT is the smaller of the two teacher unions and also represents school support staff, higher education faculty and staff, health care professionals and state and municipal employees. Of the $2.4 million donated to political candidates in the past two years, the union gave all but $10,000 to Democrats.
There has been much discussion over the amount that teachers in Wisconsin are compensated, and how well their students are doing. In Milwaukee, for example, the average compensation package for a teacher exceeds $100,000 per year, including benefits, yet the graduation rate for all students in Milwaukee is 46%, and among African Americans it’s just 34%.
Gov. Walker is asking that public employees contribute 12.6 percent of the cost of their health care, which is less than half of the national average. He also wants them to pay less than six percent of their earnings toward their pensions, which is consistent with the national average.
But again, the real issues are the inherent contradictions and conflicts of interest in government collective bargaining, in which the taxpayers have no seat at the table. While much of the media and many of the politicians talk about Gov. Walker’s actions as being cruel, unnecessary, and union busting, the logic behind his actions seems quite sound.
The Heritage Foundation has created a one-page fact sheet they call Government Unions 101: What Public Sector Unions Won’t Tell You. They point out that Government Collective Bargaining is in fact a “Legal Monopoly” which “gives unions a monopoly on the government’s workforce. The government must employ workers on the terms the union negotiates. It may not hire competing workers.” It explains that “Unions operate differently in government than in the private sector. Private-sector unions bargain over limited profits. Competition from other businesses moderates wage demands. Governments earn no profits and have no competition. Government unions negotiate for more tax dollars.” And, “When government unions strike, they can deprive citizens of essential services—such as education for children—until demands are met.”
Heritage also points out how this has been viewed historically. “Early labor leaders didn’t believe unions belonged in government. In 1955, George Meany, then-president of the AFL-CIO, said: ‘It is impossible to bargain collectively with the government.’ In 1959 the AFL-CIO Executive Council declared, ‘In terms of accepted collective bargaining procedures, government workers have no right beyond the authority to petition Congress—a right available to every citizen.”
Even the Left’s favorite president, “Franklin Delano Roosevelt (D) gave unions extensive powers to bargain collectively in the private sector but excluded them from government. FDR believed collective bargaining had no place in public service and that a government strike was ‘unthinkable and intolerable.’
He was even more absolute than that. In a letter he wrote to the National Federation of Federal Employees in 1937, FDR said that “All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service… The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress.”
Kimberley Strassel of The Wall Street Journal asked, “If the president is so upset with Wisconsin’s labor law reforms, why won’t he allow federal workers to bargain collectively?” Strassel was noting the irony that the mainstream media chose to ignore: “The union horde is spreading, from Madison to Indianapolis to a state capital near you. And yet the Democratic and union bigwigs engineering the outrage haven’t directed their angry multitudes at what is arguably the most ‘hostile workplace’ in the nation: Washington, D.C.”
Her point is that President Obama, “the great patron of the working man, also happens to be the great CEO of one of the least union-friendly shop floors in the nation.” After all, she says, Obama is “the President who has berated Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to limit the collective bargaining rights of public employees, calling the very idea an ‘assault on unions.’ This is also the president who has sicced his political arm, Organizing for America, on Madison, allowing the group to fill buses and plan rallies.”
By calling this an “assault on unions,” Obama is failing to distinguish between government unions and labor unions in general.
Strassel continues: “Fact: President Obama is the boss of a civil work force that numbers up to two million (excluding postal workers and uniformed military). Fact: Those federal workers cannot bargain for wages or benefits. Fact: Washington, D.C. is, in the purest sense, a ‘right to work zone.’ Federal employees are not compelled to join a union, nor to pay union dues. Fact: Neither Mr. Obama, nor the prior Democratic majority, ever acted to give their union chums a better federal deal.”
She says that for “this enormous flexibility in managing his work force, Mr. Obama can thank his own party. In 1978, Democratic President Jimmy Carter, backed by a Democratic Congress, passed the Civil Service Reform Act. Washington had already established its General Schedule (GS) classification and pay system for workers. The 1978 bill went further, focused as it was on worker accountability and performance. It severely proscribed the issues over which employees could bargain, as well as prohibited compulsory union support.”
They could bargain over “personnel employment practices,” but not over pay, health-care or retirement plans.
You can call this irony, but perhaps hypocrisy is a better word for it. Strassel explained that “Even Carter Democrats understood the difference between being in electoral debt to the unions, and being outright owned by them. And as Gov. Walker will attest, allowing unions to collectively bargain over pay and benefits is allowing them the keys to the statehouse.” She notes that “The real game is to insist that the dough runs through the union—giving it power over the state.”
And oh, how it runs. According to Michael Barone, “unions, most of whose members are public employees, gave Democrats some $400 million in the 2008 election cycle. [AFSCME], the biggest public employee union, gave Democrats $90 million in the 2010 cycle.” He concludes, “In effect, public employee unions are a mechanism by which every taxpayer is forced to fund the Democratic Party.”
Kimberly Strassel speculated that after following his initial instincts to get involved in this issue in Wisconsin, a potential battleground state for the 2012 election, Obama has “gone quiet” because “The White House has since sensed danger. As the world is painfully aware, Mr. Obama is under no obligation to balance his budget. So to whack Gov. Walker for his efforts to do so might strike some Americans as irresponsible, especially as the president is working to convince them that he really does care about deficits.”
“The other risk,” she writes, is that “The spotlight turns back to D.C. If the president is so worried about Wisconsin’s ‘assault,’ why has he never taken up federal bargaining rights? If the Badger State’s [Wisconsin] current system is the gold standard, why has he not replicated it? If it is so important that all parties ‘sit at the table’—as White House Press Secretary Jay Carney recently lectured Wisconsin—how dare Mr. Obama unilaterally declare a federal pay freeze?”
Strassel concluded that “The debate over public-union giveaways has only started. That debate would benefit were Mr. Obama to explain how it is that Wisconsin is wrong to ask for the same budget flexibility that he enjoys as president. If he’s unable to do that, perhaps the debate ought to be over.”
Andy McCarthy, who worked for the government for many years himself, mostly as a prosecutor, wrote for National Review that “The public sector employees work for us—they are not beaten down by ‘the man,’ ‘the system,’ or whatever bogeyman the lefties are using today. The only ‘collective bargaining’ they should be permitted is the regular legislative process that everyone else who wants something from the public purse needs to go through. And I can tell you from personal experience, having worked in the public sector for over two decades—and having felt honored to represent the public in court despite making a lot less money than I could have made as a private attorney—that the real public servants understand this. The people driving this train, and driving us into bankruptcy, are left-wing activists whose power hinges on maintaining this perverse system in which unions effectively sit on both sides of the negotiation, passing piles of public money over and under the table.”
Media Double Standard On Display
The media have chosen sides. They stand with the unions and have failed to point out Obama’s hypocrisy. For one thing, the networks were comparing the demonstrations in Wisconsin to those in the Middle East, characterizing them both as popular, democratic uprisings. NBC News anchor Brian Williams said in a report, “From the Mideast to the American Midwest tonight, people are rising up.” He said, “Citizen uprisings are changing the world.” Diane Sawyer, on ABC News, said that “One lawmaker looked out at the crowds gathered in the Wisconsin capital today said it’s like Cairo moved to Madison.”
Jonathan Tobin of Commentary magazine wrote, “Contrary to the [New York] Times, the governor of Wisconsin and the Republicans in the legislature there are not the moral equivalent of Tunisian or Egyptian autocrats. They were voted into office by the people and what they are doing is exactly what they promised the electorate they would do once they gained office. It is the unions and the Democrats who are the reactionary defenders of an untenable and frankly undemocratic status quo, not the Republicans who advocate change.”
Regarding the media’s double standard, Tobin wrote that “the Times’ flattering portrait of the protesters ignores the extremist and violent rhetoric that has characterized the union demonstrators…unionists and the Democratic Party activists who have been bused in to help them have compared Governor Walker to Adolf Hitler and the Republicans to Nazis… Yet the Times has ignored that aspect of the story even though such rhetoric and demonstrators’ signs were the focus of much of their coverage of Tea Party protests. One can only conclude that in the liberal universe of the New York Times, left-wing union protesters are judged by a very different standard than the one they employ to report and editorialize about the conservatives of the Tea Party.”
The need to diminish the size and activities of government at all levels is colliding with an emboldened union movement, and a White House and Senate still controlled by left-wing Democrats determined to protect their labor union backers. The media are playing their part, setting the stage for a government shutdown that they will surely blame on the Republicans. It’s never dull.?
Did Muslim Lobby Force Firing of Popular Radio Host?
By Cliff Kincaid
Washington, D.C. radio station WMAL is once again being accused of firing a popular talk-show host because of his criticism of radical Muslims. The station, a major source of news and information for the nation’s capital, claims that popular morning host Fred Grandy resigned on his own, but Grandy tells AIM that he was essentially forced to leave after his wife, who is also outspoken about radical Islam, was cut from the program.
The growing controversy over Grandy’s departure has resulted in some Grandy supporters charging the station with being “Sharia-compliant,” a reference to Islamic law, and with bending under pressure from the Council on American Islamic-Relations (CAIR), a Muslim lobbying organization that combats what it calls “Islamophobia” in the media.
Grandy, a former actor and Republican member of Congress, told AIM, “My wife and I have used our program over the last several months to warn about the spread of radical Islam at home and abroad. Last week, Catherine (known on the show as Mrs. Fred) delivered a very tough indictment against stealth jihad, and for her efforts she was told she was off the show. I then told management without Mrs. Fred at the microphone, I could not remain either and have resigned effective this morning.”
A WMAL statement, which makes no mention of terminating “Mrs. Fred,” was released on Thursday and claimed that “Fred Grandy has informed WMAL of his intention to resign from the station and its morning program, The Grandy Group. Veteran broadcast talent Bryan Nehman will continue to anchor the morning program and in the interim will be joined by several notable guest hosts and regular contributors. The station’s morning show will also continue to provide the latest news, traffic and weather reports to its audience. WMAL remains committed to its goal of providing a forum for discussing a broad spectrum of issues while delivering compelling programming including Chris Plante, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Mark Levin.”
The statement on the Grandy matter was read on the air by another WMAL host, Chris Plante, who said that his broadcast opposition to radical Islam has not been curtailed in any way.
Grandy told AIM, “We cannot affirmatively conclude CAIR or any of the prominent Islamic organizations had anything to do with this. We do know, however, in 2005 representatives of CAIR in DC were successful in getting midmorning host Michael Graham fired for anti-Islamic statements he had made on the radio and TV.”
Graham was fired from WMAL after describing Islam as a “terrorist organization” on his program and refusing to apologize or modify the description.
James Lafferty of the Virginia Anti-Shariah Task Force, who insists that Grandy was “forced to walk away” from his program after the banning of his wife from the show, blames the controversy on CAIR. “CAIR frequently criticized Grandy for reading FBI reports and court documents on his radio show which labeled CAIR as ‘an unindicted co-conspirator’ in the federal Holy Land Foundation terror finance trial,” Lafferty said.
But CAIR Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper acted surprised by the news of Grandy’s resignation and responded, “What is their evidence for that claim?,” when informed that his group was being blamed for his departure.
Lafferty told AIM, “I heard from two very good sources that CAIR was involved in this and not only targeting Grandy but Sean Hannity.” He said CAIR’s strategy was to knock Grandy off the air and then go after Hannity, a nationally syndicated radio host carried by WMAL in the afternoon. Hannity also hosts a Fox News Channel TV show.
Lafferty has urged supporters of the Grandys to protest on Monday, March 7, and Tuesday, March 8, during “Call Out WMAL Days.” He wants the public to call WMAL at (202) 895-2350 and (202) 686-3100 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. each of those days and tell the station, “you will not listen to their station until Fred and Mrs. Fred Grandy return.”
“America expects radio stations to be committed to free speech and the truth,” he says. “We expect WMAL to grow a backbone and stand up to CAIR and the other radicals. Call early and often.”
At 10 a.m. Wednesday, March 9, Lafferty wants supporters of the Grandys to meet at WMAL’s studios (4400 Jenifer St., NW, Washington, DC 20015) with signs “to demonstrate our support for Fred Grandy and his wife and their courageous stand against radical Islam.”?
Olbermann: ‘Current TV Audience Will Be As Large As Any Other Cable News Channel’
By Don Irvine
Former MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann showed recently that his time off from television has not affected his penchant for boastful statements.
In a lunchtime discussion at the paidConent Conference, Olbermann was asked why he joined Current TV rather than form his own media company a la Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh.
“When we get the show on the air, we expect to have that show fully running and fully competitive in its field from the beginning,” said Olbermann. “I didn’t want to go into an environment in which I had to build every piece of equipment myself. What Current has done [in reaching 60 million households since its 2005 launch] is a record-setting pace for cable networks in this country. Current is an established television network with a very large footprint, and with any kind of continued growth, we will be in a position to be seen in as many homes as any other news broadcast in this country on cable. That was the reason the decision was so easy to make.”
Olbermann’s boast is based on the belief that when his program launches, former viewers will flock to Current TV, if they can find the channel. If not, his hope is that they will demand that it be added to their cable lineup. That’s easier said than done since Current is presently a second tier channel that normally requires a set- top box.
There is no guarantee that Olbermann’s former viewers are all that loyal to him. While his replacement in the 8 p.m. slot, Lawrence O’Donnell, has lost some audience share so far, it has been minimal, and MSNBC remains firmly in second place–showing that Olbermann hasn’t been missed that much. As a matter of fact, it appears that MSNBC viewers who are looking for a liberal fix have flocked to Rachel Maddow, whose ratings surged last month after Olbermann departed.
Then there is the numbers problem. As Olbermann stated, Current TV reaches 60 million households but the major cable networks reach over 90 million households. If Keith thinks that Current can close that gap in the next few years, he is dreaming.
Olbermann may think he has found nirvana, but by going to Current TV he will discover his own inconvenient truth: he is a legend only in his own mind.?
Dear Fellow Media Watchdog,
The state of Wisconsin was already stoked when their publicly owned (the only such National Football League team) Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl on February 6, followed by a victory parade on the 8th. 56,000 people came out to famed Lambeau Field in 15 degrees below zero wind chill factor to cheer on their newly crowned heroes. Three days later, on February 11, Governor Scott Walker announced his new budget in Madison, Wisconsin, the state capital, 136 miles away from Green Bay. The revolution had begun.
This report zeroes in on the issues confronting not just Wisconsin, but America. With a divided Congress, and the start of an 18-month presidential campaign, the country in many ways is paralyzed. Congress didn’t pass a budget last year, though the Democrats had one of the largest majorities in decades, while controlling both Houses of Congress and the White House. At this point, Congress is passing two-week CRs (Continuing Resolutions) as neither side wants to be seen as the one shutting down the government. And once they do, if they do, manage to pass the 2011 budget, they will soon be faced with the 2012 budget, this one by a Paul Ryan-led House GOP. Ryan is another of those hardy Wisconsinites, who runs the House Budget Committee.
Obama is determined to lock in his massive spending increases of the last two years and make that the new baseline, to give some credence to his claims to be cutting spending and reducing the deficits. Many economists believe his projections for the rate of growth for the economy are unrealistic, he’s assuming that the Bush tax cuts won’t be extended again in 2012, and still contends that ObamaCare will reduce the deficit. The reality of ObamaCare is that it looks like it will be declared unconstitutional and thrown out, if only it could make its way to the Supreme Court before it moves too far down the road to reverse it.
In the meantime, the Republicans are about to begin the primary process by which they will choose their nominee to challenge Obama in November, 2012. Naturally the mainstream media are doing their best to marginalize the entire field, and each of the candidates individually, while trying to create an air of inevitability for a second Obama term in office.
We will be here holding the media’s feet to the fire, and trying to keep them honest. We need and appreciate all the support you provide us each year. The challenges are enormous.
For Accuracy in Media
For more than 40 years, AIM has been providing information about media bias as a public service in order to build awareness about the importance of factual news coverage. Your support has not only helped ensure our survival, but caused some amazing things to happen. One of them is that three-quarters of respondents to media public opinion polls now say they mistrust the mainstream press.
Without your confidence in the merits of our work, this outpouring of public sentiment would not have occurred. But we can’t stop now. These days the media marketplace is becoming increasingly more competitive. The barrage of media misreporting comes not only from political ideologues in the establishment press but also from well funded non-profits backed by billionaire George Soros and his allies. That’s why expanding the audience for AIM’s work is crucial to the future of freedom and the free press in America. But in order to continue our vital work, we must ask for your support. Please help us empower the public with knowledge about the effect that media bias is having on our culture and our precious freedoms. Send your donation today to AIM.