Commentary Magazine


Topic: unions

Scott Walker’s Political Courage

As Jonathan very correctly observes, Scott Walker’s public-sector union reforms, which he got enacted over extraordinary opposition, scare unions, Democrats, and possible GOP opponents alike should he decide to run for the Republican nomination in 2016. Unions face a massive loss of funds (and therefore political power) if his reforms spread to other states. The Democratic Party faces a loss of those union funds, which go overwhelmingly to that party. And the contenders for the presidency in both parties face the fact that Scott Walker, who comes across in both private and public as a nice, low-key, everyone’s-favorite-uncle sort of guy—a veritable unObama when it comes to self-regard and ego—has proved himself a political mensch of the first order. That could be a very potent combination in 2016.

Scott Walker felt he had to fight the public-service unions, instead of kicking the problem down the road as most politicians are wont to do. That he did so, and succeeded, it seems to me, adds to his political potency in an era when a considerable majority of the people think the political establishment has been avoiding taking on the tough but necessary political jobs—tax reform, legal reform, entitlement reforms, etc.—for purely self-interested reasons, endangering long-term prosperity in the process. The right track/wrong track polling stands at a dismal 30 percent/62 percent and hasn’t been in positive territory for a very long time.

Governor Walker took on reform of public-sector unions not because the crisis would come in his governorship, but because he knew it would otherwise come.

The basic problem here is that the public sector should never have been allowed to unionize on the Wagner Act model that governs private-sector unions, for the private sector and the public sector are two very different economic beasts. FDR—hardly anti-union—adamantly opposed public-sector unionization. The reasons are three.

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As Jonathan very correctly observes, Scott Walker’s public-sector union reforms, which he got enacted over extraordinary opposition, scare unions, Democrats, and possible GOP opponents alike should he decide to run for the Republican nomination in 2016. Unions face a massive loss of funds (and therefore political power) if his reforms spread to other states. The Democratic Party faces a loss of those union funds, which go overwhelmingly to that party. And the contenders for the presidency in both parties face the fact that Scott Walker, who comes across in both private and public as a nice, low-key, everyone’s-favorite-uncle sort of guy—a veritable unObama when it comes to self-regard and ego—has proved himself a political mensch of the first order. That could be a very potent combination in 2016.

Scott Walker felt he had to fight the public-service unions, instead of kicking the problem down the road as most politicians are wont to do. That he did so, and succeeded, it seems to me, adds to his political potency in an era when a considerable majority of the people think the political establishment has been avoiding taking on the tough but necessary political jobs—tax reform, legal reform, entitlement reforms, etc.—for purely self-interested reasons, endangering long-term prosperity in the process. The right track/wrong track polling stands at a dismal 30 percent/62 percent and hasn’t been in positive territory for a very long time.

Governor Walker took on reform of public-sector unions not because the crisis would come in his governorship, but because he knew it would otherwise come.

The basic problem here is that the public sector should never have been allowed to unionize on the Wagner Act model that governs private-sector unions, for the private sector and the public sector are two very different economic beasts. FDR—hardly anti-union—adamantly opposed public-sector unionization. The reasons are three.

1) When a profit-seeking corporation sits down to negotiate with its unions, the two sides are basically negotiating over how to divide the profits that capital and labor, working together, create. Both sides know that if they push too hard it can kill the goose that lays the golden eggs of profit. If capital drives too hard a bargain, it will have a sullen labor force and will lose the best workers to the competition. If labor drives too hard a bargain, management will have to raise prices and business will be lost to the competition. They often get the balance wrong, but market signals will tell them that and be a factor in the next negotiation.

But in the public sector, there is no competition, and therefore no market signals. And they are not creating wealth, they are spending other people’s money (i.e. the taxpayers’). As Milton Friedman explained, no one spends other people’s money as carefully as they spend their own. Management here has effectively no skin in the game, so why fight hard to keep down labor costs? It’s better to ensure labor peace.

2) But even worse, while in the private sector neither side has any say in who sits across the table, in the public sector the unions can powerfully influence whom they negotiate with. They use union dues to contribute to campaigns to get union-friendly politicians elected. Those politicians then give the unions a better deal, providing the unions with more money, which is recycled into campaigns and a vicious circle is established.

3) Politicians are always short-sighted. They care about tomorrow’s headline and next year’s election, not a future when they will no longer be in office. In a public-sector labor negotiation, both sides of the table are populated by politicians (union leaders are elected after all, and, like all politicians, need to bring home the bacon). So the long-term consequences of any deal are ignored. After all, they’ll be someone else’s problem. By loading most of the increased costs into future entitlements instead of current wages, they also escape current scrutiny by the press.

The result over fifty years (ironically, it was Wisconsin Governor Gaylord Nelson who signed the first bill to allow the first public-service unions, in 1959) is a public sector that is paid more in wages than their private-sector counterparts and enjoys benefits that private sector workers can only dream of, such as free health benefits and generous defined-benefit retirement plans for which public-sector workers pay nothing. If public-sector workers in Wisconsin are now taking home less than they did before reform, that is largely because they are now contributing to their health and retirement plans, just like their private-sector counterparts have to do.

So it’s not simply “anti-unionism,” as unions and Democrats contend, it’s redressing a grossly unfair situation that should never have been allowed to develop in the first place and that was quickly spiraling out of control. How many Detroits can this country take? Three smaller cities in California have also declared bankruptcy because of unsupportable obligations to public-sector workers. Many more across the country are on the brink.

So someone had to be St. George and slay this dragon despite the personal political risks in taking on so formidable an opponent. Scott Walker had the necessary courage. That will stand him in very good stead in the next few years.

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Walker Scares Unions and GOP 2016 Rivals

This past week Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was the target of a massive assault by the liberal media that sought to inflate a minor story about his administration as Milwaukee county executive into a scandal that could eliminate him as a 2016 presidential contender. The effort fell flat as the issues involved were insignificant and there was no link between the governor and any wrongdoing. Even a fishing expedition into 27,000 pages of emails revealed nothing more damning than an internal debate about whether a former thong model was a suitable candidate for a job. Liberals may have had a brief moment of elation when they thought this would remove Walker from the 2016 picture as effectively as Bridgegate turned Chris Christie’s presidential hopes to ashes. But Democrats would do well to ignore this distraction and instead take a deep dive into a story published today in the New York Times that centers on the real reason why the Wisconsin governor is so important: fiscal reform.

Though the slant of Steven Greenhouse’s lengthy feature is not so much Walker’s record but an attempt to engender sympathy for the unions he defeated in a 2011 legislative showdown, the governor still emerges as the hero of the saga. Wisconsin’s public-sector unions are telling their colleagues around the nation to worry about other states emulating Walker’s efforts to change the balance of power between labor and government. They’re right. Though Walker paid a high price in terms of vilification and a recall effort that failed to drive him from office, the results of his reforms are now apparent. As the Times reports, Wisconsin’s municipalities and school districts have saved more than $2 billion in the last two years. The nation confronts a future in which the costs of public-sector salaries and benefits could push a host of cities off the same fiscal cliff that landed Detroit in bankruptcy and civil ruin. Though the unions that lost their power to raid the public treasury will never forgive Walker, his courage in standing up to them and achieving results provides a compelling story that could very well inspire a run to the White House.

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This past week Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was the target of a massive assault by the liberal media that sought to inflate a minor story about his administration as Milwaukee county executive into a scandal that could eliminate him as a 2016 presidential contender. The effort fell flat as the issues involved were insignificant and there was no link between the governor and any wrongdoing. Even a fishing expedition into 27,000 pages of emails revealed nothing more damning than an internal debate about whether a former thong model was a suitable candidate for a job. Liberals may have had a brief moment of elation when they thought this would remove Walker from the 2016 picture as effectively as Bridgegate turned Chris Christie’s presidential hopes to ashes. But Democrats would do well to ignore this distraction and instead take a deep dive into a story published today in the New York Times that centers on the real reason why the Wisconsin governor is so important: fiscal reform.

Though the slant of Steven Greenhouse’s lengthy feature is not so much Walker’s record but an attempt to engender sympathy for the unions he defeated in a 2011 legislative showdown, the governor still emerges as the hero of the saga. Wisconsin’s public-sector unions are telling their colleagues around the nation to worry about other states emulating Walker’s efforts to change the balance of power between labor and government. They’re right. Though Walker paid a high price in terms of vilification and a recall effort that failed to drive him from office, the results of his reforms are now apparent. As the Times reports, Wisconsin’s municipalities and school districts have saved more than $2 billion in the last two years. The nation confronts a future in which the costs of public-sector salaries and benefits could push a host of cities off the same fiscal cliff that landed Detroit in bankruptcy and civil ruin. Though the unions that lost their power to raid the public treasury will never forgive Walker, his courage in standing up to them and achieving results provides a compelling story that could very well inspire a run to the White House.

Not everyone in Wisconsin is happy about what happened there in 2011, when Walker pushed through his reform agenda despite the spectacle of union thugs and left-wing activists that descended on the state capitol in Madison in an effort to shut down the rule of law in the state. As Greenhouse writes, the unions that took for granted their right to run roughshod over state and municipal officials bitterly regret their defeat. They took for granted their right to demand and get pay and benefits that most of the taxpayers paying the bill couldn’t dream about. As Walker learned when he was Milwaukee’s county executive, the name of the game was union power. Budget shortfalls were mere details to leaders who would rather see workers laid off and services to the citizens curtailed than make concessions to balance the budget. If those unions are now demoralized, their regret is that they no longer have the whip hand over the government. Walker’s rollback of union power enabled the those elected by the people to function without the sort of union blackmail that make it impossible for mayors and governors around the country to stand up to threats of strikes and political payback.

Just as important, the changes brought about by Walker forces public sector unions to go back to their original purpose: serving their members rather than playing political power brokers. The provisions that force them to recertify compels the unions to demonstrate to their members that they are there to help them rather than to act as the storm troops of the Democratic Party. This accountability dethrones them as the tyrants of the workplace as well as of the public square.

While other Republicans (including Christie) shared his views about reform, it was only Walker who dared to directly take on public sector unions and their political allies. In 2011, the conventional wisdom was that he was a rash politician who tried to do too much and would fail. But where others made incremental gains at best, by carrying out his campaign promises Walker showed both his party and the nation that it was possible to tell the truth about the fiscal peril, do something about it and live to tell the tale.

Just as they did in 2012 when liberals made Walker’s recall a national priority, the left is once again hoping to end the governor’s career by defeating him for reelection this fall. But if he is favored to win in November it is not just because voters remember the irresponsible efforts of unions and Democrats to thwart reform or because Walker is a likeable and able politician. Rather, it is because he has demonstrated the kind of political courage that is very rare in our system today and produced results. While he is still a relative novice on the national stage and could well falter long before 2016, that is a record that should scare potential Republican presidential rivals as much as it does the unions and the Democrats.

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The UAW’s Waterloo

The United Auto Workers Union suffered a devastating defeat on Friday, when its attempt to organize the workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga failed on a vote of 712-626 (53-47 percent). The company had agreed not to resist the organizing effort and gave the union access to the plant and its workers. If the union couldn’t win an election under those conditions, it is a powerful sign of how weak, indeed toxic, unions have become in recent years. If the UAW couldn’t win this election, it seems doubtful it can win any election.

To be sure, unions have always been weak in the South where all the states in the old Confederacy have right-to-work laws in place. That, of course, is precisely the reason why most plants built by foreign automobile manufacturers in this country in recent years have been built there. (Low taxes and mild winters are two other powerful reasons, of course.)

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The United Auto Workers Union suffered a devastating defeat on Friday, when its attempt to organize the workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga failed on a vote of 712-626 (53-47 percent). The company had agreed not to resist the organizing effort and gave the union access to the plant and its workers. If the union couldn’t win an election under those conditions, it is a powerful sign of how weak, indeed toxic, unions have become in recent years. If the UAW couldn’t win this election, it seems doubtful it can win any election.

To be sure, unions have always been weak in the South where all the states in the old Confederacy have right-to-work laws in place. That, of course, is precisely the reason why most plants built by foreign automobile manufacturers in this country in recent years have been built there. (Low taxes and mild winters are two other powerful reasons, of course.)

But they have become increasingly weak everywhere. In the early 1950s union membership in the private sector peaked at about 35 percent of the work force. Today it is about 6 percent. Manufacturing, the heart and soul of the union movement, has become much more efficient, and therefore less labor-intensive. And much of the unskilled and semi-skilled jobs, such as in garment manufacturing, have moved offshore. The UAW membership peaked at 1.5 million in the 1970s. Today it is 338,000.

Only in the public sector, which should never have been made subject to collective bargaining under the Wagner and Taft-Hartley Acts, is union membership increasing. And right-to-work laws are spreading. In 2012 both Indiana and even Michigan—the home of the UAW—became right-to-work states.

But as the American economy has undergone profound change in the last sixty years, labor law has not kept pace. The Wagner Act dates to 1935 and the Taft-Hartley Act to 1947. Like the unions themselves they are dinosaurs. So why do the unions continue to have such a large place in American politics while they have an ever-shrinking place in the American economy? The answer, of course, is the “mother’s milk of politics,” money. Unions are the single biggest source of funds for Democratic causes and candidates.

According to Opensecrets.org, of the top ten political donors in the last 25 years, six are unions. And they all overwhelmingly donated to Democratic causes and candidates. The UAW, for instance, has donated $41.7 million over the last 25 years. That’s well over twice what the infamous Koch brothers have donated, mostly to Republican causes. (The Koch brothers actually gave 8 percent of their money to Democratic causes and candidates.)

Of the UAW’s donations, 71 percent went to Democrats and zero percent went to Republicans. The other 29 percent went to organizations not formally affiliated with either party but it’s a safe bet they are left-leaning. Unions can also mobilize large numbers of “volunteers” for phone banks and get-out-the-vote efforts.

Thus, unions have such a disproportionate influence over the Democratic Party for the simplest of reasons: they buy it. How much longer that will continue is a good question. There is no reason to think that the long-term decline in the private sector will not continue. And in places where union dues are no longer collected by governments (such as in Wisconsin), public sector union members have been leaving in droves. Obviously, they don’t think they have been getting value for their money. That is also a trend that is likely to spread.

The days of the union movement, it seems, are numbered. But it’s not likely to go quietly.

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Obama’s Inequality Prescription: Cronyism, Generational Theft, and Massive Debt

President Obama’s speech yesterday on inequality was a combination of the cynicism and panic that have governed his actions lately. Panic, because the speech was an obvious populist pep rally to distract from the massive economic disruptions his failing and flailing policies–at the moment, chiefly ObamaCare–are causing. And cynicism, because his opinion of his audience is low enough that he thinks the transparent ploy will work on them.

The pointlessness of the speech was clear when he said this:

Now, you’ll be pleased to know this is not a State of the Union Address.  (Laughter.)  And many of the ideas that can make the biggest difference in expanding opportunity I’ve presented before.  But let me offer a few key principles, just a roadmap that I believe should guide us in both our legislative agenda and our administrative efforts.

He’s giving them fair warning that he’s got nothing new to offer and his prescriptions will mostly consist of sloganeering–another chapter, in other words, of the bumper-sticker presidency. And that is indeed what followed. But there was also a noteworthy element to the speech: after five years of running the country, the president has developed no creative ideas and shown no willingness to think outside the conventional liberal box, even when those ideas are clearly failing.

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President Obama’s speech yesterday on inequality was a combination of the cynicism and panic that have governed his actions lately. Panic, because the speech was an obvious populist pep rally to distract from the massive economic disruptions his failing and flailing policies–at the moment, chiefly ObamaCare–are causing. And cynicism, because his opinion of his audience is low enough that he thinks the transparent ploy will work on them.

The pointlessness of the speech was clear when he said this:

Now, you’ll be pleased to know this is not a State of the Union Address.  (Laughter.)  And many of the ideas that can make the biggest difference in expanding opportunity I’ve presented before.  But let me offer a few key principles, just a roadmap that I believe should guide us in both our legislative agenda and our administrative efforts.

He’s giving them fair warning that he’s got nothing new to offer and his prescriptions will mostly consist of sloganeering–another chapter, in other words, of the bumper-sticker presidency. And that is indeed what followed. But there was also a noteworthy element to the speech: after five years of running the country, the president has developed no creative ideas and shown no willingness to think outside the conventional liberal box, even when those ideas are clearly failing.

For example, the president noted the importance of education, which is true, and then said this: “We know it’s harder to find a job today without some higher education, so we’ve helped more students go to college with grants and loans that go farther than before.” What the federal government’s loan program has done, as we know, is raise tuition prices even more and further inflate a bubble that puts the economy in more danger:

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke dismissed these concerns by saying that most of the money in the student-loan sector is federal money, which just means taxpayers – rather than lending institutions – will take the initial hit. But the board of governors makes a salient point as student loan debt soars to $1 trillion and exceeds the nation’s level of credit-card debt.

“The bankers said student lending shares features of the housing crisis including ‘significant growth of subsidized lending in pursuit of a social good,’ in this case higher education instead of expanded home ownership,” according to that Bloomberg report. “The lending has put upward pressure on tuition, just as the mortgage lending boom led to rising home prices, they said, calling both examples of a ‘lack of underwriting discipline.’”

For my entire life, I’ve heard policy makers insist that there is insufficient funding for education and that getting a college degree is the pathway to a better life. But as the bankers noted, the sea of student-loan money artificially boosts the cost of tuition, which creates a new cycle of indebtedness by students. Higher tuition makes “pay-as-you-go” a less-likely option.

The president also returned to a recent hobbyhorse, the minimum wage. Here, he unintentionally hurts two of his main targets of relief, students and workers, in one shot. Obama said:

And as we empower our young people for future success, the third part of this middle-class economics is empowering our workers.  It’s time to ensure our collective bargaining laws function as they’re supposed to — (applause) — so unions have a level playing field to organize for a better deal for workers and better wages for the middle class. …

And even though we’re bringing manufacturing jobs back to America, we’re creating more good-paying jobs in education and health care and business services; we know that we’re going to have a greater and greater portion of our people in the service sector.  And we know that there are airport workers, and fast-food workers, and nurse assistants, and retail salespeople who work their tails off and are still living at or barely above poverty.  (Applause.)  And that’s why it’s well past the time to raise a minimum wage that in real terms right now is below where it was when Harry Truman was in office.

But empowering union members isn’t the same as empowering workers. In many cases, it’s the opposite. Raising the minimum wage prices certain workers out of some industries, further cementing employed union workers’ job security at the expense of those on the lower rungs of the workforce. In other words, the president will reduce employment to reward his campaign allies. This is cronyism dressed up as moral governance, and it’s both shameful and par for the course for elected Democrats.

And it gets worse. Unions whose workers don’t make minimum wage support the president’s minimum wage hike for another reason. As Richard Berman explained in the Wall Street Journal when Obama last floated a push for a minimum wage hike: “The labor contracts that we examined used a variety of methods to trigger the increases. The two most popular formulas were setting baseline union wages as a percentage above the state or federal minimum wage or mandating a flat wage premium above the minimum wage.”

So hiking the minimum wage can automatically reward Obama’s union allies in a number of ways. And of course empowering unions, especially through some of the prevailing collective bargaining frameworks, can also harm students. State-negotiated union education contracts aim for a degree of wage and benefit parity, which can be affordable (though often still unnecessary) for some school districts but plainly outrageous for others. The wages and benefits can’t be cut when budgets fail, so students lose out on books, computers, after-school activities, tutors–anything that doesn’t impact the unions but quite obviously detracts from the students.

Cronyism, generational theft, and massive debt are what the president has to offer on the economic front. He should be glad the speech flew under the radar.

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Fast Food Protests Divorced From Reality

If you were in the mood for a fast-food meal yesterday or today in several parts of the country, you were in for a surprise: loud protests outside the doors of some major chain restaurants. Several chains in metropolitan areas were affected by protests demanding higher wages at establishments like McDonald’s and Burger King. A local free daily newspaper in New York City, amNewYork, interviewed one of the workers leading the charge:

“When you have a family and work in the fast food industry, you just have to forget about it,” said Greg Reynoso, 27, a former Dominos Pizza employee who now organizes his peers.

The question that comes to mind first is this: Who said anyone could or should support an entire family on the salary of a fast-food employee? Has anyone ever reasonably made that promise? 

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If you were in the mood for a fast-food meal yesterday or today in several parts of the country, you were in for a surprise: loud protests outside the doors of some major chain restaurants. Several chains in metropolitan areas were affected by protests demanding higher wages at establishments like McDonald’s and Burger King. A local free daily newspaper in New York City, amNewYork, interviewed one of the workers leading the charge:

“When you have a family and work in the fast food industry, you just have to forget about it,” said Greg Reynoso, 27, a former Dominos Pizza employee who now organizes his peers.

The question that comes to mind first is this: Who said anyone could or should support an entire family on the salary of a fast-food employee? Has anyone ever reasonably made that promise? 

Traditionally, one envisions a fast food employee as a teenager working their first job. The marketing strategy of these chains is that they are an inexpensive quick stop for lower and middle-income Americans to feed themselves and their families. Menu options are made affordable in many ways, not least of which is by keeping labor costs at a minimum. Any added costs, including labor, would then be passed down to the customer via increased prices, making these cheap meals unaffordable to those who need to watch every dime and dollar. If restaurants are unable to attract customers with their new, higher, price points the jobs of those striking as well as those who are not would disappear. 

The group behind the latest protests, Fast Food Forward, calling for the minimum wage increase from $7.25 an hour to the laughable amount of $15 an hour in New York City, are no strangers to organized protest. The director of Fast Food Forward, Jonathan Westin, also runs New York Communities for Change (NYCC), the renamed and reorganized descendent of the now defunct ACORN, which was disgraced and brought down by an expose that made the activist James O’Keefe famous. In late 2011 NYCC was rocked by a Fox News report linking the group with paid protesters at Occupy Wall Street. At the time Fox News reported:

“They reminded us that we can get fired, sued, arrested for talking to the press,” the source said. “Then they went through the article point-by-point and said that the allegation that we pay people to protest isn’t true.”

 “‘That’s the story that we’re sticking to,’” Westin said, according to the source.

The source said staffers at the meeting contested Westin’s denial:

“It was pretty funny. Jonathan told staff they don’t pay for protesters, but the people in the meeting  who work there objected and said, ‘Wait, you pay us to go to the protests every day?’ Then Jonathan said  ‘No, but that’s your job,’ and staffers were like, ‘Yeah, our job is to protest,’ and Westin said, ‘No your job is to fight for economic and social justice. We just send you to protest.’

“Staff said, ‘Yes, you pay us to carry signs.’ Then Jonathan says, ‘That’s your job.’ It went on like that back and forth for a while.”

Late last year and in April of this year the same kind of protests were held by Fast Food Forward, even sporting the exact same signs, with overt references to unionization in addition to $15/hour wages. In last year’s protest the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) was involved and in this year’s protests, their Facebook page has posted several times about the protests as well as lending their public support.

Is this a grassroots effort sweeping through the kitchens of fast-food restaurants across New York City and nationwide? Despite the full-page treatment in newspapers and stories on cable news to a movement with a large number of petition signatures and loud protests, it doesn’t appear to be. If it was, perhaps we would have heard about fast-food chains shutting down due to understaffing yesterday. Instead, we were treated to images of dozens of familiar prefabricated placards outside restaurants, carried through the city by a group linked to paying protesters in the recent past.

What’s in it for the groups organizing and perhaps even paying for these protests? If even a fraction of these restaurants were able to unionize, the payout for SEIU would be enormous. How would the workers who are supposedly leading this movement fare? Many of these employees, who were already facing reduced hours thanks to the union-supported ObamaCare, would likely see at least part of any raise going toward union dues. Restaurants, already operating on tight profit margins, would be forced to either close or raise prices in order to make up for increased labor costs, making meals unaffordable for many.

If restaurants were forced to close under the increased weight not only of increased labor costs, but also new ObamaCare regulation requirements, employees wouldn’t be asking for raises, they’d be asking for any job at all. Employees and other individuals in their income bracket would not only be left unemployed, but also without inexpensive meal options for their families. With all of this in mind one has to wonder: Who are these protest groups really advocating for? 

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How Big Government Erodes Quality of Life

Homeowners who undertake construction or improvement projects on their property have noticed the proliferation of municipal regulations forbidding the removal of dirt from the property without a permit. That is, you must pay the town for the privilege of throwing away dirt–if the town engineer lets you, that is. Some towns have even formed official Soil Boards (I wish I were making that up) to oversee this process, because once you begin wasting taxpayer money as if it were, well, dirt, it can apparently become quite addictive.

When I was a reporter in New Jersey, residents of one of the towns in my coverage area began discovering this soil scheme, and at the same time the town announced it was cutting back on garbage pickup due to budget constraints. Residents quickly figured out the scam: they were not only having to do work that the township was supposed to do, but the residents were actually paying the township in order to do so. The decrease in garbage pickup wouldn’t have been so terrible but for another brilliant town rule: as in many municipalities, residents could only deposit their garbage in township-provided trash cans, and the town refused to provide additional trash cans to make up for the extra days between pickups. The government’s policies ensured that much of the town was covered by rotting garbage or unwanted dirt.

This a fairly common example of what happens when local governments overspend in times of plenty and find themselves cash-strapped after the boom. You can only raise property taxes so high–though New Jersey is perpetually testing that hypothesis. The Tax Foundation reports that “Coming in with the highest per capita collection rate is New Jersey.” But the point is that even as property and other taxes go up, the government’s balance sheet affects more than just taxes. Elected officials’ inability to budget responsibly results in numerous erosions of the quality of life of everyone except the government’s favored interest groups, to whom it has given all the money it was supposed to save or spend on you.

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Homeowners who undertake construction or improvement projects on their property have noticed the proliferation of municipal regulations forbidding the removal of dirt from the property without a permit. That is, you must pay the town for the privilege of throwing away dirt–if the town engineer lets you, that is. Some towns have even formed official Soil Boards (I wish I were making that up) to oversee this process, because once you begin wasting taxpayer money as if it were, well, dirt, it can apparently become quite addictive.

When I was a reporter in New Jersey, residents of one of the towns in my coverage area began discovering this soil scheme, and at the same time the town announced it was cutting back on garbage pickup due to budget constraints. Residents quickly figured out the scam: they were not only having to do work that the township was supposed to do, but the residents were actually paying the township in order to do so. The decrease in garbage pickup wouldn’t have been so terrible but for another brilliant town rule: as in many municipalities, residents could only deposit their garbage in township-provided trash cans, and the town refused to provide additional trash cans to make up for the extra days between pickups. The government’s policies ensured that much of the town was covered by rotting garbage or unwanted dirt.

This a fairly common example of what happens when local governments overspend in times of plenty and find themselves cash-strapped after the boom. You can only raise property taxes so high–though New Jersey is perpetually testing that hypothesis. The Tax Foundation reports that “Coming in with the highest per capita collection rate is New Jersey.” But the point is that even as property and other taxes go up, the government’s balance sheet affects more than just taxes. Elected officials’ inability to budget responsibly results in numerous erosions of the quality of life of everyone except the government’s favored interest groups, to whom it has given all the money it was supposed to save or spend on you.

In addition to the Tax Foundation’s findings, the story of big government’s failures was brought to mind by the Manhattan Institute’s Steven Malanga, who has a column today about the growth in unfunded state pension liabilities and what that is doing to the business climate–and thus the future job market–in some states. Malanga notes that courts have often sided with government employees who argue that the generous benefits formula put in place during a far different economic climate and for different workers cannot be undone, amended, or disturbed even for current and future workers.

“That’s a prescription for higher taxes, fewer services and eventual insolvency,” Malanga writes. He continues:

Large businesses that operate in multiple locations see this playing out as a new aggressiveness on the part of states. Every few years Chief Financial Officer magazine asks executives at large companies to rate the states in terms of how aggressively they pursue higher tax collections. In the last study, completed in 2011, executives told the magazine that, as one finance exec wrote: “The states are in a pure money-grab mode and don’t care about policy, the law, or fairness.” Not surprisingly, four of the five worst-rated states in that study-California, New York, Illinois and New Jersey-all have mountains of debt of one form or another.

Some state governments have switched from merely trying to collect taxes on in-state business to extending their tax arm as far as possible. That means firms with a single telecommuter in a state are being dunned for corporate income tax claims, as are firms with no physical presence in a state other than a website hosted on local server.

“We are seriously going to consider whether we allow employees to travel to or participate in events” in New York, one CEO recently told Chief Executive magazine. New York has the second highest per capita debt load among the states, according to a report by its comptroller, as well as one of the highest tax burdens in the nation. So it’s not surprising that the CEO explained his strategy by noting, “We can’t afford for NY to become a tax nexus for us just because our employees participate in a conference in NY or the like.”

Indebted states must eventually become money-grabbing states, if they aren’t already. Businesses that haven’t learned that lesson yet will learn it the hard way.

Malanga’s column explains that businesses are starting to understand all that goes into their decisions on where to locate their headquarters–and even, as the above quote demonstrates, which cities and states their employees travel to on business. The states dominated by big government liberalism run amok will be highly attractive to public sector workers but few others.

And that, in turn, risks perpetuating this vicious cycle by damaging the economy that would otherwise feed the government beast. The remaining taxpayers will see their taxes go up. These days that will be accompanied by cutting essential services because the contracts and pension plans can’t be touched (much like the similar predicament I’ve discussed in which New Jersey’s public school students lost out on computers, tutoring, newer books, and sports programs because the teachers union contracts couldn’t be adjusted to meet costs).

It also, once again, proves the importance of responsible budgeting in all economic climates and the foolishness of putting off possible reforms until it’s too late. The rise of conservative governors even in blue states is perhaps a hopeful sign that message is getting through.

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The Twilight of the Unions

Unions had a really lousy year in 2012. Governor Scott Walker was retained in office despite an all-out union effort to have him recalled. Indiana and Michigan (!) became right-to-work states.

And now the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports in its annual survey that union membership fell by 400,000 last year, despite an increase of 2.4 million in the total number of jobs. Today, only 11.3 percent of the labor force is unionized, the least since 1916, when the rate was 11.2 percent. But that understates the decline because in 1916 only private-sector workers were unionized. Today, just 6.6 percent of the private workforce is unionized. In 1953, about one-third of American workers were union members. It was 25 percent as recently as the 1980s.

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Unions had a really lousy year in 2012. Governor Scott Walker was retained in office despite an all-out union effort to have him recalled. Indiana and Michigan (!) became right-to-work states.

And now the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports in its annual survey that union membership fell by 400,000 last year, despite an increase of 2.4 million in the total number of jobs. Today, only 11.3 percent of the labor force is unionized, the least since 1916, when the rate was 11.2 percent. But that understates the decline because in 1916 only private-sector workers were unionized. Today, just 6.6 percent of the private workforce is unionized. In 1953, about one-third of American workers were union members. It was 25 percent as recently as the 1980s.

Perhaps the most interesting statistic in the BLS report is union membership broken down by age. Of workers 55-64 years of age, 14.9 percent are union members. For those 16-24, a mere 4.2 percent are unionized. That, to put it mildly, does not bode well for the future of the union movement.

The basic reason for this now-60-year-long decline, of course, is that unions are economic dinosaurs. They arose in the late 19th century at the same time as unprecedentedly large industrial and transportation corporations came into being. The corporations had enormous economic and political power and the unorganized workers had virtually none. Unions helped to redress the balance.

With the Wagner Act of 1935, which put the power of the federal government behind the union movement, the golden age of unions began. It didn’t last long. Greatly increased educational opportunities after World War II and the digital revolution that began around 1970 have eroded the number of workers who need unions to bargain for them and the number of jobs available to unskilled and semi-skilled workers.

But the laws governing corporate-union relations had their last major overhaul in 1947 with the Taft-Hartley Act in a completely different economic universe. The unions’ power with the Democratic Party (they are the No. 1 funder of the party and its candidates) has prevented any modernization, giving them disproportionate political clout. But even that is fading. The unions were unable to get “card check,” which would have ended secret elections in union organizing drives, through Congress when the Democrats had a lock on both houses of Congress in the first two years of the Obama administration.

So while unions, like dinosaurs, are still very powerful, like dinosaurs, they are going extinct.

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Will Liberals Meet Reality on the NYC School Bus Strike?

In the New York Post last week, John wrote an excellent piece on the latest union-taxpayer showdown in New York City–the school bus driver strike that began earlier this month. This battle, like many across the country for oversized compensation for unionized workers that outpaces a municipality’s ability to pay, could shape the financial future of New York City for years to come. In the Post John explained, 

You should watch this one closely, whether you have kids who’ve been kicked off a bus or not, because it’s a sneak preview of what is likely to be coming over the next decade in municipalities across the country.

These workers aren’t city employees. They work for private companies. The city’s contracts with those companies are up in June. The city plans to bid out the work.

It has to. You want it to. Trust me: Under the terms of the current contracts, providing this bus service costs — I hope you’re sitting down before you read this next clause — $7,000 a year per passenger.

That’s seven grand per kid.

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In the New York Post last week, John wrote an excellent piece on the latest union-taxpayer showdown in New York City–the school bus driver strike that began earlier this month. This battle, like many across the country for oversized compensation for unionized workers that outpaces a municipality’s ability to pay, could shape the financial future of New York City for years to come. In the Post John explained, 

You should watch this one closely, whether you have kids who’ve been kicked off a bus or not, because it’s a sneak preview of what is likely to be coming over the next decade in municipalities across the country.

These workers aren’t city employees. They work for private companies. The city’s contracts with those companies are up in June. The city plans to bid out the work.

It has to. You want it to. Trust me: Under the terms of the current contracts, providing this bus service costs — I hope you’re sitting down before you read this next clause — $7,000 a year per passenger.

That’s seven grand per kid.

Predictably, the unions have spent a considerable amount of time, effort and money trying to convince parents that their children would be safest in the hands of unionized drivers. The New York Post reported on the statistics regarding bus accidents with supposedly safer unionized drivers yesterday: 

Buses with public-school contracts were involved in more than 1,700 accidents in which the driver was at fault in each of the past five years for which numbers are available, according to statistics compiled by the city’s Department of Education.

The incidents range from minor fender-benders to collisions that resulted in 912 injuries in 2011, the latest year for which stats are available.

A year earlier, there were 1,792 accidents resulting in two deaths and 1,796 injuries.

Despite this bloody record, the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181 claims its crippling bus strike is being waged in the best interests of its student passengers — because only its members can do the job safely.

While thousands of New York City parents have been inconvenienced, the strike has hit the city’s disabled students the hardest. The New York Daily News reported on the heartbreaking reality for students who rely on school transportation to provide them with physical therapy and social interaction. The strike has left these vulnerable students homebound indefinitely, setting back progress they may have been making not only educationally, but also physically and emotionally. 

The former head of the MTA (the city’s transportation authority), Joe Lhota, recently announced his bid for mayor as a Republican, immediately shaking up the field of contenders. On Fox 5 New York this week Lhota commented on the strike,

These are private sector bus drivers who want to be treated as civil servants. That’s a very, very slippery slope that we’d go down. This is a contract arrangement between a private company… and these bus drivers. These bus drivers aren’t like transit authority workers, they are private sector workers, but they want the same benefits… The mayor is absolutely correct. The courts have held that what the union is asking for is illegal. You should not negotiate when something is illegal. 

The perceived mayoral front-runner, Christine Quinn, refuses to get involved in the debate, despite Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s hard line with the strikers. If the dispute outlasts Bloomberg’s administration (ending in November), which it may, its future under a new mayor is still very much up in the air. Candidates’ stances on the strike could play an outsized role in the race for parents and grandparents inconvenienced for the remaining months of the school year. 

While the strike is a local issue for residents of New York, it is yet another example of how unions across the country, despite claims regarding their competency and dedication, are interested in their own bottom lines and little else. For New Yorkers famous for their extremely liberal voting records, this could be a very rude awakening about the reality of union conflicts across the country.

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Labor Unions, Violence, and America’s Political Religion

When he was only 28 years old, Abraham Lincoln delivered an address before the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois.

The speech included Lincoln’s plea to avoid what he called the “mobocratic spirit.” He warned about an “ill-omen amongst us”–which he identified as, among other things, the “growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passion, in lieu of the sober judgment of Courts.” 

In fact, the Young Men’s Lyceum speech deals in large part with the issue of passion vs. reason. Lincoln, like the Founders, had a deep insight into human nature, acknowledging that “jealousy, envy, and avarice” are “incident to our nature.” The basest principles of our nature, he said, “were either made to lie dormant, or to become the active agents in the advancement of the noblest of cause — that of establishing and maintaining civil and religious liberty” (meaning they were directed exclusively against the British nation). But at the end of his speech, Lincoln issues this warning:

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When he was only 28 years old, Abraham Lincoln delivered an address before the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois.

The speech included Lincoln’s plea to avoid what he called the “mobocratic spirit.” He warned about an “ill-omen amongst us”–which he identified as, among other things, the “growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passion, in lieu of the sober judgment of Courts.” 

In fact, the Young Men’s Lyceum speech deals in large part with the issue of passion vs. reason. Lincoln, like the Founders, had a deep insight into human nature, acknowledging that “jealousy, envy, and avarice” are “incident to our nature.” The basest principles of our nature, he said, “were either made to lie dormant, or to become the active agents in the advancement of the noblest of cause — that of establishing and maintaining civil and religious liberty” (meaning they were directed exclusively against the British nation). But at the end of his speech, Lincoln issues this warning:

Passion has helped us; but can do so no more. It will in future be our enemy. Reason, cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason, must furnish all the materials for our future support and defence. Let those materials be moulded into general intelligence, sound morality and, in particular, a reverence for the constitution and laws. This must become America’s “political religion.”

Which brings us to Michigan, where Governor Rick Snyder signed a law declaring that workers will no longer be required to pay union fees as a condition of employment.

National Review offers a summary of the reaction to the new Michigan law: “Democratic legislator Douglas Geiss declared on the floor of the state house: ‘There will be blood. There will be repercussions.’ And indeed there were: Knife-wielding partisans brought down a tent on representatives from the conservative group Americans for Prosperity — women and children among them — and roughed up bystanders. Fox News contributor Steven Crowder was beaten by the same mob, punched repeatedly in the face.” In addition, Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa declared there would be a “civil war” in Michigan. (A video of some of this can be seen here, courtesy of HotAir.com. And on the left, it’s being said that “getting hit in the face is a hazard of inserting yourself in the middle of an argument between billionaire-funded know-nothing ideologues and people whose livelihoods and stability are being threatened by the insatiable greed of the super-rich and the blind extremism of their wooden-headed political allies.”) 

Conservative commentators have pointed out that Michigan is merely the most recent link in a chain of events, from the response to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s decision to end collective bargaining rights for public sector unions (where Walker was often compared to Hitler, Mubarak, and Mussolini) to the Occupy Wall Street protests (which were characterized by sexual assault, arson, and vandalism, among other things).

My point isn’t that what’s happening today is anything like the scale of what Lincoln was referring to (which included murders committed by pro-slavery mobs). But the confrontations and rage, the acts of intimidation and violence we’ve seen in places from Lansing to Zuccotti Park and several other cities are troubling enough.

We all know passions can be inflamed in political disputes. What’s crucial is to respect the rights of others even when we disagree with them. Those who don’t–those who substitute wild and furious passion for cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason–are engaged in something destructive.

We are nowhere close to a pre-civil war situation. We’re even a long distance removed from the violent protests of the late 1960s and early 1970s. But our divisions are deep enough. And when differences in policies lead to screaming matches, shoving matches, provocations and fist fights, it’s not a sign of civic health. (Liberals might be somewhat more attuned to this point if the actions we’re seeing at union rallies had happened at Tea Party gatherings.)

A “mobocratic spirit” is at odds with America’s political religion. And it would be nice, and perhaps even helpful, if the president reminded his supporters and allies of that from time to time.

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McGovern’s Futile Warning on Unions

The extent to which George McGovern, who died in late October, was identified with American liberalism itself can be seen in headlines of his various obituaries. CNN’s headline called him an “unabashed liberal voice”; PBS went with “Liberal Icon”; the New York Times chose “Prairie Liberal” (though the online edition dropped the word “prairie”); and the Nation called him a “Touchstone of Liberalism.” The Nation obit, written by John Nichols, proclaimed McGovern, the 1972 Democratic presidential nominee, “the most progressive nominee ever selected by the Democratic Party.”

McGovern, then, possessed unimpeachable liberal credentials. Yet four years before McGovern passed, the liberal blog site Firedoglake was ready to send him packing, and used the occasion to call McGovern perhaps the nastiest insult in the liberal lexicon: “Wal-Mart Lover.” What could have prompted such spite? McGovern, though a committed liberal through and through, was concerned about the growing and coercive power of unions. He felt the need to speak out against the Democrats’ proposed anti-choice legislation, card-check. McGovern chastised his party for its extremism in the Wall Street Journal:

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The extent to which George McGovern, who died in late October, was identified with American liberalism itself can be seen in headlines of his various obituaries. CNN’s headline called him an “unabashed liberal voice”; PBS went with “Liberal Icon”; the New York Times chose “Prairie Liberal” (though the online edition dropped the word “prairie”); and the Nation called him a “Touchstone of Liberalism.” The Nation obit, written by John Nichols, proclaimed McGovern, the 1972 Democratic presidential nominee, “the most progressive nominee ever selected by the Democratic Party.”

McGovern, then, possessed unimpeachable liberal credentials. Yet four years before McGovern passed, the liberal blog site Firedoglake was ready to send him packing, and used the occasion to call McGovern perhaps the nastiest insult in the liberal lexicon: “Wal-Mart Lover.” What could have prompted such spite? McGovern, though a committed liberal through and through, was concerned about the growing and coercive power of unions. He felt the need to speak out against the Democrats’ proposed anti-choice legislation, card-check. McGovern chastised his party for its extremism in the Wall Street Journal:

The key provision of EFCA is a change in the mechanism by which unions are formed and recognized. Instead of a private election with a secret ballot overseen by an impartial federal board, union organizers would simply need to gather signatures from more than 50% of the employees in a workplace or bargaining unit, a system known as “card-check.” There are many documented cases where workers have been pressured, harassed, tricked and intimidated into signing cards that have led to mandatory payment of dues.

Under EFCA, workers could lose the freedom to express their will in private, the right to make a decision without anyone peering over their shoulder, free from fear of reprisal.

Anyone who doubts that such “reprisals” were and are a serious danger might have been convinced by what they saw yesterday in Michigan, where Governor Rick Snyder signed right-to-work legislation, which allows people to work without forced unionization as a condition of their employment, into law. Earlier in the day, the Democratic contingent in the state legislature promised violence if the bill went through. The bill did, and Democratic violence and death threats from unions and their Democratic allies emerged immediately. Union leader Jimmy Hoffa then went on CNN and promised more “war.”

It is a testament to the disappearance of moderate Democrats that George McGovern was concerned enough about the party’s growing anti-Democratic extremism to speak out. That aforementioned blog post at Firedoglake made it explicitly clear that “McGovern is the one who is out of step.” Union coercion, according to the left, is mainstream; moderation was long gone.

This has long been a challenge for modern liberalism: how to keep the violence that is always brimming just below the surface of leftist protest movements from getting out of control. But in order to do that successfully, the Democratic Party must have leaders who, like McGovern, are willing to take a stand against it. You’ll search in vain for such leaders today; the White House wouldn’t condemn either the threats of violence or the actual violence yesterday. Perhaps they didn’t want to draw attention to President Obama’s appearance at a pro-union rally the day before.

Democratic leaders might want to admit–even if just to themselves–that McGovern was right. McGovern might have recognized recent events as the natural outgrowth of the unchecked extremism of a Democratic Party too liberal for its “liberal icon.”

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Leftists Claim AFP Tore Down its Own Tent in Michigan

This is why it’s absurd when people bemoan the insularity of the conservative media, as if this is a phenomenon found exclusively on the right. The left-wing blog world comes up with insane theories all the time, and the latest one–that the Americans for Prosperity tent was not ripped down by union thugs in Michigan, but actually by AFP supporters–is a classic:

Yet this overwhelming evidence has not stopped the Lansing Truthers from claiming this all is a Koch conspiracy.  Here are Hamsher’s updates to her original post, noting that one of Firedoglake’s own bloggers was spreading the conspiracy theory:

Update: Marcy Wheeler reports that “witnesses say the Americans for Prosperity people were trying to provoke union members to violence, and witnesses reportedly saw AFP people loosening the ropes on the tents so they would come down.”

Update II: Chris Savage from Eclectablog says that Americans for Prosperity tore down their own tent, and promises video soon:

Ed Schultz of MSNBC is on board helping spread the conspiracy.

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This is why it’s absurd when people bemoan the insularity of the conservative media, as if this is a phenomenon found exclusively on the right. The left-wing blog world comes up with insane theories all the time, and the latest one–that the Americans for Prosperity tent was not ripped down by union thugs in Michigan, but actually by AFP supporters–is a classic:

Yet this overwhelming evidence has not stopped the Lansing Truthers from claiming this all is a Koch conspiracy.  Here are Hamsher’s updates to her original post, noting that one of Firedoglake’s own bloggers was spreading the conspiracy theory:

Update: Marcy Wheeler reports that “witnesses say the Americans for Prosperity people were trying to provoke union members to violence, and witnesses reportedly saw AFP people loosening the ropes on the tents so they would come down.”

Update II: Chris Savage from Eclectablog says that Americans for Prosperity tore down their own tent, and promises video soon:

Ed Schultz of MSNBC is on board helping spread the conspiracy.

One left-wing blogger (h/t NiceDeb) wrote that he “knew right away [the tent collapse] was likely a false flag.” Why? Because the labor movement is known for being so peace-loving and polite?

What’s most infuriating about this is that the violence in Michigan is real. It’s on video. And yet it’s not going to get a fraction of the media attention that mere speculations about Tea Party violence received in 2010. There aren’t going to be any Time magazine covers depicting union “rage,” or news specials about the rise of left-wing extremism. Media bias isn’t just about what they do report, it’s about what they don’t report. And unfortunately, it’s hard to imagine this will get the attention it deserves.

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Attacks on Conservatives in Michigan Union Battle Escalate

Yesterday I discussed the devolution of union protests in Michigan into violence. Soon after that post, the “reported” violence against a conservative activist was confirmed when Steven Crowder posted video of the exchanges on YouTube. The video shows Crowder being punched by a man wearing union paraphernalia and–unfortunately for a man who likely wanted to remain anonymous–a satin jacket with his name embroidered on the front. Popular radio host Dana Loesch offered a reward for the identities of the men responsible for the attack on Crowder as well as the men responsible for cutting down the tent belonging to Americans for Prosperity, who were on the scene to applaud the right-to-work legislation’s passage.  

The video that Crowder posted shows multiple altercations with union members and supporters and every punch appears to be thrown while Crowder wasn’t looking. Death threats were screamed after one attack and in one clip, Crowder is pulled by the collar from behind and punched before escaping the grasp of his attacker. While union supporters claim that the video is edited and that the attacks were provoked, Crowder has promised that longer and unedited footage will appear on the Sean Hannity show tonight and tweeted yesterday, “Even if you hate me, nothing I could have done warranted being suckerpunched and threatened with murder.”

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Yesterday I discussed the devolution of union protests in Michigan into violence. Soon after that post, the “reported” violence against a conservative activist was confirmed when Steven Crowder posted video of the exchanges on YouTube. The video shows Crowder being punched by a man wearing union paraphernalia and–unfortunately for a man who likely wanted to remain anonymous–a satin jacket with his name embroidered on the front. Popular radio host Dana Loesch offered a reward for the identities of the men responsible for the attack on Crowder as well as the men responsible for cutting down the tent belonging to Americans for Prosperity, who were on the scene to applaud the right-to-work legislation’s passage.  

The video that Crowder posted shows multiple altercations with union members and supporters and every punch appears to be thrown while Crowder wasn’t looking. Death threats were screamed after one attack and in one clip, Crowder is pulled by the collar from behind and punched before escaping the grasp of his attacker. While union supporters claim that the video is edited and that the attacks were provoked, Crowder has promised that longer and unedited footage will appear on the Sean Hannity show tonight and tweeted yesterday, “Even if you hate me, nothing I could have done warranted being suckerpunched and threatened with murder.”

Predictably, the mainstream media has been silent on the attacks on Crowder and the AFP tent, barely discussing the protests that crippled Lansing yesterday that were attended by so many of the state’s teachers that two entire school districts were forced to close, sending parents into a frenzy to find childcare. At Fox News, the Media Research Center’s Dan Gainor writes:

ABC, CBS and NBC covered the protests but only ABC made mention of police having to deal with protesters. None of them mentioned the attack on Crowder or showed the videos of that attack and the thugs tearing down a tent with people in it, both widely available on the Internet hours before the evening news show broadcast. No network quoted Teamsters head Jimmy Hoffa predicting “civil war” between lawmakers and union members.

NBC anchor Brian Williams referred to it all meekly as “a boisterous day in the state capital.”

The contemptible liberal website Gawker even asked, “Do We Really Have to Condemn the Union Protestor Who Punched Fox News Comedian Steven Crowder?” (Spoiler: The answer was no.) 

On Twitter and Fox News last night, Crowder challenged his attackers to a MMA-sanctioned fight, where the proceeds of the winner would go to the cause of their choice. This is where he loses me. The attacks on Crowder and AFP were serious and indicate an increased comfort with violence from supposed “peace-loving” progressives who believe “the ends justify the means.” As conservatives, a group still licking our wounds after defeat in November, it behooves us to be above the violent tactics of the left; we should be trying this case not in a wrestling ring, but in the court of public opinion, or quite literally in court. Great efforts have been made to identify those responsible, and that information should be handed over to the proper authorities.

Conservatives can’t in good conscience and with a straight face decry progressive violence while advocating violence as a solution to this dispute. While an MMA battle might be good for one comedian’s career prospects, it likely would turn conservative complaints against union and progressive violence into a laughingstock, and reinforce the left’s claim that conservatives went looking for a (literal) fight. Given the escalating nature of violent and destructive behavior from the left in the last year, that should be the story conservatives are talking about today. 

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Michigan Right-to-Work Law Brings Out the Worst in Union Supporters

Earlier this afternoon, lawmakers in Michigan approved right-to-work legislation for public employees 58-51, sending the bill to the Republican governor, Rick Snyder, who has been promoting the legislation and is expected to sign the bill into law. Opponents of the legislation have accused Snyder of attempting to “bust the unions.” Today on Fox News Snyder answered his critics, explaining:

If you look at unions in Michigan, they’ve done a lot of great things in our state. We’re the center of the labor movement going back in the last century. In the ’20s, ’30s, ’40s, people flocked to join the unions, because they were helping with working conditions, wages, all those things. And people chose to join a union… People used to choose to join a union. Now, I don’t believe it’s appropriate to say ‘just to keep your job, you have to pay dues and be a union member.’ So basically this creates an environment where people can say they’re choosing to join a union because the unions put a value proposition to make it worth while. And if the union’s not providing a value, someone should be forced to choose. So I view this as pro-worker legislation.

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Earlier this afternoon, lawmakers in Michigan approved right-to-work legislation for public employees 58-51, sending the bill to the Republican governor, Rick Snyder, who has been promoting the legislation and is expected to sign the bill into law. Opponents of the legislation have accused Snyder of attempting to “bust the unions.” Today on Fox News Snyder answered his critics, explaining:

If you look at unions in Michigan, they’ve done a lot of great things in our state. We’re the center of the labor movement going back in the last century. In the ’20s, ’30s, ’40s, people flocked to join the unions, because they were helping with working conditions, wages, all those things. And people chose to join a union… People used to choose to join a union. Now, I don’t believe it’s appropriate to say ‘just to keep your job, you have to pay dues and be a union member.’ So basically this creates an environment where people can say they’re choosing to join a union because the unions put a value proposition to make it worth while. And if the union’s not providing a value, someone should be forced to choose. So I view this as pro-worker legislation.

As they did in Wisconsin, teachers have decided to prioritize their union over the well-being of the children in their classrooms, deciding to “sick-out” enough to warrant the closure of entire school districts. Predictably, given the likelihood that this bill could seriously hamper unions’ ability to function, the battle in Lansing is getting nasty. On the floor of the Michigan House of Representatives, State Representative Douglas Geiss threatened “there will be blood.” The Twitter account for the Michigan Democrats tweeted the quote, and a few hours later, after actual violence started to unfold, the tweet was deleted. A screen shot is visible below: 

 

The atmosphere in Lansing is tense, as right-to-work friendly organizations like Americans for Prosperity have been targeted by groups of yelling union members, many clad in boots and hardhats, tearing down tents and reportedly punching a conservative activist. The actions of these union members and their supporters didn’t stop the Michigan House from passing the bill, nor are they likely to stop Snyder from signing it, but they may give Michiganders pause.

Will Michiganders with a long history in the labor movement decide that the government freeing workers from mandated union dues is akin to the Battle of the Overpass? In the battle, guards for the Ford Motor Company violently beat UAW leafleters attempting to organize car factories in the Detroit area. Michigan voters may not be familiar with the 1937 incident, but it’s easy to see who in the 2012 labor movement have devolved into violence out of a desire to hamper the rights of their opponents.

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Right-to-Work Law Advances in Michigan

Bills that would make Michigan the 24th state to adopt a right-to-work law have passed the Michigan Senate and House, both in Republican hands. If the bills are reconciled, as seems likely, the legislation will be signed by the Republican governor.

This is a remarkable event. Michigan is the fifth-most unionized state in the country, with 19.2 percent of the workforce. The United Auto Workers, born in Michigan, has been a major player in state politics for decades.

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Bills that would make Michigan the 24th state to adopt a right-to-work law have passed the Michigan Senate and House, both in Republican hands. If the bills are reconciled, as seems likely, the legislation will be signed by the Republican governor.

This is a remarkable event. Michigan is the fifth-most unionized state in the country, with 19.2 percent of the workforce. The United Auto Workers, born in Michigan, has been a major player in state politics for decades.

But the Michigan economy is doing very poorly, relative to the country as a whole, with unemployment at 9.1 percent. Only five states are doing worse. The state’s biggest city, Detroit, is a poster child for urban decay, on the brink of bankruptcy thanks to decades of spectacularly corrupt government and unaffordable pension agreements with its unionized workers.

Right-to-work states have been overwhelmingly concentrated in the South, the mountain West, and the northern plain states. But this year Indiana became the first state in the Midwest industrial heartland to adopt a right-to-work law. Should Michigan do so as well, it will be a powerful indication that union power is in serious and probably permanent decline. No longer obliged to belong to a union in order to work at a unionized company or government, many workers will simply stop paying the substantial dues unions charge. And since, as California’s Jesse Unruh explained decades ago, “money is the mother’s milk of politics,” that means union political power will diminish accordingly.

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Unions Boosting Obama in Ohio?

Politico reports on a new AFL-CIO (I know, I know) poll, which finds Obama up five percentage points with union voters compared to 2008. Alexander Burns writes: “If Obama wins reelection tonight, much of the postgame will focus on his suport (sic) among nonwhite voters, but his edge in the Electoral College has also long depended on overperforming with Ohio whites. The union vote is a big, big part of that — not only in Ohio, but also in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and elsewhere.”

From the poll:

By a 41-point margin, Ohio union members are voting for President Obama (70%) over Mitt Romney (29%) in the presidential race. The early vote among Ohio union members tilts even more heavily in President Obama’s favor (79% to 21%).

Obama’s support among Ohio union members has increased by five percentage points since 2008. Our Election Night and post-election polling in 2008 showed Obama winning 65% of the Ohio union vote, so even accounting for each poll’s margin of error, Obama currently is performing at least as well among Ohio members, if not better, than he did in 2008.

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Politico reports on a new AFL-CIO (I know, I know) poll, which finds Obama up five percentage points with union voters compared to 2008. Alexander Burns writes: “If Obama wins reelection tonight, much of the postgame will focus on his suport (sic) among nonwhite voters, but his edge in the Electoral College has also long depended on overperforming with Ohio whites. The union vote is a big, big part of that — not only in Ohio, but also in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and elsewhere.”

From the poll:

By a 41-point margin, Ohio union members are voting for President Obama (70%) over Mitt Romney (29%) in the presidential race. The early vote among Ohio union members tilts even more heavily in President Obama’s favor (79% to 21%).

Obama’s support among Ohio union members has increased by five percentage points since 2008. Our Election Night and post-election polling in 2008 showed Obama winning 65% of the Ohio union vote, so even accounting for each poll’s margin of error, Obama currently is performing at least as well among Ohio members, if not better, than he did in 2008.

What goes unmentioned is how much union membership has shrunk since Obama took office. In Ohio alone, the rolls dropped by 10 percent between 2008 and 2011 — from 716,000 members to 647,000. That doesn’t even include any drop that took place over the past year, since those numbers aren’t available yet on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website.

Looking at the swing states beyond Ohio, those numbers aren’t much better. As the Christian Science Monitor reported over the summer:

Since Obama took office, the numbers for union membership have shrunk. Nationally between 2008 and 2011, public and private union membership dropped by 3.3 percent. The numbers in the Midwest are more dramatic: a 14.5 percent slide in Wisconsin, 13.9 percent in Indiana, 12.9 in Michigan, 9.7 in Ohio, 8.1 in Pennsylvania, and 6.7 in Illinois, according to UnionStats.com.

So while Obama’s numbers may be up slightly with union members, there are also fewer of them out there. That means fewer feet on the ground for the Democrats’ get-out-the-vote efforts (which unions often assist with) and fewer voters forced to listen to pro-Democrat propaganda as a consequence of their union membership.

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Mitt Romney Sides With Rahm Emanuel

A week after Rahm Emanuel decided to extend his services to his former boss, President Barack Obama, in order to do some fundraising, this was probably the last headline he expected to read. At midnight Monday the Chicago Teachers Union announced that it would begin an indefinite strike, which would only end when their contract dispute with the city of Chicago is settled.

Despite an offer for a 16-percent pay raise in addition to an average annual salary of $71,000 the teachers already receive, the union refuses to budge, embarking on the city’s first teachers’ strike in twenty-five years. The pay raises offered would be mandatory and could not be rescinded for a lack of funds. The raises, insisted upon by a teachers’ union which claims to represent people who have the best interests of children at heart, could bankrupt the already failing school system. Bankrupting the schools where Chicago’s children already receive a below-average education is apparently not enough for the unions paid to represent the city’s teachers. The teachers’ union demands more concessions before agreeing to sign.

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A week after Rahm Emanuel decided to extend his services to his former boss, President Barack Obama, in order to do some fundraising, this was probably the last headline he expected to read. At midnight Monday the Chicago Teachers Union announced that it would begin an indefinite strike, which would only end when their contract dispute with the city of Chicago is settled.

Despite an offer for a 16-percent pay raise in addition to an average annual salary of $71,000 the teachers already receive, the union refuses to budge, embarking on the city’s first teachers’ strike in twenty-five years. The pay raises offered would be mandatory and could not be rescinded for a lack of funds. The raises, insisted upon by a teachers’ union which claims to represent people who have the best interests of children at heart, could bankrupt the already failing school system. Bankrupting the schools where Chicago’s children already receive a below-average education is apparently not enough for the unions paid to represent the city’s teachers. The teachers’ union demands more concessions before agreeing to sign.

Despite being placated on the wage demands, the union demands a degree of job security that is unparalleled in the rest of the economy, especially in its current state. If a teacher’s school closes, their union wants a guaranteed future job elsewhere else in the system. The union seems to be unaware that schools aren’t closed on a whim. They are closed because students are performing so poorly that the district decides that they would be better served elsewhere. Why would the district then move those teachers to another school, where the same students would then be instructed by the same teachers, but in another building? Do teachers really think that their students’ failures are due to the room they’re in or the blackboard they’re using?

Another aspect of job security, the scope of teacher evaluations and the possibility of dismissals based on job performance, is also a sticking point for the Chicago Teachers Union. Apparently being measured on one’s ability to teach is too much to ask of grown adults given the task of teaching the next generation not only math and science, but also responsibility and maturity.

Some of the union’s demands are actually reasonable. The Sun Times reports,

The union also has pushed for improved working conditions, such as smaller class sizes, more libraries, air-conditioned schools, and more social workers and counselors to address the increasing needs of students surrounded by violence — all big-ticket items.

Does the Chicago Teachers Union think that the city is in possession of a money tree? With a $1 billion deficit at the end of the year, how could the union expect that the city could possibly afford guaranteed pay raises, these “big-ticket” items, and paychecks for teachers whose schools have performed so badly? In a choice between the increased wages and the “big-ticket” items, one has to wonder what would be a greater priority for the union.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has refused to capitulate to these demands, stating “This is totally unnecessary. It’s avoidable and our kids don’t deserve this. … This is a strike of choice.” All strikes are strikes of choice, but what Emanuel seems to be implying is that the Chicago Teachers Union has no business striking based on their stated demands nor on the small differences of position between the city and the union — on almost every issue the two parties have worked to meet more or less in the middle.

In a surprising turn of events, Emanuel received support from the Romney campaign. The surprise is not that Romney has sided with the children of Chicago over their teachers’ union; he issued a statement today which read, “Teachers unions have too often made plain that their interests conflict with those of our children, and today we are seeing one of the clearest examples yet.” What is surprising is the total lack of support the Obama administration has offered to their fundraising surrogate and former coworker. Today White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters, “We hope that both sides are able to come together to settle this quickly in the best interests of Chicago’s students. Beyond that, I haven’t got a specific reaction from the president.”

In the choice between students and greed, teachers’ unions have chosen greed. In the choice between unions and students, President Obama is yet again voting present.

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Bigoted Candidate Crushed in NY Primary

It wasn’t even close when the AP called it last night: Democrat establishment favorite Hakeem Jeffries crushed former Black Panther Charles Barron in a landslide, 75 percent to 25 percent. The Daily News recaps:

State Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries trounced City Councilman Charles Barron in a showdown for Brooklyn’s 8th congressional district.

With 54 percent of precincts reporting, the Associated Press deemed Jeffries the easy winner, 75 percent of the vote to Barron’s 25 percent.

“The political pundits said that this was going to be a close race, but that was before the people had spoken,” Jeffries told his supporters after hearing early results. “The people spoke with one loud voice and that’s why we’re going to Washington.”

Jeffries landed almost every major endorsement, winning the backing of Sen. Chuck Schumer, Gov. Cuomo and most Democratic bigwigs.

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It wasn’t even close when the AP called it last night: Democrat establishment favorite Hakeem Jeffries crushed former Black Panther Charles Barron in a landslide, 75 percent to 25 percent. The Daily News recaps:

State Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries trounced City Councilman Charles Barron in a showdown for Brooklyn’s 8th congressional district.

With 54 percent of precincts reporting, the Associated Press deemed Jeffries the easy winner, 75 percent of the vote to Barron’s 25 percent.

“The political pundits said that this was going to be a close race, but that was before the people had spoken,” Jeffries told his supporters after hearing early results. “The people spoke with one loud voice and that’s why we’re going to Washington.”

Jeffries landed almost every major endorsement, winning the backing of Sen. Chuck Schumer, Gov. Cuomo and most Democratic bigwigs.

Recall that Barron lost his 2006 congressional race against incumbent Ed Towns by a mere eight points, so how did he manage to lose so epically to a newer, lesser-known politician like Jeffries just six years later? The David Duke endorsement video might have had something to do with it, but it’s likely the last-minute deluge of cash and endorsements for the Jeffries’ campaign helped him build an impressive get-out-the-vote effort in the typically low-turnout district. The Daily News suggests as much in its article comparing Barron’s campaign HQ to Jeffries’:

Earlier in the day, about 20 volunteers donned bright yellow t-shirts inside Barron’s makeshift campaign headquarters in a transformed family owned diner, Sistas’ Place on 456 Nostrand Ave.

Meanwhile, an army of volunteers flooded a campaign office in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, where Jeffries’ father, Marland, 73, was patiently waiting for the election results.

Despite the drubbing, Barron reportedly refused to concede the race and is calling for a recount. Barron may be the sorest loser, but Crain’s New York makes the case that the biggest loser of the race is DC 37, the powerful city union that backed Barron and looked ineffective in the process:

DC 37. By backing Charles Barron for Congress, the city’s largest public employees’ union fueled speculation that the bomb-throwing councilman’s campaign was surging in its final weeks. But Barron’s crushing defeat by Jeffries was further proof of the union’s diminished political clout.

A stinging defeat for unions and David Duke fans all in the same day? Who could ask for anything more?

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Unions Seek Monopoly on Political Money

The Hill reports on a new campaign by liberal groups and labor unions, which seeks to expose companies that donate to super PACs and nonprofits in the lead-up to the presidential election:

Gathered Monday at the Washington headquarters of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the groups issued a call to arms for the 2012 campaign, vowing to aggressively challenge companies that contribute to super-PACs and 501(c) nonprofit groups. …

Representatives of the coalition, which includes Common Cause, Health Care for America Now, Public Citizen and Occupy, among others, said they’d push for legislation and regulations that would require companies to disclose all of their political spending. …

Americans United for Change, a liberal group that has received labor backing, plans to offer a $25,000 cash reward to the first whistleblower who can prove a company has donated to a nonprofit without disclosing it.

“We’re going to challenge those donations. We’re going to challenge efforts to hide donations through (c)4s and (c)6s,” de Blasio said, referring to nonprofit groups.

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The Hill reports on a new campaign by liberal groups and labor unions, which seeks to expose companies that donate to super PACs and nonprofits in the lead-up to the presidential election:

Gathered Monday at the Washington headquarters of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the groups issued a call to arms for the 2012 campaign, vowing to aggressively challenge companies that contribute to super-PACs and 501(c) nonprofit groups. …

Representatives of the coalition, which includes Common Cause, Health Care for America Now, Public Citizen and Occupy, among others, said they’d push for legislation and regulations that would require companies to disclose all of their political spending. …

Americans United for Change, a liberal group that has received labor backing, plans to offer a $25,000 cash reward to the first whistleblower who can prove a company has donated to a nonprofit without disclosing it.

“We’re going to challenge those donations. We’re going to challenge efforts to hide donations through (c)4s and (c)6s,” de Blasio said, referring to nonprofit groups.

Note that pretty much all of these groups have labor union ties. Even the Occupy Wall Street representative at the meeting was reportedly the point-person for OWS’s big anti-Verizon march coordinated with Big Labor last October.

There’s a good reason for the union involvement. At Power Line, John Hinderaker flags a chart of the top 25 donors to political campaigns from 1989 to 2012, compiled by Open Secrets, and finds a trend:

That’s right: you have to get all the way to number nineteen to find a donor who gives primarily to Republicans. Not only that, of the top 20 donors, 12 are unions. Special interest money overwhelmingly favors the Democrats, and the unions and their left-wing allies want to keep it that way. Their desire to maintain their near-monopoly is understandable, I guess, but it is hard to understand how they can seriously object to companies’ joining them in the political money game.

Unions sink enormous resources into getting Democratic politicians elected, and they’re not thrilled to have competition from the other side. Today, SEIU President Mary Kay Henry went on MSNBC to talk about the union’s plan to spend $400 million on helping Obama’s reelection campaign. How do groups like that think they have any standing to complain about big money in politics?

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Walker Recall Will Be Referendum on 2010

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has wisely decided not to challenge the validity of the petitions that were presented to the state demanding his recall. Rather than getting involved in a nasty Bush-Gore lawsuit he might lose even before fighting for his office, he’s better off simply going straight to the voters sometime this summer.

The hundreds of thousands of signatures were largely the work of his union opponents who hope to undo the results of the 2010 elections when the people of Wisconsin chose a conservative Republican for the governor’s chair as well as a GOP-run legislature. The vote will be something of a referendum on the 2010 election in which Wisconsin can, in effect, get a mulligan for its choice at that time. The recall will enable us to see whether the state was ready for a politician who meant what he said when he campaigned on a platform of pushing back against civil service unions that are driving states into bankruptcy. While the most recent poll rates this a tossup, the Walker vote represents both an opportunity and a danger to both parties as they seek a leg up heading into this fall’s presidential election.

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Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has wisely decided not to challenge the validity of the petitions that were presented to the state demanding his recall. Rather than getting involved in a nasty Bush-Gore lawsuit he might lose even before fighting for his office, he’s better off simply going straight to the voters sometime this summer.

The hundreds of thousands of signatures were largely the work of his union opponents who hope to undo the results of the 2010 elections when the people of Wisconsin chose a conservative Republican for the governor’s chair as well as a GOP-run legislature. The vote will be something of a referendum on the 2010 election in which Wisconsin can, in effect, get a mulligan for its choice at that time. The recall will enable us to see whether the state was ready for a politician who meant what he said when he campaigned on a platform of pushing back against civil service unions that are driving states into bankruptcy. While the most recent poll rates this a tossup, the Walker vote represents both an opportunity and a danger to both parties as they seek a leg up heading into this fall’s presidential election.

As today’s Public Policy Polling survey shows, Democrats and their union allies have a real chance to knock off an icon of the GOP’s landslide 2010 midterm victory. Walker’s record is viewed unfavorably by a 52-47 margin, and he trails both likely Democratic challengers, though only by a small amount that is within the margin of error. However, the notion that the vast majority of citizens are clamoring for his eviction from the governor’s office is at best overblown. When asked whether they favor a recall, the result is a flat-footed tie, with 49 percent favoring one and the same number opposing the vote.

It should also be noted that this poll comes at a moment when the GOP is at its nadir in terms of national popularity. A nasty presidential nomination fight is reaching its climax in neighboring Michigan while the economy is on a light uptick, boosting President Obama’s fortunes. Unless you assume, as perhaps some Democrats do, that things will only get worse for Walker and the Republicans during the next few months, the governor may well reason he has nowhere to go but up.

It bears repeating that Democrats are taking a big chance by going after Walker. If they win, they will have effectively reversed the verdict of 2010, and it will be rightly seen as an omen foretelling a big Obama victory in November. But if they lose, it will be just as big a morale boost for Republicans and also set up Walker as a major figure in national politics. Seen in this light, Democrats and state union activists must know if they fail to defeat Walker now, they may well live to rue their defeat in years to come as he rises even higher in national esteem.

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