Obama Flying into Labor Unrest with Ohio Trip Today
“If we balance our budget--$8 billion in the hole--without a tax increase and we've cut taxes on income taxes, that's going to send a message to the rest of that country that if they can do it [in Columbus], they can do it in their state and they maybe, guess what, they might actually be able to do something like this in Washington."
-- Gov. John Kasich, R-Ohio, to FOX News on efforts to curb the power of government unions
President Obama is traveling to Ohio today to talk about his “Winning the Future” stimulus package, but is finding that local concerns are overshadowing his proposals.
As Obama arrives in Cleveland for his speech in support of his spending plan, 143 miles south on Interstate 71, union protesters will be massing at the Ohio capitol in what labor leaders hope will be a show of force equal to the protests that have gripped Madison, Wisc. for the past week.
Obama jumped out early in support for the Wisconsin protests, condemning the bill to curb the bargaining power of government worker unions as “an assault.” Obama’s grassroots campaign arm and the Democratic National Committee also swung in behind the government workers, helping organize the protests, which have drawn labor activists from around the nation and continued around the clock in the Wisconsin statehouse.
But, the White House over the weekend sought to distance itself from the battle between labor groups and Wisconsin Republicans as public opinion moved against teachers who stopped showing up for work and Democrats in the state Senate who went into hiding to prevent a vote. An administration spokesman praised the government worker protests, but said they were “organic.”
Now, union leaders are going to put Obama to the test.
Labor organizers, who compare their Midwestern movement to the popular revolts currently gripping the Middle East, are hoping to have 20,000 protesters descend on Capitol Square in Columbus this afternoon.
While the ostensible reason for the timing of the demonstration is a committee hearing in the state Senate on a bill similar to the Wisconsin measure, the real audience for the protests is the president up the road at Cleveland State University.
Any hope Obama has of winning in Ohio in 2012, and by extension, a second term in office, will depend on the support of the government unions that helped secure his 2008 victory in the Buckeye State. If 20,000 protesters are storming the state capitol, it will be very hard for Obama to ignore.
What Obama says when he is in Cleveland will matter a great deal. If he does ignore the protests, it will be a serious slap to the most important part of his political coalition. If he champions their cause, it will further cement the president’s affiliation with a movement that has left many swing-state taxpayers angry over labor unrest in the name of lavish government pay and benefits.
Based on the way Obama typically responds to such situations, he will likely equivocate. He may call for “greater understanding” or encourage all involved to “remain peaceful,” as he has during the Arab unrest that inspires supporters of the government union protests.
But it’s a subject Obama must address in some way as the union curbs and labor protests expand across the nation.
In Indiana, it’s private sector unions that are protesting. They are out in force against a “right to work” law similar to those in 22 states that allow individuals to opt out of union membership even if a majority of employees vote to organize.
In other states, workers have no choice but to join and pay dues if a union can win majority support among employees. “Right to work” states, which often have exemptions for skilled trades like electricians or pipe fitters that have apprenticeship programs, have seen private union membership decline steadily over the years.
The proposal in Wisconsin would do to public unions what “right to work” has done to private ones: make membership optional and make dues voluntary.
Time’s Up for Wisconsin Democrats
“Democrats in the state Senate should return to their jobs and stop pretending their escape to Illinois was about democracy. It wasn't. In fact, quite the opposite. Democracy has creaked to a halt in their absence.”
-- Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial page, which opposes the proposed government union curbs
Closed schools and a parade of out-of-state protesters keeping the state capitol in an uproar seem to have worn through public patience for Wisconsin Senate Democrats who have been hiding in Illinois to prevent a vote on a bill to curb the power of government unions.
Local outrage seems to have centered on teachers, who have kept schools in Milwaukee and Madison closed since last Wednesday forcing working parents to pay for child care or miss work. Volunteers are hoping to help ease the problems caused by the work stoppage by providing free childcare at schools left understaffed by labor unrest.
But news that sympathetic doctors at rallies were handing out phony sick notes so teachers wouldn’t lose pay for skipping work, has helped further incense parents left holding the bag.
The teacher walkout and flood of union activists who have come to Madison are all in support of the decision by all 14 Democratic members of the state Senate to flee the state and go into hiding in Illinois so Republicans could not hold a vote.
Today, the state Senate is going back in session and pressure is growing on Democrats.
First, the 17 Republicans have planned votes on non-budgetary issues that don’t require a Democrat to be present, including a measure vehemently opposed by Democrats that would require voters to show identification at the polls.
Second, popular opinion seems to have come down rather sharply against the lawmakers on the lam. Jokes abound about their lack of clean underwear after taking off suddenly to block the vote. It also seems kind of cowardly to Badger State voters to be hiding out rather than speaking out and voting.
If Democrats don’t end their boycott today, they risk losing much of their remaining public support. Their move has so far helped Gov. Scott Walker make his case for his legislation with nothing but chants and bullhorns in opposition. If they stay gone, they could do permanent damage to their stature with moderate voters.
Libyan Bloodbath Tests Cautious U.S. Stance
"I am here to show that I am in Tripoli and not in Venezuela. Don't believe those misleading dog stations."
-- Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi in a statement to government television
Diplomacy must be very complicated stuff.
Here’s Muammar al-Qaddafi, the seemingly insane despot of a Third World nation that has long been an exponent of terrorism and a force for evil in the world.
Reports say that Qaddafi is using his air force and army to slaughter protesters in the streets and that a civil war has erupted between him and separatists in the eastern part of the country. Words like “bloodbath” and “genocide” are being used to describe Qaddafi’s crackdown.
But the U.S. response to the bad actions of a longtime bad actor has been to call for an end to violence and to urge the Qaddafi regime, which includes his sons’ in rather convincing imitations of Uday and Qusay Hussein, to seek reform.
Power Play understands why longtime friends to the U.S. like Egypt get special treatment. Egypt has been a force for peace in the region for 30 years and has an American-trained army. Power Play understands why the generally enlightened rulers of Bahrain, home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet have been gently urged to quit cracking skulls. After all, the uprisings in both places are urged on by religious zealots in Iran and pose real dangers to U.S. security.
Qaddafi only started mending his ways after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, surrendering his crummy nuclear weapons program in hopes that the U.S. Air Force would not next be rocking his Casbah. As his cruel response to the uprisings has shown, Qaddafi’s contrition and buffoonery mask a deep villainy.
We’ve all seen the famous picture of Hillary Clinton shaking hands with Qaddafi’s son, who is wearing a skin-tight leather suit that looks borrowed from a Hamburg gigolo, but just because these people look silly does not make them harmless.
Editorialists around the nation and leaders around the world are calling for direct intervention against Qaddafi if his forces continue to attack those in the breakaway groups. Most notable is British Prime Minister David Cameron, whose country should have more reason to stay quiet because of long ties to the oil fields of Libya. Cameron today heads to Kuwait, where he will again speak out in favor of liberalization. He was in Egypt Monday for talks with opposition leaders and army officials.
The Obama administration may be forced to use military action to prevent Qaddafi’s air force from taking off. The question there seems to be whether Qaddafi, now said to be hiding out in his hometown in the south of the nation, is the target of a widespread revolt or a localized rebellion.
The city of Benghazi on the Mediterranean coast on the eastern edge of Libya has been the epicenter of the unrest. Benghazi is the heart of the Cyrenaica region, which descends from ancient Greek colony of Cyrene. The Cyrenians have long been at odds with the descendents of African/Arabian culture, like Qaddafi, from the southern and western parts of the nation. The current unrest has reopened those old hostilities.
Qaddafi’s ambassadors have resigned in protest and there are reports of wider unrest. Today will tell whether Qaddafi can hold on in a divided nation or is toppled after a 40-year reign.
White House Preps for Government Shutdown
"As part of the executive branch charged with overseeing the management of the federal government, OMB is prepared for any contingency as a matter of course."
-- White House Office of Management and Budget Spokesman Kenneth Baer talking to the Wall Street Journal about preparations for a government shutdown
It’s not much of a recess for House Republicans who are working overtime to come up with a plan to keep the government functioning after March 4 when current appropriations expire.
GOP staffers tell Power Play that they are working up a stopgap spending plan for a few weeks that includes funding cuts proportional to their proposal to the remaining seven months of the federal fiscal year. The idea would be to trim a couple of billion dollars a week while the government still functions. The idea is an emergency funding plan, rather than just a continuation at current levels while debate over the larger package wears on.
Remember, Republicans hope for cuts is time sensitive. Their hope to trim $61 billion depends on having seven months to do it. Every week that is subtracted from the 28 weeks after the current spending resolution expires will reduce Republican chances to trim spending.
Democrats meanwhile are ratcheting up their rhetoric and the White House is making arrangements for a shutdown. The dominant idea in Democratic circles is that their party will be helped by a shutdown a la 1995. They are feeling considerably less motivation to avert a shutdown than Republicans.
Uproar Over Canadian Court Order for Baby’s Death May Spill to U.S.
“I’m very excited because my son doesn’t remove his tube today. All my family is happy. We are happy. We feel it’s really Family Day today.”
-- Moe Maraachli of Windsor, Ont. on his decision to defy a Canadian judge’s order for him to give consent to the removal of his 13-month-old son’s breathing tube
A Canadian family’s battle to keep their infant son on a ventilator despite a court order siding with doctors seeking to allow the child to die may soon spill over to the U.S.
The family has been fighting for months, first against doctors and then against the Ontario Consent and Capacity Board, which governs questions about access to care for the province under Canada’s government health system.
The board sided with doctors who want to allow Joseph Maraachli to die owing to his advancing neurological disorder that has left him in a vegetative state. The family wants doctors to perform a tracheotomy so that Joseph can be cared for at home. The doctors and the access panel have refused, and want the child to die in the hospital under their supervision.
The Maraachli family lost an 18-month-old daughter to a similar ailment nine years ago. Moe Maraachli told the Canadian Press that after a tracheotomy, the girl lived at home for six months.
In a court order that would be bizarre by American legal standards, an Ontario judge has instructed the family to agree with the doctors. The order wasn’t to give the doctors the power to let the child die, but to the parents ordering them to give their consent to the death of their son by 10 a.m. Monday. Compulsory consent is not something familiar to most Americans, but is apparently part of the Canadian system. The family refused and is now locked in a legal standoff with the provincial government and health authorities.
The family is now trying to get Joseph transferred across the Detroit River to America where the child could receive the tracheotomy at the Michigan Children’s Hospital. The family’s formal request to make the move is expected today and would have to be approved by Canadian health authorities.
And Now, a Word from Charles
“I think that the distinction that we ought to keep in mind is that there are dictatorships and then there are the places run like Caligula. And those are the ones that we really have to condemn. I am shocked by the toothlessness of that statement by the State Department.”