WALKER’S WAR ON WORKERS: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has illustrated the power and the peril of the budget debates that are playing out at the federal level and in states across the country. Claiming that he must fill a $137 million hole in the state budget—after giving away almost the same amount in tax breaks and other benefits to big business in January—Walker moved to strip public employees of collective-bargaining rights and impose dramatic cuts in benefits for teachers and state, county and municipal employees. “Walker says there’s a ‘crisis’ because that gives him an opening to go after public employees and their unions, which just happens to be something conservatives have been wanting to do for years,” explains Democratic State Representative Mark Pocan of Madison. Public sector unions not only defend their members; they also defend the commons—and that makes them one of the most powerful forces in challenging the political power of corporations, which was dramatically expanded by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling.
The pushback in Wisconsin by unions and their allies has been dramatic—drawing tens of thousands of workers and their supporters into the streets. “In a sense, we’ve got to thank Walker for waking working people up to the threat they face and getting unions to respond appropriately,” says Ed Garvey, former executive director of the National Football League players’ union and a 1998 Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate. Walker’s threat to call out the National Guard to impose his plan actually energized opposition: archivists from the Wisconsin Historical Society showed up at rallies wearing T-shirts that declared, I Am Not Afraid of the National Guard, and cancer ward nurses hoisted posters that asked, Do You Want the National Guard Administering Chemo to Your Child? JOHN NICHOLS
KENTUCKY RISES: The office of Democratic Governor Steve Beshear was strewn with pillows and blankets recently as fourteen Kentuckians, including acclaimed environmental writer Wendell Berry, staged a four-day sit-in to protest mountaintop-removal mining, a radical form of surface mining. The group, which became known as Kentucky Rising, entered the office on the morning of Friday, February 11, to demand a meeting with Beshear, a coal industry supporter who is running for re-election this year and who recently filed a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency over its blocking of state-issued mining permits.
Group members refused to vacate the office after a twenty-minute meeting with Beshear that they deemed unsatisfactory when the governor reiterated his support of mountaintop removal. After being observed by state police, members of the group were informed by the governor’s staff that they were welcome to stay “as long as they wanted.”
In addition to Berry, 76, the group included a retired coal miner, a nurse practitioner who treats miners, a grandmother, community organizers, a graduate student and others.
Word of the protest spread rapidly through social media outlets and coverage in The Huffington Post by environmental reporter Jeff Biggers. Other environmental writers, like Bill McKibben, Naomi Klein, Michael Pollan and Rick Bass, issued statements of solidarity. Supporters in Tampa, Florida, had six pizzas delivered to the Capitol for the group.
The sit-in turned sleep-in continued through the weekend and into Monday afternoon, when Beshear agreed to travel to eastern Kentucky within thirty days to inspect damage caused by mountaintop removal. The protesters emerged from their occupation during a previously planned annual rally against mountaintop removal of more than 1,000 people on the Capitol steps. JASON HOWARD
UNPATRIOTIC ACT: President Obama’s proposal to extend the Patriot Act’s surveillance authorizations—which permit spying on groups and individuals and make a mockery of Fourth Amendment privacy protections—was tripped up in Congress. The president wanted a three-year extension; the American Civil Liberties Union said the authorizations should be reformed or allowed to expire. Ultimately, the Senate backed a three-month extension, with Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin of Illinois saying this will allow time for a serious debate about constitutional concerns. But those concerns were not on display in the House, where Republicans rejected a motion by Democrats to ensure that surveillance would be conducted only in compliance with the Constitution. The proposal lost on a 234–186 vote. All 234 “no” votes came from Republicans, including leading talkers about the Constitution such as Minnesota’s Michele Bachmann. The 186 “yes” votes came from Democrats, along with Texas Congressman Ron Paul and North Carolina Congressman Walter Jones Jr., the only two Republicans to treat their oaths to defend the Constitution more seriously than their partisan allegiance. JOHN NICHOLS
LAUNCHING US UNCUT: In response to Britain’s draconian public spending cuts, citizens formed UK Uncut, a Twitter-organized movement, to protest tax-evading businesses. As Johann Hari chronicled in these pages (“The UK’s Left-Wing Tea Party,” Feb. 21), the group has shut down some of the biggest stores—and culprits in tax evasion—in Europe, including Vodafone and Topshop. If corporations like these were to pay the nearly £7 billion in corporate taxes they avoided last year alone, the group claims, critical cuts would not be necessary.
When tax expert Nicholas Shaxson was asked whether the model of UK Uncut could be replicated in the United States, he answered, “Absolutely.” He continued, “America itself is a tax haven for many rich people.” More than $100 billion is lost each year in US tax avoidance.
Shortly after reading Hari’s piece, former journalist Carl Gibson launched US Uncut, which has grown to nearly 100 members in twelve states and Washington, DC. On February 26, US Uncut and UK Uncut will hold an international day of protest against their next big target: big banks, specifically Bank of America.
“We just ask that before leaders fire one more teacher or give one more cop a pink slip,” says Gibson, “they first make the richest of the rich pay their fair share like everyone else.” MOLLY O’TOOLE