Follow BFIA on Twitter
Blog for Iowa Archives
Blog for Iowa Categories
Search BFIA by Date
May 2016
« Apr    

Media Matters for America is a Web-based, not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media.

Fight Media Bias


Iowa Rapid Response Action

First responders to biased, imbalanced or factually inaccurate media coverage

Iowans for Better Local TV


FAIR: Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting
FAIR is a national media watch group that offers well-documented criticism of media bias and censorship

Free Press

News Corpse

Prometheus Radio Project

Radio for People

Save the Internet

Save the News

Author Archive

Women’s Global Leadership Program

womens global leadership programWomen’s Global Leadership Program – Part 1

In March, I had the privilege to participate in the first-ever AFLCIO Women’s Global Leadership Program alongside nearly fifty other women from a broad spectrum of trade unions across the US. It was an eye opening and inspiring experience that few know takes place each year. The program I participated in ran parallel to the UN Commission on the Status of Women, and participants in both events were able to join together in side panel discussions about issues relating to women’s empowerment, economic status, exploitation, access to potable water and medical care, and human trafficking. The following article examines the Economic Status of Women.

Every year in March, global leaders and their ambassadors along with 3rd World village women converge on New York City to participate in the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. And despite the fact that few know this takes place, March 2016 was its 60th year.

Many of the official meetings take place on the UN Campus, which is dominated by a gigantic skyscraper, towering above the food trucks and polluted East River, inching toward the clouds and skirted by the ubiquitous array of the flags of the world that only fly when the UN is in session. Inside, where you need a special badge to gain access, diplomats and agency heads discuss their version of our truth.

But on those days when the flag poles stand bare, women from non-governmental agencies continue to meet across the street at the UN Church Building and other less-stunning locations to provide another side of the story of the status of women. And this year, for the first time, the AFLCIO hosted a Women’s Global Leadership Program to run parallel with the UNCSW, bringing together fifty women from unions in the US to participate in side panels and discussions about the conditions for women workers. Outside the steel UN security gates, watched by cameras and guards brandishing military grade weaponry, we women gathered to tell our own story. And it is far more intricate than any spreadsheet could convey.

Often, US workers will tout a sort-of Monroe Doctrine in economics with “Buy American” themes as an answer to our economic woes. Trump is succeeding quite well among US workers hit hard by the economy by vilifying China and Mexico for “taking our jobs away.” However, by ignoring the mechanics of the global supply chain and by lacking global worker solidarity, we remain disempowered to improve working conditions around the globe as well as fail to stop the deteriorating conditions for US workers.

The Global Leadership Program focused on how to understand the intersectionality of worker rights along the global supply chain, how our organizations work with international labor groups to counteract the detrimental impacts of globalization.

While AFLCIO unions exist in the US to represent the interests of US workers, and the International Trade Union Confederation similarly represents trade unionists globally, the International Labor Organization brings together governments, employers and workers to set global labor standards. The ILO emerged after the horrors of World War I based on the premise that a lasting peace can only be achieved if it is based on economic justice. The ILO has established the following as its fundamental labor rights:

– No Child Labor
– No Discrimination
– No Forced Labor
– Freedom of Association
– Collective Bargaining Rights

Unfortunately, the US has only ratified two of these ILO rights, the provisions against child labor and forced labor. While the US Congress has established laws like the National Labor Relations Act to provide for labor protections, the fact that the US has not ratified the other ILO Conventions means it has not promised the world that it wouldn’t take these away – with the exception of slavery and child labor.

In addition to the fundamental rights, the ILO has also established four Governance Conventions, of which the US has only ratified one; 177 Technical Conventions, of which the US has only ratified 11. In comparison, the nation of Uganda has ratified all of the fundamental conventions, and three out of the four governance conventions. Uganda joins countries like Turkey, Tunisia, Argentina, and dozens of others that have ratified more labor rights than the US. In comparison, the US is more similar to Afghanistan in the labor rights it has ratified and pledged to guarantee to its citizens.

Transforming Women’s Work

In conjunction with the UNCSW, the AFLCIO, working with the Solidarity Center and Rutgers University Center for Women’s Global Leadership, also released a report in March, “Transforming Women’s Work.” Although the report acknowledges the strides women have made over the past thirty years in gender equality, it exposes how the neoliberal consensus for economic development causes harm to women.

Neoliberal Trade policies, like NAFTA, GATT, CAFTA, the Permanent National Trade Policy with China, KORUS, and now the TPP and TIPP currently under consideration, are built on gender inequality and further tilt power away from workers in their focus on increasing profits and productivity (GDP) above all other concerns.

The agreements make it easier for foreign-based corporations and hedge funds to invest in low-wage countries while doing little to nothing to establish safety standards, job protections, decent wages and benefits, or address environmental protections. While “women are good for economic growth,” said a representative from Action Aid, “economic growth is not always good for women.”

Women in countries like Bangladesh and Vietnam who had previously lived in extreme poverty with few wage earning opportunities are moving into paid work in factories making clothing for Western consumption. But because of the absence of a labor movement or other wage guarantees or safe working protections, the AFLCIO report found that “a recent analysis of apparel-exporting countries found wages for garment workers fell in real terms between 2001 and 2011.”

One of the most well-known examples of how trade policies harm women specifically is the 2013 Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh, when a nine-story garment factory making clothing for Benetton, Walmart, JC Penny, The Children’s Place, and other western retailers collapsed killing 1,134 and injuring thousands more. Many of the dead bodies remain missing, unable to be unearthed from the debris. The dead were from the ranks of the 4 million who work in Bangladeshi apparel industry, 80% of whom are women.

After the disaster, due to international pressure, the minimum wage was raised from $38 per month to $68. Additionally, minimal safety measures and building inspections and remediation were implemented by three international watchdog groups, the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, and one National Tripartite Plan for Fire a Structural Integrity. But two of the agreements to allow inspection will expire in 2018, while thousands of factories have yet to be inspected.

As the Rana Plaza disaster recedes deeper into the past the world will lose focus on industry practices there, and in the absence of a robust labor movement or trade policies that protect workers all along the supply chain, it will only be a matter of time before another tragedy occurs.

Despite the international outrage and mourning, the deaths of thousands of women in Rana Plaza did little to damage the garment industry in Bangladesh. Clothing exports jumped 16 percent, to $23.9 billion, in the year following Rana Plaza, and are now at $30 billion and expected to grow.

The worker organizers at UNCSW reminded western women that though we may be inclined to simply boycott clothing made in their countries, the women in Bangladesh and Vietnam want and need the work, just as western women do, as paid work can help ease their poverty. Rather, they point out, we need to change the terms by which women in the 3rd World are brought into the economy and actively participate with campaigns that work with governments, trade unions, buyers, brands, and stores in our home countries, especially those affiliated with the International Labor Organization.

Next: Part 2 – No Such Thing As Gender Neutral

Quad Cities Coalition for Worker Justice Holds Rally at Brandt Construction

workersBrandt Construction asks NLRB to postpone hearing while company owner vacations in Italy

Dakota Upshaw has been on strike against Milan, Illinois-based Brandt Construction Company since last July. He had been working for Brandt’s subcontractor Hybrand in Muscatine for a few years and finally decided that he had to speak out about the dangerous conditions he and his coworkers were facing.

Upshaw said he saw multiple incidents where the company’s refusal to follow safety measures resulted in worker injuries, including one who suffered a compound fracture when his harness got caught on a leer of a skid loader.
Brandt also did not provide water for workers on hot summer days, according to Upshaw, and workers were forced to work during lightening storms. Other allegations include not providing safety harnesses for workers who were working on rooftops more than 30 feet high, not paying into workers’ retirement plans, and terminating an unlicensed driver who refused to drive illegally when ordered so by the foreman. The mistreatment went even so far as verbal and physical abuse from the foremen, according to statements by Upshaw and other striking workers.

The workers have repeatedly asked to meet with company officials to discuss dangerous conditions, low wages, and lack of affordable health insurance, but so far, Brandt Construction Company owner, Terry Brandt, has refused to sit down with the workers or with members of the clergy to discuss their concerns. Instead, Brandt Construction has terminated all the striking workers.

Dakota Upshaw, along with other striking workers, filed a complaint against Brandt Construction with the National Labor Relations Board for wrongful termination, and the NLRB agrees that there is enough evidence to hold a hearing on the charges.

However, months into the strike, Upshaw and other striking workers will have to wait a little longer to have their day in court. Terry Brandt’s lawyer has filed a motion for extension of hearing date because, according to the filed motion, “Terrence Brandt is leaving on vacation on May 19, 2016, to Milan, Italy and then on to Rome, Italy and will be back in the office on Monday Jun 6, 2016.”

So while justice is delayed for these workers, the company owner gets to go on a summer excursion overseas.
Workers had been bringing their concerns to city councils that take bids from Brandt Construction, including Colona, Rock Island, Muscatine, Davenport, Galesburg, and others. Their message is clear: do not use taxpayers money to hire contractors who put workers’ lives at risk.

They also held another rally on Wednesday, March 30th to call attention to their cause and to once again ask Terry, “Will you meet with us?”

Tracy Leone: 309-738-3196
Organizer – Iowa Federation of Labor

My Last And Only Trump Blog

not trumpWatching Trump on the Stump last Saturday at the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds in Davenport, was a bit, shall I say, boring? I attended the event intending to get video footage of Trump or his supporters and was expecting to be bowled over by the rabid bigotry among the crowd. But it wasn’t like that. It was more like a bad television production of a right-wing populist political rally.

The tickets were free, but you had to go online, give your name and email address to get a pass to enter, that was either emailed or uploaded to your cell phone. And they did have people checking for this at the event entry.

Fifteen hundred people attended. Mostly white. Range of age, old and young, mostly working class. To get to the Expo Center for Trump’s event, you had to walk through the fairgrounds past vendors selling buttons that read “make America great again” or “say no to Monica’s ex-boyfriend’s wife” with a picture of Hillary. The vendors were very poor. I wondered if they were part of the apparatus or were scavenging on the crowds, selling unauthorized merchandise the way Trump himself played unauthorized music of Adele, the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin to the crowd as it waited over an hour for his speech to begin.

TSA security stood at the entrance of the Expo Center. President Obama had stumped in the very same fairgrounds four years ago, but that was a sunny summer afternoon, under an oak tree where a stage and riser were placed for best possible camera footage. Trump’s event was indoors, on a December afternoon, in a building where last summer people brought their cattle and hogs to be viewed and judged. No more hay at this event, but the cattle gates were up, separating special ticket holders from the rest, directing the crowd to the front of the room by the stage. The back half of the building remained empty, hollow, echoey. I saw a woman there, Pentecostal, Methodist? Wearing a skirt, tending to four clinging children, with her hair tied up.

To get in past the TSA, we had to go through a metal detector and get scanned by an agent with a wand. Other agents searched through our purses, bags and jackets with plastic gloved hands. Secret Service Agents scattered throughout, watched with suspicion and boredom. There were big black SUVs parked on the perimeter.

Inside, the media were set up on a riser in the middle of the space, bright hot lights aimed at the stage for the money shot.

The sound system echoed and reverberated, drowning out your thoughts with rock music.
Then when the speeches started, the echoes made it hard to hear what was said. The crowd behind the stage on the riser was well selected, with young people in the front row holding Trump signs. Women, men, still, very white.

When Trump called out to the veterans in the room only a few cheered back. They obviously know better than to waste time at a Trump rally. Trump bandies them about like a stage prop. Just about everything at that event felt like a prop, myself included.

Trump spoke incoherently jumping from topic to topic with no segues. He could barely complete his sentences, interrupting himself over and over again to stress a point – usually the point being that he was right and others just followed his lead.

He said he would build a wall bigger than the Great Wall of China. Then he repeated his debut scandal by reminding everyone of the illegal immigrant from Mexico who raped an American woman in California. There was one young man in the crowd who put a Trump sticker on his arm at the shoulder like a badge. For a moment, with his fair skin, hair, and shirt, I couldn’t help but see the American version of a Hitler Youth. He was with 2-3 of his buddies who had clipped miniature American flags to hang down their backs like mini capes.

The woman in front of me wore a Bears sweatshirt. On a riser to the right people were handed Trump signs. A white male in his late 20s with a cell phone camera led them to shout pro-Trump chants which he caught on camera. None of these chants caught on with the rest of the crowd. After 1-2 minutes, the sound died out.

When Trump finally appeared the crowd cheered and waved signs. Trump waved back, nodded glowingly at the crowd, pursed his lips as the music roared, thanked the crowd for loving him.
Paying attention to Trump feeds his beast. Trump wants coverage, and the media want ratings, so this cycle repeats itself on station after station, headline grabbing headline, social media echoing the echoes until you get to a point where the only point is outrage.

Not a single policy is suggested beyond the impractical. Let’s build a wall one foot higher than the Great Wall of China. Let’s register all Muslims, ignore the Constitution. Let’s call out the media as liars as we lie repeatedly about everything anything. Let’s say we will put the smartest people in charge, in charge of what, doesn’t matter.

Why? Because politicians are dumb. They are stupid, Trump says, “chicken shits.”

The military leadership – they don’t know what they’re doing. They should carpet bomb the place. All of it. Just blow ISIS to bits.

And China, man China. They pulled a good one on us. They coerce and force us to import all their stuff.

He doesn’t mention trade deals, or currency manipulation, or anything that makes a shoe made on the other side of the globe cheaper than one made in your own city. That’s too much detail for Trump and his supporters. Never mind the Walmarts and Targets that sell the Chinese stuff they enthusiastically buy because they all want to make or save a buck.

It’s a really bad reality TV show, “Welcome Back, Fascism.” But the crowd mostly is not fascists. At least, not yet. Trump is a fascist. Clearly, definitively. Surely some hooters and hollerers in the crowd were fascists, the ones who cheered, “Build the wall! Build the wall!” smiling and laughing with the cheer, nodding to their fellow fascists near their fists pounding the thin air. But many were as dumbstruck as I. What’s going on here? It’s a big production, with bright lights, camera crews, handlers, and would-be important people taking that important call in the middle of the crowd, in their dark suits and shiny shoes, fashionable ensembles.

Trump tells the crowd CNN is the worst of the lying media. The crowd cheers. Then Trump quotes a CNN poll putting him 30 points up, and again the crowd cheers.

As has been the pattern in this six month power trip, Trump never directly deals with his opponents’ policies or offers answers to the woes of Middle America. Instead he insults Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton and his Republican rivals either by brushing them off as inconsequential, or “stupid,” “dumb,” and “disgusting,” not as smart as him. He gets a laugh when he mentions Hillary’s pant suits.

So the question remains, what will happen with Trump’s campaign? I think it is easy and wishful to say his brand will eventually go away. But we’ve seen this show before. The excellent 2009 film “Videocracy” documents Berlusconi’s media driven rise to power in Italy, driven not only by Berlusconi’s celebrity, but mainly due to his decades long monopoly of the media, and hence, the message. You will find many parallels to the Trump machine. Like Americans, Italians are obsessed with celebrity. And the more scandalous, the higher the ratings. As the coverage blankets cable, social media, the airwaves, and newspaper headlines, Trump’s own ratings rise.

Let’s start by starving the beast, which is why this will be my last and only Trump Blog.

Flagging In Meaning

1923664_21240999712_6212_n(Editor’s Note: These photos were published in early 2002 in the 911 issue of Hasta Cuando, a Spanish-English punk political magazine out of Pilsen, Chicago. They are by an extraordinary Chicago artist, teacher and musician, Rebecca Wolfram and reflect her response to the shallow and zealous patriotism after the destruction of the World Trade Center and bombing of the Pentagon.).

I usually loathe flags and symbols in general. Symbolic gestures are a lazy way to avoid substantial meaningful change. Focusing on symbolism is an intellectually dishonest way to ignore substantive argument. Not looking at a thing for what it is, but what it represents oppressively denies subjective experience.

And so, this 4th of July Holiday weekend, I’m sure most of us will have seen the store shelves and picnics festooned with US flag napkins, paper plates, table cloths, bikinis, beach towels, and parades lined in red, white and blue. People die for the flag, kill for the flag. But as Arund1923664_21240784712_2070_nhati Roy explained, “Flags are bits of colored cloth that governments use first to shrink-wrap people’s minds & then as ceremonial shrouds to bury the dead.”

But it’s been quite an eventful flag waving couple of weeks.

Rainbow Gay Pride Flags flutter in parades and across social media screens around the world after the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling.

1923664_21240994712_5799_nAfter the brutal racist murder of members of a prayer group at the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, the Confederate Flag has now descended from atop flagpoles in front of National Monuments and State Legislatures. Even historic revisionists white folk are losing their ability to deny its violent, racists origins – people have the google to dispel their racist idiotic claims.

1923664_21240799712_2478_nFinally, the ISIS flag suffered a brilliant shaming at the Gay Pride Parade in London when artist Paul Coombs marched with his parody of the ISIS flag, substituting the caliphate propaganda with inscriptions of dildos and butt plugs. Coombs explained, “It [the ISIS flag] has become a potent symbol of brutality, fear and sexual oppression. If I wanted to try and stimulate a dialogue about the ridiculousness of this ideology, the flag was key.” Glaringly, Coombs flag was also key to exposing CNN’s shoddy journalism when it spread the panicky story that the flag was actually ISIS in the parade, rather than just a dildo afficianado making a political st1923664_21240989712_5131_natement.

These series of events reminds me of Peter Gabriel’s anti-war, anti-nationalist lyric from, Games without Frontiers, “Andre has a red flag, Chiang Ching’s is blue. They all have hills to fly them on except for Lin Tai Yu.” The lyric references extremist leaders prevailing in 20th Century, meanwhile peaceful democratic people remain sans patria…

1923664_21240774712_1698_nAnd as with all flags, ours are signifiers a very real raging fire that like the prairie fire’s smoldering, are signs of renewal as much as destruction.

And though the Gay Pride flag waves magnificently across parades 1923664_21240764712_1357_nand facebook statuses, it is a bittersweet victory. We can rightfully claim victory in the marriage equality ruling, yet it still remain legal in many states to fire someone for their sexual status. You can marry, but not work. You can marry, but you can’t shop in my store.

The Confederate Flag, long a symbol of white pride, of a hateful sublime oppression that remained to oppress African Americans in spite of and in backlash to the passage of the Civil Rights Act, is being taken down. As I write this, the seventh Black Church has been burned since the Mother Emanuel AME massacre.

As we w1923664_21240754712_1138_natch horrified at the carnage of ISIS, we remain un-elucidated about the murderous regimes that created this grassroots tyranny.

We are all subjected to this Treachery of Images.  Our work is to unravel the threads of all those flags, and use them to knit together a humanistic meaning and society.


Book Review: The Devil Is Here In These Hills

mineworkersGiven Iowa’s early labor organizing among mineworkers, led by John L. Lewis, who went on to head the United Mine Workers and found the Congress of Industrial Organizations, this book review illustrates the struggles posed by this dangerous profession.

Mike Matejka
Grand Prairie Union News

Book Review:

The Devil Is Here In These Hills: West Virginia Coal Miners and their Battle for Freedom, by James Green, Atlantic Monthly Press, ISBN 978-0-8021-2331-2 $28.00

Stereotypes abound about Appalachian people, “hillbillies” and “rednecks,” as rough clothed, rough fighting, straight shooting and inter-marrying tribal Americans, lost in deep eastern valleys.

Stereotypes are never fair and the determined labor battles that West Virginia coal miners fought receive their comprehensive due in James Green’s latest gift to labor history, The Devil Is Here In These Hills.

As the 20th century began, coal mining reached higher levels in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia, as deep seams of high quality fuel were exploited on an industrial scale. Not only were native Appalachians recruited to work the mines, so were Italian immigrants and African-Americans. Soon forging common bonds, these workers struggled from the 1900s until the 1930s to win union recognition and security.

Isolated in coal camps where the companies controlled the town, housing and stores, paying the workers often in company-issued currency, the miners soon found themselves in debt, their safety and dignity disregarded.

Again and again these workers rose up, only to face Baldwin-Felts detectives, court injunctions, state militias and federal troops. Blood ran freely and the miners quickly learned to arm themselves and fight back, though the odds were stacked against them.

Famous characters show up to rally the workers – the “Miners’ Angel,” Mary “Mother” Jones, with her characteristic salty language, boldly marched into company towns. Sid Hatfield, scion of the famous feuding families and sheriff of Matewan, West Virginia, became a miners’ hero after he faced off against Baldwin-Felts agents, only to be assassinated on the courthouse steps in Welch, West Virginia.

Green thoroughly details the culminating battles that Hatfield’s death helped trigger, the 1920-21 Mine Wars, including the Battle of Blair Mountain, where thousands of armed miners skirmished for three days with company guards and sheriffs. The U.S. Army Air Force had its first and only foray against American civilians during this episode and Federal troops finally disarmed the miners. To their dismay, the miners soon learned that only they were being disarmed, not the coal companies nor the Baldwin-Felts agents.

The term “redneck” is often linked to these battles, as the miners wore red kerchiefs and the company white, to distinguish their separate sides.

Beat down but never surrendering, when the 1930s Roosevelt Administration legalized union organization, West Virginia miners quickly joined the United Mine Workers and not only won better conditions, but democracy in their own communities, freed from the company store and company house.

Too often working people and their efforts for a voice and dignity get lost; particularly rural workers are stereotyped. Green breaks through this to show a multi-ethnic workers’ community, united in seeking democracy, not only in politics, but also on the job, and bravely willing to shed blood to win it.

Rally For Education In Davenport



None of Iowa’s children are worth-less

On Monday night, Davenport School Superintendent Art Tate made headlines when he announced he would violate state law and dip into $29 million in cash reserves in order to stave off severe budget cuts caused by the State Legislature’s failure to adequately fund education. The School Board followed this announcement by saying they fully support the Superintendent in his actions, and will stand behind him.

We need you to stand with Superintendent Tate and the School Board members, as well as all Iowa children.

At issue are two separate points:

1. Supplemental State Aid bill is being held up by union busting Republicans. State Legislators are required by law to establish a supplemental state aid bill by February 15th to allow ample time for School Districts to make decisions on local school budgets. The state of Iowa has failed to do this for the past two years. Additionally, since Branstad took office, the supplemental state aid approved by lawmakers (aka “Allowable Growth”) has been inadequate to make up for the cuts put in place when the economy collapsed in 2008. There is now more than enough money in the state’s cash reserves to implement a 6% growth formula – what the majority of school superintendents said were needed in a recent survey. However, Republican lawmakers are holding the funding bill hostage trying to force concessions on binding arbitration.

2. Inequities in the funding formula. Iowa’s school funding formula results in inequities that allow more per pupil spending in property rich districts and less in other districts. Consequently, the ability of districts to meet all their students’ needs is grossly unequal, and is one of the factors that results in a flight from those school districts due to Iowa’s “open enrollment” option.

The QCFL commends the Davenport School District’s actions and asks you to show your support for the district by contacting your state legislator. Ask them to fully fund Supplemental State Aid at 6% (aka “Allowable Growth). Then ask them to support SSB 1254, a bill to amend the state’s funding formula to create equity among school districts.

We do not think any of Iowa’s children are worth-less.

Rita Hart: 563-374-1368
Roby Smith: 563-386-0179
Joe Seng: 563-940-0671
Chris Brase: 563-260-5416


Norlin Mommsen 515-281-3221
Gary Carlson: 515-281-3221
Jim Lykam: 515-281-3221
Phyllis Thede: 515-281-3221
Cindy Winckler: 515-281-3221
Ross Paustian: 515-281-3221
Linda J. Miller: 563-620-9539 or 515-281-3221

Also please write a letter to the editor and send to:

Story and details here:

Iowa Workers Demand Apology From Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker

iowa afl-cioAs Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker makes his first appearance in Iowa after making comments at CPAC comparing union members protesting his policies to ISIS, Iowa workers are speaking up and demanding an apology. Union Members and workers from all over Iowa are planning to hold a press conference in Dubuque to address Walker’s unpatriotic remarks in front of the Hotel Julien, at 6 pm on Saturday March 7.

Bruce Clark, President of the Dubuque Federation of Labor will be the main speaker. Other officials have been invited to speak at this Press Conference.

WHO: Veterans, Nurses, Schoolteachers, Parents, and other Iowa workers
WHAT: Press Conference with Iowa workers demanding an apology from Wisconsin Governor Walker.
WHERE: In front of the Hotel Julien, 200 Main Street, Dubuque, IA 52001

WHEN: Saturday, March 7, 2015, at 6PM

Tracy Leone
Organizer – Iowa Federation of Labor

Here’s more:

On Saturday, Governor Walker of Wisconsin will be in Dubuque at the Hotel Julien for a fundraiser for newly-elected IA 1st District Congressman Rod Blum. The fundraiser is part of a day-long trip by Walker to Iowa who will speak earlier in the day at the Ag Summit in Des Moines – an event that profiles would-be presidential contenders.

However, when Walker arrives in Dubuque, he will be greeted by Iowans who are deeply offended and shocked by his recent comments at a CPAC conference that compared union members to ISIS terrorists. Saying, “If I can take on 100,000 protestors, I can do the same across the world,” Walker suggested that his experience in 2011 pushing through a bill that gutted public sector bargaining rights, is similar to the skills needed to handle global threats such as ISIS.

This absurd analogy prompted AFL-CIO president Trumka to tweet, “@GovWalker stmt comparing workers & terrorists is revolting. It’s clear his judgment is impaired & he’s not qualified for the Presidency.”

Senator Elizabeth Warren added, tweeting, “If Scott Walker sees 100,000 teachers & firefighters as his enemies, maybe it’s time we take a closer look at his friends.”

Walker was asked by labor groups to apologize for this comment but has since resisted. He did extrapolate on his remarks on FOX News, explaining, “The leadership we provided under extremely difficult circumstances, arguably the most difficult of any governor in the country, maybe in recent times. To me, I apply that to say, if I were to run and if I were to win and be commander-in-chief, I believe that kind of leadership is what’s necessary to take on radical Islamic terrorism.”

Again, Walker’s response is not only woefully inaccurate, but it is very concerning. The reality of dealing with peaceful public protest against anti-worker legislation is a very different reality than dealing with the magnitude of warfare. For Walker to act like his experience with one qualifies him to deal with the other both underrates the very serious contemplation of war, it alternately conflates peaceful protests with armed conflict.

Whenever I hear some dismiss these comments as “stupid” or by an “idiot,” I pause, because this type of thinking, even as it appears stupid, is actually quite dangerous. Analogies grow on people. What is first just a thought, a suggestion, after repetition becomes conventional wisdom. The lines get blurred between what is our just, lawful, right to protest, use civil disobedience (and to do so while standing up for the rights of workers to collectively organize and bargain), and terrorism.

It is also absurd to think about what on earth would Scott Walker do to deter ISIS, based on his behavior as Wisconsin Governor? Will he tell them he’s going to defund secular education? Will Walker threaten ISIS by saying he will reduce access to the polls and voting? That he will go after women’s reproductive rights and limit access to family planning? That he will implement economic policies that result in Wisconsin being below the national average in job and wage growth? I think ISIS might actually agree with him on a lot of those policies.

Join good people of Iowa this Saturday in Dubuque at 6PM to make sure that this story does not die off as the conservative press would like it to do.

Iowa House Democrats Rank High In Gender Equity

Iowa State Capitol

Iowa State Capitol

Gender Disparity in State Houses

There is still much work to be done if women are to achieve overall gender equity in representative democracy leadership.

House Minority Leader Mark Smith put out an e-newsletter that announced a remarkable statistic. For the 2015 legislative session, 49% of the House Democratic caucus was composed of women, making it one of the most gender-balanced state bodies in the nation.

But this is a narrow statistic, and though twenty-one of the forty-three Democrats in the Iowa House are women, only six of fifty-six Republican state house representatives are women (11%).

The numbers of women in the Iowa Senate are much worse. While six of twenty-six Democratic Senators are women (23%), just one out of twenty-four Senate Republicans are women (4%). Altogether, 22.7% of Iowa legislators are women, behind the national average of 24.4%. Right now there are thirty-four women who have gaveled in for the 2015 session of the Iowa legislature, one behind the record high of thirty-five women who served in the 2009 and 2014 sessions.

Iowa Democrats seem to do a better job of selecting women to be in its caucus leadership. Democrat Pam Jochum is the Senate President, and two of the four assistant majority leaders and three committee chairs are women. The only female Republican senator, Amy St. Clair, while not selected as a leader in her caucus, is a minority chair on the Education Committee.

In the Republican controlled House, only one woman is in leadership, Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer, and three Republican women are Committee Chairs. Eight Democratic women serve as ranking members of committees.

How do women fare in other states?

According to the National Conference on State Legislatures, approximately 1,785 women will serve in the 50 state legislatures in the 2015 legislative session, essentially no change from the proportion in the 2014 sessions. Iowa ranks ahead of seventeen states, but behind thirty-two states.

Nebraska has the fewest women in raw numbers with only ten women elected to its legislature. Since this is the only state with non-partisan elections, one wonders if women would have better or worse chances if associated with a party? Of the 1,785 women serving this year in state legislatures, 1073 are Democrats, 698 are Republicans, four are third party, and ten are those “non-partisan” Nebraskans.

Louisiana has the lowest percentage rate with only 12.5% of its legislators who are women, followed closely by Oklahoma with 12.8%.

Colorado has the highest rate with 42% of its legislators who are women, followed by Vermont with 41.1%. New Hampshire leads the way with one hundred twenty-two women in its extraordinarily large legislature.

Illinois is 31% female, Minnesota is 33%, Missouri is 24.4%, Wisconsin is 25%, and South Dakota is 21%.

The strangest part of all these numbers, however, is that when women run for office, they actually do quite well. According to Political Parity:

“Conventional wisdom often holds that women candidates have a more difficult path to elected office than their male counterparts. However, recent studies of the performance of women candidates demonstrate that they fare the same as, if not better than, men in similar races. The greatest issue in increasing the ranks of women to elected office is the significant lack of female candidates.”

Since voters seem to have no problem electing women, both parties, as well as non-partisans need to do a much better job of recruiting women to run for office.

Tracy Leone
Iowa Federation of Labor

The Calm Before The Storm

willa cather quote“There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.”   – Willa Cather

December is the calm before the storm. I’ve delayed writing a post-election synopsis partly due to the fact that the gains Republicans made in the 2014 election are so enormous it is hard to digest what that all means into a cohesive blog entry.

But analyzing them is even more difficult to decipher since parallel to GOP electoral victories, 2014 also resulted in populist referendum victories.

In Illinois, though voters chose billionaire Republican Bruce Rauner by 50.8 percent over incumbent Governor Pat Quinn 45.9 percent, those same voters also approved progressive advisory referenda by wide margins. 67% of Illinoisans voted to raise the minimum wage, and 63.5% of them also voted to levy a millionaire tax.

They also voted to amend the Illinois constitution to protect voting rights with this language:

“No person shall be denied the right to register to vote or to cast a ballot in an election based on race, color, ethnicity, status as a member of a language minority, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, or income.”

This far-reaching language now enshrined in the constitution isn’t exactly what you’d expect from a populace that selected for Governor a man whose private equity firm CTGR is named in over 150 lawsuits for negligence and wrongful deaths at nursing homes managed by the firm.

Other states had similar results. Voters chose Republicans overwhelmingly for state legislatures, and they now have majorities in a majority of states. Voters also elected more Republicans and the GOP now controls the US Senate.

However, like in Illinois, voters themselves when given direct authority on actual policy, showed remarkably progressive positions.

Other states that approved minimum wage increases through ballot measures in 2014 include Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota. Not exactly bastions of liberalism there.

Anchorage voters repealing an ordinance which had removed city employees’ right to strike, limited annual pay increases, outlawed performance bonuses or incentives in future contracts, and set up a system for outsourcing some work done by city employees. Has Sarah Palin land suddenly surged to the left?

Also, Phoenix voters defeated Proposition 487, which would have changed the city’s retirement system from a defined benefit system to a 401(k)-style defined contribution plan. Certainly there are a lot of retirees in Arizona, but they typically are anti-union conservatives, so what gives?

And it’s not just economic or voting issues that demonstrate that the electorate is far more liberal that the conservatives they elected. Marijuana expanded its legitimacy with legalization approved by voters or legislators in Oregon, Alaska, and the District of Columbia.

So, come January, we will have a collection of conservative legislators at the state and national levels who will insist they were given a mandate to push through conservative positions even though just 36.4% of voters bothered to turn out.

We will have a Senate led by Mitch McConnell who will push the TPP, Keystone Pipeline (1st vote of the session!), and a repeal of Obamacare.

Wisconsin Republicans will introduce Right to Work legislation to weaken the private sector unions. In other states, where RTW hasn’t been able to pass the statehouse, Republican County Supervisors and City Council members will introduce it at the municipal level.

A bill in Missouri will be sponsored that requires a woman to get her husband’s permission to terminate her pregnancy.

Iowa’s Republican Governor promises to further drain the state’s revenues with income tax cuts, a move that will likely be supported by weak-kneed Democrats fearful for electoral retribution in 2016.

And beyond the walls of the legislative halls, the barons of Wall Street will have free reign to profit off toxic assets that are underwritten by you and me thanks to the bi-partisan budget bill just passed by Congress and signed by President Obama.

We will have to contend with a conservative dominated Supreme Court that just issued a decision that legalizes wage theft.

But we will also have a progressive dominated National Labor Relations Board and lower court appointments just approved by the Senate.

So what shall we do to prepare for the new year? Get a good pair of marching boots and hone your listening and speaking skills so we do not approach policy like a bunch of shrill reactionaries.

And do as we always say in the Labor Movement: organize, organize, organize!

Because Women’s Lives Matter

Pro Katha Pollitt“Pro, Reclaiming Abortion Rights,” a just-published book by Katha Pollitt, could just as easily have been called “Because Women’s Lives Matter,” adopting the phrase used in the aftermath of the Ferguson shooting. Framing reproductive rights as a Civil Right must be asserted if we are to successfully combat the increasing prohibitions against not only abortion but even birth control.

“Pro” is also a book about civil rights for women who choose to have children. This task – so crucial to the survival of humanity – is horribly maligned by our economic and political policies that make parenting extremely difficult if not impossible for many poor women and/or women who want to also fulfill their lives with careers outside the home.

Pollitt spends many pages in the book describing women’s rights to raise children in a society that truly values motherhood with equal pay laws, child care subsidies, access to health care and education, family planning guidance, and respect for the work women do in and out of the home.

“Pro” is an unapologetic and well-researched book about the right of a woman to make reproductive choices based on her unique needs, which is precisely the compromise made when the Supreme Court issued its decision in Roe v Wade. This basic right for the sex of our species that gets impregnated from the widely practiced sex act underlies all other rights that women have. If she can’t control her body, how can she ever control her wages, her career, her family, or any other aspect of her life?

However, this fundamental right of women to lead their own lives is exactly what so offends the patriarchy that still largely governs public and private life on this planet.

See, the anti-choice movement is not about protecting life; it is about controlling women’s lives. More specifically, disallowing her to have reproductive freedom keeps her in a position of lesser power in society and in the home. As one woman stated in a Playboy interview published in 1970 before Roe v Wade, “I feel like I don’t have to be declared nutty to make up for the fact that my diaphragm didn’t work. I refuse to go through this humiliating process.”

At that time, before the Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide, some women in some circumstances in some states could still have a legal abortion. She had to prove she was mentally unstable to a court. Or she had to have enough money to get an illegal abortion at a provider willing to skirt the law at the right price. Or have access to any of the women’s support network that existed to enable a woman to not have to give birth because she conceived.

Legalization of abortion has little effect on the number of abortions women have. In fact one million American women had abortions each year before Roe. The same number of women have abortions today, but under the safety of legality. Furthermore it is safer for a woman to abort than to carry the fetus to full term. Only .6 in 100,000 women die as a result of abortions- compared to 8.8 women per 100,000 who die of child birth. This liability is the reason why most health insurance plans covered abortion before it became an issue with the Affordable Care Act. According to the National Institutes of Health “Legal induced abortion is markedly safer than childbirth.”

The decision to bear a child is among the most significant decisions women make. And since women, who by nature and evolution, are the sex that are equipped to do this, it must be women who are enabled to make a decision as a personal choice. As Pollitt puts in her crucial book, let women decide. Women’s right to decide for themselves when and if having a child is good for her and her family is, according to Pollitt, “a positive social good.”

Tracy Leone
Iowa Federation of Labor