As President Obama jetted back and forth across the country last week attending multiple Hollywood fundraisers, one has to wonder if he glanced up after tweeting: “It’s Election Day in Wisconsin tomorrow, and I’m standing by Tom Barrett. He’d make an outstanding governor. – bo” to look out the window of Air Force One down on the billowing smoke from the massive out of control Duck Lake fire in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
My guess is no.
He certainly refused to make the time for a quick stop in Madison, Wisconsin to put in a good word in person for the Democratic contender in the historic Scott Walker recall election. Of course he wouldn’t — why should he? Obama didn’t even want to support Barrett because the president’s campaign polling in Wisconsin indicated that many Walker supporters were also planning to vote for him come November. And exit polling proved that true, with a whopping 18 per cent of Walker voters claiming they intend to support the president.
It’s just one more intentional slap in the face to unions by the Democratic Party, but not all unions, no, this colossal snubbing is specific to public sector unions alone. One could rightfully make the case that private sector unions have already been effectively decimated with only one in twelve people belonging to a private sector union — just a fraction of the previous one in three.
Both Republicans and the Democrats, for various self-serving reasons, have capitalized on and fanned the flames of animosity against public sector unions. Democratic governors in California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island have passed anti-union legislation in recent years. In fact, elected officials were so successful at vilifying public sector workers in Wisconsin that exit polling indicated that over one third of union households voted for Walker — mostly private sector union households that is. They were voting against their public sector brothers and sisters. They had bought the myth of those “greedy union members” being perpetrated against teachers, police and firefighters.
Similarly in Michigan this past year, we found the Obama administration utterly mute on the topic of the Emergency Manager Law. A law whose primary purpose seems to be an all-out assault on public unions. A coalition, with AFSCME in the lead, called Stand Up for Democracy worked doggedly to put this public sector union-busting law to a referendum vote. At the same time, Michigan Democratic party leader Mark Brewer was busy criss-crossing the state speaking at local Democratic party picnics telling members, over bratwurst and powdered lemonade, not to participate in the referendum drive. Coalition members and a few brave elected officials publicly begged U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, not once but twice, to intervene to review the law for its constitutionality. The silence from Washington remains deafening.
Last week the Wall Street Journal ran an article which lead with a story about several firefighters in California that were shopping for steaks when a man approached them and accused them of wasting taxpayer dollars on expensive cuts of meat. Setting aside the incivility of the encounter, and the fact that people that rush into burning buildings to save lives probably deserve a little red meat now and then, the real concern here is the growing animosity being directed at firefighters.
In Michigan, Governor Rick Snyder’s administration has starved its cities of funding, and the resulting cuts to fire departments are the rule rather than the exception. Most recently, Michigan has seen substantial curtailment of firefighting capacity in Battle Creek, Traverse City, Kalamazoo City, Hamtramck, Taylor and Highland Park. A recent series of fires in Highland Park burned out of control under inadequate firefighting resources. This same city lost its street lights last year due to budget cuts. One can only imagine the condition of their fire hydrant system if they can’t even maintain street lights.
Much like the crisis in public school funding, firefighting and law enforcement budget woes are a manufactured crisis. The Snyder administration doled out $1.8 billion in corporate tax cuts to businesses that frequently maintain no more than a P.O. box in Michigan, while at the same time they slashed and burned the operating budgets of public sector services. At the behest of big business and those nefarious super PACs, Snyder robbed the coffers of public education, from kindergarten to graduate school, and squeezed revenue sharing to municipalities until it seemed there was nothing left to cut…then he cut more, and bragged about Michigan’s budget surplus.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources firefighters were cut by 20 per cent, leaving them with a crew of only 72 — half of what a state that size should have to fight forest fires. It’s no wonder the Duck Lake fire went from containable to out of control. The loss of homes is disturbing enough, but the idea that these 72 individuals must risk their lives to do the work of two people is appalling.
Yet, this is what Republicans want, and Democrats continue to allow to happen — our president flies safely above the smoke and flames, in the clouds, tweeting and rubbing elbows with George Clooney…while Michigan burns.
(This article is dedicated to my firefighter friend Larry G. and all his co-workers who risk their lives everyday.)
Amy Kerr Hardin