Steve Klingaman

Steve Klingaman
Minneapolis, Minnesota,
January 01
Steve Klingaman is a nonprofit development consultant and nonfiction writer specializing in personal finance and public policy. His music reviews can be found at

Editor’s Pick
FEBRUARY 24, 2011 8:24AM

It’s Bigger Than Wisconsin

Rate: 36 Flag


It began with a reference to a clause in Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s public-employee union-busting bill.  Someone said something about an “automatic no” clause in the annual union certification requirement called for in the bill. It would mean that every non-vote would be a no vote. So I looked it up.  I read the legislative analyst’s summary and much of the actual bill.  What I realized that there was no way this was an organic concoction by the Governor’s staff lawyers.  This bill was based a ready-made prototype of the variety that a number of think tanks on the right dole out.

            The bill is an attempt to put a multi-pronged union suppression plan into action.  It is specifically targeted to several related purposes designed to reinforce each other in stripping unions of their power and influence:

  • Rescind collective bargaining rights for public employee unions
  • Decertify them
  • Undermine the union election process
  • Eliminate the unions' capacity to fund progressive candidates
  • Create a pure right-to-work non-union environment in the public employee sphere.

            “Follow the money,” I thought.  The Koch Brothers, Charles and David, had directly contributed $43,000 to Scott Walker’s campaign.  The Republican Governor’s Fund they so generously support spent much more on the race.  They opened a lobbying office in Madison, just a block away from the capital, reported the Cap Times just yesterday.

Then I discovered a fascinating blog post, “Discover the network out to crush our public workers,” by David Johnson, a fellow at the Campaign for America’s Future.  He describes a vast, rightwing…network dedicated to the notion that public unions must be eradicated.  He drew attention to a group of six men, including the Koch brothers, who had their mitts all over a large number of front organizations that all shared the same purpose—to destroy public employee unions.

Their roster of supported nonprofits includes some very high profile organizations like Americans for Prosperity. I had suspected the existence of highly organized messaging because of the uncanny repetition of the assertion that public employee unions were just a Johnny-come-lately fiat of President John F. Kennedy, who enabled their formation at the federal level in 1962. Whenever you hear the repetition of the nine-second sound bite you know—it’s orchestrated—orchestrated in the fashion that a group of, let’s say, a couple hundred interrelated 501(c)3s and 501(c)4s had sprung up to support, probably due to some CPAC-style breakout session or a series of “executive prayer breakfasts” around the country and a whole lot of right wing money.

            A cabal of some very powerful so-called philanthropic foundations cooperate to fund right-wing nonprofits.  According to Johnson:

Five foundations stand out from the rest: the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Koch Family foundations, the John M. Olin Foundation, the Scaife Family foundations and the Adolph Coors Foundation. Each has helped fund a range of far-right programs, including some of the most politically charged work of the last several years.

- "Buying a Movement," People for the American Way Foundation

Bradley directly, and the Koch brothers indirectly (their father was a co-founder) have ties to the John Birch Society.  All the others in the group of five have impeccable hard-right credentials.  Together, these five foundations fund some 500 right-wing interest groups, maybe half of which are straight-out 501(c)3 “charities.” These groups are committed to hard-right mission statements that parrot each other so much that they begin to meld into a single statement:  obliterate “liberal” ideology.

            Given such a broad, shared mission, it is uncanny how a chain of echo chamber pieces on the alleged excesses of public-union workers or contracts began to form a seamless whole in the media, as documented by Johnson, until we were hearing Greta Van Susteren intoning ominously on Fox that Governor Walker has requested extra security to ensure the safety of his colleagues.  She did not say “against a threatening mob,” but that’s what she meant.

            Johnson maps but a small portion of this communication constellation and manages to deliver a clear sense of the orchestration behind the media bubble.  Its strands include the California Public Policy Center and its site, the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility, and 22 “think tanks” for which at least part of their mission is to destroy public pensions and the unions that won them. These include the Calvert Institute, Claremont Institute and the Commonwealth Foundation, to name just a few.

            While a new Pew Research Center poll shows a 44 to 38 percent split in favor of public unions against government, Republicans polled side with the government by a rate of 50 to 35 percent.  Of course it is the Republicans calling the shots in state houses where the challenges to collective bargaining are most active.  And in the media battle, I would argue that the Pension Tsunami sound bite (28,000 Google results) is winning the day.  A recent California poll showed that 56 percent of the respondents from a centrist-left constituency believed public salaries and pensions were too rich.

            The anti-pension, anti-union network has made deep inroads into eroding public support for public sector workers.  You hear it constantly in the coverage emanating from Wisconsin, but the message is coming from everywhere around the country.  I fear that the tide has actually turned and Americans hold sufficient animus toward these perceived public privileges that union bashing will succeed.  Perhaps the existence of unions has actually blunted left-of-center political organization by presenting itself as the vanguard of the movement for worker’s rights.  Those who cherish the right to organize and the right to strike might want to get off their butts right about now.

            Joni Mitchell said you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til its gone, and under the present assault, these changes are being imposed at a breathtaking pace.  The Wisconsin bill calls for the first of the annual public union certification votes in April.  The all-encompassing nature of the assault is found in the Wisconsin bill, too. It prohibits job actions of any kind on the part of all state workers, not just teachers as in the past:

Under current law, the governor may declare a state of emergency if he or she determines that an emergency exists resulting from a disaster or the imminent threat of a disaster. This bill authorizes a state agency to discharge any state employee who fails to report to work as scheduled for any three unexcused working days during a state of emergency or who participates in a strike, work stoppage, sit−down, stay−in, slowdown, or other concerted activities to interrupt the of operations or services of state government, including specifically purported mass resignations or sick calls. Under the bill, engaging in any of these actions constitutes just cause for discharge. [p.5.]

  The prohibition is broad and onerous in every respect.  It is time wake up and understand that this is much more than what it seems to be.  While people scoff at terms like “master plan”—they sound so, I don’t know, Dr. Evil—this really is a well-funded national movement with serious heft behind it.  I think the pro-worker side is missing this.

            Dr. Dennis Dresang, a professor emeritus of public policy and the University of Wisconsin said yesterday on Minnesota Public radio that he thinks the governor will ultimately win in the legislature.  And those who think that Governor Walker has overreached so greatly that he is bound to be defeated (in four long years) and that his legislature will be punished in 2012 may be in for the surprise of their lives.  I recommend that they start organizing in earnest now and open their checkbooks wide, because they are up against some of the richest SOBs in America.


Koch Bros.’ new lobby shop a block from the capital in Madison.

Judith Davidoff/The Capital Times 

UPDATE:  Noon, CST 2/24/11 – is reporting that the anti-public union battle has now spread to:  Alaska, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, and Tennessee.  Add to that list Nevada and Oklahoma, which they missed, and you have a total of 11 states with anti-union actions in progress now.  Click on the link for details.


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This needs to be on the cover right away. Important and easily an EP as far as I can see.
What Mission said.

This is no accident. These things are not spontaneous, and they are not happening in isolation. It is well planned and massively funded. And as you said, multi-pronged. It's designed to attack on every front.
thank you for your research and careful, clear writing. This helps me understand and counter the arguments on the right, who want to claim this is just a put-upon gov in a troubled state. excellent post.
Your past picture is worth a thousand words.
They are intent on taking apart the government piece by piece til -- just as Norquist said -- they can drown it in the bathtub. I guess they can hire their own firemen, teachers and police and leave us all in the gulag that the US will become.
I feel like a pawn...are all my efforts for nothing? Someone encourage me please...
You are absolutely correct. It is not a localized attack, irrelevant to other areas, but more so a stranglehold on worker rights that will snuff out a century of gains if not stopped.
Dear Y, This one gets played out in the streets. perhaps it isn't fair, but around my house Madison is now called "Little Egypt." Walker will back down after swearing not to if, and only if, he loses in the court of public opinion, and that is being played out in every town and city in Wisconsin as we speak. Walker said as much in the prank call when he gave his rationale that if the outside agitator thing got out of hand he might be seen in a more negative light. He actually believes that much of the traditional union demographic remains behind him. It's up to Wisconsin labor to prove him wrong on that count. The Democratic state senators can't hold out forever. The prank call was a godsend, now the media and the public need to pile on. If, by some chance, Dr. Dresang is wrong and Walker loses, it will be a huge blow to the movement nationally, because the link between pension deficits and "greedy, abusive public unions" is being tested in Wisconsin. We all need to understand what one Wisconsin union protester said yesterday: this is payback for supporting health care reform. The right wants to decimate union involvement with politics so corporations alone can benefit from the Citizens United decision. Another union protest said this is turning into a union war. Having read the bill, I would say it damn will should be a political war, (and for all the Greta Van Susterens out there in the bushes, the term "war" refers to political war, not bombs). The essential point. This isn't local, not by any means.

Yours is dynamite--you need to send it to every union website you can find so they can inform their membership.

If you check Nerdyjen's OS blog, I've posted a letter that I'm emailing to all the unions I can find (I also sent it to WEAC), on behalf of my own union, AFGE.

But your facts are very powerful stuff, and you need to fire that off everywhere. You're right, Scotty's "facts" are obscured by the false story of "fat-cat unionists" to try to get American working stiffs to buy that smelly load. But what's happening in WI will most assuredly NOT stay there.

The Kochs and their evil brethren have only just launched their first assault on the American workforce. It's up to you and the rest of us to make sure they don't do it.
Thank you for this piece of excellent analysis - those like me who are are outside the US can get a better understanding in a clear, compact form. Somehow I sense an air of anarchy brewing over all that's been going on in America - perhaps not unjustly. People have been supressed for too long by the rich and powerful.
What you wrote is true. There is a concentrated effort to realize the Conservative dream of a disenfranchised, unrepresented working class.
The other side of the story is the Democratic Party is also responsible for destroying their own working class base by turning their backs on them and trade agreement-ing their jobs away. The right-wing has the pockets, and the Democrats -- including Obama -- are in there too.
Of course, if the Dems didn't capitulate, they'd not get funded to win elections so they can continue to capitulate.
If America's working class is waiting for a Democratic hero they're wasting their time.
Excellent post - if I could rate it a million times, I would.

But, honestly, what are ordinary folks like us supposed to do? I have donated myself dry to liberal causes, but it's a drop in the bucket. If every single one of us sold our houses and lived in tent cities eating nothing but ramen noodles, and donated every other cent of our income, it would amount to spending money that David Koch can pull out of his back pocket on an average Tuesday.

Seriously, we're hosed.
PS-- There are many righteous Democrats, so I'd like to edit to "--and too many" before "Democrats -- including Obama--"
I don't want to slander the good ones.
One of the things I don't understand about human nature - isn't it obvious that the rich as well as the rest of us are better off when everyone's doing well? Aren't the rich better off with a little less money, but the rest of the population is content with jobs and cars and houses, etc, and worse off when the population is desperate?
Mr. Klingaman - you are a true gentleman,

After reading your post, I was depressed. Then I decided - screw that! And you and Old New Lefty lit a fire under me again. Thank-you. I just emailed the following to everyone that I know in WI :

If you'd like to support the efforts to bring more national attention WI workers today:

1) Call Bruce Springsteen’s publicist today and leave a VM @ 1-424-288-2000. I just did. I thanked him for his efforts on behalf of American workers his entire career. I then asked him to consider coming to WI now, in our time of need.

2) Email John Mellencamp’s agent, Randy, at requesting that he consider coming to WI to support WI workers.

If you’d like to use the same subject as me for greater impact: “Mellencamp – Please help WI workers.”

Thanks - spread the word to anyone who might do this....
The Koch brothers are scary men with the psychology of despots. I am afraid of them and this thing they are doing.
Taking action and organizing is no longer optional--way too much at stake here, as you say so well. We are about to lose everything our grandparents and their parents fought for.
The truth is that both sides want to kill the civil service system and replace it with political appointees. The federal government has growth to over 6000 political appointees and both parties have done their part to increase that number.

If you think that government is slow and over priced, just wait until it is full of political appointees.
The fact that we're in a time when workers are attacking each other, engaging in a "poor me" pissing contests. They've already won. We don't even realize that we're fighting over the same scraps and we're blaming each other. I feel bad for ALL workers in this economy, private and public. We are not the enemy. Workers who have fully gotten behind this conservative ideology need to seriously wonder how they're going to be rewarded for their loyalty when unions are gone and we're at the mercy, once again, of the belief that what is good for business is good for the worker. is reporting that the anti-public union battle has now spread to: Alaska, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, and Tennessee. Add to that list Nevada and Oklahoma, which they missed, and you have a total of 11 states with anti-union actions in progress now. Click on the link for details. (
Tennessee actually has quite a few more bills aimed at busting the teachers' union. There is a big rally planned for March 5th.
Great article. Too bad that it won't do a thing to sway blue collar "true believers" like -snort- Joe the Plumber.
"It would mean that every non-vote would be a no vote" - just like refusing to pee in the cup is counted as "dirty"
The poor can envy the rich but they can't do anything about them, but that guy down the block with that government job ....
The problem I see with a feel good microwave society is everyone wants to feel really good right now. Some people enjoy instant screaming more than thinking things through, maybe it's their instant solution to feeling bad.

Empire builders always have a master plan and as always, the slaves turn on the masters who planned. If we have a violent revolution we'll see clearly who the next set of masters will be. I assume it will be the crazies who have the most guns, following the liars. I'm surprised no one saw this coming 20 years ago but I think not enough people were suffering then.
Great to see you on the cover, Steve. Great coverage, as always...xox
Thanks for shedding light on the background of this movement.
TYPO - Mellencamp's email is

sorry...that's what stress does to me...
Wow, you really did your homework. Isn't it amazing how easily the truth can be unearthed if you just dig a little. Or a lot. Thanks for the facts.
This is a one-two punch. Some of the same interests backing the drive to attack public employee unions will be poised to reap the rewards of privatization. Doing away with public sector workers doesn't eliminate the need for the services they provide, but it does make it more likely that privatization can be shoved through. Considering all the bad press privatization has gotten over the past decade--from the no-bid contracts system in two wars, to Atlanta's utilities mess, to the failure of privatized education to get better results than the public system--this may be the only way to keep the push alive. First impose a work shortage, then declare a disaster, and then rush to privatize services. It's disaster capitalism applied at home. The rest of the world won't put up with the neoliberals anymore, so they've decided to cannibalize their own country.
thanks for taking the time to write this. It's facsinating to see it watching an accident...but hoping (and praying) for positive outcome.
Looks like Hilary wasn't paranoid when she talked about a vast rightwing conspiracy. These groups, working hand in hand with Fux News, are a very real threat to our republicracy.

PS I coined that term to anticipate the inevitable response from rtwngnuts out to "educate" me that America isn't a democracy, but a republic. At the moment, it's neither -- it's a kleptocracy.
You are doing important work here. Keep it up.
Thanks for an excellent blog. Recent developments in Egypt are a reflection of the unfairness of the world economy. Egyptians, tired of high unemployment, huge wealth disparities between the rich and poor and the redistribution of income to the wealthiest 1% of citizens revolted against their leader and eventually forced him out.

The situation is not unlike that in the U.S. When will apathetic Americans, too busy struggling to keep their heads above water, take to the streets in protest? Or are they more interested in Justin Bieber's latest haircut?

When will they realize that the country that was once a democracy has been transformed into a combination of plutocracy and oligarchy, run by a corporate-military-congressional conspiracy?

Will they wait until all unions have been busted, benefits eliminated, labor laws like the FLSA repealed and we go back to a standard 60-hour work week? Let's hope not!
Great work, Steve. Keep it coming.
Mucho thanks for ferreting this out Steve. There was a lot of eye-rolling when Hillary Clinton spoke of a vast right-wing conspiracy but she was right then and they haven't gone away.

It's a small step forward that the Koch brothers have been outed. Much more needs to be done through many approaches. That the super-rich have managed to screw down the non-unionized and get them to resent those who haven't been dealt a similar fate shows the strength of the forces of darkness.
For one thing, I think the liberal ideology of unions have attracted the hostility of conservatives. Why should conservative American workers be forced to contribute to an organization that so blatantly supports a liberal agenda. The State Department refusing to carry out President Bush's foreign policy was probably the straw that broke the camel's back and set the conservatives on the war path against public service unions. They've been upset about the teachers union's teaching our kids that liberal agenda for years, and the state department issue was just over the top.

Another issue is the equalizing the global economy. Until Brazil, Russia, India and China catch up with us, the leaders of business are going to be suppressing wages and stuff in the rich countries. This is a United Nation and World Economic Forum agenda. To level the playing field, both between nations and within nations.

I've been listening to all side of this conversation for 40 years. Most of the people are patriotic Americans, whether from the left or the right. The far right and the far left are both fanatical Taliban like zombies. They are destroying our nation, spouting all this vile hatred. We live in the richest most powerful civilization in the history of earth, and yet the cry babies have the people so stirred up thinking we are suffering so much.

Non sense!

Back biting and faultfinding are the worst, most useless and destructive character defects.
"Eliminate the unions' capacity to fund progressive candidates

Create a pure right-to-work non-union environment in the public employee sphere. "

Totally laudable objectives. How is it that pro-choice types that have no trouble enabling that choice to extinguish life in the womb have great trouble granting choice in the workplace?

You're being a bit naughty with the "progressive candidates" reference. The restriction would apply to ALL candidates. You know better than to try to tilt the rhetoric in this way.
Earthling, Sorry, what planet did you say you were from?

Gordon, Silly. After these shenanigans the odds of a union supporting a Republican candidate are slimmer than intelligent life on, say, Mars or Uranus.
Steve, thanks for your info and straight talk.
You say, "I recommend that they start organizing in earnest now and open their checkbooks wide, because they are up against some of the richest SOBs in America."
I want to contribute monetarily to this action, but don't know who/where to direct the funds that will do the most good. Can/could you mention a place/some places where monies will be used wisely/spent usefully? Thanks in advance.
"You know better than to try to tilt the rhetoric in this way."

I retract my statement; you don't know better.

It's intellectually sloppy to defend a clearly misleading statement by referring to how it may apply in most situations. It would be very easy to characterize correctly what the prohibition would be and add your opinion of how it would probably apply. It would take a bit of effort, but it would avoid being seen as a propagandist rather than a legitimate commentator.
War against Drugs… War against Terrorism… War against Obama… Recently, War against Women… Now, we have a War against Unions… The GOP is in a perpetual state of war… Which topic will the GOP choose next?
Rated! Great stuff Steve. I come from union roots. My dad was a bus driver and member of Amalgamated Transit. I'm still a member of the California Teachers Association and the UAW. One of the things I like to point out to right-wingers who make a false equivalence between corporate and union political contributions is as follows: Corporations have assets in the multiple trillions, unions in the billions. If you thing that's the same then we should pull the accreditation from what ever high school you got your diploma
from :)
LesSilly, You raise an interesting question. Were you to ask for an organization to which you could donate to the anti-union cause, I could provide you with a list of more than 2o. On the other hand, if you want to donate toward the cause of preserving the right to collective bargaining there are few that come to mind, other than the unions themselves, and they really don't function as issue-driven 501(c)4s, for example. as has only recently picked up the issue. They are focusing on organizing people, getting them out in the streets. If you go to their website you will find the logos of a good number of organizations that have some interest in the issue, though it may not be their historical primary focus.

Gordon, I have to hand it to you, you are a master at what you do.

Kanuk, Not to toot my own horn, but I did see this one coming, and I said it last September at OS. The next wave? Defunding health care reform and financial regulation by starving the agencies or legislative mechanisms charged with carrying out the legislation.
as a proud former member the brotherhood of carpenters and joiners of american local xxxx and was witness to end of it in 1979 under the interest rate @>20% when I laid off 36 of 42 of my union workers at small manufacturing operation @12 million/per year....
and, by the end of the month our mgt staff went from 7 mgrs to 3 to supervise the 6 union workers with very few work orders....
and, over the next 21 years 90% of manufacturing jobs went to mexico and asian countries:
japan, indonesia, india, cambodia, thailand, china, and now all of rockport walking shoes are made-in-vietnam....
the only unions with any power that are left are auto, teamsters and big city/state public employees....
last century's sweat & blood is just past his-story now, so if you got a job union or not, then, just be fucken grateful you getting paid to work with or w/o benefits paid by your employer......
Great writing! This should be a primer for all who wish to have some in-depth knowledge about what is going on. I'll link to it on Facebook, and on other sites I post things on.
Boko hit the nail on the head. Its not that those behind the coordinated efforts to end collective bargaining really care about unions per-se. The end game is to remove one of the major on-going obstacles blocking the privatization of many public services: unions. The new growth segment for 'economic hitmen' has been municipalities across the US. Interestingly, in water, energy and transportation, many of the companies that will benefit are European...
Mead, I absolutely believe that the assault on public unions is part of an effort to privatize government services. However, I also believe the primary effort is to de-fund union-backed political advertising in favor of democratic candidates. The right wants to reserve the privileges of the Citizen's United decision for corporations and their front organizations with no opposition from worker interests.
Scary stuff. Doubly scary because so often in politics and government the "baby gets thrown out with the bathwater"--whether it's a "liberal" or "conservative" issue. In this instance there is some merit in reining in public employee unions and some of the benefits that are paid (much in the way that union benefit costs had a direct relationship to the lack of competitiveness of the U.S. auto industry). But again, this goes back to throwing the proverbial baby out with the bath water. It becomes black/white, good/bad, us/them, either/or ultimatum time rather than any sort of give and take and realistic appraisal of public policy and (here's that scary word and concept which seems to not even exist anymore) governance.
More's the pity.
Walter, I know you have been critical of union benefits. I appreciate your balanced critique here. Isn't it ironic that a teacher with a lifetime average salary of $65,000, if she maxed out a 401(k) with a 6% employer match for 30 years would retire with a million dollar account that would yield $50,ooo year to live on? Nothing obscene about that. The only problem is that Wall Street is rigged for a boom-bust cycle, the busts of which would cost such a saver $10,000 a year for the length of their retirement, resulting in an annual payout of $40,000. And that is a fantasyland scenario compared to the way actual people save for retirement. So what if unions effectively reversed the the equation on the employer contribution, so that the employer was paying $10,000 a year in to the plan--a pension, not a 401(k)--and the employee was contributing $5,000? Teachers are worth that. And on top of that, the employer assumed the investment risk. After all that's only fair. Small investors stink at investing. That is "horrid reality" Republicans are screaming about. It's absurd. I know that some high-paid cops retired with $100,000+ pensions and some high-level state and local execs retired with pensions of $150,000 and up. For the most part that is excessive, and the excess has been decried in the media. But, for 99.9% of government workers, their pensions are only equal to what we all should have at minimum --I am talking about something in the range of $35,000 a year--after a lifetime of productive work.
the people of america can create a democracy anytime they want. it might be easy. with democracy, rich men's cabals would dry up, because useless.

but they continue to play in the ballpark built by the rich, using the rules written by the rich. maybe the reason the rich run things is that they are that little bit smarter than the rest. if so, things are only going to get worse.