Wisconsin, Tim DeChristopher, etc.

by Chris Sturr | February 16, 2011

Sign protesting Wisconsin governor Scott Walker

WALKER spells...

(1) Protests in Wisconsin against Republican Threats to Labor: Earlier today I spoke with Roger Bybee, who’s written articles for D&S over the years, often on labor-related topics, about the situation in Wisconsin, where the new Republican governor, Scott Walker, has been busy blaming unionized public-sector workers for the state’s budget woes.  The latest gambit is a budget measure that would strip away collective bargaining rights of state workers (beyond negotiating salary); both houses of the legislature are currently considering the budget bill.  There were large protests at the state house in Madison yesterday. As Roger recounts in a post at the Working In These Times blog, Walker made reference to the possibility that he would have to call out the National Guard if the bill passed–implying that he was willing to put down protests by force. He later apparently backpedaled, but the threat had done its work.  Roger will be writing a feature article on what’s going on in Wisconsin as a possible model for other states where Republicans have taken over and are using budget crises as an occasion to extract concessions from workers.  Also check out this piece from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal that gets it right about the myth of the overcompensated public employee:  state employees are more likely to have college degrees, so tend to make more than private sector workers. State workers who do have college degrees make less than private-sector counterparts; whereas lower-wage state workers tend to make more than private-sector counterparts (presumably because they are unionized).

(2) Tim DeChristopher: We reported a while back about the University of Utah econ undergrad, Tim DeChristopher, who used some creative civil disobedience to undermine a giveaway of public resources in the waning days of the Bush administration. (We thought that was the end of the Bush era; oh well.) We were excited at the time because the University of Utah econ department is one of the main users of Dollars & Sense textbooks, so we thought this was a clear case of heterodox economics inspiring students to take radical action.

DeChristopher is now facing trial, and if convicted could face ten years in prison.  Common Dreams posted an open letter co-signed by Naomi Klein, James Hanson, Bill McKibbon, someone named Robert Redford, and others; here’s the beginning of the letter:

Dear Friends:

A few months back, you likely heard about a vitally important court case involving the prosecution of a principled young environmental activist named Tim DeChristopher. After several delays, that trial is back on and we are asking for your support on its openings days starting February 28th.

Why is this trial so important to the fight against catastrophic climate change, even in light of recent ecological disasters like flooding in Pakistan and the BP oil spill? As we all know, this fight takes many forms: huge global days of action, giant international conferences like the one that failed in Copenhagen, small gestures in the homes of countless people.

But there are a few signal moments, and one will come February 28th, when the federal government puts Tim DeChristopher on trial in Salt Lake City. Tim–”Bidder 70″–pulled off one of the most creative protests against our runaway energy policy in years: he bid for the oil and gas leases on several parcels of federal land even though he had no money to pay for them, thus upending the auction. The government calls that “violating the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act” and thinks he should spend ten years in jail for the crime; we call it a noble act, a profound gesture made on behalf of all of us and of the future.

Read the rest of the letter.  (Unfortunately, the main link the letter gives, climatetrial.com, appears to be broken (looks like the domain expired, so there are lots of garish ads on the page it links to).  But you can find more information at a website called Peaceful Uprising.)

(3) Danish Film Critical of Microcredit: Hat-tip to our correspondent in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Farooque Chowdhury, for pointing us to an item in the Guardian’s Poverty Matters blog about a new Danish documentary critical of microcredit.  It is good that critiques of microcredit are going mainstream.  We published this critique by Susan Feiner and Drucilla Barker back in 2006 (and republished in Farooque’s edited volume, Microcredit: Myth Manufactured, with a preface by Doug Henwood of Left Business Observer).

That’s all for now.  I apologize for not posting more frequently–things are hectic as we get the March/April issue ready for the printers.  The issue’s theme will be: TAX THE RICH, in preparation for Tax Day (which is on April 18th this year, apparently). The issue will include a Tax Day activism kit.

–Chris Sturr

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