Art offers his perspective as a movement progressive activist.
**UPDATE: POLITICO HAS CONTACTED ME AND INTERVIEWED ME. THIS WILL BE A NATL STORY AND IN PRINT HOPEFULLY TODAY. WH HAS BEEN ASKED BY POLITICO FOR OFFICIAL RESPONSE***
A row between the Obama fundraising machine and labor has erupted in Houston. Michelle Obama is coming to Houston November 1st to fundraise for President Obama’s re election (see invite here.) And guess who is hosting the fundraiser? A billionaire named John Arnold. Who is John Arnold? He is funding a campaign to kill public pensions for our workers and give them 401Ks instead. Oh yeah, he was a key player at Enron:
The organization set up by Arnold and his wife, Laura, a lawyer, plans to be involved in pension-overhaul efforts around the U.S., Simonton said by telephone from Houston. State and local governments confront “massive financial distress” from the gap between assets and promised benefits, she said.
“Our attention to pension reform is not California- specific,” Simonton said. “We chose to get involved there because there are people who are engaged and choosing to illuminate the problems and address possible solutions.”
The California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility, the group they support, proposed a 401(k)-style savings plan as an option for future government workers, benefit limits and raising the minimum retirement age to 62, from as early as 50. A California prison guard with five years on the job can retire at 50 and get a pension under current rules.
This has provoked utter outrage and some smart replies from Gayle Fallon, President of the Houston Federation of Teachers (chapter of American Federation of Teachers), and the Director of HFT Zeph Capo. This whole sordid story deserves more exposure. Why? Because it demonstrates how broken our system is.
Obama is part of this system, which is money hungry and you take that money from whomever will give it to you. The Clintons have done so. Every Republican. Every senator. Most members of the U.S. House, governors, councilpersons and mayors at home do this as well. So, is not some “jump on Obama” thing. This is a prime example however of our terrible system and why OWS must keep moving.
Yesterday Zeph Capo, a educator himself, told the co-chair of the Women for Obama in Houston fundraising committee exactly what so many feel about this madness:
How could anyone attend an event at the home of someone who got rich of the ill – gotten gains of Enron and then proceeded to use their profits to further the corporate reform agenda of public education? And is now hell bent on taking the retirements of any and all public workers?
Has everyone in Houston forgotten the pictures of the secretaries, mail clerks, and other staff walking out of the Enron building with their boxes in their arms? What about every parent that has had their kids kicked out of a charter school because they didn’t test well? Do you side with the cafeteria cook that gets 619.90 a months after 21 years in the kitchen or the investment banker that wants to profit off the fees he will make gambling with her retirement?
No, there is nothing that would make me compromise my beliefs to attend, not even to see the first lady. I am only sorry I didn’t investigate further before we announced this event at our club meeting last week. You betcha I’ll be paying much closer attention from now on.
Working folks have had their fill of all the compromises at their expense. But it is Gayle Fallon’s response, which is posted on facebook and was also sent to the President of AFT Randi Weingarten and other leaders of labor, that really says it all about 2012:
While I understand that a political function at the home of a local billionaire will raise considerable funds for the Obama campaign, it will also serve to inflame the educational workers in Houston and make them question whether the current administration has their interests at heart. We have had enough trouble maintaining support for this administration due to the programs put forth by Arne Duncan involving teacher evaluation and compensation. It is an insult to every teacher in the state to have the president’s wife appear at the home of John Arnold – the hedge fund operator who has been at the forefront on the assault on teacher pensions. Keep in mind, money may pay for a campaign but money does not vote – people vote.
In the last presidential election 83% of my membership voted. When they feel they have no one on their side on critical issues, they stay home. Rank and file Houston teachers are well aware of who is attacking their pensions and this will make it considerably more difficult convince them that the Obama administration has not turned its back on them.
Houston Federation of Teachers
I know teachers who are saying they will picket. Occupy Houston might getting involved as well. I have nothing against our First Lady, however given the OWS movement and President Obama telling the nation he backs the 99pct during a very trying re election campaign, I ask is this really politically smart? What message does this send by accepting money from the efforts of someone who is trying to take away pensions from hardworking Americans?
Our country is going to elect the Right in 2012 if the Obama camp keeps making it hard to distinguish the 2 parties. Will have further updates on this one.