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While protests continue to rage in Wisconsin over a proposal to drastically roll back public employee union's rights, a new Pew poll finds that less than half of all Americans have a favorable opinion of unions. In fact, their support is hovering near an all time low.

Only 45% of respondents in the poll said they viewed unions favorably, while nearly as many, 41%, said they had an unfavorable opinion of unions. And while the poll was conducted before demonstrators took to the streets in Wisconsin, it underscores the tenuous position in which unions currently find themselves.

Last week, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) proposed plugging a budget shortfall by rolling back the collective bargaining power of the state's unions. The proposed changes would eliminate the ability for most public sector unions to negotiate for better heath and pension plans, though they could still negotiate on salary.

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Wisconsin's new Republican governor has framed his assault on public worker's collective bargaining rights as a needed measure of fiscal austerity during tough times.

The reality is radically different. Unlike true austerity measures -- service rollbacks, furloughs, and other temporary measures that cause pain but save money -- rolling back worker's bargaining rights by itself saves almost nothing on its own. But Walker's doing it anyhow, to knock down a barrier and allow him to cut state employee benefits immediately.

Furthermore, this broadside comes less than a month after the state's fiscal bureau -- the Wisconsin equivalent of the Congressional Budget Office -- concluded that Wisconsin isn't even in need of austerity measures, and could conclude the fiscal year with a surplus. In fact, they say that the current budget shortfall is a direct result of tax cut policies Walker enacted in his first days in office.

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The weather in Wisconsin is cold this time of year -- but the budget fight is only getting hotter. Following a walkout by the state Senate Democrats, depriving Republicans of the three-fifths majority needed to pass the budget and its controversial anti-public union provisions, the NBC affiliate in Madison now reports that sources say the Dems have left the state entirely.

This comes after the state Senate majority leader said that the State Patrol could be called in to round up the Dems. However, leaving for another state would presumably place the legislators beyond the state's jurisdiction. (Fun fact: The state Senate leader and the Assembly Speaker are brothers -- and the new head of the State Patrol is their father.)

I asked the state Democratic Party for comment on this latest report, but communications director Graeme Zielinski was unable to confirm anything. "I know the whereabouts of not a single Democratic senator," said Zielinski. "I do not know what latitude they're on, or know what longitude they're on. I assume they're in this hemisphere, I'll say that."

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Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) alerted Capitol Police Thursday after a threatening fax arrived at her office attacking her proposal to strip Pentagon sponsorship from NASCAR teams.

McCollum's staff tells TPM this is the first time they've alerted the police about a threat made against here office since the health care debate.

"Yo, Slut Betty," the fax, which arrived at McCollum's DC office Thursday morning, reads. "Shut Your Phucking Pie Hole!"

The fax then goes on to say that "without exception, Marxists are enemies of the Constitution" and "Death To All Marxists, Foreign And Domestic!"

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A Democratic source in Wisconsin has confirmed to TPMDC that, in the heated budget battle going on in that state, the minority state Senate Democratic caucus walked out within the last few hours -- which would deprive the legislature of the three-fifths majority needed for a quorum on budgetary matters. And if this goes on, the GOP leaders could call in the State Patrol.

The source has confirmed that the chamber is conducting a quorum call, and no Democrats are present. There are 33 total members of the chamber, 19 Republicans to 14 Democrats, with 20 members required under the state Constitution to be present in order to pass the budget.

And as WisPolitics now reports:

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said Dems are refusing to come to the floor to debate and vote on the bill.

Fitzgerald said at some point, if needed, Republicans will use the State Patrol to round up Democrats to bring them to the floor.

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There's a fight brewing between Democrats over whether to allow the government to crack down on for-profit colleges and universities.

The Department of Education is tired of federally subsidized student loans going to shady for-profit colleges that have poor track records of getting the students who do graduates good work -- often leaving them stuck with mountains of debt. To curb this phenomenon, the agency has been moving along with a new regulation they call the "Gainful Employment" rule.

Under "Gainful Employment" rules, for profit schools would have to show that their students can find work without getting stuck with unreasonable debt in order to qualify for federal loans.

But behind the scenes, a bipartisan bloc of House members see things differently. They say the rule would reach too far and clamp down on institutions that do a decent job of educating and preparing students. But they want to tie the Department of Education's hands completely, and block the funds they'd need to implement the rules at all.

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Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), the national Tea Party star who is eyeing a possible run for President, is now refusing to shoot down birtherism -- saying only that it "isn't for me to state," and she takes President Obama at his word.

But wait a second. As avid Bachmannologists will note, a major part of her approach is that she doesn't take Obama at his word!

Bachmann's exchange with George Stephanopoulos on ABC News comes in the wake of recent polling showing that over half of GOP primary voters buy into the conspiracy theories that Obama was not born in the United States.

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