Monday, February 21, 2011

Nile Fever?

Calhoun’s Can(n)ons for Februrary 21, 2011

Holy Cheese Whiz! Is the Miracle of Tahrir Square catching? Like their Egyptian counterparts, are the good burghers of Madison, Wisconsin in revolt Chedder Rules!

No doubt about it, it was an astonishing sight. Thousands of protesting cheese heads filling the streets of downtown Madison while government thugs pursued fleeing Democratic state senators. The senators had galloped out of town in order to stop the Republican legislature from voting on a union-busting measure. It was Cairo in the heartland, but without camels.

And, like the government-toppling Egyptian miracle, this protest by government (union) employees in Madison soon started to spread to other states as other government employees got the notion that this was really all about the Republican end game: Bust the Unions to break the last impediment to our decades-long race to the bottom for a living wage (“We’re all Wal-Mart greeters, now!”) and Bust the Unions since they are the last political arm of the Democratic party. And do it under color of balancing a city or state’s busted budget.

In the larger picture, it’s actually all about chickens coming home to roost. For thirty years Americans have quietly been sipping a toxic brew: They voted for politicians to give them all manner of nice pudding: Better Schools! Better Roads! More Parks! Strong Defense! Build Star Wars! At the same time, they also voted for all kinds of tax breaks for the rich (that old “trickle-down theory”), voted for laws that would benefit corporations that off-shored their firms, (which they did in a heartbeat, taking their nice jobs with them). Then they voted for all kinds of tax loopholes allowing those same corporations to escape taxes altogether, voted to remove many of the regulations that oversaw Wall Street’s shenanigans, all the while heeding the Conservative Siren Song: Taxes are Bad! No New Taxes!

The result was predictable. It’s what happens when termites are given free rein in the home: You hear the sudden Craaackkk! and then, Splat! as your legs fall through the honeycombed floor.

And in Madison, as elsewhere, it finally became clear what 30 years of termite damage can do: Suddenly, there was no longer any floor there.

The jobs were gone, the tax base was gone, the money was gone. It was time to pay the piper. Time for slash and burn. Time to haul out the politics of grievance to blame all those wicked Union “government workers,” you know, those awful teachers, firemen, policemen and other state workers who were now being painted as greedy cheats responsible for creating these pension imbalances and liabilities, when, in fact, they were the victims. It was they who paid out of their own pockets for their share of their retirement funds only to see it go to imprudent state pension fund managers who failed in their due diligence and gave that money to the Wall Street Fraudsters who rigged the game and gambled it all away.

But you don’t see Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker standing up there before the streets full of angry cheese heads saying he’s going to string up the state’s pension managers, do you? Nor do you see him demanding that Wall Street be put on trial and the stolen, defrauded money be returned to the workers.

No. Not a bit of it. Instead, it’s kick the (unionized) teacher time. Blame the (wicked) government employee time. They’re to blame for Wisconsin’s woes. And California’s. And Tennessee’s.

Which is a typical blame-the-victim response in our clueless Battered Wife Nation. What’s not so typical is that apparently – finally? -- the victims here have connected some dots and caught on to the game and are actually standing up and joining their Cairo counterparts in saying, “Enough!”

Well, I’ve had enough as well. Enough with being piously told that “We all have to make sacrifices here.” Fine. Reduce corporate CEOs’ pension/perk funds to zero, cut their salary 10%, then ask their employees to “make sacrifices.” When millionaires and gazillionaires have to choose between taking medicine or buying food, then we’ll talk about “shared sacrifices.” Hold Wall Street to account, restore the money stolen, then talk to the victims of that fraud about tightening their belts. When it comes to cutting a teacher’s salary or slapping a small tax on a millionaire, my choice is a clear one.

Until then, I hope that somehow Nile Fever continues to spread across America. If the uprising in Cairo was all about Egyptians recovering their voice and taking back their power, then surely that’s what’s needed here as well.

In his new book, Matt Taibbi spells out just how this country was taken down and will continue to be looted, because, “We have voters who don’t pay attention, a news media that either ignores key subjects or willfully misunderstands them, and a regulatory environment that bends easily to lobbying and campaign financing efforts. And we’ve got a superpower’s worth of accumulated wealth that is still there for the taking. . . .”

The title of his book says it all: Griftopia – Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That is Breaking America.

Is it possible that the Wisconsin cheese heads have finally figured out that long con and decided that the race to the bottom stops with them? If so, then that would be the Miracle in Madison. From Cairo and back again.



Patrick O'Hannigan said...

Great piece, Ann, but you won't be surprised to hear that I take issue with some of it. I hold no brief for pension fund managers or misguided policy makers, but I do think the revolutionary forces in Madison are the ones in the state house. The crowds outside (ginned up by the Obama machine, natch) are reactionaries. It's hardly fair to call what Walker is doing "union busting," when the cheeseheads can still unionize and still bargain collectively for wages -- Walker only asked that they pay 12% of their health care costs (a helluva lot less than most of us in the private sector pay, BTW). Thomas Sowell sheds more light on the economics involved:
"What are called 'tax cuts for the rich' have been reductions in high tax rates under four different administrations, including the Democratic administration of John F. Kennedy. In each case, going all the way back to the 1920s, the reduced tax rates have led to increased tax revenues for the government.

'The rich' have ended up paying both a higher total amount of taxes and a larger share of all taxes than they did before what were called 'tax cuts for the rich.' The reason is very straightforward: High tax rates that people don’t actually pay do not bring the government as much revenue as lower tax rates that they do pay."

Anne R. Allen said...

Thanks for this Ann. It's what anybody who's paying attention can see. (Someone who has not been hypnotized by the foreign-billionaire-owned "Conservative" media.)

I agree totally with this: "Hold Wall Street to account, restore the money stolen, then talk to the victims of that fraud about tightening their belts. When it comes to cutting a teacher’s salary or slapping a small tax on a millionaire, my choice is a clear one."

Under JFK-- CEOs made about 20 times what their workers made. Now they make 1000s of times more. That started during the Reagan administration and has been getting worse ever since. THAT is the problem. And as long as people like Patrick above worship at the rear ends of the ultra rich (many of whom, like the owners of Fox News, are Saudis) the US will continue on its doomed path to becoming a very large, uneducated and dangerous version of Haiti and Somalia.

artap said...

Right again, Ann. Tax breaks for the wealthy, but not a penny for our hardworking teachers, the guardians of future generations of Americans? That's not going to fly. Down with the Tea Party. Down with the Republican Party and their rich corporate buddies too. It's time the People took their government back!

TCG said...

Regardless of the history, many states and local governments are now facing the reality of tough, real, budget dilemas. The Wisconsin legislature is working with a math equation--they either reduce the State's considerable share of employee benefit costs or they lay off a lot of people. The party in power there believes their approach of increasing the workers' share of benefit costs and avoiding a significant work force reduction is the best approach.

As for "union busting," I understand that the unions would still have the right to collectively bargain for wages, and the state has an extremely worker friendly civil service system that would remain in place.

These are difficult financial times and business as usual can't continue. States like Wisconsin (and California) need flexibility to govern in the years to come. The days of politicians giving unions very friendly contracts in exchange for campaign support must end. Wisconsin is a clear example of what will happen under that practice. The voters finally said "enough."

Sandra Gore said...

Anderson Cooper just did a good spot on his CNN 360 show. Both sides of the issue spelled out very clearly on both sides.

Mike Green said...

One nuance that gets overlooked is the difference between "State" employees "Federal" employees and lesser government entity employees.
They all tend to get lumped together , but there is one very large difference when you consider the power of collective bargaining.
States and the Federal Government can not declare bankruptcy due to their sovereign power to impose taxes.
That's the bottom line.
And that is what makes Federal and State workers unions unique to other workers unions.
They cant drive their employers out of business, ever.
And the very people that get elected to oversee the benefits of those people are supported and elected by the same folks, It's a sky's the limit conundrum with an ever escalating ladder of enrichment that has no natural hindrance until the house that holds everybody falls down.
Tax the rich? sure, but how much? and where would it end?
Things need fixing on both ends.

Churadogs said...

Things need fixing is the understatement of the year. Yup, they sure do. What I find funny in all this is the good people of Madison voted into office pols promising to bring those chickens home to roost, and now they've landed, the collective scream is deafening. Now, suddenly, it becomes, Oh, wait, I didn't mean ME.

Sadly, nothing will get fixed until everybody stops lying about everything and begins to agree on certain numbers and certain "facts" and deals honestly with those numbers and facts. Politicians and Faux Media making up crap like "death panels" and other lies are a huge part of the problem. Enough, already.