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.