February 18th, 2011

Slouching Toward Elbonia

To quote Dr. Scott from RHPS, "It's vorse dan I zot!" Governor Walker's plan to turn Wisconsin into the Mississippi of the midwest has proceeded with unexpected speed and in unanticipated directions.

Oh, I, and I think most others, had expected that he would try some sort of dramatic unilateral strongarm bullshit with state worker's wages, much as he did with Milwaukee county, but the broadside attack on union rights that is part of the "budget repair bill" is breathtaking.

Note that this is the standard tactic of the 'strong-man' dictator: declare a state of emergency, and then use that as an excuse to reward your friends and punish your enemies. There's no question that ASFCME and the teacher's unions have been on the Republican enemies list for years, and the fact that the Police and Firefighters unions, who endorsed Walker, have been exempted from the axe just underlines that this is political score-settling.

The reason given for exempting police and fire does not fly: they are supposedly excused from the pogrom since they are vital to public safety. So? If other public employees don't need to be able to bargain benefits or working conditions, why do police and fire? What does that have to do with public safety?

No, this is bald-faced union busting that has nothing to do with "budget repair." Doing away with "fair share" does absolutely nothing to affect the budget. Requiring contracts to last only one year, and unions to recertify every year, not only does nothing to balance the budget, but will almost certainly reduce productivity as time is taken away from public work for continuous wage negotiation and union election activity. Taking away the ability to negotiate hours or working conditions might possibly save some money long-term (although I expect that any paper savings will be offset by lost time and reduced productivity), but this in no way needs to be in an "emergency" budget repair bill. I am sorry to see that Wisconsin Republicans have learned the lesson taught by the Bush Administration: that you can get away with the most thourough corruption if you make it all open and above-board.

Walker did not have the demonization of public workers as a plank in his platform, which is what makes the extent of this viciousness somewhat of a surprise. Other new things are coming out of right field as well, notably the proposal to separate UW-Madison from the rest of the University system. At first glance, this seems incomprehensible, until you consider that this step would automatically reduce the other campuses to the status of second-rate universities, with concomitant reduction in enrollment and endowment, and set the weaker ones up for eventual closing, which will have the effect of reducing educational opportunity for Wisconsin citizens, particularly in the north and west of the state.

This of course seems counterproductive to the administration's avowed goal of job growth, and it is. Actions, however, speak more loudly than words, and it's clear that the real be-all and end-all is reducing taxes and to the devil with everything else. The downfall of the United States is going to be due to the citizenry's capacity for believing what they want despite the facts. The facts are, as reported in Joe Conason's column this week, that during the Clinton administration, taxes were higher, the budget was balanced, the federal debt was on its way to being reduced, and the economy was booming. Then Bush was elected and its been a death spiral ever since. If it were true that reduced taxes create jobs, the Bush Administration should have been one of unprecedented job growth. Instead, employment grew at the slowest rate since the Great Depression, and that was BEFORE the economic collapse. People seem to accept the Republican rubric that more of the same will work a cure, despite clear evidence to the contrary.

The facts are that, instead of investing money in the economy in job-creating ways, the very wealthy and the great corporations are hoarding it. Personal wealth of the richest individuals and cash reserves of large companies are at all time highs, but they are sitting on it. You can give people money through tax breaks, but you can't mandate that they put it into circulation. The lie that government spending can't create jobs is widely circulated: in fact, the reverse is true. Government spending can be targeted on work-creating tasks, unlike tax cuts. The mere fact of paying salaries to public workers stimulates the economy, since the greater part of a middle-class worker's wages goes into circulation.

Assuming that there are any historians in the future to write about the decline and fall of the American Empire, I wonder if Grover Norquist and his "Americans for Tax Reform" will be remembered as the Visigoths that lead the sack--.

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