James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wisconsin: Overwhelming ironies

It's impossible to think of another situation so utterly bathed in irony as the battle in and about the attack on unions by Wisconsin's Tea Party millionaire governor, Scott Walker, and other Republicans of his ilk.

That is, bathed in irony and wrapped in hypocrisy.

Damned near everyone involved, certainly almost every Republican in any way involved, should be covering his or her head in shame.

Yet the situation presents us with the first faint glimmer of hope for an awakened American public that we've seen in years.

First, there is Walker, whose office was pretty much purchased for him by big-polluting scofflaws David and Charles Koch. Walker just gave away tax breaks to his state's super rich that almost equal the amount of money he is trying now to take from his state's employees. And he says the savings from pay, pensions, health care and such are an absolute necessity if Wisconsin is to avoid bankruptcy.

Got that? The already fabulously rich were handed still more wealth, for no reason whatever other than Walker believes in oligarchy, and what they were given must be taken away from people who work for a living. Irony. Hypocrisy on a monumental scale.

Now think of Tunisia, Egypt and the rest of the Middle East, where people are fighting and, in many cases, dying to gain basic human and political rights, while in this country our super-rich are doing their considerable best to take all political power from the hands of the people and are abetted in that by many of the people whose rights they are stomping on.

Then there are President Barack Obama and a rapidly growing host of Democratic politicians from all over the country who are “speaking out” (as the corporate media put it) to denounce the attack of Walker and fellow Wisconsin Republicans on their state employees.

Most of those same Democrats, recently aided by that same president, have been busily helping Republicans gut unions and slash the income and living standards of working Americans for decades.

They still are busy as north country beavers working on legislation and policies to make poor and middles class Americans pay for the crimes of big-money bankers and brokers. Meanwhile those same big-money people -- the ones who almost brought down the American economy and did cost the American people billions of dollars and countless jobs -- wallow in multi-million dollar annual bonuses like Scrooge McDuck wallowing in his money bin.

Goldman Sachs defrauded the public and crashed the economy? Let's hire those guys for the Obama administration and, in the meantime, do away with government programs that allow middle class Americans to buy homes. Huh Mr. President? That'll show 'em.

Irony. Hypocrisy almost beyond comprehension.

The plain truth is that the Democratic wing of the Corporate Party does care about unions – as sources of campaign organizing and contributions. And it needs the union contributions more now because corporations need the Democrat sham party less since the Roberts Extreme Court allowed them to buy elections almost directly.

But the Democrats want tame unions. They have no choice but to speak in favor of the demonstrators in Madison, but they're undoubtedly pretty worried about those demonstrators.

If the Wisconsin union folks should somehow manage to make Little Caesar Walker back down to substantial degree, they may well inspire similar insurrections elsewhere, and insurrections are notoriously difficult to control. The unions could, possibly, decide to become a power unto themselves, backing politicians who actually support them and fight for their needs, rather than just backing any pol who decides to put on a Democrat team jersey. Wouldn't that be ironic?

And then there is the powerful irony of seeing some Republicans and “conservatives” cheering popular uprisings in the Arab world and, just days or hours later, decrying the uprising of American workers who have had enough of being screwed over.

Of course, the boobs who believe Glenn Beck and the rest of the Fox liars won't get caught in that particular irony and hypocrisy. That's because they're already drowning in the hypocrisy of decrying those Arab efforts at grabbing freedom. They've been told by Fox, and so they believe, that all Arabs are Islamic fanatics out to destroy the West and that, therefore, we should be sending in our military, if necessary, to uphold the right of vicious dictators -- “our friends” -- to murder, torture and otherwise repress their own people.

I'm not sure that “I'm an utter damned fool” is a whole lot better than “I'm a hypocrite.”

But other “conservatives” are in that ironic, hypocritical corner, cheering efforts for freedom in democracy in the Middle East and decrying it at home.

I hope that somewhere along the way those Wisconsinites -– and the working people of Ohio, and Indiana and New Jersey and elsewhere -- start backing politicians, including our corporation-loving president, into corners and demanding much, much more from them. It's time they -- we -- told the pols that it is not enough to mouth meaningless phrases designed to appease working people while avoiding any offense to the corporate elite.

The folks in Wisconsin should say a hearty thanks to the 14 Democrats who walked out of the Legislature, and add “Now do more.”


I strongly recommend this column from the New York Times by one of the three honest economists in the United States (well, maybe four or even five):


And this one:


Monday, February 21, 2011

Fighting 'Divide and conquer' in Wisconsin

By Lydia Howell

The shell game of the corporate-sponsored Tea Party/GOP is being exposed in Wisconsin. That state’s new millionaire governor, Scott Walker, swept into office with very big campaign contributions from the billionaire Koch brothers, David and Charles, who own an oil company known as one of the country's worst polluters.

The Koch brothers also own several Wisconsin-based natural-resources companies that are known as major polluters and defiers of resource-protecting laws. They are also bankroll some Tea Party groups.

Governor Walker’s first priority was slashing corporate taxes. It’s no coincidence that the $130 million deficit Walker says he’s addressing with his attack on public workers equals the corporate tax cut he pushed through in January. This continues a trend illuminated by the organization Wisconsin’s Future.

Madison is ground zero for resistance to the dismantling of workers’ rights and cutting anything in government budgets that serves human needs while corporate “persons” get subsidies and tax cuts and are in effect made exempt from law supposedly governing such offenses as pollution and worker safety.

This war began when Ronald Reagan fired striking air traffic controllers who demanded better working conditions and has contiued right up to the bipartisan extension of George W. Bush’s tax cuts for the richest 1 percent in December.

Now, “budget deficits” are the mantra to justify anything from House Republicans’ plan to slash half of WIC (nutrition for pregnant women and children up to age five) to Wisconsin’s Governor Walker’s assault on public workers. The real agenda is to break unions.

This is an escalation of the 30-year war on workers, conducted whether Republicans or Democrats are in office. Whether it’s race, gender and age discrimination or illegal firing for trying to organize a union, workers’ rights have not been enforced. If Gov. Walker wins, all workers will lose as union rights are erased across the country.

Middle class and working people have paid higher taxes -- especially local property taxes -- to make up for corporate tax cuts. Corporate rates are now at 14 per cent or less and about a third of U.S.-based corporations, although moderately to extremely profitable, pay no income taxes. Corporate media keep that largely a secret from the American people.

You have to go to the United Kingdom’s Guardian newspaper to find out about a recent study by three academic accountants at Duke University, MIT and the University of North Carolina reporting on corporate tax-dodgers. One example: General Electric paid a 14 per cent tax rate over the last five years; workers making $30,000 paid 19 per cent. Wisconsin’s Future notes that what corporations pay in state taxes often is hidden from the public.

Add up “incentives” big businesses get supposedly to create jobs: infrastructure paid for by the public, free or cheap land with no property taxes for some years, payments for each job created or, inversely, tax breaks when companies move their factories -- even when they move them out of the country.

A “privatization” mania is cannibalizing government as public functions and services are taken over by big business, from military contractors to corporations that decide who gets social services -- at higher costs, since profits must be made when corporations run your schools or your wars.

It’s not public workers -- teachers, firefighters, nurses, garbage collectors or social workers -- that are creating budget deficits in Wisconsin or anywhere else. It’s the relentless demands by corporate “persons” to be exempt from paying their fair share while government is expected to work for them educating the workforce, providing transportation, infrastructure and cleaning up pollution corporations create. Public schools get cut while billionaire sports team owners get public funds for new stadiums with lots of new luxury boxes for corporate executives.

These legal thieves are now calling themselves “the job creators” but 75 per cent of all new jobs are created by much smaller business, which don’t get the public subsidies paid to big business.

In fact, corporations work mightily to undermine competition from Mom and Pop local businesses.

What’s maddening is that many profitable big companies are laying off workers and simply squeezing more out of the frightened, non-union workers that remain. The term “job creators’ is just the latest Ayn Rand mythology and “trickle down” hype.

As progressive populist Jim Hightower observes, corporations and the wealthy “see themselves as the Big Dogs and the rest of us are just a bunch of fire hydrants.”

For thirty years, workers have endured stagnant pay or wage cuts, loss of benefits and replacing pensions with 402Ks. (The latter, of course, were hit hard in the Wall Street fraud-driven financial meltdown). Unionized workers in the public sector have been more protected from these losses and so the Tea Party crowd misdirects workers’ anger and resentment towards unions -- turning attention away from greedy CEOs with salaries and bonuses in the hundreds of millions, which they are allowed to protect from taxes.

Gov. Walker’s sponsors David and Charlie Koch awarded themselves $11 billion in bonuses this year. (Oil companies get big subsides from the federal government; Congress refused to cut those utterly unnecessary subsidies, even as the House passed cuts to clinics serving poor women).

Listen to any call-in show and one hears everyday workers say: “I don’t have health benefits on my job and those unionized workers get Cadillac care!” “I haven’t had a raise in three years but those auto workers are making too much!” “The unions along with the EPA demand regulations. They’re job killers!”

This is classic divide-and-conquer in action.

If those callers knew America’s labor history, they would know that unions brought us an eight-hour day, weekends off, overtime pay, wages above the sweatshop level of the countries corporations now are shipping jobs to, health and safety laws (not enforced as they should be, as the Massey mine disaster and British Petroleum explosions shown). I’ve lived in a so-called “right to work”/non-union state (Texas): without unions you get lower wages, no benefits and little social safety net for anyone.

Ordinary people in the Tea Party haven’t figured out what corporations know. So the corporations and their top dogs get bought-and-paid-for elected officials like Gov. Walker to act on their behalf. Desperate workers mean more power for the already too-powerful and more wealth funneled to the already rich from the rest of us.

Madison protesters, counted at about 70,000 this weekend, are making new labor history. Only about 2,000 Tea Party opponents showed up, with “Joe the Plumber” flown in. In Hudson, Wis., Minnesotans stood with public workers on Saturday. It’s rumored that similar attacks on labor are planned in New Jersey, Iowa and Ohio, but in Madison a prairie brush fire of resistance has begun.

Tuesday, Feb. 22, at 4 p.m., Minnesotans will rally at the State Capitol in St. Paul to show solidarity with the Wisconsin state employees.

Lydia Howell is a Minneapolis independent journalist. Tune in to her show “Catalyst: politics and culture” Thursday, 9am on KFAI, for updates on this struggle. http://www.kfai.org