Dirty Rotten Scoundrels Part Deux

Ed at Gin and Tacos gets into the less-discussed weeds of Scott Walker’s budget [pdf].

Apparently, governor Walker likes his union-busting to come with a side of crony-capitalism:

16.896 Sale or contractual operation of state−owned heating, cooling, and power plants. (1) Notwithstanding ss. 13.48 (14) (am) and 16.705 (1), the department may sell any state−owned heating, cooling, and power plant or may contract with a private entity for the operation of any such plant, with or without solicitation of bids, for any amount that the department determines to be in the best interest of the state. Notwithstanding ss. 196.49 and 196.80, no approval or certification of the public service commission is necessary for a public utility to purchase, or contract for the operation of, such a plant, and any such purchase is considered to be in the public interest and to comply with the criteria for certification of a project under s. 196.49 (3) (b).

Ed writes:

If this isn’t the best summary of the goals of modern conservatism, I don’t know what is. It’s like a highlight reel of all of the tomahawk dunks of neo-Gilded Age corporatism: privatization, no-bid contracts, deregulation, and naked cronyism. Extra bonus points for the explicit effort to legally redefine the term “public interest” as “whatever the energy industry lobbyists we appoint to these unelected bureaucratic positions say it is.”

In case it isn’t clear where the naked cronyism comes in, remember which large, politically active private interest loves buying up power plants and already has considerable interests in Wisconsin. Then consider their demonstrated eagerness to help Mr. Walker get elected and bus in carpetbaggers to have a sad little pro-Mubarak style “rally” in his honor. There are dots to be connected here, but doing so might not be in the public interest.

I wonder if Walker was hoping all these protests would deflect scrutiny from the rest of the budget?

PS – hat tip commenter SiubhanDuinne in the comments to my last post.

Also, more at Rortybomb.

The Death and Life of the Great American Middle Class

I don’t agree with Andrew on the issue of public sector unions at all but at least this post is a good deal more measured than many of his recent efforts. It’s also revealing of a certain mindset that I think a lot of Americans share.

I will try to explain how I see the situation. Here are the talking points you hear from many libertarians and conservatives, in no particular order:

1) The government is out of money, and we need to cut spending or future generations will suffer.

2) Austerity should be for everyone, not just private-sector workers.

3) We cannot raise taxes – even on the rich despite their inordinate wealth and not on corporations despite their extraordinary return to profitability during the jobless recovery.

4) Public-sector workers have unsustainable wages and benefits. They need to be brought in line with the rest of us by whatever means necessary.

5) Union-busting is just democracy in action. Protesting is ridiculous. The Republicans won, deal with it.

6) Passing health-care legislation is tyranny. Tea-party protests are democracy in action. Democrats won, but it’s our duty to obstruct them at every turn.

So this hodge-podge of talking points spins an oddly appealing yarn for many Americans. We must all pull together to sacrifice – but not by raising revenue or taxing those who can afford to be taxed, but rather by laying off public sector workers (since private-sector workers have already been laid off) and cutting back their benefits (since private-sector workers had to have their wages and benefits cut) and busting their unions (because that’s what we did to the private sector). The government is out of money, so we must all tighten our belts. Or, rather, those Americans who depend on public services must tighten their belts. The fabulously rich get a free lunch and are sent on their merry way, lugging along piles of cash and a much more productive workforce thanks to the ever-looming threat of double-digit unemployment.

Meanwhile, as John pointed out earlier, the first wave of 401k retirees is facing a serious crisis. This should come as no surprise. But context is especially important. At the same time that we’re discovering that the 401k model is unsound, we’re also seeing a concerted effort to attack the last bastion not just of unionism in this country, but of pension-based retirement plans. And the even larger picture, if we zoom out a few hundred feet or so higher, is that this is an attack on the middle class and on the future of the middle class in America. Not just on the public sector, but on the entire middle class, private sector included (though those battles have largely already been fought, and the middle class has lost them one by one).

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Yes, cutting spending will hurt people

Ezra Klein sums up the anti-union proposal put forth by Wisconsin’s Governor:

The best way to understand Walker’s proposal is as a multi-part attack on the state’s labor unions. In part one, their ability to bargain benefits for their members is reduced. In part two, their ability to collect dues, and thus spend money organizing members or lobbying the legislature, is undercut. And in part three, workers have to vote the union back into existence every single year. Put it all together and it looks like this: Wisconsin’s unions can’t deliver value to their members, they’re deprived of the resources to change the rules so they can start delivering value to their members again, and because of that, their members eventually give in to employer pressure and shut the union down in one of the annual certification elections.

Of course, the whole crisis is manufactured to begin with. Walker created the deficit through tax cuts and new spending, and is using it as an excuse to go after the unions. Get ready for more of the same across the country. Walker also wants to get control of Medicaid for reasons that should not be too hard to surmise.

Meanwhile Andrew Sullivan continues to distance himself from Obama and the left he so unabashedly embraced during Obama’s first two years by calling the Democratic senators who strategically fled Wisconsin “pathetic”; by complaining that the president is “AWOL” on the question of deficits; and by sarcastically responding to this excellent piece by Freddie deBoer on the very real human cost of spending cuts with a post titled “But Cutting Spending Will Hurt People!

It’s a rare talent that allows a pundit to mock and deride both the poor and the blogger they’re responding to all in just the title of a post, but Sullivan manages. He then outsources his response to McArdle who commences in arguing for cuts in pensions and healthcare services because she doesn’t want to see cuts in pensions and healthcare services. The “math demands it” according to Sullivan, even though the average Wisconsin public employee pension is only $24,500 much of which the workers themselves contribute; even though Social Security is not going to sink us no matter the false assertions of pundits and politicians; even though healthcare is the real issue and even though Obama tackled that issue first, expending almost all his political capital on it in his first year in office to however imperfectly enact reform.