Quote for the day

“And understand this: If American workers are being denied their right to organize and collectively bargain when I’m in the White House, I’ll put on a put on a comfortable pair of shoes myself. I’ll walk on that picket line with you as president of the United States.” ~ Barack Obama in 2007 on the campaign trail.

Guess that means the President is headed for Wisconsin, folks.

On a related note, looks like Politifact needs better fact-checkers.

The Walker Roadmap

Mike Konczal has an excellent post up on the three-pronged approach Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is taking in his stealth budget. In fact, he’s charted the whole thing out:


The assault on unions is currently the most obvious and contested part of this plan (despite the health of the public pension system in Wisconsin), but others – like the no-bid contracts and privatization scheme – are now coming to light. The last, and perhaps most significant, is the attack on public services and particularly healthcare for the poor. Mike writes:

This is the most important thing that has gotten the least coverage. The administration of Medicaid would be moved away from the state legislation to be more directly under the control of the Governor’s office. People may be dropped right away and there could be extreme games of chicken with the Federal government over medicaid spending.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services is currently being run by Heritage Senior Fellow Dennis Smith, who has been making his right-wing think tanker bones arguing that states should drop out of Medicaid, the long-time dream of the extreme right. It is telling that “Smith wouldn’t discuss Medicaid provisions in the upcoming budget bill” even though it’s all he’s been writing about for years.

Specifically, one of the last things he wrote had this talking point: “Congress and the Administration have enacted a sweeping overhaul of one-sixth of the American economy, dramatically expanding the scope of federal power….When governors and state legislators realize that they have been reduced to mere agents of and tax collectors for the federal government, bipartisan opposition from the states will be inevitable.”

This power grab by the Governor will be the beachhead for slashing medicaid rolls to record lows and planning the conservative opposition against health care reform more broadly. The people who elected the Governor deserve more information about what his ultimate goals are.

Similar efforts to slash the Medicaid rolls are happening in Arizona, and across the country.

This is blatant overreach on the part of conservatives who are coming at state budgets with all the drunken gusto of Tea Party fever. Walker wants to make any tax increase subject to a 2/3 majority in the legislature. And if you’re not willing to consider tax hikes to help balance the budget you’re just not serious about deficits, period. It’s just not possible to cut your way to a balanced budget while simultaneously slashing taxes for businesses and the wealthy. The myth that low taxes will lead to business investment and job creation is just that – a myth. These myths have wormed their way into the conservative psyche, just like the myth that lower taxes will generate higher revenue.

Furthermore, it’s important to note that all these austerity measures and privatization schemes and slashing of state budgets are completely wrong-headed to begin with. A recession is simply not the right time to make deep cuts (and yes, I realize states can’t borrow money but they do have the ability to raise tax revenue). Austerity measures in Germany – once touted by conservatives as a model for economic recovery – have led to a slowdown in the German economy.

The only silver lining is that I think this overreach will lead to a backlash. Most Americans side with the unions in the Wisconsin fight. And I imagine even more would be up in arms about the no-bid contracts. Top that with severe cutbacks in Medicaid coverage, and you’ve done what the Democrats couldn’t do in 2010: mobilize the Democratic base.


Three Decades of Union-Busting

Andrew Sullivan has two more posts up on Wisconsin, and both are remarkably even-keeled. In the first, he looks at Walker’s campaign promises and notes that Walker did campaign on cutting public sector wages and benefits:

But not end their collective bargaining rights on everything but wages. There’s no reference to any such bid in the final gubernatorial debate. Here’s another substantive piece on Walker’s positions on public sector unions from before the election. Again no mention of collective bargaining. The same can be said about his State of the State address on February 1.

I disagree with Andrew’s take on public sector unions in general, but he’s right about this:

If you campaign on one platform and then suddenly up the ante, you cannot cite democracy in your defense. And there is something bizarre about Republican commentators who cheered on Tea Party protests against a clear Obama campaign pledge – health insurance reform – suddenly decrying public protests against something a politician didn’t campaign on.

In the second, he tackles the no-bid contracts and privatization scheme in Walker’s proposed budget, noting:

Without solicitation of bids? How is that frugal? How is that conservative? It couldn’t be anything to do with the Koch brothers, could it? And wouldn’t it be more fiscally conservative not to simultaneously add over $150 million by rescinding tax hikes on those couples earning over $300,000 or individuals earning $150,000 at the same time as asking for sacrifices from people earning a fraction of that?

It’s not the cutting of public sector benefits that concerns me. I think the budget situation demands such cuts, and Walker deserves credit for saying so and following through. It’s the combination of no bid sales to corporations, exemptions for public sector unions like cops and firefighters who backed his election, and simultaneous tax cuts for the successful – in the context of asking for general sacrifice.

As I’ve noted previously, the Wisconsin public unions aren’t actually that well-compensated – their average pension is just $24,500 – and they have already told Walker they’d take hits. So the notion of shared sacrifice is not the issue here – at least for the unions or the Democrats. Walker is obviously interested only in busting up the unions and outsourcing public services to his wealthy supporters. This is not about the deficit it’s about conflicting visions of what the American dream means. There is a fundamental disconnect over notions of liberty and fairness in America. And this is where we get into Big Picture territory, which I think Andrew is still missing. Do we want a ‘right to work’ for whatever big business dictates, or a ‘right to work with dignity’? Because that’s what’s being stripped from the American worker more than anything else. With every new round of layoffs and outsourcing, the dignity of the American worker is diminished.

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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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Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

A reader emailed me this video, and it’s definitely worth watching:

(I really appreciate the emails and tips I’ve been getting lately. Keep ’em coming. Email me here, Twitter me here.)

Also from the inbox: this PolitFact report is worth a read. Even though Walker is playing dirty tricks, it’s important to keep facts straight. His tax cuts aren’t the root of the current budget shortfall (though they exacerbate future budget shortfalls), and according to the fact-checkers at PolitFact, there really was a shortfall this year despite reports to the contrary. The larger, more important thing to keep in mind, however, is that Walker’s attack on public unions does nothing to fix this. The unions have already agreed to work with the governor to help fix the deficit. It’s the Republicans who are playing politics and using this budget issue to take on the unions. This has nothing to do with deficits.

A Piechart’s Worth a Thousand Words

Alex Knapp illustrates the distribution of wealth in this country with a handy piechart:

Alex notes that, “As you can see, this is why the wealthy in this country pay most of the taxes — they have most of the money, by a staggering amount.”

More charts and numbers here.

Good thing the Tea Partiers have gotten themselves over to Wisconsin to help Breitbart counter protest against those greedy unions.

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