Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Why Wisconsin Matters


 Since we're on the subject, I'll say a couple more things about the election and move on.

Normally I don't talk about American politics much. It's a sideshow and a spectacle. The governing principle we live under is capitalism, not democracy, and no one is changing that. We like to look at the big picture here at The Hipcrime Vocab. Still, I think the election was fairly significant, and not just because I live here (although that's a part of it.). We've always had good,clean honest government in Wisconsin that worked in the best interests of the people, regardless of whether it was Democrats or Republicans in charge. But lately there's been a change.

While I don't follow politics closely, I am aware that Walker's signature issue was the elimination of the rail line linking our two major cities, something every other comparable industrialized nation has as a matter of course (he also zeroed out funding for bicycles). It was claimed that the state would not be able to afford it in the future. The construction was fully funded, and a Spanish company, Talgo, had taken over the abandoned Tower Automotive site and was hiring people to manufacture train cars there when Walker was elected. That nice vision of a future green economy was effectively quashed by Walker, actually costing the state money in the process. And this came despite increasing funding for road construction. The party cannot acknowledge Peak Oil. In fact, Walker even went to the annual road builder's convention in Florida, a move criticized even by conservative talk-show hosts! (of course, they fell in behind Walker later) Our previous Republican governor, Tommy Thompson (who served in the Bush administration), was a supporter of rail. Thompson is mentioned as a senate candidate to replace Herb Kohl, but it's thought that he is not radical enough for the "new" Republican party.

Thus we see that any preparations to keep our economy functioning in an era of high gas prices will not happen. As long as his supporters can rule, they do not care the health of the society they rule over. I find it ironic that the boosters of conventional capitalism cite increasing efficiency as a way to keep the system going. They may want to check that with movement conservatism, which sees three of our best silver bullets to keep the economy humming under high oil prices - compact urban forms, public transit and smart metering, as international socialist conspiracies.

An interesting aspect I heard about recently was a plant to change deer hunting in Wisconsin:
This past year Governor Scott Walker imported "Dr. Deer" or Dr. James Kroll all the way from Texas -- and asked him to conduct a review of Wisconsin's deer management program and policy. Kroll holds the title of White-Tailed Deer Trustee, a position created by an executive order from Walker. Under this position Kroll will provide analysis and recommend changes to Wisconsin's deer management program. Kroll, who considers hunting on state-managed game lands "the last bastion of communism," is being paid up to $125,000 dollars for less than a year's full-time work. Kroll released his interim report in March with his final report due in June. Deer hunting advocates are concerned that his final report could somehow advance a privatized vision of Wisconsin's deer management in ways that could disadvantage a public hunting model and favor a game farm model.

Hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites -- particularly in the northern part of the state -- rely on public lands like the state parks and the state and national forests to hunt deer.

But Kroll has a record of bashing public hunting grounds. A number of inflammatory comments have been attributed to Kroll based on an interview with Joe Patoski from Texas Monthly. Kroll called national parks "wildlife ghettos" and accused the government of gross mismanagement. Kroll also said that people who call for more public lands are "cocktail conservationists...who are really pining for socialism."
Are Wisconsin's Deer in the Headlights? (PRWatch)

So we see we're heading to a Medieval model, where commoners will no longer be able to hunt on the lord's land. Every scrap of land will privately owned, and only those who can pay will be able to use it. There will be no more public land, just as there will be no more "public" anything (state parks, libraries, etc.). As when no doubt when hunters try and score game on "private" land they will be arrested for poaching and tossed into the for-profit prison system which has also been privatized by Walker. Can you see the feudal future we're heading toward?

I once read somewhere that the CIA and other intelligence agencies had developed with ways of destabilizing governments and getting control over a country as a means to block the spread of Communism. The authors claimed that these same destabilization techniques were regularly used inside the United States on the American people! That's a little far down into the rabbit hole for me, but given the connections between the banking industry and America's clandestine agencies, I don't find it impossible to believe. Agents provocateurs, fake grass roots groups, radio propaganda, and of course, divide and conquer are all well-established tools in the toolkit.

First it was whites against blacks just after the civil rights era. that gave us suburbia, ghettos, dysfunctional schools, and crumbling inner cities. Then white collar workers were played against blue-collar workers. The job losses in manufacturing weren't important, because the future was college-educated paper shufflers, and those middle-America dummies who couldn't cope deserved what they got. That gave us deindustrialization, off-shoring, and the busting of private-sector unions. Then came the playing of America's vast fundamentalist heartland against "elitist intellectuals" and "Hollywood liberals". This has given us gay marriage laws, abstinence-only education, and various other laws attempting to regulate women's reproductive rights and sexual behavior. There was also the playing of Mexicans against blue-collar workers, another effective distraction. Politicians, yes even right-wing ones, were able the throw open the borders to cheap immigrant labor to break blue-collar wages, while at the same time exploit the resulting xenophobia for votes. Brilliant. Then there was playing rural Americans against city-dwellers, and college-educated "intellectuals" against gun-toting "real Americans." So the latest tactic is mining resentment against the small segment of the population that has held onto the decent benefits and working conditions all Americans used to enjoy. That probably has as much to do with the fact that government jobs can't be outsourced as much as unions. But now, even government jobs are being moved to India.

So we see the history of America over the past fifty years has been one of divide and conquer, with the oligarchs effectively playing one group against another, and laughing all the way to the bank. The next one is the generational war - eliminating Social Security by playing the resentments of  indebted young people against baby boomers and their "unaffordable" Social Security. Since we can't have it, you shouldn't either, we're supposed to think, and instead of raising the income caps to cover millionaires, we're going to make sure all us working-class people suffer together. Let's organize the circular firing squad. And that illustrated the other important thing about the Wisconsin election: the growing divide in our society. How much longer can we keep it together? How much longer should we? See this:

Politics divides Americans more than race, gender or age, Pew study finds (Yahoo!)
The Pew Research Center has a new report out Tuesday suggesting that America is more divided than ever along partisan lines, and that the differences between Democrats and Republicans outstrip differences between Americans of different races, genders, ages and incomes. The widest gap is between Republican and Democrats' opinion of the social safety net. Forty percent of Republicans agree with the statement, "It's the government's responsibility to care for people who can't care for themselves," compared with 75 percent of Democrats. That gap has widened by 20 points since 1987.

The stasis in this divide comes in spite of the widening income gap between the rich and poor in America and Republican criticism that Obama engages in "class warfare" by saying wealthy people should pay higher taxes than they currently do. A belief in personal control over financial destiny sets Americans apart from many Western European nations. In a Pew Global Attitudes survey last year, 72 percent of Germans and 57 percent of French people agreed that success is mostly decided by outside forces, compared to only 36 percent of Americans overall.
Unions are a flawed institution, but they seem to be the only way under the capitalist model that workers can get any share of the value they produce. I see them as a necessary evil. Although I've not been part of a union, I've worked in both the public and private sector, and with union members and non-union. In my observations, there's not much of a difference - each one has their good employees and their shitty ones. the union places tend to treat their workers better, and it's more of a meritocracy rather than promotion based on sycophancy and nepotism as is rampant in the private sector. Of course, an economic model that let workers keep the value they produce without handing it over to a small class of capitalist oligarchs or an all-powerful government (like employee-owned businesses) would be the ideal , but I don't see that on the table anytime soon. I'm consistently amazed at the vitriolic hatred directed by Americans who work for a paycheck at the only social institution that tries to give workers decent pay and working conditions. WTF?

So this is excellent timing for this article: Union decline and rising inequality in two charts. I've embedded the videos below. And see this: Turning Our Backs On Unions  (Joe Nocera, New York Times). Irrefutable facts.




Most cultures throughout history have snapped when the rich took all the spoils and left little to none for everyone else. Most economies come unglued when that happens - no money to circulate. As I've said before extreme inequality has been associated with collapse thought history. this is irrefutable.

For their part, the wealthy suburbanites I work with were overjoyed with the Walker victory, and took great delight in tom Barrett getting slapped. I work in a field where 4 in 10 people are out of work. But, of course, that will never happen to them. So it goes.

ADDENDUM:
Excellent comment to this article:

Not a word about divide and conquer tactics? It's all conservatives do and it is much more relevant to people voting against their own interest than cultural values: pitting young against old ("Social security won't be around when you retire"), nationals against aliens ("illegals take your jobs and run up the tab on social services"), whites against brown ("beware the welfare queen, the lazy and the criminal"), union workers against non-union workers ("union mafia is after your lunch"), public sector against private sector ("overpaid lazy gubmint workers bleed state finances while you get minimum wage"), etc ..

6 comments:

  1. nice post. You were recmnd by a friend. I am a small hippie blogger from Wisco. I added you to my blogroll. I will be back. Thank you.

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    1. Great analysis. I'm sorry it had to be Wisconsin. As someone who grew up just on the wrong side of your southern border (Freeport, Illinois...but hey, I was Packers fan growing up :)), Cheesehead territory always seemed a bit more civilized than we were down in the Flatlands. After I got my driver's license I used to love going to Madison and hanging out.

      At least you can say you were represented by the last great Senator (Feingold). There was a man who actually stood on principle even though it eventually cost him his seat.

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    2. And where is our "Tea Party" senator Ron Johnson? I think he's mister invisible. The only thing I heard out of him is complaining how expensive maintaining a home in Washington D.C. is. Good job Wisconsin. This is why we can't have nice things.

      Wisconsin was the first state to allow public sector unions,so I think we were chosen for symbolic value. We were also central to the Progressive movement, and Milwaukee had Socialist mayors for a good part of the twentieth century. If they can break us, they can break the last progressive strands in Middle America. It looks like Scott Walker was a well-cultivated sleeper agent since college.

      The latest Tank Riot podcast (from Madison Wis.) used the term 'Wississippi'. Yep, that's about right. congratulations middle class. Keep documenting those plant closings...

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  3. Unions belong in the private sector and membership should be voluntary. Unions do not belong in the public sector as there is no profit generated "to get a fair share of".

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    1. Ideally, I would feel much more comfortable with the percentage of unionized in the public versus private sector reversed for the reasons you describe. I think that would make things better off for everyone. If the private sector had strong unions there would be little need for protection for public sector workers, since they would have to compete for workers. Not to mention tax revenues would be higher since workers would receive a fairer share of the profits and be less able to dodge taxes and buy loopholes. High union membership tends to raise salaries for all workers, including government ones. But that's not the world we live in, is it?

      Voluntary membership sounds nice, after all, why should anyone be forced to join something, right? Certain people pay all kinds of lip service to "voluntary" membership, but you and I both know it's really a way to pick away union members with better pay and benefits until the union is weak enough to eliminate, and then all workers see their pay and benefits slashed. I've witnessed this with my own eyes. When I hear voluntary membership, I hear code words. And a lot of people who pay lip service to the idea of unions in theory do everything in their power (including buying legislators) to eliminate them. I assume this is not you.

      Another clever ruse is transferring the tax burden off of the wealthy and onto the middle class and then playing to the "your taxes are funding their lavish lifestyles" crowd. Union workers are not rich. If my mom did not have decent benefits thanks to her union, I doubt I would have had even the meager chances to join the middle class that I did, including health care. I don't remember us being particularly rich growing up across from the housing projects and next to a cement factory.

      Union busting is just a way to keep the race to the bottom going. Maybe you're rich enough that you don't care, but I sure as hell am not.

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