Sunday, December 12, 2010

There Once Was A Middle-Class...

Scott Walker is preemptively, and in what has become a repeated talking-point, attacking public workers for his soon-to-be governorship. An often-regurgitated, yet false, mantra of Walker and his minions is that public workers haven't sacrificed. (And he and the Journal continually repeat this lie in article after article hoping people will accept it.) To believe this, we'd have to forget pay freezes, layoffs, furloughs, paying larger portions of health care costs, and even terminations have occurred. He would like to see workers pay 5% of their pension plan, rather than zero, and pay 12% of their insurance premiums, instead of only 4 to 6%. He'd also like to see unions completely disbanded and outlawed. But that's the end game, he's willing to take baby-steps to get there. If he and the Republicans have to destroy the middle-class to do it, so be it.

The Journal Sentinel prints many stories every week, bellowing on and on about each and every one of Walker's hair-brained ideas as if they were good policy, well-conceived, or plausible. In most cases, none of it passes scrutiny. It's just more of the tactic of appealing to the lowest common denominator - emotion and anger - of the base. Getting the base riled up with talk of killing the train, standing up to unions, getting government off of businesses backs and, of course, lowering taxes.

The Journal tells us, the public is "fed-up." And, they use a Wisconsin Policy Research Institute (a thoroughly discredited pro-business, anti-labor group) poll to prove it. To the extent the public is "fed-up," it is only so because of the continual efforts of the Journal Sentinel and groups like WPRI spreading lies and causing (unwarranted) resentment towards unions. No matter the facts, regarding their unwavering attacks on unions, the Journal believes, "It's justified."

The Journal also wants the public sector to be more "flexible." This is jargon for being able to fire workers at a moments whim. What we really need to be a successful, sustainable, consumer nation (according to the Journal Sentinel and business blowhards) is for workers to be easily fired whenever they start making a living wage. Cheap, low-wage work, in this diabolical worldview, is the key to our shared success and prosperity.

Pushing again for the partial privatization of the Wisconsin Department of Commerce, the Journal Sentinel parrots Walker's business-friendly talking-points. I've addressed this ill-conceived privatization scheme previously. "As evidence for the need for the new agency initiative, the Journal notes, Wisconsin, 'once in the top twenty in per capita personal income...had fallen to 27th by 2008.' (Wisconsin in the 20th most populous state.) They then talk of how such agencies help turn things around. They cite Indiana and Michigan as evidence of such positive experiences. Michigan is the 8th most populous state, it ranks 26th in per capita income. Indiana is the 16th most populous state, it ranks 37th in per capita income. The unemployment rate in Wisconsin is 8.5%, it's 10.1% in Indiana and Michigan. If we look at median household income, Indiana ranks 32nd, Michigan 30th, and Wisconsin 21st. GDP change between 2006-2008 was -0.6 in Indiana (ranking 41st), -1.5 in Michigan (ranking 47th), and +0.7 in Wisconsin (ranking 27th). They are performing worse than we are, yet we should follow their lead?"

Almost on cue, where would we be if Pat McIlheran didn't have something biased, ludicrous, and wrong, as usual, to say. He finds Scott Walker "electrifying." He feels Walker is correct going after public sector labor costs because "that's where the money is." He doesn't mention nor contextualize the fact that labor is also what creates wealth. The unionization of workers simply allows them to collectively bargain to obtain a fair proportion of the gains of their productivity. Something we should support for all workers. A fair day's pay for a fair day's work. The McIlherans, Walkers, and Republicans of the world would rather see workers with less rather than tighter profit margins and smaller compensation for CEOs.

As Walker growls, "We really need to get public sector wages and benefits under control." Of course the Journal throws this out there as accepted fact. No context, no data, no questions asked. Therefore, accepting such a blanket generalization must mean Wisconsin has higher union representation than other states, the labor costs must be a massive share of the annual budget, the costs must be rising disproportionately compared to our cohorts, and wages and benefits must really be out-of-line when compared to private sector workers with the same age and experience.

But, as the evidence shows, none of this is true. Wisconsin has a 15 percent unionized workforce versus a national average of around 12 percent. Hardly an overly unionized labor sector comparatively speaking. As the Wisconsin Budget Project discovered, only 12 states had a leaner public sector than Wisconsin. "When the number of full-time equivalent positions was measured relative to each state's 2009 population, Wisconsin was 4.4 percent below the national average... Government employment across the U.S. has grown slightly since 2000, but has declined in Wisconsin... State and local spending for public employee payrolls was 9 percent below the national average and ranked 33rd... In 2008, Wisconsin was 8.2% below the national average in the number of state and local employees for every 1,000 state residents, ranking 41st nationally." Keith Bender and John Heywood have found that when public and private sector workers, in the same industry, with the same education and experience are compared, public workers earn less. Plus, over the last 20 years public workers' earnings have actually declined relative to their private sector counterparts.

The Journal also passes the buck regarding their support of Walker for governor and his colossal rail screw-up. Their bad press and weak and/or nonexistent support for the rail project heavily influenced voters and their antipathy toward rail. Yet, in their warped minds, the failure was the fault of rail advocates. "Rail advocates need to do what they can to make sure the opportunity comes around again - and to more convincingly make their case." The Journal, the largest paper in the largest city in the state, couldn't do anything to help make the case for rail? Maybe if the Journal lobbied for rail as much as they do for Scott Walker, Paul Ryan, and the right-wing's middle-class killing policies we wouldn't have to hope for a second chance for certain opportunities.

Comically (though I'm sure not intentionally) the Journal quacks, "If there is one thing Walker has shown in his tenure as county executive, it is an abiding intolerance for the failures of business as usual." Yes, Scott Walker likes to fail, continually, in his own delusional, illogical way. How special.

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