First Wisconsin, then America

When you give away tax cuts to the rich someone else has to pay.

That's why in Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, with behind the scenes help from the billionaire Koch brothers, recently managed to gut the collective bargaining rights of the states public employees. The state couldn't afford them, he pleaded.

If balancing the budget means eroding the quality of public services that make local communities functional and attractive, so be it.  What Walker didn't anticipate was the consequences.

Here's how the Wall Street Journal put it: “In Wisconsin, where lawmakers voted in mid-March to end workers' collective bargaining for future employment contracts, 3,362 people have applied to retire this year, a 73% jump from last year. And 10,975 people since the beginning of the year have taken the first step toward retirement—flooding the Wisconsin Department of Employee Trust Funds with requests for estimates of their potential benefits. That's up 134%.”

Teachers are demoralized, fearful and they want out. They realized they were just collateral damage in a larger power grab.

Let's remember America's teachers didn't cause the economic melt down and recession we've just lived through. Wall Street did. The rich called for the free wheeling deregulation that eventually led to the crash.

So where is the public anger at the record breaking bonuses Wall Street titans are awarding themselves after almost destroying the nation they held to ransom? Why pick on teachers when they're such insignificant players in comparison?

America is not broke. Scott Walker isn't broke. The Koch brothers most certainly are not broke and neither is Wisconsin's quite substantial moneyed class.

Instead, as has become increasingly clear, what Walker really hoped to break was the public employee unions, a major source of funding and volunteers for Democratic candidates.

How do we know this? In Walker's recent 20-minute phone call with a man he believed was David Koch, he openly agreed that Wisconsin would be the first domino in a much wider campaign among current Republican governors to neutralize public employee unions.

Walker's strategy is simple as it is time honored: divide and conquer. Walker pitted worker against worker, all the better to lose sight of who was really pulling the strings.

Here's an example of a Walker stump speech: "Every factory worker I talked to this last week, who is paying 25 to 50 percent for their health care premium, who doesn't have a pension, who has to pay into a 401(k) and in some cases had that suspended, every one of them looks at this and says, 'You know what? Not only do I not get that, I have to pay for it.' That guy has to pay the difference. He has to foot the bill for everyone else."

When a Republican in a Brooks Brothers blazer and gold cufflinks is suddenly tearing up over his deep concern about workers conditions and the cost of their health care, you should tighten your grip on your wallet. But when billionaires have mobilized against you, you better fear for your future and your nation.

The truth is America is flooded with cash. In fact it's possibly the greatest time ever to be rich in America. The sad fact is that none of that money is in your bank account - but do not doubt for an instant that its out there, by the truckload.

Remember that in Wisconsin, cuts to the unions were suggested because Walker had blown the budget with tax cuts for the wealthy. And Walker's aim, wrote Paul Krugman recently, is to make Wisconsin and eventually America less of a functioning democracy and more of a third-world-style oligarchy. He isn’t interested in making a deal with the unions,  he wants to end workers’ ability to bargain.

Take away the voice of the people through their unions and you can dominate them more effectively. Manipulating a crisis is just a time honored and handy way to achieve your ends with the minimum effort.

 

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