Friday, February 25, 2011

Kicking Social Progress To The Curb


This, from Eric Kleefeld at TPM:
MADISON, WI -- The Wisconsin State Assembly has just passed Gov. Scott Walker's budget repair bill, including its controversial provisions to eliminate almost all collective bargaining rights for public employee unions as well as many other provisions to weaken union organizing.

... at about 1 AM Speaker Pro Tempore Bill Kramer (R) announced that he would hear a voice vote for a roll call on final passage. Immediately, the majority Republicans shouted their ayes, and the Democrats were booing, as they tried to be recognized to demand a separate motion to cut off debate.

Then Kramer called the vote. Within seconds, the digital vote system on the wall announced 51 ayes and 17 nays, and voting was suddenly closed. With a total of 96 members, that got to a majority for the bill but left 28 members who hadn't had a chance yet to vote...

There were many Democrats I spoke to and overheard in the chamber, who said they didn't get a chance to vote, or that they were pushing the "No" button at their desks as hard as they could -- keep in mind that a majority of their 38-member caucus was recorded as casting no votes at all.

There is something in the Zeitgeist these days.

Economic crises are earthquakes, stressing and even collapsing societies, fueling the geologic force of social change. If the crises are serious enough, their results become visible, first, in countries with brittle, underdeveloped economies and little buffer in their cultures between a tiny ruling clique of super-wealthy, and a majority suffering (as in Egypt or Tunisia) in poverty and from nearly 25% unemployment.

The social protests we've been watching on television or via the Web for the past month are the results of corrupt leaders and their internal security apparatus (supported by American and EU governments), running countries for their benefit and their associates, and because they simply enjoy wielding power.

...and it all might have gone on for another few decades -- but for the sailing of the USS Madoff, the Ponzi-scheme pleasure barge which America bequeathed to the rest of the world. We should all call up Little Lloyd Blankfein, Alan Greenspan, "Dick" Fuld and the other Masters Of The Universe, and thank them on behalf of the people of Egypt and Tunisia: Hey, Boys! You created a worldwide financial collapse, and helped destabilize the economies of Arab countries with incompetent, corrupt leaders -- enough to generate a massive popular uprising that removed them from power! Thanks, fellahs!

Governments which have lied to their populations for decades while terrorizing and impoverishing them are crumbling, pulled down by the weight of their internal contradictions (Tunisia, Egypt). Their citizens are in the streets celebrating their reclaiming of basic human rights, or still fighting for them (Libya, Bahrain, Yemen).

Other countries, whose governments and banks once eagerly jumped on the America's Real Estate / Derivatives Failboat, are now deeply in debt and those governments have lost credibility or power. Faced with massive budget cuts to public financing and social programs, their citizens are regularly in the streets protesting the New Austerity (Greece, France, Spain, Ireland).

Wherever you turn, there are the images of change and revolution: Tahir square in Cairo, the shaky cellphone images from Tripoli or Tehran, or the broadcast video of crowds in Athens, Dublin and Madrid, even Paris. At the forefront of the protests are labor unions, historically a real force in European politics.

Much as we like to think Our Special American Story sets us apart from history, the Made-In-USA economic crisis will translate into substantial change, right here. What kind of change depends upon whose message is heard -- and whether anyone on the Left is capable of enunciating, clearly, what the stakes are.

It's just one Dog's opinion, but I haven't heard that done by members of the alleged standard-bearers of the Left (it wasn't in the SOTU, certainly) -- but to one degree or another, what's at stake is the direction of American society and culture for at least the next quarter-century. And, that will play out in a world grappling with shrinking resources and climate change, as major players on the planet maneuver for advantage, and new political or ecological crises rise up.

What's at stake is our American experiment. Whether we believe in human rights, equality, and a collective (i.e., equitable) solution to the problems we're beginning to face -- or whether we descend into more consumerist culture, more class stratification, and even more nakedly apparent manipulation of politics by a wealthy and/or corporate minority.

In case you haven't been paying much attention lately, or are Jeffrey Zuckerberg, America has been experiencing a 'Great Depression-Lite' since mid-2008. It's a Depression in all but name, a reduction in our quality of life in very slow motion. Our government has all the challenges of the Irish or Greeks (a debt crisis; banks coddled and protected despite their role in creating it), and has effectively given the financial sector whatever it wants.

Obligatory Cute Animal Photo In Middle Of Blog Rant

Billionaire bully-boys created and finance a faux-populist political movement to drive the Republican party and American conservatism farther and farther to the Right. The Republican party believes that the 'Tea Party', like the so-called 'religious' Right before them, can be mollified and controlled -- useful as stalking horses. Even the GOP can seem centrist and reasonable, when compared with The Crazy spouted by Teabag leaders and recently-elected Representatives.

But that's Riding The Tiger, and may not turn out the way President Boner and President Yertle The Turtle expect. The Teabag (and GOP) fiscal policies effectively mean that the financial crisis -- the failure and destruction caused by banks and business, by Republican leadership -- will be paid for, not on an equitable basis; not by corporations and the wealthy as well; but by what's left of a Middle Class, and the poor.

But that isn't all the Right wants. They believe our financial crisis is a heaven-sent opportunity to kick a century of social progress to the curb -- a Great Breaking of the compact between government and citizen. They want to eliminate social changes that have been made over the past hundred years or more. And they're willing to spend time, resources, and tens of millions of dollars to make it happen.

That would herald a reduction in the power of a government weakened by debt, ridiculed as a corrupt profession -- while the power of private and corporate wealth rises to fill the vacuum. It's the America of Alexander Hamilton -- or Stephen King's Running Man, Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, or Paul Theroux's "O-Zone".

No matter to what degree the Right is successful, part of that Breaking will be to crush what's left of America's unions -- and not only the organizations: What they want is to do away with the social concepts behind them, the idea that workers should organize, bargain collectively, and be able to demand contractual changes about their pay or working conditions. The Shock-Doctrine excuse (this time) is, "We're broke! Unions are just too expensive now!"

And the figurehead who delivers these policies is of little concern to the Billionaire and Corporate backers of the Right; they don't care which Teabag or GOP talking face survives the Ronnie Rayguns Scratch-N-Sniff test. It isn't a real political process they want for America -- and one proof are the losers, weasels, and nutjobs "leaders" that the Right has put forward for 2012: the Huckabees, Bachmanns, Romneys, Palins or Barbours.

The Backers only need a mannequin, a ventriloquist's dummy, in the Oval Office. The real Business of America goes on in the networks between those with capital, and those who move it around - and whoever is elected doesn't matter, so long as they understand not to disturb the adults, or their affairs -- and the empty designer suits who are eventually nominated as GOP Presidential candidates do understand, very well.

The sad truth is, this is just the way of human affairs: A struggle between those with wealth and/or power, and everyone else. Politics, at best, is a constant effort to force those With to agree to give up more to those Without. This has been the dominant theme in human affairs for more Dog years than I can imagine.

But the Teabaggers are quick to tell us: That's just not true. America is different. We're better than that. We have a great, mythic history that sets us apart and that makes us better than other, older cultures because we be havin' us some Freedom. And if you believe otherwise; well, you're of no use to us, you dirty hippie. All we need (as Little Sarah, Plain and Tall, has said) is to "reclaim" our greatness -- and could, if it wasn't for all the dirty hippies who are enemies of Teh Freedom.

As Kleefeld notes, however,
Keep in mind that this is not the end of the issue -- far from it. The 14 state Senate Democrats remain in exile in Illinois, preventing the state Senate from having the three-fifths quorum required to take a vote on the budget. For now, Wisconsin has become ground zero in an unexpected but pitched battle over the political future of the labor movement and the question of whether the Tea Party-fueled GOP resurgence of 2010 will trigger a backlash all its own.

It's ridiculous, I know; but I'd suggest the Kochs, the Blankfeins, Walkers and Palins of the world draw the proper lessons from those images coming out of the Middle East ... and, in this little fantasy, almost hope that they won't -- so that one day they'll have to escape by helicopter for exile in whatever country will take them.

On The lighter side:
An Indiana Deputy Attorney General "is no longer employed" by the Attorney General's Office, after he tweeted for "live ammunition" to be used on protesters in Wisconsin, the office announced in a statement Wednesday afternoon.

The deputy AG, Jeff Cox, wrote his comments in response to tweets from a Mother Jones editor, Adam Weinstein.

"[A]gainst thugs physically threatening legally-elected state legislators & governor? You're damn right I advocate deadly force," Cox wrote.

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