Tag Archives: Wisconsin

Guest Post: Who’s Behind the Shutdown?

Susan here. It comes as no surprise to me that the Koch Brothers are one of the groups behind the government shutdown. The national parks have been closed to visitors, and there is no doubt in my mind that the brothers are trying to get federal lands sold to them at cut-rate prices.

How do I know this? Because they tried this stupid stunt in Wisconsin in 2011, when they tried to get the state-controlled properties sold to them. But they failed as soon as it became evident to the public how much Governor Scott Walker was in bed with them. In other words, they got caught with their pants down, and had to retreat.

Our national parks and other federal properties are not for sale either to the highest bidder or the lowest. And I can’t believe the brothers think they’re gonna get away wih this. But they might, if no one is paying attention.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/06/us/a-federal-budget-crisis-months-in-the-planning.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Cover Illustration for Isthmus: Tommy vs. Tammy

Freelance illustration assignments are few and far-between these days—at least for me—so it was fun to do this week’s cover for the alternative weekly in Madison, Wisconsin. It’s about the Senate race in Wisconsin.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Unions? What Unions?

Labor Leaders to Blame for Workers’ Weakness

I will never understand why the people who are jealous of unionized workers who earn $50,000 a year give a pass to the incompetent bank executives who get $5,000,000. Resentment is a terrible thing to waste.

Given how terribly companies have treated workers in recent years—mass layoffs, outsourcing, stagnant wages, piling on the work, while they pay their executives seven-figure salaries—you’d think Americans would be more receptive to unions. But organized labor’s bad rep isn’t surprising. A half-century of smears by big business and their media allies and sleazy laws passed by corrupt anti-worker politicians (c.f. the Taft-Hartley Act) have established today’s image of organized labor as corrupt, selfish and marginal.

As if that propaganda colossus wasn’t enough to contend with, labor unions have responded to these attacks with a series of poorly thought-out strategies that fed into that narrative.

As a result fewer than seven percent of private-sector workers belong to a union. And the last union stronghold, public-sector employees (36 percent represented), is under siege by Republicans in states like Wisconsin and Ohio.

Where did union leaders mess up? They made so many bone-headed decisions that it’s hard to know where to start.

During the 1980s unions forgot what they were and who they represented. They abandoned their traditional oppositionalism to management on the ground that their fates were interlinked: if the plant closed, union members would lose their jobs. Embracing schemes like “quality circles” and the “team concept,” in which workers and shop stewards worked side-by-side with bosses, unions increased efficiency at their own expense, essentially crossing their own non-existing picket lines. Unions took seats on the boards of companies they were supposed to be pressuring for higher wages and benefits.

The results of hobnobbing with corporate executives were predictable: givebacks and concessions to companies so they can pay their executives more and more. In 2009, for example, the United Auto Workers agreed to freeze their salaries to help save the big three Detroit automakers. They also slashed employee benefits, including healthcare.

Did the Big Three use those savings to invest in new plants? Hell no. They continued to outsource jobs overseas. Meanwhile, as UAW members got laid off and struggled through pay freezes, Ford gave president and CEO Alan Mulally a raise in his stratospheric annual salary, to $17.9 million. GM forked over $9 million to CEO Daniel Akerson. Despite having no apparent God-like superpowers—at this pay scale the dude ought to be able to shoot flames out of his mouth—Chysler-Fiat felt it appropriate to pay $7.7 million to its CEO, Sergio Marchionne.

This “please let me sit at the jocks’ table” mentality persists. UAW President Bob King said in January that seats on the boards of each of the big three Detroit automakers are at the top of his wish list. Memo from reality: you don’t hang out with your enemy. You fight them.

What is the point of a union that sells out its members?

The byword of American labor is “solidarity.” Considering that employers have the media and government on their side, sticking together is the only way to win.

Yet all too often unions under siege during the 1980s and 1990s did the opposite. They created two classes of workers—old and grandfathered-in, versus the young and screwed. In return for protecting wages and benefits for their existing (older) membership, unions such as the International Longshoremen’s Association agreed to a drastically lower tier of wages for new hires. By looking out for their narrow short-term interests, the ILA confirmed the perception that they were less interested in workers rights than self-preservation. Ironically it mortgaged its future in the process.

John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO from 1995 to 2009, spearheaded a drive to organize women, minorities and low-paid workers. Though laudable, the new emphasis neglected labor’s traditional base, white males, who also happen to be politically influential “Reagan Democrats,” a.k.a. swing voters. These “angry white males” became today’s right-wing Tea Party.

Big labor’s abusive love affair with the Democratic Party has been bafflingly counterproductive. I don’t have a problem with the “forced” collection of union dues; it’s fair to require everyone who benefits from higher wages and benefits to support the union that makes them possible. But it’s ridiculous to use those dues to support one political party—the Democrats. Between 1990 and 2008 unions made more than $667 million in political campaign contributions, 92 percent to Dems.

Which might be justifiable, if unions got anything in return. NAFTA, GATT and WTO (signed by Clinton and continued by Obama) gutted American manufacturing jobs. The 2009-10 Democratic majority Congress ignored labor’s top priority, the Employee Free Choice Act. Neither Clinton nor Obama even considered repealing Taft-Hartley, which bans wildcat strikes, solidarity strikes, secondary boycotts, union shops and allows courts to break strikes arbitrarily.

A still bigger mistake has been labor’s inexplicable refusal to go after the ersatz “while collar” workplaces.

“There’s something new in the air,” UC Berkeley professor Harley Shaiken, who studies labor issues, told Reuters. “There is a sense that white-collar workers have become the blue-collar workers of the 21st century in terms of job security, wages and benefits. That’s certainly how they’re treated. And if you’re treated like a blue-collar worker, you may respond like a blue-collar worker and seek to protect benefits and maintain some job security.”

The AFL-CIO and other unions talk about organizing the white-collar ghetto. But they aren’t doing much. Few workers in the tech sector or advertising or finance or the media have ever met a union organizer. If labor had its act together, no cubicle farm in America would go a year without an attempt to unionize it.

Without the passage of a “card check” law to reduce employer retaliation, union organizing attempts might fail—but the workers who voted yes would always appreciate that they were trying to help them live better lives.

Labor is on the ropes. With the economy getting worse, however, there has never been a greater need for union leaders to get smarter and more militant—or a better opportunity to reverse their long slide.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Phony Budget Crisis

Forget Austerity. Tax the Rich.

Everywhere you look, from the federal government to the states to your hometown, budget crises abound. Services are being slashed. Politicians and pundits from both parties tell us that the good times are over, that we’ve got to start living within our means.

It’s a lie.

Two case studies have made news lately: California, where new/old governor Jerry Brown is trying to close a $25 billion shortfall with a combination of draconian cuts in public services and a series of regressive tax increases, and Wisconsin, where right-winger Scott Walker says getting rid of unions would eliminate the state’s $137 million deficit.

Never mind the economists, most of whom say an economic death spiral is exactly the worst possible time for government to cut spending. Pro-austerity propaganda has won the day with the American public. A new Rasmussen poll funds that 58 percent of likely voters would approve of a shutdown until Democrats and Republicans can agree on what spending to cut.

The budget “crisis” is a phony construction, the result of right-wing “starve the beast” ideology. There is plenty of money out there—but the pols don’t want it.

There is no need to lay off a single teacher, close a single library for an extra hour, or raise a single fee by one red cent.

Every government can not only balance its budget, but wind up with a surplus.

The solution is simple: tax the rich.

Over the last 50 years tax rates for the bottom 80 percent of wage earners have remained almost static. Meanwhile the rich have received tax cut after tax cut after tax cut. For example, the rate paid by the top 0.01 percent—people who currently get more than $6.5 million a year—fell by half (from 70 to 35 percent).

Times are tough. Someone has to pay. Why not start with those who can most afford it?

Europe has the world’s best food, its best healthcare system and its best vacation policy. It also has one of the fairest ways to generate revenue for government: a wealth tax. In Norway, for example, you pay one percent of your net worth in addition to income tax.

What if we imposed a Norwegian-style wealth tax on the top one percent of U.S. households? We’re not talking upper middle class here: the poorest among them is worth a mere $8.3 million. This top one percent owns 35 percent of all wealth in the United States.

“Such a wealth tax…would raise $191.1 billion each year (one percent of $19.1 trillion), a significant attack on the deficit,” Leon Friedman writes in The Nation. “If we extended the tax to the top 5 percent, we could raise $338.5 billion a year (one percent of 62 percent of $54.6 trillion).”

But that’s just the beginning. Wealthy individuals are nothing next to America’s money-sucking corporations.

Business shills whine that America’s corporate tax rate—35 percent—is one of the world’s highest. But that’s pure theory. Our real corporate rate—the rate companies actually pay after taking advantages of loopholes and deductions—is among the world’s lowest. According to The New York Times, Boeing paid a total tax rate of 4.5 percent over the last five years. (This includes federal, state, local and foreign taxes.) Yahoo paid seven percent. GE paid 14.3 percent. Southwest Airlines paid 6.3 percent. “GE is so good at avoiding taxes that some people consider its tax department to be the best in the world, even better than any law firm’s,” reports the Times‘ David Leonhardt. “One common strategy is maximizing the amount of profit that is officially earned in countries with low tax rates.”

America’s low effective corporate tax rates have left big business swimming in cash while the country goes bust. As of March 2010 non-financial corporations in the U.S. had $26.2 trillion in assets. Seven percent of that was in cash.

The national debt is $14.1 trillion.

Which is a lot. And, you see, entirely by choice.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Hope and Change? Not for Americans

Turmoil from Mideast to Midwest

If irony were money we’d be rich.

“You’ve got to get out ahead of change,” President Obama lectured a week ago. “You can’t be behind the curve.” He was, of course, referring to the Middle East. During the last few weeks there has been a new popular uprising every few days: Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Bahrain, Libya.

And now, Wisconsin.

In Madison, where a new Republican governor wants to gut the rights of state workers to form unions and negotiate for higher wages, tens of thousands of protesters have filled the streets and sat in the State Capitol for days. “It’s like Cairo has moved to Madison these days,” said Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI).

Revolutionary foment is on the march around the globe, but Mr. Hopey Changey is nowhere to be found now that it’s here in the U.S. Whatever happened to “get ahead of change?” What’s good for the Hosni isn’t good for the Barry.

Deploying his customary technocratic aloofness in the service of the usual screw-the-workers narrative, President Obama sided with the union-busters: “Everybody has to make some adjustments to the new fiscal realities,” he scolds.

“Everybody,” naturally, does not include ultrarich dudes like our multi-millionaire president. Obama, who declared a whopping $5.5 million in annual income for 2009 (the last year available), has neither reduced his salary nor donated a penny of his $7.7 million fortune to the Treasury to help adjust to those “new fiscal realities.”

Hard times, doncha know, are for the little people. “We had to [my italics] impose a freeze on pay increases for federal workers in the next two years as part of my overall budget freeze,” said Obama. “I think those kinds of adjustments are the right thing to do [in Wisconsin].”

“Had to.” Interesting pair of words. They imply that there was no other choice. What a brazen lie.

Three more words: Tax. The. Rich. Rich people and corporations are making out like bandits. If they paid their fair share, there’d be no need to cut budgets.

“Adjustments.” How bloodless. For normal people, Herr President, losing two percent of one’s pay is not a mere adjustment. It hurts.

Obama’s grandstanding had-to freeze on federal pay will save $5 billion over two years. Which is nothing. That’s what the Pentagon chucks down the Iraq and Afghanistan ratholes in a single week.

The federal deficit is $14 trillion. That’s $14,000 billion. Obama’s federal pay freeze, which amounts to a piddling four hundredths of one percent, is empty symbolism.

As the striking members of the PATCO air traffic controllers union learned in 1981, higher wages and working conditions are for foreigners, not Americans. Ronald Reagan had nothing but praise for Solidarity in Poland (declaring that “the right to belong to a free trade union” was “one of the most elemental human rights”).

At the same time he was defending Polish workers Reagan fired all of America’s 11,345 striking air traffic controllers and ordered their union decertified.

All political systems are built on contradictions that eventually lead to their downfall. The U.S. relies on a whopping chasm between soaring rhetoric (freedom, democracy, individual rights) and brutish reality (preemptive war, supporting dictators, torture, spying on citizens)—a gap that is so wide and so glaring that it is amazing anyone ever takes the propaganda seriously.

A recent report in The New York Times slathers on a rich quadruple serving of syrupy irony. The Obama Administration asked the CIA to prepare a secret memo about the revolutions in the Middle East, specifically analyzing “how to balance American strategic interests and the desire to avert broader instability against the democratic demands of the protesters.”

What, exactly, are those “strategic interests”? Business. Dictators cut sweetheart deals with big corporations that donate to the Democratic and the Republican parties.

Democracy—real democracy, the kind people are fighting for in Bahrain and Madison, is incompatible with free-market capitalism.

Which is what union members in Wisconsin, as well as those of us who don’t belong to unions but understand that we would be working 100-hour weeks in death-trap factories without them, see clearly. The American Dream is just that— a dream. And it’s not for Americans.

Obama’s statement about the Arab autarchies is astonishingly tone deaf to realities here at home. “I think that the thing that will actually achieve stability in that region is if young people, if ordinary folks, end up feeling that there are pathways for them to feed their families, get a decent job, get an education, aspire to a better life,” he said. “And the more steps these governments are taking to provide these avenues for mobility and opportunity, the more stable these countries are.”

Well, yes.

According to a recent Bloomberg National poll, most American adults believe that their children will have worse lives than they do.

That’s true even about those who have all the so-called advantages.

At this writing the unemployment rate for recent college graduates is 80.3 percent.

How will they pay their loans?

The rate is even higher for other young adults.

In a way, the unemployed and underemployed should thank Obama and the plutocrats he helps protect. The ruling classes’ shortsighted refusal to give up some of the loot they’ve stolen will soon bring about the real changes Americans require and deserve.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL