March 9, 2011 – the point of no return

By J. DeVoy

Well, America, it’s been a fun ride, but I think we should be parting ways sooner rather than later.  We had a lot of good times together and I like a lot about you – your size and resources, the rule of law and well-defined rights for others – but I just don’t think it’s going to work for much longer.

America’s debt problem doesn’t require much discussion: there’s a ton of it, Congress and the president aren’t cutting back, and we have little to show for it; all of that borrowing went to consumption, rather than infrastructure.  In short, the country levered up on booze, pizza and a shitty cruise to Jamaica, rather than acquiring more understandable debt like a mortgage or student loans.

Last night, when the Wisconsin state Senate severed the portions of the next biennium’s budget that would end collective bargaining for most public unions and passed them as their own bill, any semblance of America as a functioning republic fell apart.  Protestors stormed the capitol and occupied it, staying there through the night and into today.

Bear in mind that this is a relatively minor fight.  Procedurally, I am not comfortable with how this developed.  But, elections have consequences, and both parties have abused their majority status to shove unpalatable legislation down the public’s gullet.  What is the issue is that such public rancor could be stirred by rolling back the completely voluntary protections afforded to a small group of people who, despite painting themselves as servants, receive a better deal than most in the private sector.  This bill wasn’t an attack on any fundamental right of public employees, forcing them into some form of segregation or other unsupportable position, but an overdue correction of their job protections to bring them back into alignment with reality.

Collective bargaining is a relative abstraction, as well, and the benefits it confers onto public employees are not readily understood by all.  And, yet, from the public’s reaction, one would think that Scott Walker was passing a bill that would enable him to kill the parents of every public employee in Wisconsin.  Imagine what will happen when real, demonstrable reductions will be needed for other services: Social security, medicaid, medicare, and other forms of public assistance.  Quite simply, the needed cuts will never be made.  The Wisconsin model of governing will sweep the land: If you don’t like a law, just scream and yell really loud!  With enough petulance, success is guaranteed.  Meanwhile, the rest of the country – which just wants a roof over its head and the ability to feed its children – is forced to trade small sacrifices for bigger ones, as nothing is done to rectify the problems facing it.

Let me underscore an important point: we can no longer pay for our consumption.  Eliminating collective bargaining, while a crappy thing to do, especially in the way it was done in Wisconsin, is one of many cost-cutting measures we’ll have to endure going forward.  The path we are on is one leading to certain disaster, evinced by PIMCO’s decision to completely dump U.S. Treasury Bonds yesterday.  When – as the question of “if” fades each day – the dollar loses its reserve currency status, these squabbles over union rights will seem like a fond memory as we enter a grinding depression worse than any we have ever seen, and the concern of the day becomes obtaining food, rather than seeking comfort.  If you missed the gold and silver price runs, I suggest investing in lead.

I will not address this nation’s leadership, which is completely disengaged from this crisis and all others, focusing on the pressing issue of childhood bullying while near-pacifist France takes the lead in stopping the emerging Middle East genocide.

As for the protestors, they absolutely have the right to be at the Wisconsin capitol in Madison, Wisconsin. I merely question whether it is effective, or a good strategy to employ over something like collective bargaining when much bigger fights are in the offing.  While protests are a valuable expression of speech, one has to wonder where these people were in November, when their words could have been more readily translated into action.  Instead, the GOP swept the nation.  Now, we all bear witness to the effects of these protestors’ failure to speak at the most opportune time to do so.

26 Responses to March 9, 2011 – the point of no return

  1. Clint says:

    Eliminate collective bargaining, but don’t take a penny away from bombs or Israel. Yea. Just one of the cuts we’ll have to make. Sure.

  2. evrenseven says:

    Two points: 1) We can see from this microcosm in Wisconsin how difficult, nay, impossible it will be for congress to cut the federal budget. I *dare* them to touch farm subsidies, or oil subsidies, or the military welfare states. Those die hard tea partiers will revolt once their precious gubmint cheese is taken away.

    2) A great read from a great blog Gin and Tacos:
    http://www.ginandtacos.com/2011/03/03/chasing-smokestacks/

    • J DeVoy says:

      I *dare* them to touch farm subsidies, or oil subsidies, or the military welfare states.

      I’d love to see these hacked down to size, although I think people under-appreciate the tacit threat of a big military, especially as our financials deteriorate. Still, we could have a big military and not constantly be fighting forever wars in places like Afghanistan.

      • evrenseven says:

        I’m sure you’ve read that several of the Wisconsin GOP senators have taken something like $300K in farm subsidies themselves. I realize it’s not the same pool of money, state vs. federal, but you get the mindset. Federal spending is “necessary and proper” (no one even understands that clause) when it’s spent on me, but when it’s spent somewhere else it’s unconstitutional, fascist, socialist, racist, marxist, maoist, abortionist, am I missing anything?

        I beg ANYONE to go to a Tea Party Rally. You know what you’ll see there? You’ll see people with brochures for products marketed towards old people, because 99.9999999% of the people at those rallies are past their expiration date whites. Fox loves to fix the cameras on the one black guy but it’s all old white people. And they’re being offered rascal scooters, in home care, delivery clean catheter services, all these booths are set up… and they all say… “NO COST TO YOU! WE’LL WORK WITH MEDICARE AND YOU GET NO BILL!” I’ve been to four of these things in Hollister, Napa, San Jose and Grass Valley. They were all Medicare free shit faires. I’ve seen *teachers on pension decrying the pension system* but only for new teachers, of course! Those past the age of 55 won’t be affected! The hypocrisy is enough to make your blood boil.

        This is why ‘morica deserves a Stalin like dictator to take over and slap some sense back into us, maybe kill 20M off the top and thin the herd. We’re the fat kid in the candy aisle screaming and pissing the rest of the grocery store off at this point. It’s fucking embarrassing.

      • jfischer1975 says:

        Not to be a dick, but I think the phrase you were looking for was “common defense and general welfare” — “necessary and proper” is the qualification for making laws to fulfill the duties of Congress.

  3. Vincent says:

    The problem was Wisconsin just highlighted the fact that party fighting is all they care about. When the unions said fine, we’ll give up all those expensive things, the Governor just said “nope, still going to end collective bargaining.” In other words, that whole fight was not about the money, but the Reps said it was. They used the economy as a convenient excuse for their real purpose.
    Boats, missiles, guns, these are the disposable consumer goods we’ve been wasting money on. They don’t improve our lives. The only thing I agree with the tea party on is that the military (nothing in fact) should not be “off the table”. Instead of Obama proposing a 20% increase to the DOD, he should be proposing a 50% reduction – or barring that, bring those soldiers home and put them to work building bridges, roads, and a new, modern electrical grid with alternative power supplements.

  4. David says:

    I agree, cutting any program that anyone—be they corporations, the poor, the wealthy, etc—is incredibly difficult because people rely on them. For better or worse.

    First, I find your “booze, pizza and a shitty cruise to Jamaica, rather than acquiring more understandable debt like a mortgage or student loans” comment ironic, especially during this recession that borrowing money for a home mortgage isn’t always a good investment and sometimes schooling doesn’t pay off. That said, a lot of the spending that happened during the stimulus and related expenditures did so in the name of tax cuts (and tax cut extensions)—which lowered federal revenue so even programs that have already existed and would have been able to be paid for were not.

    You make the comment: “What is the issue is that such public rancor could be stirred by rolling back the completely voluntary protections afforded to a small group of people who, despite painting themselves as servants, receive a better deal than most in the private sector.” This is debatable, especially when you compare workers of like educational backgrounds like the (liberal) Economic Policy Institute has. The data shows that those with like educational backgrounds, total compensation in the public sector is lower than the private sector.

    You further state: “Collective bargaining is a relative abstraction, as well, and the benefits it confers onto public employees are not readily understood by all. And, yet, from the public’s reaction, one would think that Scott Walker was passing a bill that would enable him to kill the parents of every public employee in Wisconsin.” The unions in Wisconsin have already offered the financial concessions. This was only about union busting. This is further proven by the fact that the republican state senators removed the fiscal portions from the bill in order to remove the elevated quorum requirement. So it had nothing to do with the money. It’s all politics.

    You proclaim: “The Wisconsin model of governing will sweep the land: If you don’t like a law, just scream and yell really loud!. . . As for the protestors, they absolutely have the right to be at the Wisconsin capitol in Madison, Wisconsin. I merely question whether it is effective, or a good strategy to employ over something like collective bargaining when much bigger fights are in the offing.” Whew, for a second there I thought you were mocking protesting government action that you disapprove of. Thought I had to remind you that this is a first amendment blog. That said, I feel that the protests in Wisconsin (and throughout the country) have for the most part been incredibly civil so I really see no problem with people speaking out.

    You later say: “While protests are a valuable expression of speech, one has to wonder where these people were in November, when their words could have been more readily translated into action.” I agree, though, had Governor Walker discussed limiting collective bargaining rights during the election season—in campaign literature, during a speech, or debate it would have let the unions know that this would be an issue on the table for discussion. We are talking about a state that was doing relatively well financially before the governor took office and only now is having financial difficulties because of a cut taxes now figure out how to pay for them and manufacture a crisis about it later strategy.

    Your overall point though, I agree with. This country has to have a deep discussion about priorities. Spending is at an all time high and marginal tax rates are lower than they have been in over a generation. This model is unsustainable with the expected growth of our mature domestic markets. Maybe people will protest because they feel they deserve more than what they have—be they the poor, middle class, or wealthy. But you are right, something has got to give.

    • David says:

      Also, you discuss treasury bond rates. Recently (conservative) Ben Stein discussed problems with the threats of not raising the debt ceiling with CNN and how the threats alone and the ramifications if the debt ceiling is not raised including the lowering of the US credit rating which would be incredibly costly.

    • Justin T. says:

      And yet his right to mock protestors who exercise their first amendment rights ON A FIRST AMENDMENT BLOG is itself an exercise of first amendment rights. META FREEDOM!

  5. Mike says:

    A few guys got haircuts, as the posts were right over their heads.

    The post’s thesis isn’t all that complicated. Look, as a collective, we’re broke. It’s like growing up in a family. Dad loses his job. Every kid has to suffer a little. Mom cuts down on shopping. It sucks, but it’s what we all do, because we’re a family.

    As a country, we’re not a family. Mom won’t stop shopping, instead demanding the kids forgo new clothes. Dad won’t admit he lost his job, and instead gets a bunch of credit cards. Meanwhile, the kids are cannibalizing each other’s rooms.

    When we’re all a bunch of vultures looting carcasses, it doesn’t make much sense to consider ourselves a civilization.

    • David says:

      It’s interesting because families are inherently run as a socialist collective to a large degree. Not that I would recommend that for a whole society, just something to think about.

      • Mike says:

        As are all of my friendships.

        Helping out of love and a sense of duty is desirable. It was the basis for Greek communities. It’s when you add guns and force that it’s perverted.

        Here, we have no love, no loyalty…just guns and government control. What could possible go wrong?

    • Sean F says:

      I’d quite like a return to the Wild West mentality.

  6. Robert C says:

    I question the claim that public sector employees, as a class, make out better than private sector employees, as a class. Please back this statement up. And if you weren’t talking about them as a class, it’s kind of a nothing statement to say that some public sector employees do better than some private sector empoyees. It’s a statement without meaning.

    • J DeVoy says:

      http://www.governmentlocaljobs.com/government-local-jobs/wisconsin-public-sector-wages-vs-private-sector-wages-government-unions

      It’s hardly an apples-to-apples comparison. But if I don’t have to add value and can just suck my paycheck out of your wallet irrespective of performance, because I have a union and can’t be fired no matter how little your child learns, I’d say I’m making out better than anyone in the private sector.

        • J DeVoy says:

          You’re not factoring in increased job stability, including the power of a union, that makes it impossible for these people to get fired. This is a piss-poor attempt to make an apples-to-apples comparison and nobody should take it seriously.

          Public employee apologists annoy me. If your precious public union employees were so valuable, they could all go on strike and let the gears of society grind to a halt — except that they can’t, because nobody would notice that they’re missing. Oops.

          • David says:

            I am not an apologist for public union employees, I just believe there is a lot of misinformation out there about unions and it stops the discussion on how a problem can be fixed holistically to one of what is morally right or wrong.

            Also, my mother is a public sector union member and civil servant working for the city of NY. She was laid off (along with everyone else in her title) despite your claims of job security. She later returned to a different title later after about a year of being unemployed. Guess she doesn’t work in the public sector job security fantasy world that you describe.

            And your second paragraph is just ridiculous. Unions or not you make it seem like all functions of government employees are worthless which is clearly not the case. I am not suggesting for a moment that there aren’t lazy workers, inefficient systems, or other problems in a public—but to suggest that taken as a whole no one would notice if all government jobs were suddenly not done is absurd.

            • David says:

              The last sentence should read: “I am not suggesting for a moment that there aren’t lazy workers, inefficient systems, or other problems in the public sector—but to suggest that taken as a whole no one would notice if all government jobs were suddenly not done is absurd.”

  7. N. Johnson says:

    Jay,

    Great post, though I’m not on board to jump ship and move to another country. But you are right, bottom line is we cannot afford our consumption. If the America of our future is going to have any of the characteristics left from its founding, we will have to swallow the magnitude of our current reality. I also agree that what happened in Wisconsin was, perhaps not executed correctly, however in the grand scheme of actually attempting to remedy the ignorance of past administrations, this is a relatively small blip.

    Plenty of people will disagree, and claim that this is an assault on democracy. Two things bother me about that, (1) the majority who bemoan this are not talking about democracy, they are talking about the assault on their ability to, as you put load, up on booze, pizza, and cheap Caribbean cruises; (2) apparently, the democratic senators who formed their own little crony union and hit the WI/IL picket line.

    Public sector unions have a false sense of entitlement, with no understanding or accountability to the State’s fiscal realities. Much like the majority of this country’s citizens who fail to grasp the basic lessons for fiscal responsibility. I’m not suggesting that Walker has it all figured out, he may not, but at least he is attempting to move this state in a direction that will force change; because, clearly, attempting to negotiate this state out of debt as past administrations have, doesn’t work. Why because everybody wants more.

    Everyone in this country deserves better, but that does not mean that we can ignore the fact any path that will get us out of this mess (either as a state or nation) leads through a series of uncomfortable realizations. Unfortunately, I think the reality facing America today is better won’t arrive before it gets worse.

    (Note: I’m generally an optimist, but this country seems to be suffering from growing illusions of grandeur — kinda like Charlie Sheen.)

    Thanks Jay,

    NJ

    • N. Johnson says:

      typo in Para. 2… Should read:

      “(2)apparently, the democratic senators who formed their own little crony union and hit the WI/IL picket line are exempt of any culpability. Where is walking out on your constituents, and taxpayers embodied in the concept of democracy or our Constitution?”

      NJ

  8. Mark Kernes says:

    You may have missed this in the news, but it turns out that 20 percent of the population owns 85 percent of the country’s wealth.

    And you have some question about why this country is going to shit?

  9. Mario says:

    Let’s cut back on the ability for middle class workers collectively bargain as part of the democratic process, and at the same time let’s also be sure to never put a cap on salaries of any rich people who are directly sucking the government tit. Fantastic idea.

    While your position has some merits, I didn’t see the same level of venom and rancor directed at those who were too big to fail, but received tremendous pay from contracts that somehow couldn’t be renegotiated or rescinded. I suppose I’d like to see some equal opportunity hate instead of such selectivity against middle class working people.

  10. Raoul says:

    Good on you for expressing even a little outrage about people who want to do something about childhood bullying.

    It’s time we realized that child bullies are the real, cruel, darwinian world in action. They’re probably the most effective disciplinarians we have, because they do not spare their victims’ self-worth. They are the drill sergeants of childhood.

    They are a force of nature, and we ought to regard them as such – heal the damage done, but don’t stand in the way of the lessons they teach.

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