Saturday, February 19, 2011

Quoted for Truth

"Conservative politicians have always blamed the victim. It's minorities' problems for civil rights issues. It's environmentalists' problems on the environment. It's really always somebody else's fault. It's never the people responsible. It's never the bankers. It's never the way the legislation's done. It's always the workers."

Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown.

So here we are. Less than a week after I spent a few pleasant days in, of all places, Madison, Wisconsin (it was nice to once again be in an area that celebrates a Super Bowl win, marking my fourth time doing so), there's finally a few minutes to take a breath and take stock of the events that are reshaping our world. And to think, my evaluation of Madison was: quaint, but boring.

The Middle East

As the dominos begin to fall, toppling corrupt regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, one of the things we as Americans discover is that what we hope for in other countries in other parts of the world doesn't really amount to a bottle of warm spit unless we literally come in guns blazing.

We've had literally no influence on events occurring outside of Southwest Asia (edited to add: other than putting half of those regimes in place to begin with), and will have no influence on those events in Africa and that region as they move forward. To that end, as regime after regime topples, and as citizens of the respective countries rise up and turn upon their governments, it should occur to someone, at some point, once again, just how stupid the Iraq invasion and the cost of lives and untold billions of dollars was (unless you look at it through the prism of oil, and we'll save that discussion for another day).

Somewhat sarcastically, in the comments section of our esteemed cat daddy's article on Tunisia, I mentioned that people were perfectly happy to participate in corruption as long as they had a job and benfited from it. Sometimes, sarcasm is warranted. At the time of the Tunisian uprising, unemployment among those under 30 approached 40%. Egypt's unemployment rate exceeded 10.5% at the time of Mubarak's ouster.

I strongly recommend this brief piece on just how bad the unemployment rate is in the Middle East. Because, at the end of the day, people all over the world are happy to belong to a regime that others may feel corrupt as long as they can feed their families and not be killed in the process. This has worked for multiple generations, as Middle Eastern and other oil regimes' trickle down economics has seen to it that most of the masses could be placated, and the ones who couldn't could be convinced that external forces (read: America or Israel) were to blame for their problems.

However, you walk a delicate line with that equation. As populations get larger, more socially connected, and better educated, too much concentrated wealth means the middle class can't expand, and the end result is pissed off cab drivers with degrees in higher education who can't find jobs suitable to their educational expectations. Give them something as simple as a cell phone with social media access and an uprising isn't that far behind. It isn't about religion. It's about jobs. Or, put another way, it's the economy, stupid, regardless of the predominant religion or skin color or way of life.

On Wisconsin

Speaking of which, I can't even begin to tell you how beautiful what's happening in Madison is now. I had a piece dripping with sarcasm prepared last week about how the American worker has turned on each other and lacked the backbone to stand up against plutocracy, but I wisely shelved it because it was rather rude and unsanitized, and then this happens.

You should, if you read this blog, be aware of the particulars; a phony budget shortfall ginned up by an undereducated governor who's strings are pulled by the Koch brothers in an effort to break unions. Add in a weak attempt at divide and conquer by exempting police and fire, and voila! mass protests by organized labor that are long overdue in this country.

If there are three political trends that overarch the waning years of the Baby Boomers they are these. First, the plutocratic idea, put forth in the Guilded Age that the wealthy "can hire half of the poor to kill the other half." Republicans have used this divide and conquer tactic since the implementation of Nixon's Southern Strategy in the early 1970s (though it goes back much, much further in American history in some form or fashion), and, outside of the south, it reached it's culmination with the Tea Party Movement, which was essentially, old white people screaming at everyone else that they were ruining their retirement by trying to keep the lights on. This isn't anything new on the part of that generation; Douglas Coupland identified this and summed it up nicely in Generation X, which was written in 1991. Malcolm X had a famous and adaptable quote about how slave owners would turn the house slaves against the field slaves that perfectly describes the Republican Party campaign management system.

The second is this: if I can't have mine, you can't have yours either. This is inherently selfish and narcissistic on the part of the person with this attitude, and I have to be honest, it seems quite strong and I'm not entirely sure where it comes from. But it's certainly counter productive. I'm not one to often play the God card, but the one fundamental tenet of every religion is the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. So you'll see a fair share of people who use this rationale when attempting to demonize those workers who are standing up for their right to collectively bargain. It's intellectually lazy, and being intellectually lazy takes very little effort.

I don't support Michigan's current governor, and wouldn't have voted for him if I could have, but you'll notice that while his budget certainly pummels the hell out of everyone and everything, he hasn't come close to expounding the rhetoric that Governors Walker, Kasich, Daniels, and LePage of Maine have as it relates to unionized public employees.

It's early yet, but Governor Snyder may just be that rare endangered species: a moderate Republican. A Republican is still a Republican, of course, (and your alternative in that election wasn't much of one), but still, it's a bit of a refreshing change from the nuts that populate the rest of the party and their hired help of elderly retirees and dimwitted exurban plumbers.

It's been entirely too long since protests from the left felt like anything other than obligatory. It's good to see employees standing up for their rights. And just in time too. Because if those of us who are liberal do not stand up right now, there will truly be nothing left to fight for.

The Painful Truth

One of the most dispassionate and intelligent writers on things Michigan is actually Jack Lessenberry of the Toledo Blade. He's written two very good columns (he doubles as the paper's Ombudsman) recently about Michigan's budget situation. I'd like to call your attention to this one.

While there are certainly some things that are unique to Michigan (it's abhorrence to local income taxes is one I share), the third political trend of baby boomers politically is this: I want everything, and I don't want to pay for any of it. This renders itself most explicitly in California, where a simple majority of citizens can approve a government funded mandate.

Unfortunately, they can also approve measures like Proposition 13, which drastically limit the state government's ability to pay for any of these mandates. The result, as in most states, is a crushing debt, brought on by one group of citizens, who want everything, and another group of citizens, who don't want to pay for anything. I mean, admit it, something for nothing is awfully appealing, regardless of your predominant ideology.

Politicians normally would have to walk the line and figure out which group of people are going to comprise the larger turn out in the next election to enable them to keep their jobs. That problem was solved in California with drastic redistricting, and in Michigan with term limits, neither of which are particularly effective. (Term limits are particularly stupid, another topic for another time.) Throw in the need for the same politicians to generate revenue to fund re-elections, gathered from business that expect a return on this particular investment, and you have the current situation we're in now.

Let's tie this in a bow. In the Middle East, revolution is triggered when excess wealth is tied into the hands of the top one percent and unemployment exceeds 10 percent amongst college graduates. To date, the US has dodged a bit of a bullet in that the most recent economic downturn hasn't disproportionately harmed college graduates outside of the midwest. (In fact, unless your degree is in philosophy or law, your employment prospects are fairly good).

But if you squeeze on that white collar too hard, it will bite you back, and there are plenty of unemployed blue collar folk willing to stand beside you, as Wisconsin Republicans are learning, the hard way. Finally.