Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Sickness of Character or What Is Wrong with America?

I fear that perhaps we're missing the most insidious piece of the GOP's push for power at all costs, and that's the character of the American public. Why don't we have a health care system that rivals Canada's or any number of European countries? Why are politicians allowed to cut funding for the programs that they scathingly call entitlements? Why is it that so many people only speak out in angry voices against equal rights for gay people, immigrants, and the poor?

I think that we suffer from a sickness of character (I'm using we broadly, clearly there are exceptions but I fear that the exceptions are the numerical minority), an ideological belief that is grounded in a mistrust of our fellow humans and no sense of responsibility for our neighbor. Not only do we feel no responsibility to be our brother's and sister's keeper,we don't even acknowledge that we're related.

Americans are a peculiar breed. We live in a country where the overall standard of living is much better than many parts of the world yet we have homelessness, child poverty, and hunger at rates that rival those of some of the countries that we identify as being third world. We come up with regulations that require restaurants to throw food away rather than allowing them to donate the food to local soup kitchens. We insist that we just can't house all of the homeless. Average, everyday folks should be outraged and demand more from our elected leaders but unless a policy affects us directly, most of us just don't give a damn.

There are far too many of us who are content with the actions of these leaders, who are quick to blame the poor for being too lazy to work, and see no problems with cutting funding to programs to aid those in need. I no longer believe that the majority of people want a better world for all of us. Anne Frank was wrong, a whole lot of people aren't really good at heart. Some are downright mean and selfish.

Elected officials are only as powerful as we let them be. They do what we allow them to do.

What would our elected officials do if every time they proposed some legislation that would cut funding for education or eliminate tax credits for the working class, 50,000 people showed up in protest at your state legislative building? What if the number was 100,000 or 1,000,000? They would listen, not because they love us but because they fear us. We're the ones who elect them. Without us, they don't get elected to office.

The sickness that permeates this country, that makes us adhere to petty beliefs that some people are more equal than others, will destroy us all if we don't cure ourselves.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The GOP, 2012, and the Assault on Unions

There have been times when I thought that I was being overly defensive and paranoid in my belief that the GOP's primary focus is to ensure that Obama is not re-elected in 2012. I haven't been totally satisfied with all of the president's decisions and there are some with which I fundamentally disagree such as the latest executive order that continues to allow the detention of so-called enemy combatants indefinitely without benefit of charges or trials. Can we say "Gulag" boys and girls? However, in spite of my criticism of some of the president's actions, I still support his overall agenda. 

I have questioned whether my cynical perspective on the motives of the GOP was born of my ongoing support for the president. Not any more, the Walker coup in Wisconsin has confirmed my belief that the GOP is determined to defeat Obama at all costs. That's what this attack on unions was about. Destroy the power of unions and destroy the base that overwhelmingly supported Obama in 2008.

A post by a fellow blogger, who writes under the handle, Shaw Kenawe, included a repost of a HuffPo  piece, Governor Walker's Coup D'Etat Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor, and current professor at Berkeley. Reich sums up in a single paragraph a clear explanation of the coup staged by Walker and the GOP members of the Wisconsin state legislature to usurp the power of unions or in other words strip away the bargaining powers of the working class.
Governor Scott Walker and his Wisconsin senate Republicans have laid bare the motives for their coup d'etat. By severing the financial part of the bill (which couldn't be passed without absent Democrats) from the part eliminating the collective bargaining rights of public employees (which could be), and then doing the latter, Wisconsin Republicans have made it crystal clear that their goal has had nothing whatever to do with the state budget. It's been to bust the unions. 
However, the truly damning evidence is in the words of Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, a close ally of Governor Walker in the state legislature. In an interview with Fox News' Megyn Kelly, Fitzgerald acknowledged that the union busting is really about defeating President Obama in 2012. 
Fitzgerald: If we win this battle, and the money is not there under the auspices of the unions, certainly what you're going to find is President Obama is going to have a much difficult, much more difficult time getting elected and winning the state of Wisconsin.
The selfish unmitigated gall of these efforts to bring down the unions to further the political ambitions of the GOP in the 2012 presidential election should galvanize not only progressives but any working class American. I mean working class in the broadest sense. If you get up and go to work for someone else on a regular schedule then you're working class. 

I find the opposition of American employees to unions unfathomable. Some of the earliest unions in America arose in the 19th century out of the efforts of women to fight against intolerable sweatshop working conditions--long hours, low wages, and a lack of safety precautions in the workplace. All of the power lay with the employers who could simply fire a single worker who dared complain and easily replace her. Then there was the whole issue of child labor and the lack of a term to even describe sexual harassment in the workplace. The labor movement grew because there was a need for it.  

Governor Walker has argued that unions with their unreasonable demands are responsible for the deficit in his state. Bull feathers, and we all know that bulls don't have feathers.

What are those unreasonable demands that unions make on behalf of their members? Cost of living wage increases, decent pensions, and health care benefits. According to the Walker line of thinking, it's the unreasonable demands of unions regarding pensions and health car benefits that are driving state deficits. It appears that in order to resolve the deficit that laborers should do without retirement pensions and health insurance. What's even crazier than this proposition is that so many people who are wage earners seem to think that this is a good idea. The reasoning appears to go like this, "Those union folks make too much money; they learn to need to get by like the rest of us." 

Brilliant logic folks! The bullies down the road beat your butt every day. Someone tries to intervene. Suggests that you walk another path after school and offers to walk it with you. You make certain that the bullies are aware of your new route and then they beat the crap out of you and your new friend. You're satisfied because now you and your would be rescuer are in the same boat. I don't know how to say this gently: That's just plain stupid!

A living wage, safe working conditions, and benefits have not always been the norm. We need to think long and hard about returning to the "good old days" of nonexistent or powerless labor unions. To quote that icon, Mae West, "Goodness had nothing to do with it."

In case you may think that Fitzgerald has been misquoted, a little video clip of him being hoisted on his own petard: