Friday, February 18, 2011

"We're broke!" --The New Mantra of the Morally Bankrupt

By Peter Rodman

“We’re broke!”

That’s the new mantra of the Evil-Doers. There. I said it.
When John Boehner gets on Meet the Press and huffs, "We're broke!" in answer to almost every question about fiscal compromise, he is floating the latest trial balloon, in a hundred-year war against labor in this country. Unions which couldn't be broken through negotiation are now being attacked under the guise of a new 'fiscal conservatism' that is as false as was the need for a trillion dollar tax-break for the rich, just two months ago.

First of all...WE ARE NOT BROKE!  Nothing has happened this week which differs from the last, to create a sudden, urgent need to kill all the public unions in Wisconsin.
That is a fact.
Besides, 'broke' countries do not gift wrap trillion-dollar cash gifts to billionaires.
Oh, wait...maybe they do. 
In fact, maybe we did!  Let's see...wasn't that just this past December?

In truth, at a time when we've just bailed out the "free market" to the tune of trillions, borrowing against the future (at extremely low interest rates, I might add) makes perfect sense.  If we do not begin competing with China, by using their (essentially free, with such low interest rates) money to re-tool our economy against the vicious outsourcing that Wall Street (you know, the guys we bailed out?) has embraced, there'll be no more America, as we know it. 
Already, the decay is everywhere you look: Shuttered shopping malls, bricked-up buildings, foreclosed houses. 
But it's not because "We're broke!"

It's because our national policy of welfare-for-the-rich has finally gone too far.
Where were the Republican complaints about 'borrowing money from China,' when we were funding the entire Iraq War with it?  Were they asleep for a decade or two, Rumpelstiltskin-style?

Republicans who are suddenly enamored of saying "we’re out of money” (Joe Scarborough, Bill O'Reilly, Paul Ryan, Sean Hannity) certainly know a good catch phrase, when they hear one. 
And having stumbled upon "We're broke!," they obviously think they've found some serious traction--enough to defend a series of draconian reforms which would transform this country forever, not for better, if we let them. 
"We're broke!" has become their "Hallelujah" chorus.  And like an under-rehearsed local choir which has discovered that lots of voices singing in unison can make anything sound better, they're stickin' to that catch-phrase.  Everybody, now!  "We're broke!"

The trick is always the same:
If you can hijack the debate at the beginning, even your opponents will be weighing only the options you choose. You set up a Hobson’s choice which doesn’t allow for any other scenarios (such as restoring the tax rates rich people used to pay) or (finally?) making the largest oil companies in America pay some tax, any tax…but not no tax, as they currently do.

I fully realize that at the top of this column, I said Republicans are "Evil-Doers."
Allow me to promise that I will  demonstrate this, by the time you are finished reading. 

For starters, to unilaterally pillage everything from national parks to public broadcasting, in the name of 'budget cuts'--with no debate whatsoever, because "We're broke!"--is a more than a slight overreach. 
The Arts have always been their favorite whipping boy, which is why they always exhume 'Piss Christ' for another beating, whenever they want to scratch that itch, to eliminate public funding for the Arts altogether.
But you know what?
It's never really worked, until now.
Because in every civilized society-- from ancient Greece, to Michelangelo's time, through the British Empire and yes, America--the Arts have been a vital, publicly funded part of what made every advanced civilization great.
So despite the ranting of the Michael Savages and Glenn Becks, the National Endowment for the Arts remains--by popular demand, actually--a feature (albeit, a tiny one) of our government.
But what they couldn't do at the ballot box, Republicans now hope to do by fiat--simply repeating the Evil-Doers' new mantra:  "We're broke!"
It's the be-all, fix-all, impose-our-will-on-all phrase of the week, at least.
But what does "We're broke" really mean?
Here's a brief translation, for the dimwitted:  "We're going to impose our will now, for your own good.  Reduce your pay.  Terminate your pensions.  Quadruple your health care bills. Oh...and eliminate funding for national parks, NPR, and yes...the Arts. But hey, it's non-negotiable! Know why? Because...
"We're broke!"

I call that "evil."
Financial experts in Wisconsin say their budget crisis was far worse two years ago than it is today.  (In fact, the Wisconsin equivalent of the Congressional Budget Office--a neutral agency--has reported that this year, the state is actually running a surplus.)
That's partly because two years ago, when asked to help out,  their state workers gave back huge chunks of their wages and benefits, in order to help keep things afloat. 
And even now, to a man, those workers acknowledge that they will have to give back more, to maintain liquidity for their state government.  In other words, mere "give backs" are not the issue.

That is not what has drawn 40,000 angry state workers to protest at the state capital in Madison, this week.  

Rather, it is their Governor's attempt to brazenly bulldoze away their very right to negotiate, which has so incensed these loyal workers.  And it may even be a legitimate question: Should government workers have the right to organize and negotiate, through collective bargaining?
(Of course, this is settled law, in most states--including the home of the cheese heads--but it may even be a debate worth having.)  
The point is, you do not resolve that question--especially after a hundred years--with a gun to somebody's head, in the middle of budget hysteria, simply by saying, "We're broke! Game over. Gimme back that pension you just worked 35 years for...NOW!  No time to talk, just do it!!!"

That is what's happening right now, in Madison.

In many ways, the labor movement gained its strongest early footholds, in the state of Wisconsin.  Workers' rights there have been carefully negotiated and hard-won, in increments, for over 100 years.  
In 1911, Wisconsin passed the first workers compensation law. 
In 1932, they led the way, in implementing unemployment compensation.
These things did not just happen by accident.
Blood has been shed, in Wisconsin...lots of it. During the nation's first-ever campaign for an 8-hour workday, union workers were fired upon (seven were killed), as 50,000 union members 1886.
That's about how far back the Republican Party wants to take this country.

After a mere three weeks in office, Emperor  Rookie-Governor Scott Walker simply declared that collective bargaining for state workers was over. Backing him up was a newly Republican-dominated state legislature, which has vowed--with no negotiation, whatsoever--to simply pass a law banning collective bargaining, for anything but wages.
That might even sound reasonable, to some. 
But if I make $20 an hour,"wages" won't help me at all, if the boss says I have to work 10 hours days, seven days a week. If work rules and benefits aren't negotiable, "wages" alone don't mean a damn thing. Without a contract specifying work rules, an executive assistant can literally be made to clean toilets--even if that has zero to do with their job description. 
And "wages" won't help me at all, if I cannot also negotiate the right to (God forbid!) have some sort of health care and retirement, to reward my 30 years of loyal service.
Wisconsin's fiscal crisis is a trumped up as is America's. 
It's all based upon a choice Gov. Walker made, just days ago, to give huge tax breaks to major corporations. So if you create a budget crisis, you shouldn't get to 'solve' it, by killing the lifeblood of state government, which is its workers, and their standard of living.

Where exactly was all this panic, when George W. Bush--who inherited a national surplus--was outspending every single President before him, combined?

When Republicans claim (falsely) that Wisconsin state workers "get twice the pension and health care benefits of workers in the private sector," they're attempting to get other workers to pressure state workers to come down to that (supposed) level.  In other words, it's a Republican "Race to the Bottom," for our standard of living.  But is it wrong to ask why we don't raise our standard of living, or at least hold on to it, instead of step-by-step tearing it all apart?  Or has corporate America so brainwashed us, that we no longer have any hope at all, let alone an 'American Dream?'  

Again, nobody is suggesting that the workers' benefits in Wisconsin cannot be reduced, through negotiation.  
The outrage comes from a governor and a legislature (let's just say it: an entire political party) which thinks it can simply ERASE a 100+ years of labor progress, which wasn't even undone by the Great Depression, in just a week or two--essentially by force, in the name of the evil-doers' new mantra: "We're broke!"

Yeah, you're broke alright.
Morally broke; eethically bankrupt, too.

All of this is not just happening in Wisconsin. In state capitals across the country, mostly where voters are unfortunate enough to have installed Republican governors a mere month ago, state workers are being shown the axe.
And when President Obama delivered a budget on Monday containing "only" a trillion dollars in spending cuts--something no President before him has ever come near--John Boehner puffed out his chest and said, "We're going to cut spending. If that means the loss of 200,000 federal be it."  

Where was Boehner, when George W. Bush was spending THREE TRILLION DOLLARS (and thousands of U.S. lives) on not one, but two unnecessary wars?  
Where was Boehner, when Bush gift-wrapped the largest tax cut in this country's history for the rich, amounting to over another TRILLION DOLLARS?
And if we're so broke, how could John Boehner have voted for--in fact, insisted upon--yet another TRILLION DOLLARS, just two months ago, in pure gifts to the richest 1% of America? 

Can I please get a refund?

As it happens, many economic experts in Wisconsin argue that there is no ‘budget crisis’ at all, and that Gov. Walker’s move to radically lop off  the unions' heads is an unprecedented power-grab, having more to do with his party's union-busting agenda, than anything else.

Think of this:
What if the Wisconsin's new Governor had actually run for office on a platform that said, “If you elect me, and make the GOP a majority in the state senate, I’ll unilaterally declare all union contracts moot, within a month! I’ll take away your very right to negotiate! I’ll destroy your pensions, and triple your health care costs…and all, within a month, with the stroke of a pen, undoing the whole last century of worker progress!!!”

...ya think he’d still have won?
I don’t.
Just two months after ‘negotiating’ over $2 trillion in additional tax breaks for the richest 1% of America, the Republicans aim to pillage what remains of the middle class, simply by saying "We're broke." 
In Michael Harrington's 1962 book The Other America, he correctly defined the much-touted 'free market' Republicans love to talk about, as "capitalism for the poor, and socialism for the rich." 
Think:  Wall Street bailouts. 

Just a week ago, we all watched as Egypt's leadership collapsed in short order--due to the peacefeul pressure of an angry populous who'd been kept down, for 30 years.  Almost nobody saw it coming.  Certainly not Hosni Mubarek. According to Leon Panetta, not even the C.I.A. had a clue. That's how fast it all happened.
In fact, nobody predicted the effectiveness of public protests--mostly peaceful--ending, in the space of only 17 days, an authoritarian regime of 30 years, over 80 million people.  It all came tumbling down rather quickly, I think you will admit.
Let's face it, they were pissed.  

Ask yourself this:  Was it mostly about oppression, or was it really about an underclass feeling left out of the prosperity enjoyed by too few people, at the very top?
I believe it had more to do with class warfare than anything else.

What I am about to say may seem dramatic.
...but I'm going to ask you to think the unthinkable, for just a moment.

I believe it would be very foolish to assume that that will never happen here.  
In fact, my prediction is...
It will. 
I don't know when. It could be thirty years, or it could be twenty. Or it could be two.
I do know this much:  If the Republican "We're broke!" machine is allowed to run roughshod over our standard of living, it will come sooner than later.  Republicans now claim "We're broke" in 41 out of the 50 states. You show me 41 states with a Wisconsin situation, and I'll show you a national revolution like you've never even imagined, lickety split.  
Ronald Reagan's first significant act as President was to break the Professional Air Traffic Controllers' Organization (PATCO).  Since that time, unions and wages have gone down like a sinking ship in this country, while bonuses and pay packages and 'golden parachutes' for corporate executives have skyrocketed, beyond belief. The disparity between the average worker's pay and that of his CEO has grown in multiples of 100, over that time period.
This cannot last forever, without the people rising up. 

I am absolutely convinced that the latest wave of Republican cannibalism cannot stand.
If they are allowed to prevail with this clearly evil agenda, a Cairo-style uprising will definitely happen here.
Is that an outrageous thing to say?  Is it any more outrageous than telling some retiree to just forget about all that money they put into a pension, in return for deferring wages? 
Middle-class Americans will not continue to finance Wall Street, the oil companies, job outsourcing, and the military industrial complex while their own houses fall into foreclosure, their own paychecks shrink, their own pensions become "Oh, never mind," and their own health care costs go through the roof.

The Republican formula for implementing their strategy--I'll call it The Audacity of Hopelessness--is a recipe for revolution. 
Normal everyday Americans will not stand by quietly and watch everything go to hell, including government services they rely upon (for everything from daycare, to fixing potholes, to Head Start, to Planned Parenthood) just because some orange-faced guy likes saying, "We're broke!"

Wisconsin will go down in history as but the first, in a long series of peaceful (and perhaps even not-so-peaceful) demonstrations, by frustrated everyday workers, who've are finally figuring out that they are under attack, by some truly evil Evil-Doers.
The very radio talk shows many of those workers have enjoyed over the past few years are finally revealing their ugly reality...which is to turn on them. 
Attacking 'big government' is fun--until your entire future is at stake.  Until their are so few cops and and so few teachers and and so few firemen that basic services simply disappear. 
Until the garbageman only comes once a month, not once a week.
That is the future the Republicans are cooking up for us.
And yes...I am openly calling call it "Evil."
These guys couldn't be more evil to me if they came out with twirly mustaches and black capes, snickering, "Pay up lady, or I'll throw you out on the street!"  (I realize I'm dating myself, but silent melodramas may be the best analogy for exactly how villainous they have become.  In those days, Hollywood drew its heroes and villains in the broadest possible terms, to make it obvious who was who, since there was no sound. To me, it's just that obvious who the bad guys are, today.) 

This charade could very quickly begin to spell the beginning of the end, for this country.
Spend a trillion on two unnecessary, ten year wars; spend another two trillion giving the richest 1% of Americans tax cuts; and then get on TV and say, "We're broke!!!" 
In other words...forget about your pensions?
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) says the demonstrations outside the capital in Wisconsin “look like Cairo."
They should. He has no idea what this country will look like, if the Republican attack on unions, workers, and the middle class is allowed to spread.
Cairo will look like a picnic.

If Americans don’t speak out, hypocrites (like Ryan) will merrily proceed to continue pillaging the middle class out of existence.  They've declared “We’re broke!” and make no mistake:
They aim to take it out of the hides of working Americans.
You don't hear any cries from the Evil-Doers about rescinding that trillion dollar tax cut, do you?
You don't hear any talk of restoring corporate taxes (now at an all-time low, in this nation) to anywhere near where they were, just 15 years ago, do you?
Guess we're not really "broke" after all, when it comes to subsidizing the rich.
So-called Republican 'moderates' (like Morning Joe's Joe Scarborough) go completely unchallenged, when they glorify the likes of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for abrogating hard-won union contracts, and demonizing not just the word “union," but also the word...“pensions.”
Is “pension” a bad thing now, in America?
How about “contract?”
Does that word mean anything to ya?
No?  "Promises?" ..anything?

I am reminded of Imogene Heap's lyric, in the song, "Hide and Seek," condensed here:

Where are we?
What the hell is going on?
The dust has only just begun to fall
Crop circles in the carpet
Sinking feeling

Spin me around again and rub my eyes
This can't be happening
When busy streets a mess with people
Would stop to hold their heads heavy

Hide and seek
Trains and sewing machines
All those years
They were here first

Oily marks appear on walls
Where pleasure moments hung before
The takeover, the sweeping insensitivity
Of this still life

Mm what'cha say?
Mm, that you only meant well
Well of course you did

Mm what'cha say?
Mm that it's all for the best
Of course it is

Mm what'cha say?
Mm that it's just what we need
You decided this?

Ransom notes keep falling out your mouth
Mid-sweet-talk newspaper word cutouts (paper word cutouts)
Speak no feeling; no, I don't believe you
You don't care a bit
You don't care a bit

In that poem, I hear union workers building railroads.  I hear garment workers, with "sewing machines." And I hear "ransom notes," falling out of Republicans' mouths. 
And you know what?
They don't "care a bit."

It’s not hard to see how ruthless they will become. The other night, I saw Bill O’Reilly, railing against federal funding for breast-feeding pumps. (“We can’t afford it!”) This only hints at exactly how low these cannibals will go, in decimating the American Dream.

Worse still are the outright lies.
Stuart Varney, the Australian lackey for Rupert Murdoch's 'Fox Business News', got on Fox & Friends just this morning and said,
“The White House is organizing these protests.”
Really, Stu?
A more preposterous allegation would be hard to make, but in ‘FoxWorld’ it passes for unchallenged fact, and if they talk fast enough, nobody seems to notice.  (Well...I did.)

Rush Limbaugh went to great pains yesterday afternoon, to inform his listeners (of the protest in Wisconsin) that, “This is not a democratic protest of the citizens! This is…they’re busing people in, folks! From all over the country! This is not what it appears to be!”

His desperation was palpable. 
People simply must not believe that any of this is legitimate!
It recalled a famous movie line we all grew up with:
"Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!"
From behind his curtain, this small man (well...figuratively speaking) has probably done more to foment distrust and hatred in America than any single human being on Earth. To some, he is a giant. But once you get his ‘act,’ you realize that the game is very, very simple:  Like a spider spinning his web, Mr. Limbaugh believes his powers of persuasion are limitless.
He truly believes that--no matter what the topic--he can convince his audience of literally anything--and he's right about that, a disturbing amount of the time.
'Up is down' and 'down is up,' in RushWorld.

[To wit:
Just one day after Ted Kennedy died (and before he was even buried), Limbaugh actually got on the air and claimed that Kennedy would have switched his vote to vote against health care reform, had he heard of that day's change in the process.
Imagine....a man’s entire life's work, turned upside down, by The Man Behind The Curtain, stirring his  endless brew of human outrage--a steaming daily pot of righteous indignation, which pits normal American citizens against their own system of government.
Likewise, on the health care issue, Fox News plastered their bought-and-paid-for “polls” on the screen after it passed, declaring that “most Americans oppose this” for weeks on end, as if our congressional vote was not legitimate, even though elected officials in both houses of congress, from every corner of this democracy voted on behalf of their constituents, and passed it, fair and square.
The truth is, President Obama got elected, largely because of his position on health care reform.]

The right wing in this country stumbled upon a treasured truth during the past decade, courtesy of the war in Iraq: 
If the facts do not support your position, simply make up new ones.

There will almost certainly be more protests around the country, in weeks to come.
And no, they are not going to be "coming from the White House."  They are going to come from an angry citizenry that finally realizes they are under a full-on attack by Republicans, who are seeking to finally eliminate the middle class in this country altogether.

I know it’s popular these days, to say “Don’t demonize your political enemies.”
But tell me…what exactly do you do, if your enemies behave like demons?
Is it even possible, to 'demonize' a demon?
Because if I told you that they’re so evil they’re attacking mother’s milk, you’d tell me I was making that up.
Not so. This very week, Sarah Palin and Bill O’Reilly both went after (get this) the First Lady (something traditionally thought to be a political ‘no-no’), simply because she proposed that mothers be able to more conveniently breast-feed their children in the workplace--and have better access to breast pumps, and the other supplies needed to do so.
In normal times, her suggestions would be entirely non-controversial.  But in a time when barbarians are at the door--almost literally attacking everything that makes us a civil, reasonable society--yes, even mother’s milk is under attack.
If that’s not evil, I don’t know what is.

Few have stopped to consider the motives behind all of this.
So, allow me.
One reason the feeble-minded so eagerly buy into some of these lies and myths, is that is actually makes them feel smarter.
It’s how Limbaugh makes a living.
People who who do not understand an issue are much more likely to swallow some guy saying “Aha! It’s all a trick!” on the radio…and Limbaugh understands that.
He understands that if everything isn’t what it appears to be--if ’up’ is actually ‘down,’ every time he speaks--this makes him appear smarter than everyone else, and by proxy, the listener then gets to say, “I ain’t buyin’ it, either! You can’t fool me, up IS down!!!” to just about everything--especially anything to do with "big government."
The foundation upon which their presumptions are based most often are totally false, but that simply doesn’t matter. “I’m not fooled by that!” See?  It's easy. Limbaugh understands that.
It’s the man behind the curtain, screaming that he is “the Mighty Oz.”
Pay no attention, to those pesky facts in front of you!

If we are broke, the way to fix it will involve additional spending investment;  should involve increased revenue, through taxes; and must involve big government.  (We're a big country!)
But using this so-called crisis to achieve political goals (like union-busting) is not only unfair, it's profoundly dishonest.  Nowhere will Wisconsin save a dime, in the pending budget bill, if collective bargaining is outlawed, as an amendment to it. 
That is not only dishonest, it's underhanded.
And yes...

This column is Copyright 2011 by Peter Rodman, and may not be reproduced in whole or in part, without the author's express written permission.

Recommended Song:  Imogene Heap, "Hide and Seek":
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