What Is The Real Agenda Of The Budget-Cutters?

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
What is the real agenda of the budget-cutters? Are they really trying to bring the country back from the edge of financial ruin? Or did they bring about the appearance of a borrowing crisis to create a public panic that enables them to impose “solutions” that change the very nature of our country — while doing little about the borrowing?
In the news this week, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker “ginned up” a budget crisis, then introduced legislation that removes collective bargaining rights from public employees, and over time effectively destroys their unions. Similar measures have been introduced by Republican governors or legislatures in several other states.
This legislative attack on public employees follows more than a year of “preparing the ground” with a coordinated campaign from conservative organizations to convince the public that public employees are overpaid and that their pensions are “bankrupting” state governments — not the effects of the recession.
In the news soon, the coming strategic “shutdown” of the federal government by Republicans. After decades of forcing through tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, again and again — most recently just a few weeks ago — Republicans and corporate conservatives are engaged in a national campaign promoting the belief that there is a “deficit crisis.” Their solutions involve gutting the things government does for We, the People like consumer, health, safety, labor and financial, retirement and income protections, while keeping things the government does for corporations and the wealthy “off the table.”
We see variations of the same formula over and over. Here is how it works:
1) Cut taxes for the rich and corporations (corporate stock is mostly owned by the top 1%); big deficits result.
2) Claim a deficit emergency and use their domination of corporate-owned media to whip the public into a panic, creating the appearance of demand for corporate-approved “solutions.” Manipulate the appearance of consensus.
3) With taxes and military “off the table” push through cuts in the things government does for We, the People.
Repeat as often as needed to create a plutocracy.
Today’s “debt crisis” is the culmination of the long-term “starve the beast” strategy from an organized corporate-conservative movement. By cutting taxes for the wealthy they have starved the government, created massive debt (guess where the interest payments go) gutted the infrastructure, and put our country on the road to third-world status. This conservative movement has an agenda, and is not interested in working out “bipartisan” compromised.
In an example in the news this week, a hoax call, purported to be from David Koch, one of the billionaire-industrialists helping fund the conservative movement and major funder of efforts to make it appear that Wisconsin is having a budget crisis. In the hoax call, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker clearly understands that he and Koch are in engaged a joint effort, describing a Democratic Senator who could work with him as “not one of us.”

Koch: Now you’re not talking to any of these Democrat bastards, are you?
Walker: Ah, I—there’s one guy that’s actually voted with me on a bunch of things I called on Saturday for about 45 minutes, mainly to tell him that while I appreciate his friendship and he’s worked with us on other things, to tell him I wasn’t going to budge.
Koch: Goddamn right!
Walker: …his name is Tim Cullen—
Koch: All right, I’ll have to give that man a call.
Walker: Well, actually, in his case I wouldn’t call him and I’ll tell you why: he’s pretty reasonable but he’s not one of us…

Elsewhere in the call Walker and faux-Koch talk about whether “planting troublemakers” would “work” or not.
In another example of the self-awareness of this strategy: On public radio’s Marketplace, February 22 Vincent Vernuccio of the Koch/conservative movement/corporate front-group Competitive Enterprise Institute discusses how the real agenda of the state actions is to destroy unions and their ability to fight corporate power politically, not to solve budget problems. (Note, he was not identified on the show as funded by conservative/corporate interests and Koch.)

VINCENT VERNUCCIO: Union bosses want to inflate these budgets so they can get more members, so they can get more dues. And in turn, they take that dues money they have and give it to politicians who are going to give them more favors in the future.
Several states are considering bills that would allow workers to opt-out of a union. Again, Vincent Vernuccio.
VERNUCCIO: The main focus of this isn’t just the budget cuts. It’s actually giving workers the right to say no to the union if they so choose.
Professor Bruno also sees broader implications for the debate. Since union money helps support the Democratic party, he argues changes in collective bargaining could shake up the political landscape far beyond the Midwest.

These are just two small examples, in the news on the same day, showing the difference between the public pronouncements of concern for the country and a private agenda to fool the country. It is one thing when responsible leaders disagree on the best way to solve the country’s real problems. It is quite another thing when organized wealth pursues a strategy to scare the country into handing over our remaining wealth and power.
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Discover The Network Out To Crush Our Public Workers

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
It is difficult to read, watch or listen to the news without hearing that public employees are paid too much and get “lucrative” pensions and this is “bankrupting” your state, county or city. Public officials are “in bed” with “union bosses” and state and local government; taxpayer dollars are wasted to pay for people who don’t do much work but live the good life. “Reports” and “studies” confirm this.
People hear the same story over and over and over and over, seemingly coming from everywhere: public employees have it good, with extravagant pay and “lavish” or “plush” pensions, while taxpayers are taking it in the shorts. Public-employee pensions are “bankrupting” the state/county/city. “Unfunded liabilities” are “out of control” and it is time to do something about it before it is too late.
This is part of a broad, nationwide attack on public employees and their unions, and through them, on government and democracy itself.

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Pension Envy

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
Since the 80s many employers have stopped offering health care, pensions and other benefits to their employees. Many are also cutting pay and hours, while increasing the workload. So more and more people are hurting. As more and more of us fall further and further behind, corporate/conservative propagandists use resentment to drive anti-union feelings. They tell people to oppose unions, saying, “Why should they have it so good?” The real question you should ask is, “Why should we have it so bad?”
The New Yorker’s James Surowiecki, in “State of the Unions,” examines why “public support for labor has fallen to historic lows.”

More than seventy per cent of those surveyed in a 1937 Gallup poll said they favored unions.
Seventy-five years later, in the wake of another economic crisis, things couldn’t be more different. … In the recent midterm elections, voters in several states passed initiatives making it harder for unions to organize. Across the country, governors and mayors wrestling with budget shortfalls are blaming public-sector unions for the problems. And in polls public support for labor has fallen to historic lows.
. . . In 2009, for the first time ever, support for unions in the Gallup poll dipped below fifty per cent. A 2010 Pew Research poll offered even worse numbers, with just forty-one per cent of respondents saying they had a favorable view of unions, the lowest level of support in the history of that poll.

Surowiecki suspects that the gap between workers in and out of unions is the reason,

Union workers, on average, get paid more than their non-unionized counterparts—most estimates put the difference at around fifteen per cent—and that wage premium widens during recessions. Similarly, union workers often still have defined-benefit pensions, which sets them apart from all those Americans who watched their retirement accounts get ravaged by the financial crisis. That’s given rise to what Olivia Mitchell, an economics professor at Wharton, calls “pension envy.”
This resentment is most evident in the backlash against public-sector workers (who now make up a majority of union members).

The problem is that working people feel increasingly powerless, and this weakens support for the very institutions that would, in better circumstances, come to their assistance: government and unions. Normally you would think that when people see that workers who are in unions have it better they would reach a simple and obvious conclusion: they should JOIN A UNION! DUH! But circumstances in our economy today lead people to the wrong conclusions.
Today they see people who try to organize unions fired. They see whistleblowers persecuted. They see fellow employees lose their jobs for calling in sick or taking time off to care for a family member. They see people lose jobs for just reaching “a certain age.” Many are even afraid to take vacations using time they have earned. And they don’t see any way to do anything about it. Unions are unable to organize and workers are told facilities will close or their jobs will be moved overseas. Government inadequately enforces its own laws, or blatantly favors the wealthy and powerful. People don’t feel that elections make any difference. So workers don’t see any help on the horizon.
Crabs In A Bucket
Meanwhile many public employees still have unions, so as a result they in many cases have pensions, health care plans and dignity on the job. People look at that and the temptation toward “crab mentality” is strong. The corporate/conservative anti-union propagandists see an opportunity to set working people against each other and strike at support for unions:

Crab mentality, sometimes referred to as crabs in the bucket, describes a way of thinking best described by the phrase “if I can’t have it, neither should you.” The metaphor refers to a pot of crabs. Individually, the crabs could easily escape from the pot, but instead, they grab at each other in a useless “king of the hill” competition (or sabotage) which prevents any from escaping and ensures their collective demise. The analogy in human behavior is that of a group that will attempt to “pull down” (negate or diminish the importance of) any member who achieves success beyond the others, out of jealousy, conspiracy or competitive feelings.
This term is broadly associated with short-sighted, non-constructive thinking rather than a unified, long-term, constructive mentality. It is also often used colloquially in reference to individuals or communities attempting to “escape” a so-called “underprivileged life”, but kept from doing so by others attempting to ride upon their coat-tails or those who simply resent their success.

The other day in Understanding The Attacks On Public Employees,

What do we see if we look around at the state of the economy? Stocks are soaring, corporate profits are way up, Wall Street gets trillions in bailouts and pays millions upon millions in bonuses. But regular people are having a hard time making ends meet and unemployment is still through the roof. Instead of programs to create jobs, stop foreclosures and rebuild our crumbling infrastructure the government passes more tax cuts for the rich. A few Wall Street and big-corporate types are getting very rich (richer) at the expense of the rest of us. If you are sitting pretty on Wall Street, you probably don’t want people thinking about these contrasts too much.
“Look Over There!”
How do you get regular people to “look over there” with all of that going on? Simple: launch a big campaign to blame the librarians, firefighters and other public sector workers for the hard times. “Don’t blame US,” Wall Street says, “Look over there!” Blame the economy’s victims for economic crimes. And, do you know what? This is a strategy that is proven to work every time.

So the corporate/conservatives pit people against each other, hoping to provoke the behavior of crabs in a bucket, instead of reaching the correct conclusion: stand together and join a union and fight for your rights and a share of the pie and you can have it better.
STOP THE LIES!

This video directs people to a STOP THE LIES website where you can sign up to add your voice, download a fact sheet and find other resources.
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Understanding The Attacks On Public Employees

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.

You can barely open a newspaper or turn on a radio without hearing about states and local governments bankrupted by high-paid public employees, their pensions and their unions. How much of what you are hearing is really true, and how much is just one more Wall Street-funded campaign to turn people against each other and our government?
What do we see if we look around at the state of the economy? Stocks are soaring, corporate profits are way up, Wall Street gets trillions in bailouts and pays millions upon millions in bonuses. But regular people are having a hard time making ends meet and unemployment is still through the roof. Instead of programs to create jobs, stop foreclosures and rebuild our crumbling infrastructure the government passes more tax cuts for the rich. A few Wall Street and big-corporate types are getting very rich (richer) at the expense of the rest of us. If you are sitting pretty on Wall Street, you probably don’t want people thinking about these contrasts too much.
“Look Over There!”
How do you get regular people to “look over there” with all of that going on? Simple: launch a big campaign to blame the librarians, firefighters and other public sector workers for the hard times. “Don’t blame US,” Wall Street says, “Look over there!” Blame the economy’s victims for economic crimes. And, do you know what? This is a strategy that is proven to work every time.

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Conservatives Claim Unions Caused NY Snow Jam

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
The right’s propaganda machine begins with a simple narrative, repeats it endlessly, and then ties current events to the narrative to drive the point home. The corporate/conservative right are currently working a narrative that public employees and their unions are the reason for state and local budget problems. This is repeated endlessly, and every current event that hits the news is then used to support the claim. This is how an untruth becomes “conventional wisdom.”
Source Of Story: Three “Unidentified” Workers
Huge headline at the Drudge Report: NYC SNOW JOB: SLOW CLEAN-UP WAS UNION ‘PROTEST’ The headline links to a NY Post story, Sanitation Department’s slow snow cleanup was a budget protest. The source of the claim? Three “unidentified” plow workers.

Halloran said he met with three plow workers from the Sanitation Department — and two Department of Transportation supervisors who were on loan — at his office after he was flooded with irate calls from constituents.

The story claims the unions did this to protest budget cuts. Of course the obvious cause of the snow mess was that budget cuts caused the problem because there were not enough people employed to clear the snow.
“Noise Machine”
The way the right’s “noise machine” works is that a story gets started somewhere and is amplified by the right-wing media machine that includes FOX, Limbaugh and scores more talk-radio hosts, blogs, newspapers and magazines. And in this case, of course the story is being spread by … FOX, Limbaugh and scores more talk-radio hosts, blogs, newspapers and magazines. The idea is to create enough “noise” that the mainstream press picks up the story.
Yesterday at FOX, the “rumor” (that no one had heard) was a headline story,

The chairman of the Municipal Labor Committee, Local 831, which represents men and women of the New York City Sanitation Department says there is no truth behind a rumor that his members worked slower during the blizzard of 2010.

Today the NY Post piles on with three “unidentified” workers saying the unions did it. The right’s blogs and magazines of course amplified.
Strata-Sphere, Union Protest Killed New Born Child,

That is called negligent homicide or manslaughter – and every union idiot who participated in that blizzard protest should be charged and locked away for as long as possible.

Gateway Pundit: NY City Workers Planned Their Slow Response to Record Snowfall As a Protest to Budget Cuts
National Review, How Will Bloomberg Deal With a Union Snowplow Slowdown?
Examiner, New York sanitation workers union sabotaged snow cleanup
The Noise Machine Drives It To The Mainstream
The “noise machine” is having success. Even though the entire story is based on three “unidentified” snow plow drivers, the story has been driven into the mainstream corporate media.
CBS News, Report: Disgruntled Workers Slowed NYC Cleanup. CBS News “reports” that there is a “report” that unions caused the problem. Does not work to verify the story, sends it out to the nation.
Getting To The Point: Cut Pay And Pensions
In Ten Holiday Attacks On Public Employees I warned,

If you haven’t already noticed, there is a corporate/conservative campaign underway to convince the public that public employees are living high on the taxpayer’s dime and should have their pay and pensions cut back. Even during the holidays this attack does not let up.

The blog Big Government takes the “unions caused the snow mess” story to the obvious point, that “lavish” public-employee pensions and benefits must be cut: Union Snow Job Just Glimpse of Coming Blizzard,

With all the political payoffs, scandals, and bailouts, the issue seems as mundane as the figures are mind-boggling, but the bill for lavish public employee pay is coming due in the form of a pension tsunami — or, if you prefer, a blizzard that will have union bosses calling for a bailout.

And, Business Insider, Meet The Hundreds Of NYC Sanitation Workers Who Earn Over $100000,

There are also perks that come with the job. While delaying clean-up for the city, sanitation workers promptly plowed the street in front of Doherty’s Staten Island home, according to the Daily News.

And to make the point as clear as possible, the Examiner’s Beltway Confidential, New York City streets unplowed, but at least sanitation workers retire well,

According to the Manhattan Institute’s “See Through New York” database of 2009 pensions, nearly 180 retired employees make over $66,000 year — in other words, over and above the maximum salary of currently working employees. In fact, 20 retirees make upwards of $90,000 in retirement, up to $132,360.

You will probably be hearing a lot more about this, maybe even Congressional hearings in January. All based on three “unidentified workers” who made the claim. This is how the right’s “noise machine” diverts us from seeing and solving real problems and into voting against our interests.
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Ten Holiday Attacks On Public Employees

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
If you haven’t already noticed, there is a corporate/conservative campaign underway to convince the public that public employees are living high on the taxpayer’s dime and should have their pay and pensions cut back. Even during the holidays this attack does not let up.
Background: The Reagan Revolution ended most “defined-benefit” (they pay you) pensions for working people in the private sector, replacing them with “defined-contribution” (you pay Wall Street) pensions. Now with the Great Recession employers have cracked down and private-sector workers are afraid and not willing to risk their jobs by speaking out about abuses. With private workers sector out under control, conservatives are targeting public employee pay and pensions. They are driving resentment of government employees by casting them as overpaid and receiving good benefits at a time when everyone else is under the corporate thumb. Private-sector employees have made sacrifices, so now government employees should, too, they say.
When you see this kind of coordinated campaign from the right (and “mainstreamed” by corporate media) you know it is part of a larger strategic plan. The larger plan is to weaken public-employee unions, including teacher’s unions.
Here is how conservatives turn a strategic narrative into “conventional wisdom” through repetition. Phony conservative think tank “studies” show there is a “crisis,” that pensions are “gold-plated,” etc. This campaign claims the crisis is in government employee pension funds. They also claim public employees are very highly paid compared to the private sector. Then they explain how the “average voter” is affected. This time the claim is high state property and income taxes or an impending “crisis” that cold force states to go bankrupt. When specifically attacking teacher’s unions the claim is that schools are not educating kids because teacher unions block reform.
The news stories follow a conservative template almost word-for-word. You will see phrases like: “Lavish” or “luxurious” or “back-breaking” and “gold-plated” government pensions. You’ll hear that “Taxpayers shoulder the burden” of pensions.
For perspective: Congress just passed tax cuts for the rich along with a huge cut in the estate tax, Wall Street bonuses are up, corporate profits are the highest ever, the top 1% are taking home a higher percentage of all income, and sales of luxury items are breaking records.
Here are ten holiday-season media attacks on public employees:
George Will, Don’t let states like California seek federal bailouts on pensions

The nation’s menu of crises caused by governmental malpractice may soon include states coming to Congress as mendicants, seeking relief from the consequences of their choices. …
… under bankruptcy, judges could rewrite union contracts or give states powers to do so, thereby reducing existing pension obligations.

Newsday, Reeling in public workers’ pensions, insurance,

Civil servants have long prized these benefits as the payoff for a career yoked to lower-paying jobs, but their rapidly rising cost has led to growing resentment in an economy that has forced a relentless tide of layoffs and givebacks in the private-sector workforce. Defined-benefit pensions are disappearing from the private sector. Retiree health coverage is almost unheard of. On Long Island, even the average private-sector wage has fallen behind government pay …

Wall Street Journal, Pensions Push Taxes Higher,

Cities across the nation are raising property taxes, largely citing rising pension and health-care costs for their employees and retirees.

Ocean County (NJ) Examiner: Public pensions getting deeper into the red,

While New Jersey can lessen regulatory loads on business, lowering tax rates is difficult as this exacerbates pension deficit problems. The obvious solution is long term and entails lowering government worker pension and benefit packages. … Public sector unions have demonstrated an unwillingness to forego past agreements in the interest of promoting fiscally sound policies.

San Diego Union Tribune: Government pay practices must change,

At a time when there’s rising fury over public employees’ generous pensions, the report used official U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ data to show there’s one more big area where the taxpayer-funded public sector is thriving at a time of private-sector misery.

Here’s why property taxes are soaring …,

The crisis in state pensions is cascading into a property-tax crisis.
Cities across the nation are raising property taxes, largely to cover rising pension and health-care costs for their employees and retirees.

Washington Examiner: America’s public pension crisis has tragic consequences,

The biggest obstacle to preventing what happened in Pritchard from happening nationwide might be the public employees themselves. Public union leaders simply refuse to believe America is out of money.

Milwaukee, Walker, Barrett seek checks on unions

Walker, who has tangled with Milwaukee County unions as county executive, is gearing up for a clash with state workers, seeking wage and benefit cuts and threatening legislation to weaken or eliminate state unions’ bargaining rights if they won’t agree to concessions.

Chicago Sun-Times, ‘Sucking the system dry’,

Jim Tobin, president of National Taxpayers United of Illinois, held a news conference at the St. Charles Public Library to discuss what he called a threat to every Illinois taxpayer.
… Tobin also released names of retired Kane County government employees who are receiving what he called “lavish, gold-plated pensions.”

Snyder to start with attack on public-sector spending,

Private-sector companies and workers have made many sacrifices, he said, “and we all need to share in this. So it’s now the public sector coming into more alignment with what the private sector has already done.”

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Are Public Employee Unions Strangling Us?

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
For Billionaire Mort Zuckerman it’s those damn unions that are the problem. For so many of the rest of us the problem is that we don’t have a union.
Zuckerman has been with us on lots of things, like what he wrote about the stimulus,

“The fiscal program was a disaster. You have to get the money as quickly as possible into the economy. They didn’t do that. By end of the first year, only one-third of the money was spent. Why is that?
He should have jammed a stimulus plan into Congress and said, “This is it. No changes. Don’t give me that bullshit. We have a national emergency.”

I could have written that. (Except it would probably have bad grammar, occasional CAPITALIZED words and a line in bold here and there.)
But he’s not with us not when it comes to labor. Last week Zuckerman wrote an op-ed, titled The Crippling Price of Public Employee Unions at US News, and Breaking the Public Sector Unions’ Stranglehold on State and Local Governments at Huffington Post, telling us how public employee unions are harming the country. (The Huffington version has about 2000 comments so far – mostly pro-labor. The US News version has about 70 comments, like “Outlaw Unions of any kind.”)
I’m wondering where Mort Zuckerman wrote this piece. Was he at one of his homes in New York, New York, East Hampton, New York and Aspen, Colorado? Or maybe he was writing from his 166 foot Oceanco Yacht, the Lazy Z? We know he wasn’t writing from his Falcon 900 corporate jet, because he recently purchased a Gulfstream G550.
From this high vantage point he seems to have a view that says working people should be paid less, and shouldn’t get good pensions or benefits. He writes, “It is galling for private sector workers to see so many public sector workers thriving because of the power their unions exercise.” He says public employees have “gold-plated perks” and enter into corrupt deals with politicians, a trade-off of supplying votes in exchange for good pay and benefits. He says that since private-sector pay and benefits are dropping, public-employee pay and benefits should, too.
But it’s the other way around. We, the People should set the example for private companies to follow. Good pay and benefits are good for people. It should be public policy to promote this and encourage companies to treat employees better. That way we all benefit, not just a few.
Private sector pay and benefits have been dropping because people have been forced out of unions, so they have no way to fight the power of the billionaires. Because billionaires have been able to play impoverished workers elsewhere against workers here who have fought hard to get what they have. The obvious answer is for more private-sector workers around the world to join unions so they can be lifted up, not to complete the death spiral by forcing down the pay of the rest of us.
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