Monday, April 11, 2011

What is it about Wisconsin?

What is it about my home state that produces such wild characters in our nation's politics? I mean, Paul Ryan?  Really, I don't understand why he is taken so seriously. His ideas are not that interesting - unless you like slash-and-burn approaches to our profound, complex national problems - and his 'radical,' 'revolutionary' budgets never quite match up with reality, never square with economic reality, never actually balance (quite the opposite), are not even sophisticated enough to be smoke-and-mirrors.  They are just straight out lies and deception.

For example, that you can sharply cut back tax rates on corporations and the wealthy to pre-1931 levels and ever, ever, ever cut the long-term deficits by doing it on the backs of those with so few resources - working poor, unemployed poor, children, elderly, you know, the usual crowd so disliked and disdained by the rich (reminding ourselves that most members of Congress are millionaires).

Or this - that you can help balance the budget by taxing wages rather than wealth, as has been the practice more and more since Reagan and right on through the Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama years, meanwhile busting unions, lowering labor costs by gutting wages and benefits meaning less wages to tax, which means more long-term deficits, oh, and meanwhile you slash more at the social safety net, cutting unemployment benefits, food stamps - well, you get the picture.

So what are they really trying to do? 
They are trying to privatize as much of the economy as they can; they are trying to take even more of our public funds and make them available to investors and corporations to make profits off them.
Example - convincing millions of Americans that it would be in their interest to move out of guaranteed pension plans into private 401(k) investments. Public money put into the hands of financial firms. You see how well that did back in 2008.  Millions of those millions of Americans will never fully recover their lost savings. Oh, and by the way, have you heard that investment firm executives are making record pay and bonuses now?

Or take the Obama-led health insurance reform. Everyone on God's earth knows the most efficient and cheapest way to deliver health care is in a regulated publicly funded single payer system. Our private health insurance system has created one of the most health-care-delivery-hostile systems in the western world, a case where even those who think they have insurance still must wage all out war sometimes to get their insurers to pay the costs of their surgeries and illnesses. I have to shop on the private individual market. My premiums are nearly unaffordable and God help me if I actually get sick!

What did we get from the reform? Yet another major transfer of wealth to an expanded private health insurance market - companies insuring us for the sake of their own and their shareholders' profits. Do you really think they care about my health or yours?

So - Social Security and Medicare. Just imagine how investment firms are salivating at the thought of getting their greedy hands on these enormous pots of public money. By most analysts' accounts, Ryan's budget would mean that seniors would one day be paying up to 70% of their health care costs. Translate: elderly folks will live lives of misery, pain, and earlier death because any sane person knows the vast majority of our seniors will not be able to do that. Meanwhile, since his plan involves giving seniors vouchers to cover some of the cost of purchasing private health insurance, well, gee, whaddya know? once again, health insurance companies would get that public money to subsidize their industry.

See, friends, a lot of this policy stuff from our corporate-financed Repubs (Dems, too, I'm sad to say, which is why our political engagement should not wed itself to either party) involves accelerating the transfer of wealth from the public sector to the corporate sector, from the poor and middle class to the wealthy.

Paul Ryan wants to make the rich richer and turn this country into a paupers' land, a United States we once knew in our earlier history when most people lived lives of misery and want while the rich had a great party.

What is remarkable to me is how much of this political energy right now, a focal point of the nation's great divide, of the vast chasm opening between the few rich and the growing numbers of poor and struggling, of the politics of corporate greed and right wing closed-mindedness v. the politics of expansiveness and inclusion, is centered right here in the State of Wisconsin.

We've always had characters - Joe McCarthy and 'Fighting Bob' La Follette, for example, the state could produced both these guys, or the German Bund and Father James Groppi, both possible here. Is it something in the drinking water that keeps our politics so divided and so lively? So maybe we are presented here with a great opportunity and even responsibility:
to take the eccentric, eclectic character of this state and use it to turn this time of crisis into a time when a new kind of democracy is born here, when we honestly grasp the stakes involved at this turning point where we face either decline and intense class struggle or a new kind of hope for a just and inclusive society.  It is time to answer the Paul Ryans and Scott Walkers and Fitzgerald brothers and Koch brothers and all who have an agenda of exclusion, of indifference to the suffering of workers and the poor, of greed and anti-democratic tendencies, with an agenda of inclusion, honesty, compassion, justice, integrity - all those things missing right now from these state and federal budgets, budgets that would mean vast misery and deteriorating quality of life for most of us if they are ever enacted.

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