Monday, May 9, 2011

The assault on our public life goes on - comes down to what kind of world we want, and for whom

It's hard to keep up. They come at us fast and furious, as if trying to overwhelm by the sheer volume of the assaults on our Wisconsin democracy and culture, such as it is in these days of the great polarizing divide. I believe that divide has been beautifully manufactured and manipulated by those with enormous financial resources and rightist courts that allow them to use those resources to purchase our political system - those who stand to benefit from the great divide.

We have family members, friends, neighbors that don't talk to each other anymore, while these guys continue to make off with our wealth, the wealth of the common good and the good of the commons. Trust me, people like Hannity, Beck, and Karl Rove love it when we don't get along. Political paralysis and unraveling of democracy suits them fine.

Anyway, a couple of stories raise these basic questions again of what kind of society we want. Competing visions are at work here, and one of them has a fierce hatred of the 'masses,' the 'common,' workers, the poor, the vulnerable and marginalized. And many of them don't like African-American presidents either, if we are honest about it.

Revealing, this unnecessary anti-Obama rant from one of Scott Walker's campaign donors, the now-infamous David Koch, who supports the gov on things like dismantling union rights and environmental protections in our state. Sarah Owen of New York magazine approached Koch at a fundraiser in Manhattan and he said he didn't understand why Prez Obama was getting so much credit for the assassination of Osama bin Laden.
"He just made the decision, it was obvious where the guy is...The real hard work was done by the intelligence and the SEALs."
Um, David, that's what presidents do. They set policy goals, in this case catching up with the 9/11 guy. They are given the options presented by the professionals who work for them and then they weigh those options and make a decision. Then they live with the consequences of those decisions. Takes a lot of guts, something you may not appreciate, protected as you are by your billions, your walled mansions, your many minions.

But the real attitude is barely hidden in this outburst.  From New York magazine: 
Obama is "a hardcore socialist," Koch told us, "and he’s marvelous at pretending to be something other than that, but that is what I believe he truly is, a hardcore socialist. He’s scary to me."
Scary, scary Obama. 'Uppity' of him to take so much credit, right?  C'mon, we all know what's going on here. The Koch family background with its roots in the John Birch Society, their funding of rightist, anti-democratic groups with clear racist tendencies (like the Tea Party birthers), makes this obvious.

Okay, that's my long aside. The real issue of this post has to do with the Wisconsin we want. On a smaller but culturally significant scale is Walker's assault on the arts. His budget calls for a 66% cut in the Wisconsin Arts Board budget.  I leave it you to read the details and consequences of this, well spelled out in a column today by the Journal Sentinel's art critic, Mary Louise Schumacher.

I want to emphasize one of her key points:  "Can you think of any great nation or civilization that did not support the arts in some way?" But, sadly, there are people who don't think of art and culture as public 'goods' to be fostered and developed for the good of all.

Again, what kind of society do we want?

Or this, about job creation. Now, creating jobs is not a project that submits itself to a single recipe, for instance: lower taxes on business, allow them freedom to use and exploit labor and resources free of government constraint, focus on projects that build roads and use of lots of fossil fuels, things that wreak havoc on nature, and, according to the gospel of these industries and Scott Walker, you carve a sure path to lower unemployment and greater prosperity. And if you don't do these things, we will not create jobs.

Really? Actually, creating work opportunities is another way of envisioning the world we want. You can create jobs that jeopardize the future, enrich the few, do more damage to the earth, guarantee lower wages, consign more people to low-wage work (like the 62,000 MacDonalds jobs that we are supposed to be celebrating as 'progress'), and in that process create one kind of society.

Or you can begin to create new work opportunities by addressing some of our key challenges. For example - how to move people around in a world growing more congested and more addicted to oil with every passing day. You can grow the congestion, you can pave over more of our Wisconsin countryside, or you can move to other cleaner forms of transportation.

So, here you go - just announced this morning: thanks to Walker's hostility towards federal money for high-speed rail, we have just been cut out of funds to upgrade the Milwaukee-Chicago Hiawatha.

We can create jobs making Highway 41 into a freeway, building more roads to satisfy the road-building lobby that backs Walker, or we can create jobs that will develop clean high speed rail. Jobs are also about the vision of the world we want. One path is sustainable and the other is not.

Another example: the headline in today's local section: Walker, GOP reversing green initiatives. You can create jobs by making the world dirtier, adding more and more toxic chemicals and other poisons into our air, water, and soil, make more of us sick (which helps grow the private health care systems), and jeopardize the future of our kids and their kids. Or, you can create jobs by building the new clean more locally based sustainable economies. You can create jobs in the effort to clean up the environment, to create the technologies for clean renewable fuels, for greater efficiency in how we use energy, etc., etc.  Lots of dynamism in that kind of economy, as other nations have already experienced - and we used to, or at least had hoped to.

This state and the current regime are bent on old technologies and economic development models that will be dying out this century as the world moves through this tumultuous time, the era in which the whole industrial/technological project begins to reach its limits. Sadly, this state is moving in a direction that will leave us ill-prepared.

What kind of world do we want? I don't like the direction this current state government is turning towards. It's getting uglier, less empowering, less human, less creative, more toxic physically and spiritually. It is bringing out the worst in us, not the best - racist sentiments on the surface, folks eager to carry more guns around, unwarranted fears being stirred up to set us against one another.

Or we can try something else, set a different course with a different vision of what our world could look like - if we could lay down the fears and realize that we are all in this together. Together in animosity and resentment in a diminished environment bent on our fierce individualism - that is one possibility.

I am looking for ways to create another...

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