In what is probably the best example of a homegrown bottom up grass-roots movement since the Civil Rights marches of the 60s the brave student protesters in Madison Wisconsin have started a shock wave that is continuing to spread across the entire country. Oscar winning filmmaker Michael Moore, in a span of less than 12 hours, decided to fly to Madison from New York City and give a rousing 20+ minute speech to 50 -70,000 people outside the Madison state Capital on Saturday. He told the crowd that Friday night around midnight he wanted to write a blog post about the Madison protests and the current GOP led war on the middle class titled, "America is Not Broke". In that process he decided, why not jump on a plane, fly to Madison and say what he wanted to say directly to the people of Madison. Much like the Tunisian and Egyptian revolts the people turned to Twitter and Facebook to get the word out. Thousands of tweets and Facebook postings later more than 50,000 people turned up in Madison to hear Mr. Moore speak. He urged the people of Madison to keep the fight alive and explained how Republicans like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker were using a manufactured financial crisis to strip workers rights and break the backs of organized labor.
Michael Moore called the Wisconsin budget crisis one of the three biggest lies of the last decade. He said, "What are three biggest lies of the last decade? Let's repeat them. Number one Wisconsin is broke. Number two there's weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and number three the Packers needs Farve to win the Super Bowl." The crowd roared with approval.
Michael Moore's speech is well worth the 20 mins and really reinforces why he is an Oscar winning moviemaker and writer.
I would like to add a 4th lie to Michael's three and that would be that public service workers are living high on the hog and make significantly more than their private worker counterparts. This is an outright lie propagated by the right-wing and designed to pit worker against worker and neighbor against neighbor. When you actually make an apples to apples comparison and account for age and level of education required for the job, the public service worker actually makes 5-10% less than the private worker .... and this includes their benefits packages.
A recent report by the Center for State & Local Government Excellence and the National Institute on Retirement Security found the difference even larger in the favor of private sector jobs [ref 1]. The report, which analyzed data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, found that state workers earn an average of 11 percent less than their private sector counterparts. Sadly the gap has widened over the last 20 years. This report was well summarized in a recent article in the Bangor Daily Newspaper, titled "State salaries, benefits not so "lavish' compared to private sector".
Kevin Hall, of McClatchy Newspapers, wrote an article this weekend called "Why employee pensions aren't bankrupting states". Kevin makes the point that most State funded pensions are funded to cover pensions for the next 13 years or so and in the case of Wisconsin, that state's pension plan has enough assets today to cover more than 18 years of benefits. The most recent Public Fund Survey by the National Association of State Retirement Administrators showed that, on average, state and local pensions were 78.9 percent funded, with about $688 billion in unfunded promises to pensioners including the ones that are still working. Right-wing pundits argue that the number is closer to $1 trillion, using market assumptions that are less optimistic.
But Kevin's most important point and one that I had been trying to understand up until recently is that the unfunded promises of, let's just use the right's number of $1 trillion, would only become a reality if everyone were to retire from state and local governments tomorrow all at the same time. Alternatively this could become a problem if there were no future contributions into these pensions and the state and local governments were to go out of business and hand underfunded pension plans over to a federal regulator, as happens in the private sector. Neither of these scenarios are going to happen, ever, and to pretend like these are reasonable scenarios that are worthy of debate and reason to strip workers rights and reduce the salaries and benefits of public service workers is downright deceitful and shameful.
Michael Moore emphasized a fact in his speech that most American will not likely ever hear repeated in the mainstream media and that is that the 400 richest Americans have more wealth than the bottom 155,000,000 Americans combined. That is a staggering fact and as Michael Moore said in his speech it bears repeating, "the 400 richest Americans have more wealth than the bottom 155,000,000 Americans combined". It really is the greatest heist on the American middle class ever conceived and implemented to near perfection. It's too bad George Clooney and Brad Pitt couldn't star in an "Ocean's 155,000,000" movie. We have all lived this movie over the past few decades.
To keep this heist intact the uber-rich have bought and paid
for politicians all over our country and the only thing left standing in their
way of achieving a truly one-party rule is the organizing ability and
fund-raising ability of Unions. If the Unions go so does the middle class and
so goes our current two-party political system. The Wisconsin fight is really
about the systemic redistribution of wealth and power that the Republican Party
has overseen since 1980 and it has resulted in a near total destruction of the
middle class. The following graphic provided by Think Progress and recently
highlighted on the MSNBC Ed Schultz Show depicts the near perfect correlation
of middle class income with the percentage of Union members. The trend is
startling and dire.
While we were distracted with terror alerts, culture wars, and military led wars George W. Bush picked up the mantle of Ronald Reagan and continued the redistribution of wealth up from the middle class to the top 2%. Fox news, the GOP and most recently the Tea Party elite are now trying to convince their followers that our current financial problems are the result of greedy teachers, firefighters, and police officers and not the Billionaires, Wall Street Elite, War Profiteers and their Political cronies. Even for a dumbed down and uninformed public this is a really hard sell to make. It is not so easy to convince the public that people making 50k a year are the real reason that our financial system and Wall Street nearly collapsed. Selling us that Bernie Madoff and Hedge Fund managers making over a $1,000,000,000 a year are really the innocent victims of teachers, firefighters and police officer is no longer selling and the protests in Madison that are spreading across the country are proof-positive.
The puppet masters and uber-rich are watching the spring
melt in Madison, Columbus, Indianapolis and state capitals all over the country
start to wash off the precarious veneer that the GOP and FOX news have worked
so hard to create to hide their true agenda. Everyone all the way down to the
high school kid is starting to see the ugly truth and they aren't happy about
it. As Michael Moore expressed in Madison this weekend, "America is Not
Broke". We are figuring out that we, the bottom 98% of Americans have been
duped out of our hard-earned cash and more importantly that our "one person -
one vote" system can still remedy this situation if we chose to exercise that
But if Republicans and their puppet masters are successful in breaking the back of organized labor then millions of Americans will be returned to a form of economic serfdom that was once thought to have been banished decades ago. The flickering flame of economic liberty, and the American Dream will be extinguished forever.
Right now they are losing the battle in Wisconsin and it is because it is Governor Scott Walker against the people, the neighbors who are teachers and the police officers and firefighters that keep our neighborhoods safe. The GOP and FOX news can't win that battle and they know it. They desperately need to divert our focus away from the ugly truth that they are trying to take our rights away and break the backs of the Unions. And this is why I think President Obama should in fact maintain a low profile and stay out of the fight for the time being. The war is far from over and Obama will need to show much stronger leadership in the coming months but this first of many battles is being won on the ground in Wisconsin.