Who Cares About Unions?

Posted: February 26th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Misc | 4 Comments »

A pamphlet, Who Cares About Unions?, was shared by a coworker on a list I run for current and retired fellow employees. I had never heard of the author and took a minute to read his biography. He sounds like quite a character, but his “pamphlet” (who knew pamphleteering was back?) makes some particularly cogent points. The author has actually spent most of his life working on the other side of the table against unions in negotiation and business, both as an executive and as a consultant. Despite that history and some negative personal experiences with unions, he recognizes the vital role they play in our society.

The pamphlet collects some of the facts about what has happened in our country over the past thirty years in a list that is simultaneously one of the more comprehensive and concise that I’ve seen. I want to share that list here.

1.The top one-hundredth of one percent makes an average of $27 million per year per household. The average annual income for the bottom 90 percent of us is $31,244.
2.The richest 10% controls 2/3 of Americans’ net worth.
3.The superrich have grabbed the bulk of the past three decades’ gains.
4.Washington is closer to Wall Street than Main Street. The Median net worth of American families is $120,000. The median net worth for members of Congress is $912,000.
5.The 10 richest members of Congress all voted to extend the Bush tax cuts.
6.Gains and losses, 2007-2009: Wall Street profits: +720%; unemployment rate: +102 %; Americans’ home equity: -35%.
7.Those on Wall Street make record wages and benefits while the middle class loses.
8.Average CEO pay is 185 times bigger than the average worker.
9.The tax rate for a millionaire has gone from 66.4% in 1945 to 32.4% today. The pre-Bush tax cut rate for millionaires was 36.4%.
10.Income inequity has grown dramatically since the 1970’s-most due to skyrocketing incomes among the richest 1 percent and even more dramatically among the top 1/100 of 1 percent.

There are several important facts to add to that list. When adjusted for inflation, the median income for the bottom 90% of our country has actually dropped over the past 30 years. Even in the best years, it’s been pretty stagnant. The list also mentions the top tax rate. However, most of the income of those in the top 1% does not come from wages. Their income comes from a category we call “capital gains.” The capital gains tax rate is 15%. That’s right. The very richest in our country actually pay a lower tax rate than most of the middle class. (They pay more overall tax, of course, since that’s where the wealth in our country has become concentrated. But they pay at a lower rate. In what fantasy realm is that considered even vaguely fair?)

Unions are the only vehicle that are able to provide most of us an effective voice that wields real power. And without power, don’t kid yourself, your voice means absolutely nothing. At best, you’re a vote to curry and then ignore. Are unions free of problems and corruption? Of course not. No human institution is or ever will be. But they offer a viable means through which we can collectively act against the power of Wall Street. And we really don’t have any other such means. It’s little wonder that Wall Street (mostly through their puppet politicians) have targeted unions so consistently and effectively over the past thirty years. The decades of the Railroad Barons were a golden era for them.

It doesn’t really matter if you personally and individually are in a union. It’s about collective, not individual, power. In order for the middle class to have any meaningful voice, about a third of us need to be represented by unions. Instead, we’re on the verge of the end of unions in our country in any real sense. If that happens, there will be nothing to impede the final transformation of America into an oligarchy. We’re as close to that point today as we’ve ever been, yet a great many people still seem oblivious.

If the blatant and unpopular (according to every poll) attacks on unions and the middle class in multiple states don’t shake people out of whatever it is that blinds them, I don’t know what will. School teachers are not the enemy. Firefighters are not the enemy. Social workers are not the enemy. Public sector nurses are not the enemy. When did I wake up in an alternate reality where people have become so twisted they attack those who are trying to serve them? Are we human beings? Or are we wounded animals blindly lashing out at anything and everything placed in front of us?

I challenge everyone: Try to be human.

Weekend Update 02-26-2011

Posted: February 26th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Weekend Update | Comments Off on Weekend Update 02-26-2011

Ah, Forbes reports that it’s the Koch brothers who are the puppetmasters behind Wisconsin governor Scott Walker. Always good to know who is dangling the politicians from their strings.

Basically, the Republicans and their moneyed owners want to take America back to the conditions of the late 19th century. If you don’t know what our country was like then, it’s time for you to hit the history books. Of course, given the evidence that so many Americans can’t even handle basic arithmetic in budget discussions today, I’m not optimistic.

Everything’s f*cked up and nobody goes to jail. Not a single person responsible for the criminal actions involved in the financial crisis and who made obscene amounts of money from it is going to jail or even being prosecuted. There was nothing unavoidable about the 2008 financial crisis. It was the direct result of criminal action by people who had been getting away unpunished with one crime after another for a decade. And they got away with 2008 as well, which means it won’t be long before the next “crisis.”

And it appears that the Republican strategy to stoke class warfare as a smokescreen for their efforts to “raid the till” on behalf of the corporate interests pulling their strings is proceeding apace. I find this effort to turn teachers, of all people, into villains one of the most craven and bizarre acts I remember seeing. It’s not like we have a surplus of teachers and we already don’t pay them enough for the job we ask them to do for our children. It’s almost as though Republicans seek a return to the days of uneducated masses (including children) working in sweatshops, mines, and other hazardous conditions for third pay. Maybe that’s their strategy for bringing jobs that have been shipped overseas back to the US. After all, if you can pay the same wages here with the same working conditions, it eliminates the cost of shipping materials and products. I would be disappointed that they can find so many gullible people who can’t see they are acting against their own self-interest in order to further enrich the already wealthy, but every corrupt government or demagogue in history has been able to build such followers. It seems to be a part of human nature. I will also note that our country grew strong over the past century from an approach to life in which those who did not have rights looked at those with such rights and aspired to gain them. At least some of those with such rights saw those who did not have them and sought to share them. Reading some of the comments of Walker supporters reveals the opposite mentality. Those individuals seek to strip from others rights and protections they themselves have lost. I will note that Christianity has a long-established word to describe such a perspective on the world. It’s called envy. And when it rules you it can be a most insidious and destructive passion.

Not that anyone’s paying attention (and many of the ones who need to hear it are mired in a Faux News alternate reality), but I particularly like Robert Reich’s recent posts. This one on the core issue behind the various budget crises is no exception.

When it comes to poll results, Texas is really just a smaller image of the nation as a whole. People want taxes cut not raised and want the budget balanced through spending cuts. But they don’t want to cut anything of any substance. Truly, we believe in magic. Of course, it doesn’t explain why most Americans seem to be okay with the wealthiest among us paying a lower federal income tax rate (15% on capital gains) than most of us pay. Logic doesn’t seem to enter the equation anywhere either. Should be interesting this year.

No particular surprise, but Politifact researches and finds that Wisconsin Governor Walker is a liar.

In Pennsylvania we get another look at what “health care reform” would look like if Republicans got their way. There aren’t enough voters in the wealthiest top percentages to keep electing these Republicans. (There are even fewer today with the greatest concentration of wealth at the top that our country has ever seen.) So somehow they manage to keep convincing a significant number of people to repeatedly vote against their own self-interest. Are we a country of masochists now?

Fr. Orthoduck has a great post on Wisconsin as well. “Supply-side” economics don’t work and when you try to act from how you believe things should work rather than reality, well … there are worse definitions for insanity.

Why Americans need unions? The main problem with the analysis is again that stubborn problem of requiring people to grasp basic arithmetic. What do they teach in schools these days? šŸ˜‰

Here’s another article on the Gallup poll referenced above (with a link to a USA Today article on same). I haven’t found the Wisconsin one referenced yet. Maybe it’s time for Wisconsin Democrats to start recall petitions for some of the Republican Senators. (I believe the Governor and Representatives are immune from recall for their first year in office.)

What do you do when such a large percentage of a political party lose touch with reality?

Krugman on the Wisconsin power play. Republicans do seem intent on turning America into more of a third world oligarchy.

How do you spell corrupt (and stupid)? W-A-L-K-E-R

An analysis of state and local workers pay vs. comparable jobs in private sector. (All the studies indicate federal disparities are greater.) But they are right. Relatively more job security is worth the difference to most such workers. I’ll add that there are also many ways public sector jobs provide greater satisfaction for people who are not primarily driven by the desire of money. In public safety, health care, and teaching it offers the opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of others. In my case, I’ve had the opportunity to work on technical challenges that can be hard to find in the private sector. I’ve developed very complex software to address extremely challenging accounting-related problems. And I’ve developed (and am developing) technical architectures for an organization with more than a hundred thousand employees and hundreds of physical sites. I value the challenge as well as the somewhat greater job security more than just a money-based incentive. And I am proud that my efforts make at least some difference in the way our country functions. You’ll find relatively few public sector employees who are driven primarily by money. Money is never unimportant, of course, but we aren’t getting rich off the public. That’s one of the more despicable Republican lies.

The Republican Shakedown. I don’t really have anything to add.

Fr. Orthoduck responds to a question with a breakdown of a specific report illustrating very clearly through that example the way people twist and distort facts to convey a lie.

I like this take on Wisconsin (and Governor Walker in particular) by Diana Butler Bass. We become like what we worship and all modern versions of “Jesus” are not the same. In fact, some understandings are so different from each other, they hardly look like they are even talking about the same God, even where they superficially use the same words.

Krugman looks at some of the other provisions of the Wisconsin budget bill. Most of the attention is on the union-busting provisions, but there are a number of other things that are pure power grabs by the Governor. They assert that he can take action (even sell power plants) to private companies without competition and without the involvement of the legislature. Let’s declare a “crisis,” and then loot the state for all you can get away with.

In this post by Steve RobinsonĀ  on miracles, I particularly like these lines from Chesterton. “In so far as the Church did (chiefly during the corrupt and sceptical eighteenth century) urge miracles as a reason for belief, her fault is evidentā€¦. It is not that she asked men to believe anything so incredible; it is that she asked men to be converted by anything so commonplace.” I appreciate that about Orthodoxy. I think of the many stories of monks who refused initially to believe that an angel had come to them, even when one really had. They knew that demons masqueraded as angels of lights and their opinion of themselves was that it was more likely a demon would come to them than an angel.

Some thoughts from Vint Cerf on the Internet. IPv6 transition, of course, is a big issue right now.

I feel like I want to ask, “What do they teach in schools these days?” People seem to have lost the use of simple arithmetic and logic. If they hadn’t, surely they wouldn’t so be so easily misled? I mean, the lies that are being told aren’t even very sophisticated ones. The mind boggles.