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The Attack on Public Workers Fueled by Budget Distortion, Not Deficit

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As governors in Ohio, Tennessee, Indiana and, of course, Wisconsin, work to gut the right to collectively bargain -- and, with it, the very lifeblood of public sector unions -- the cuts to worker pay, benefits and pensions have already been chalked up as accepted concessions by those unions. Those cuts are necessary evils, they concede, and they're doing their part to solve massive budget shortfalls. And yet, their "massive" pay and alleged selfishness is still decried by the right's corporate-fueled rhetoric. They're living the high life off of the taxpayer's dime, the accusation goes, and it's time for that gravy train to end.

In reality, public workers are struggling behind pushcarts as Wall Street bankers and corporate executives zoom miles above in gravy Concord jets.

On average, nationally, a public worker represented by a union -- teachers, hospital workers, librarians, sanitation workers, firefighters and police officers -- makes $922. That's a nice little increase from non-unionized workers, a group that makes $769. But if we're trying to fill a troublesome and dangerous national deficit, perhaps instead of attacking that $153 difference, maybe we should seek a little change out of Dick Fuld's pocket. He took home $529 million -- of what ended up being taxpayer money.

Keep in mind, the average Wisconsin public worker makes $24,500.

The former CEO of Lehman Brothers, Dick Fuld's disastrous subprime lending, accounting tricks and knowingly shady business dealings helped sink the famed brokerage firm and, soon after, the U.S. economy. Americans lost millions of homes directly, and millions more indirectly, thanks to his false promises and deliberate sabotage efforts. In his time at Lehman, Fuld made that $529 million, and he didn't exactly use it to pay off the houses of those he foiled, or, again, the tens of millions of others that his firm's collapse left destitute.

He also didn't spend a minute in jail, though, of course, that'd just end up costing more taxpayer money.

The government could also go after a little bit of the pocket cash of Joe Cassano, the civic self-sacrificer who made $280 million for leading AIGFP's charge into economy-anchor derivatives -- and, after his little shop lost $11 billion and did its part to blow up the economy -- walked away with a cool $34 million in bonuses and $1 million a month to consult. I wonder if he had to negotiate his benefits.

Sure, most of the TARP bailout was paid back -- well, the small sliver of a larger bailout voted on by Congress, not the $3.3 trillion the Federal Reserve has used to buy up and back up risky banks, stocks, banks and more, which, even if necessary, is being paid for by taxpayers because of the corporate malfeasance of executives such as Fuld and Cassano. Paying back TARP was putting a plug in the original hole after the entire levee burst. The cost to tax payers, in both pure cash and future opportunity (infrastructure, real health reform, better schools, etc etc) is massive and incomprehensible.

It should be noted that it wasn't just these few bad apples on Wall Street that helped cause the collapse. They're the figureheads of a much larger problem. When a country spends thirty years allowing income disparity to become so gaping that 99 percent of the country is living off debt and credit, this is bound to happen. And it was allowed to happen because the business community worked to make it happen.

If executive donations don't fix it all, for a more permanent solution, a suggestion would be to close corporate loopholes, both in Wisconsin -- 67% of businesses in the state pay no taxes -- and nationally, where similarly, between 1998 and 2005, 68% of foreign companies doing business in the US and 67% of American corporations paid no federal income taxes. That was cool $2.5 trillion in missed budget-filling opportunities, even as working Americans dutifully paid up by April 15th.

This gargantuan amount of money, just a small sampling of the gross gifts the nation gives to those in the name of job creation -- how's that going? -- comes directly from the public's coffers. For every brokerage firm or shady derivative swapping outfit that collapses, or just swindles people out of their cash, there's another person that the government -- with no assistance from those corporations, which are too busy counting money and not paying taxes -- has to help feed, clothe, put in a bare minimum shelter with bare minimum training to apply for a job that no longer exists because small businesses were destroyed when their owners lost their customers, homes and/or leases.

For every tax break or loophole provided by the government to a corporate donor, that's a dollar the government doesn't have, and, as such, is paying out.

Maybe the government can hand over responsibility for paying the unemployment checks of the 8.5 million people that lost jobs in the aftermath of the collapse. That'd help the deficit, for sure. Or, maybe they can foot the $100,000 per household loss in stock and housing value that Americans suffered.

And $922 a week is egregious? That's the kind of cut we need -- the middle class salary that powers the real economy, caviar and yacht sales notwithstanding? We don't have a budget deficit, we have a budget distortion. A case of misplaced priorities. Millionaires over teachers, hospital workers, firefighters. Sounds about right.

Giving up collective bargaining rights is another slip toward indentured servitude, with the bright light at the end of the tunnel getting further and further away as it rises to the penthouse. Reworking our corporate tax code -- no, making our corporate tax code even slightly more fair -- and clawing back some of the insane "performance" bonuses stolen during this that collapse would help fix a century's worth of deficits -- without stealing the food out of the mouths of those who make this country work.

If your stomach can handle it, I very much encourage you to read Matt Taibbi's epic full piece in Rolling Stone about the bankster theft, which helped inform this piece and includes incomprehensible -- but true -- stories of corruption and greed.