Sometimes it's worth looking at current events through the eyes of a historian chronicling the end of an age, or those of a district attorney in a time of corruption. Come to think of it, the two perspectives aren't all that different.
However you look at it, calling the Wisconsin struggle a "labor dispute" is like calling the Battle of Normandy "a fight over a beach." There's a war going on, one that's best understand by using an Latin expression popular among prosecutors: Cui bono? Who benefits? Gov. Scott Walker's union-busting budget contains buried goodies for somebody, including possibly the Koch Brothers who paid to have it drafted. More importantly, it's another step toward replacing the American dream of prosperity for all with imperial visions of massive wealth for the few.
The heavily-financed army behind Scott Walker has as its ambition the death of the American Republic. If that sounds like rhetorical overkill, then it's worth remembering the words of someone who watched a republic fall. "The enemy is within the gates," said Cicero. "It is with our own opulence, our own folly, our own criminality that we have to contend."
"Money money money money," added the O'Jays, "some people do things, do things, do bad things with it."
If this end-of-the-republic rhetoric sounds extreme, listen to Gov. Walker's phone call with a prankster pretending to be David Koch. He spoke to Koch the way an employee talks to the boss. That's a glimpse into the world of corporate political power. Madison's the epicenter for a battle between the dying American middle class and a plutocracy -- no, make that a "Lootocracy" -- determined to rob it of everything it's earned over the last 75 years.
But wait, says Joe Klein. He says they're protesting against democracy in Wisconsin. "The Republicans won," Klein says, "and there are consequences to elections." But did Scott Walker announce that he would magnify a budget problem and use it to break the ability of state employees to negotiate on their own behalf? That approach is opposed by 61% of Wisconsin voters, according to the latest Gallup poll.
The election in Wisconsin is the latest example of a two-party system where neither party adequately represents the majority's will. One tramples on it, using lies and fear, and the other offers only the weakest defense. The system's been corrupted by money -- "cash money," as the O'Jays would say -- which casts a shadow over its results. Those results include the election of leaders like Gov. Walker, who's just a footsoldier in the war on the American Dream. There's big money at stake -- cash money -- and the government swag in Wisconsin's just the tip of the iceberg.
Klein's energy would be better spent fighting for a truly representative democracy, rather than dismissing protestors who represent a majority of their own state's people.
Civil Discourse vs. Civil War
Historians of the future may look back on our time with an indulgent chuckle when they consider the pundits and politicians who, in their anxiety to ensure a 'civil dialogue,' ignored the cui bono principle. Under current conventions, we're supposed to assume that every political action must be the result of selfless ideologies. We must "disagree without being disagreeable," as the president would say.
Meanwhile the plunder goes on unabated. Kevin Drum toted up the score so far from the plutocratic project: a massive upward redistribution of wealth, and the growing dominance of wealthy interests in politics and the media.
How would things have turned out if during the days of Tammany Hall in New York City or Huey Long in Louisiana journalists and reformers had adopted that attitude? Wall Street caused a global crash two years ago. Today it's richer than ever and throwing its weight around politically as if nothing happened. Next time someone lectures you about 'civil discourse' just say, Look around, pal. This ain't a debating society. Somebody's wheels are getting greased -- and the rest of us are on the skids.
At the risk of sounding disagreeable, it's hard to find an "honest difference of opinion" on ideology that explains a paragraph like this one in Gov. Walker's new bill, spotted by my eagle-eyed pal Mike Konczal:
... the department may sell any state−owned heating, cooling, and power plant or may contract with a private entity for the operation of any such plant, with or without solicitation of bids, for any amount ... no approval or certification of the public service commission is necessary for a public utility to purchase, or contract for the operation of, such a plant ...
This allows the governor to bypass regulators and legislators and sell the state's power plants, built with millions in taxpayer money to anybody he likes. This paragraph goes on to say that "any such purchase is considered to be in the public interest and to comply with the criteria for certification of a project." The governor can give these plants away if he wants, and nobody can stop him.
Cui bono? Who could possibly benefit from giving the governor the ability to sell the state's "heating, cooling, and power plants" (there are 32 of them), or "contract with a private entity" to operate them, without a bid process or any regulatory oversight?
Let's see now: Wisconsin has nearly one million natural gas customers, so it would presumably be a company that "provides consulting, engineering, design, procurement, fabrication and construction services for the natural gas and gas processing industries worldwide" and has "been the general contractor on some of the largest natural gas plants built in the U.S." And since there are a number of coal-fired plants on the state's list, our corporation would need to be a "leading supplier of coal and related products typically used in industrial applications or to generate electricity."
Those quotes were taken from the website of Koch Industries, the company whose owners are bankrolling a little-known group that's behind initiatives like Walker's budget proposal.
Of course, the winning candidate doesn't have to be Koch Industries. Kris Broughton at BigThink found another candidate. ThinkEnergy says it "eliminates the waste of energy and money in facilities through a blend of Supply-Side and Demand-Side energy management measures," and they've placed a hiring ad that reads "Energy client is looking for experienced Plant Managers for multiple power plants located in Wisconsin."
The real issue isn't whether Koch Industries gets the deal to operate Wisconsin's power plants. Somebody will -- and the assets built by Wisconsin taxpayers (including the public employees now under assault) will undoubtedly be given to the private sector at very favorable rates. It will be one more step in the Great American Giveaway -- the seizure of public resources by the private sector.
The Great American Giveaway
One of the Lootocracy's objectives is to confiscate all the assets that the middle class has built with its tax dollars. For decades the "privatization" movement has been a front for this plunder of the public's resources, allowing private corporations to enrich themselves by providing services that were once provided at lower cost by the government itself.
How did that work out? Xe, the Company Formerly Known as Blackwater, provides mercenaries for our Middle Eastern wars -- at great public expense, and sometimes acting outside the law in ways that harm our national security. The privatization of prisons and reform schools gave us the case of the monstrous judges who railroaded innocent kids into incarceration in return for bribes from a private youth detention facility contractor.
On a national scale, money intended for worthy college students got diverted into private jets and fat salaries after the privatization of the student loan enterprise Sallie Mae, and the privatization of mortgage backers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac led to a series of scandals, multimillion dollar payouts for incompetent executives, and a worsening of our financial crisis.
With a record like that, you'd think the privatization movement would be dead. And you'd be right -- if it weren't for the billions being provided to it by the Koch Brothers and other private financiers. They're major backers of "ALEC" -- the "American Legislative Exchange Council" -- an organization that proves how smart and determined the armies of the Lootocrats really are. There are two very smart strategies behind ALEC:
1) While everybody's focused on what goes on in Washington, ALEC is able to plunder the massive resources of state and local government.
2) State legislatures are the "farm league" for tomorrow's governors, Senators, and Presidents. ALEC isn't just buying state government. It's buying tomorrow's national leaders too.
This secret army has a clear agenda: Attain power, give away the "store" once in office, and decimate programs that help the middle class and lower income people. Scott Walker's actions fit the playbook perfectly. In fact, his bill was reportedly drafted by ALEC, whose primary objectives include the drafting of "model legislation."
Two enterprising representatives from People for the American Way were able to get into an ALEC meeting in 2005 and, as Joshua Holland reported, they cast a light on ALEC's role as " the connective tissue that links state legislators with right-wing think tanks, leading anti-tax activists and corporate money." They were also able to collect information on the breadth and audacious scope of the ALEC agenda, which is mirrored by other groups offering support for Walker's efforts -- groups such as "Americans For Prosperity," another Koch-funded front group.
The war on unions is an essential part of the ALEC Assault. Unions are a double threat: First, they interfere with the Lootocracy's ability to treat its private-sector employees as badly as the law will allow. And government employees are fighting for pay and benefits that interfere with the broader agenda of strangling all forms of government spending so that taxes can be kept low for the Lootocrats. That's why, as Harold Meyerson points out, unions are under attack in a number of GOP-led states, and by Republican members of Congress who are trying to strip funding from the National Labor Relations Board.
All across the nation Republican governors are using the same playbook: Cry "poor" while giving tax cuts to the rich, then use the resulting crises to bust unions and gut services for the poor and middle class. They're all reading from the same script, and if their line readings aren't convincing it doesn't really matter. Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger have already taught us that Republicans don't need to be good actors to succeed.
As Wisconsin Goes
Gov. Walker insists that the state's pension plan is a key driver of the state's fiscal problems. But the state is actually projected to have a small surplus next year, depending on how it handles its debt to Minnesota and a couple of other key issues. In any case, the state's pension plan is extremely well-funded, with 99.67% already in its accounts.
What happened in Wisconsin? The Governor cut taxes for the wealthy, then declared a budget emergency. In classic "Shock Doctrine" fashion, he used that emergency to slash a retirement plan that's highly stable financially, along with medical services for middle-class and lower-income people.
What's happening in Washington? In the name of "austerity economics" and deficit-cutting, a deal was cut that extends tax cuts for the wealthy. Now the conventional wisdom is that we must cut Social Security, a benefit program that's much more solvent than most government programs, and then gut medical assistance programs like Medicare and Medicaid.
Let's see: A tax cut for the wealthy, followed by the declaration of a budget emergency and the gutting of retirement and medical programs. And along the way, a giveaway of public resources to private corporations. That's not coincidence: It's the plan.
The Home Front
So, cui bono? The richest 1% of Americans, along with the corporations -- and politicians -- they own. We know who the warriors are, we know their strategy. We know they're winning, too. Can the tide be turned? Not if the people opposed to this Lootocracy refuse to acknowledge what's happening. Republicans are gutting the republic and not enough Democrats will fight for democracy.
"Don't let money rule you," said the O'Jays. And Cicero, who knew a thing or two about military and economic warfare, said "Nothing is so strongly fortified that it cannot be taken by money."
Cicero and the O'Jays ... have they ever been to Madison?