Wisconsin: Spinning Out of Control?

Well, I learned over the weekend that they don’t serve Jameson during happy hour at Akron General Medical Center. In fact, they don’t serve much beyond a saline drip. Go figure.

The short story: For reasons that nobody — including me and the docs — can explain, I’ve had three episodes in the past two weeks of what appears to be vertigo. One minute I’m fine. The next the room is spinning and I’m experiencing all the side effects of someone who has just endured — barely — a week-long fraternity kegger.

So for the first time in more than 40 years, I ended up checking into a hospital Friday, where the docs probed and poked and concluded I was OK. And what got me there was not so much the vertigo, but the fact that I have what has been described as a “runner’s heart” — an abnormally low heart beat under regular conditions due to running and exercise, but really, really low on Friday.

Anyway, the cardiologist after suggesting I was an asshat for running more than a 1,000 miles a year nearly every year for the past 35 opined that as far as my heart was concerned I’d live forever. Or until the Cleveland Browns win the Super Bowl — which I take to be the same thing.

So, I’m back. And I ran seven miles yesterday morning just to prove to myself and others that I wasn’t going to die,  and I’m going to chase the treadmill belt this morning while watching Fox News to catch up on what’s going on in the world these days. Note to self: Don’t go to the emergency room again without taking your BlackBerry.

And I’m interested in what’s happening in Wisconsin where the state government is apparently all but shut down while protesters take to the streets to debate the merits — or not — of a proposed bill to limit public-sector unions. Fortunately, I didn’t have to go to the hospital in Madison over the weekend, where doctors were found mostly out on the streets handing out bogus medical excuse forms — sick notes — to protesters. I digress.

Here’s from Paul Krugman, opining in the New York Times, “Wisconsin Power Play“:

In any case, however, Mr. Ryan [Rep. Paul Ryan] was more right than he knew. For what’s happening in Wisconsin isn’t about the state budget, despite Mr. Walker’s pretense that he’s just trying to be fiscally responsible. It is, instead, about power. What Mr. Walker and his backers are trying to do is to make Wisconsin — and eventually, America — less of a functioning democracy and more of a third-world-style oligarchy. And that’s why anyone who believes that we need some counterweight to the political power of big money should be on the demonstrators’ side.

Some background: Wisconsin is indeed facing a budget crunch, although its difficulties are less severe than those facing many other states. Revenue has fallen in the face of a weak economy, while stimulus funds, which helped close the gap in 2009 and 2010, have faded away.

In this situation, it makes sense to call for shared sacrifice, including monetary concessions from state workers. And union leaders have signaled that they are, in fact, willing to make such concessions.

But Mr. Walker isn’t interested in making a deal. Partly that’s because he doesn’t want to share the sacrifice: even as he proclaims that Wisconsin faces a terrible fiscal crisis, he has been pushing through tax cuts that make the deficit worse. Mainly, however, he has made it clear that rather than bargaining with workers, he wants to end workers’ ability to bargain.


So it’s not about the budget; it’s about the power.

In principle, every American citizen has an equal say in our political process. In practice, of course, some of us are more equal than others. Billionaires can field armies of lobbyists; they can finance think tanks that put the desired spin on policy issues; they can funnel cash to politicians with sympathetic views (as the Koch brothers did in the case of Mr. Walker). On paper, we’re a one-person-one-vote nation; in reality, we’re more than a bit of an oligarchy, in which a handful of wealthy people dominate.

Given this reality, it’s important to have institutions that can act as counterweights to the power of big money. And unions are among the most important of these institutions.

You don’t have to love unions, you don’t have to believe that their policy positions are always right, to recognize that they’re among the few influential players in our political system representing the interests of middle- and working-class Americans, as opposed to the wealthy. Indeed, if America has become more oligarchic and less democratic over the last 30 years — which it has — that’s to an important extent due to the decline of private-sector unions.

Wow. Dr. K seems a little grumpy this morning. Wonder if his weekend was any better than mine? And if this is an argument about democracy, shouldn’t the Democratic members of the Wisconsin senate who are now on an extended road trip be at home, ah, representing those who elected them? Just askin’.

OK. I believe public, and private for that matter, K-12 school teachers are grossly underpaid. But as a nation we have devalued teaching to the point that nobody really believes that — and if Wisconsin, like most states, is on the road to bankruptcy, then it’s not unreasonable to ask teachers and other public employees to sacrifice along with everyone else.

But this appears to be something more than just belt-tightening. This might well be the start of a huge philosophical and policy shift — played out on the streets in this country by real people and not just by the chattering class on cable TV — about the role and extent of government at all levels — and the role and influence of unions in the public and private sectors.

Anyway, for another perspective read Michelle Malkin.

Or Howard Schweber, Associate Professor of Political Science and Law, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

And ironically, this situation in Wisconsin — and next up: Ohio — continues to spin out of control on Presidents’ Day — a holiday that appears to have no other purpose than to give federal and other government employees the day off and shut everything down.

Go figure.



7 responses to “Wisconsin: Spinning Out of Control?

  1. At the risk of politicizing your post, here’s another partisan view of what’s taking place — this from a cabinet official who served under the president to achieve a balanced the budget — and, I might add — without any union-busting tactics.

    That’s why I’m listening to Robert Reich and not Glenn Beck on this one 🙂 http://bit.ly/gC5c02

    Disclosure: I am a public employee and part of a collective bargaining unit. But when I became a public servant, all my friends asked what was wrong with me, takin’ that big pay cut and all!

    • Bill, thanks for sharing the article. I agree with Robert Reich. And what happens in Wisconsin isn’t going to stay in Wisconsin. Next up — Ohio.

  2. Ya gotta love those cheeseheads — even if they did beat our Steelers!


    How about this? “Back to work by Wednesday or you’re fired!” & “Thursday will be tear-gas and German Shepherd day.”

  4. Hmm. I think the Tea Party has arrived! And judging from the grammar, this one didn’t get to school often!

  5. Pingback: Wisconsin Road Conditions | Daily Nano News

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