Wisconsin, Libya and Going Fishin’

Well, as a pajama-clad citizen journalist can I ever really justify taking a vacation? Well, of course. Why not? I mean we still have to rely to some extent on the lamestream media — NYT, WaPo, USA Today and so on — to keep a watchful eye on events foreign and domestic.

And what a difference a week makes.

This time last Saturday morning I was enjoying brunch by way of a saline drip at Akron General Medical Center. This week, I’m opining from Dataw Island in South Carolina where the breeze is gentle, the living is easy and the Internet access is about what it was like in Egypt during the waning days of Mubarak’s tenure.

And I managed to make it out of Ohio just ahead of another major snowstorm. What’s up with that damn groundhog anyway? I digress.

Anyway, I’m a news junkie. So I’ll try my best to keep up with events in Wisconsin, Ohio, Libya and elsewhere during my brief stay here — even if it means clutching my BlackBerry and taking to the roof in search of a strong digital signal.

And since I am relying on other media outlets to do some heavy lifting during my brief absence, here’s two articles that I mulled over yesterday as providing some perspective on the situation in Wisconsin and Ohio involving public employees, unions, collective bargaining, jobs and the economy.

The first is from the NYT, “In Columbus, Conflicted Emotions on Unions“:

When protesters descended this week to oppose a bill that would weaken collective bargaining for public workers, Elaine, a cashier at a Dollar Store in a crazy quilt of strip malls in southern Columbus, had little sympathy.

“Adults acting like children down at the Statehouse,” she said, ringing up a customer’s paper plates. “The unions are getting a little bit out of control.”

For a city so important in the formation of the modern American labor movement, Columbus, Ohio’s capital, seems remarkably free of affection for unions.

In interviews on Wednesday, some people, like Elaine, a woman in her 50s who did not give her last name because it was against her store’s policy to speak to reporters, were openly against them. But most people had mixed views, expressing sympathy for the deteriorating condition of the middle class, but also frustration that a union member could get a better deal.

So it goes in America’s often conflicted relationship with its working class, a tangled history whose next chapter is unfolding, among other places, here in Columbus, where the forerunner to the modern labor movement, the American Federation of Labor, began in 1886 and the United Mine Workers four years later.

And the second is from Charles Krauthammer in WaPo “Rubicon: A River in Wisconsin“:

The magnificent turmoil now gripping statehouses in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and soon others marks an epic political moment. The nation faces a fiscal crisis of historic proportions and, remarkably, our muddled, gridlocked, allegedly broken politics have yielded singular clarity.

At the federal level, President Obama’s budget makes clear that Democrats are determined to do nothing about the debt crisis, while House Republicans have announced that beyond their proposed cuts in discretionary spending, their April budget will actually propose real entitlement reform. Simultaneously, in Wisconsin and other states, Republican governors are taking on unsustainable, fiscally ruinous pension and health-care obligations, while Democrats are full-throated in support of the public-employee unions crying, “Hell, no.”

A choice, not an echo: Democrats desperately defending the status quo; Republicans charging the barricades.

Wisconsin is the epicenter. It began with economic issues. When Gov. Scott Walker proposed that state workers contribute more to their pension and health-care benefits, he started a revolution. Teachers called in sick. Schools closed. Demonstrators massed at the capitol. Democratic senators fled the state to paralyze the Legislature.

Unfortunately for them, that telegenic faux-Cairo scene drew national attention to the dispute – and to the sweetheart deals the public-sector unions had negotiated for themselves for years. They were contributing a fifth of a penny on a dollar of wages to their pensions and one-fourth what private-sector workers pay for health insurance.

The unions quickly understood that the more than 85 percent of Wisconsin not part of this privileged special-interest group would not take kindly to “public servants” resisting adjustments that still leave them paying less for benefits than private-sector workers. They immediately capitulated and claimed they were only protesting the other part of the bill, the part about collective-bargaining rights.

Indeed. Walker understands that a one-time giveback means little. The state’s financial straits – a $3.6 billion budget shortfall over the next two years – did not come out of nowhere. They came largely from a half-century-long power imbalance between the unions and the politicians with whom they collectively bargain.

In the private sector, the capitalist knows that when he negotiates with the union, if he gives away the store, he loses his shirt. In the public sector, the politicians who approve any deal have none of their own money at stake. On the contrary, the more favorably they dispose of union demands, the more likely they are to be the beneficiary of union largess in the next election. It’s the perfect cozy setup.

OK. Let the games continue in Wisconsin, Ohio and Inside the Beltway. And while we’re waiting for the final score in these high-stakes legislative showdowns, d


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