Thursday, February 24, 2011

Blow-up deficit prediction, and Dr. Walker's snake oil will kill every Republican ailment

It seems that the state that was the birthplace of the Progressive Movement has produced something akin to the “It’s Alive” creature in Republican Gov. Scott Walker. There is an audio about the web that has recorded for posterity Walker unabashedly informing a prankster—who identified himself as billionaire Koch brother David—of his plans to destroy the public employees union just as the Ronald Reagan destroyed the air traffic controllers union. He also urged “David” to supply more money for the campaigns for Republicans who might get into trouble for supporting anti-union causes. And not just in Wisconsin: Ohio, Michigan and Florida Republicans needed help. “This is something big.” They need to get the message out “over and over again,” and that with means billionaire, “Citizens United” dollars. Walker is heard discussing the possibility of felony charges against the recalcitrant Democrats, and the faux-Koch brother tells Walker "Once you crush these bastards, I'll fly you out to Cali and really show you a good time." Walker, like Sarah Palin, was apparently never aware he was being punked. It just shows you the conceits and egotism of these people.

But knowing that Walker is a fanatic is one thing, getting beyond the Fox News types calling protestors in Madison “communists,” the Wisconsin progressive laws a throwback of the “old Soviet Union,” and the Comedy Channel’s Jon Stewart making an incoherent fool of himself again, what is actually going on there? Yes, we know now it is very definitely a naked power play by Republicans to eliminate public employee unions as a potential obstacle to their totalitarian ambitions—or rather, those who they are fronting for (and this isn’t the only thing they are doing to accomplish this: they are trying to suppress voting by proposing a voter photo ID law that disallows student IDs, tribal IDs and passports as acceptable). But is Walker’s claim that balancing the state budget requires the removal of public employee collective bargaining rights actually necessary? Walker and the media has told us that the state budget is facing an expected $3.6 billion deficit in fiscal years 2012/13; true—or just a Republican scare tactic to take a chainsaw to everything they don’t like?

The state does have a problem in that it has a large amount unpaid, but as yet undue, debt to pay off. However, the budget “crisis” is still a matter of opinion, and even now not sufficient to require a “budget repair” which would allow Walker and his cronies to do whatever they wish. I read a fairly detailed article composed by a conservative organization called the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute. Most of the current estimates of the Wisconsin 2012/13 budget deficit of between $3.1 billion and $3.6 billion assume that there will be no increase in revenues, and education, health care, government employee costs and criminal justice system costs will rise at usual rates. The revenue projections made by the Global Insight’s estimate of future economic recovery, in which the state Fiscal Bureau based some of its recent provocative suggestions that state may actually see a budget surplus, assumes a 3.2 percent increase in economic activity in the state. The WPRI finds that even if true over fiscal years 2012/13, that would still leave a deficit of $2.2 billion, but still rather less than the current estimates. The institute then suggests that if spending on the “Big Four” was frozen along with other programs, the deficit would be reduced to $778 million. A five percent across-the-board cut in state bureaucracy would save another $375 million (close to the $330 million Walker claims he intends to save just targeting benefits). If the economy rose at a more robust rate (say in the 5 percent range) and spending growth was slowed to a minimum, then there would be a tiny budget surplus. Additional taxes on those making $1 million or more was mentioned, although just a token amount; the fact is that the alleged tax increased passed in 2009 and supposedly meant to be used for retraining for the unemployed was barely a drop in the bucket, although that hasn’t prevented Walker from making the typical unproven Republican claim that rolling back those tax cuts will produce jobs and not just more money in the pockets of the rich.

Another fact, not mentioned in the WPRI report (or by Walker, for that matter), is that tax liabilities for businesses in Wisconsin are half of what they were in 1981, and that according to the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, 2/3rds of corporations in the state pay no taxes at all; of course, in the state of Washington, we also hear corporations crying poverty with high frequency. To make things sound as bad as they possibly can be is the typical Republican ploy to destroy people-centered institutions; is it not odd how Republicans run government like a business, and act like typical businessmen and women? Like their private world counterparts, they are out to bust unions so they can do as they please, lay-off people as many people they please, cut as many programs as they don’t like, avoid as many taxes as they can, just to make a “profit?” If Republicans were really interested in finding ways to hold down costs, they would attack health care costs which rise at least ten times the annual rate of inflation for no apparent reason; but they are not interest in reigning in the thieves whose deep pockets they depend upon to finance their drive for total annihilation of some of the founding principles of this country—like life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? This country is not a democracy anymore; if it is a “republic,” than what we have is what Daniel Ben-Ami called it in the Economist:

“Although democracy does exist in a formal sense in many Western nations, it is far from genuine government by the people. Nowadays voters live in a world of diminished expectations in which elections provide little real choice. The days when political parties represented competing visions of society has, at least for the time being, disappeared. Elections have become technocratic affairs where the electorate, for those who choose to vote at all, have to select candidates on the basis of non-political criteria. These can include efficient management, likeable candidates and objectionable opponents. In effect voters have become disenfranchised from making real choices.”

If Republicans and the Tea Party Movement actually believe in government run by corporations, then they must also have similarly unfortunate ideas about overseeing an economy. In an economic crisis of the kind we have faced, the most intelligent plan is to raise government spending to employ enough people who become consumers who spend enough to create sufficient market demand to spur private sector growth. The public sector can draw-down once the private has made sufficient progress to act on its own. This is how this country has tackled economic crisis for 80 years. Why the Obama administration didn’t make this more clear to public is just another mystery. The U.S. in fact now sees still slow but greater growth than Germany and especially Britain, both countries which have tried severe austerity programs, and both failing miserably to convince businesses to do their part by increasing activity. Now, Republicans and their Tea Party allies want to repeat the mistakes of other countries for insensible partisan reasons; the reality is that the U.S. is still far from “insolvent” and its credit reserves still more than sufficient to pull the country out of its current bind with additional stimulus, since business still prefers to lag; however, the corporate elite, which bankrolled the Tea Party, has its own agenda, and far they mean to play their hand before “the people” become wise to them remains to be seen. For now, it is clear that it is the corporate and business community is calling the shots. Corporations control the media, they control when and if new hiring takes place, they decide who receives the “benefits.” The Republican governor of Ohio as much as admitted this when he implied that unless there were deep cuts in the public employment sector, there wouldn’t be enough money to give businesses all the additional tax breaks they were demanding.

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