Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Friday, February 18, 2011
What's Happening in Wisconsin: Explained
— By Andy Kroll| Fri Feb. 18, 2011 3:30 PM PSTFlickr/Peter Gorman.
If you need to know the basics of what's going on in Wisconsin, read on. If you're already up to speed, you can follow the action on Twitter or jump straight to today's updates from our reporter on the ground in Madison.
For days, demonstrators have been pouring into the streets of Madison, Wisconsin—and the halls of the state's Capitol building—to protest rookie Republican Governor Scott Walker's anti-union proposals. Big national unions, both major political parties, the Tea Party, and Andrew Breitbart are already involved. Democratic state senators have fled the state to prevent the legislature from voting on Walker's proposals. And the protests could soon spread to other states, including Ohio [....]
What's actually being proposed?
Walker says his legislation, which would strip most state employees of any meaningful collective bargaining rights, is necessary to close the state's $137 million budget gap. There are a number of problems with that argument, though. The unions are not to blame for the deficit, and stripping unionized workers of their collective bargaining rights won't in and of itself save any money. Walker says he needs to strip the unions of their rights to close the gap. But public safety officers' unions, which have members who are more likely to support Republicans and who also tend to have the highest salaries and benefits, are exempted from the new rules. Meanwhile, a series of tax breaks and other goodies that Walker and the Republican legislature passed just after his inauguration dramatically increased the deficit that Walker now says he's trying to close. And Wisconsin has closed a much larger budget gap in the past without scrapping worker organizing rights.
What's really going on, as Kevin Drum has explained, is pure partisan warfare: Walker is trying to de-fund the unions that form the backbone of the Democratic party. The unions and the Democrats are, of course, fighting back. The Washington Post's Ezra Klein drops some knowledge [emphasis added]:
The best way to understand Walker's proposal is as a multi-part attack on the state's labor unions. In part one, their ability to bargain benefits for their members is reduced. In part two, their ability to collect dues, and thus spend money organizing members or lobbying the legislature, is undercut. And in part three, workers have to vote the union back into existence every single year. Put it all together and it looks like this: Wisconsin's unions can't deliver value to their members, they're deprived of the resources to change the rules so they can start delivering value to their members again, and because of that, their members eventually give in to employer pressure and shut the union down in one of the annual certification elections.
You may think Walker's proposal is a good idea or a bad idea. But that's what it does. And it's telling that he's exempting the unions that supported him and is trying to obscure his plan's specifics behind misleading language about what unions can still bargain for and misleading rhetoric about the state's budget.
Walker's proposals do have important fiscal elements: they roughly double health care premiums for many state employees. But the heart of the proposals, and the controversy, are the provisions that will effectively destroy public-sector unions in the Badger State. As Matt Yglesias notes, this won't destroy the Democratic party. But it will force the party to seek funding from sources other than unions, and that usually means the same rich businessmen who are the main financial backers for the Republican party. Speaking of which....
Monday, February 14, 2011
Obviously there is truth in this view of the holiday. Mass produced and overly sentimental "love" is largely what Valentine's day is in our commercialized culture. But - and I freely concede that being happily married to a wonderful woman has affected me here - I've come to see meaning and purpose in this holiday.
If we step back and think of this day as a day to set aside for the celebration of love, we shall see that it is well worth the observing. And I mean ALL LOVE. We love our family and friends, our lovers, and to some degree - when we are at our best - all of our fellow human beings. Having a day to recognize this love is important. Of course, the day loses meaning if we don't love the whole year around, but holidays serve as symbolic reminders that bring such truths to our consciousness.
Love is what is best about human beings. Yes, I know that we are also full of hypocrisy, hate, greed, and foolishness. And for this very reason it is all the more important that love be remembered, that love have the final say in our lives.
There are various legends and tales about a supposed St. Valentine. These tales come out of the later middle ages and the 19th century, and have nothing to do with any possible "Historical Valentine." Common to all the tales is the idea that either Valentine himself, or young people whom he as a priest married, were forbidden to love and wed by the forces of tyranny, oppression and empire. Valentine defies these powers and their laws, celebrating and sanctifying love. For his courage, Valentine is martyred.
The message in the tales of St. Valentine is that love liberates us. By loving each other we discover ourselves, and only then. This, in the legends of Valentine is why love is forbidden and why Valentine is proclaimed a hero for championing love against the power of empire.
Romantic love in particular is celebrated on this day. I used to hold that this was nothing more than a bias on our part. Privileging one kind of love over the others. Well, we do in fact misconceive and over sentimentalize romantic love (just as we do childhood). Nevertheless, romantic love unites two people like nothing else can.
Romantic love burns down the walls that separate us and compels us to grow, mature, and change in ways we never thought possible and never knew we could. I have come to see, however, that we cannot celebrate Romantic love, or even all love alone, we must also remember to celebrate justice.
Think, then, of justice as the body of love and love as the soul of justice [....] Combined you have both; seperated you have neither. Justice without love or love without justice is a moral corpse. This is why justice without love becomes brutal and love without justice becomes banal.
The biblical tradition insists that God is a God of "justice and righteousness," that is, of distributive justice and restorative righteousness. Think, for example, of this divine claim:
"I am the Lord; I act with steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight, says the Lord" (Jeremiah 9:24). Furthermore, rulers are expected to participate in that same divine character. "Thus says then Lord: act with justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place" (Jeremiah 22:3). The most serious and far-reaching misunderstanding of that biblical tradition is to interpret divine justice as retributive rather than distributive, as if it meant a proper punishment for some rather than a fair share for all [....]