Friday, February 25, 2011

Class warfare from 6,000 feet

Here in the Sun Valley area, the snows of February muffle the sounds of the pitched battle between the governor of Wisconsin and public employees.

The noise from Boise, where the superintendent of public instruction seems hell-bent on taking apart schools one teacher at a time, is louder.

From the valley's 6,000-foot perch, bigger themes and contradictions are evident.

The economic crash of 2008, once blamed on government regulators who let Wall Street sell snake oil as an essential nutrient to unwitting consumers, has today become the fault of public employees—teachers, police, firefighters and the people who keep state offices running.

It's a trick a master magician would envy. The guilty are now innocent and the innocent are now guilty.

Even before the crash, the nation's most famous investor, Warren Buffet, said, "There's class warfare, all right, but it's my class, the rich class, that's making war, and we're winning."

Buffet was right then, and now.

Congress has refused to end tax cuts for rich individuals with incomes of more than $250,000. It also hasn't reimposed effective long-term regulation on Wall Street, which last year paid $20.8 billion in bonuses, $128,530 per person on average, with overall compensation up 6 percent.

Wisconsin enacted $140 million in corporate tax cuts, then turned on "greedy" public employees who acceded to wage and benefit cuts—but who refused to give up the right to bargain collectively.

Not to be left out, Idaho, which already constrains unions, passed two more union-busting laws this week. And, even with a $92 million budget hole, the Legislature has refused to enact any new taxes or fees.

Do states need to balance their budgets? Yes. Should public employees face the same economic pain sustained by employees in the private sector? No question, especially since public-sector salaries and benefits through the boom years were based in large part on comparable jobs in the private sector.

Does that mean unions should be outlawed or so eviscerated as to be totally ineffective? No.

Though unions can be stubborn, intractable foes of employers, both public and private, they may be the only hope of survival the middle class has left if it is to stave off annihilation.

With state elected officials hog-tied by business groups like the one that paid for this week's electronic town hall meeting with Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, there's nothing left but shrinking unions to stand up to corporations that apparently would like nothing better than to pay no taxes, supply no benefits, suffer no regulation and employ a helpless labor force.

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