Sunday, March 6, 2011

The man behind the curtain

When we were kids, the “Wizard of Oz” taught us that people aren’t always who they pretend to be:

who are those guys?

The most recent example of that ancient wisdom is Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin. On the surface, he is rightfully concerned about Wisconsin’s operating budget. Like many states, Wisconsin has more going out then coming in, so measures need to be taken to bring the budget in balance. According to pension expert Joshua Rauh of Northwestern University, Wisconsin currently has more than $45 billion in unfunded obligations. Sadly, Wisconsin really isn’t much worse than most other states. Taken as a total, state and local governments across America have unfunded obligations totaling $3 trillion!

With a strong dose of courage on the part of elected officials, the financial conditions of the states could be improved dramatically if all 50 states legalized the possession of minor amounts of marijuana and eliminated the death penalty.

In 2008, America had 2.4 million people behind bars. 1,000,000 of those people were locked up for non violent crimes, like marijuana possession. Individual states spend between $18,000 and $31,000 a year per prisoner. If you do the math, that’s $18 to $31 BILLION a year that's literally "going up in smoke".

It is estimated California could save $200,000,000 a year by
replacing the death penalty
with permanent imprisonment, and similar savings could be achieved in other states that still have the death penalty.

For now, neither of these entirely logical solutions are likely, so we're going to be doomed to "politics as usual" for a while yet.

What’s not widely known is that the Political Action Committee of Koch Industries contributed $43,000 to Walker’s gubernatorial campaign, and an estimated $320,000 came from a related group called Americans for Prosperity (which has an annual budget of $40,000,000). Since you never want to “bite the hand that feeds you”, Governor Walker recently spent 20 minutes on the phone with a man who he thought was his benefactor, David Koch, and he discussed pending layoffs and plans to publish lawmakers who had fled the state to Illinois.

Unfortunately, his opposition to high speed rail service resulted in the Obama administration taking back more $800 million that had been awarded to the state. To quote an old phrase, he is being “penny wise and pound foolish”.

Three days after the prank call to Governor Walker, the
Wisconsin legislature passed legislation designed to curb public sector union power.

Other states have been paying attention to the news in Wisconsin. A day or so before the Wisconsin legislature proposed their recent plan to curb union power,the school board of Providence, Rhode Island FIRED all 1926 teachers that worked in the city. Although the newly-elected mayor, Angel Taveras, tried to calm the uproar by publicly stating that “the overwhelming majority” would not actually lose their jobs, very few teachers felt comfortable about his statement. To curb its $40,000,000 operating deficit, the school board will need to close 40 of its schools by September.

The school situation is even more dire in Detroit, which will need to close 50% of its 140 schools by September. The schools that remain open will have as many as 60 students in each room.

I spent 7 years of my life as a teacher (either full time or part time) and 4 years of my life as a financial advisor, so the
punishment being aimed at teachers across the country leaves me a little conflicted.

If you’ve ever read “The Jungle”, by Sinclair Lewis, you’ll understand that unbridled capitalism can be a very dangerous thing. His book was instrumental in the passage of the Food and Drug Act in 1906, but working conditions in the factories of America didn’t start to improve until the 1930’s. OSHA didn’t get passed until 1970.

When I was growing up, a lot of the dads in the neighborhood (including my own) had union jobs. The peak year for unions was 1954, when 36% of the work force was union. Today, less than 7% of the workers in the private sector are union workers, but 32% of the public employees carry union cards.

Democracy needs a system of checks and balances to operate successfully.

By the late 1970’s , the contract terms imposed by the UAW made the Big 3 automakers less competitive than the guys from overseas. Although the vast majority of the foreign auto manufacturers now have plants in this country, most of them are non-union plants in the south.

The financial mess at the state level exists at the federal level, which is the root cause of the success of the infamous Tea Party in the 2010 election year.

When George W. Bush was in office, he first used the term
“compassionate conservative”
to describe the Republican Party.Let’s listen for a few minutes to a compassionate conservative discussing health care reform with a caller on a talk radio show program:

Glenn Beck made $32 million last year Although “only” $2,000,000 came from Fox News (which is owned by Rupert Murdoch) , it provided the platform that allowed him to promote the rest of his broadcasting empire.

Another conservative broadcaster, Rush Limbaugh, made $28,000,000 last year. Due to the number of years he has been in the broadcasting industry, it is estimate that his net worthis close to $1 billion.

To quote the late Illinois senator, Everett Dirksen, “a billion here and a billion there, pretty soon you’re talking real money”.

Both Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh have been featured speakers at the annual conferences sponsored by Americans for Prosperity (see above). The annual meetings have occasionally attracted unwanted attention from opposition groups. In January of this year, 25 people were arrested outside the conference center in a resort area near Palm Springs, California.

According to the Republican Party website, the list of the potential 2012 Republican presidential candidates is listed below:

The Grand Old Party

At the moment, former Governor Mike Huckabee is considered to be the leading candidate, but he is closely followed by Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin. Like Sarah Palin,John Bolton,and Newt Gingrich, Mr. Huckabee is currently an employee of Fox News, a division of News Corporation, which is owned by Australian-American media magnate Rupert Murdoch.

When Saddam Hussein was in power, he TOLD people how to vote.
It was either vote for Hussein - or else! Since I’m not a believer in telling people how to vote (or think) I won’t. However, I’m a lot more comfortable having an eloquent retired law professor running the country than a politician who has received donations from either the Koch brothers or Rupert Murdoch, who are the modern day “men behind the curtain”.

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