#440 – Dick Bernard: "Class War" and "the American Dream"

Sometime in 1987, well into President Ronald Reagan’s second term, I was in San Benito TX visiting my father.
One evening, he and I went out to dinner with his good friends, also retirees in San Benito. It was just a night out. I knew them both from previous visits. He was a retired locksmith, and she a homemaker, both originally from Minnesota.
Sometime during the dinner, the talk turned serious. They were telling Dad and I a tragic story. They had just lost their entire life savings – I remember it as $170,000 – in a bank collapse in their community.
This was a time of de-regulation and they had moved their savings from an insured account into an uninsured account that promised much larger returns. The bankers scheme didn’t turn out and they lost everything except their social security, and whatever small property they owned (a trailer home in San Benito, and who knows what ‘up north’).
I’ve watched assorted schemes and scams as they’ve taken place since then, most all of them involving money and greed as twins.
It was called “trickle down” economics in the Reagan years.
George H.W. Bush got in trouble for referring to it as “voodoo”.
In the late 90s there were feverish and successful attempts to regulate regulations of banking out of existence, to ‘let the free market do its thing and bring riches to us all’.
Then came the folly of big (and foolish) tax cuts and huge un-funded Medicare benefit increases (great politics) twinned with big war in the first decade of the 21st century. Three years ago this month, it almost came completely undone with the bank collapse, and the real estate collapse which remains an unmitigated disaster.
But, oh was it fun while it lasted! That’s how it is, living on the credit card.
And here we are, same story, some of the same actors, but some new ones as well. Same insane message.
The Big Lie of the anti-government Norquist generation of lawmakers, state and federal, will bring disaster, but probably won’t be noticed until disaster actually strikes. That’s the way it seems to work in our casual society, where paying attention to policy, and who makes it, is boring to most who are affected by that same policy.
Big Business is run by Wall Street; Wall Street is run by Quarterly Results (the numbers); Wall Streets business is to make money now, not to build a stable economy long into the future.
I muse often about whether there is ANYBODY in those corporate structures or Wall Street Towers who are really paying attention to the implications of destroying the Middle Class. The Middle Class is, after all, the source of their wealth. Their market for their goods.
The Middle Class can turn this around – we are massive in numbers – but far too many of us are shills for the wealthy who, by and large, have no interest in us except what we can do to destroy ourselves.
I’ll do what I can. Each of us has to do what we can….
At minimum, don’t believe the shills who proclaim that there’s “class war against the rich”.
It’s the other way around.
Just look at the long term results.
(The best succinct graphic I’ve seen about the national debt and how and why it happened can be watched here. It is succinct and powerful.)

#333 – Dick Bernard: Part 3. What Wisconsin Means

For 27 years between 1972 and 2000 my full-time job was to advise and represent public school teachers in matters relating to collective bargaining and grievance processing ending in arbitration. My work was completely in the public sector.
You learn a great deal in 27 years.
For instance, I pay very little attention to how the media or the folks at the microphones or in front of the cameras define the “issues” at Madison, Wisconsin. I know from very long experience that while one or more interpretation might be right; they might as easily be wrong; they might be truthful; they might be intending to mislead. At the micro level there are, in fact, multiple definitions of “issues” particularly in very large conflicts like the one taking place in Wisconsin, with lawmakers in other states waiting in the wings to see what ultimately happens there.
If one can get past their particular bias, and look behind the curtain, there are things which can be very clearly seen.
What Wisconsin means, in my opinion, is very, very simple, and should be very, very troubling to the vast majority of Americans, including those who self-describe themselves as “Tea Party” fanciers.
What Wisconsin is about is the destruction of the Middle Classes ability to represent its own interests, and not only government workers rights. Wisconsin is the ultimate power-play of certain extremely wealthy and powerful business interests to drive the final nail in the coffin of collective bargaining for workers, using the wild horses of supposedly populist rage and resentment (“If I can’t have it, neither can you”; “I hate unions”* (or “government”)….) to provide the negative energy to actually pull off the coup d’etat. The Koch Brothers (big oil) and the United States Chamber of Commerce loom largest among many of these wealthy constituencies out to take control. These ties are very easy to find if one has any interest in looking (these wealthy folks know that most aren’t interested.)
What Wisconsin is not about is recovery from out of control government spending. Government is, in fact, very efficient, even cheap, if looked at over all. At the same time, Government “waste and corruption”, in fact, is very, very good for business. Government money is low-hanging fruit: witness the rampant AMERICAN corruption during the Iraq War (Halliburton, et al); excess or phantom billings for Medicare, etc. Business getting more tax relief as the Wisconsin Governor rammed through for business in his first days in office in 2011, and you have another indirect Government benefit to big business, paid for by unaware taxpayers.
The Middle Class will rue the day if this cabal, and their representative Scott Walker and a temporary majority in the Wisconsin state legislature carry the day.
So will Scott Walker and his backers and financial supporters.
Wisconsin represents the death struggle of the American dream.
How do I define “the Middle Class”?
The Middle Class is the people who, primarily in the last half of the 20th century, worked for a living, bought the new refrigerators, sent kids to college, made the difference in so many ways.
There are endless definitions of “Middle Class”. The Middle Class is huge. Usually the top 2-3% of Americans are considered “wealthy”; with a pretty common floor for “wealthy” being an annual income of $250,000 a year. This leaves 97-98% of Americans as “Poor” and “Middle Class”, and by far the greatest number of these are “Middle Class”.
The average teacher in Wisconsin makes roughly $50,000 a year, with a starting salary of about $25-$30,000. This is the compensation for approximately 180 work days, the typical work year for a public school teacher. Unlike many seasonal occupations, there is no “unemployment insurance” for the summer layoff from teaching. “Summer pay” is simply earnings deferred to summer. I don’t know the specifics about the rest of the average teacher compensation package in Wisconsin – non-teacher contributions to things like health insurance premiums, teacher retirement and the like. A very liberal rule of thumb addition would add perhaps 25% to that $50,000 average, making a truer average a bit over $60,000 a year….
School administrators make a bit more than teachers; other school workers like bus drivers, custodians, secretaries, cooks, aids, etc., make less. The average school employee wage is considerably less than the average teacher salary.
I don’t know about you, but I worked hard for a living over a long career and I never got close to a six figure income ($100,000), much less $250,000 a year. I had a lot of college education, and I think I was respected in my trade.
I’m retired now, with a private pension, social security and not as much savings as I think I need. Ditto for my wife.
Personally, I’ll do whatever I can to prevent Wisconsin from becoming what I truly believe represents the coming American tragedy: the destruction of the Middle Class for the craven ambitions of the super-wealthy in this society.

Related posts: here and here.
* UPDATE: Friend Jeff, an international businessman and son of a small town bakery owner, provided an interesting discussion of the word “union”:
From the American Heritage dictionary:
1. The act of uniting or the state of being united.
2. A combination so formed, especially an alliance or confederation of people, parties, or political entities for mutual interest or benefit.
# Agreement or harmony resulting from the uniting of individuals; concord.
“labor union” is the 6th definition given.
The Republican party: a union
The Tea Party: a union
The Burnsville Soccer Club: a union
A neighborhood association: a union
Why is it that in Egypt and parts of the middle east people are demonstrating and in some cases losing their lives , for certain rights which includes the right to form “unions”
But in the USA some political interests are interested in destroying the right of people to form unions?