Sunday, February 20, 2011

What's The Point Of Power? ...

Wisconsin, of course.

All eyes are on Wisconsin.

And I'm sitting here thinking about power.

And I'm wondering: What's its point?

Governor Walker wants to bust up the unions. Yes, that's what he wants to do. This isn't about a state budget crisis. All that talk is a smokescreen. If this were about finances, he'd sit down with the unions who have said they're willing to make concessions. But no. Walker only wants his way. It's been reported that before he was governor, he said that he'd decertify the unions. It's also been reported that he didn't know that a governor didn't have the power to do that. But the intent was there. This Washington Post account details Walker's long-held anti-union stance.

Why decertify unions? Why take away the rights of workers to organize? Well, individual workers have very little power. But workers organized together have the strength of numbers. Individually, very little power. Collectively, some measure of power.

Why do they need power? To stand up to the entities that exist to serve their own best interests. Which is to say: money.

It's always about money.

Money is power.

Hence why the story in Wisconsin took such an interesting turn when it was learned that the billionaire Koch brothers were Walker's second-largest campaign contributors. The Koch brothers hate unions. So, the Koch brothers bankroll a guy into office, the guy in office is then expected to do the Koch brothers' bidding.

Quid pro quo, eh?

It's Citizens United in action. Corporations now have the ability to effectively buy elections. And the elected, who will now be bought and paid for, don't even have to disclose their benefactors. Though based on the way they vote, we'll probably be able to guess.

All of this is about the pursuit of power, right? Whoever has the most money can influence elections to elect the people who will do the bidding of those who put them in office, to pass legislation that benefits their interests, so that they, in turn, can make even more money, and with that money grab hold of even more power, and on up the spiral they go.

But what's the point?

No, really, I'm asking: What's the point?

If you want to earn a lot of money in order to effect positive change in the world, right on, mister. Let me shake your hand.

It's not as though I think Bill Gates set out expressly to become a multi-billionaire, but now that he is, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is doing incredible things around the globe to help humanity on many levels.

Why? I expect the simple answer is something like: "Because it's the right thing to do."

I mean, how many billions can you stash away in investments or wherever billions are stashed? (I have no idea. I'm sure it's an issue I'll never face.)

How many homes can you buy, how many jets, how many sports franchises, how many diamonds, how many cars, how many whatevers? At some point, some people seem to think, "Well, I can't possibly ever spend all this money. I don't want to buy another company. I don't want a bigger empire. OK, let's give a lot of it away."

Mark Zuckerberg recently made a pledge to give away a lot of his wealth. Some rich people seemed rather pissed off by that.

But back to my question about power: What's the point?

So you have a lot of money and you have a lot of power. And? Like I said, if you're using it to benefit mankind, that's awesome.

But if you're hoarding it, if your sole pursuit is simply to expand your wealth in order to expand your power to expand your wealth to expand your power?

You do know that you're going to die someday, right? Just like everybody else?

So you're going to pass it on to your heirs?

OK. What are they going to do with it? Live a life of luxury, make more money to get more power to make more money to get more power? OK. And then they're going to die someday, too.

So what's the point? What's the point of the Koch brothers and their fiendish pursuit of power? And yes, I mean fiendish. They've effectively brainwashed an entire segment of the population. Members of the Tea Party might like to tell themselves that they're a grassroots movement and they may have started out that way, but folks, they're puppets now. They were bussed in to Madison yesterday to protest the protesters. The "grassroots" Tea Party, so opposed to government intrusion, was in Madison yesterday siding with the government.

I'm not saying there should be no distribution of wealth. Everything shouldn't be exactly equal. But how is it OK for the wealth to be so hyperconcentrated at the top while so many at the bottom literally suffer? At what point doesn't a conscience kick in to say, "Wait a minute. I have ten billion dollars. And you're going to die because you can't afford your medication?"

My brain can't fathom how anyone can find that acceptable.

My feeling about money has always been this: I want enough money so that I don't have to worry about money.

If I ever come into a great amount of money, I'm very sure that I'll give a lot of it away. Because what's the point in keeping it? How much does any one person need?

For my birthdays, I've started asking people to contribute to the Greater Chicago Food Depository in lieu of buying gifts. Because while it's very nice of my friends to want to buy me presents, I have far more than I need and I'd much rather know a family is going to be able to eat for a week instead.

And maybe some people can't understand why I would do that just as I can't understand why they wouldn't.

But at the end of the day, why are we here if not to leave the world a little better than we found it?


Blogger Ryan said...

I completely agree with you on this issue. Thanks for a most excellent piece!

12:33 PM  
Blogger Tom Erdman said...

Hi Beth,

I think you and I agree and maybe disagree a little bit here.

I agree that Walker's motives are to bust the union. He was very clear on that when he ran for office. And, I actually believe collective bargaining is an effective process when used properly. To be able to speak to one entity to come up with your cost structure can be a good thing.

Here's where we part company. This debate has been made about class warfare. But, the warfare may be the opposite of what you think. The wage earners being affected by this bill are earning higher incomes than the median families in Wisconsin, who are paying their wages, with little worry of being layed off or fired.

The perception in Wisconsin is that the "working people", the blue collar, earning-by-the-hour, people are supporting those who work partial years for full years salaries, take early retirement, get medical care regular people can't get, and get a pension that they don't pay for.

This isn't a top down argument, but a bottom up argument by those who don't have. They perceive a very entitled class being invited to a party they can't attend.

I'm not going to argue the merits of that perception, but that is the driving force behind all of this. Walker has the support of the underclass.

Most of the wealthy people I know would prefer Walker negotiate. His support is from the bottom income earners, not the high earners.

People who have lost their jobs, or have been downsized, or right sized, or whatever the jargon is are taking the Howard Beale approach of saying "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore."

10:01 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

You know what's wrong with this information age? Too much information.

I've seen Right-wingers bellowing about how the people in these unions earn so much more money than their non-union counterparts, and then I've seen pieces like this:,-Ohio-public-employees-are-not-overpaid

I certainly value your input, given that you live in the state at the epicenter of all of this.

But beyond collective bargaining or whether the Koch brothers want to be able to buy up utilities on the cheap, I question with grave concern the intent to strip a group of its power and voice.

This country is no longer one vote per person. The corporations wield an immense amount of power and get more every day.

10:19 PM  
Blogger Tom Erdman said...

I don't disagree with you on the collective bargaining issue. I think I've made that clear. And, I don't believe teachers are overpaid.

The Koch brothers are non-story up here.

There seems to be a national story and a local one at the same time. The local one is about the budget and taxes. The national story is about power.

From a historical perspective, this is an interesting thing to watch, sort of like watching cats and dogs getting ready to fight together against other cats and dogs.

The Republicans have effectively hijacked the traditional base of the Democratic Party, the low wage earners, while the Democrats have seized the high wage earners.

I've never seen a dynamic like this before.

I think the root of all of this is that the Democrats overplayed their hand when they controlled both houses in Wisconsin, along with the Governor's Mansion. And the Republicans, with long memories and short tempers are looking at getting even, now that they are in control.

What used to be a state with a reputation of being very clean has turned into a sewer of contempt. It stinks just a little to watch this.

11:22 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

Well expressed. And so unfortunate, that it's going on, there and everywhere else.

We truly are all in this together. If only we could all return to middle ground.

7:23 AM  
Blogger OneMan said...

Just read today that the governor of Indiana took away collective bargaining rights of public workers in 2005.

Funny it doesn't appear that Indiana has descended into chaos

8:24 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

I hadn't known that until just the other day. Interesting how it flew under a lot of radars.

But there are people protesting in Indianapolis this week. Though, like Wisconsin, I'm sure it's not chaos.

I don't get all these references to chaos and riots and the like. If 70,000 people can gather and the police have to do nothing but stand by and watch the crowd, that doesn't count as "chaos." And Ryan backed off his "riot" comment.

8:27 AM  
Blogger Tom Erdman said...

Just to bring a little color to this discussion. I always like to add gasoline to any small flame.

It seems the health benefit the teachers receive is purchased exclusively from the teacher's union insurance carrier (WEAC). A recent study shows that if the insurance was bid out privately, the state of Wisconsin would save $73 million annually. That's a lot of erasers.

So, why would WEAC want insurance that costs $73 million more? There are people in New Jersey and the west side of Chicago that would understand.

As you said in your post, there is a lot of money and power associated with this dance.

12:49 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

Yup. Lots of power and money.

Did you see the top of Maddow last night?

Walker fired union security guards he wasn't allowed to fire, awarded the security contract to a company that suffers from a very poor reputation these days, spent a superfluous $330K, and now the improperly fired guards are getting back pay to the tune of nearly $500K.

Dude gets more than a little drunk with power, eh?

1:13 PM  

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