The Imperative: Stop Making Sense

Some days are stranger than others. Wednesday, February 23, 2011 was one of those, as there was that call everyone was talking about, that turned out to be just what it seemed:

Here’s something for your “can this possibly be for real” file this morning. Over at the Buffalo Beast – the former print alt-weekly turned online newspaper founded by onetime editor Matt Taibbi, typically best known for its annual list of “The 50 Most Loathsome Americans” – there appear to be recordings of a phone call between Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and current editor Ian Murphy. Now, why on earth would Scott Walker want to talk on the phone with the editor of an online site in Buffalo? Well, he wouldn’t.

But what if said editor pretended to be David Koch of the famed Koch Brothers? Well, that’s a different story altogether, apparently! And so Walker, believing himself to be on the phone with his patron, seems to have had a long conversation about busting Wisconsin’s unions.

Buffalo Beast Publisher Paul Fallon told The Huffington Post that the audio is “absolutely legit.” That the call took place as described by the Beast has been confirmed by Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie.

Cullen’s last name should probably be Weary, or Worry. This was a mess. The governor’s office confirmed that Walker fell for the prank, but was brave about it – “The phone call shows that the governor says the same thing in private as he does in public.” Well, not exactly, but it was what one must say. And the site that pulled off this prank and posted the original story is no longer accessible – the traffic surge brought it down as they exceeded their bandwidth – but the conversation between Walker and the man impersonating Koch is on YouTube – in Part 1 here and Part 2 here – and it is amazing.

Yes, it is odd that Ian Murphy, pretending to be Koch, even got through. He talked to Walker’s chief of staff and said he couldn’t leave a return number – “My goddamn maid, Maria, put my phone in the washer. I’d have her deported, but she works for next to nothing.” And the chief of staff didn’t get it – that must have sounded normal for rich folks. So he invited “Koch” to call back and speak directly to the governor. And then Walker talked about a scheme to bring state Senate Democrats back to the capitol:

An interesting idea that was brought up to me by my chief of staff, we won’t do it until tomorrow, is putting out an appeal to the Democratic leader. I would be willing to sit down and talk to him, the assembly Democrat leader, plus the other two Republican leaders – talk, not negotiate and listen to what they have to say if they will in turn – but I’ll only do it if all 14 of them will come back and sit down in the state assembly. They can recess it… the reason for that, we’re verifying it this afternoon, legally, we believe, once they’ve gone into session, they don’t physically have to be there. If they’re actually in session for that day, and they take a recess, the 19 Senate Republicans could then go into action and they’d have quorum because it’s turned out that way. So we’re double checking that. If you heard I was going to talk to them… that’s the only reason why.

Walker’s plan was to bring Democrats back under false pretenses, set the trap, and then screw them good – what they thought was just a talk would be ruled an actual legislative session, and even if they left again there was a hypothetical quorum, and he’d get his bill passed – no more public employee unions and a no-bid sale of all the state’s energy resources to Koch Industries, for those guys to run all that stuff for their profit. Cool. And when the Koch impersonator suggested a scheme involving “planting some troublemakers” in with the protestors – so things would get violent and when people got beat nearly to death the pro-union protesters would look bad – Walker simply said “We thought about that” – before explaining that he questioned its impact. One doesn’t want the other side to have martyrs, perhaps. The politics were a consideration. Or maybe he just got cold feet.

There’s much more detail here – and nothing actually said was that surprising – but over at the Washington Post, Ezra Klein says this:

But if the transcript of the conversation is unexceptional, the fact of it is lethal. The state’s Democratic senators can’t get Walker on the phone, but someone can call the governor’s front desk, identify themselves as David Koch, and then speak with both the governor and his chief of staff? That’s where you see the access and power that major corporations and wealthy contributors will have in a Walker administration, and why so many in Wisconsin are reluctant to see the only major interest group representing workers taken out of the game.

And Matthew Yglesias adds this:

I think it would be interesting to imagine a world in which David Koch stood no better chance of talking to the Governor of Wisconsin than did any other private citizen who’s not a resident of a state. Imagine a world in which every single one of Scott Walker’s constituents had more access to Scott Walker than does a rich out of state donor. And imagine the richest man in Wisconsin had equal access to Walker as the poorest. Try to imagine it. I think that if we lived in that world, people would have a very different reaction to complaints about the disproportionate political influence of labor unions.

Well, there is that.

But it was that kind of day. Odd things were happening left and right. Glenn Beck’s comparison of Reform Judaism to radical Islam didn’t go over well – as Beck had argued that Reform Judaism is just like radicalized Islam – a perversion of the Jewish religion, and a perversion of religion itself. His notion seems to be that this is why Reform folks tend to vote Democratic, and aren’t normal and admirable Likud Zionists calling for the extermination of the Palestinian people in gas chambers and all that sort of thing. He is not happy. These Reform folks have to be stopped.

But actually he was just mad that two hundred rabbis – Orthodox and Reform and everything else – recently took out a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal telling him to stop with the Nazi stuff already. Not everyone he disagrees with is a Nazi, and not everything, that doesn’t go exactly the way he likes, is just like the Holocaust. They were telling him that sort of thing is offensive and insulting. He was telling them to butt out.

But they didn’t see it that way. And they didn’t like being compared to wild-eyed Islamic terrorists now. And he was saying that the American people were on his side, as was Rupert Murdoch and Murdoch’s entire news empire, and so on and so forth. It wasn’t pretty. But it just wasn’t pretty that same day over on Sixth Avenue – they renamed it Avenue of the Americas for the tourists – where folks were milling about the Fox News studios with signs that read Fox Lies!

Of course that happens now and then, but there was a new twist. You see, Gallup had released a poll showing that sixty-one percent of the people polled would oppose a proposal similar to the one in Wisconsin, to strip public employee unions of the right to collective bargaining over anything at all. People didn’t think much of what Scott Walker was trying to do in Wisconsin. And Fox News spent the entire morning crowing about how this new poll showed that sixty-one percent of the people polled agreed that public employee unions should have never had those rights. They went on and on about the poll. Walker was right. Two-thirds of all Americans agree with him. And by noon they gave up – the host of the morning show, Brian Kilmeade, offered a brief correction, saying that he “had it reversed” the whole time. Oops. But wink, wink, nudge, nudge – that was at the tail end of a three-hour show. Such things only look bad to news hounds. Rupert Murdoch and the man who runs his Fox News operations, Roger Ailes, don’t care about news hounds. Sigh.

But later that day, the Indiana Deputy Attorney General who said he wanted to see “live ammunition” used on protesters in Wisconsin – mow them down and kill them all – was actually fired – and of course Fox News didn’t cover that story at all. That was one of the odder stories of the day. It just didn’t have an odd ending. Of course the man was fired.

But you never know what to expect. And consider the Republican agenda, and the Financial Times reporting this:

The Republican plan to slash government spending by $61bn in 2011 could reduce US economic growth by 1.5 to 2 percentage points in the second and third quarters of the year, a Goldman Sachs economist has warned.

The note from Alec Phillips, a forecaster based in Washington, was seized in the ongoing US budget fight by Democrats as validating their argument that the legislation approved by the Republican-led House of Representatives last Saturday would do significant damage to the US recovery.

Well, yes, New York’s senior senator, Chuck Schumer, responded to the Goldman Sachs report with a press statement – “This nonpartisan study proves that the House Republicans’ proposal is a recipe for a double-dip recession. Just as the economy is beginning to pick up a little steam, the Republican budget would snuff out any chance of recovery. This analysis puts a dagger through the heart of their ‘cut-and-grow’ fantasy.”

But see Steve Benen here – “Well, one would certainly like to think so.” And Benen points out that this analysis comes a week after additional research found that the Republican spending cuts could lead to roughly one million job losses (really) – and when asked about that, John Boehner, Speaker of the House and third in line for the presidency, replied with “So be it.”

And Benen is not amused:

I’d gladly note the GOP response to all of this, but as best as I can tell, there isn’t one. Republicans don’t know – and by all accounts don’t care – what the economic results would be if their plan was approved. They don’t hold hearings to explore the effects of the proposal, and party officials haven’t offered any economic projections they believe would result from their plan if implemented.

They just want to cut, no matter what it does to the country. This isn’t about consequences – it’s about making the GOP base feel good about itself.

We now have independent analyses showing that the Republican spending measure would push the economy back towards a recession and would deliberately make unemployment worse. If Democrats balk, the GOP will shut down the government.

Why this isn’t the lead story in every news outlet in the country remains unclear.

Well, it was that kind of day, and had the Fox News morning crew run with this one, they would have spent three hours saying that Alec Phillips, of Goldman Sachs, had just concluded that those sixty-one billion dollars in spending cuts would mean that everyone would have a job in two weeks and we’d all be so rich we wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves. And they’d correct that as they went to commercial break at the end of the third hour.

And Benen offers this:

I suppose the next question is why Republicans would pursue a plan they know would slow the economy. Among the possibilities: (1) they fear inflation that doesn’t exist; (2) they have to hurt the country on purpose to undermine President Obama’s re-election chances; (3) they consider the deficit more important than the economy, just on principle; (4) something else? I’d love to understand the GOP’s motivations, but just as importantly, I’d love for the media to press the GOP on its motivations.

But the media does not press the Republicans on motivations. Everyone knows the narrative by now – the Republicans are the Serious People, the grownups. The Democrats are the starry-eyed flakes, the kids. It’s politics as sit-com. It’s just not Happy Days.

It just unbalances some folks, like Gene Lyons:

Recent events in Washington and Wisconsin have me thinking that maybe we should just go ahead and change the national motto to something more truly reflective of today’s America. Forget “e pluribus unum” with its elitist overtones. Also, what people who make a big thing over “In God We Trust” really mean isn’t so much that they approve of the deity, as that God approves of them.

Anyway, here’s my suggestion: “Money Talks.”

Think about it. In Washington, GOP Speaker John Boehner, asked about the near-certain loss of several hundred thousand jobs should severe Republican budget cuts go through, responded, “So be it.”

This in the immediate aftermath of extending the Bush administration’s tax cuts for millionaires that basically created the national debt his party now pretends to be so concerned about. Previous to 2009, not so much.

“We’re broke,” Boehner elaborated, although the stock market’s now soaring, the bailed-out Wall Street investment banks, whose reckless gambling sent the world economy into a near-death spiral, are doling out billions in bonuses to insiders, while American corporations are sitting on a growing mountain of cash, and while unemployment remains above 9 percent even as some companies openly refuse to consider hiring anybody who hasn’t already got a job.

Money Talks.

But, oh no, we can’t raise marginal tax rates a lousy 4.6 percent on incomes above $250,000. Perish the thought. Never mind that the past 30 years have seen the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans increase their share of the national wealth from 7 percent to approximately 23 percent. Nor that, according to a study by the Economic Policy Institute, corporate CEOs who made 24 times more than a typical worker in 1965 now earn about 275 times more than the guys in the shop. Assuming the shop hasn’t closed down and moved to Thailand, that is.

But heaven forbid we bring back Clinton-era tax rates. Instead, let’s stimulate the economy by putting a few hundred thousand federal employees on the street. That’ll work.

Money Talks.

“There’s class warfare, all right,” Warren Buffett, the multibillionaire investor told the New York Times in 2006, “but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

And that’s just the beginning of a long rant. But he needs to get used to these sorts of days, even if some of them are stranger than others.

Of course there is this:

Republican Rep. Joe Read of Ronan aims to pass a law that says global warming is a natural occurrence that “is beneficial to the welfare and business climate of Montana.”

And see Matthew Yglesias with Montana Considers Bill to Repeal Science:

This seems like fruitful territory. Imagine what could be achieved by simply passing laws that say tax cuts raise revenue and defense spending doesn’t count as spending.

We could do that. We could pass those laws. Stranger things have happened.

But somehow certain words echo around. Back in 1984 there was that movie Stop Making Sense – the Talking Heads live on stage, shot at the Pantages Theater in December 1983, just down the street here in Hollywood. Leonard Maltin said it was “one of the greatest rock movies ever made.” Maybe so, but American politics weren’t supposed to end up like that – just talking heads on a dramatically lit stage, proudly making no sense at all, and urging us all to make no sense. But it happened.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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