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Monday, June 4, 2012

The regression of Wisconsin

I had an affinity for Wisconsin. I planned to retire there. In the early 1960s, I was among a group of people who purchased some desolate, depleted land near the Wisconsin River and reclaimed it by turning it into a pine forest. We nurtured those trees from seedlings, through thinning cuttings which supplied pulp wood, and into a mature forest of towering, fragrant pines, with some bird-planted hardwoods showing up under the canopy. My little hunk of forest was in the sand county that was the subject of Aldo Leopold's Sand County Almanac and where Frank Lloyd Wright operated Taliesen, his architectural school.

My original plan was to build a retirement cabin and work studio in the pine forest, but did not work out for many reasons. One reason was the cost. The pine forest and the surrounding landscape became a favored place for building gated neighborhoods of luxurious homes. The property taxes for the area skyrocketed. And as the nature of the homes went from relatively modest cabins designed for living and enjoying nature to wildly ostentatious, the nature of the neighborhood changed. I enjoyed many years of working on and in the pine forest. I repaired to the peace and beauty of the pine forest to work and wrote most of my doctoral dissertation there.

When I sold the place, many people thought we made a huge profit on it. There was really no way to calculate the amount invested in terms of work and development put into the place. As the trees begin to grow, they need attention for fire and disease control. As they develop, the lower branches which receive little sunlight die as the heads of the trees reach for the sun and shade them. The dead branches, called slash, have to be removed. The amount of money invested in lopping shears and chain saws can be calculated, but the value of the large amounts of time required cannot. And the depleted soil required fertilization to get the trees started and to keep them growing. That was a process of spreading it by hand with buckets and coffee cans. It consumed days and days of labor. By the time we deducted capital gains taxes, property taxes, and maintenance costs, those of us who sold our sections of forest did not really make anything over the years. We did have enjoyable and productive years in the forest, however, and perhaps some regret that we improved the environment to a point where it became attractive as a show setting for the bourgeois.

Most of the people who initially were involved in growing the pine forest were professionals who used it as both for recreation in nature and as a place of tranquility and beauty in which to do productive work.

I cite the change in demographics as one of the factors, and likely a big one, in how Wisconsin changed from being the center of progressive politics to taking a lead in denying and depriving working people a voice and an equity in politics and economy.

Conservatives have assailed the recall election from George Will calling it an act of childish petulance to the GOP insisting it is a ploy of a labor union mafia. That denigration and dismissal of working people is the real significance of the recall election and what it reveals about the nation at large. About half the people of the U.S. subscribe to the fascist belief that inequality is an inescapable fact of life and that people deemed innately superior should rule over people deemed innately inferior. The Wisconsin recall election is essentially a reaction to people being designated innately inferior and to take away their voice and their power to hold equity in the state.

Governor Walker, like his compatriots in other states, insists that labor unions make it impossible for local governments and school boards to manage within budgetary limitations. So, he has taken away the collective bargaining rights of public employees. He implies that collective bargaining gives labor unions the right to impose exorbitant wages and obstructionist work rules on the government employers. What he and his kind studiously avoid is what collective bargaining actually means, which is the negotiation between employers and employees.  Collective bargaining does not permit one faction to impose terms on the other faction, except in states like South Dakota where, for example, school boards can by law impose a contract on the employees when the boards do not get what they want easily from the employees. In Wisconsin, as in many states, public employees do not have the right to strike as a means to support their bargaining positions.  The argument that unions prevent any reasonable management of budgets is simply a false one. 

About half of the people in Wisconsin do not think that dispossessing them of equality, voice, and justice in the work place is right.  Half of the people want just that dispossession.  And that is how Wisconsin has regressed back into the feudal mentality where those who designate themselves as overlords have the right of arbitrary and repressive rule over those they have designated as inferior. 

 As many commentators have claimed, the Wisconsin recall election will indicate the direction of the nation as a whole.  Those who insist that labor unions be made irrelevant by law and workers must live according to the arbitrary rules imposed on them have forgotten the bitter struggles to establish equity, voice, and justice in the work place. Conservative America seems unable to think that a people who have hard won rights taken away from them will do anything but meekly submit to discrimination, denigration, and repression.  

When Americans are denied those matters of equality, liberty, and justice specified in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution by law, America is no longer America.  A people betrayed by their nation have no reason to hold allegiance to that nation.  That is something the opponents and oppressors of working people cannot seem to grasp.  

The recall election will tell us something about the direction of America.  But no matter how it turns out,  at least half of America will not go where the conservative dreamers of feudalism want it to go. 

The regression of Wisconsin is a dire warning for all who value equality, liberty, and justice.  

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States