Thursday, September 11, 2008

You've got to give George Will this much credit: It takes guts, or something, to attack firefighters on 9/11

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Rick Perlstein wants us all to ask: "Senator Wingnut, do you agree with George Will's September 11 column that pensions for firefighters represent a 'time bomb'?"

"Will would have us believe it is a moral outrage that firefighters and policemen risking life and limb have the nerve to form unions and negotiate pay and benefits packages that are a tiny fraction of what a run-of-the-mill investment banker gets paid."
-- David Sirota, in a post today debunking George F. Will's special
9/11 attack on pensions paid to municipal workers like firefighters

by Ken

I thought it said a lot about where Rachel Maddow intends to take her new MSBNC show when she had David Sirota on the other night as a talking-head expert.


It's also been a confidence-builder seeing people like Steve Benen and Ari Berman and David Corn, along witha more familiar face like Jonathan Alter, who was a valuable contributor to Rachel's old Air America Radio morning show. (As was trusty sidekick Kent Jones, who doesn't seem to me to have hit his stride yet in his popular-culture beat on the new show. But I think that's just a matter of time. We know what Kent can do.)

I'm hardly unbiased where Rachel is concerned. I became a number-one-ranking fan when the idiot-thugs who were running Air America Radio back then (not to be confused with all the other teams of idiot-thugs who ran AAR before and since) pulled the plug on what could and should have been their franchise-building morning show, Morning Sedition, and then plugged Rachel (who'd been doing a crack-of-dawn hour on the network) into two hours of the abandoned time slot. Talk about a tough act to follow, having to face down the ferociously loyal and outraged fans of Morning Sedition.

Yet Rachel came and quickly conquered. It was a totally different kind of show, more progressive news-oriented, with a staff that prided itself on doing its homework. And I was able to leave home every morning with the feeling that I had been thoroughly briefed on what I needed to know to face the day progressively. More recently Rachel was pretty spectacular, as Keith Olbermann clearly noted, in her rise through the Countdown ranks to full-fledged correspondent and backup host.

So I'm not exactly impartial here, but it seems clear to me that Rachel is doing just the job she's been preparing to do for some years now.

I'm assuming that DWT readers, or progressive-oriented readers in general, need no introduction to David Sirota, who's been a favorite in these parts from the outset. I might mention that I'm still trying to figure out how to write about David's most recent book, The Uprising: An Unauthorized Tour of the Populist Revolt Scaring Wall Street and Washington.

It's a life-changing kind of book; it's just difficult to figure out afterward how your life has been changed, since as David is the first to point out, the widely varied strands of populist uprising he chronicles here are not a movement, and while each has some things in common with some of the others, they don't really add up to anything more concrete than the unmistakable sense that the country is filled right now with groups of people who are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore, and are by gum doing something about it. If you haven't read the book yet, let me assure you right now that it's not like anything you've ever read.

This morning David pounced on today's column by the unspeakable George F. Will, who chose to vent his Villager's wrath against municipal pensions. As often happens with David, it's pointless to try to "highlight" his writings, which really need to be read in their entirety. So here's the whole of this Campaign for America's Future post:

The Aristocrats, Part II -- Starring George Will

By David Sirota

A few years ago, the film "The Aristocrats" made audiences guffaw with clips of comedians reciting their version of the dirtiest joke in history. Conservatives seem intent on following that flick up with their own version of The Aristocrats -- this one starring the aristocrat, George Will, with his own obscene joke, only his isn't funny.

In a column about underfinanced municipal pension systems today, Will expresses deep anger that veteran police, firefighters and municipal workers eventually get paid well for their services. In one California town on San Francisco Bay, Will tells us that -- gasp! -- "after just five years, all police and firefighters are guaranteed lifetime health benefits." The horror.

Such salaries and benefits, of course, are part of a bargain: Enticing people to turn down the high-paying private-sector job and instead run into burning buildings (firefighters), do the dangerous work of apprehending criminals (police), disposing of sewage (garbage collectors) and administrating all the other services that conservatives pretend aren't necessary (municipal workers) requires, well, an enticement -- namely, the promise that making such a public-minded choice will result in decent and stable pay and benefits.

When you accept a public sector job, that's the bargain: In exchange for being willing to do a tough job and accepting that you won't have the chance to make hundreds of millions dollars like a corporate CEO, you are rewarded with the chance -- if you play by the rules -- to make a pretty good living.

Will and his elitist cohorts in Washington, D.C. don't like that set-up, likely because it's not economically Darwinistic enough for their taste. And so rather than asking their fellow aristocrats to pay a little more in taxes for the services they (and all of us) rely on, the Royalist Right cites a few seemingly outrageous examples as justification to force those providing the services to give up the salary and benefits they were originally enticed into the job with. That is, conservatives want to renege on the bargain -- forgetting the old adage that you get what you pay for, and you don't get what you don't pay for.

The hypocrisy of this logic is obvious when you consider that the Right rarely -- if ever -- complains about, say, executives ripping off shareholders and harming companies' fiscal health. There wasn't a peep out of the Right, for instance, when the news division of its own paper of record -- the Wall Street Journal -- reported that corporate leaders now regularly raid worker pensions to pad their own salaries. Nor do you hear much from conservatives about major companies evading most of their taxes, thus draining public coffers of the funds that would allow them to fulfill their various long-term obligations.

Indeed, Will would have us believe it is a moral outrage that firefighters and policemen risking life and limb have the nerve to form unions and negotiate pay and benefits packages that are a tiny fraction of what a run-of-the-mill investment banker gets paid. Their outrage may seem like an obscene joke -- but it's not. This is what today's aristocrats are really angry about.

The one point David doesn't make is the eerie timing of the Will column. This prompted fellow CAF blogger Rick Perlstein (another DWT favorite; and yes, I'm still working on his remarkable book, Nixonland -- report to follow, eventually) to chime in:
Sensitivity Training

By Rick Perlstein

May I point out as an addendum to David's excellent post below that George Will chose to run his column about how firefighters don't deserve pensions on . . . September 11?

Oh, yeah: and the tasteful headline? "Pension Time Bomb"

I hereby command a blogswarm. Wedge opportunity! Senator Wingnut, do you agree with George Will's September 11 column that pensions for firefighters represent a "time bomb"?

I don't know about where you are, but here in New York City, on 9/11 we're apt to be especially prickly about patronizing dismissals of the job that public employees like firefighters do. The Republicans, led by our son-of-a-bitch ex-mayor Rudy the Scum-Sucking Clown, have done a lot to make a mockery of the day, with their repelling chest thumping and demented fake patriotism. But in this town, on this date, when it comes to our firefighters . . .


Of course it's hard not to think first of the firefighters, marching into the Twin Towers that day without regard to their own safety. Our cops took a terrible pounding too, as did all our emergency response workers -- and for that matter, the whole of the municipal labor pool was pushed to the limit. I don't suppose Bowtie Man would understand about that either.

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At 6:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Am I turning republican? God I hope not.

But it seems to me that qualifying for a lifetime pension after only five years on the job is one hell of a deal. Nobody I know gets anything like that! And city workers are not exactly underpaid, either. I've known some, and I CAN say that they are underworked.

Yes, police and firefighters risk death and injury on the job. But I worked in construction for several years! Anyone in that business will tell you that the death and injury statistics for construction workers are considerably higher than for police and firefighters.

Of course, they might be wrong, but they'll tell you that. I do know that several people on jobs I've worked were killed in accidents. Injuries are common, and I mean that literally. I had a few semi-serious ones myself (two of which I still suffer from, decades later), and many close calls.

Yet no construction worker I ever heard of got a pension after five years.

I agree that many, many CEOs are vastly overpaid, to the great detriment of stockholders. But that's a different issue.

At 9:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, yet another example of you do not get yours if I do not get mine.

This is why we need to take care of everyone.

Why not? Be good to everyone.

At 9:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not exactly. I'm just keeping in mind that I pay city workers' salaries. Therefore, I want those salaries to be fair, not exorbitant.

At 10:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Will referred to a town in California where after 5 years the firefighters got lifetime HEALTH benefits, not pensions.

At 1:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the clarification.

Let's see, I'm paying $500/month for medical insurance. Plus large copayments of course, if I ever actually use my insurance. I don't know what "lifetime benefits" includes, but let's say that such benefits cost taxpayers $7000 per year per firefighter.

How much does that add up to, over a lifetime? No small amount, I'd guess.

If we raised taxes just a smidgeon on people making say $5M/year (McCain's "middle class"), we could probably get health insurance for everyone, saving ourselves the high profits insurance companies make.

The insurance companies would complain of course, and so would the advertisers and lobbyists and lawyers they hire. But GM and Ford would love it - it would bring them back from the brink of bankruptcy, and I think would be good for the country as a whole.

Single-payer sounds good to me, but special benefits to city employees does not.

At 9:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your blog is shit

At 9:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Me said...
You're pretty fucking ignorant. It's no wonder you're a liberal and not a republican.

At 7:22 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

You might also enjoy this Mr. Media radio interview with Jonathan Alter from May 19, 2010. He talks about his book, “The Promise,” President Obama, David Axelrod, Rahm Emanuel, FDR, “The Colbert Report,” his wife and even does an imitation of Joe Biden imitating Arkansas Senator John McClellan. Classic stuff!


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