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Uprisings: From the Middle East to the Midwest

Posted on Feb 22, 2011

By Amy Goodman

As many as 80,000 people marched to the Wisconsin state Capitol in Madison on Saturday as part of an ongoing protest against newly elected Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s attempt to not just badger the state’s public employee unions, but to break them. The Madison uprising follows on the heels of those in the Middle East. A sign held by one university student, an Iraq War vet, read, “I went to Iraq and came home to Egypt?” Another read, “Walker: Mubarak of the Midwest.” Likewise, a photo has circulated in Madison of a young man at a rally in Cairo, with a sign reading, “Egypt supports Wisconsin workers: One world, one pain.” Meanwhile, Libyans continue to defy a violent government crackdown against masses seeking to oust longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi, and more than 10,000 marched Tuesday in Ohio to oppose Republican Gov. John Kasich’s attempted anti-union legislative putsch.

Just a few weeks ago, solidarity between Egyptian youth and Wisconsin police officers, or between Libyan workers and Ohio public employees, might have elicited a raised eyebrow.

The uprising in Tunisia was sparked by the suicide of a young man named Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old university graduate who could not find professional work. Selling fruits and vegetables in the market, he was repeatedly harassed by Tunisian authorities who eventually confiscated his scale. Unbearably frustrated, he set himself on fire, a spark that ignited the protests that became the wave of revolution in the Middle East and North Africa. For decades in the region, people have lived under dictatorships—many that receive U.S. military aid—suffering human-rights abuses along with low income, high unemployment and almost no freedom of speech. All this, while the elites amassed fortunes.

Similar grievances underlie the conflicts in Wisconsin and Ohio. The “Great Recession” of 2008, according to economist Dean Baker, is now in its 37th month, with no sign of relenting. In a recent paper, Baker says that, due to the financial crisis, “many political figures have argued the need to drastically reduce the generosity of public sector pensions, and possibly to default on pension obligations already incurred. Most of the pension shortfall ... is attributable to the plunge in the stock market in the years 2007-2009.”

In other words, Wall Street hucksters, selling the complex mortgage-backed securities that provoked the collapse, are the ones who caused any pension shortfall. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston said recently: “The average Wisconsin state employee gets $24,500 a year. That’s not a very big pension ... 15 percent of the money going into it each year is being paid out to Wall Street to manage the money. That’s a really huge high percentage to pay out to Wall Street to manage the money.”

So, while investment bankers skim a huge percentage off pension funds, it’s the workers who are being demonized and asked to make the sacrifices. Those who caused the problem, who then got lavish bailouts and now are treated to huge salaries and bonuses, are not being held accountable. Following the money, it turns out Walker’s campaign was funded by the notorious Koch brothers, major backers of the tea party organizations. They also gave $1 million to the Republican Governors Association, which gave substantial support to Walker’s campaign. Is it surprising that Walker supports corporations with tax breaks, and has launched a massive attack on unionized, public-sector employees?

One of the unions being targeted by Walker, and by Kasich in Ohio, is AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The union was founded in 1932, in the midst of the Great Depression, in Madison. Its 1.6 million members are nurses, corrections officers, child-care providers, EMTs and sanitation workers. It is instructive to remember, in this Black History Month, that it was the struggle of the sanitation workers of AFSCME local No. 1733 that brought Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to Memphis, Tenn., back in April 1968. As Jesse Jackson told me as he marched with students and their unionized teachers in Madison on Tuesday: “Dr. King’s last act on earth, marching in Memphis, Tenn., was about workers’ rights to collective bargaining and rights to dues checkoff. You cannot remove the roof for the wealthy and remove the floor for the poor.”

The workers of Egypt were instrumental in bringing down the regime there, in a remarkable coalition with Egypt’s youth. In the streets of Madison, under the Capitol dome, another demonstration of solidarity is taking place. Wisconsin’s workers have agreed to pay and pension concessions, but will not give up their right to collective bargaining. At this point, Walker would be wise to negotiate. It is not a good season to be a tyrant.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 900 stations in North America. She is the author of “Breaking the Sound Barrier,” recently released in paperback and now a New York Times best-seller.

© 2011 Amy Goodman

Distributed by King Features Syndicate

Correction: An earlier version of this column misidentified Jesse Jackson as Jesse Jackson Jr.


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Leefeller's avatar

By Leefeller, February 24, 2011 at 4:13 pm Link to this comment

Paying 15 percent to hold ones money seems criminal, just like credit card interest of 15 to 30 percent.

If someone has a pension which is paying 15 percent to Wall Street for the handling of their money, and if the same someone has credit card debt of say paying out 15 percent. They are loosing 30 percent of the their money, for shysters, no wonder Wall Street seems to be doing so friking well!

Amy Goodman mentions public pension money in Wall Street:

“15 percent of the money going into it each year is being paid out to Wall Street to manage the money. That’s a really huge high percentage to pay out to Wall Street to manage the money.”

This makes Social Security look better then Wall STreet, can you imagine what paying 15 percent from SSI to Wall Street could have done for the Bush family?

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By Bob Pasco, February 24, 2011 at 2:51 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Regarding the 15% management fee presented be David Cay Johnson. Is this accurate? Can this be fact checked? With the better yields from stocks at around 5% their losing 10% just as the money sits there. WTF
Not to say I don’t believe it, but before I quote it I would like some proof. Thanks

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kristafarian's avatar

By kristafarian, February 24, 2011 at 1:06 am Link to this comment

(If this is a re-post, my apoloies. I’m totally new.)

Re: Governor Walker’s conversation with “David Koch”.

Reminds me of the Yes Men, and their apology to the people of Bophal, India for the “accidental” release of poison gas—killing tens of thousands of residents.

On “behalf of” Union Carbon and Carbide. (Pro Bono!)

Who qickly apologized, and retracted “their” apology.

Yes, Yes Men! Right on, Koch Impostor! Hell yes, Wiki Leaks!

How long till Comcast puts an end to Left wing shenanigans?

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By curmudgeon99, February 23, 2011 at 3:14 pm Link to this comment

I also posted this on another thread - hadn’t seen this one which is more relevant

While you are all sitting around - Do a good deed - make a call to one of these providers and donate to help them provide support to the Madison thousands….

Willy Street Coop folks seem pretty sincere and grateful for any and all help.

list courtesy of:

Capital Centre Market (608) 255-2616
Cargo Coffee (608) 268-0597
Community Pharmacy (608) 251-3242
Fromagination (608) 255-2430
Himal Chuli (608) 251-9225
Ian’s Pizza (608) 257-9248
Just Coffee (608) 204-9011
Ma Cha (608) 442-0500
Marigold Kitchen (608) 661-5559
Mermaid Cafe (608) 249-9719
Regent Street Market (608) 233-4329
Steep n’ Brew (608) 256-2902
Underground Kitchen (608) 514-1516
Union Cab (608) 242-2000
Weary Traveler (608) 442-6207
Willy Street Coop (608) 251-6776
Zu Zu Cafe (608) 260-9898

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By jlt, February 23, 2011 at 2:44 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Pocketbook protests:

Boycott kock bros products and services and let your merchant know why…everyone buys toilet paper—-etc!

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By Big B, February 23, 2011 at 1:45 pm Link to this comment

Blackspeare speaks the truth. My wife came home from work the other day and, for the first time in a while pointed out how high the price of gas had gone recently. She had also stopped at the grocery store only to notice that priced there had gone up noticably.

If everything holds true, by the end of summer we could be sinking into an old fashioned recession, led by good ol’ inflation. Imagine what the political landscape of the nation in the election year of 2012 would be with $5 a gallon gas.

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By Proletariat Princess, February 23, 2011 at 11:31 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

@ Robespierre

While I hate the term “Union Boss”, you do make an excellant point about the relationship between the leadership of U.S. Unions and the Democratic party.  I know because I am a retired local labor leader.  I found that rank and file members elected to leadership positions soon became enthralled with the attention they recieved from politians.  And who wouldn’t be excited about big name politicians calling or visiting just to hear your opinion?  How flattering…what an ego booster to someone who became a union rep to make a difference and improve the status of the workers. How intoxicating it is to believe that you are helping to create legislation that will improve the lives of working people for generations.  Of course, it is all nonsense. But for some, it takes a long time to realize that it is all about campaign fundraising.  Some never catch on to that although they watch the Democrats ignore them again and again when it really matters. 
The result is that the leaders tend to neglect the rank and file issues while believing they are making a real difference on the government levels.
Some of us worked hard to create a real Labor Party, but it never really got off the ground.  There was strong opposition within our ranks.  So many didn’t want to give up the invitations to the Halls of Power that the Democratic Party offered.
This is the core issue that caused the scism in the AFL-CIO a few years ago when SEIU broke away.  It was presented differently than I just explained, but it comes down to what many of us believe is an unhealthy relationship between the US Labor Movement and the Democratic Party.
Of course there is an important place for Labor in politics, but it is rediculous to believe that it can compete with corporate interests in a system corrupted by campaign money.

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MarthaA's avatar

By MarthaA, February 23, 2011 at 11:24 am Link to this comment

drbhelthi, February 23 at 2:35 pm,

The goal of the conservatives/moderate Democrats and Republicans
in Federal and State government behind Governor Walker in
Wisconsin is not altruistic either.  Woe to the 70% Majority Common Population if the 70% Majority Common Population don’t
rally to reclaim what the Right has stolen by standing up and not
giving another fraction of an inch and demanding EQUAL
representation of the 70% Majority Common Population as a class
and culture being equal in ever way with the Corporate American
Aristocracies Elite Capitalist Class and Culture and the NEW
Corporate American ‘Toady’ Middle Class and Culture by legislating
as EQUAL in every way a new political party that will
represent solely the class and cultural interests of the American
70% Majority Common Populace, the American Populace, because unions only represent a fraction of the 70% Majority American
Common Populace, but that fraction must not be lost and need the
support of a political party that’s sole interest is the American
Common Majority, which neither the Democratic Party nor the
Republican Party represent.  It is time for a change.

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Blackspeare's avatar

By Blackspeare, February 23, 2011 at 11:15 am Link to this comment

Change you can believe in is coming!  The USA is entering an inflationary phase spearheaded by high oil prices and a declining housing economy.  The stock market is doing well because industry is making money for the elite, but not the masses.  With the Middle East in turmoil gasoline will hit $5/gal before the end of the year not to mention heating oil!  The USA will suffer through this period as people on low and fixed incomes will further tax resources.  Should be an interesting next few years for the USA.

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By Raymond Comeau, February 23, 2011 at 10:27 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

In response to gerard . I wish you were right about the people of the Middle East finding their own path to their own democracy.

If we examine Egypt as an example , it looks to me like the USA has been working behind the scene to ensure that Mubarak`s replacement will be another ‘Useful Idiot’ who will protect USA and Israeli interests in Egypt at the expense of murdered protesters, and the majority of people who will continue to try to survive on $2.00 per day. The proof of my claim , will be the busting of the strikes. The military in Egypt were trained and paid for by the USA. And they will deliver Egypt to the USA.


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By Jon Jacobs, February 23, 2011 at 9:56 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Amy Goodman writes the things that need to be written.  The WEALTHY of any of the countries in turmoil are the problem.  In Wisconsin, the workers will agree to give up the monetary gains but stop at collective bargaining. This isn’t enough for those who support the WEALTHY. In Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Libya, Yemen, and now in America people are waking up to the inherently corrupt nature of WEALTH. The corrupting influence takes from the have nots and transfers wealth to the WEALTHY.

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By Jim, February 23, 2011 at 8:40 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Why don’t you mention all the Hitler=Walker signs, or the crosshair signs?,,,,,, or is honesty not taught at your school, or the phony Dr.s notes? mmmm

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By Jim, February 23, 2011 at 8:35 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

80,000, what have you been smoking, I was there, your way off, another falsehood…

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drbhelthi's avatar

By drbhelthi, February 23, 2011 at 8:35 am Link to this comment

Considering the info provided by John Stockwell, and others before and after him, one may conclude that the CIA is the source of all uprisings in the Middle East.  And elsewhere.

Just how the change of dictators in Egypt will ultimately turn out remains to be seen.  That the major leaders of the Egyptian Army were educated in U.S. Army “training centers” in the U.S. requires proper valuation.  We remind ourselves that the USGov continues to support the illegal plundering of Palestine by israeli Zionists.  Which Zionists want to cut off all leaks of support to Palestinians that was permitted by the Mubarek regime. 

If the current Egyptian Army leadership will suck up to the current Obama-crew-supported, israeli demand, remains to be seen.  The response the Egyptian Army leadership demonstrates will predict whether or not the transitional dictator-crew in Egypt is loyal to its own folk, or if they sell out to the GHWBushSr-entourage/CIA/U.S. dollar.

As far as the “uprising” in Egypt, having been strongly influenced by a Google advertising manager, Google having been infiltrated-overtaken in 2009 by the CIA, one can ask what the CIA wants to accomplish in Egypt.  History suggests that the goal is not altruistic.

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MarthaA's avatar

By MarthaA, February 23, 2011 at 1:21 am Link to this comment

Everyone must join in this uprising so that all of the American
Common Population as a class and culture will be able to get
representation for the entire class and culture in the United
States, not just a little part of the entire class and culture.

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Robespierre115's avatar

By Robespierre115, February 23, 2011 at 12:26 am Link to this comment

I fear some people here are pinning too many “revolutionary” hopes on the Wisconsin protests. The union bosses are pretty loyal to the Democratic Party and Obama, Americans will surely march to protest abuses but it will probably stop there. The uprisings in the Middle East have erupted because the populations of Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Bahrain etc., live under regimes so obviously brutal and repressive that they just couldn’t survive those conditions any longer. Here in the US people will still be happy being screwed as long as they can watch the Super Bowl, play videogames and max out their credit cards on useless junk.

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PatrickHenry's avatar

By PatrickHenry, February 22, 2011 at 9:02 pm Link to this comment

The difference between protesters in the mid east and those in Wisconsin are that those in Wisconsin are better armed.

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By gerard, February 22, 2011 at 7:50 pm Link to this comment

Rich people in the halls of government and corporate power are on the wrong side of history and they will go down—eventually.  Depends on what it will take to wake them up from their dream of the “right” of some people to dominate and abuse other people.

The bitterest irony shows up in the fact that while the U.S. has spent billions of citizens’ money killing Middle Easterners while saying these people must adopt democracy or else, those victims are “discovering” their own paths to their own democracy. 

Simultaneously, out of greed and hubris, corporate- managed government here is stealing democracy from their own fellow-Americans using lies, propaganda and punishment to try to keep them cowed and disorganized.

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