Friday, October 28, 2011

Tea Party vs. Occupy Wall Street

Back in the day, when I was still teaching American history, I tried to be sure my seventh grade students learned to look for all sides in complex arguments. There are times when I wonder if the Tea Party guys aren't partly right and the Occupy Wall Street folks too.

Colonists protest:
Hanging a dummy
of a British tax collector.
In fact, if you tune in cable news today, the coverage is so biased and ridiculous, it's almost pointless to listen.

I'm a liberal, for example. I'm a union guy, too. So I loathe Fox News, which has been chastizing unions for months.

Now I see a story in the New York Times today about the Long Island Railroad and the corruption of their union. I know Fox will cover this story in great detail and vilify unions in general, as if all are corrupt.

In fact, Gretchen Carlson is going to be so upset she'll probably wet her pants.

So here's the basic story: eleven people have been arrested, including a former union president and two doctors, and a variety of people who are receiving pension and disability benefits. Gregory Noone, 62, for instance, collects $105,000 in retirement and disability payments every year after doctors "found" he suffered from severe pain when bending, crouching or gripping objects.

You have to feel for the guy: especially when he's playing golf or tennis, which is often since his tragic retirement. Investigators have evidence that he plays tennis several times a week and "suffered" through 140 rounds of golf during one recent nine-month period.

You have to admire that man's courage in gripping the golf club, despite the pain.

Total losses to the pension and disability funds are expected to run more than $121 million, possibly much higher.

Can big public sector workers unions be a problem, in other words? Of course, they can. And here we want the government--that is the FBI--to step in and arrest the crooks.

But how does anyone imagine that means we can run to the arms of Big Business for safety? This week the New York Times also reported on drug-maker Amgen's agreement to pay $780 million to settle a variety of state and federal lawsuits, accusing it of illegal sales and marketing tactics.

According to one whistle-blower the company overfilled bottles of Aranesp, an anemia drug. This allowed doctors to use the excess dosage to treat patients, charge Medicare and Medicaid extra, and pump up the bottom line. And it certainly helped convince doctors they should be prescribing Aranesp and not some cheaper generic drug.

Meanwhile, over at Clear Channel News, the very soul of conservative talk radio, the company is  making deep cuts in local programming and going with more nationally syndicated shows, which are cheaper to produce. Several hundred employees, including local DJ's like Tony Lynn and Myles Copeland at KBQI in Albuquerque, are out on their fannies and probably wishing they had union protection or even government-backed health insurance.

Robert W. Pittman, just named this month as Clear Channel's chief executive, insists the move is necessary, for the company to run it's business "like it's 2011, not 1970." 

This will allow Clear Channel talk radio hosts to offer a more coordinated message: bashing unions and blaming them for killing jobs and ruining the economy. On WLW in Cincinnati, for example, I recently heard Doc Thompson going on and on about the filthy Occupy Wall Street protestors, "mutants" as he called them again and again.

It reminded me of a Nazi officer who referred to the Jews as "vermin." There was a time when I wouldn't have let one of my seventh graders get by using such language. Nor would I have allowed them to employ such simplistic logic without challenge.

After all, Bernie Madoff and Ken Lay and all the crooks at Lehman Brothers showered regularly and wore $2,000 suits.

This morning, you wonder if a few of those new unemployed DJ's might not be waking up and thinking about joining the Occupy Wall Street protestors.

Its a complex world and we Americans, liberal, conservative and in the middle, are going to have to think seriously about what we really need to do.

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