TWTYTW 2011

The last Presteblog of 2011 is called That Was the Year That Was 2011, a tradition of the Marketplace of Ideas column from 1994 to 2000 and then of the Marketplace of Ideas blog from 2008 to 2010.

The title comes from the British TV series “That Was the Week that Was,” a weekly satirical series that made David Frost and Roy Kinnear popular:

While the TWTYTW 2010 blog no longer exists (ask my former employer what happened to it), a video version of sorts does still exist courtesy of FDL Podcasting:

There was one prediction that I didn’t make — the creation of this blog for the reason you all know. For what it’s worth, this blog is nine months old today. This was not how I planned to spend three-fourths of 2011, but someone once said that if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.

I also didn’t predict that I’d be on Facebook, and I don’t believe Google+ existed when this blog began. The former has been more satisfying than the latter, largely because Facebook has allowed me to reconnect with people I’d lost track of, in one case, from middle school. (That, I should point out, includes the one Facebook Friend I deFriended, and the one Facebook Friend who deFriended me. The latter was because my political views angered him for the last time; the first was because he was as much of an idiot on Facebook — unless you think a 45-year-old fan of “The Jersey Shore” is not incredibly strange, that is — as he was in high school. C’est la vie.)

This is an opinion blog, which means readers get opinions here every day, whether about federal or state politics, American or Wisconsin businessfood and drink (I’m in favor of both), motor vehicles, the mediamusic, sports (particularly the Packers and Badgers), and whatever else comes to my mind. As I’ve written before, after the best thing someone can tell a reader — something like “I enjoy your work and I agree with you” — the second best thing someone can tell a writer is something along the line of “I read your stuff, and you are absolutely wrong.” (I’m getting a lot of that recently; can’t imagine why.) The worst thing someone can tell a writer is something like “You write? I’ve never read your stuff.” My blog software tells me that people are reading this blog, whether they agree with what I write or not.

I continue to be what (at least) two people have called me: a “media ho’.” I occasionally appear on WTMJ-TV’s “Sunday Insight with Charlie Sykes” …

… and Wisconsin Public Radio’s Friday Week in Review, and, twice this month, WTDY in Madison. That is the logical result of never saying no to a media invitation, I guess. This is also a personal blog, so readers have gotten to read (or, if you like, have had to endure) the unusual facets of my past in small-town newspapers (including my biggest story), radio and sports announcing.

I’m pretty sure the largest number of blog entries this year (other than the daily “Presty the DJ” pieces) involved state politics. We endured several state Senate recalls (all but two of which were unsuccessful) because of the efforts of Gov. Scott Walker and Republicans to undo the disaster area that was state finance under the Doyle (mis)administration and the 2009–10 Legislature. The 15 percent of state workers who work for government had a different opinion, as Christian Schneider notes:

The year began with an appeal for more civility in politics, in the wake of the shooting of Arizona Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Yet when the Capitol explosion began in mid-February, Walker and legislators of both parties started receiving death threats. State Sen. Spencer Coggs called Walker’s plan “legalized slavery,” and state Sen. Lena Taylor (along with dozens of protesters) compared Walker to Adolf Hitler. A Democratic Assemblyman yelled “you’re fucking dead” to a Republican colleague on the chamber floor following debate on Walker’s plan. Protesters targeted Walker’s children on Facebook, and Republican Rep. Robin Vos was assaulted with a flying pilsner.

So shocking was Walker’s plan that President Barack Obama criticized the governor, deeming it an “assault” on unions. Yet if Walker was a first-time union assailant, Obama continues to be a serial offender — federal employees aren’t allowed to collectively bargain for wages and benefits. …

During the summer, unions spent over $20 million to unseat six Republican state senators who voted for Walker’s plan. This exposed exactly why it’s about the money. Government employees merely serve as conduits for taxpayer funds to work their way to the unions, who then spend money electing obeisant legislators to negotiate favorable contracts. Shockingly, lefty “good government” groups appear not to have a problem with this blatant purchase of favors.

It was a year that granted the definition of the word “democracy” a previously unimaginable elasticity. While bullhorns around the Capitol blared “this is what democracy looks like,” 14 Democratic state senators fled to Illinois to prevent democracy from occurring. Later, a single Dane County judge would overturn Walker’s law, which irony-deficient Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca called “a huge win for democracy in Wisconsin.” The law would later be reinstated by an incredulous state Supreme Court. …

2011 was the year that public-sector bargaining became a fundamental human right, bestowed on the people of Wisconsin from the heavens. “We will not be denied our God-given right to join a real union,” thundered Marty Beil, head of the Wisconsin State Employees Union, in February.

Yet God apparently first appeared in Wisconsin in 1959, when Democratic Gov. Gaylord Nelson signed the nation’s first public-sector collective bargaining law. It was a shrewd political move — four years earlier, unions had financed 55% of unsuccessful Democrat William Proxmire’s gubernatorial campaign. The year before Nelson created the law, Democrats had a $10,000 deficit in their state account; four years later, that had turned into a $50,000 surplus. At the time, it looked a lot less like a divine right and more like a naked political favor. (God has yet to visit 24 other states, which either have limited or no public-sector collective bargaining at all.)

Public-sector unions want you to believe that they are synonymous with public-sector employees. They are not. No self-respecting professional teacher should want to have anything to do with teacher unions, the biggest blight upon our educational system. That’s my opinion, but that was also the opinion of the late Steve Jobs.

One should never expect the unvarnished truth during the political process, but unions and their apparatchiks took falsehoods to new depths during Recallarama. Unfortunately for unions, evidence contrasting their assertions existed online. Unfortunately for Democrats and unions and other lefties, the more than $40 million they spent succeeding in reducing the state Senate Republican margin from 19–14 to 17–16, or 16 Republicans, 16 Democrats and one RINO, Dale Schultz.

One should never expect ideological or philosophical consistency from human beings, so keep that in mind when you read tributes to the Occupy ______ types. Most of the same people falling all over themselves praising the protesters were singing quite a different tune when the tea party movement began in 2009. Other than the obvious ideological differences, the biggest difference between Occupy _____ and the tea party movement is that the tea party movement succeeded in electing its candidates in November 2010. Occupy _____ has not one single electoral win and not one single political accomplishment yet. That includes Red Fred Clark, who a majority of 14th Senate District voters found wanting.

One should never expect politicians to do what they say they’re going to do immediately (or perhaps not at all), but Walker doesn’t deserve an A grade yet. The state’s business climate rankings are better than they were a year ago, but 24th25th38th and 40th, with a C grade, is not nearly good enough. Until Wisconsin gets consistent top five rankings, Wisconsin will continue to trail the nation in business creation and per capita personal income growth, Wisconsinites will continue to suffer from excessive unemployment and insufficient income, and state and local governments will continue to lack the kind of revenue that comes from a healthy economy.

Speaking of the economy, it is in “recovery,” if that’s what you want to call it. The brilliance of the Obama administration is demonstrated in the current national unemployment rate of 8.6 percent, after nearly three years of the stimulus that stimulus supporters guaranteed would reduce unemployment below 8 percent. Since everyone who was paying attention knew that one major argument for the stimulus was to trade job creation now for higher unemployment (during a theoretically recovered economy) later, you can safely conclude there will be no improvement in unemployment for the foreseeable future. The “jobless recovery” has been predicted for three decades; well, it’s here now, which means that the economy will not be noticeably better in consumer spending generally or purchasing of big-ticket items specifically.

As usually happens, a number of stories didn’t get the attention they should, as WND.com notes:

1. The true rate of unemployment and inflation and the real state of the U.S. economy, which is far worse than reported.

When the Obama administration prepared to finance a 2011 budget deficit expected to top $1.6 trillion, the American public was largely unaware that the true negative net worth of the federal government reached $76.3 trillion last year.

The figure was five times the 2010 gross domestic product of the United States and exceeded the estimated gross domestic product for the world by approximately $14.4 trillion, according to economist John Williams.

Statistics compiled by Williams, based on the 2010 Financial Report of the United States Government, demonstrate the real 2010 federal budget deficit was $5.3 trillion, not the $1.3 trillion reported by the Congressional Budget Office.

The difference between the $1.3 trillion “official” 2010 federal budget deficit numbers and the $5.3 trillion budget deficit is that the official budget deficit is calculated on a cash basis, where all tax receipts, including Social Security tax receipts, are used to pay government liabilities as they occur.

“The government cannot raise taxes high enough to bring the budget into balance,” Williams said. “You could tax 100 percent of everyone’s income and 100 percent of corporate profits and the U.S. government would still be showing a federal budget deficit on a GAAP accounting basis.”

Meanwhile, the government’s own statistics showed in December that if the same number of people were seeking work today as in 2007, the jobless rate would be 11 percent. …

What’s more, the seasonally-adjusted rate adjusted for long-term discouraged workers – who were defined out of official existence in 1994 – was more than 22 percent in November.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics broadest measure of unemployment, which includes the short-term discouraged and other marginally attached works, along with part-time workers who can’t find full-time employment is more than 15 percent.

Methodological shifts in government reporting also have depressed reported inflation. If inflation were calculated the way it was in 1990, the annual rate would be nearly 7 percent. …

7. The real impact on the U.S. economy of Obama’s $787 billion stimulus.

The Congressional Budget Office in November downgraded its estimate of the benefits of President Obama’s 2009 stimulus package, saying it may have sustained as few as 700,000 jobs at its peak last year and that over the long run it will actually be a net drag on the economy.

While the Recovery Act boosted the economy in the short term, the extra debt generated by the stimulus “crowds out” private investment and “will reduce output slightly in the long run – by between 0 and 0.2 percent after 2016.”

The Obama administration had promised that at the peak of spending, 3.5 million jobs would be produced. …

8. The harmful impact of unions on the American economy.

As Thomas Sowell wrote in a column published by WND, unions “specialize in siphoning off wealth created by others.”

“The most fundamental fact about labor unions is that they do not create any wealth,” he said.

Sowell pointed to a bill the Obama administration is trying to push through Congress, called the “Employee Free Choice Act,” as the best example of “the utter cynicism of the unions and the politicians who do their bidding.”

“Employees’ free choice as to whether or not to join a union is precisely what that legislation would destroy,” he said. …

While private-sector workers, using secret-ballot elections, have increasingly voted against being represented by unions in secret-ballot elections, government unions continue to thrive as taxpayers “provide their free lunch.” …

In September, Teamsters union President James Hoffa, addressing a large Labor Day rally, brazenly proclaimed that labor unions – especially the huge government employee unions like the 3-million-member National Education Association and 2-million-member Service Employees International Union – provide the ground troops in the ongoing war to “fundamentally transform” America into a socialist utopia.

“President Obama, this is your army! We are ready to march! Let’s take these son-of-a-b*tches out and give America back to an America where we belong,” he shouted, referring to the tea party movement.

The Obama administration has been generously “funding” the union army since the inauguration, from the General Motors bailout, which blatantly favored union workers, to Obamacare, whose burdensome new regulations don’t apply to many unions thanks to special White House waivers. Obama’s early executive order required all federal agencies to accept construction bids only from contractors who agree to use union workers, and he packed the D.C. bureaucracy with union officials.

Unions tied to Obama also have played a large role in the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Thank heavens for the current state of sports in Wisconsin. The Brewers got into the National League Championship Series (a place I predict they will not revisit soon), the Badgers are playing in their second consecutive Rose Bowl Monday (for my prediction, see this space Monday morning), and the Packers are the number one seed in the NFC playoffs a season after their fourth Super Bowl win. (I’ll have more to write about their next Super Bowl opportunity in January.) For those of us who endured such football as in 1988 (the Packers were 4–12 and the Badgers were 1–10), this still has an air of unreality to it.

Other interesting (and better) things happened in 2011. Our family set a personal record by heading for the basement three times as the tornado sirens went off for a non-test. The first happened while our German/French (now Italian) foreign exchange student was here. My, uh, freer schedule allowed me to go on field trips with our kids, including a church camp.

On to the year to come. I predict that the current economy will not be enough to get a majority of voters to fire Obama and his toadies. (Even if I run.) Too many Americans are still enthralled with the promise of Obama, even though the performance is best noted by his failures, and even though his biggest accomplishment (if that’s what you want to call it), ObamaCare, is tremendously unpopular with voters. (Perhaps they’ll start noticing when their employers drop employee health insurance, which will begin happening this coming year.)

The second reason for my prediction is that the Republicans are not exactly blowing the socks off voters through the interminable presidential-candidate-selection process, are they? There is no way in hell I will vote for Obama, and nor should you, but I can’t say there is a single GOP candidate I support for any reason than the fact that that candidate is not Obama. The fact that other voters feel like I do will be shown by support for a third-party — maybe more than one, in fact — candidate for president, including possibly Republican-turned-Libertarian Gary Johnson, Republican-about-to-turn-Libertarian Ron Paul, and Donald Trump.

Democrats shouldn’t jump for joy, though, because Republicans will not only retain the House of Representatives, but they will win the Senate in November. The demographic realities of the 2012 and 2014 Senate races will mean that, if my prediction (Obama’s winning with less than 50 percent of the popular vote) is correct, the gridlock you see in Washington will continue for most of this decade. I hope you enjoy it.

By the end of 2012, Wisconsin Democrats and their comrades will discover that Recallarama part deux was bad strategy, because whatever money they spend on defeating Walker in a recall election (which will result in Walker’s winning, by the way) cannot be used for (1) the U.S. Senate election, featuring socialist U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D–Madison); (2) efforts to unseat freshman U.S. Reps. Sean Duffy (R–Ashland) and Reid Ribble (R–Sherwood); efforts to win back (3A) the state Senate and (3B) Assembly by recall or by the November election; and, oh, by the way, (4) Obama’s campaign in this supposedly swing state.

It would be nice if Democratic and Republican office-holders and candidates would engrave in their brains article 1, section 22 of the state Constitution, which I repeat here for those Wisconsinites ignorant of it:

The blessings of a free government can only be maintained by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality and virtue, and by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles.

My longer-term prediction is that this scorched-earth politics of ours will be reality for the foreseeable future, both at the national and state levels. Politics today is a zero-sum game — one side wins, the other side loses. How do you get past that, particularly when one side seeks to steal from the other? (That is exactly what Occupy ______ wants to do, either because they believe that’s how to solve unsolvable income and wealth inequality, or because they’re thieves at heart.) The 2011 Legislature is the direct result of the 2009–10 Legislature and its abuses of taxpayers, and whenever Democrats regain control of the Legislature, they will stick it to Republicans and their allies however, whenever and wherever they can. That wasn’t how politics worked when I was a UW Political Science student, but it is now.

The way I always end That Was the Year That Was is with these words: May your 2012 be better than your 2011. That may seem to be a low standard. That may also not be possible.

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