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Beinhart's Body Politic: Class Warfare IV 

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Remember Maine?

It’s the state up north with the vast nature preserve that’s supposed to protect America’s last five Traditional Republicans, once known as RWRs, Republicans within Reason. They’re now known as Rinos, Republicans in Name Only, because anyone in the party who pits reason against rhetoric gets knocked out in the primaries.
Maine’s environmental protection agency has apparently failed in its duties because RWRs have become extinct. Word has reached us that the last breeding pair won’t even put down their martinis to get out of their separate beds when dosed with Cialis because they’re upset that their medication might have been funded by Obamacare.

Governors of Maine usually enjoy so much obscurity that they’re hard to distinguish from hibernating bears. But Maine’s new Republican governor, Paul LePage, has managed to draw attention to himself by removing murals from the state’s Department of Labor because some people in them appeared to be working and pictures of people working could be deemed to be hostile to business. According to the governor’s spokesman, it was “one-sided décor” not in keeping with the department’s pro-business goals.
That was a symbolic gesture.

How about a real one? Well, Paul LePage’s got one for you. How about rolling back child labor laws? Did you know that children in Maine can’t work later than 10pm on school nights? Just because most school days start at eight in the morning and school bus pick-ups begin at 7am or earlier. Children have to be paid minimum wage, $7.50 an hour. Way too much. Let’s push that down to $5.25.

Is that the end, or just the beginning? State Rep. Bruce Bickford (R), who co-sponsored the bill said, “It’s not up to the government to regulate everybody’s life and lifestyle. Take the government away.”

Median family income in Maine is $5,600 less than the US average. Twelve percent of the state lives below the poverty level. Clearly, the governor believes that if they could only get more kids into the work force, to work more hours, for lower wages, that would that fix things.

Remember the outbreak of salmonella from eggs in 2010? Federal authorities said that the man at the center of it was Jack DeCoster.

In 1996, DeCoster was fined $3.6 million because regulators found that workers had been forced to handle manure and dead chickens with their bare hands and live in filth. In 1999, his company paid $5 million to settle a claim of unpaid overtime for 3,000 workers. In 2001, there was a $1.5 million settlement against a complaint that they permitted supervisors to sexually assault and rape female workers. In 2002, they settled two lawsuits in Maine over working conditions for $345,810 and $3.2 million. In 2003, “Jack DeCoster paid the federal government $2.1 million as part of a plea agreement after federal agents found more than 100 undocumented workers at his Iowa egg farms. Three years later, agents found 30 workers suspected of being illegal immigrants at a DeCoster farm in Iowa. And in 2007, raids at other DeCoster Iowa farms uncovered 51 more suspected undocumented workers.” (Alec MacGillis, Washington Post, August 22, 2010).

What do you do about a guy like that? Or for a guy like that?

Republicans in the Maine legislature have introduced a bill (“An Act To Amend the Labor Laws Relating to Certain Agricultural Employees”) to exempt the three egg farms associated with DeCoster from paying overtime. It also exempts them from “the laws that govern labor relations between agricultural workers and an agricultural employer.”

Clearly, there are a people who believe that if Jack DeCoster, the man who brought the threat of salmonella to a third of the nation, could just exercise his God-given right to run his farms free from regulations, oversight, and supervision, it would make our nation healthier and wealthier.

The rest of LePage’s agenda lines right up with the other Republican governors across the country:
· Raise the retirement age of public workers from 62 to 65.
· Cut Maine’s prescription drug and health coverage for the working parents program.
· End $400 of property tax relief for 75,000 middle-income Maine households.
· Freeze cost of living adjustments for state employee retirees. Average pensions for Maine state employees are only $18,500 per year.
· Tax cuts. Most working families will save $83. Upper income earners save an average $874. The one percent who earn more than $363,438 will get a $2,770 tax cut. (Zaid Jilani, March 1, 2011, ThinkProgress.org)
There are a lot of strange ideas here.

A logical person, or a student of reality, would say if you want to create jobs, you hire more people. Nowadays, we say that if the state cuts jobs, more jobs will magically appear. This idea is so pervasive that Democrats like Governor Andrew Cuomo have embraced it.

We’ve just had a series of tax cuts, nationally, and in many states as well. These were all proposed as stimulus and job creation bills. (The Obama stimulus package was more tax cuts than public works, the major reason it was less than successful.) The result was no job growth, falling median income, and, lest we forget, a major crash, bankruptcies, bank failures, and government bailouts to save the world’s economy.

Blame it on public employees. And on their pensions. Make the public sector more like the private sector. Then the states could do to our teachers and firemen what US Airways did to Sully Sullenberger, the pilot who crash-landed his jet in the Hudson River. His pay was cut by 40 percent and his pension has disappeared entirely.
When you work and you get a salary plus a pension plan, you imagine that retirement money is part of your compensation. Shouldn’t a company, or a government, have the right to get out of that obligation if they have problems down the line? Isn’t reneging on a promise to pay an essential part of a real free market?

If no one, private or public employee, can count on having a pension, won’t that lead us to a new era of growth and prosperity? With good jobs!

The record of reality says, quite clearly, that a mixed economy, with regulations, unions, worker protection, pension protection, national health programs, government investment in infrastructure, education, and progressive technology makes for a healthier, sounder economy. To do that, it is necessary to tax whatever makes the most money. Which also, according to the record, makes for a healthier, sounder economy.

When the hell are we going to have politicians and public spokespeople who can make that case even half as clearly and a quarter as loudly as the loonies who have come to power make theirs?

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