Rachel Maddow, on February 18th, did commentary on the protests in Wisconsin. She opens with and repeats several times the claim that Wisconsin is going to have a "budget surplus this year," that the deficit a fabrication being used to justify ending collective bargaining rights in that state. She also claimed that there is a "$137 million budget shortfall" in that state (1:45), and that it was created by the governor giving tax breaks to the wealthy.
There is, indeed, a projected deficit that required attention, and Walker and GOP lawmakers did not create it.
More on that second point in a bit.
The confusion, it appears, stems from a section in Lang's memo that -- read on its own -- does project a $121 million surplus in the state's general fund as of June 30, 2011.
But the remainder of the routine memo -- consider it the fine print -- outlines $258 million in unpaid bills or expected shortfalls in programs such as Medicaid services for the needy ($174 million alone), the public defender's office and corrections. Additionally, the state owes Minnesota $58.7 million under a discontinued tax reciprocity deal.
The result, by our math and Lang's, is the $137 million shortfall.[...]
So why does Lang write his biennial memo in a way that invites confusion?
Lang, a veteran and respected civil servant working in a nonpartisan job, told us he does not want to presume what legislative or other action will be taken to address the potential shortfalls he lists.
Admittedly, the approach this time created the opportunity for a snappy -- and powerful -- political attack.
But it is an inaccurate one.
Also, the tax cuts Maddow cites are for the next two fiscal years, not this fiscal year:
Meanwhile, what about Maddow's claim -- also repeated across the liberal blogosphere -- that Walker's tax-cut bills approved in January are responsible for the $137 million deficit?
Lang's fiscal bureau report and news accounts addressed that issue as well.
The tax cuts will cost the state a projected $140 million in tax revenue -- but not until the next two-year budget, from July 2011 to June 2013. The cuts are not even in effect yet, so they cannot be part of the current problem.
So, OK, this might just be a legitimate error. How does Maddow respond? Does she back up her original statements? Does she admit to having made an error? Her reply to Politifact starts at 6:45.
Notice she only plays the first part of the sentence in which she makes a claim that completely contradicts the introduction to her segment. She doesn't replay the first part where she says, "Despite what you may have heard about Wisconsin's finances, Wisconsin is on track to have a budget surplus this year. I am not kidding," and then goes on to repeat that claim several times.
It was sloppy work, contradicting herself and getting it wrong both times, but she doesn't get credit for the one time she was closer to the truth when she contradicted that statement in the same segment, and she certainly doesn't get credit for the half a sentence that was right when the other half of that sentence was wrong.
She then went for pity points at around 10:45 bringing up the homophobia of people retweeting this and another story about her numbers when it comes to independent expenditures by unions (which was a bizarre way to present that information, only citing money from independent expenditures). Follow the shiny object, etc.
Something tells me that if Bill O'Reilly made two contradictory statements in a segment, and, when called out for it, played part of one to make it look like he was right all along, people would probably say that he's a propagandist who got caught and lament for his audience who didn't get to see the truth. He is a propagandist, and his audience is stuck in his alternate universe (supported by his friends on his network, on rightwing radio, on conservative blogs, etc.).
We, on the other hand, wonder why people would ever not trust Rachel Maddow and how folks continue to trust the right even when they're obvious liars.
I also take issue with Maddow's narrative about why the Republicans want to dismantle the unions in Wisconsin (in the video before the jump). Yes, Republicans would have more political power if unions were dismantled, but is that it? What's the point of them getting more political power? Do they just want to win more elections for the sake of winning more elections, as Maddow says?
Liberals, especially the rich ones that run the liberal movement in the party, the orgs, and the media, are unable to express their ideas in terms of class conflict. Cable news is notorious for explaining politics always in terms of Republicans vs. Democrats, which is a really dry way of doing it that misses the point. Back when cable was all conservative, it made sense - they don't want people to know that there's a large-scale class war going on right now, that's been going on forever, and that the end-goal of the other side is to have a small aristocracy that the rest of us have to serve.
Liberals have lately fallen in line, expressing frustration with what are really class issues as partisan issues. Saying that Republicans want to remove support for Democrats so that they win more elections is an aseptic, and often inaccessible, way of saying that rich people are trying to keep working people down by making us more disorganized than we already are.
Conservatives tell a better story than liberals do, and the story they've been pounding home on Wisconsin is that rich state workers and their corrupt unions are trying to bilk the state and everyone else will end up having to pay for it. This should be the sort of thing that back-fires on conservatives, since people generally do like state workers and think that they do valuable work.
Instead, liberals come back with how it's a ploy for the party to gain some power, how it's all about elections, instead of a direct attack on hard workers and part of a decades-long assault on the working class by the ruling class. The budget shortfalls we're seeing all over the country are a result of the various schemes Wall Street employed over the past decade to make as much money as they could while trashing the economy for the rest of us, and now they want to continue the scam and make the working class pay for what they did.
The budget shortfalls are real. They're the real effect of the greed, the greed of people like General Electric's shareholders. Not everything can be described in the superficial frame of political gain.
The collective bargaining rights are being asked for because wealthy people think that people will give up collective bargaining rights more easily if they think there's some sort of emergency going on, but they've wanted to eliminate unions ever since the first unions were created, long before unions were even a stable source of support for the Democratic Party. There's a reason union leaders were the first people rounded up during the Junta in Argentina back in the 70's, why Reagan busted the air traffic controllers' union in the 80's, and why union-busting was being demanded by many on the right when the American auto companies were looking for some help - commoners organizing will always be a threat to the privilege and power of the aristocracy.
Of course, that sort of class analysis wouldn't work out to well for Maddow and her colleagues who are part of the richest 0.1% of the US. Instead, think about elections.