Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
November 16, 2008

Fire, Flood, Or Just Cloudy?
Even as catastrophic fires once again ravage tinder dry southern California, Arnold Schwarzenegger on Friday ordered preparations for rising sea levels from global warming. The Golden State has about 800 miles of Pacific coast line. Sea level measured at San Francisco rose seven inches during the 20th century.

But that’s nothing compared to what’s in store. Pioneer climate expert James Hansen recently said,

“In my opinion, if emissions follow a business-as-usual scenario, sea level rise of at least two meters [about six feet] is likely this century. Hundreds of millions of people would become refugees. No stable shoreline would be reestablished in any time frame that humanity can conceive.”

While enough greenhouse gasses have already been pumped in to the atmosphere to assure an eventual rise in the planet’s average temperature of at least 2.4 degrees centigrade (about 4 degrees Fahrenheit)–more than enough to expand the volume of sea water to create massive flooding of islands and coastal areas–a countervailing factor has so far prevented the full effect of this heat boost from kicking in.

But, as a U.N. Environment Program study released last week reaffirms, this delay is not really so welcome. Sunlight, which would normally fuel global warming, is being blocked by a dirty brown haze sometimes more than a mile thick-- masking the impact of greenhouse levels by about forty percent. It is darkening skies, dimming sunlight by as much as 23 percent, not only over vast areas of Asia, as we saw during the Beijing Olympics, but also in the Middle East, southern Africa and the Amazon Basin. This unhealthy mix of particles, ozone and other chemicals that come from cars, coal-fired power plants, burning fields and wood-burning stoves, is believed responsible for 350,000 premature deaths just in China and India every year.

You seldom see such stories on the Nightly News. What you will see is incessant advertising by the American Petroleum Institute assuring us that there’s enough oil and natural gas in North America to keep us going another sixty years–if we just let them drill, baby, drill.

The present Democrat congress gave the API an at least indirect boost when it allowed a moratorium on offshore drilling to expire last month. Last week the U.S. Minerals Management Service took the initial steps to allow drilling fifty miles off the coast of Virginia. The Los Angeles Times reports,

“Democratic lawmakers and President-elect Barack Obama have said they would consider offshore drilling as a compromise in a comprehensive energy policy and as a way to wean the U.S. off foreign oil.”

To them, “comprehensive” energy policy mainly means boosting the disastrous ethanol scam, subsidizing Detroit’s retooling to make marginally less thirsty vehicles, and promoting the pipe dream of “clean coal.” Even more nukes are not ruled out.

Who else will speak up, as the scientists do, in defense of our biosphere threatened by unrestrained corporate greed? It looks like it’s going to be the working class–or no body.

Quote Of the Week
Dean Baker is one of the few economists I have met personally, and greatly respect. Baker did much of the work costing out the Labor Party’s Just Health Care and Free Higher Ed proposals. He also sounded some of the earliest warnings about the housing bubble. In an article worth reading,
The Obama Economic Team: Clinton Retreads?, he concludes,

“While the Bush administration must take responsibility for the current crisis (they have been in power the last 8 years), the stage was set during the Clinton years. The Clinton team set the economy on the path of one-sided financial deregulation and bubble-driven growth that brought us where we are today. (The deregulation was one-sided, because they did not take away the ‘too big to fail’ security blanket of the Wall Street big boys.) For this reason, it is very discouraging to see top Clinton administration officials standing center stage at President Obama's meeting on the economy. This is not change, and certainly not policies that we can believe in.”

Street Heat In Iraq
This is not a flip reference to the resurgence of bombings in areas once hailed as “secure.” News made its way out about more mass street actions and sit-ins by Iraqi unions, fighting against wage and benefit cuts mandated by the IMF. If you missed that story you can read about it

Behind Those Obscene Costs Lurks...
Not everyone was pleased with a rally by the National Nurse Organizing Committee held at the Texas capitol Thursday. The NNOC was calling for state-mandated nurse-patient ratios, similar to what CNA helped win in California. A spokesperson for the Texas chapter of the American Nurses Association,
Toni Inglis, told the Austin Statesman, “that California’s ratio law ‘drove up already obscenely inflated healthcare costs.’ She also wrote that Texas nurses don’t need to be unionized and don’t need California groups to speak for them.”

Let’s Be Civil About It
You don’t need marriage to live with a partner in bliss, or even to have children. I’ve been there. But you do need the sanction of civil marriage to sort out property, use the most advantageous tax status, and to qualify for family coverage in health and pension benefits. That’s why I’m working on a third civil marriage.

Friends and colleagues of mine, and millions more in same gender relationships, are denied the opportunity for civil marriage in 48 of America’s 50 states. Some unions have negotiated employer benefits for “domestic partners,”–unmarried couples of both same and mixed genders–as a partial solution. Recently there appeared to be progress in eliminating the fundamental injustice–until the victory of California Proposition 8 in the election.

Yesterday, hundreds of thousands, “gay” and “straight,” in virtually every town across the USA, protested the denial of civil rights and benefits to same gender couples. They deserve our support.

What’s Worth Saving In the Big Three
General Motors is testing a question that is sometimes answered by those driving their vehicles–how far will this thing run on empty? At the same time they announced plans to up their stake in a joint venture with Chinese automakers SAIC and Wuling Automobile, they claimed to be a cam clearance away from being broke and appealed to three governments for immediate help. (Their German union “partners”deny a cash liquidity crisis at Opel, lessening their prospects there.) The Canadian Tory Minister of Industry has suggested a possible joint Washington-Ottawa bailout.

But over the week it became clear that anything contributed from Washington, beyond the 25 billion already allocated for “retooling,” would come with harsh conditions–mainly for the workers. On Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal vaguely reported,

“Obama advisers are also examining union work rules that could be put on the bargaining table, although Obama advisers were reluctant to insist the UAW make any more concessions on health care or retiree benefits.”

By Thursday, the New York Times was running a story titled, “G.M.’s Troubles Stir Question of Bankruptcy vs. a Bailout.” Bankruptcy, of course, would mean all union agreements would be up for grabs.

Today’s headlines are even more ominous. In the Detroit Free Press, “Further givebacks likely in any GM bailout,:” John Gallagher speculates the main targets will be the Job Bank, Supplemental Unemployment Benefits, and restrictions on plant closings. He also shows Wall Street is not nearly as hesitant as Obama has been reported about taking on healthcare, citing JP Morgan analyst Himanshu Patel,

“He suggested the UAW could reduce the money the automakers had agreed to pay for retiree health care, make current workers pay more for their health care and take wage cuts.”

After surrendering so much last year in the name of job security and retiree healthcare it seems unlikely that the UAW would voluntarily agree to JP Morgan’s suggestion. In a conference call with reporters yesterday UAW president Ron Gettelfinger reminded them,

“We have made dramatic, dramatic changes and the UAW was applauded for that...The focus has to be on the economy as a whole as opposed to a UAW contract.”

The Center for Automotive Research, funded by the auto industry, warns that the collapse of the Big Three could set off a catastrophic chain reaction in the economy, eliminating up to 3 million jobs and more than $150 billion in tax revenue over the next three years. They suggest it would be cheaper for the tax payers to bail them out.

While noting their self-interest, CAR’s doomsday scenario is credible. We should be concerned about three million jobs. But we should also spike the illusion that the auto bosses can preserve these as decent jobs. Let’s instead make the bosses an offer they can’t refuse: we’ll take the companies over at their current market value–zero. We’ll keep those three million working in a new public sector, with their union contracts intact, if not making cars then producing things that might hold down that rising sea level we talked about at the opening of this column.

That’s all for this week.

Demand Guaranteed Healthcare on a SinglePayer model for everyone in America, for life.

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