Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
January 7, 2013

Two Year-End Deadlines Missed
One contrived, the other compelling. One bad news for society, the other even worse news for the biosphere.

The Fiscal Cliff reminded me of a recurring gag of the Beetle Bailey comic strip about life on an Army base. As a result of Beetle’s antics his Sergeant was frequently left holding on for dear life to a tree growing out of the side of a cliff. Somehow he never fell to his doom. But while no noncoms were actually harmed as a result of Private Bailey’s shenanigans the same can not be said for the current Washington battles of the Cliff dwellers.

It could have been worse, as my wife Mary pointed out one morning after looking at the New York Times. She noted the leader of the cracked tea-pots controlling the House refused to take yes for an answer when the President offered him a package that included a first step in slicing entitlements--cutting once sacrosanct Social Security benefits. If the Speaker had not left in a huff to pursue a fantasy Plan B that proved to be dead before arrival, the cuts to retirees would likely already be the law of the land.

Labor’s White House “friend” had to put his chained CPI back in his briefcase as he and Lunch Box Joe Biden frantically cobbled together an aisle-crossing congressional majority to defer fiscal crisis--for another few weeks. When they return to negotiations there will be an added peak to the Cliff --the need for Congress to raise the debt ceiling. Once again, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid will be on the chopping block.

Seniors were kept in the cross-hairs as disingenuous pundits and politicians lamented the “increase” in Social Security tax. It is, of course, not an increase. It is merely the resumption of collecting part of the tax that the pols let slide to put more money in paychecks before the election–adding to the deficit in the process.

The two camps had no problem agreeing to extend the pay freeze on all civilian Federal employees but the House Speaker took a little spiteful revenge by failing to even take up bills for relief of victims of Hurricane Sandy. That triggered a sharp-tongued attack on him by many in his own party and it appeared doubtful he could keep his job. But, alas--nobody else wanted the post.

Now I like a good joke as much as the next person and certainly all branches of government in our nation’s capital are providing a bumper crop of butts of derisive laughter. The Colbert Report remains my favorite news show. But my mirth always quickly wanes as I remember this collection of rowdy tea-baggers, pretentious liberals, and black robed gargoyles, are in charge of the mightiest war machine in history, have facilitated a massive upward redistribution of wealth, and are heating up our place in the sun at a pace that would have astounded Dante.

That last bit takes us to the second deadline missed as the Waterford Crystal Ball came down in Times Square–the end of the first phase of the Kyoto Protocols. The none too ambitious target of Kyoto was to reduce carbon emissions five percent below 1990 levels by the end of 2012. Instead we got a 58 percent increase over that benchmark. That failure wasn’t mentioned on Fox, MSNBC, or even Al Gore’s Current TV–which he just sold for a tidy sum to al-Jazeera.

Some effects of global warming simply can’t be ignored however. The effect of rising sea levels was palpable in the storm surge damage of SuperStorm Sandy. On the other hand, drought has led to a fall in water levels in some of the Great Lakes–and the mighty Mississippi River. This is more than just a blow to tourism and sport fishing. These waterways are vital to the movement of grain, coal, iron ore and other bulk shipping and the tying up of barge traffic between St Louis and New Orleans has intruded in to mass media coverage.

When it comes to Washington’s Cliff creators, no news is generally good news. Inaction is the best we can hope for.

But global warming doesn’t take any breaks. Fueled by a global corporate profit drive that treats nature and workers alike as disposable commodities, our climate is undergoing irreversible unwelcome changes. Ignoring global warming is no more effective than making the poor disappear by averting your eyes in their presence. Every day of inaction on climate change takes us closer to dooming future generations to an environment that can no longer sustain human life as we know it.

Some Telling Headlines
‘Health care tax hikes for 2013 may be just a start’–
This Christmas Day AP story tells us, 

“Workers pay no income or payroll taxes on what their employer contributes for health insurance, and in most cases on their own share of premiums as well. It's the single biggest tax break the government allows, outstripping the mortgage interest deduction, the deduction for charitable giving and other better-known benefits. If the value of job-based health insurance were taxed like regular income, it would raise nearly $150 billion in 2013, according to congressional estimates. By comparison, wiping away the mortgage interest deduction would bring in only about $90 billion.... It's hard to see how lawmakers can avoid touching health insurance if they want to eliminate loopholes and curtail deductions so as to raise revenue and lower tax rates.” 

‘Employers Must Offer Family Care, Affordable or Not’–
Robert Pear writing in the December 31 New York Times

“In a long-awaited interpretation of the new health care law, the Obama administration said Monday that employers must offer health insurance to employees and their children, but will not be subject to any penalties if family coverage is unaffordable to workers..... The new rules, to be published in the Federal Register, create a strong incentive for employers to put money into insurance for their employees rather than dependents. It is unclear whether the spouse and children of an employee will be able to obtain federal subsidies to help them buy coverage - separate from the employee - through insurance exchanges being established in every state. The administration explicitly reserved judgment on that question, which could affect millions of people in families with low and moderate incomes.” 

The current average premium for family coverage is 15,745 dollars. 

‘Health Insurers Raise Some Rates by Double Digits’--
In the January 5 NYT Reed Abelson reports, 

“Health insurance companies across the country are seeking and winning double-digit increases in premiums for some customers, even though one of the biggest objectives of the Obama administration's health care law was to stem the rapid rise in insurance costs for consumers....Particularly vulnerable to the high rates are small businesses and people who do not have employer-provided insurance and must buy it on their own.” 

Welcome to the brave new world of what our Democrat “friends” cynically call the Affordable Care Act. 

This Friday, January 11, the Labor Campaign for Single Payer will convene a National Strategy Conference at the O'Hare Embassy Suites Hotel in Chicago. The main focus of the Strategy Conference will be how labor can rise to the challenge of leading a campaign to win single-payer Medicare-for-All reforms in the post-election period. I can’t make that event but I certainly wish them well and look forward to a report on the gathering. 

Unity At Kaiser and Beyond
My friend Steve Early opens a story in
Labor Notes,

“Two of U.S. labor’s biggest recent strikes against concessions were conducted by the California Nurses Association and the National Union of Healthcare Workers. Their target each time was Kaiser Permanente, the giant California health care chain that has made $6 billion in profits since 2009 but still wants job cuts and givebacks. Today CNA and NUHW took their collaboration further and announced NUHW’s formal affiliation with CNA. It seemed an obvious alliance, because, as CNA Co-president Deborah Burger noted at a press conference in Oakland, many of the union activists in the room have ‘been working together for decades’ against common employers.”

Sister Burger’s time line is accurate but begins when NUHW workers and most of their present leaders were part of SEIU. Former SEIU president Andy Stern carried out a factional purge of the old United Healthcare Workers West super-local that led to the regroupment of the expelled in the NUHW. When CNA continued their collaboration with NUHW SEIU launched a series of attacks on the nurses–some of them violent. Later a truce was negotiated and both sides pledged to work together on contract and organizing campaigns. Not long after, Stern retired, replaced by Mary Kay Henry.

There was no more violence but not much cooperation either. The present leader of SEIU health care workers in California last year joined the hospital bosses in calling for an end to hard won legislative mandates of patient-nurse ratios. And SEIU leaders directed their members to cross picket lines of three unions in recent strikes at Kaiser.

The adversarial practices of CNA–now part of National Nurses United–and NUHW make them a natural fit for a promising alliance. A rare bit of good news for our side in this new year.

Pulling It All Together
In every Week In Review we are reminded how boss class domination of politics frustrates our every effort to even just hang on to what workers won in the past. Traditional collective bargaining alone–enjoyed by only a shrinking minority of workers–is insufficient to meet today’s great challenges.

An impressive effort to launch a Labor Party in 1996 has now run its course. You can read an explanation by its last elected officers, along with a blog with comments from others, by going here.

Those of us in the Kansas City Labor Party are regrouping under the name Labor Party Advocates. Our first public meeting will be held next Sunday, January 13, 1PM, at the North Kansas City Library.

I will make some introductory remarks and we will have at least an hour or so for a wide-open discussion. If you are in the KC area I hope you will join us.

That’s all for this week. 

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