Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
May 17, 2009

‘You Will Find Us In the Streets’
Despite the preoccupation with the economic crisis, not all Americans have lost sight of the fact that the U.S. continues wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with some drone attacks and occasional incursions in Pakistan. Especially conscious are the men and women who have served as GIs in these, or past wars.

Reprinted under the title You Will Find Us In the Streets, is a powerful open letter to President Obama from Mike Ferner, president of Veterans for Peace. Ferner begins,

“We write to you again, this time to say we are saddened to see that you now clearly believe in the tired, inhumane and unworkable assumption that violence will somehow work; that might makes right. But that is not the only thing we need to tell you... We are not just saddened. We are angry. We are outraged by these actions...”

He goes on to say, “Veterans for Peace will continue to speak out against such crimes. We will do so along with the growing numbers of people who are telling you that by going down this road you are making a tragic mistake.”

While the VfP letter focuses on Obama’s decision to escalate in Afghanistan/Pakistan, fresh headlines such as Iraq's once-envied health care system lost to war, corruption and Anxiety Grows In Sadr City, also remind us the impact of the illegal, unjust occupation in Iraq is far from over.

Award Winning Performance?
Those of you who follow the stories we post on our
Daily Labor News Digest already know the Baucus Eight we wrote about last week has expanded to the Baucus Thirteen. The Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee once again summoned the Capitol Police to remove, handcuff, and book five more single-payer advocates seeking to present their proposal–supported by nearly six out of ten Americans–to another of Baucus’s “roundtables” on health care reform. Though not yet confirmed by historical research some think this may be a record number of arrests ordered by a chair in congressional hearing rooms. Even if he doesn’t qualify for the gold, the Montana Democrat certainly should get honorable mention for some appropriate recognition, perhaps the Joe McCarthy Free Speech Award.

Unfortunately for this good friend of labor, Baucus’s arrest powers don’t extend across the street where several hundred nurses and supporters from several unions held a lively rally for single-payer and patient/nurse rights.

Perhaps the clearest, and most honest assessment of the bogus health care “reform” being promoted on Capitol Hill came from Glen Ford. Not related to the Canadian actor, Ford is a veteran journalist and radio commentator who edits the often perceptive Black Agenda Report. His introduction to Obama’s Health Care Charade reads,

“President Obama has gone to extraordinary lengths to suppress advocates of single-payer health care. He has choreographed a grand theater of faux-change, in which he ‘seeks to create a facade of unity along lines that do not threaten corporate power.’ The goal is to ‘sidetrack, possibly for decades, the most broadly supported idea in American politics, today.’ This ‘requires elaborate reconstructions of reality,’ starting with ‘methodically erasing single-payer advocates from the picture, with the enthusiastic collaboration of the corporate media.’ Thus, Obama and compliant Democrats on The Hill stage ‘summits’ and ‘public roundtable discussions’ on health care from which majority U.S. opinion is totally excluded.”

You should read the whole piece.

Clearing the Air About the Climate Bill
It’s not always easy getting answers to basic questions. A compromise climate bill engineered by the House Democrat leadership Friday was hailed by mainstream environmental groups as a “step forward” and condemned by House Republicans and the American Petroleum Institute. But few details distracted from the various sound bite messages. As is often the case, we have to turn to the Wall Street Journal to get some hard facts.

On Saturday, Ian Talley wrote in Panel Adds Free Permits To CO2 Bill ,

“The latest version of the House Democratic leadership's climate bill would give away for free up to 85% of the pollution permits created to launch a proposed system to cap greenhouse-gas emissions, according to details released Friday....

“The compromise would allow certain industries to avoid paying for greenhouse-gas permits over the next two decades. President Barack Obama and Mr. Waxman [D-CA] had originally pushed for all the emission permits to be auctioned, which would have generated $624 billion over 10 years, according to the administration's budget plan. That money was intended to fund Mr. Obama's middle-class tax cuts and research on clean-energy technology.”

35 percent of the free permits would go to electric power generation. Energy-intensive industries, such as the cement, glass and paper manufacturing sectors, will get 15 percent of the freebies. An additional 9 percent would go to the natural-gas sector, 2 percent to oil refiners and 1.5 percent to users of heating oil. Even the auto industry would get a taste, snacking on three percent of free destruction as usual.

The Rain Forest Coalition had earlier estimated the original bill, which included full cap-and-trade, allowing purchase of offsetting indulgences from developing countries and NGOs, would,

“If polluters indeed use the maximum allowable number of offset credits, domestic emissions in 2012 would increase by 38% rather than decrease by 3%, the reduction that the cap sets. Emissions would not dip below 2005 levels until 2026, 17 years from today. If all eligible offsets were used, the 20% reduction supposed to happen by 2020 would not actually be reached until 2036.”

They remind us, “These reductions are clearly not enough to prevent global temperature from rising by more than two degrees Celsius (3.6F), a threshold that many scientists believe will lead to dangerous consequences, if crossed.”

Clearly the free hits for up to twenty years compromise now offered makes this dismal assessment bleaker yet. Pursuing market solutions to the greatest challenge yet faced by humanity will condemn future generations. I remain firmly convinced that only a planned conversion of our economy, as I outlined in my recent conference presentation, gives us a realistic shot at saving our biosphere.

Sorting Out the Perps and Victims
Hearings by the National Transportation Safety Board in to the February crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 outside Buffalo, which killed all 49 on board and one on the ground, exposed a lot. Spokespersons for the actual subcontracted carrier, Colgan Air, denied any responsibility, blaming their two dead crew members for the tragedy.

But was it a tragedy or a crime? The young pilot and co-pilot were clearly not adequately trained. They were obviously suffering from fatigue. One was sick. Their recorded conversations on the flight included talk about how they hoped to use their present jobs–paying 25,000 and 16,000 dollars a year–as a stepping stone to more rewarding, less exhausting work with a major, unionized carrier.

Colgan was certainly aware of their shortcomings in training and experience and readily admit they have a revolving door workforce. Yet they put them, and many others in similar situations, in a position of responsibility for the lives and safety of passengers and those down below. This is not tragic–this is greed bordering on criminal irresponsibility.

Colgan is not the only anonymous regional connection carrier. Such outfits now handle half the country’s airline flights and a quarter of its passengers. The major airlines use them for one reason only–labor costs are only a small fraction of unionized pilots, cabin, and ground staff.

For an excellent investigative piece on this dangerous scandal see Pilots’ Lives Defy Glamorous Stereotype in today’s New York Times.

In Brief...
¶ Some of the business press, examining papers filed during bankruptcy, have picked up on some of the more odious takebacks from Chrysler workers in the tripartite deal between Fiat, the White House, and the UAW--first publicized by
Larry Christensen in Labor Notes two weeks ago. Even hard-boiled journalists were shocked by the six-year no strike pledge extracted by Obama and the elimination of dental and vision benefits for retirees covered by VEBA. Labor Notes online has just posted two new auto stories-- Auto Workers Taken for a Ride by Jane Slaughter and Getting Detroit Back to Work by Mischa Gaus.
¶ About 20,000 unionists, including solidarity contingents from Germany, Italy and France, demonstrated in the Czech capital of Prague yesterday against proposed changes in labor law that would make it easier to fire workers. Also on Saturday, thousands of Fiat workers, fearing shutdowns, marched from the Mirafiori factory to the company headquarters in Turin. Earlier in the week, steelworkers from France and Belgium physically assaulted ArcelorMittal headquarters in Luxembourg during an annual shareholders meeting, protesting job cuts. And last Wednesday, thousands of Nigerian unionists marched in Lagos denouncing an end to fuel subsidies for working people and demanding an increase in the minimum wage.
¶ This past week hourly payroll at Chrysler slipped to its lowest point since 1934. General Motors stock fell to its lowest price since 1933.

We Relent–7AM News Is Back
A number of regular readers of our Daily Labor News Digest have expressed disappointment with our shift of update deadline from 7 to 9AM a few weeks ago. While those of you on the West Coast, and in other hemispheres, probably weren’t much affected it has messed with the schedules and routines of those in the Eastern and Central time zones. Tomorrow, Monday, May 18, I will wearily return to getting the news posted by 7AM Central, Monday-Friday.

That’s all for this week.

Next Troublemakers School--Bay Area--May 30

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