Week In Review December 18

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Dec 182017

by Bill Onasch

He’s Making a List and Checking It Twice

In their annual listing of billionaires last Spring Forbes recorded the biggest number yet—2,043 globally, roughly 0.00003 percent of the world’s population. Their collective net worth was 7.67 trillion dollars.

Topping the list of their primary residences with 585 of them, including the presently richest of all, is the good old USA. 82 live in New York City. The Big Apple lost one from the previous year when he moved to Washington to become the first of the seven-digit elite to serve his country in the White House. Not all of his billionaire brethren are Christians but all appear set to get a very thoughtful Christmas present from jolly Santa Trump that they are unlikely to “regift”–the Tax Cut and Jobs Act.

What Trump calls the Fake News liberal media did a thorough job in exposing in some detail the harm to workers, farmers, and the environment that will result from the “offsets” needed to pay for a 1.5 trillion dollars in lost revenue from tax cuts. Also uncovered were a number of special non-tax favors to some capitalists–like opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling.

The December 4 WIR reviewed the different versions adopted by the two Houses. After a close call in the Senate, they had to tie up some loose ends. The proposal to tax the free tuition granted to university grad student workers, and the threat of eliminating deductions of interest on student loans, were dropped. Child tax credits were slightly enhanced.

But incredibly even more concessions were granted to individuals in the highest tax brackets. Those are to be paid for by ending individual—though not corporate–cuts earlier and shaving Earned Income Tax Credits for the very poor by changing to a “Chained CPI” that understates real inflation. Any unanticipated increase in deficit spending will trigger specified automatic cuts even in entitlements like Medicare. Deficit or not, Medicaid will wither away. As this is published, it appears they have the votes to pass.

Miffed at being excluded from the gift selection and wrapping for the ruling class they also serve, the Democrats at times have sounded downright Bolshevik in denouncing tax cuts for the rich. Polls show a majority of the public already agree with that assertion and their numbers will surely grow as they learn more about it. The Dems hope to use this to pillory the GOP in next year’s midterm elections.

It’s Not the Devil’s Work

Most of us routinely use the term “capitalist greed.” While it is an accurate description of the their morality it’s an incomplete, and not very scientific indictment. Greed, or avarice, is one of the Seven Deadly Sins, codified for Catholics by Pope Gregory I in 590CE and continued by the much later breakaway Lutherans and Methodists. Fair warning is given that if you die without repenting these offenses you will be excluded from the Kingdom of God—and Dante described how unattractive your alternatives may be.

Sin and after-life are not on my beat but I don’t expect to meet up with our greedy rulers at the intersection of Fire&Brimstone. Their pursuit of palpable avarice is not a defiance of deity, not even a reasoned choice—it is compelled by the inner dynamics of the capitalist system. An egalitarian capitalist would be a fish out of water indeed.

Growing inequality is one aspect of capitalism that has drawn overdue attention in recent years. Last week, the Guardian published an excellent essay to launch a new Inequality Project—ironically partially funded by the Ford Foundation. Their initial offering, Inequality is not inevitable – but the US ‘experiment’ is a recipe for divergence, has five authors but only one has name recognition outside the economics academic community.

Thomas Piketty, a professor at the Paris School of Economics, has not only published scholarly papers. His 2013 book, Capital in the Twenty First Century, enjoyed some time on the New York Times Best Seller list with a whopping 1.5 million copies purchased. It was particularly popular among Millenials already with a gut feeling capitalism sucks but still searching for answers of why as well as how.

Though not an orthodox Marxist, Piketty uses much of Marxism’s methodology. While often weak on solutions, he is usually spot on in analysis of problems—including this collaborative project in the Guardian. I can’t possibly do it justice in the confines of the WIR but I will deal with some of its highlights from time to time next year. I recommend that you read it.

In Brief…

* A Better Connection—A New York Times story opened “Stemming the tide of rising economic insecurity for service workers, a major union has won significant job protection and increased pay for about 20,000 AT&T wireless employees, as well as a commitment to bring work back from overseas.”

* Not Just Numbers—After analysis by the New York Times indicated over 1,000 residents of Puerto Rico have died because of the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria—far in excess of the official count of 62–the Island’s Governor has ordered a fresh reexamination of all deaths in that time frame. Many outside San Juan are still without reliable access to electricity or drinking water.

* Better Buy American—Today’s Guardian reports “The Trump administration will drop climate change from a list of global threats in a new National Security Strategy the president is due to unveil on Monday. Instead, Trump’s NSS paper will emphasize the need for the US to regain its economic competitiveness in the world.”

* Tending to Their FLOC—Whether or not you have a decorated once living tree in your living room, I recommend a mostly inspiring holiday story by the prolific Mike Elk about a big victory by the Farm Labor Organizing Committee for Latino workers planting and cutting Christmas Trees in North Carolina. Their employer Hart-T-Tree Farm not only stole some of their wages but also exposed them to dangerous conditions including toxic chemicals. In addition to commitments to correct these complaints, the union won 330,000 dollars in back wages owed to 54 workers.

* Once Joint, Now None—One of the few substantial victories for workers during the Obama era National Labor Relations Board was the 2015 Browning Ferris. It established a principle of “joint responsibility” of corporations with their contractors and franchises in collective bargaining. That decision opened a clear legal path for the massive 15 and a Union movement to win recognition and contracts in franchises of huge fast food chains like McDonald’s and Burger King. Last Thursday, by a 3-2 vote, the now Republican Board majority reversed that decision.

* If You Don’t Hear From Me For Awhile…–According to a report from the Committee to Protect Journalists 262 around the world are in jail simply for doing their work as reporters. They are mostly victims of politically motivated charges of “supporting terrorism” or even “fake news.” Turkey, China and Egypt are the worst offenders.

This will be the last WIR of 2017. I observe all holidays that promote time off from work and consumption of good food and beverage. After today I begin my annual holiday break and will resume postings in the first week of January.

Though I am not religious I don’t resent anyone wishing me a Merry Christmas or Xmas. Unless you use a different calendar I wish all readers a Happy New Year.

That’s all for this year.

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Week In Review November 19

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Nov 192017

  by Bill Onasch

#Me Too’

Misogyny–disdain if not hatred of women–is not instinctive but it’s been around a long time. Subjugation of women was practiced in the ancient Athens male slave-holder “democracy.” It permeates biblical texts shared by the Abrahamic faiths, beginning with Eve’s culpability for Original Sin. To this day, the clergy and hierarchy of the Church launched by Peter are still all male who have taken a vow of celibacy. Orthodox synagogues continue to require separate seating for women apart from the men.

While the capitalist era injected an element of romance to relations between men and women it too has adapted misogyny, along with racism, xenophobia and homophobia, to serve their class interests–not only to keep the working class divided but to also impose super-exploitation of women, people of color, and immigrants.

It will take a social revolution to begin a likely generations long process to finally purge these prejudices that infect nearly all, consciously or not, to one degree or another. But that doesn’t mean that those oppressed can do nothing meaningful now to resist. Nor should white male workers perceived to enjoy privileges wait until Come the Rev to make everyone whole. The worker maxim that an Injury to One is the Concern of All means gender, color, and ethnic equality need to be integrated in to our ongoing fight for class and climate justice.


The fuse that ignited the current #Me Too explosion that erupted around Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein was first lit during last year’s presidential election campaign. The Washington Post dug up the infamous Access Hollywood tapes recording Trump’s crude and lewd bragging about how he had used his power as a rich and famous boss to abuse women. Several women went public with testimony of how they had been victimized. Many thought this would derail Trump’s campaign.

While it did cost him a lot of female votes, most of those who had drunk the Make America Great Again koolaid accepted his explanation the tape was just “locker room banter,” and his accusers were liars hired by Fake News. With Clinton’s bungling—and help from more than a few friends in other lands—Trump managed to pull off an Electoral College upset even though the first woman to head a major party ticket garnered nearly three million more votes of people.

But a lot of women didn’t forgive and forget. In the January 23 2017 Week In Review I wrote,

‘We’re Not Going Away!’

I didn’t know such a science existed until I saw this headline in the New York TimesCrowd Scientists Say Women’s March in Washington Had 3 Times as Many People as Trump’s Inauguration. They estimate around a half-million. That’s not the biggest ever march in Washington but it certainly is an impressive feat for an action organized in about two months while facing many political and logistical challenges.

But as I read numerous news accounts, supplemented by reports from our readers around North America, it became clear the DC demo was just the tip of an iceberg menacing the Titanic Ship of State steered by the big hands of the 45th President.

By Sunday afternoon, Ann Montague and Michael Schreiber had posted an excellent piece on the Socialist Action site–The Biggest Protest in U.S. History: Women’s Marches Draw 4 Million. The astonishing numbers are based on a tally of 668 demonstrations on all continents, including both low and high estimates. The event I attended in Kansas City was reported as 10,000 by the local NBC affiliate.”

Jacinda Ardern

Among the millions who marched that day was Jacinda Ardern, the recently elected Labour Prime Minister of New Zealand. She encountered Trump for the first time at last week’s APEC meeting in Vietnam. In jest, Trump told another big shot standing next to them “This lady caused a lot of upset in her country.” Tempered with a smile Ardern replied, “You know, no one marched when I was elected.”

The January protest was, as they say, empowering and it was followed by big marches for science and demands for action on climate change. More such mass demonstrations are needed.

Just as Trump has more challenges than his “woman problem,” women are threatened by more than just a Trump problem. Predominantly women mass organizations have long fought for issues such as birth control, Affirmative Action, and an Equal Rights Amendment with mixed results. But disrespect, and sometimes worse, by bosses and colleagues in the workplace has too often been suffered in silence by individuals.

It took a lot of courage to take on Weinstein but it unleashed a lot of pent up anger in Hollywood. Considering Weinstein’s predatory behavior was known to insiders it was somewhat hypocritical for the Academy to expel him. The dominoes have continued to fall, including big names like Kevin Spacey–and have spread far beyond Tinsel Town.

Currently a candidate for the U.S. Senate, and a sitting Senator, have been called out. Even those still supporting Roy Moore’s Republican campaign to fill a vacant seat in Alabama say they believe the statements of a growing number of women claiming they were abused and even assaulted by Moore when they were teenagers.

Liberal Minnesota Democrat Al Franken found himself in a different pickle. Predators do their dirty deeds out of sight leaving themselves the option of denial. Franken, then working as a comedian, posed for a photograph of a mock groping of a sleeping colleague. Whether genuinely remorseful or making the best of being caught in the act only Franken knows but he apologized for using a woman as an object in a unfunny joke. She has accepted his apology. But one way or another Franken will not escape damage.

Bosses and politicians are not noted for their high moral standards. More troubling are allegations against union officials who are duty-bound to protect workers against sexual harassment and misconduct. A perceptive November 7 article by Josh Eidelson worth reading reported,

The AFL-CIO’s chief budget officer and assistant to Trumka, Terry Stapleton, resigned Monday following allegations of sexual harassment. The Service Employees International Union, the second-biggest union in the U.S., is reeling from its own harassment scandal that has seen the departure of four senior staff.”

The same piece that included several other outrageous examples also reported on the official stand of the AFL-CIO,

Richard Trumka, the head of America’s biggest labor organization, opened its October national convention in an unusual way: the AFL-CIO president read a passage from the code-of-conduct and gave out the contact information of two people designated to field any complaints about sexual harassment or other discriminatory or inappropriate behavior.

“’It’s a zero-tolerance policy,’ Trumka told reporters that day. “’We think we’re on the cutting edge of that. And if we aren’t, we want to be there.’”

And this conscientious journalist even sought out respected women leaders of the labor community such as this one,

‘Sexual harassment is a reason women organize,’ said Kate Bronfenbrenner, a former organizer and now a lecturer at Cornell University’s labor relations school. ‘But it can be a reason women don’t organize.’”

As usual, this sister is spot on. #Me Too should be a remedial lesson for the working class and our institutions. My favorite labor singer Ann Feeney has a song about workplace safety that includes the refrain we just come to work here—we don’t come to die. No body goes to work to be sexually harassed and it’s our duty to fight to keep workplaces free of that evil—including, and especially, union staffers.

In Brief…

* Another Socialist Alternative in the Twin Cities—Ginger Jentzen lost a close race for Minneapolis City Council but I’m pleased to congratulate another member of her party—and a fellow ATU brother—Ryan Timlin for being elected president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1005, representing 2500 bus and light-rail drivers, mechanics, and clerical workers in the Twin Cities. Unlike his comrade Ginger, Timlin ran unopposed. A tough fight for a new contract is expected. One action being considered is a strike during the Super Bowl being played in Minneapolis.

* These Guys Need Tax Relief—The Guardian reported “The world’s richest people [1%] have seen their share of the globe’s total wealth increase from 42.5% at the height of the 2008 financial crisis to 50.1% in 2017, or $140tn (£106tn), according to Credit Suisse’s global wealth report”

* Their Way Or Off the Highway—A New York Times article about how many states take punitive actions against those behind in paying student loan debts includes the danger of having your driver license suspended in South Dakota.

A Mystery

The e-mail delivery service I use for the WIR reports messages that are opened and bounced. Usually the opens are spread over a 2-3 day period. But there were no opens after the first day of the last (November 13) WIR and a number of regular readers were on the “no information” list. If you are on the list and didn’t receive the last WIR I would appreciate hearing from you.

That’s all for this week.

If you’re not already signed up you can get the Week In Review free of charge in one of the following ways.

http://www.workdayminnesota.org/sites/workdayminnesota.org/themes/workdayminnesota/images/social/large/rss.png Really Simple Syndication (RSS)

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Follow Bill Onasch on Google +

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The original content we provide is copyrighted and may not be reproduced by commercial media without our consent. However, labor movement and other nonprofit media may reproduce with attribution.