Oct 262013


onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

SNAP Crackles and Pops Again
Forty-seven million residents–about fifteen percent–of the world’s richest country depend on what used to be called Food Stamps, now known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The nation’s capital has the highest density of SNAPers–22 percent. A bipartisan majority in Congress agreed to let a temporary boost in these meager benefits, included in the 2009 Recovery Act, expire November 1. This will result in an average reduction of about ten dollars per person per month.

Even more cuts in eligibility for the program–aimed at able-bodied long term unemployed–are being considered on both Federal and state levels. For a while, Missouri’s term-limited Democrat Governor was set to axe thousands of such “takers.” But he ultimately decided that wouldn’t help if he challenges our state’s Republican U.S. Senator next time and so the jobless will continue to eat–smaller portions–for now.

Only fourteen percent of SNAP users are “non-elderly, non-disabled” adults without dependent children in the program. Most of those are either youth or over 40–the demographics with the least prospect for full-time jobs.

Some recipients are in fact working–and still meet the income threshold for SNAP. Most of these are working at fast food franchises or at America’s biggest private employer–Walmart. Through SNAP and Medicaid, tax-payers are subsidizing the exploitation of the working poor. Rather than condemning these workers to hunger how about a poverty tax on their bosses?

Of course, not all of the job-creator class is insensitive to the plight of the hungry. The big Kansas City area Price Chopper grocery chain will suggest needed items you can buy from them that they in turn “donate” to a supplier of community food banks.

More in the spirit of class solidarity is the annual food drive by the postal worker unions, with the letter carriers collecting bags of nonperishable food left on their routes. With the Obama administration’s massive cuts in the US Postal Service some of those workers may soon need nutritional help themselves.

The concept of the Food Stamp program, established in 1964 as part of the War on Poverty that also included Medicaid and Head Start, is fundamentally sound–though always too stingy in application. It is needed even more now and needs expansion to allow a healthy balanced diet for all.

Solidarity at the Gate
UE News reports,

“Exactly one month after GE announced its “intent” to close the Fort Edward capacitor plant, more than 300 people from dozens of unions and the local community rallied in support of UE Local 332’s fight to prevent the closing. The spirited mass picketing went on for two hours, culminating in a rally in which several union and community leaders spoke.

“Locals from across the UE Northeast Region were present – 14 of them – as a result of the region hurriedly moving its fall regional meeting, originally planned for October 18 and 19 in New Hampshire, to nearby Glens Falls. Eight members from Local 506 made the six-hour drive from Erie, PA to support their fellow UE-GE workers. Another major GE local, Local 201 of the IUE-CWA in Lynn, Massachusetts, was represented by seven members including President Alex Brown. Area unions turned out in force, mobilized by the Albany Labor Federation, Troy Labor Council, Glens Falls Labor Council, and the Solidarity Committee of the Capital District.”

Other labor participants included the Ft. Edward Teachers Union, New York State United Teachers, Teamsters Local 294, IBEW Local 97, SEIU 1199, SEIU 200 United, NY State Corrections Officers, National Association of Letter Carriers, International Association of Machinists, Public Employees Federation, Printers, Millwrights, Bricklayers, IUE-CWA Local 81359, NY State Nurses Association, Civil Service Employees Association, International Association of Firefighters, and the Office and Professional Employees International Union. They were also joined by representatives of the Mexican FAT who were in the region for another gathering.

After examining confidential records GE finally coughed up during “decision bargaining,” a respected forensic financial investigator retained by the union declared the company had not made a financial case for moving the plant’s jobs to Clearwater, Florida.

What the Poll Means To Us
My friends at Labor Standard asked me to write something about a recent Gallup Poll that found “60 percent of Americans say the Democratic and Republicans parties do such a poor job of representing the American people that a third major party is needed.” You can read my article by clicking here.

Let’s Try to Cure Hubris
On Friday, my wife Mary and I descended deep in to the bowels of Union Station where the Kansas City Election Board is now located. We were greeted by two friendly, helpful employees who seemed gratified with rare human contact. We were there to cast absentee ballots in a special election being held while we will be out of town.

There is only one item on the ballot. It authorizes a half-cent sales tax increase in Jackson County–which includes the majority of the population of Kansas City as well as numerous suburbs–for twenty years dedicated to medical research. It is hinted that the estimated 800 million dollars generated will lead to big breakthroughs–maybe even a cure for cancer. To make us feel like true stakeholders, twenty percent of any profits from resulting commercial patents  will be rebated to the County government. And, of course, they vaguely promise jobs.

Most medical scientists take a dim view of such a relatively small scale, unfocused approach to research. In the best cases there are far more failures than breakthroughs. This regressive tax felt most by the poor is a classic example of socializing risk while mainly privatizing any rewards. Public underwriting of research should be exclusively for the public good–not capitalist profit.

The backers of this scam are counting on a microscopic voter turnout. If you are an eligible voter in Jackson County I urge you to vote no on greedy hubris.

Explaining Our Absence
It’s unusual for Mary and me to be out of town at the same time. It requires pressing friends in to house/cat sitting duties with the added seasonal obligation of dealing with trick-or-treaters.

Especially rare is for my self-employed spouse and me to be away together at the same time. We will be on the road to Arizona and back for over a week for what is mainly a vacation for us. 

But we’re combining it with an invitation for me to facilitate a workshop at the national Alliance for Global Justice Tear Down the Walls Conference in Tucson November 1-3. Labor party supporters in Tucson have asked me to replicate a meeting Labor Party Advocates held over the Labor Day Weekend in Kansas City which combines a showing of the film Labor’s Turning Point, with some introductory remarks about reviving the labor party movement. Unfortunately, I don’t yet have time and location of the workshop. If you are attending this conference I hope we can meet up there.

After one last news update Monday on the Labor Advocate blog the next update to follow, after some recovery and observance of Veterans Day, will be Tuesday, November 12. Look for the next Week In Review around that time as well.

That’s all for this week.


Oct 212013

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

Nothing Goes Better With This Coke
Michael Hawthorne opens an informative Chicago Tribune story,

“Just south of the Chicago Skyway bridge, a dusty byproduct of the Canadian oil boom is piling up in huge black mountains along the Calumet River. More is on the way. A lot more. By the end of the year, the oil giant BP is expected to complete work on new equipment that will more than triple the amount of petroleum coke produced by its Whiting refinery on Lake Michigan. The project will turn the sprawling Indiana plant into the world’s second-largest source of petroleum coke, also known as petcoke, and Chicago into one of the biggest repositories of the high-sulfur, high-carbon waste.”

BP evades responsibility for dealing with this stuff by contracting out its movement and storage, taking advantage of more polluter friendly rules in Chicago. The owners of this service include the infamous mufti-billionaire Koch brothers. Their father was a charter member of the John Birch Society and one of the ways they carry on the ultra-right family tradition is pouring millions in to campaigns promoting global warming denial.

The complaints of neighbors of this petcoke mountain range demonstrate one of the grave environmental threats of Alberta tar-sands bitumen even before its release of greenhouse gas  when it is burned as a synthetic oil fuel produced by BP’s refinery. Similar protests in Detroit and Windsor led to an order by the bankrupt Motor City Mayor to remove piles Koch family business had collected from a Marathon refinery.

Because of the Clean Air Act, there is little use for petcoke in North America but the brothers Koch have been exporting a lot of the waste for industrial fuel in countries with more lax environmental rules–such as China, where  Harbin, with a population of eleven million, is today effectively shut down because particulate air pollution exceeds World Health Organization guidelines by 250 percent.

Hawthorne writes,

“Peggy Salazar of the Southeast Environmental Task Force noted that city officials have long promoted the area as showcase for green projects. A few blocks north of the petcoke piles, the city has given significant support to a developer who wants to turn the former U.S. Steel South Works site into a mecca for energy-efficient housing and businesses. ‘How is our neighborhood ever going to recover and attract jobs if these black clouds of dust keep blowing?’ said Salazar. ‘We shouldn’t have to live with this every day.’”

If the Keystone XL Pipeline is approved by President Obama, new petcoke mountains will arise near Gulf of Mexico refineries and ports.

Fortunately, the tar-sands producing the dirtiest of all fuels are mostly unique to Alberta. But exploitation of oil and gas trapped in shale deposits is booming world wide due to the development of what has come to be known as fracking. The environmental impact differs from Alberta’s and there are probably still some unforeseen consequences yet to be exposed. But enough is already known to justify calling an immediate halt. Jerry Silberman, a senior staff representative at the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses, has a good introductory piece surveying various problems in Labor Notes.

Fracking has propelled the North Dakota breadbasket in to the number two oil producing state. AP recently reported,

“When a pipeline rupture sent more than 20,000 barrels of crude spewing across a North Dakota wheat field, it took nearly two weeks for officials to tell the public about it…. it turned out to be one of the largest spills in North Dakota history–an estimated 20,600 barrels over 7.3 acres of land, or about the size of seven football fields….Kris Roberts, an environmental geologist with the North Dakota Health Department, said that while companies must notify the state of any spills, the state doesn’t have to release that information to the public. That’s not unusual in major oil-producing states: Alaska, Oklahoma and Texas also do not require the government to publicly report spills.”

The French equivalent of the Supreme Court has upheld a government ban on fracking. The process has been suspended in Germany awaiting action from a new coalition government being formed. And just this past week thousands demonstrated against fracking on both sides of the Atlantic. 

Ongoing protests including blocking of highways by the Elsipogtog First Nation against fracking start-ups in New Brunswick were violently attacked by the RCMP and solidarity demonstrations across Canada soon followed.

Reuters reported, “Thousands of Romanians protested on Saturday against plans by U.S. energy group Chevron to explore for shale gas in a poor eastern region and a Canadian company’s project to set up Europe’s biggest open cast gold mine in a Carpathian town.”

Documentary filmmaker and activist Josh Fox, who directed the Oscar-nominated film Gasland, has called out President Obama as AWOL on fracking. In an interview in Politico, he said,

“To ignore the largest grass-roots movement on the environment in several decades when you’re a president that was elevated by the grass-roots movement, when you are a president who was elected by those same people, that to me is an abdication of responsibility.”

Well said. Of course, grass-roots environmentalists are not the only supporters betrayed by the present resident of the White House. Workers, unionized and unorganized, have been taking a beating on many fronts from the “friend” they elected. Workers–and in the long run farmers as well–have a vital stake in the movements against fracking and the spread of dirty tar-sands  bitumen. And these struggles are part and parcel of the paramount challenge of climate change.

In Brief…
* Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 and SEIU Local 1021 reached a tentative agreement with Bay Area Rapid Transit on economic issues but couldn’t accept BART’s demand for sweeping work rule changes. After management rejected offers to submit those issues to binding arbitration the unions had no option but to strike–creating transportation chaos in the Bay Area.
* Reuters reported “Italy’s three main trade union confederations will hold strikes and protests against the government’s 2014 budget plan, they said on Monday, piling more pressure on Enrico Letta’s fragile coalition government….On Friday strikes against the budget by smaller left-wing unions hit transport, education and services and on Saturday demonstrators clashed with police as tens of thousands protested in Rome against austerity.”
* From the Seattle Times, “Thousands of Puget Sound-area grocery workers gave notice late Friday that they will strike if a new labor deal is not reached by a 7 p.m. Monday deadline. About 21,000 workers for Albertsons, Fred Meyer, Safeway and QFC stores in King, Kitsap, Pierce, Snohomish, Thurston and Mason counties would take part.”
* According to the New York Times, “The government shutdown that ended this week will cost the United States economy several billion dollars, according to estimates by economic research firms. But the affiliated damage–like the undermining of consumer and business confidence– will be far greater, economists said, especially combined with the financial effects of the near-breach of the country’s statutory debt ceiling.”
* A three day Longshore strike that shut down the port of Baltimore has been suspended for a 90 day “cooling off” period to resume negotiations for a local agreement.
* The opening trial for 940 North Carolina Moral Mondays Campaign arrestees started with the case of Saladin Muhammad, a long-time North Carolina UE and Black Workers for Justice  activist. He was found guilty by a judge for trespassing, disorderly conduct and violating rules of the General Assembly while peacefully protesting with others on government property. A defense effort is continuing, including a petition. You can find out more by clicking here.

For links to news and feature stories of interest to working people, updated Monday-Friday by 9AM Central, visit our companion Labor Advocate Blog.

That’s all for this week.