Week In Review October 13

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Oct 132014

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

Happy Indigenous Peoples Day!

The Iconic Icahn
Carl Icahn is a stripper. I apologize to any hard working dancers who may take offense at being associated with the self-styled “richest man on Wall Street.” Carl doesn’t work with a fan or a pole–he uses past ill gotten gains to buy troubled companies cheap in order to strip them of assets.

Usually he tries to sell the lean and mean remains before moving on to the next victim but if flipping doesn’t offer sufficient profit then down the tubes they go. When that happens there’s no George Clooney flying in to ease them out gently. Predictable numbers of suicides and divorces are certain among these disposable workers.

Whether or not he envisions closing, Carl the Stripper always demands take backs from workers under palpable threat of a termination as humane as the judicial system in the Islamic State. Frequently he seeks corporate welfare from government as well. His string of targets over the last 35 years includes many on–or once on–the Fortune 500 list.

The Stripper is back in the news again. A story in the Philadelphia Inquirer says,

“Carl Icahn, a billionaire investor and buying distressed properties, controls the fate of Trump Entertainment because he owns $286 million in first-lien debt and stands first in line to be paid in any bankruptcy deal. As a condition of keeping Trump Taj Mahal open, Icahn wants massive concessions from labor and government. Under the proposal detailed last Friday in a motion to reject Local 54’s collective bargaining agreement with the Taj Mahal, union members would have their traditional pension replaced with a 401(k) plan and lose their company-paid health insurance. The bankrupt Trump Entertainment Resorts, which owns the Taj Mahal, proposed ending the present labor contract. The union has pushed back at Icahn.”

Now Carl isn’t the only icon trying to strip the stressed out entertainment palace. Even more in the limelight, if not quite as rich, Donald Trump is demanding his name be removed. It turns out this jovial former reality show boss has not been involved in ownership or management of Trump Taj Mahal. As he has done with other ventures, he merely sold his name to appear on the marquee. Concern about his name is not Shakespearean; it’s all about this commodity’s price point being diminished by its attachment to a loser.

But the workers are indeed pushing back as the same Inquirer article reports,

“Over 700 members of Unite Here Local 54, the union that represents most casino workers here, let Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc., know just how they feel about the proposed cuts to their health care and pension plans. They staged a ‘civil disobedience’ march starting around 5:30 p.m. downtown, blocking traffic from in the heart of downtown at the busy intersection of Arkansas and Arctic Avenues near the Tanger Outlets, The Walk, outdoor mall, and causing mass gridlock. About two dozen people were arrested and charged with resisting an officer’s order or blocking traffic, or both.”

Neither Carl nor Donald were anywhere near Arkansas & Arctic but I understand they are likely to meet in the future at the intersection of Fire & Brimstone.

Hillary’s Not the Only One Back
While there are at least a couple of functioning state Labor Party bodies, and some local chapters have reorganized as Labor Party Advocates, the national party has not been able to function for some time. Mergers and leadership changes in affiliated unions steadily withdrew needed financial support. So when I received an e-mail message from our long unpaid national officers I was surprised and pleased. Here are some excerpts:

We are writing to let you know about an exciting development in the South Carolina Labor Party. The state party has nominated Harold Geddings as a candidate for South Carolina’s second congressional district for this November’s election.

Brother Geddings is a member of Local 399 of the Sheet Metal Workers union and has worked at the Savannah River Site as well as on various political campaigns. At its annual convention earlier this month, the South Carolina AFL-CIO endorsed Harold’s candidacy after he gave a rousing speech to delegates. Harold is passionate about fighting for working people:

We believe Harold’s campaign has the potential to help re-establish an organizational presence for the Labor Party in South Carolina and prepare us for future campaigns. It is consistent with our national priority to re-open a discussion about independent working class political initiatives.

We urge you to forward this email to friends and colleagues, to read more about Harold Geddings and to make a generous contribution to his campaign.

In Solidarity,
Mark Dudzic – National Organizer, Labor Party
Katherine Isaac – Secretary-Treasurer, Labor Party

You can check out the Hard Hats for Harold campaign website here. The site also has a PayPal link for campaign contributions.

Open Enrollment
It’s getting to be that time for us old folks to decide who will be the gatekeeper for our access to medical care next year. Some advocates of Canadian style single-payer coverage for all use the slogan Medicare for All. They are undoubtedly under the age of 65.

Medicare, passed during the Johnson administration in the face of fierce opposition from the medical profession, has undoubtedly contributed to longer life expectancy for Americans. It has also made short sighted doctors far richer than they ever dreamed possible. And private insurance companies have been encouraged to get a piece of the action as well.

What’s now called “original” Medicare, Part A, pre-paid through the dedicated Medicare payroll tax, mostly covers only what can be done in your doctor’s office. More serious and expensive hospital or outpatient surgery, treatments, tests and therapy requires signing up for an optional Part B. This additional coverage of up to eighty percent of the charge for many of these services comes with an additional premium which can conveniently be deducted from your Social Security payment. When Part B was established, that monthly fee was three dollars. Today a sliding scale averages about forty times that amount.

Since even a twenty percent co-pay for many services under Part B could mean financial ruin for most seniors, demand was created for special private insurance. It was once common to negotiate union contracts including such insurance benefits for retirees but they are rapidly disappearing. The sole contribution of my old employer, the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, is a whopping 21.50 per month–before taxes–toward my Part B premium.

This year I paid 270 dollars a month out of our household income for a decent Blue Cross Medicare Supplement. Such protection was valuable when I needed expensive eye surgery last year. But there are still many out of pocket expenses–and no drug coverage. Even though I am in reasonably good health for a person my age I am spending nearly five thousand dollars this year on monthly premiums and about 1500 on prescriptions–on top of my original Medicare. I know next year will cost even more.

The private sector was not content with selling supplements that were beyond affordability of many retirees. With bipartisan encouragement, further privatization was launched with subsidized Medicare Advantage plans run for profit. Sixteen million–about a third of all those on Medicare–have been guided in to the nurturing arms of the insurance robber barons. 23 million pay for private prescription drug discount plans under the misleading label of Medicare Part D.

An article by Robert Pear in today’s New York Times exposes some of the myth about vaunted private sector efficiency,

“Federal officials say they have repeatedly criticized, and in many cases penalized, Medicare health plans for serious deficiencies, including the improper rejection of claims for medical services and unjustified limits on coverage of prescription drugs….Medicare officials impose civil fines and take other enforcement actions when they see practices that could harm beneficiaries by delaying or denying access to care. Insurers usually do not dispute the audit findings, but say the care they provide is superior to that in the traditional fee-for-service Medicare program.”

These companies accept that they will get caught once in a while in what is clearly systemic cheating. The occasional penalties assessed are simply chalked up to the cost of a highly profitable business.

Medicare is better than what most folks have under the subsidized compulsory private insurance of the Affordable Care Act. But it is no model for the health care that is needed and possible. And even this inadequate program is under assault from both the White House and the cracked tea pots.

As we all await the bad news of open enrollment it is time to recall that even though the American economy spends far more on health than any other country the delivered results are mediocre and unevenly distributed according to class and color. Single-payer would be a useful reform. Even better would be a model based on the British National Health Service–also under attack. We’ll get no meaningful progress of any kind until we break the boss monopoly of politics with a party of our own.

Heading North Again
Later this week I’ll be on the road to Minneapolis once more. My friends in Socialist Action have invited me to give a report on workers and climate change to the SA national convention. Allowing for both preparation and travel time I won’t be updating the news on the Labor Advocate blog again until Tuesday, October 21, and the next WIR will follow soon after.

That’s all for this week.
Free digital subscription to the Week In Review is available through RSS

Check out our digest of news stories about working class and climate issues, posted Monday-Friday by 9AM Central. on our companion Labor Advocate blog.

Our sole source of operating income is reader contributions. If you can help please visit the KC Labor Donate page.

Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member

Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member

Week In Review October 7

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Oct 072014

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

Home Work
The President made a brief trip back to his Chicago hometown last week. It got off to an inconvenient start. Air Force One was forced to land at the Gary airport because O’Hare and Midway were not available. A contract employee, apparently with a grudge of an unexplained nature, allegedly had sabotaged regional radar–creating havoc in flight control not yet completely restored.

The President’s visit was timed for appearance at a 55,000 dollar a plate brunch raising funds for embattled Democrat Governor Patrick Quinn. Quinn made quite a few new enemies by attacking public sector worker pension benefits. His Republican rival in next month’s election favors totally doing away with all pensions, public and private.

The Chief didn’t mention any local problems where he was hailed, such as the impact of mass closings of Chicago Public Schools. His former chief-of-staff and current Chicago Mayor will soon enough face a tough reelection fight of his own–perhaps challenged by a Teacher Union leader.

Obama’s two main public events–at an Indiana steel plant, with a photogenic backdrop of coiled sheet steel, and at Northwestern University–focused on what he pitched as great economic news in the BLS September Employment Situation report. An AP dispatch opens,

“Boosted by the lowest jobless rate in six years, President Barack Obama on Friday heralded September’s hiring rate as the longest uninterrupted stretch of private sector job growth in U.S. history and declared that the United States is surpassing combined job creation in other advanced economies.”

The BLS reported employers hired 248,000 new workers last month and that the official unemployment rate declined to 5.9 percent. But while the President spoke in a blue collar manufacturing venue the report noted that hiring increased mainly in professional and business services, retail trade, and health care. Manufacturing was little changed.

Also little changed, in some cases even worse, was the continuing high joblessness of peoples of color and youth of all shades of pigment–teenagers, 20 percent; Blacks, 11.1; Latinos, 6.9.

Including those working involuntary part-time, and those marginally attached to the workforce with those officially unemployed still adds up to about 18.5 million who want and can’t find full-time work–little changed.

The employment-population ratio remained a dismal 59 percent for the fourth consecutive month.

Private sector nonfarm work hours edged down by 0.1 hour to 33.7 hours. Private sector nonfarm hourly wages dropped by a penny.

And earlier in the week, the New York Times reported,

“Consumer confidence fell in September for the first time in five months, and home prices in July rose less than expected from a year earlier, underscoring the unsteady nature of United States growth. Another report on Tuesday showed that business activity growth in the Midwest slowed slightly in September.”

Accompanying this “good news” peddled by the leader of the Free World and the Democrats, but not mentioned by him, was an announcement from the Seattle headquarters of the global online merchant, Amazon. From the Seattle Times,

“The online retail giant will shutter its 1 million-square-foot warehouse in Coffeyville, Kan., early next year. According to a regional planning group, Amazon employs between 600 and 700 full-time workers there, about 70 miles north of Tulsa, Okla.”

Not long ago, the Modern Marvels program on the History Channel devoted a show to this plant as an example of cutting edge productivity in “order fulfillment.” Now it may be destined to become a giant flea market. The loss of 700 full-time and hundreds more seasonal jobs in a town like Coffeyville is devastating. Undoubtedly UPS and rail workers will be impacted as well. This takes place in a state controlled lock, stock and barrel by the cracked tea-pots who have slashed taxes and public services in order to attract jobs.

Sizing up the economy, the choice for most working people in the Midterm and state elections next month is clear–there is no choice. We need a party of our own.

Out of Ice–On the Rocks
Those of us in the Midwest again last week experienced another blast of arctic air, sometimes accompanied by deluges of precipitation, leading to abrupt switching from air conditioning to furnace. Daytime high temperatures plunged 20-30 degrees F below normal and some new frigid records were set as far south as the Ozarks.

When the jet stream plunges so far south it leaves behind much higher than normal temps in the arctic region. The small human population can adjust their residential thermostats to compensate for this early warning sign of climate change–but other living things are not so easily adaptable. Case in point: walruses.

Despite their size–equipped with tusks these creatures can be ten feet long and weigh more than a ton–they are accomplished divers who dine on what they find on the floor of the Continental Shelf hundreds of feet below the surface. They rest and procreate on sea ice.

But sea ice in the arctic is melting big time. Recently it was discovered that 35,000 Pacific walruses have crowded together on shore in Alaska. These giant marine mammals are probably getting a little testy. Their periphery is vulnerable to predators. The biggest concern of wildlife monitors is the carnage that would result from stampedes.

English colonists brought a great deal–good and bad–to America. On the positive side was an ethic of many cherishing All Creatures Great and Small. Humane Societies worked for laws against cruelty to animals and established shelters for abandoned or abused pets and beasts of burden. There are often close ties between this historical current and modern environmentalists. Both rally in defense of whales, polar bears, wolves and seals.

All such wildlife was active on land or sea in this hemisphere long before humans arrived. Their habitat has shrunk as people encroached. Now some are fighting for their very existence–not because of any natural threat but because our maybe not so Bright and Beautiful species is heating up the planet we share with them like there is no tomorrow.

Even if you are not an animal lover you should heed the alarm being raised by their peril. If we don’t act soon to stop climate change our progeny won’t be much better off than that defenseless huddled mass of walruses in our most spacious state.

In Brief…
* From the New York Times, “After two weeks of student protests and a fierce backlash across Colorado and beyond, the Jefferson County School Board backed away from a proposal to teach students the ‘benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights,’ while avoiding lessons that condoned ‘civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law.’ But the board did vote 3-to-2 to reorganize its curriculum-review committee to include students, teachers and board-appointed community members.”
* The CBC quotes a former UN Human Rights prosecutor, “It’s a shame Jean-Claude Duvalier died a free man.” Known as Baby Doc because he inherited the post of President for Life of Haiti from his father, Duvalier was arguably the most ruthless dictator ever in the Western Hemisphere. The CBC article recounts, “thousands of Haitians, including politicians, journalists and other engaged citizens, either disappeared, were murdered or were forced through torture chambers during Duvalier’s 15 years as president of Haiti.” It goes on to cite the prosecutor, “Akhavan accused Canada and other Western nations of not doing more to stop Duvalier during his presidency, or hold him accountable later. Part of the reason, he said, was that Duvalier was a key player against Communism during the Cold War, and that he was left largely alone to do as he pleased by Western governments so long as he continued to fight Communism.” Baby Doc left Haiti in 1986, taking a good part of the national treasury with him to tide him over in exile on the French Riviera.
* My friend and Northwest correspondent Ann Montague was recently interviewed by a webzine associated with the French New Anticapitalist Party (NPA) about the Fast Food worker fight for 15 and a Union in the USA. She did a great job. You can read an English translation by clicking here.
* Julia Preston writes in the New York Times, “The Obama administration carried out 438,421 deportations in 2013, a record number, bringing the total for President Obama to well over 2 million during his time in office, according to official figures published Wednesday….The figures also show a broad trend away from deportations after proceedings in the nation’s immigration courts, which are currently bogged down with huge backlogs….Only about 17 percent of deportations in 2013 went through the courts or came after a deeper review by immigration officers, according to the report. In 2011, the figure was 36 percent.”
* The East Side Freedom Library in St. Paul is offering a six-part course on “The History of Labor in Minnesota,” as well as two programs in October on worker and union history. Details are available on Workday Minnesota.

That’s all for this week.

Free digital subscription to the Week In Review is available through RSS

Check out our digest of news stories about working class and climate issues, posted Monday-Friday by 9AM Central. on our companion Labor Advocate blog.

Our sole source of operating income is reader contributions. If you can help please visit the KC Labor Donate page.

Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member

Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member