Week In Review February 14

 Week In Review  Comments Off on Week In Review February 14
Feb 142016

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

I hate sweetheart contracts but I love my sweetheart–and my readers. A happy St Valentine Day to all.

Talkin’ (Political) Revolution
Revolution is one of those words in the language of Shakespeare that has numerous meanings. It can describe going around in circles. Revolution has been adapted for use in advertising and popular music as well as defining political movements. Both Lenin and Lennon famously wrote about it.

The insurgence of the far-right that has gained control of the Republican party first emerged as the Tea Party Revolution. Now the Democrats are facing a challenge of Political Revolution, the trademark of Senator Bernie Sanders’ campaign to become their nominee for President–and ipso facto party head.

He also still identifies himself as a “democratic socialist.” In his office hangs a picture of an earlier Socialist candidate for President, Eugene V Debs. Debs’ views on social revolution were expressed in his attitude toward the one in Russia led by Lenin and Trotsky–From the crown of my head to the soles of my feet—I am a Bolshevik!

The modifier Political that the candidate known as Bernie attaches to Revolution erects a big firewall between him and Debs. My longtime friend Dave in St Paul supplied me with a quote from a Time interview that clarifies Bernie’s principled differences with Debs–

“Democratic socialism, Sanders said, is not tied to any Marxist belief or the abolition of capitalism. ‘I don’t believe government should own the means of production, but I do believe that the middle class and the working families who produce the wealth of America deserve a fair deal,’ he said.”

This democratic socialist is so far removed from Marx and Debs that he rejects their class nomenclature. Instead of working class he uses polite euphemisms such as middle class and working families. They are taking a beating not from the capitalists but the thin upper strata “billionaire class.” Instead of advocating that wealth should belong to those who produce it, he wants a fair deal—which, as Dave noted, was a slogan of Harry Truman.

This is not just a matter of semantics. Class relations tied to the economy are even more fundamental to the workings of today’s truly global capitalism than in the eras of Marx and Debs. They should be precisely defined and properly identified.

Categories that may test positive in focus groups, like middle class and working families actually exclude millions of working poor and single persons of all ages and incomes—and they know it. In my opinion, the single biggest—and most urgent–problem facing those who work by brain or muscle for a living is identity theft that has led to low class awareness.

Bernie’s platform includes some good proposals for reform. But nearly all of them were won decades ago by class conscious workers, with their own mass parties, in European countries so admired by Bernie. The taboo against class warfare in the USA has hindered American workers—whose standard of living was once the envy of the world–from keeping up with advances in other industrial countries.

The reforms Bernie preaches have found a receptive audience among workers and students. Tens of thousands have volunteered to “phone bank,” ring doorbells, and host house parties for Bernie. And many more have chipped in with modest financial donations—all very impressive, signifying a new mood of radicalization from below.

But electing a lone crusader on the ticket of an avowedly capitalist party won’t turn things around. The junior Senator from Vermont, who holds a degree in political science from the prestigious University of Chicago, is well aware of the severe limitations he would face in the unlikely event that he makes it to the White House.

So just what is the goal of Bernie’s Political Revolution? My friend Larry in Detroit sent me a tell tale excerpt from Bernie’s remarks at a victory rally in New Hampshire,

“But, I also hope that we all remember — and this is a message not just to our opponents, but to those who support me as well. That we will need to come together in a few months and unite this party, and this nation because the right-wing Republicans we oppose must not be allowed to gain the presidency.”

As Larry perceptively observed, “OK we knew what he was doing but I didn’t expect it so plainly stated.”

Bernie’s brand of Political Revolution comes down to trying to motivate those who have been turning off and dropping out of electoral politics to vote for a lesser evil than right wing Republicans. A likely alternative is Hillary Clinton, who got nearly 12 million dollars in speaking fees from banks, corporations and boards of trade over the past four years. I don’t think she qualifies for Bernie’s “billionaire class” but just these honoraria are about ten times more than I earned in nearly a half-century of working for honest wages.

Lesser Evil has been around since before Debs—who was once a Democrat member of the Indiana legislature. Debs figured out that Lesser Evil only guarantees evil. His motto was, it’s better to vote for what you want and not get it than to vote for what you don’t want and get it.

I’ll have more to say about our options next time.

Schools Of Denial
An article in The Guardian reports,

“Only 38% of American schoolchildren were taught lessons that adhere to the scientific consensus that climate change is largely the result of the burning of fossil fuels, the researchers from Pennsylvania State University and the National Center for Science Education found.”

Considering that 62 percent of lesson plans were outright wrong, perhaps it is good that most pupils receive only about an hour of instruction about climate science each year. You might think California, with the most stringent environmental laws, would be doing a lot better. But you would be wrong. A companion piece on the Golden State’s text materials is pretty bleak,

“Textbooks in California public schools are misleading students on climate change, with material that expresses doubt over whether it is real and promotes the view that increasing temperatures may be beneficial, according to a Stanford University study.”

This falsification of science is similar to the dismissal of Darwin’s contributions on Natural Selection as at best a theory competing with “Creationism.” But there’s one big difference. The attacks on Evolution come from religious fanatics who distrust science in general. Those behind shaping lesson plans that lie to students about climate science exploit other branches of physical science to reap enormous profits in the oil, chemical, gas, and coal industries.

It was recently revealed that scientists working for Exxon were among the first to accept that emissions from fossil fuels were the principal cause of global warming that is altering our climate. Their research and conclusions were suppressed by top corporate brass.

Corrupting children and silencing scientists is morally reprehensible. It puts both conscientious teachers and parents in a bind. Even though most of us are not scientists we need to tell our children, nieces, and nephews when what they hear in the class room is not real science, explain it to the best of our ability, and point them to legitimate sources. Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, and the Labor Network for Sustainability, provide materials that can help us have these one on one discussions.

Admittedly, this approach is comparable to individual consumer and life style decisions, like recycling, using mass transit, or buying local sourced organic foods to fight climate change. They are good things to do that make some difference–but far from enough.

As part of the overarching struggle against the climate wrecking ruling class we need to mobilize the political power of the working class majority to take control of our schools, to reverse the deceitful and dangerous spreading of denial.

Antonin Scalia performed a last service for the fossil capitalists by enabling an unprecedented action by the high court. A typical 5-4 ruling blocked the EPA from preparing to implement future restrictions affecting power plants. But it was unique because legal challenges to this meager climate measure advanced by President Obama were still being heard by lower courts and the restrictions would not go in to effect any time soon. It also seemed to contradict recent Supreme Court rulings that the EPA has authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate emissions. Scalia left the class conflict battlefield victorious—but the war continues without him.

The pious Justice had not yet been buried in consecrated earth when haggling began over filling his vacancy. The President announced his intention to submit a nomination to the Senate in “good time.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell from what used to be coal country is in a position to block any nominee before a new President takes over next January—and he’s promised to do so.

Republican intransigence can at least delay a Democrat appointing a more “liberal” replacement—and Court majority. But it comes at a price. No controversial decisions can be made by the now deadlocked SCOTUS. The right wing had been counting on a victory in the Friedrichs case that would deliver a devastating blow to organized labor, especially public sector unions—and even dreaming about revisiting Roe v Wade.

For now it may be sitzkrieg until one side can gain reinforcement.

That’s all for this week.
The WIR is available by RSS

If you want to be on our new e-mail list send your name and e-mail address to:

You can follow Bill Onasch on Google+

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 February 7

 Week In Review  Comments Off on Week In Review February 7
Feb 072016

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

Momentum Out of Iowa
When I lived in Minnesota a common good natured jibe by local wags was “the best thing to ever come out of Iowa is I-35.” Then Iowa cleverly devised a caucus format to usurp the first stop on the Road to the White House and any lingering traces of Hawkeye inferiority complex were obliterated.

For over the past year, candidates had been laser focused on the “all important” Iowa caucuses. This election cycle yielded a bumper crop of initially 17 Republican hopefuls, and three Democrats–quickly reduced to two determined, well staffed and financed contenders. They were a significant boost to the state economy. Monday night the votes were tallied—or settled by flipping a coin.

After wiping away the hype, it becomes clear the Iowa campaigns were important. They are a new milestone in the ongoing disintegration of stable political order in the USA. They confirm trends polls have consistently found over the past three years—Americans have become estranged from the two Establishment parties and most would like to see a new one.

So far we have not yet seen a new party. But polarization both right and left has caused consternation for those moderates who have traditionally run the twin parties of Big Business. The far right, posing as “outsiders,” largely financed by rogue billionaires, often openly appealing to bigotry, now clearly dominate the GOP–and the viability of that party has to be questioned. Republican former Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg, who is at least as rich as Donald Trump, has said he may run as an independent if the conventions select Trump and Sanders.

Senator Bernie Sanders, an “independent” and self-styled socialist, has skillfully tapped the more numerous left polarization bringing disaffected youth, and also many discontented trade unionists together—not to form a new party but to put him at the head of the oldest one.

As he strives to become the oldest to ever be elected to a first term, the bulk of the claimed 200,000 volunteer foot soldiers in his Revolutionary army are Millenials. Bernie—as he has become known to all–has raised almost as much money as his Wall Street backed opponent through small donations averaging 27 dollars. After a slow start, Bernie has recently received some high profile African-American endorsements such as former NAACP head Ben Jealous and activist actor Danny Glover. He has even made inroads in to a base Hillary Clinton assumed she owned—a majority of young women back Bernie. And for refreshment, as well as fund raising, his good friends Ben and Jerry have created Bernie’s Yearning ice cream.

As regular readers know, scar tissue has blocked me from Feel the Bern. I’m still not moved just because he came within three tenths of a percentage point of being the first to cross the finish line in Iowa and will likely claim victory in New Hampshire on Tuesday. But while it’s not my race I do care about those millions who keep laying down three dollar bets on Bernie.

Obviously, Bernie’s backers are not infected with ageist prejudice or antisemitism. They are attracted to his less than charismatic agitation around a few urgently needed reforms that emerged from focus groups such as single-payer health care, free public college education, and a 15 dollar minimum wage. They also like his somewhat more vague identification with the need to act on climate change. They are not the least bit frightened of the old taboo against socialism. They think he can win–but they support him out of conviction not out of belief that winning is the only thing that matters.

This is not chopped hummus. No guarantees, but it may prove to be an early blurry sighting of an incipient radicalization that could broaden and survive beyond this election cycle. Bernie did not create this situation but we should give his campaign their due—they mobilized this sentiment to their advantage.

Some readers continue to ask, why shouldn’t those of us who think this stirring of workers and students is a good thing jump on Bernie’s bus—like the red livery one used by National Nurses United who play such an exemplary role in the labor, climate and other social movements?

I’m not authorized to speak for anybody else but my short answer to the question remains—this bus is going to be diverted to a detour leading to a dead end in Philadelphia in the last week in July. Like many before them, going back to at least the Populist movement in the nineteenth century, the passengers being taken for a ride by Bernie will be delivered to the undertakers of the Democrat convention. The corporal presence of Political Revolution will give up a Casper-like ghost to serve the nominee of the present governing party of the ruling class.

I think those of us who have been around the block a few times have an obligation to those just becoming politically aware to share the lessons that we and/or our “ancestors” have at times painfully learned. We should do this in a friendly, fraternal spirit, aiming for dialogue where we also listen and learn–rather than preaching repentance to sinners.

It is better we do this now rather than waiting til August. I’d rather be remembered as one of those who gave unwelcome but accurate and timely warnings instead of later facing the question—why are you just telling us now when it’s already too late?

That’s my short answer. The dialogue I suggest requires a number of longer questions and answers—more than can fit in a single edition of the WIR. This will be a recurring topic over the next several months. Stay tuned—and feel free to jump in.

First Responder
The first response to my invitation for comments on climate issues came from a supportive California reader,

“There is a lot of heat around global warming but not much light. Don’t you think it would be good to publish a simple explanation of scientific thinking on the subject? It isn’t simple you know. Also before you push for more windmills you should consider perfecting nuclear. I think otherwise you will be tilting at windmills.”

Explaining the many facets of climate change to those without a scientific background is challenging. I should know because I fall in that category. Climate change was not mentioned in my high school General Science class.

But just as we need not know all of the scientific principles governing internal combustion in order to drive a polluting car, scholarly initials following our name are not required to tackle the cause and ramifications of global warming. There’s a fair amount of popular literature, and animated video, explaining climate science, human culpability for the crisis, and proven countermeasures we can take.

For those up to taking book length bites, Naomi Klein’s Capitalism Versus the Climate: This Changes Everything, is an excellent source for both science and politics. Ian Angus publishes useful current reports and articles on his Climate & Capitalism site. Trade Unions for Energy Democracy has packed a lot in to a short video animation. And I collaborated with Carl Sack, a budding young scientist at the University of Wisconsin, on a pamphlet, The Fight for Class and Climate Justice, that was published by Socialist Action. MayDay Books in Minneapolis has an extensive selection of climate related literature–and will do mail orders.

Of course, the flow of such material suitable for the general working class public needs frequent updating and that remains a constant challenge.

Our reader also thinks the pace of renewable energy is too slow to prevent climate disaster and nuclear power needs to be expanded as a transitional way of reducing greenhouse emissions. This is a position he shares with the dean of climate scientists, Jim Hansen. Though I respect both, I can’t agree for several reasons.

¶ While it’s true that nuclear power plants generate negligible greenhouse emissions the mining, refining, and transport of fuel are big time polluters—carbon and otherwise.

¶ Nuclear fuel is not renewable—God is not making any new uranium.

¶ Accidents are inevitable in any industry but at nuclear plants they can be catastrophic.

¶ And last but certainly not least, there is no known way of safely disposing of radioactive waste that can remain deadly to humans and other life for centuries.

Fortunately, clean, renewable energy is sufficiently advanced to be ready for rapid conversion from both fossil and nuclear sources. The obstacle is not technology or resources—it’s global capitalism.

In Brief…
* The “serious offer” by Chicago Public Schools to the Chicago Teachers Union mentioned in the last WIR turned out to be more an ultimatum assuring war. After the CTU Big Bargaining Committee rejected the concession-laden offer CPS promptly announced plans to layoff a thousand CTU members, and impose a seven percent pay cut. The union immediately responded with a mass rally in the financial district—aimed at the banks directing the austerity demands their servants at CPS and City Hall are ruthlessly implementing–that our Chicago correspondent reports drew at least three thousand.
* When the going gets tough—the banks get tougher. In Flint, where folks still get billed for water they can’t drink, Bank of America and Wells Fargo each have said they will not approve any housing loans unless the owners can prove through extensive testing that their water is not contaminated.

That’s all for this week.
The WIR is available by RSS

If you want to be on our new e-mail list send your name and e-mail address to:

You can follow Bill Onasch on Google+

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