Week In Review July 26

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Jul 262016

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

Under the Dome

Television weatherpersons often step outside to check conditions before they give their report. It doesn’t hurt for those of us who write about climate change to also keep an eye on our proverbial backyard for any empirical verification of present trends. This past week I didn’t need to leave my finished attic office to know whatever replaced mercury in our thermometer was rising beyond the norm even for our typically hottest stretch of the year.

June 2016 featured record heat across the U.S.

For over a week, a huge anti-cyclone was spinning clockwise near Kansas City in no hurry to move on. It at times dominated weather over a vast swath of the United States, from the Rockies to beyond the Mississippi River on the east, from Minnesota south to Texas. It helped produce a “heat dome” often generating triple-digit (F) temperatures, along with absurd dew points, and dangerous heat indices. Those of us near the center of this high pressure compression of air suffered the longest exposure, with little relief even at night. As I write, this powerful “heat making machine” has finally moved slowly east. A different system also brought an excessive heat wave in to the Southwest and similar patterns this summer have led to unwelcome record heat in many parts of Canada as well.

The ramifications go beyond mere discomfort. There are acute health threats to humans and animals. Especially vulnerable are old folks like me who don’t have access to air conditioning. I’m fortunate to have AC. But I can’t avoid some pangs of guilt—not only about my comfort when so many others are suffering, but also for the fact that this lifesaver is responsible for a very potent greenhouse gas, hydrofluorocarbons, as well as the usual smokestack emissions of the local power plant.

In some areas the heat has sparked monster wildfires, like those consuming 50,000 acres and counting in California, some in Los Angeles County. Others have seen unusually severe storms. Temperate agricultural zones continue to creep north. Electricity demand soars. And many meteorologists think it likely another “dome” will develop later this summer.

This is no anomaly; it is a leading edge of what has contributed to record-breaking average high temperatures in the USA in 15 of the last 16 months. The same prevailing pattern has been recorded globally. NASA scientists announced last week 2016 was on track to be the hottest year on record, with 2015 and 2014 ranking second and third. Global warming is no theoretical future threat—it is palpable now, just beginning a relentless march toward ultimate catastrophe if left unchecked.


Post-Paris Blues

Though the Paris Climate Summit last December claimed countries had submitted goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to levels that would stop climate change short of calamity, most climate scientists have remained dubious. Subsequent developments have done nothing to justify optimism.

* President Obama’s climate plan hailed in the Democrat platform that will be approved at their convention this week, depends on voluntary cooperation from states with executive orders that rely heavily on cheap natural gas—obtained through environment wrecking fracking—supplanting coal fired power plants while pursuing pipe dreams of “clean coal.” New York state’s plan counts on expanded nuclear power.

* The Republican presidential nominee has pledged to “cancel” the Paris deal—and to put all West Virginia unemployed miners back to work digging coal once more.

* The impeachment coup in Brazil has scuttled that important country’s emission goals as well promises to protect the planet’s biggest natural land “carbon sink” in the Amazon rain forest.

* Wikileaks exposed secret negotiations around the TTIP trade/investment deal that according to the Guardian “could sabotage European efforts to save energy and switch to clean power.”

* In a follow-up, the Guardian reported the British Tory government’s slashing of subsidies had eliminated 12,000 UK solar industry jobs last year, about a third of that vitally needed fledgling industry’s workforce. And Bloomberg began a story, “Global investment in renewable energy fell 23 percent in the first half of this year.”

I could go on and on with many more examples. But I don’t want to beat a Monty Python dead parrot. Instead let’s begin to turn our attention to some action alternatives—especially two that try to incorporate a Just Transition plan for workers who will lose jobs in restructuring an ecologically sustainable society. I’ll start with one this week, the other to soon follow.


A Liberal Surprise

The American Prospect is a journal of the pre-Bernie Democrat “left,” founded to counter Bill Clinton’s “New Democrats.” It has never been on my follow list. But an article reprinted on the Portside list grabbed my attention—A Just Transition For U.S. Fossil Fuel Industry Workers by Robert Pollin, an economics professor at U Mass Amherst and Brian Callaci, a PhD candidate at the same school and a former researcher for Change to Win. I was particularly attracted by some favorable references to the remarkable self-described “union bureaucrat” Tony Mazzocchi. They say,

The late U.S. labor leader and environmental visionary Tony Mazzocchi pioneered thinking on what is now termed a ‘Just Transition’ for these workers and communities. As Mazzocchi wrote as early as 1993, ‘Paying people to make the transition from one kind of economy to another is not welfare. Those who work with toxic materials on a daily basis … in order to provide the world with the energy and the materials it needs deserve a helping hand to make a new start in life.’”

Tony Mazzocchi

Mazzocchi didn’t think labor should be part of the environmental movement—he believed that workers should lead that movement. He collaborated with scientists like Barry Commoner and even convinced the pale green Sierra Club to support a strike of his union—the old Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers, now absorbed in to the Steelworkers—against Shell Oil. When Tony helped found the now defunct Labor Party he made sure Just Transition was a featured part of the party’s program. Unfortunately, he passed away before the present movement around climate change began to take hold and we missed his input to update and expand Just Transition to these even bigger challenges.

Pollin and Callaci attempt to pick up where Tony left off. They make some important and timely proposals. They also attempt to cost them out, arguing that they are affordable as well as achievable. Their effort is applaudable and may stimulate useful discussion.

But, in my opinion, their effort falls short of the mark because of its too narrow focus.

Because drastic reduction in fossil fuels is indispensable to stopping climate change they chose to apply Just Transition primarily to workers and communities involved in extraction and processing of these fuels. And they derived the numbers and pace of these job losses based on the inadequate and unreliable voluntary goals for reducing emissions included in the Paris agreement.

They ignore huge sectors of the economy that are inextricably tied to the use of fossil fuels. There are 900,000 American manufacturing jobs dependent on the auto industry—and present sales of plug-in electrics account for less than one percent of car/truck sales. A needed shift in personal transportation from cars to public transit would eliminate hundreds of thousands more jobs involved in vehicle repair and maintenance, road and bridge projects, and insurance. And since most filling stations have become convenience stores and fast food stops, declining gasoline/diesel sales would impact an unknown number of non-fuel retail employees in that venue as well.

So far there is only one experimental solar powered airplane in the whole world. What will happen to the hundreds of thousands whose paychecks depend on the jet-powered aviation industry—both civil and military–as we tackle that huge source of emissions?

Pollin and Callaci are confident that millions of what they call “green jobs” can be created—as am I. But they offer nothing new on how this can be accomplished. They remain upbeat in expectations that capitalist market forces—stimulated by carbon price/tax measures—can get the job done. Like most practitioners of the “dismal science” of economics, down deep they are romantic optimists about a sensibly regulated Free Enterprise.

Next time I will contrast this approach to the working class perspective of “making a living on a living planet” promoted by Trade Unions for Energy Democracy and one of their American affiliates, the Labor Network for Sustainability.

In Brief…

* The fight by the right-wing “New Labor” forces to oust the present left-wing Party Leader is hotter than ever. The Guardian reports, “Labour is being sued by a group of its members over the decision to exclude 130,000 people who joined the party since January from being able to vote in its leadership contest….Labour’s national executive committee (NEC) decided to allow only members who joined before 12 January to vote in the contest between Jeremy Corbyn, the party’s leader, and Owen Smith….Some Corbyn supporters believe that the excluded members are backing Corbyn by four to one and believe the legal challenge has a good chance of success. Corbyn is the clear favourite to win the contest. A survey released on Monday by the Labour History Research Unit at Anglia Ruskin University found that 60% of Labour councillors in 250 marginal constituencies were backing Smith, but they expected that members and registered supporters in their wards will favour Corbyn.”

* The East Side Freedom Library in St Paul received some good press on their second anniversary celebration including this piece in the Daily Planet.

Next time, after all the shouting is over, I’ll give my take on the two boss party conventions.

That’s all for this week.


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Week In Review July 18

 Week In Review  Comments Off on Week In Review July 18
Jul 182016

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

On Black Lives Matter—Look to Manchester

I’m talking about Manchester, England. Three years ago, Jason Rodrigues wrote in the Guardian—the successor to the Manchester Guardian— “When cotton was king, Manchester’s busy textile mills dressed the world. Because of this, great fortunes were made and ordinary families were fed. But in 1862, Lancashire mill workers, at great personal sacrifice, took a principled stand by refusing to touch raw cotton picked by US slaves.”

This bold act of solidarity discouraged the British Empire from trying to break the blockade of Confederate ports by the U.S. Navy that remained loyal to the Union during the Civil War. President Lincoln was moved to send an open letter of gratitude to the Manchester mill workers.

Manchester is a very different city today. Imperial Preference once forced the far-flung Empire to buy all of their textile goods from England. Both the preference and the Empire are long gone. Descendants of slaves and oppressed nationalities from the Empire of old now share the town with people of ginger hair and blue eyes. They have their tensions to be sure—exploited on a scale not seen in decades by those who profit from racism and xenophobia. But the spirit of solidarity so effectively expressed more than a 150 years ago has not been extinguished.

Last Monday the Guardian reported,

Several thousand people have marched peacefully through Manchester as part of the rapidly spreading Black Lives Matter movement. Though mostly young and black, the crowd encompassed all colours and ages. Some arrived in wheelchairs, others in buggies, with afros, dreadlocks, baseball caps and hijabs.”

The article reported there were demonstrations of similar size and composition in London, Birmingham, and Bristol.

While properly under Black leadership, even the substantial numbers of white and Asian participants in these British actions seem to have less confusion about the Black Lives Matter theme than has been orchestrated in the USA. They understand it is not a call for Black preference over all other lives but addresses the reality that racism in white led countries means Black lives don’t seem to matter much. It’s a call for Black Lives Should Matter Too.

The present focus of this movement is the malignant lack of concern about police killings of Black men and women. Perhaps the one benefit of ubiquitous smart phones is that many of these killings have been captured on video–raising at least doubt about claims of the need for deadly force.

After the sniper killing of five Dallas cops, and wounding of others, at a peaceful protest there was a brief “Black and Blue Together” moment. The big majority of African-Americans reject such violence as not only morally reprehensible; they also think nothing good will come from violent confrontations with law enforcement bodies now armed like a military force—that can also call on unlimited reinforcements. They shared their grief over Black lives with the widows and children of slain white cops.

But the Associated Press reported,

A police union official says four off-duty Minneapolis officers working a WNBA game on a freelance basis walked off the job at the city’s Target Center arena Saturday after Minnesota Lynx players wore pregame warm-up jerseys supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. The shirts listed the names of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, both fatally shot by police officers last week. Castile was killed by a police officer in suburban St Paul during a traffic stop. The shirt also showed the Dallas police shield above the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter.’”

As far as the Minneapolis cops were concerned the women might as well have been wearing shirts advocating Burn, Baby, Burn.

Cutting short a European trip, President Obama struggled to reach out to both Black and Blue in remarks at a memorial service in Dallas. But in many areas the cops seemed more belligerent than ever. And this past Sunday another Black combat veteran, an honorably discharged Marine with a tour of duty in Iraq, went on a suicide mission shooting cops in Baton Rouge.

These killings have compelled recognition that far from the once hailed “post-racial society” race relations have greatly deteriorated. That was the view of 69 percent in a recent poll—the highest percentage since the 1992 Los Angeles “riots” after the acquittal of the cops who were caught on video savagely beating up Rodney King.

But to treat this deadly symptom we must first accurately diagnose the disease responsible. It’s not inherited, or even contagious. It is a true social disease deliberately spread from the top. Racism in its various forms is a disguised asset of American capitalism, providing both super-profits from discrimination and the most effective tactic for keeping the working class divided and fighting among ourselves. The only known effective cure is working class solidarity with those victimized—but determined not to accept being victims.

That’s the spirit of Manchester. It was powerfully manifested during the American Civil Rights Movement in the 1950-60s. And you’ll also find it today in the strikes and rallies of low wage workers of all skin pigments fighting for $15 and a Union in the USA. All hands on deck are needed to make Black Lives Matter.

The Most Progressive Democrat Platform Ever?

So sayeth Katrina vanden Hueval, publisher-editor of the Nation, in a weekly column in the Washington Post. Relative to past efforts—a pretty low bar–maybe. Compared to the program of “Political Revolution” she promotes—not so much. Many cooks watered down most of the recipes submitted by Chef Bernie to the Platform Committee, leaving at the end of the day a pretty thin soup.

Of the most popular demands that attracted 12 million votes for just-call-me-Bernie only one survived completely unscathed–and was actually strengthened—this bulked up passage on the 15 dollar minimum wage,

We believe that Americans should earn at least $15 an hour and have the right to form or join a union and will work in every way we can — in Congress and the federal government, in states, and with the private sector — to reach this goal. We should raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour over time and index it, give all Americans the ability to join a union regardless of where they work, and create new ways for workers to have power in the economy so every worker can earn at least $15 an hour. We applaud the approaches taken by states like New York and California. We also support creating one fair wage for all workers by ending the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers and people with disabilities.”

This more comprehensive language wasn’t introduced by Sanders supporters. It came from Mary Key Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union. SEIU has strongly backed the struggles of low wage workers both in trying to help them organize their workplaces and fighting for 15 dollar minimum wage laws at all levels. Sister Henry was one of the earliest union supporters of–Hillary Clinton.

Clinton was mostly accommodating to Sanders backer’s climate language that dismissed deniers—like the top of the ticket of the other party—backed President Obama’s climate goals, and promised lots of solar panels and green middle class jobs. She even accepted the declaration that the President’s suspension of the Keystone XL pipeline—which Secretary Clinton was prepared to bless—was a climate victory. She did, however, reject any mention of a carbon tax.

But the plank offered no concrete proposals of how its many lofty goals could be realized. There was no hint of a plan for rapid energy conversion, no clues as to how the cooperation of the fossil capitalists could be obtained—or their more likely resistance could be overcome.

It is a statement that is considered such a remarkable advance only because past platforms were so inadequate–and the opposition party makes rude gestures toward science and ignores the thermometer.

This past week a report was released showing payments for medical expenses amount to an average of ten thousand dollars per person this year. Health care costs have risen faster than inflation since the adoption of the misnamed Affordable Care Act, aka ObamaCare–and now they are beginning to soar. And, because about half of the states did not accept appropriated money for expanding Medicaid programs–a linchpin of the new law–many low income people were left behind without any coverage. The urgent need for at least Canadian-style single-payer health care is palpable and was a big factor in the Feel the Bern campaign. But that’s not how the Democrats roll.

President Obama recently said, on second thought, some public options should be included in his otherwise fine signature legislative achievement. Public option, a vague concept with some labor backing, was rejected by the President during the debate on the ACA.

Not coincidentally, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have jointly endorsed the public option ghost now made holy. And, just as he did with his original vote for the ACA, Senator Sanders again dropped, like a slippery rock, the single-payer central plank of his Political Revolution. Clinton’s bold suggestion to allow those age 55-65 to buy insurance through Medicare was also added to the Platform health jumble.

And what about the Sanders call for free public college education for all? Mrs Clinton wanted to buy a piece of that. The New York Times reported,

Hillary Clinton’s campaign announced a proposal on Wednesday to eliminate tuition at in-state public colleges and universities for families with annual incomes up to $125,000…While stopping short of Mr. Sanders’s vision, the proposal is likely to hearten many of the senator’s young supporters who had flocked to his insurgent campaign.”

Boss party platforms are all about “heartening.” The real movers and shakers know there are rarely even half-hearted gestures, much less serious efforts to implement the laundry list of hopes. But even those behind the scenes are careful to make sure that promises don’t promote excessive expectations of substantial improvements for the >99 percent. The trick is to be perceived as the best of the only two choices—sort of like cable versus satellite TV.

I won’t attempt to psychoanalyze the personal motives of those, who should know better, that give invaluable assistance to extending the life of the Democrats—much like Monty Python explained the vitality of an unresponsive parrot returned to the pet shop where purchased. Whether Bernie Sanders and Katrina vanden Hueval are naive or cynical manipulators matters little in the grand scheme. In any case, they have a rocky road ahead.

Never in the history of “scientific” polling, has there been so much dissatisfaction with the two major party presumptive nominees even in their own parties. The New York Times reports,

More than a third of Republicans say they are disappointed or upset that Donald J. Trump, who crashed the party’s nominating process, will represent them in the fall campaign; an equal number say he does not represent the values the party should stand for. Democrats are only marginally happier with Hillary Clinton as their party’s candidate. A quarter of Democratic voters say they are disappointed in her as the nominee; an additional seven percent say they are upset.”

This follows several years of polling showing a majority are dissatisfied with the present twin party duopoly and would like to see a new party alternative.

We can’t blame Bernie Sanders or the Nation for not launching a new party. That’s not their mission. If we want a party that will really fight for the interests of the working class majority we have to build it ourselves. We saw a glimpse of how that can begin in the misdirected Labor for Bernie effort. Our only class based mass organizations of the American working class are our unions. They can provide the critical mass for launching a party of and for workers—a Labor Party.


I’ve already exceeded my self-imposed limit for the WIR. Once again, time sensitive priorities are going to make me a fibber—there’s no room for the promised look at recent Just Transition proposals. Next time, for sure.

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 +

Our companion Labor Advocate news blog posts articles of interest to working people by 9AM Central, Monday-Friday.

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