Week In Review July 11

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Jul 112016
 

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

Background Check

The Republican Party has for a few years worked to sully their expected Democrat opponent in the contest for the White House this Fall. It was nothing personal. Senator Clinton had cordial relations with most on the other side of the aisle in that august body. Nor were there fundamental disagreements with Secretary of State Clinton’s foreign policy. But lack of genuine differences is precisely what motivates character attacks. They are sometimes decisive in voter choice of the two options offered by the parties of the <1 percent.

When the GOP first went rogue they expected the second Clinton would be running against a third Bush. Instead they have to now explain and complain about virtually everything rolling off the tongue of their surprise presumptive nominee. Still, once the cork has been drawn the blood wine must be drunk—and now it’s being served in tumblers.

Rupert Murdoch, an Australian with residences in London and New York, who became a naturalized U.S. citizen because that’s a requirement for owning a television network, has led Clinton-bashing through Fox, the Wall Street Journal, and other media in his stable. They got a lot of mileage out of Benghazi, where the U.S. ambassador—along with Libyan guards and other Americans–was killed in a jihadist attack. Alas, Secretary Clinton was eventually formally cleared of culpability in that incident.

But the bashers had backup—Secretary Clinton’s private e-mail server she used for official business. Most of the public had tended to share her Democrat rival Senator Sanders’ opinion–“I don’t care about your damn e-mails.” But the Fox forces caught a lucky break. Shortly before the Secretary was due to be questioned by the FBI, the presumptive First Gentleman was observed having a tete-a-tete with the Attorney General on a plane parked on an airport tarmac. President Bill explained they were only talking about grandchildren but the AG quickly said that she would steer clear of the FBI investigation of the unauthorized server.

After a concluding three-hour FBI interrogation of the Democrat hopeful, the head of America’s main secret police issued a statement that no charges were warranted. But he didn’t stop there. His gratuitous remark’s about her carelessness with classified material were aptly characterized by the New York Times as a “ready made attack ad” for the Republicans. That’s not too surprising since he is a Republican, first brought aboard the Justice Department by Bush II.

The GOP didn’t wait for a dental inspection of this gift horse. They immediately demanded the FBI turn over every scrap they had collected to Congress and, for good measure, urged “careless Clinton” be barred from intelligence briefings given to boss party candidates. It’s safe to assume the party of Trump will try to make ServerGate their main message from now until November—and perhaps beyond.

My disgust with these Republican shenanigans by no means evokes my sympathy for Senator-Secretary-Nominee Clinton. To the contrary, J’accuse her not of incompetence or carelessness but of many real, horrible crimes–if not statutory, certainly against humanity.

She rounded up needed bipartisan Senate support to launch the criminal Iraq war. She was the principal architect of the illegal NATO war that created a failed state in Libya–and its new industry of human trafficking in the greatest refugee crisis since World War II. She gave indispensable help legitimizing the bloody coup establishing the military dictatorship in Honduras. And there’s been no more staunch ally of, and apologist for, every aggression of the Zionist hawks ruling Israel. That’s a partial, blood-stained resumè of the candidate widely held to be the lesser evil.

The Republicans were at least accomplices if not instigators in these crimes and many more. They should all be answering charges–not in partisan congressional hearings but at the International Tribunal in the Hague. There they should be joined by Secretary Clinton’s “friend and counselor” Henry Kissinger, along with Bush II and, certainly after the Chilcot Report, Bush’s junior partner Tony Blair.

Ol’ Clean Coal Is A Sorry Ol’ Soul

Far from trying to kill the coal industry, as the GOP and United Mine Workers allege, a key component of the Climate Plan submitted by the Obama administration to the UN Paris Climate Summit was “clean coal.” If scientists were permitted to show a sense of humor this wouldn’t have passed the laugh test.

Earlier claims of clean coal were based not on changing the coal but more efficient capture of carbon emissions after burning and “sequestering” them under adjacent rocks or water ponds. That’s difficult to do even under ideal laboratory conditions and has long been dismissed as a practical alternative in the real world.

But instead of deciding to focus on expanding proven, off the shelf technology to utilize clean, renewable, and freely available energy sources–such as solar and wind–the government commissioned the fossil capitalists to put their scientists and engineers to work applying Rube Goldberg ingenuity to coal that would provide symmetry to other fossil fuel profit centers to boot. This is how a New York Times special report described a pilot project in Mississippi,

The plant, which broke ground in 2010, would run on lignite, a type of coal that is difficult to process but is plentiful in the region. Most of the carbon dioxide produced by the plant would be captured, compressed, sold and piped to oil fields. There, it would be pumped underground in a process known as enhanced oil recovery, to help push up previously unrecoverable oil to levels where it could be reached.”

Where the CO2 goes from there is not explained.

I’m not a scientist but through reading history, and Len Deighton novels, I’ve heard a lot about lignite—also known as brown coal. When wartime Nazi Germany was cut off from most imports of oil and natural gas they used lignite to produce often unstable liquid and gas substitutes. In postwar East Germany before reunification plentiful brown coal used in power plants produced some very unhealthy air pollution.

The processing needed for turning lignite in to the pipe dream of clean coal is not only “difficult”–even if it worked, it would be enormously expensive and could not be competitive with other fuels in the capitalist marketplace without huge taxpayer subsidies. As the Times article shows, even that is probably not enough.

The title of the comprehensive Times piece by Ian Urbina is “Piles of Dirty Secrets Behind a Model ‘Clean Coal’ project.” It is sub-headed “A Mississippi project, a centerpiece of President Obama’s climate plan, has been plagued by problems that managers tried to conceal, and by cost overruns and questions of who will pay.”

I won’t get in to the short-sighted, careless incompetence, and even corruption, on a scale somewhat shocking even to those familiar with how the private sector uses other people’s money. That’s not my beat. I cite this article as an exposè of how phony is the climate plan of the number two greenhouse gas emitting country. Wasted money is bad—irreversible collapse of our biosphere would be catastrophe of Old Testament proportions.

While not yet catastrophic, it is global warming that is advancing rather than the duplicitous goals promised in Paris. Here are some headlines of stories I posted on our companion Labor Advocate news blog just over the last week,

Palm oil firms ditch ‘no deforestation’ pact in Indonesia; A Remote Pacific Nation, Threatened by Rising Sea; Hillary Clinton’s Ambitious Climate Change Plan Avoids Carbon Tax; Trudeau Climate Plan Challenged at Toronto ‘Town Halls’; As Glaciers Melt in Alaska, Landslides Follow; Another environmental activist is killed in Honduras — the third this year; June swoon: US breaks another monthly temperature record; Arctic sea ice crashes to record low for June; Climate Change Claims a Lake, and an Identity.

Now there have been some victories, and promising ongoing battles, by climate activists in North America—especially around pipelines. My friend Carl Sack describes some of them in a useful article in Socialist Action. But these are mainly defensive actions that, if successful, will prevent some threats getting worse. To be sure, those are important.

But what is imperative is rapid, drastic reduction of greenhouse pollution by replacing fossil fuels with renewable zero-emission sources. Protest movements can educate and agitate around this goal but achieving it will require also supplanting the political monopoly of fossil capitalism—and socializing at least key sectors of the economy.

Since this is a presidential election year in the country Bill McKibben accurately describes as a “global warming machine,” some who have earned credentials in the climate/environmental movements want to inject the issue in to the campaigns. But most see this as a lobbying effort directed at the Democrats. In an e-mail blast from the 350 Action Fund Duncan Meisel writes,

There are two things that scare me about this election. The first is Donald Trump, and the racist, reactionary movement he’s inspired. Without a doubt, he is the most dangerous Presidential nominee in modern history. The second is that without ambitious proposals from the Democratic Party (and nominee), not only will we fall short in the climate action we need, there’s a risk that not enough people show up to stop the rising wave of Trump-inspired hatred.”

Nothing new here—it’s a pretty frank advocacy of lesser evil politics. Meisel urges us to e-mail the Democrats. Ralph Nader, who has several times run for President as an independent or a Green doesn’t do much better in an opinion piece in the Guardian.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/1/16/Green_Party_of_the_United_States_New_Logo.png/234px-Green_Party_of_the_United_States_New_Logo.png

And what about the Green Party that is attracting many Bernie Sanders supporters who don’t want to back any evil? The Greens are sincere, dedicated folks and I have often collaborated with them on various issues. They deserve an honest look—and frank assessment.

One of their four “pillars” is ecology. They say “The human cost of climate change is too high. We need to get off fossil fuels and on to renewable energy.”

That’s a pretty good concise statement. But when you dig down in their platform you find this key action demand,

Enact a Fee & Dividend system on fossil fuels to enable the free market to include the environmental costs of their extraction and use. These fees shall be applied as far upstream as possible, either when fuel passes from extraction to refining, distribution or consumption; or when it first enters the United States’ jurisdiction. The carbon fee will initially be small, a dime per kilogram of carbon, to avoid creating a shock to the economy. The fee will be increased by 10% each year that global atmospheric carbon dioxide content is greater than 350 ppm, decreased 10% each year it’s less than 300 ppm, and repealed entirely when it falls below 250 ppm.”

While the Greens welcome socialists who supported Bernie Sanders political revolution they are dedicated to influencing the free capitalist market—and wary of going too fast. This along with their philosophy of decentralized “community economics,” that seems to combine elements of Mao’s Great Leap Forward and the Amana workshops, distinguishes them from Al Gore’s climate perspective in only one important way. Gore is conflicted and sometimes cynical from the pulls of his grasp of science vs his class loyalty. The Greens are heartfelt in their ethics based politics—an admirable personal trait but unsuitable for tackling the climate crisis.

I’ll return to this question, and also look at some Just Transition proposals next time.

In Brief…

* From the Guardian, “Jeremy Corbyn has hailed a 100,000-strong surge in Labour members since the EU referendum as evidence of a ‘political sea change’ and insisted he is in tune with the new public mood, as he seeks to quash a rebellion by many of the party’s MPs.” The Party membership now exceeds 500,000—the biggest since the post-World War II upsurge.

* The CBC reported this morning, “There were signs of progress Sunday in a contract dispute between Canada Post and the union representing 50,000 of its workers as talks resumed and the post office withdrew a threat to lock out its workers.”

* In the Arizona Daily Star, “A federal judge has ruled again that Tucson-based copper miner Asarco LLC must pay millions of dollars worth of copper-price bonuses to union employees in Arizona and Texas. In a ruling filed Tuesday, Judge Stephen M. McNamee of the U.S. District Court in Phoenix denied Asarco’s motion to reconsider his March ruling that an arbitrator acted properly in ordering Asarco to pay the bonuses.”

That’s all for this week.

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Week In Review July 4

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Jul 042016
 

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

A Holiday Reprise

It is my custom around American Independence Day to reuse a holiday message I first posted in 2002. I believe in recycling and, while I could rearrange words, I doubt if I could do any better. If you haven’t read it in the past, I recommend Reflections On Independence Day buried deep in the archives.

A Boundary Worth Defending

Though I peruse all the news deemed fit to print by the New York Times, I confess I seldom even glance at the Opinion Page. I’m glad the Times put one particular essay on both the U.S. news and Business sections as well. The authors certainly have name recognition—former Vice-President Walter Mondale and Theodore Roosevelt IV—but that’s not what drew my attention. The title hooked me—Protect Minnesota’s Boundary Waters.

While I spent more time outdoors during the two decades I lived in Minnesota none of it could be labeled “rugged.” I for sure never portaged a canoe in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness along the border Minnesota shares with Ontario. I learned to cherish such dwindling pristine areas in the Land of Sky Blue Waters–by not intruding.

But the OpEd authors weren’t boosting tourism. They are warning against an encroachment more serious than past disputes over snowmobiles and motorized water craft. They say,

Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is one of America’s most popular wild destinations. Water is its lifeblood. Over 1,200 miles of streams wend their way through 1.1 million acres thick with fir, pine and spruce and stippled by lakes left behind by glaciers. Moose, bears, wolves, loons, ospreys, eagles and northern pike make their home there and in the surrounding Superior National Forest.

All of this is now threatened by a proposal for a huge mine to extract copper, nickel and other metals from sulfide ores. The mine would lie within the national forest along the South Kawishiwi River, which flows directly into the Boundary Waters Wilderness.


“The prospect of any major industrial activity in the watershed of such a place would be deeply troubling. But this kind of heavy-metal mining is in a destructive class all its own. Enormous amounts of unusable waste rock containing sulfides are left behind on the surface. A byproduct of this kind of mining is sulfuric acid, which often finds its way into nearby waterways. Similar mines around the country have already poisoned lakes and thousands of miles of streams. The consequence of acid mine drainage polluting the pristine Boundary Waters would be catastrophic. It is a risk we simply can’t take.”

The Governor of Minnesota has come out strongly against any industrial development affecting the Boundary Waters. But the area, including the Superior National Forest, is Federal land controlled by the Department of the Interior—and ultimately the White House. Twin Metals, a subsidiary of a Chilean-based global metal mining giant, obtained leases for the land for their proposed new mine in 1966—before passage of the Clean Water Act—but those options have now expired.

The area is adjacent to the Iron Range, a region lamented by Dylan in North Country Blues –about as far from pristine as you can imagine. The richest iron ore played out long ago. The Range survives today on low-grade taconite ore, processed in to pellets. The tailings waste from that method have at times produced major pollution problems.

Thousands of Steelworker mining jobs on the Range were eliminated, beginning in the 1980s but big demand from China had revived production somewhat in recent years. But China’s steel industry is now in retreat–and taconite is the first collateral casualty. Last year an introduction to an article in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune began, “Iron workers, neighbors worry about next job as global taconite crisis hits home and downturn in steel industry costs 1,100 jobs in Minnesota.”

The closest thing to a government-sponsored Just Transition program for the un- and under-employed Iron Range miners was a proposal advanced early on by a DFL Governor to subsidize a giant chop-stick factory–for export to China. Remarkably, few rallied around that solution. Undoubtedly, Twin Metals will be arguing that good jobs should trump canoes.

The record of the present administration in managing public lands is at best spotty. Both Trump and Clinton will likely be even more open to the pleas of the corporations. Mondale and Roosevelt are urging Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to use her authority to decree a 20-year moratorium on mining in the Boundary Waters area–just as her predecessor did with an application for uranium mining in the Grand Canyon.

That’s probably the only achievable goal for stopping the imminent devastation of clean water, forests and wildlife that cannot survive inevitable sulfuric pollution. Losing this precious preserve would not only be bad for canoeists, anglers, and amateur photographers. Though not on the scale of the Amazon or Indonesia, such damage to biodiversity—and loss of carbon sinks—contribute to the climate change crisis.

And what about needed jobs? Both the Iron Range and Coal Country could benefit from reintroducing an expanded version of the Civilian Conservation Corps, one of the most useful and popular New Deal programs during the Great Depression. The CCC was limited to unmarried male youth doing conservation and restoration work on public lands. Removing those restrictions, we could put all the unemployed miners to work—at union wages–on abating all of the environmental damage done by mining and processing. And–we could send the bill for the clean up to the companies who benefited from environmental destruction.

A Very British Coup?

There’s been a lot of publicity about the vote of “no confidence” in British Labor Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn by Labor Members of Parliament. But coverage in the mainstream media in both Britain and this side of the Atlantic has been very biased in favor of what is in fact an attempted Labor right-wing coup.

The MPs are mostly of the “New Labor” variety established by Tony Blair in the mid-1990s. Blair carried out an extreme make-over of the historic party of the British working class–in to a clone of the American Democrats. The role of the trade unions that had founded the party was downgraded. Clause 4 of the party’s constitution, affirming the goal of a socialist Britain, was repealed. Later Blair became one of the few European allies of Bush II, plunging Britain in to an illegal—and very unpopular—war in Iraq. Years later a parliamentary committee declared him a war criminal.

When Blair finally stepped down as PM and party strongman, a series of reforms were adopted enabling direct election of Party Leader by the party ranks. After Labor suffered a disastrous upset loss in last year’s general election, Corbyn declared his candidacy for Leader urging a return to the party’s working class class legacy. Thousands of mainly young workers and students joined the party to support him. He won sixty percent of the vote—and a mandate for changing the party’s course.

Despite hostility by most party MPs and apparatus, Corbyn has accomplished quite a bit. For the first time in decades, the party is actively supporting strikes and other actions by trade unions. Corbyn, who was long chair of the Stop the Wars coalition, continues as “Shadow Prime Minister” to be a featured speaker at antiwar and antiracist demonstrations. On his watch, Labor won four parliamentary by-elections and elected Mayors of four big cities–including London.

Corbyn also went to Paris at the time of the Climate Summit—not as a delegate but as part of a alternative series of panel discussions and demonstrations by unionists and allies from across the world. Still a card-carrying union member, Corbyn is a strong supporter of the global Trade Unions for Energy Democracy.

It was hard for the New Labor Old Guard to do more than kvetch about these solid achievements. But they eagerly responded to the chaos of Brexit. When Tory Prime Minister David Cameron announced he would resign, the Blairites demanded Corbyn do the same. Their dead-end factionalism led them to making the party profile in Parliament a bad taste joke with their mischievous No Confidence motion and resignation of much of the “Shadow Cabinet.”

Corbyn calmly responded to their shenanigans by reminding them their vote had no constitutional authority. He had been elected by a substantial majority of the party members—and could be replaced only through another membership vote.

What you didn’t hear in the mass media—not even the Guardian–was that less than 24 hours after the coup was launched, 10,000 not so calm workers rallied to show support for Corbyn and an online petition backing him already has over a quarter-million signatures.

Britain is not on the verge of revolution. But the Brexit iceberg—that had been growing beneath the surface for some time–did a lot of damage to the hulls of both British capital and the capitalist club of the European Union. Big, important class battles can be expected.

The Bernie Sanders campaign to “take back” the Democrat party is fatally flawed because it has always been a party of the ruling class. The British Labor Party is a different kettle of fish. It was founded by trade unions and socialists. Certainly not without flaws—magnified by the “New Labor” detour—it has a legacy worth saving and reviving. No leader should ever be given a blank check. But, in my view, Jeremy Corbyn deserves support in his efforts to “take back” the Labor Party.

I’ve devoted a lot of attention to these struggles in Britain because I think they contain some valuable lessons for American workers. In the political arena we are more than a century behind our class siblings in the UK. Even after the unprecedented Sanders campaign, Bernie’s Political Revolution cannot get the Democrats to say even a kind word about single-payer. The British Labor Party won socialized medicine before most readers were born.

We Yanks still have to take that first step to launch a party of our own. We can learn from both the successes and setbacks of the British experience. To “break the haughty power” of the American ruling class we still need to make our unions strong–but we also need a political arm of a labor party to win the crucial battles that we too, like the British, will face.

In Brief…

* Rich Purse, Trash Name–Atlantic City isn’t what it used to be since casinos started sprouting elsewhere in the region. Four have shut down and the city itself is facing a threat of bankruptcy. Of the five remaining in business, UNITE HERE reached tentative agreements at four. But over a thousand workers are on strike at the Trump Taj Mahal. Trump doesn’t have any active interest in the property—but is well compensated for use of his name. No body would pay to use the name of Carl Icahn, who became richer than Trump through his venture capital holding company that buys, strips, and sells companies huge and modest. He is also on Trump’s short list to be the next Treasury Secretary. He is who UNITE HERE is up against at the Taj Mahal. The union has mobilized mass picketing chanting “All Day, All Night—Taj Mahal, Shut It Down.” (Apologies to any unrelated Trumps or Icahns.)

* Dell Deletes Union—The Guardian reports, “Computer company Dell is dumping a team of cleaning staff just two months after they signed a new contract giving them better pay and new protections against sexual harassment in the workplace. On 1 May, services contractor Able drew up a new agreement which ensured its 8,000 Bay Area cleaners would be paid a minimum of $15 per hour – an increase of $0.76 – and get better family healthcare benefits. Language was also added to the contract to give protections from sexual violence – an all-too-common problem for female staff….However, six weeks after the contract was signed, Dell’s subcontracted facilities manager told Able it would be shifting to a cheaper non-union contractor, effective 15 July. The change affects twelve janitors at Dell’s Santa Clara campus.” SEIU has begun a community campaign demanding Dell bring back the union cleaners.

* Class & Gender—The East Side Freedom Library in St Paul has a presentation coming up this Thursday, July 7, that I wish I could attend: Grace Carlson: the work of class and gender–Donna Harverty-Stacke, Associate Professor of History, Hunter College. has been digging into the complex life history of Grace Carlson, the only woman among local labor activists sentenced to prison under the Smith Act during WWII. Donna will share with us what she has discovered so far and what she thinks Grace Carlson’s story tells us about the ways that gender and class intersected in labor activism. July 7 at 7 PM.

That’s all for this week.


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