Week In Review July 9

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Jul 092017

  by Bill Onasch

Induced Coma for Single-Payer

A recent article in the Guardian begins, “The US spends more money on healthcare than any other wealthy nation. But it hasn’t resulted in better health.” It includes an OECD chart comparing private and public health care spending, and average life expectancy in 30 industrialized countries.

In the USA last year the average person spent 4,571 dollars in out of pocket health care expenses—a figure five times higher than the OECD average. When you add in public spending for programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and the VA, the per capita health spending was 8,995 dollars—unrivaled world leader.

But in the measure of life expectancy the U.S. 78.8 years was number 25 in these rankings. Japan topped out at 83.9. Our neighbors in single-payer Canada have an expectancy of 81.5. In Britain where most health care is still socialized in the National Health Service, and there is outrage that under Tory austerity and privatization measures annual out of pocket costs have risen to 804 dollars, Her Majesty’s subjects can expect to live to 81.

As the Republican majority in Congress struggled to repeal and/or replace the hydra-headed Affordable Care Act, actions by unions and other health care advocates appeared to be on the brink of winning single-payer legislation in the most populous of the United States. This would not only have been a big victory for the nearly 40 million residents of the Golden State; it would have established a viable alternative to both terrible ObamaCare and even more horrible TrumpCare, on state levels and nation wide.

But after the Healthy California Act passed the California Senate 23-14, it was bureaucratically consigned to purgatory–not by evil Republicans but the liberal Democrat leadership. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon announced, “SB 562 will remain in the Assembly Rules Committee until further notice.” His move was backed by Governor Jerry Brown.

Rendon dismissed SB 562 as a lofty statement of principles, not serious legislation. He hammered away that the bill purportedly costing 400 billion dollars included no dedicated funding sources and would require unacceptable tax hikes.

It would have undoubtedly been better if the authors of SB 562 had more fully spelled out the cost benefit of single-payer with an explanation of where the money would come from. Economist Dean Baker once did such a detailed budget Briefing Paper for the even much more comprehensive national Labor Party Just Health Care campaign. Still, Emma Wilde Botta writes in Socialist Worker,

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst looked at the fiscal impact of single-payer in California and proposed a way to fund the program. Their study estimated that the legislation would reduce overall health care spending by about 8 percent compared to the existing system–with massive cost savings for individuals and small businesses–even as it expanded coverage for the estimated 3 million uninsured.

“About 70 percent of California’s health care spending is currently paid through public programs. The researchers found that two new taxes–a 2.3 percent gross receipts tax and a 2.3 percent increase in state sales tax–would be able to replace private insurance funds.

“So while SB 562 may not include specific funding, there is no doubt that single-payer can be funded in California–and save state residents money to boot.”

An additional rationale cited by Rendon was the need to concentrate on defeating TrumpCare. Instead of counterposing popular single-payer to Trump’s paying for tax-cuts for the the rich by expropriating health care spending for the poor, elderly and disabled, the Dems across the country will continue to defend the discredited Affordable Care Act—maybe even agreeing to some “fixes” acceptable to “moderate” Republicans. Like the insurance and drug robber barons they have so faithfully served, the Democrat Establishment is not in business for our health.

Socialized medicine in Britain, and single-payer in Canada, were won by labor parties. That’s the missing prescription for curing sick U.S. health care. There are no acceptable generic equivalents.

Like Dickens Said

The widely used truncated quote from the opening of a Tale of Two Cities—“It was the best of times and the worst of times”–aptly describes the present conjuncture of jobs and wages in the world’s biggest economy.

An early Breaking News headline on the New York Times website Friday morning about the June jobs report gushed “U.S. Labor Market Roars Back.” Later editions mellowed a bit to “U.S. Job Growth Picks Up the Pace, but Wages Lag Behind.” The Wall Street Journal was even more reserved from the beginning–“U.S. employers are churning out jobs unabated, but the inability to generate more robust wage growth represents a missing piece in a largely complete labor recovery.”

Some job growth is palpable. There are localized shortages of skilled trades in construction. This is due not only to an up-tick in building but also retirement of “baby boomers.” But the middle-aged boomers still too young to retire, who have had little or no work since losing good manufacturing jobs over the past decade–said to be Trump’s base–are not likely candidates for years-long apprenticeships. Neither are many Millenials who spent a fortune getting the college degree they were told would lead to a good career. The trades are paying a price for a lost generation.

After a record boom in auto sales in recent years reductions in that industry have begun and many more are expected. There are big layoffs in retail, Microsoft is eliminating 4,000 jobs, and many in the public sector and on college campuses are also taking a hit. And the Wall Street Journal reports that the Keystone XL pipeline—ruthlessly driven through by Trump who promised many jobs—may not be activated after completion. With the glut in today’s oil market few are interested in the additional expense needed to convert Tar Sands bitumen in to synthetic petroleum.

Trump’s effort to keep good jobs in America has had little substantive success. Nabisco is still moving jobs to Mexico. The maker of the iconic American motorcycle Harley-Davidson, who once arranged a photo op with Trump admiring a HOG on the White House lawn, is also offshoring work—not to Mexico where they might still be pestered by troublesome unions–but to Thailand.

Inadequate stagnant wages accompanying a near record length recovery from the Great Recession ls no mystery either. Most job growth is still in health care, financial services, and food/hospitality—a mix of some highly paid professionals with mostly working poor. While some employers are offering more for skilled workers who unfortunately don’t exist, most are still seeking concessions in union contracts and rely heavily on part-time and temp workers who get no health or retirement benefits. The recent membership rejection of a tentative CWA agreement for 17,000 California and Nevada AT&T Wireless workers was sparked by the company demand that workers pay 29 percent more for health coverage.

When unorganized low wage workers seek improvement through a higher minimum wage the bosses warn they are pricing themselves out of work. You may have encountered a widely-publicized study by economists at the University of Washington that argues that the pioneering municipal minimum wage in Seattle has eliminated many jobs. If you have the patience to follow the language of the “dismal science,” the Economic Policy Institute has done a thorough job in demolishing this flawed study.

The impressive state and municipal minimum wage victories won by the Fight for 15 and their allies have been almost the sole area of wage gains for the working poor. Some cities, including just this month Minneapolis and St Paul, have also established minimum sick and “safe time”days for all workers.

Trumpite controlled state legislatures have taken to enacting “preemption laws” forbidding such local efforts beneficial to workers, some like Missouri being challenged in court. Still other legislatures have begun to repeal state Prevailing Wage laws that in effect require union rates on construction projects that receive government subsidies.

Clearly low, stagnant wages that seem to defy the “natural” tendency of wage growth during relative labor shortage are the result of conscious, tenacious ruling class bargaining and political policies.

We Are Not Alone

The policies of American bosses and bankers are not unique. They have been part of a restructuring of world capital over the past several decades that some call neoliberalism, others Globalization. While there are still some tense rivalries between the various capitalist powers they have attempted to maintain their class solidarity against the toilers of the world. They have established some hierarchical formats such as the just concluded G20, and the still more elite G7.

Trump has become the rogue elephant in the room at these gatherings—and in more informal ones in Trump’s absence among the top echelons of the American ruling class. They believe his America First alt-right agenda is at best premature and likely counterproductive. His reckless statements and easily refuted lies call in to question his ability to govern.

But we can’t count on his class siblings to protect us from this dangerous bigoted, egotist bully. We have to rely on the great inherent power of our class. We can learn some valuable lessons from the working class upsurge in the second biggest English speaking country. The resurgence of the trade unions and Labor Party in Britain will be regularly covered in news stories posted on our companion Labor Advocate news blog as well as in the WIR.


I often remind Twin Cities readers about their unique resource—the East Side Freedom Library in St Paul. I’m happy to report that I will soon be able to visit this treasure I’ve admired from afar in person.

As part of the same brief, working vacation, I have gratefully accepted an invitation from Twin Cities Socialist Action to speak at a Forum on Where Is Britain Going? It takes place Thursday, July 20, 7PM, at another Minnesota jewel—MayDay Books.

Unless there’s some truly momentous development, this will be my final WIR before beginning my vacation break. You can expect the next near the end of July.

That’s all for this week.

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Week In Review July 1

 Week In Review  Comments Off on Week In Review July 1
Jul 012017

  by Bill Onasch

We Know Whodunit

It’s not one of the fun mysteries like those solved by Sherlock Holmes or Nero Wolfe. Like an old episode of Columbo, we know the culprit before all the clues are revealed.

According to voluntary reports from every country, carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels appear to have stabilized. Yet carbon dioxide accumulation in the atmosphere’s greenhouse layer is still growing—and average surface temperatures on both land and sea continue to rise.

No scientist is saying this means that the benefit of emission reduction is worthless or exaggerated. Quite the contrary—their consensus remains we need to get as close to zero as we can as soon as possible–and I’ll get back to that. But the apparent anomolay verifies fossil fuel emissions have triggered other additional release of greenhouse gases that are likely to continue for some time even after a much more massive conversion to clean renewable energy is accomplished.

As always, most scientists want more data before offering definitive answers–but my lay “gut” tells me that what some see as a counter intuitive puzzle is almost certainly the result of a combination of insidious factors.

First, it is likely that some of the national reports are inaccurate, a few even fudged, and that fossil emissions haven’t yet actually stabilized. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency is a leader in tracking both emissions and accumulations and could give us more clues—however, Trump’s budget will debilitate NOAA.

But cooking the books is probably a minor factor in cooking our planet. It’s long been understood that the effects of global warming have been partially mitigated by natural carbon sinks. Plants—and especially forests—are estimated to inhale about a quarter of CO2 emissions.

But there are finite limits to their storage capacity. As they max out they can re-release excess CO2 back in to the atmosphere. Of course, the same thing happens on an accelerated scale when trees are chopped down, and cut up for lumber.

Particularly devastating is the clearing of old growth forests in places like Indonesia—and above all, the Amazon in Brazil. That’s a double whammy—losing the mammoth carbon sink and releasing the carbon long stored in it. Land grabbers in Brazil have murdered indigenous peoples and environmentalists not so much for lumber—they clear-cut mainly in order to grow soy beans for export to China.

Seventy-one percent of the Earth’s surface is covered by water. The oceans and the Great Lakes are currently carbon sinks on a par with land plant life—about a quarter of the total. At one time they absorbed nearly twice as much. But the “dilution solution” requires a gradual mixing of CO2 to go increasingly deeper—now below 500 meters. This has an impact on all living things in the sea.

Of course, warmer temperatures are also expanding the volume of water leading to rising sea levels that unchecked will eventually inundate coastal regions that are home to hundreds of millions.

In addition to release of sequestered carbon dioxide there has been a big up-tick in a many times more potent greenhouse gas—methane. It’s treated like a waste byproduct in gas and oil fracking. Even a too little too late Obama rule requiring measuring methane pollution was immediately killed by the Trump administration. As warmer temperatures that have already opened the Arctic Ocean to shipping also thaws the deep PermaFrost in Canada, Alaska, and Siberia, it’s expected enormous quantities of trapped methane will be released. While it disperses in decades rather than the centuries for CO2, decades is enough to do a lot of damage.

All of these current diverse, dangerous aspects of climate change in a purported period of “emission stability” reminds me of a long-running skit during the early days of Saturday Night Live. When the frightened regime left behind by the Spanish fascist dictator Franco struggled to find a way to finally admit the Caudillo was dead, Chevy Chase reported the news that Franco’s condition was “grave but stable.”

Stability is a positive attribute when applied to structures or human behavior. But the present best case stabilized greenhouse emissions is still a mortal threat to the biosphere that sustains all living things. Franco deserved his eternal “stability”–we and our progeny are entitled to better.

In a recent article in Nature, prominent climate scientists predict that we have only about three years to start implementing far-reaching measures needed to stop global warming short of a historic rise of 2C that would register substantial, irreversible damage to our biosphere. Rather than celebrating “stability” they argue present emission levels must be treated as a peak ushering in steady, rapid decline. They go on to describe goals on six fronts that can slow and stop global warming—Energy; Infrastructure; Transportation; Land; Industry; Finance.

Their science and technology seems to me to be just what the doctor ordered for saving and healing a human-friendly planet. But while their physical science is undoubtedly achievable its economic and political implementation within the framework of the world capitalist market is not.

The historic interaction between capitalism and nature has always been contentious. In addition to explaining the capitalist economic forces at work, Karl Marx noted early on in the nineteenth century what the present day Marxist John Bellamy Foster calls the metabolic rift—but that’s a topic for another time.

Today, most capitalist governments acknowledge the climate change crisis. But their response is mainly through familiar market and fiscal measures such as carbon price, carbon tax, carbon offsets, and subsidies to private producers and consumers of solar, wind, and other alternatives to fossil fuels. These methods are the foundation of the voluntary goals for reducing emissions in the 2015 Paris Climate Accords signed by all but two countries.

The compliance results eighteen months on have been less than stunning and most scientists believe that even if all Paris goals are met they won’t be enough to meet even the backup goal of keeping historic warming below 2C.

The June 1 withdrawal of the government in the world’s biggest economy—and second biggest greenhouse polluter—threatens to make that likelihood a certainty. The G20 industrial capitalist countries meeting this week in Hamburg will promise to increase their commitments to help pick up the slack and many U.S. states and cities are also pledging to do more in defiance of the Denier-in-Chief. But even if seriously pursued, these gestures cannot overcome the climate wrecking policies of the richest and best armed nuclear power.

The urgently needed measures advocated in the Nature article and other scientific papers require planning and implementation on a global scale—essentially political and social tasks. It will mean abandoning major sources of profit, socializing major industries and finance and operating them under worker management, and redirecting production and distribution to sustainable needs.

It is not a perverse sense of patriotism to recognize the decisive battles to accomplish this transformation will be fought in the USA. Of course, this is not the only fight we must engage—but it is overarching. To paraphrase a motto of the Labor Network for Sustainability, you need a living planet to earn a living.


I wish our American readers a Happy Independence Day. That was America’s First Revolution. The Civil War became a Second Revolution to eliminate slavery. While hopefully not bloody as those two, the future of human civilization depends on a Third to achieve class and climate justice.

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)

Simply send your name and e-mail address to billonasch[at]kclabor.org

Follow Bill Onasch on Google +

Powered By Blogger 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.

Privacy Policy. We don’t share any information about our readers with anyone else—period.

The original content we provide is copyrighted and may not be reproduced by commercial media without our consent. However, labor movement and other nonprofit media may reproduce with attribution.