Week In Review September 18

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Sep 182017
 

  by Bill Onasch

Through Fire, Air, and Water—Capitalism Fouls Things Up

Herwig G. Schutzler (relief map) New York Times

The loss of life and property inflicted by Harvey and Irma has not yet been completely tallied even as Maria threatens some of Irma’s recent victims once again, Jose’s wanderings leave its ultimate course unverified, and Max and Norma are still developing off Mexico’s Pacific coast.

Though not nearly enough, more attention is also finally being paid to wild fires in the west. Sparked by heat waves and tinder dry conditions, major fires have been raging from British Columbia south to Baja California. One in Montana exploded to burn 78 square miles overnight—the size of Brooklyn as noted in the New York Times. Others have been within Los Angeles County and more have been close enough to cities like Portland, Seattle, and Denver to keep people indoors because of the smoke.

As the map above illustrates, what happens in the west doesn’t always stay there. Smoke and ash in elevated areas gets carried by prevailing winds east over the mountains adding haze and other pollutants to seasonal allergens in far-flung places like my hometown of Kansas City.

The EPA has reported the most “unhealthy air days” in ten years. The Bureau of Land Management predicts there will be many more such summers. Neither are allowed to mention global warming as a factor. The Trump administration has instead opened up vast new areas of public lands in the west for drilling, fracking, mining, and cattle grazing—including the pristine Arctic Wildlife Refuge.

Faineants de Touspays Unissez-Vous *

After characterizing trade unionists as lazy, French president Macron heroically headed up a relief mission to French owned Caribbean islands battered by Hurricane Irma. In his absence tens of thousands of lethargic workers—some calling for Slackers of the World Unite!*–marched in Paris, Marseilles, Le Havre, and dozens of other cities. They interrupted their day-dreaming on the bosses’ time to protest Macron’s first decrees of labor law “reform.”

Macron hopes to succeed where several others have faltered—including the “Socialist” government he replaced that failed to make it to the second round of the elections last May. The first round featured strong showings by far-left parties but Macron managed to style himself as the best lesser evil alternative to the far-right racist, anti-immigrant Le Penn. Now Macron is trying to imitate General deGaulle as a “strong” president standing above discredited parties and “getting things done.”

Currently, it’s difficult for a boss to fire a worker, harder still to close a plant. Decades ago, French workers also won a 35-hour work week and several weeks of paid time off every year. These benefits are not subject to collective bargaining—they were secured by legislation that guarantees them to all workers. French capitalists and their politicians blame these laws for sluggish economic growth and high unemployment.

While some of the smaller unions are trying to negotiate with Macron and the employers over the severity of new take-backs, the Associated Press reported on the more militant CGT answer to this reactionary offensive,

Union leader Philippe Martinez told the crowd in Paris that reforming labor rules was a futile effort to create jobs. ‘No reform which has destroyed the labor law … has reversed the unemployment trend,’ Martinez said at the Place de la Bastille, the starting point of the Paris march. Such reforms don’t lead to ‘a job with which one can build his life on.’”

The brother is spot on in nailing the inutility of believing that eliminating the best worker protection laws of any major industrialized country will create more good jobs upon which to build an acceptable life. But some of the more conservative unions and reformist parties argue that resistance to the Borg-like Juggernaut directed by Macron on behalf of French capital is just as futile.

The September 12 strikes and demonstrations were just the first shots fired in the working class counter-attack—and there’s plenty more ammunition, and other tactics left for a fight to the finish. Their track record in previous skirmishes is good. And Macron should be mindful that even deGaulle came close to being overthrown by workers, farmers, and students in the revolutionary situation in France during May-June 1968.

Medicare for All—The Slogan and the Reality

The most prominent socialist in the Democrat Senate Caucus has introduced a new complex variation of single-payer health care reform co-sponsored by a third of his Democrat colleagues.

Some of them are viewing it through 2020 vision—hoping to use it to advance their chance of being on the Donkey ticket in the next presidential election. But 32 Democrats in the upper chamber are responding like the Devil takes to Holy Water. “My” Democrat Senator, Claire McCaskill, is suspicious of anything that threatens the profitability of her family’s holdings in nursing homes.

Liberal groups like the Our Revolution remnant of Bernie 2016, and Democracy for America, are uncritically excited about the Sanders bill, circulating petitions and raising money around it. My old friend Mark Dudzic, coordinator of the Labor Campaign for Single Payer, and the last National Organizer of the now defunct Labor Party, gave a more measured response in an interview by Labor Notes. But what is actually proposed—and ignored—in the Sanders bill?

It is a far cry from the Labor Party Just Health Care version of single-payer which was a greatly enhanced upgrade of Canadian-style care pioneered by that country’s NDP labor party. Unlike the funding uncertainty of the Sanders proposal, Just Health Care was accompanied by a financial Briefing Paper that showed how the working class majority would pay less for better coverage. And JHC even provided for a Just Transition for billing and other clerical workers made redundant when private insurance is eliminated—another provision absent from both the Sanders Senate bill and the Conyers bill in the House.

Regular readers know I have long been critical of Medicare for All as a slogan for single-payer. Medicare, increasingly whittled away by privatization, is not the blessing for us old folks that too many imagine. Between my Part B deduction from Social Security, my Blue Cross supplement to pay for what Part B doesn’t cover, and further uncovered prescription drugs and eye glasses, my out of pocket expenses eat up more than half of my Social Security benefit that is my only regular income.

But for Sanders Medicare for All is not just a catchy slogan. His bill would literally expand Medicare coverage—with some improvements—to everyone over a four year transition period.

Anticipating many of the objections already being raised, especially the uncertain financials, Sanders accepted a likely fallback retreat insisted upon by Senator Gillibrand of New York—a return of the murky “public option” competitor with private insurance last supported by the AFL-CIO, rejected by President Obama, during the passage of the current Affordable Care Act.

The mish-mash Sanders bill does little to educate and prepare the working class for genuine needed health care reform. It is designed to be campaign material for liberal Democrats in the 2018 and 2020 elections.

The best health care example remains the socialized medicine of the National Health Service established by the British Labor Party which will mark its seventieth anniversary of operation next July. Most hospitals are publicly owned, most medical and dental professionals and support workers are paid by the government and all services, devices, and most drugs are free to users.

Promoting Just Health Care instead of the British model was a tactical decision by the American Labor Party. Its goal was to neutralize opposition by actual care-providers while eliminating the insurance parasites. The struggle has not yet advanced to a point of testing the validity of that tactic. While socialized medicine would be better, Just Health Care is a reform worth fighting for if the doctors stay neutral.

The British and Canadian experiences demonstrate that it will take a working class party to get the health care system that workers in the world’s richest country need and deserve. The Democrat Our Revolution won’t cut it.

That’s all for this week.


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Week In Review September 11

 Week In Review  Comments Off on Week In Review September 11
Sep 112017
 

  by Bill Onasch

An Ongoing Unnatural Disaster

Mary’s brothers and sister-in-law who live in Key Largo evacuated to safer areas before Irma hit–but don’t yet know whether their homes survived. We were relieved to hear our friend Jeff’s mother—who we also consider a dear friend—is well in a West Palm Beach area retirement condo. And because we care about all creatures great and small, we were glad to hear that the Key West colony of six-toed cats endowed by Hemingway are doing fine. But I remain concerned about our readers in Florida and an expat friend who has long resided in Cuba.

MSNBC, aka the Liberal Channel, is to be commended for pulling out all the stops in their real time coverage of Irma in Florida. But this praise needs to be tempered by two major caveats:

* While they did a good job in explaining how very warm water temperatures and rising sea levels contributed to fueling the most devastating Atlantic storm in recorded history there was little mention of the underlying cause of these conditions—global warming.

* Nor was sufficient attention paid to the fact that damage to Florida would have been more catastrophic had not Irma already expended so much furious energy in a week of pulverizing small islands, punishing Haiti still not recovered from the 2010 earthquake, and lingering for days in Cuba.

To their credit, the NBC commentators and meteorologists did note the irrational development accompanying the population explosion in Florida in recent decades. Perhaps the most egregious was the widespread digging of canals as the main attraction of new housing additions and resorts—maximizing premium real estate prices for waterfront properties. There is no more blatant example of what some Marxists call capitalism’s metabolic rift in the era of climate change.

Remembering Both 9/11s

9/11 Changed Everything,” was once enough to justify wars and attacks on civil liberties. Sixteen years after terrorists backed by rogue elements in the Saudi ruling class hijacked planes and crashed three of them in to the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the Establishment is still trying to exploit our fury over that crime to cover new criminal adventures of their own.

Most of the victims who died that day were workers on the job or First Responders trying to rescue them. Not acknowledged as heroes or martyrs were many more who later died due to irresponsible management of cleanup of highly toxic debris in New York.

Bush II, like Trump, had placed second to the Democrat in the 2000 popular vote but was awarded an Electoral College victory by the Supreme Court who ordered a halt to recounting disputed “hanging chads” in Florida. Bush’s dismal approval ratings were instantly reversed when he launched a revenge war on Afghanistan, supported by NATO. Its objective was supposedly to kill or capture the terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden and his alleged Taliban protectors. Trump recently became the third president to accept ownership of this war now entering its seventeenth year–even though Osama bin Laden is long dead, killed by Navy Seals who dropped his body in to the ocean.

All this is familiar to most readers. Not so well known is an earlier September 11 atrocity. I wrote this in the September 12, 2004 Week In Review,

The Other 9/11

We joined in on the comments about the anniversary of the horrible events of September 11, 2001. But we haven’t forgotten there is another reason to remember this as a date of infamy. September 11, 1973 saw the beginning of the military overthrow of the Allende government in Chile leading to thousands of deaths and a long period of brutal dictatorship.

When I was in school during the Fifties I was taught that socialism was inevitably linked to totalitarianism, that no socialist regime had ever been democratically elected. That was in fact a false assertion even then. Among other examples, a revolutionary socialist regime won elections in 1919 in Hungary–though they were quickly overthrown by a violent capitalist counter-revolution.

But during the Seventies the whole world followed the electoral success of a united front, including Socialists and Communists, in Chile that put Salvador Allende in the Presidential Palace. It was a victory that inspired and raised expectations of working people throughout Latin America–and beyond.

This worker supported government may have had its limitations but it alarmed the Chilean ruling class. It also caused consternation in Washington, already reeling from imminent defeat in Vietnam. The U.S. government worked hand-in-glove with the Chilean brass hats in their bloody coup. CIA agents even helped target American citizens in Chile for murder.

(The father of one such American victim, Thomas Hauser, wrote a compelling book, Missing [no longer in print], which Costa-Gavras turned into an impressive 1982 film of the same name starring Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek, winning the Academy Award for best script.)

Lessons From 9/11 Being Ignored In Harvey Cleanup

As the owner of a Houston mobile home park was sifting through the wreckage left behind by Harvey he noticed some silver colored spots on his toes. A New York Times reporter who happened to be on the scene recognized the tell tale signs of mercury. It’s, of course, a heavy metal with many useful industrial and energy applications. A few drops on the skin is usually not a big problem—though an upgrade in the owner’s footwear is obviously needed. But ingesting the stuff—or breathing its fumes—is a very big problem indeed, potentially fatal.

The small sample collected of such a commonly used material could not identify its origin. Culpability is especially elusive in Houston with not only numerous active factories and refineries but also more than its share of Superfund sites.

These sites are polluted areas left behind when capitalist enterprises are closed. The 1980 Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act authorized the EPA to identify the damage to natural resources and direct those responsible to pay for the cleanup. The Superfund was established to pay for restorations when the guilty parties were unable to comply. The Fund was originally maintained by a tax on oil and chemical companies but nothing has been collected for more than 15 years and any cleanup since has come out of the Federal budget.

Trump’s EPA has not yet inspected many of the 41 Superfund sites in Houston, even the 13 known to have been flooded. Of course, many more active plants were under water and others exploded igniting fires. Another NYT article began,

High levels of the carcinogen benzene were detected in a Houston neighborhood close to a Valero Energy refinery, local health officials said Tuesday, heightening concerns over potentially hazardous leaks from oil and gas industry sites damaged by Hurricane Harvey.

“Preliminary air sampling in the Manchester district of Houston showed concentrations of up to 324 parts per billion of benzene, said Loren Raun, chief environmental science officer for the Houston Health Department. That is above the level at which federal safety officials recommend special breathing equipment for workers.”

Hurricane Jose presently lacks the punch of Irma. While its precise path has not yet been confirmed it appears to be heading toward landfall in Georgia/South Carolina. We can hope that it will dissipate by then but it would be wise to prepare for another major event.

The Hurricane season has passed its normal peak. But there is little sign of letup in wildfires ranging from western Canada to Baja California. There’s no end in sight for the droughts in Portugal and East Africa, or the massive floods in South Asia. We are witnessing the painful symptoms of a climate change crisis that is part and parcel of capitalism. You can’t end one without getting rid of the other. That’s a job only our class can do.

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 +

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.