Week In Review November 27

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Nov 272017
 

  by Bill Onasch

Bonn Voyage

Not much good news was expected to come out of the annual UN COP23 gathering in the former capital of west Germany–and it certainly lived up to anticipation.

This year’s host country has done more than most major industrial powers to ameliorate the climate crisis. About half of their electricity is powered by non-fossil fuels, 37.6 percent by clean renewables. But the leader of the world’s third biggest economy was nevertheless apologetic at the COP for good reason. Writing in the New York Times, Brad Plumer summarized remarks by Chancellor Angela Merkel–who is also having trouble forming a new government after losing seats in a recent election,

After declaring that ‘climate change is an issue determining our destiny as mankind,’ Ms. Merkel acknowledged that Germany was likely to miss the goals it had set itself for cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 because of its continued reliance on coal power. While vowing to grapple with the issue, she said that phasing out coal use would require ‘tough discussions’ with German policymakers in the weeks ahead.”

Graphic by Der Spiegel

An in-depth study by the German newsweekly Der Spiegel explains Merkel’s quandary. To produce about a quarter of their electricity, Germany annually consumes more than 170 million metric tons of lignite—so-called brown coal—more than any other country. It emits much more carbon and other nasty stuff than even the more familiar dirty black bituminous or anthracite. Not far from Bonn the biggest hole in Europe has been dug, clearing big swaths of the once carbon absorbing ancient Hambach Forest, for an open cast lignite mine—a site currently enduring ongoing protests. Merkel’s “tough discussions” will include the big energy capitalists who want to expand their destruction of the Hambach, along with the unions representing their workers.

As highlighted in an earlier WIR, COP23 began with a warning by UN climate officials and scientists that pledges made by the Parties to reduce greenhouse emissions were woefully inadequate for meeting the modest goals of Paris. They urged everyone to take greater measures. The admission that Germany will likely fail to meet already deficient initial promises is bad news indeed.

Though Trump has already begun the lengthy process of withdrawing from the 2015 Paris Accords, a rump delegation headed by a low level acting assistant Secretary of State was dispatched to defend their boss under attack by Junk Science and Fake News. They sponsored an event titled “The Role of Cleaner and More Efficient Fossil Fuels and Nuclear Power in Climate Mitigation.” After much jeering, most of the audience walked out.

Also previously noted, for the first time there was a rival American delegation—the U.S. Climate Center whose slogan is “We Are Still In.” It is comprised of mainly Democrat state and local elected officials with a sprinkling of academics and a few capitalists. Defiance of a sitting President may appear heroic. But these lions were as meek as the one Dorothy encountered on the Yellow Brick Road during the eight years of Obama.

For sure, Obama is no Denier. Global climate awareness was beginning to peak during his first year in office and it appeared a transformative international agreement might emerge from the 2009 COP held in Copenhagen. But, instead, like in the Bard’s Hamlet, there turned out to be “something rotten in the state of Denmark.”

Combining a trip to the Danish capital with a journey to Oslo to pick up his Nobel Peace Prize, Obama was a late arrival at the COP. But once there he was like the cat among the pigeons. He demanded a tentative consensus be scrapped while he negotiated with major players. The President also offered a palpable bribe of billions to poor countries who accepted the watered down deal he brokered with China—though little, if any, of this promised hush money was ever paid.

In the end, the delegates refused to vote on this backroom deal and the most the Chair could salvage was recognition that the body “took note” of the agreement crafted by the two leading greenhouse polluters. Friends of the Earth called it “A Sham Deal Requires Nothing, Accomplishes Nothing.” Der Spiegel wrote a scathing editorial entitled “Full Throttle In to the Greenhouse.” There were to be no other meaningful agreements until the Paris Accords six years later.

In the interim between Copenhagen and Paris Obama gave short shrift to coal—but also established himself as the Fracking President. Environmentally destructive hydraulic fracturing made the USA oil self-sufficient and drove down the price of marginally cleaner natural gas to make it cheaper than coal. That in turn led to a massive conversion of coal-fired power plants to gas.

This one-off gain in reducing utility smokestack carbon emissions was supplemented by executive orders launching a “Clean Power Policy.” It encouraged states to form regional cap-and-trade structures, similar to those that have been in place in Europe since the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

But Obama chose a model based on the shaky structure of his Affordable Care Act—that was dissed by about half the states. The ACA at least had the force of a law passed by Congress and a Republican majority has been frustrated by failures to repeal and replace. Undoing past executive orders, however, requires only a countermanding order by the next President—and Trump is quite proud of his calligraphy. In so doing 45 eliminated most of what Obama committed to do in the Paris Accords.

When California Governor Jerry Brown and his followers declare “We Are Still In,” it is Obama’s Clean Power—and the inadequate goals of most other nations—that they are in for. Cap-and-Trade, Carbon Tax–and virtually all market measures–have failed to even slow the relentless escalation of global warming.

Most informed people realize today’s climate change is not a “natural” threat but is the consequence of human activity. Not yet widely understood is the danger of collapse of the biosphere that has nurtured human civilization is the result of what Marxists like John Bellamy Foster describe as capitalism’s Metabolic Rift.

The WIR is not a theoretical journal and I make no claim of being an expert theoretician. But in a nutshell, this Rift is apparent in the way capitalism exploits natural resources where profitable with little regard for either short term or long range environmental impact. Even in Germany, where the Greens are a big party sometimes included in capitalist coalition governments, and there is an almost spiritual worship of forests, old growth forests are clear cut, and fertile farm land dug up, to get to deposits of the brown coal that is canceling out other efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions.

As we say Abschied to COP23 we need to redouble our efforts in the joint struggle for class and climate justice. As usual, you can expect further concrete suggestions in the WIR.

In Brief…

* Amazon I—CNBC reported that when Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon and owner of the Washington Post, woke up Friday he found that he had surpassed Bill Gates as the richest man in the world. The stock market had been so bullish about Amazon’s “Black Friday” prospects it added 7 billion dollars to his wealth overnight. His estimated fortune now stands at 90 billion.

* Amazon II—AP reported “Workers at a half-dozen Amazon distribution centers in Germany and one in Italy walked off the job Friday, in a protest timed to coincide with Black Friday to demand better wages from the American online giant. In Germany, Ver.di union spokesman Thomas Voss said some 2,500 workers were on strike at Amazon facilities in Bad Hersfeld, Leipzig, Rheinberg, Werne, Graben and Koblenz. In a warehouse near Piacenza, in northern Italy, some workers walked off the job to demand ‘dignified salaries.’”

* Making Students Smarter—Apple was the first to market the “smart phone.” According to the Financial Times, the offshored production of the new I-phone X by Foxconn depends largely on student labor working 11 hour days—a violation of China’s labor laws. Last month, House Speaker Paul Ryan shared the glory of luring Foxconn to build a plant in Ryan’s district with Wisconsin’s union-busting Governor who also provided a lot of “incentives” to the Taiwan-based corporation. Not mentioned was the fact the plant is a short bus-ride from the UW Madison campus.

That’s all for this week.


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Week In Review November 19

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Nov 192017
 

  by Bill Onasch

#Me Too’

Misogyny–disdain if not hatred of women–is not instinctive but it’s been around a long time. Subjugation of women was practiced in the ancient Athens male slave-holder “democracy.” It permeates biblical texts shared by the Abrahamic faiths, beginning with Eve’s culpability for Original Sin. To this day, the clergy and hierarchy of the Church launched by Peter are still all male who have taken a vow of celibacy. Orthodox synagogues continue to require separate seating for women apart from the men.

While the capitalist era injected an element of romance to relations between men and women it too has adapted misogyny, along with racism, xenophobia and homophobia, to serve their class interests–not only to keep the working class divided but to also impose super-exploitation of women, people of color, and immigrants.

It will take a social revolution to begin a likely generations long process to finally purge these prejudices that infect nearly all, consciously or not, to one degree or another. But that doesn’t mean that those oppressed can do nothing meaningful now to resist. Nor should white male workers perceived to enjoy privileges wait until Come the Rev to make everyone whole. The worker maxim that an Injury to One is the Concern of All means gender, color, and ethnic equality need to be integrated in to our ongoing fight for class and climate justice.

***

The fuse that ignited the current #Me Too explosion that erupted around Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein was first lit during last year’s presidential election campaign. The Washington Post dug up the infamous Access Hollywood tapes recording Trump’s crude and lewd bragging about how he had used his power as a rich and famous boss to abuse women. Several women went public with testimony of how they had been victimized. Many thought this would derail Trump’s campaign.

While it did cost him a lot of female votes, most of those who had drunk the Make America Great Again koolaid accepted his explanation the tape was just “locker room banter,” and his accusers were liars hired by Fake News. With Clinton’s bungling—and help from more than a few friends in other lands—Trump managed to pull off an Electoral College upset even though the first woman to head a major party ticket garnered nearly three million more votes of people.

But a lot of women didn’t forgive and forget. In the January 23 2017 Week In Review I wrote,

‘We’re Not Going Away!’

I didn’t know such a science existed until I saw this headline in the New York TimesCrowd Scientists Say Women’s March in Washington Had 3 Times as Many People as Trump’s Inauguration. They estimate around a half-million. That’s not the biggest ever march in Washington but it certainly is an impressive feat for an action organized in about two months while facing many political and logistical challenges.

But as I read numerous news accounts, supplemented by reports from our readers around North America, it became clear the DC demo was just the tip of an iceberg menacing the Titanic Ship of State steered by the big hands of the 45th President.

By Sunday afternoon, Ann Montague and Michael Schreiber had posted an excellent piece on the Socialist Action site–The Biggest Protest in U.S. History: Women’s Marches Draw 4 Million. The astonishing numbers are based on a tally of 668 demonstrations on all continents, including both low and high estimates. The event I attended in Kansas City was reported as 10,000 by the local NBC affiliate.”

Jacinda Ardern

Among the millions who marched that day was Jacinda Ardern, the recently elected Labour Prime Minister of New Zealand. She encountered Trump for the first time at last week’s APEC meeting in Vietnam. In jest, Trump told another big shot standing next to them “This lady caused a lot of upset in her country.” Tempered with a smile Ardern replied, “You know, no one marched when I was elected.”

The January protest was, as they say, empowering and it was followed by big marches for science and demands for action on climate change. More such mass demonstrations are needed.

Just as Trump has more challenges than his “woman problem,” women are threatened by more than just a Trump problem. Predominantly women mass organizations have long fought for issues such as birth control, Affirmative Action, and an Equal Rights Amendment with mixed results. But disrespect, and sometimes worse, by bosses and colleagues in the workplace has too often been suffered in silence by individuals.

It took a lot of courage to take on Weinstein but it unleashed a lot of pent up anger in Hollywood. Considering Weinstein’s predatory behavior was known to insiders it was somewhat hypocritical for the Academy to expel him. The dominoes have continued to fall, including big names like Kevin Spacey–and have spread far beyond Tinsel Town.

Currently a candidate for the U.S. Senate, and a sitting Senator, have been called out. Even those still supporting Roy Moore’s Republican campaign to fill a vacant seat in Alabama say they believe the statements of a growing number of women claiming they were abused and even assaulted by Moore when they were teenagers.

Liberal Minnesota Democrat Al Franken found himself in a different pickle. Predators do their dirty deeds out of sight leaving themselves the option of denial. Franken, then working as a comedian, posed for a photograph of a mock groping of a sleeping colleague. Whether genuinely remorseful or making the best of being caught in the act only Franken knows but he apologized for using a woman as an object in a unfunny joke. She has accepted his apology. But one way or another Franken will not escape damage.

Bosses and politicians are not noted for their high moral standards. More troubling are allegations against union officials who are duty-bound to protect workers against sexual harassment and misconduct. A perceptive November 7 article by Josh Eidelson worth reading reported,

The AFL-CIO’s chief budget officer and assistant to Trumka, Terry Stapleton, resigned Monday following allegations of sexual harassment. The Service Employees International Union, the second-biggest union in the U.S., is reeling from its own harassment scandal that has seen the departure of four senior staff.”

The same piece that included several other outrageous examples also reported on the official stand of the AFL-CIO,

Richard Trumka, the head of America’s biggest labor organization, opened its October national convention in an unusual way: the AFL-CIO president read a passage from the code-of-conduct and gave out the contact information of two people designated to field any complaints about sexual harassment or other discriminatory or inappropriate behavior.

“’It’s a zero-tolerance policy,’ Trumka told reporters that day. “’We think we’re on the cutting edge of that. And if we aren’t, we want to be there.’”

And this conscientious journalist even sought out respected women leaders of the labor community such as this one,

‘Sexual harassment is a reason women organize,’ said Kate Bronfenbrenner, a former organizer and now a lecturer at Cornell University’s labor relations school. ‘But it can be a reason women don’t organize.’”

As usual, this sister is spot on. #Me Too should be a remedial lesson for the working class and our institutions. My favorite labor singer Ann Feeney has a song about workplace safety that includes the refrain we just come to work here—we don’t come to die. No body goes to work to be sexually harassed and it’s our duty to fight to keep workplaces free of that evil—including, and especially, union staffers.

In Brief…

* Another Socialist Alternative in the Twin Cities—Ginger Jentzen lost a close race for Minneapolis City Council but I’m pleased to congratulate another member of her party—and a fellow ATU brother—Ryan Timlin for being elected president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1005, representing 2500 bus and light-rail drivers, mechanics, and clerical workers in the Twin Cities. Unlike his comrade Ginger, Timlin ran unopposed. A tough fight for a new contract is expected. One action being considered is a strike during the Super Bowl being played in Minneapolis.

* These Guys Need Tax Relief—The Guardian reported “The world’s richest people [1%] have seen their share of the globe’s total wealth increase from 42.5% at the height of the 2008 financial crisis to 50.1% in 2017, or $140tn (£106tn), according to Credit Suisse’s global wealth report”

* Their Way Or Off the Highway—A New York Times article about how many states take punitive actions against those behind in paying student loan debts includes the danger of having your driver license suspended in South Dakota.

A Mystery

The e-mail delivery service I use for the WIR reports messages that are opened and bounced. Usually the opens are spread over a 2-3 day period. But there were no opens after the first day of the last (November 13) WIR and a number of regular readers were on the “no information” list. If you are on the list and didn’t receive the last WIR I would appreciate hearing from you.

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.

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