Apr 262017

  by Bill Onasch

Avoiding the Road Paved With Neutrality

When the March for Science was called for Earth Day most climate activists welcomed the white coats, incorporating their event in to a week+ schedule of actions including the Peoples Climate March[es] this Saturday, and May Day strikes and demonstrations next Monday. Many viewed the MfS as a dress rehearsal for climate mobilization.

In the rain-dampened March in Washington, and most big cities and campus towns, that proved to be largely true. A few attracted tens of thousands. While some scientists took pains to deny they were acting politically, many speakers echoed the sentiment Kellan Baker, a public health researcher, expressed at the mother march in the capital,

“The poet Dante wrote that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who remain neutral in times of moral crisis. We cannot pretend we are above the fray. Science is objective, but it is not neutral. As scientists, as human beings, our mandate is clear: it’s for each of us to stand up for what we know to be true. And to stand together when working to shape a future in which we can all thrive.”

But in the spirit of responsible reporting, I have to admit not everything was so up to date in Kansas City. The turnout, estimated by police at 5,000, was respectable. But the stage not so much.

The focus in my hometown was on medical science. Two of the physicians speaking are also members of the Missouri and Kansas state legislatures—one from each major party. They rightly oppose Trump’s proposed budget cuts for the National Institutes of Health—but not solely for altruistic reasons.

Both states are eagerly seeking both private capital and NIH grants in hope of becoming a new Silicon Valley of bio-medical—and veterinary medicine–R&D. Because they are fighting to bring these dollars to their respective states, Republican senators Roy Blunt and Jerry Moran—tenacious opponents of virtually all climate and other environmental measures—were hailed as staunch advocates for science.

I don’t expect that many of those speakers will be present at the same venue this Saturday for the climate action. I hope that most of those who politely listened to them will. But I can’t honestly say that I am impressed by the “broad” speakers list put together by the organizers.

The sole labor speaker is Terrence Wise, a local McDonald’s worker who has become a national leader of the Fight for 15 movement for low wage workers, sponsored by the Service Employees International Union. I’m sure he will give a good agitational speech—and will plug the local May Day action being pulled together by the Fight for 15, Stand Up KC, and the NAACP.

Unlike at the national level, and many other cities, where unions have been welcomed and integrated in to coalitions, the local KC-PCM leaders view labor as just another of the many “interest groups” that need to be acknowledged–and brother Wise has connections to more than one of them. There will be no mention of the working class program of the Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS). Representatives from unions like the Amalgamated Transit Union, or National Nurses United, who are working to both educate and mobilize their members for climate justice were not invited to be on the platform.

This approach is not unique to Kansas City. Those of us in such areas can’t afford to stay away in a huff. Flawed action is better than inaction. I share the view of the late Tony Mazzocchi: labor shouldn’t be part of the environmental movement—we should be leading it.

To accomplish that goal the working class wing needs to be visible builders of the climate justice movement in our communities as well as getting more unions on board. We must patiently and confidently explain our perspective to the young workers and students who recognize the urgency of the climate change crisis.

So whether I’m wearing my ATU jacket or my vintage union-made London Fog, I plan to be accompanying my spouse, and fellow retirees, in Washington Square Park at 1PM Saturday. Where ever you may be I urge you to attend your local action if you can’t make the main event in DC. And if you haven’t yet joined, I recommend you sign up with the LNS to advance the struggle for Class & Climate Justice.

Join the Labor Network for Sustainability for People’s Climate Movement Events, April 28th-30th, Washington, DC

Not a Laugher

Though he has made contradictory statements about the symbolic importance of his first 100 days on the job, the 45th President apparently didn’t want it marked by provoking a government shutdown. He has withdrawn his ultimatum that a short-term spending bill include a down payment on a border wall that may never be built. He hopes his party will be enthusiastic about a bullet-pointed placeholder outline on tax reform to be fleshed out and approved in September.

There is nothing original in this proposal. It is based on the infamous Laffer Curve, famously first sketched on a napkin by supply-side economist Arthur Laffer. It purported to show that targeted tax cuts would lead to economic growth without deficit spending.

When viewed in terms of job growth, the numbers since 1940, when most workers first began to pay income tax, show just the opposite. During the 4 years when the maximum tax rate was a whopping 90 percent the average job increase was 6.4 percent. The 15 years of the current range of top rates of 28-35 percent produced employment growth of 0.6 percent.

But the Curve sounded great to President Reagan and the astrologer consulted by the then First Lady. Taxes were slashed, military spending increased, “wasteful” programs were scrubbed—not unlike Trump’s proposed budget. And the deficit soared. Reagan’s successor, Bush I, who had to deal with a mess left behind by raising taxes, rechristened the Curve “Voodoo Economics.”

Well that was a long time ago and politicians are not noted for their grasp of history. But some are obviously also prepared to ignore the present. Pious Governor Sam Brownback of the scarlet state of Kansas would take offense at being associated with Voodoo but no one has been more ahead of the Curve. He not only cut rates for corporations and the wealthy; to help small business prosper in 2012 he exempted the little used LLC designation from virtually all income tax. The number of LLCs has swollen to more than 300,000 and include KU basketball coach Bill Self whose annual state tax-free compensation is around 3 million dollars.

There has been little job growth in the Sunflower State but the cumulative deficit amounts to more than a billion dollars. Not only is privatized Medicaid teetering on the brink of collapse but even draconian cuts in education and highway funds have failed to stop the hemorrhaging.


As I was preparing to post this WIR breaking news reported a more detailed than expected Trump tax proposal that would include reducing individual tax brackets to just three—10, 25 and 35 percent; eliminate most deductions; repeal estate and alternative minimum taxes; and exempt foreign profits of companies who maintain U.S. headquarters.

Trump did not appear at the announcement made by his Treasury Secretary. This is not a final offer and lengthy negotiations are expected.

While there were a few surprises none conflict with what I wrote above. Confirming the Curve ideology under the hood, the spokesman said–“This bill is about creating economic growth and jobs.”


It remains to be seen how the top echelons of the ruling class respond to Voodoo redux. Their instinctive class greed will be titillated but some of their smarter minions may advise caution about accepting promises made by the founder of Trump University. It’s interesting to note that Laffer, who describes himself as a libertarian, supported New Democrat Bill Clinton in both of his elections.

How are the opposition Democrats weighing in on Trump’s multi–fronted attacks on our class? The perceptive Cornell West summed it up well in the title of a recent opinion piece in the GuardianThe Democrats delivered one thing in the past 100 days: disappointment. We’ll have some comments on the Tom and Bernie road show next time.

That’s all for this week.

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