Jul 132014

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

In an episode of Star Trek Next Generation, the Enterprise crew discovered that efforts to prepare a presumably uninhabited planet for human colonization were inadvertently threatening a silicon based species. When communication was finally established with the aliens Captain Picard was shocked to hear them describe humans as “ugly bags of mostly water.” Ugly may be in the eye of the beholder but mostly water we are. Here are a few mostly ugly water stories.

Water Leak
It seemed like good news at first. It wasn’t oil that leaked from an underground pipeline in North Dakota oil country–it was water. But it was a very salty brine–with trace amounts of oil–that destroys instead of irrigating most vegetation. And it threatens to foul streams supplying drinking water to the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation. It is a waste product left over from hydraulic fracturing methods (fracking) in extracting Bakken oil. This pipeline was built on the cheap, without sensors that can report and pinpoint breaches. By the time the leak was discovered, a million gallons had spilled, much of it flowing nearly two miles down a ravine toward the fresh water supply. The rugged terrain requires clean-up crews to carry all equipment in on foot. It’s estimated it will take at last two weeks to stop the flow.

Water Solidarity
It was an unusual demonstration of cross-border solidarity. Canadian subjects from Windsor delivered a thousand liters of bottled water to American residents of Detroit who have had their water shut off. Unfortunately, this laudable gesture is barely a drop in the bucket. There is no shortage of fresh water available to MoTown siting on the connection between Lakes Huron and Erie. But there is a big shortage of cash for the 44 percent of the city’s population that live below the official poverty line–and, of course the city government has been forced in to bankruptcy by the state to protect the debts owed to banks and bondholders. While big customers such as sporting arenas and golf courses that have back bills of tens, even hundreds of thousands of dollars are not being threatened, tens of thousands of households owing as little as 150 bucks are slated for shut off by the partially privatized city water department. There have been acts of civil disobedience against the turn-off crews and a United Nations panel has condemned this denial of water as a violation of fundamental human rights.

Water Drop
There is no doubt that climate change has exacerbated the drought in the U.S. West and that’s beginning to catch up with even the vast reservoir created by Hoover Dam–Lake Mead. Mead is a critical source of water delivery to cities and farms in a region home to forty million, including metropolitan areas such as Las Vegas, Phoenix and Los Angeles. Its waters keep the turbines moving at the Dam to provide electricity for much of the same area. And it drew over six million tourists last year. It is now down to the lowest level since the dam was built–only 39 percent of capacity. Mead’s operations are coordinated with Lake Powell, created by the Glenn Canyon Dam upstream on the Colorado River. Powell is down to about half capacity. If there is no significant precipitation relief soon, water and electricity rationing for tens of millions seems inevitable.

Water Rising
The water denied Lake Mead by climate change had to go someplace and much of it went to the Missouri-Mississippi River systems in the Upper Midwest. Major flooding in the Twin Cities has receded but this past week Davenport, Quincy, Hannibal, and many smaller towns have had to evacuate some inundated areas, close bridges, and pile up the sandbags. Even more threatening in the long run is the damage to this season’s agricultural crops. As this is written, a heat wave is giving some flood relief through enhanced evaporation–but a rare summer polar vortex is on the way with record breaking cooling expected.

Water Closet
Convinced his workers were all time-wasters at heart, Henry Ford did not permit doors on rest room stalls and stationed security guards to watch for who was straining and those just resting. Such affronts to dignity and the call of nature were pretty much eliminated as unions came on the scene at Ford and throughout industry. But management at WaterSaver Faucet Co. in Chicago has come up with a high tech method of tracking worker toilet time. To gain access to the rest room they have to swipe their employee badge. Anything more than an average usage of six minutes a day is considered excessive and nineteen workers have already received disciplinary warnings. On the other hand, in contract negotiations the company is offering a daily dollar bonus to those who don’t use the rest room at all. Members of Teamsters Local 743 organized a protest at the plant, publicized in the Chicago Tribune, and have filed an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB.

More In Brief….
* Protesting their low wages and austerity job cuts by the Tory-Liberal government, hundreds of thousands of public sector workers staged a one-day strike and mass marches through every part of Britain last Thursday.
* Even though they have lost an astonishing 230,000 members over the past few years, the independent National Education Association remains America’s biggest union. Their recent Representative Assembly convention took a sharp turn in adopting a resolution calling for Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s resignation. Newly elected NEA President Lily Eskelsen García told Politico value-added measures of test scores are “the mark of the devil.” Lee Sustar did a perceptive analysis in Socialist Worker of where the NEA, as well as the AFL affiliated American Federation of Teachers, seem to be headed.
* According to the Washington Post, Federal hiring declined again in 2013–down 46 percent from 2009 levels–and did not keep up with normal attrition or job eliminations. 33,000 positions were left unfilled. In a late response to scandal, the biggest current recruitment is taking place in Veterans Affairs–especially doctors and other medical professionals.
* The Kansas City Star reports the task force headed by Mayor Sly James that failed to lure the 2016 Republican convention to my home town spent 250,000 tax payer dollars in their futile effort. They just couldn’t guarantee the GOP enough luxury suites in the arena bearing a corporate name to accommodate high dollar donors. 250 grand could pay the paltry wages and benefits for five sorely needed entry level Water Services workers for a year. Still, all in all in terms of impact on working people, Cleveland hosting the high rollers is Kansas City’s gain.
* I feel a bit better about my health, as well as the extra money for our food budget, after reading in the New York Times, “ a comprehensive review of earlier studies found substantially higher levels of antioxidants and lower levels of pesticides in organic fruits, vegetables and grains compared with conventionally grown produce.”

Schedule Adjustment
As promised, with this edition I’m back to the normal rhythm of the Week In Review. I do this just in time to announce a new schedule adjustment.

At sunrise this Thursday I aim to say good-bye to a likely sleepy spouse and head up the NAFTA Highway to a place I called home during a couple of stints totaling about twenty years–the Twin Cities. While I will enjoy the hospitality of a couple of old friends, and will undoubtedly meet many more, the purpose of the trip is not exclusively social. I’m going to attend a series of events commemorating the Eightieth Anniversary of the 1934 Minneapolis Teamsters Strikes–one of the proudest milestones in American working class history. I promise to return with a comprehensive report.

There will be no news updates on our companion Labor Advocate blog after this Wednesday, July 16 until resumption Wednesday, July 23. The next WIR will appear shortly after.

That’s all for this week.

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Check out our digest of news stories about working class and climate issues, posted Monday-Friday by 9AM Central. on our companion Labor Advocate blog.

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Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member

Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member

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