by Bill Onasch
Telling It On the Magic Mountain
Oxfam does admirable work in providing assistance to victims of both natural and economic disasters. From time to time, they also issue well-researched reports on the Bigger Picture. Their latest on wealth distribution is powerful.
From 2010 to 2015, the wealth held by the least prosperous bottom half of the world—about 3.8 billion persons—plummeted 41 percent. In 2010, the richest 338 individuals had as much wealth as that lower half. Today just 62 obese cats have a share equal to the sinking 50 percent. And a mere one percent of the world own as much as the other 99 percent!
Oxfam offers a three-pronged approach to spreading the wealth—eliminating tax-havens for the One Percent; big investment in the public sector; and substantial wage hikes for the working poor. Though not nearly enough, there’s nothing wrong with any of these reforms. But how they can be achieved is worthy of discussion, debate.
Founded by Quakers, Oxfam favors conflict resolution. They believe rational and respectful discourse, combining moral appeals with explanations of the benefits of enlightened self-interest, can modify the behavior of the ruling class. And they purposely released their report on the eve of the World Economic Forum hoping to spark some dialogue.
The World Economic Forum is an annual conclave of the movers and shakers of global capital and their governments held in Davos, Switzerland. Davos is a remote, well secured town in the Swiss Alps noted for its skiing, skating, hot baths and sanatorium. It was his experience in Davos that inspired Thomas Mann to write his Nobel prize winning biting critique of bourgeois society, The Magic Mountain.
Other than servants waxing skis, there is no reason to think those gathering in Davos this year saw wealth distribution as a major problem. Moral arguments there bring polite temporizing sympathy—but will not convince the uber-rich that they should not get richer yet. This year there was a lot of buzz about something called The Fourth Industrial Revolution. Its meaning was a bit hazy but they were convinced they would recognize it when they see it.
For now, Austerity still dominates every continent. Greek sailors are on strike protesting the sell-off of public ports to pay usurious interest on public debt. Puerto Rico is in default. Austerity in Flint not only brought economic depression but also a poisoned water supply—for which customers are still being billed. The net effect of belt tightening in both rich and poor countries alike is transfer of still more wealth from those who work, or would like to work, to the bosses and bankers.
It’s good to have moral arguments on our side and we thank Oxfam for their report—even though it was sent to the wrong address. Even more important is using these fact-supported calls for justice to arouse those who have the power to end these injustices. As a couple of wise, forward looking Germans suggested 168 years ago, our task is still—workers of the world unite.
No Exit From the Kitchen
Harry Truman said—if you can’t stand the heat then get out of the kitchen. But at least until Stephen Hawking’s call for space travel can be implemented, the open floor plan of planet Earth allows no escape from the fossil fueled oven producing global warming.
Privatization has diminished NASA’s efforts in aiming to go where none have gone before but they are playing a leading role in climate science today. Along with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the British Met Office, NASA announced Wednesday independently arrived joint findings that 2015 was the hottest year—by far– since record keeping began in 1850. Their conclusions are based on thousands of daily temperature readings on land and sea across every sector of the world’s surface.
These surface temperatures would be considerably higher if oceans, along with old growth forests, were not absorbing big quantities of carbon emissions. That is what led to a brief “pause” in the rate of warming that deniers once cynically claimed was a new “global cooling.”
But the capacity of these natural offsets is strained. Big swaths of the Amazon rain forest are being cleared on both ends—one side for oil extraction and for crops and grazing on the other. In Brazil indigenous peoples are being chased off their ancestral lands and environmentalists are being murdered.
The “dilution is pollution solution” benefit of our oceans is coming to an end as well. Warmer, and more acidic oceans is having a devastating impact on living things in the sea. It is also expanding the volume of water contributing to rising sea levels. And the much warmer waters of the Pacific have made the El Niño that began in late 2015 the fiercest on record.
Shortly before Christmas residents of New York, Philadelphia, and Washington were enjoying being outdoors in shirt sleeves. Many trees and flowers were tricked in to believing it was Spring and started to bloom.
This past weekend snow in that same region was being measured in feet. The Jersey Shore, hit so hard by SuperStorm Sandy, again suffered storm surge flooding. In the Big Apple, all public transit was shut down and only first responders and snow plows were allowed on the streets. More than ten thousand airline flights around the country had to be canceled.
Global warming does not advance in a steady straight line. It is producing wild swings in often severe weather. Unstable weather enhances a changing climate. Even with the “pause,” each of the last four decades have been warmer than the preceding one.
The 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit established a goal of capping global warming at 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The Paris Summit last month set a more ambitious target of 1.5C. It’s now been documented that 1.0C has been breached. Current trends are leading in to uncharted territory where there will be no going back.
The NASA et al Wednesday reports merited a full fifteen seconds of coverage on the most watched NBC Nightly News. The Democrat presidential front runners chose to respond by Twitter. Nearly all GOP hopefuls hold that global warming is a job-killing hoax staged by money grubbing climate scientists. It is hard not to sound alarmist in commenting on this level of discourse.
The fledgling global climate action movement is beginning to debate future strategy and tactics. This will be a topic in the next WIR.
For now I will note the two brutally honest reports I’ve mentioned have a common connection. The ruling rich who take care of business as usual in their pilgrimage to Davos are responsible for both the pauperizing of humanity and irreversible damage to our biosphere. They are the conscious enemy of our class and the de facto wrecker of the prerequisites for human civilization.
Certainly, the climate action movement should be a big tent, accommodating Oxfam, Pope Francis, even the Sierra Club. But to win it must become a workers movement. Debates, in my view, should include how we can take out the climate wrecking ruling class–replacing their rule with that of the working class majority, while we still have something left to fight for.
* The smallest of the major industrial unions in the USA registered two big victories last week that warrant substantial comment at another time. For now I will refer you to UE accounts of a final back pay settlement in a struggle that began with a sit-down strike in Chicago seven years ago; and dismissal of a NLRB charge by a right wing Zionist front group in Israel that UE was conducting an illegal secondary boycott by adopting a resolution at their convention in solidarity with oppressed Palestinians.
* As usual, a lot has been happening in the Twin Cities. The Minnesota Nurses Association negotiated an early wage reopener for 6,000 hospital members that preserved current health and pension benefits. Tenured, tenure-track, and adjunct faculty at the Twin Cities campus of the University of Minnesota have filed for an election to authorize SEIU Local 284 to represent them. And 4,000 SEIU janitors whose contract expired December 31 have authorized a strike.
* I will greatly miss Aljazeera America when it goes dark for economic reasons in April. They have been an excellent source of news and analysis of interest to working people in America and around the world. One story they reported last week began–”Walmart Stores Inc. unlawfully retaliated against workers who participated in strikes in 2013 and must offer to reinstate 16 dismissed employees, a National Labor Relations Board judge ruled on Thursday. Administrative Law Judge Geoffrey Carter said in a ruling posted on the board’s website that the U.S. retailer violated labor law by ‘disciplining or discharging several associates because they were absent from work while on strike.’”
That’s all for this week.
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