Jun 162013

onaschoutsmall by Bill Onasch

UE Knows It Matters
I didn’t gasp when I read this comment by Dana Milbank in the Washington Post,

“With some exceptions, progressive lawmakers and the liberal commentariat have been passive and acquiescent toward the secret spying programs, which would have infuriated the left had they been the work of a Republican administration.”

There has also been almost total silence in labor media about the documented exposure last week of top secret domestic intelligence gathering, with access to virtually all telecommunications in this country. Considering the long Cold War history of collaboration between many top union officials with the FBI and CIA, at home and abroad, I can’t say this lack of comment shocked me.

Nor was I surprised by an honorable exception from an exceptional union to which I once proudly belonged–the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America (UE). The UE Political Action  Director, aka Capitol Hill Shop Steward, my old friend Chris Townsend, posted an excellent article on the UE site, Why Government Spying and Surveillance Revelations Matter to Working People.

Townsend begins reviewing the latest revelations about PRISM as well as earlier exposures of the public/private partnership creating an Orwellian Big Brother on digital steroids. He clearly nails this as a bipartisan encroachment on basic democratic rights.

A handful of journalists are doing that much and that’s all well and good. But Townsend has absorbed the rich history of his union and also explains the class aspect to this stealth war on the Bill of Rights. He writes,

“UE has historically resisted and denounced the destructive role that unaccountable and secret government agencies and their conduct always have on the Constitutional and union rights of working people. During the repressive McCarthyite period UE stood strong against the political and security hysteria of the day. Countless UE leaders, members and their families were victimized in the ‘dirty decade’ of the 1950’s, and today all credible observers will confess that we were correct to resist even under the difficult conditions of that time. Sound union principles again led our union to confront runaway state power only one week after the horrific 9-11 attacks. In 2001, delegates to the 66th UE National Convention went on record to caution that, ‘…there is a heightened danger that politicians will cynically use the legitimate anger and anxiety of the American people to seek new curtailment of our civil liberties.’  At the time UE was virtually alone among unions in our criticism of what grew into the ‘Homeland Security’ frenzy, but looking back our caution was — if anything — reserved and understated. Our union has spoken out on this critical issue repeatedly since then, sounding the alarm bell for all of organized labor. The 72nd UE National Convention held in September 2011 likewise resolved that our civil liberties must not be lost in the security stampede drummed-up by politicians and corporations, and we warned that surveillance tools given to the government can, and will, be used against law abiding working people.”

Townsend promises this issue will again be a central topic of the upcoming UE convention in Chicago August 25 – August 29. He closes,

“Regaining our freedoms and liberties from the government agencies and corporations who have usurped them will take individual and collective action by all of us. Spending the time to investigate the extent of these crimes must be the order of the day for all working people, and a willingness to challenge the politicians and corporations who have allowed — or condoned — this assault on our democracy looms ahead as a necessary task.”

It’s worth reading all of Townsend’s article. And it’s worth spreading that message far and wide among working people.

No Country Left Behind
Commenting on an annual report of the International Energy Agency Steven Mufson opens a Washington Post article,

“Global emissions of carbon dioxide from energy use rose 1.4 percent to 31.6 gigatons in 2012, setting a record and putting the planet on course for temperature increases well above international climate goals, the International Energy Agency said in a report scheduled to be issued Monday. The agency said continuing that pace could mean a temperature increase over pre-industrial times of as much as 5.3 degrees Celsius (9 degrees Fahrenheit), which IEA chief economist Fatih Birol warned ‘would be a disaster for all countries.’”

Considering this increase comes in the midst of widespread and still growing conversion of power plants from dirtiest coal to relatively cleaner natural gas it would seem to be time to issue a red threat level. The goal of the now expiring Kyoto Protocols was to limit global warming to a planetary average of two degrees C above pre-industrial. The volume of greenhouse gases already discharged makes that objective unobtainable.

Some boast that U.S. energy emissions have declined in four of the last five years. Europe’s discharges are down as well. They point the finger at China, whose carbon pollution from energy rose 3.8 percent last year and that economy is responsible for a quarter of all of the world’s greenhouse gases from all sources.

China is climate ground zero. But what is ignored is that a substantial part of their economy is contracting with U.S. firms for not only consumer items but more and more capital goods as well. Not only was work and jobs shifted from the USA but also pollution of all kinds, above all greenhouse gases. That’s why China is number one, with India and Brazil racing to climate doomsday as well, while American capital remains content to be per capita champ due to our prodigious and wasteful consumption.

A Saturday AP dispatch begins,

“Efforts to curb global warming have quietly shifted as greenhouse gases inexorably rise. The conversation is no longer solely about how to save the planet by cutting carbon emissions. It’s becoming more about how to save ourselves from the warming planet’s wild weather. It was Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s announcement last week of an ambitious plan to stave off New York City’s rising seas with flood gates, levees and more that brought this transition into full focus. After years of losing the fight against rising global emissions of heat-trapping gases, governments around the world are emphasizing what a U.N. Foundation scientific report calls ‘managing the unavoidable.’”

This approach is as cold as our planet is hot. It is an attempt to maintain the status quo for the present generation of wealthy while condemning today’s poor and future generations of all classes. There is no way to sustain human civilization as we know it on track to an average global temperature increase of nine degrees Fahrenheit.

Carbon emissions can be curbed while providing decent living standards for all. Powerful clean renewable energy is available virtually everywhere on our planet free of charge. We only have to utilize existing proven technology to tap and distribute solar, wind, tidal, and geothermal power. Doing so would also provide full employment for generations to come–and extend the sustainability of humanity on Earth far beyond our agonizing decline that either inaction and/or “adaptation” guarantee.

Climate disaster is not yet unavoidable but the window for halting global warming is closing faster than once thought. The obstacle to taking the needed available steps is global capital that is tenaciously vested in enormously profitable fossil and nuclear energy sources.

Pushing that roadblock aside is not a task for climate scientists. It’s the job of the working class–the only force with the muscle and material interest to successfully challenge a ruling class leading us to destruction. It’s high time we get moving.

In Brief…
* Dave Bernt, a younger generation activist in Chicago Teamsters Local 705 I’ve come to know and respect, has a very good piece on the Socialist Action site analyzing the tentative union agreement now being debated by UPS members.
* 1,200 St Louis Metro bus operators, MetroLink light rail drivers, mechanics and clerical workers, members of ATU Local 788, have overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike after management walked away from mediation last week. Their current contract expired on June 30, 2009, and the workers had already agreed to two extensions – the last of which ended in January 2011. Over that same period the workers’ wages have stagnated while health care and pension costs have increased.
* From the New York Times, “Protests by an increasingly forceful movement coalescing against increases in bus fares shook Brazil’s two largest cities on Thursday night, the fourth time in a week that activists have taken to the streets in demonstrations that have been marked by clashes with security forces.”
* BLS reports confirm the success of job creators. In pre-recession 2007 only 1.7 million workers earned minimum wage or less. Today that number has swollen to 3.8 million with millions more earning only marginally better pay. Brief strikes and demonstrations by such workers at Walmart and fast food chains continue in many areas.

One of the advantages of our new WordPress home for the WIR is easy access to RSS (Really Simple Syndication). By clicking this link you can subscribe to instant e-mail delivery of new postings on this site.

That’s all for this week.

Jun 102013

onaschoutsmall by Bill Onasch

Steamed Teapots, Shared Call Lists, Invisible Prisms
President Harding had his Teapot Dome Scandal. For weeks now, President Obama has been scrambling to cope with the Teapot IRS Scandal. The loony right are shrilly complaining that approval of their numerous tax exempt “social welfare nonprofit” scams are being unduly delayed, forced by the Internal Revenue Service to go through many more hoops than their pro-Administration counterparts. West Wing damage control quickly arranged the firings or forced resignations of some IRS officials. But the Republican Speaker of the House was not appeased. Welcoming a diversion from repealing ObamaCare thirty-seven times, the Speaker said he didn’t want to hear names of those fired but was waiting to hear who was going to jail.

If you genuinely support democracy it’s sometimes necessary to defend the rights of those with whom you disagree or even despise. Though no group was denied their coveted tax exemption the Tea-Partyers probably had a valid gripe about petty harassment. Regulations should be equally enforced without regard to political views. Jailing the offenders in this instance would seem a disproportional response–but they should be directed to treat all applications uniformly.

I’ll return to the broader question of “dark money” 501(c)4s another time. New scandals of much greater scope and importance are sweeping IRS-gate, along with Benghazi talking points, in to the dust bin of old news cycles. The breaking revelations about domestic spying on Americans by the Justice Department and National Security Agency may prove to be much more damaging to the White House than the Teapot Tempest. Unfortunately for the GOP, they have little to gain from this and will have to come to the Administration’s defense. Let’s review:

The Associated Press broke a story that their reporters phone logs had been secretly obtained by the Justice Department. It was part of a wider government effort to finger those insiders who had leaked information embarrassing to the Administration by connecting them up to working journalists.

It turned out this Justice Department invasion of privacy and privilege was penny-ante compared to high-tech shenanigans of the shadowy National Security Agency. Officially launched with a secret letter by President Truman in 1952, the NSA is part of the Department of Defense with headquarters in Ft Meade, Maryland. The current director is Army General Keith B. Alexander. Not much more information about them than that is available to the public. Even the Agency’s budget and number of employees is classified, known to only a bipartisan handful in Congress. Too big to completely hide is a new one million square-foot facility in the mountains of Utah.

In response to outrage about the exposures of political manipulation of spy agencies and secret police by the White House in the political crisis known as Watergate, during the Carter administration Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. It set up a secret FISA Court to monitor spying within the USA. In practice, these unaccountable secret judges provide get-out-of-jail-free card warrants for wiretapping and searches that might normally be questionable.

Of course, after the 9/11 attacks, outrage swung toward terrorists. President Bush II not only used this sentiment to invade Afghanistan–where Afghans, Americans, and NATO allies are still being killed and wounded nearly twelve years later. He also got overwhelming bipartisan approval for the USA PATRIOT Act greatly extending the powers of espionage–and worse–under the FISA umbrella.

It’s now been acknowledged that NSA is obtaining complete telephone meta-records–outgoing/incoming calls and their duration–of all Verizon customers and it can be safely presumed all other carriers as well.

But even that level of domestic snooping didn’t exhaust the bandwith available to the NSA. On Thursday the British Guardian broke a bomb shell story dug up by Glenn Greenwald and others,

“The National Security Agency has obtained direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other US internet giants, according to a top secret document obtained by the Guardian. The NSA access is part of a previously undisclosed program called PRISM, which allows officials to collect material including search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live chats, the document says. The Guardian has verified the authenticity of the document, a 41-slide PowerPoint presentation – classified as top secret with no distribution to foreign allies – which was apparently used to train intelligence operatives on the capabilities of the program. The document claims ‘collection directly from the servers’ of major US service providers. Although the presentation claims the program is run with the assistance of the companies, all those who responded to a Guardian request for comment on Thursday denied knowledge of any such program.”

About the same time, the Washington Post broke a story of their own about PRISM.

Many, including some readers, are undoubtedly shocked. But the only thing new is the technology. If this escalation of spying and provocative sting operations was truly restricted to targeting bad guys preparing to blow us up most would still be willing to let the government take a little bit more than the law allows.

But the American ruling class has long utilized the repressive apparatus of government to spy on, harass, provoke, and frame-up Americans they consider a political or economic threat to their class rule. Often this has been in collaboration with private outfits such as the Pinkertons of old, city police Red Squads such as in New York and Chicago, and shamefully even union bureaucrats out to eliminate opponents.

Our collective class memory will never forget the Haymarket Martyrs, the two imprisonments of Eugene V Debs, the Minneapolis Smith Act Trial Eighteen, the police killing of Fred Hampton, or the numerous other victims of COINTELPRO. All of these were well before the War on Terror.

As we read the dramatic initial exposures in the Guardian and Washington Post, I’m sure most of my generation immediately harked back to Daniel Ellsberg’s submission of the classified Pentagon Papers, that recorded the evolution of Vietnam war strategy, to the New York Times. As it turns out, some of the authors of both articles are associated with the Freedom of the Press Foundation–whose board includes the now 82-year-old Ellsberg, still going strong.

With his consent, the Guardian and Post have identified the source who provided them Top Secret documents–Edward Snowden, a former technical assistant for the CIA and later employee of defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton–his connection with the PRISM. Snowden will likely request asylum in another country to avoid immediate incarceration.

The latest exposures about the FBI and NSA have already brought about a bipartisan convergence rare these days on Capitol Hill–rallying around the need to subordinate freedom in order to  protect democracy. Whether they will succeed in sweeping the mess under an already bulging rug, or whether it instead escalates like Watergate, remains to be seen.

These revelations, however, are a crystal clear reaffirmation that the politicians, brass hats, and spy agencies beholden to the ruling class cannot be trusted to uphold democracy. Even just their partial record that we occasionally glimpse–only because of brave whistle-blowers and journalists–proves just the opposite.

Just as it has always been since working people forced the inclusion of a Bill of Rights as amendments to the original draft Constitution, it will take a determined effort by our class to maintain the heritage of democracy so many fought and even died for.

In Brief…
* An excellent article about mass demonstrations and strikes in Turkey takes as its title a famous quote attributed to an adviser of the last King Louis of France–“This is a revolt, not (yet) a revolution!”
* From the Washington Post, “Global emissions of carbon dioxide from energy use rose 1.4 percent to 31.6 gigatons in 2012, setting a record and putting the planet on course for temperature increases well above international climate goals, the International Energy Agency said in a report scheduled to be issued Monday. The agency said continuing that pace could mean a temperature increase over pre-industrial times of as much as 5.3 degrees Celsius (9 degrees Fahrenheit), which IEA chief economist Fatih Birol warned ‘would be a disaster for all countries.’”
* Samantha Winslow writing in Labor Notes about weekly protests at the North Carolina Capitol, “The group calls them Moral Mondays. Protesters march to the legislature and hold rallies inside. Rank-and-file members and leaders from unions including United Electrical Workers (UE) Local 150 (representing public sector workers), Farm Labor Organizing Committee, and NALC Branch 1729, APWU, the North Carolina AFL-CIO, are part of the labor delegation. They passed out yellow armbands (to symbolize that they are rising like the sun) both at worksites and at the capital protests….Republicans, who control all branches of government in North Carolina, have proposed dozens of bills attacking workers’ rights, health care access, voting rights, and social programs.” 150 participating in civil disobedience were arrested last Monday.
* Dianne Stafford in the Kansas City Star, “ U.S. employers added 175,000 jobs in May, a better net gain than expected. And although the jobless rate ticked up to 7.6 percent from 7.5 percent, that was because more people joined the labor force, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said Friday. But not enough of the new jobs are going to young adults. In the 20-24 age group, the jobless rate was 13.2 percent — floating about where it’s been stuck for more than a year.”
* From a Physicians for a National Health Program press release, “A study released today on the Health Affairs blog finds that between 29.8 million and 31.0 million people will remain uninsured after the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in 2016 and breaks down those figures by state….The share of the uninsured who are U.S. citizens will rise slightly from 80 percent to 81 percent. White persons (of all ethnicities) will continue to constitute 74 percent of all uninsured Americans. About 59 percent of the uninsured will have incomes between 100 percent and 399 percent of poverty, while 27 percent will have incomes below poverty.”

Reminder–links to news stories of interest to working people can be found on our companion Labor Advocate Blog, posted by 9AM Central, Monday-Friday.

And, since we haven’t applied for a 501(c)4, or solicited any grants, subsidies, or paid advertising, reader contributions are still our sole source of funding. If you want to help, please visit the KC Labor donate page.

That’s all for this week.