Week In Review December 18

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Dec 182017
 

by Bill Onasch

He’s Making a List and Checking It Twice

In their annual listing of billionaires last Spring Forbes recorded the biggest number yet—2,043 globally, roughly 0.00003 percent of the world’s population. Their collective net worth was 7.67 trillion dollars.

Topping the list of their primary residences with 585 of them, including the presently richest of all, is the good old USA. 82 live in New York City. The Big Apple lost one from the previous year when he moved to Washington to become the first of the seven-digit elite to serve his country in the White House. Not all of his billionaire brethren are Christians but all appear set to get a very thoughtful Christmas present from jolly Santa Trump that they are unlikely to “regift”–the Tax Cut and Jobs Act.

What Trump calls the Fake News liberal media did a thorough job in exposing in some detail the harm to workers, farmers, and the environment that will result from the “offsets” needed to pay for a 1.5 trillion dollars in lost revenue from tax cuts. Also uncovered were a number of special non-tax favors to some capitalists–like opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling.

The December 4 WIR reviewed the different versions adopted by the two Houses. After a close call in the Senate, they had to tie up some loose ends. The proposal to tax the free tuition granted to university grad student workers, and the threat of eliminating deductions of interest on student loans, were dropped. Child tax credits were slightly enhanced.

But incredibly even more concessions were granted to individuals in the highest tax brackets. Those are to be paid for by ending individual—though not corporate–cuts earlier and shaving Earned Income Tax Credits for the very poor by changing to a “Chained CPI” that understates real inflation. Any unanticipated increase in deficit spending will trigger specified automatic cuts even in entitlements like Medicare. Deficit or not, Medicaid will wither away. As this is published, it appears they have the votes to pass.

Miffed at being excluded from the gift selection and wrapping for the ruling class they also serve, the Democrats at times have sounded downright Bolshevik in denouncing tax cuts for the rich. Polls show a majority of the public already agree with that assertion and their numbers will surely grow as they learn more about it. The Dems hope to use this to pillory the GOP in next year’s midterm elections.

It’s Not the Devil’s Work

Most of us routinely use the term “capitalist greed.” While it is an accurate description of the their morality it’s an incomplete, and not very scientific indictment. Greed, or avarice, is one of the Seven Deadly Sins, codified for Catholics by Pope Gregory I in 590CE and continued by the much later breakaway Lutherans and Methodists. Fair warning is given that if you die without repenting these offenses you will be excluded from the Kingdom of God—and Dante described how unattractive your alternatives may be.

Sin and after-life are not on my beat but I don’t expect to meet up with our greedy rulers at the intersection of Fire&Brimstone. Their pursuit of palpable avarice is not a defiance of deity, not even a reasoned choice—it is compelled by the inner dynamics of the capitalist system. An egalitarian capitalist would be a fish out of water indeed.

Growing inequality is one aspect of capitalism that has drawn overdue attention in recent years. Last week, the Guardian published an excellent essay to launch a new Inequality Project—ironically partially funded by the Ford Foundation. Their initial offering, Inequality is not inevitable – but the US ‘experiment’ is a recipe for divergence, has five authors but only one has name recognition outside the economics academic community.

Thomas Piketty, a professor at the Paris School of Economics, has not only published scholarly papers. His 2013 book, Capital in the Twenty First Century, enjoyed some time on the New York Times Best Seller list with a whopping 1.5 million copies purchased. It was particularly popular among Millenials already with a gut feeling capitalism sucks but still searching for answers of why as well as how.

Though not an orthodox Marxist, Piketty uses much of Marxism’s methodology. While often weak on solutions, he is usually spot on in analysis of problems—including this collaborative project in the Guardian. I can’t possibly do it justice in the confines of the WIR but I will deal with some of its highlights from time to time next year. I recommend that you read it.

In Brief…

* A Better Connection—A New York Times story opened “Stemming the tide of rising economic insecurity for service workers, a major union has won significant job protection and increased pay for about 20,000 AT&T wireless employees, as well as a commitment to bring work back from overseas.”

* Not Just Numbers—After analysis by the New York Times indicated over 1,000 residents of Puerto Rico have died because of the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria—far in excess of the official count of 62–the Island’s Governor has ordered a fresh reexamination of all deaths in that time frame. Many outside San Juan are still without reliable access to electricity or drinking water.

* Better Buy American—Today’s Guardian reports “The Trump administration will drop climate change from a list of global threats in a new National Security Strategy the president is due to unveil on Monday. Instead, Trump’s NSS paper will emphasize the need for the US to regain its economic competitiveness in the world.”

* Tending to Their FLOC—Whether or not you have a decorated once living tree in your living room, I recommend a mostly inspiring holiday story by the prolific Mike Elk about a big victory by the Farm Labor Organizing Committee for Latino workers planting and cutting Christmas Trees in North Carolina. Their employer Hart-T-Tree Farm not only stole some of their wages but also exposed them to dangerous conditions including toxic chemicals. In addition to commitments to correct these complaints, the union won 330,000 dollars in back wages owed to 54 workers.

* Once Joint, Now None—One of the few substantial victories for workers during the Obama era National Labor Relations Board was the 2015 Browning Ferris. It established a principle of “joint responsibility” of corporations with their contractors and franchises in collective bargaining. That decision opened a clear legal path for the massive 15 and a Union movement to win recognition and contracts in franchises of huge fast food chains like McDonald’s and Burger King. Last Thursday, by a 3-2 vote, the now Republican Board majority reversed that decision.

* If You Don’t Hear From Me For Awhile…–According to a report from the Committee to Protect Journalists 262 around the world are in jail simply for doing their work as reporters. They are mostly victims of politically motivated charges of “supporting terrorism” or even “fake news.” Turkey, China and Egypt are the worst offenders.

This will be the last WIR of 2017. I observe all holidays that promote time off from work and consumption of good food and beverage. After today I begin my annual holiday break and will resume postings in the first week of January.

Though I am not religious I don’t resent anyone wishing me a Merry Christmas or Xmas. Unless you use a different calendar I wish all readers a Happy New Year.

That’s all for this year.


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Week In Review December 13

 Week In Review  Comments Off on Week In Review December 13
Dec 132017
 

  by Bill Onasch

Why Are There So Many____?

I call a perceptive reader in Chicago an old friend even though he is more than a decade away from the 75 I marked last Friday. For over thirty years we have had more or less monthly Sunday morning telephone chats of some length about matters both political and personal. I often use his suggestions for topics in the WIR.

But I have so far neglected one he has raised more than once—in addition to big overarching issues like climate change, war, and human rights we should also note the increasing difficulties in ordinary daily life of working people.

A headline over a useful article in the Tuesday New York Times read–Tax Plan’s Biggest Cuts Could Be in Living Standards.

A story on the Monthly Review site examines A Grim Picture of Working Class Finances.

Another friend in Los Angeles who I came to know through our efforts in the old Labor Party Advocates, and who has been a diligent supporter of the KC Labor project since we went online nearly eighteen years ago, also contributes ideas for stories. A few days ago she sent me a Guardian link that might have been ignored by algorithms searching for class and climate topics—Why Are America’s Farmers Killing Themselves In Record Numbers?

Of course, farmers are not part of the same class as wage workers. Some are rich and exploit farm workers–and identify with the capitalist class. They are not the suicidal ones.

But those who actually work their land are fellow toilers who can and should be allies of the working class in fighting for justice for both. The working farmers are being shafted by the AgriBusiness complex and the banks as well as being at the mercy of weather and nonhuman pests. And in the midst of “prosperity” many of them cannot keep up. Blaming themselves, some fall in to despair. In my opinion, that is the principal reason why so many farmers are killing themselves—more than any other occupational group, more than even homeless veterans suffering from PTS.

This deadly crisis for American farmers has been exported through Globalization resulting in even more alarming numbers in other countries. Agricultural suicides average one a week in Britain, every four days in Australia, every two days in France. In India, more than 270,000 farmers have taken their own lives since record keeping began in 1995.

These deaths should not be chalked up to personal failures. It is cruel to brand them as committing the one unforgivable sin, as some religions do. Culpability for their demise mostly belongs to capitalist greed.

We can save lives by helping working farmers understand their plight is caused by the system, not their incompetence. We can also offer hope for the future. With our solidarity, workers and working farmers united can create a new, just system.

I plan to deal more often in the WIR with such problems of every day life.

The Answer Is Not Blowin’ in This Wind

While I strive to be better than they are, it’s difficult to suppress a feeling of comeuppance when the one percent get punished for their luxurious indulgences. The current round of wild fires in southern California inflicted some damage in Los Angeles suburbs with mansions of the rich and famous–even when protected by their own private fire brigades. One “tragedy” in particular caught my attention.

Rupert Murdoch built a chain of Australian newspapers he inherited from his knighted father in to a global multimedia empire. In addition to being a reactionary, union-busting, misogynist he is a dyed-in-the-wool climate change denier, denouncing it as “alarmist nonsense”–and that line is fed to tens of millions of readers and viewers every day.

Since becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1985 Murdoch has maintained homes in both Britain and America. He doesn’t have a residence in tony Bel-Air but he does own a winery there he purchased after reading it was for sale in the pages of his Wall Street Journal. Murdoch’s winemaker earlier this year claimed climate change was actually enhancing their sauvignon blanc. But sadly last week the Guardian ran a story, Rupert Murdoch’s winery scorched as California wildfire rips through Bel-Air.

But we shouldn’t let any guilty pleasure about seeing “what goes around comes around” divert our attention to the very real tragedies of loss of life and homes of all classes. We need to determine their cause and develop a remedial response.

The media attributes most of the blame on fierce desert Santa Ana winds being squeezed through passes in the mountains overlooking Los Angeles. While their force is palpable they are symptomatic, not causal. Those winds have arrived with seasonal regularity since long before any humans arrived in present day SoCal without such catastrophic effect. Nor do they explain other less publicized outbreaks of wildfires throughout the western U.S. and Canada that haven’t yet menaced major population centers.

All of these fires have resulted from tinder conditions created by a combination of years of inadequate precipitation with current unseasonably high temps and low humidity–fed by strong winds. They cannot be explained as weather or seasonal events. This is climate change. As California Governor Jerry Brown acknowledged this is the “new normal.”

I don’t think it is alarmist to sound an alarm about a clear and present danger. NASA is one government agency Trump has not yet been able to silence. A recently released chart clearly shows the steep rise in carbon emissions in the greenhouse zone of the atmosphere continues threatening even more disastrous newer normals.

Governor Brown is projecting himself as the American leader of the movement to stop overheating our planet. But he is the second generation of a political family that played a prominent role over the past several decades in shaping ecologically destructive policies that promoted urban sprawl, car dependency, and ubiquitous oil wells even in metropolitan areas. Even today, while vowing to continue Obama’s cap-and-trade Clean Power Policy repudiated by Trump, Brown is giving his blessing to new fracking ventures in California.

But all is not yet hopeless. I had an opportunity to join an online national conference call of the Labor Network for Sustainability last week. The participants and agenda confirmed some progress is being registered in building a working class component of the climate movement. A major project near and dear to me is a nationally coordinated Transit Equity Day February 5. The WIR will provide more details as they become available.

In Brief…

* After a week-long strike by 2,000 members of SEIU Local 1021, whose picket lines were honored by a thousand other unionists, the city of Oakland, California agreed to mediation efforts to resolve their contract dispute. Their contract expired June 30. Wages are the big issue in one of the highest cost of living areas in the country. The union is seeking a 2 year contract with 4 percent raises each year. In their last offer management accepted 4 in the first year but only 1 in the second.

* It didn’t involve many but it was an initial breakthrough when workers at the Dollar General store in Auxvasse, Missouri voted 2-1 to be represented by UFCW Local 655. The company says they are “evaluating the situation.”

* The management Railway Age reports a tentative agreement has been reached in the second of three national contract negotiations with rail craft unions. While no details are specified it purportedly mirrors the first settlement that included union give-backs on health care. More resistance is expected in the final deal being negotiated with the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees in the lead of crafts representing 20 percent of unionized rail workers.

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.

http://www.workdayminnesota.org/sites/workdayminnesota.org/themes/workdayminnesota/images/social/large/rss.png Really Simple Syndication (RSS)

Simply send your name and e-mail address to billonasch[at]kclabor.org

Follow Bill Onasch on Google +

Powered By Blogger Our companion Labor Advocate news blog posts articles of interest to working people by 9AM Central, Monday-Friday.

Our sole source of operating income is reader contributions. If you can help please visit the KC Labor Donate page.

Privacy Policy. We don’t share any information about our readers with anyone else—period.

The original content we provide is copyrighted and may not be reproduced by commercial media without our consent. However, labor movement and other nonprofit media may reproduce with attribution.