Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
October 7, 2008

I’m a wee tardy and a tad short with this review for two reasons. My wife Mary and I spent a weekend away from meetings and the Internet on a trip to Ames, Iowa where an old friend married a new friend.

And, though I am four years in to retirement, I found myself once more filing a grievance at the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority. That was in response to being told at open enrollment that Medicare eligible retirees will no longer be allowed to participate in the ATA’s group health care–even though we pay the full cost of the plan. I vented about this in a blog.

Good News–Only Half Feeling Stress
NBC Nightly News discussed stress this evening with their medical editor. It seems half of Americans complain of heightened stress in their lives, a third describing the feeling as extreme. Anger, anxiety, depression, headaches, and insomnia are among the symptoms. Social and economic trends fueling stress are palpable. My question is: what’s the other half doing?

NBC’s in-house MD suggested walking, talking and breathing therapy. Such things may help. But while each individual–including me–needs to find ways of coping clearly this stress epidemic is a social problem, not personal.

In my youth, a social psychologist, Eric Fromm, wrote a book still worth reading, The Sane Society. He argued that living under the insanity of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), the appropriate designation of the nuclear arms race, frustrated all efforts to function as a sane society. Were Fromm still writing today perhaps he would produce a new book, The Stress Society.

Naomi Klein and others have written about Shock Capitalism. Thousands of foremen and superintendents have been trained by psychologists in management through stress. Manipulation of mass stress has become fully integrated in to the system of global capitalism.

That’s why I’ve concluded that the best outlet for my extreme stress is to work for systemic social change, to take on the root causes of this epidemic as well as relieving the symptoms. I’ll try to take more walks, spend quality time talking with my wife, watch the rest of post-season baseball on television. But, above all, I will summon whatever energy I still have, for whatever time I have left, for the coming showdown battles with this Establishment that is trying to stampede us all on to a bridge to nowhere.

How About Impounding the Boat?
Laborers President Terry O’Sullivan is one of the more articulate labor statesmen. He recently said Wall Street financiers should be worrying about “bail rather than bailout.” But, like virtually all in the Obama camp, he came to accept the “necessity” of the second bailout deal. Eventually he shrugged and said, “Unfortunately all Americans are stuck in the same boat with those at fault and if they sink, they will drag us down with them.”

To my knowledge, no major union official has suggested that while saving the sinking boat we impound it–instead of rewarding the criminally negligent boat owners hundreds of billions of dollars. One of the best takes on the financial crisis I’ve seen yet comes from a couple of Canadian professors, Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin. Gindin was a long time research and strategy director with the UAW, and then CAW, before joining Pautich on the faculty of York University in Toronto. Gindin wrote some of the best analysis of both the UAW and CAW surrender deals with the Big Three.

Because they are Canadian, they freely use terms that most American “progressives” avoid like the plague–above all the “S” word. The Current Crisis: A Socialist Perspective, presents an economic analysis that some readers may find a bit heavy. But they also suggest some action alternative to the fatalism of brothers O’Sullivan & Co.

They say,

“The scale of the crisis and the popular outrage today provide a historic opening for the renewal of the kind of radical politics that advances a systemic alternative to capitalism. It would be a tragedy if a far more ambitious goal than making financial capital more prudent did not now come back on the agenda. In terms of immediate reforms and the mobilizations needed to win them – and given that we are in a situation when public debt is the only safe debt – this should start with demands for vast programs to provide for collective services and infrastructures that not only compensate for those that have atrophied but meet new definitions of basic human needs and come to terms with today's ecological challenges.”

They continue,

“This would have to involve not only capital controls in relation to international finance but also controls over domestic investment, since the point of taking control over finance is to transform the uses to which it is now put. And it would also require much more than this in terms of the democratization of both the broader economy and the state. It is highly significant that the last time the nationalization of the financial system was seriously raised, at least in the advanced capitalist countries, was in response to the 1970s crisis by those elements on the left who recognized that the only way to overcome the contradictions of the Keynesian welfare state in a positive manner was to take the financial system into public control.”

A few more words perhaps than I would have chosen but that’s what I’m talkin’ about. We need to create a vibrant new public sector by nationalizing the commanding heights of the economy–finance, energy, transportation–and using it to reorganize a saner, less stressful, peaceful, and green economy.

Coming Up In KC

¶ Thursday, October 9, 7PM. Reframing Chavez-How Media Bias Turns the Venezuelan Revolution into Character Assassination. Speakers: Judy Ancel and Alice Kitchen. At the Rockhurst Community Center, 5401 Troost.

¶ Saturday, October 11, Noon-2PM. Back to back meetings of the Kansas City Labor Party and Kansas City Labor Against the War. Mary Erio’s critically acclaimed pasta fazul–batches with and without meat–will be available to those who feel they can chew and pay attention at the same time. At 2113 Erie, North Kansas City. For more information call 816-221-3638.

That’s all for this week.

Demand Guaranteed Healthcare on a SinglePayer model for everyone in America, for life.

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