Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
January 17, 2012

Perception Gains, Deception Wanes
The harsh realities of the attacks on working people by the bosses and bankers, along with the popularization of the 99 versus the one percent theme of the Occupy movement, are working to change attitudes toward class divisions in the USA. A recent poll by the Pew Research Center shows two/thirds of all Americans believe there are “strong conflicts between rich and poor”--an increase of nineteen percent since they last asked the question two years ago.

Blacks have a higher awareness–74 percent contrasted to 65 percent for whites. But white perception of class conflict has grown faster, up 22 percent since the last poll. Young people reflect the changing outlook the most with 71 percent of the 18-39 age range, but the middle age 50-64 group showed the biggest age-related change–up 22 percent.

Mail Fraud
Retired postal union activist John Curtis sums it up pretty well in
Labor Notes,

“The push to dismantle the U.S. Postal Service’s distribution and delivery network is a scheme by corporate privatizers to crush the largest organized workforce in federal employment, pick apart a trusted government service, and grab the most profitable parts of the business for their own enrichment.”

Curtis cites the incremental moves over the years in contracting out USPS work to nonunion outfits such as FedEx. And, just as the introduction of computers has not yet produced the predicted paperless office, Curtis notes that the postal service still delivered more than 170 billion pieces of what postal worker detractors call “snail mail” last year. It’s well worth the read.

Back By Popular Demand–Another ‘Roadmap to Recovery’
In a story headlined “Obama jobs panel pushes tax reform, U.S. drilling,” Reuters writer Matt Spetalnick aptly summarizes a new “Roadmap to Recovery” as explained by the Chair of this council of big bosses, General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt. Here’s some highlights,

“Among the steps the council sees as urgently needed is long-delayed reform of the corporate tax system, which it says is outdated and ‘hurts both business competitiveness and American workers.’ ‘The council urges Congress and the administration to begin work on tax reform immediately,’ the report says.

“The panel calls for lowering corporate tax rates to ‘internationally competitive levels’ while broadening the corporate tax base by eliminating deductions and loopholes. But the report notes disagreement among council members over whether to shift to a ‘territorial’ system that exempts most or all foreign income from corporate taxes when it is repatriated.”

One suspects that General Electric, who makes billions in offshore profits while paying virtually no U.S. tax, would be among those disagreeing with any reform of that section of tax code. Later in the article,

“In a proposal likely to be opposed by environmentalists, the report calls for an ‘all in’ strategy on energy that would seek to further exploit domestic fossil-fuel supplies to reduce reliance on foreign imports. But it also urges development of cleaner energy sources and promotion of energy efficiency. ‘The Jobs Council recommends expanding and expediting the domestic production of fossil fuels - including allowing more access to oil, gas, and coal opportunities on federal lands - while ensuring safe and responsible development of those sites,’ the report said.”

This sounds very similar to the television promotions of the American Petroleum Institute and Chamber of Commerce. Unfortunately, it also sounds like what many unions are saying as well. Last week AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka addressed an Investor Summit on Climate Risk & Energy Solutions. Note we face only a climate risk. Our labor statesman told them,

“The American labor movement is in the problem-solving business...We’re looking for partners, and we’re already working with many of you here today directly and indirectly to move capital to profitable and productive purposes”

But I digress. Back to Reuters,

“In addition, the report called for a series of reforms to streamline government rules and reduce the regulatory burden on businesses, which it said would enhance U.S. competitiveness.”

As this hardy perennial blooms again in the White House Rose Garden I’d like to turn your attention to a New York Times article about perhaps the least regulated of all states–all-in energy producing and transporting Wyoming.

“A report compiled by an epidemiologist hired by the state and released on Jan. 3, found that Wyoming’s work sites lacked what it called a culture of safety and that proper safety procedures were not followed in the vast majority of cases when someone was killed on the job.

“The report also noted that Wyoming had the highest workplace fatality rate in the country for all but one year from 2003 through 2008. In 2010, the last year that data was provided, Wyoming’s estimated occupational death rate was three and a half times the national average, the report said.... Oil and gas rig workers and their families are often itinerant, hold little political clout and fear that reporting safety problems could get them fired, said Laurie Goodman, a Wyoming lobbyist who has worked on occupational safety issues.”

Wyoming confirms on a smaller but steady scale what the big headline disasters such as BP and Massey Energy–to name just a couple on Obama's watch–clearly demonstrated. Without adequate regulation, to enhance profits bosses take risks with worker lives. They are prepared to take climate risks too–with our grandkids’ survival at stake.

Let’s hope we can still all meet up together at the end of the new Roadmap.


Gloom Moves Closer To Doom
One dangerous component of all-in, drill til somebody drops, energy policy is hydraulic fracturing. “Fracking”as it has become known, is a process of blasting water, sand and chemicals into the ground to release oil and gas trapped in solid rock It has opened up vast new sources previously ignored as unprofitable. It is sweeping the globe faster than a viral YouTube video about a polar bear cub.

But so are a host of serious problems here and there such as creating minor earthquakes, flaming water faucets in kitchen sinks, and pollution of aquifers supplying drinking water. Long term consequences are not yet known.

This has led to big disputes over granting future permits and many law suits from those already suffering collateral damage. Last Saturday thousands of Bulgarians protested against Chevron’s shale gas plans in that country. One of the most instructive commentaries on the fracking foray was written by the former head of a foreign government.

I first came to admire Fidel Castro when I was in high school and he was in the mountains, along with Che, putting together a revolution against the hated Batista dictatorship in Cuba. As they uprooted that tyrannical regime--that was a vicar for U.S. Big Business and even out-and-out American gangsters-- this revolution that could neither be bought nor defeated became demonized by politicians and media in this country–and some of the well-to-do Castro family as well.

But that revolution also gave many of my generation, in every part of the world, a living example that we weren’t limited to the Hobson choices posed by the Cold War–inhumane capitalism or inhumane Stalinism. Cuba, while not perfect, was different, better.

Cuba is facing tough times today–primarily because of a half-century of trade and travel embargo imposed by the U.S. government. Fidel, now in his eighties, is no longer in great physical shape either and had to give up the duties of head of state a few years ago. But, disproving all wishful rumors of his death regularly coming from enemies in Washington, Wall Street, and Miami, he still writes commentary on the human situation that is always worth reading.

In an article published January 5 entitled The March Towards The Abyss, Fidel takes up various timely issues such as fracking. But focusing on his title he writes, “Numerous dangers threaten us, but two of them, nuclear war and climate change, are decisive and both are ever farther away from coming close to a solution.”

On January 10 Fidel found support for his position from the far from radical Bulletin of Atomic Scientists who set the hands of the Doomsday Clock forward two minutes closer to an apocalyptic Midnight--citing both climate change and threat of nuclear warfare.

Perhaps recognizing the reluctance of some who shrink from appearing to be alarmist or preachy, Fidel says simply, “...I think it is a basic duty of all serious and sane persons, who number in the millions, to fight to postpone and perhaps to prevent that dramatic and imminent event [nuclear or climate catastrophe] in today’s world.”

These are not the words of a man demented, no matter which alternative definition of this term you want to apply. It is a clarion call without the customary shouting summoning those who think to act--while we still have a chance.

Viva Fidel!

Don’t forget that our Monday-Friday daily news updates now appear in the Labor Advocate Blog.

That’s all for this week.

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