Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
December 1, 2010

Hard Freeze Launches Harsh Winter
There was no alert from the Weather Channel about this one. The President of the United States cooly announced Monday a two-year wage freeze for all civilian employees of America’s largest employer–the Federal government. The “freeze” actually means more of a cut in take-home pay. Most of these workers were scheduled to get a 1.4 percent raise-- more than eaten up by a 7.2 percent increase in health insurance premium costs next year.

The Republicans hailed the move, complaining only that the President had stolen a page from their playbook. They urge him to complement the wage freeze with one on hiring as well.

Jonathan Weisman writing in the Wall Street Journal observed,

“It was seen by members of both parties as a sign that Mr. Obama, in the wake of what he called his electoral ‘shellacking’ might be willing to tack away from his liberal base in search of compromise with Republicans.”

Even the last true believers in the Obama version of si se puede couldn’t let this one slide. Rich Trumka is quoted in an AFL-CIO Blog entitled Pay Freeze Scapegoats Federal Workers,

“No one is served by our government participating in a ‘race to the bottom’ in wages. The President talked about the need for shared sacrifice, but there’s nothing shared about Wall Street and CEOs making record profits and bonuses while working people bear the brunt.”

John Gage, president of AFGE representing 600,000 of the two million affected workers (more than 26,000 workers in the Kansas City area) said,

“I am really ticked. I never expected that this administration would look at this problem and think the solution was cutting wages... The American people didn’t vote to stick it to a VA nursing assistant making $28,000 a year...” He went on to label it a “symbolic, political, public-relations stunt.”

Encouraged by the President’s offer to take five billion dollars out of worker paychecks to pay on Washington’s debt, Congressional leaders from both the shellacking and shellacked parties had a pleasant White House visit yesterday. They all promised to work better together and expressed optimism that a compromise was within reach on extending the “Bush tax cuts.” There was no mention of agreement to continue extended unemployment compensation for nearly two million long-term jobless–which expired at Midnight.

I delayed this WIR hoping to deal with the findings of the President’s bipartisan Debt Commission which was due out today. But this report has now been delayed until Friday. The working draft–ominously subtitled “The Moment of Truth”--is mostly the same that was released by the co-chairs three weeks ago. A super-majority of fourteen of the eighteen commission members is needed to force Congress to act on their report. That seems unlikely. So far only Senators Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) have declared strong support.

But failure of the Commission to compel Congress to take action on specific proposals won’t get us off the hook by any means. Co-chair Erskine Bowles, former Bill Clinton Chief-of-Staff said,

“Our goal in this whole process has been really simple. It's basically been to start an adult conversation here in Washington about the dangers of this debt and the deficits we are running. The era of deficit denial in Washington is over.”

An “adult” conversation is necessary so that they can prepare to explain to us child-like workers that the government is maxed out just like our credit cards. They have to cut off our allowance and impose some painful cuts that maybe we won’t understand now but will be good for us in the future. Such condescension was the message of both parties in the recent election.

How did we get this crushing debt burden without even having a good time? Social Security–except for cost of living adjustments when they decide to award them–is an entitlement completely funded by worker/employer contributions deducted from our paychecks. It shouldn’t be counted as either income or expense for government operations. We must look beyond us elderly parasites.

In 2010 total military related expenditures amounted to 1.3 trillion dollars. That just about equals the current budget deficit. Over the next decade it is estimated well over 700 billion will go to the drug robber barons to subsidize the Ted Kennedy-AARP Medicare drug reform that still requires seniors to pay fees and copays–and leaves the “doughnut hole.” It’s hard to get a handle on precisely what we can expect to pay the health insurance robber barons once the Obama reform takes full effect but it will certainly be in excess of 100 billion a year.

Right now the top income tax bracket pays 35 percent. During the war-time deficit year of 1945, the richest paid 94 percent. This rate did not discourage investment. After the war the U.S. economy took off and created our semi-mythical Middle Class.

It seems clear to me that transferring a trillion or so from the war machine to human needs, replacing hand outs to the drug and insurance companies with single-payer, and taxing the rich at the levels they once were, would solve the deficit/debt problem in short order–and have enough left over to put the jobless to work on beating the climate change crisis.

Of course, the USA is not alone in these adult conversations. The deficit bogey is being used to disguise redistribution of wealth to the rich even in Europe. What makes us exceptional is the lack of a fight back by workers. Just since our last WIR there has been a general strike in Portugal, a march of 100,000 in Dublin, and massive student protests in Britain and Italy. The most we’ve seen here is appeals to call and e-mail Congress to beg them to extend unemployment benefits and not to cut our Social Security.

Our strength is not lobbying Congress. Our power is in the workplace, the community, the streets. The winter may seem less cold and bleak if we keep busy defending ourselves.

Not the Warming We Were Looking For
As delegates assembled for the UN Climate Conference in Cancun a Reuters story opened with this,

“World temperatures could soar by 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) by the 2060s in the worst case of global climate change and require an annual investment of $270 billion just to contain rising sea levels, studies suggested on Sunday. Such a rapid rise, within the lifetimes of many young people today, is double the 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) ceiling set by 140 governments at a U.N. climate summit in Copenhagen last year and would disrupt food and water supplies in many parts of the globe.”

Another less than cheerful study was reported in the British Guardian,

“A special report, to be released at the start of climate negotiations in Cancún, Mexico, will reveal that up to a billion people face losing their homes in the next 90 years because of failures to agree curbs on carbon emissions. Up to three billion people could lose access to clean water supplies because global temperatures cannot now be stopped from rising by 4C.”

And, in an article entitled Al Gore’s Alcohol Problem Robert Bryce writes,

“Last week, Al Gore finally admitted the obvious. The former vice president (and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize) who promoted ethanol in his Oscar-winning film, An Inconvenient Truth, said that corn ethanol was a ‘mistake.’ He went further, saying that he supported ethanol production because the first presidential primary is in Iowa, which produces more ethanol than any other state: ‘I had a certain fondness for the farmers in the state of Iowa because I was about to run for president,’ he said. Gore also said that the ‘massive’ subsidies given to ethanol are not ‘good policy.’”

None of these latest revelations are expected to have any impact at the conference which, unlike Copenhagen, has drawn few major national leaders. In fact, it’s being acknowledged that even the non-binding modest targets talked about in Denmark last year are far from being met.

Republic Redux?
Last week we reported on UE efforts to rescue an abandoned plant, and UE jobs, in Taunton, Massachusetts with the help of an Eminent Domain move being considered by the City Council. The runaway employer, Esterline Technologies, has now sped up the process of trying to auction off the plant’s equipment. The union is responding in similar fashion to what the UE did at Republic Windows in Chicago in 2008–they are calling on members and supporters to physically block a December 14 auction and to occupy the plant if need be to keep the equipment where it belongs. For more information you can contact the UE at 774-264-0110.

Victory For Biggest Losers
The IATSE strikers are back to work, with a union contract and access to health insurance, on NBC’s The Biggest Loser.

KC Labor Forum Series Planning Meeting
The next meeting to plan the launch of the KC Labor Forum series will take place:
Sunday, December 5, Noon-2PM
Tony Saper's house, 2113 Erie, North Kansas City

For more information give me a call at 816-753-1672

That’s all for this week.

Alliance for Class & Climate Justice

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