Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
December 16, 2007

The Nixon-Clinton-Obama-Edwards Health Care Reform
Thanks to Jerry Gordon for calling my attention to an
opinion piece I overlooked in yesterday’s New York Times. The authors are David U. Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler, professors of medicine at Harvard and the co-founders of Physicians for a National Health Program. They remind us that in 1971, in an effort to head off movement toward single-payer, Nixon proposed a health care reform that included requiring that employers cover their workers, along with a Medicaid-like program for poor families.

Of course, Nixon was preoccupied with a losing war in Vietnam, the first oil crisis, and later that little incident at Watergate, and failed to push his health proposal through. But it served as a model used by Democrats on the state level. In 1988, preparing to challenge the first Bush for the White House, Michael Dukakis crowed, “Massachusetts will be the first state in the country to enact universal health insurance.”

But the plan didn’t work. Today, even with more recent, much hyped “reforms” on Mitt Romney’s watch, over 650,000 remain uninsured in that commonwealth. Similar plans in other states have produced the same disappointing results.

Yet this Nixon model is still the basis for phony “universal health care” proposals by the current Democrat front runners for the presidential nomination–and most liberals are falling in line behind them. This includes the Times house liberal, Paul Krugman, who once praised single-payer.

Himmelstein and Woolhandler also note that 1971 was when New Brunswick became the final Canadian province to adopt the single-payer plan initiated by Tommy Douglas and Canada’s labor party. How does that model hold up after 36 years? There are no uninsured Canadians. Our northern neighbors are free to choose their own doctors. They pay substantially less for their health care. And, by many measures, they are healthier than we Americans.

There’s no debating which is the superior model. That’s why single-payer is excluded from the incessant “debates” among American politicians. Along with the Canadian health system model we need to also adopt their example of how to fight for this urgently needed reform–a union based working class party

And the Beat Goes On
International Harvester was once a diversified manufacturing giant, one of America’s top ten corporations. In the 1980s they started selling themselves off bit by bit–construction equipment to Dresser, gas turbines to Caterpillar, lawn and garden equipment to MTD. In 1985 they sold off their core business–agricultural equipment–along with their very name and logo, to Tenneco Automotive, who created Case/IH. The old company hung on to their truck, bus and engine business, automated it, globalized it, and rechristened themselves Navistar.

Today, the entire UAW national membership at eleven plants in Navistar’s International Truck and Engine Corp is less than the number in Local 249 at Ford’s Claycomo Kansas City assembly plant. The UAW tops have tried hard to carry out the same partnership approach with Navistar that has worked so well with the Big Three. Two years ago they went in to early negotiations and brought back a tentative agreement. Much to the chagrin of both partners the ranks rejected the deal.

When the contract finally expired October 1 UAW leaders kept their members working. But, when word leaked out the company was diverting truck orders to a plant in Mexico, all four thousand hit the bricks October 23 and the union tried to get the action certified as an unfair labor practice strike.

Although the strike was mostly solid among UAW members Navistar was able to shift some light engine work to nonunion plants in the U.S., and their Canadian operations continued uninterrupted as a contract was in place with the CAW. A nation wide mobilization of salaried and supervisory personnel kept up the supply of heavy engines for military vehicles from the unionized Melrose Park plant in suburban Chicago. Mexican production was increased.

The UAW brass was determined to wind up the strike and came back this week with a tentative deal now being reviewed by the membership. The UAW press release said it is, “an agreement that protects jobs, wages and health care benefits for our membership” and includes “a moratorium on outsourcing, plant closures, spin-offs or sales during the term of the agreement.”

An article by Kimberly Peterson in the Ft Wayne Journal Gazette gives a somewhat different slant. There will be no general wage increases during the life of the three year agreement. There’s a 2500 dollar signing bonus and three percent lump sum payments in the second and third years.

For the first time, Navistar UAW members will have to contribute to the cost of their health insurance. Fifteen cents of each quarterly COLA raise will be diverted to paying for health care, reaching a 1.80 per hour–over 300 dollars a month--by the end of the contract.

And that “moratorium on outsourcing?” It seems it only applies while UAW members are on layoff Says Peterson, “the contract states that as long as no union employees in Fort Wayne are on layoff, the company is allowed to use contractors or outsourcing companies at the Fort Wayne design and engineering center. Coil [UAW Local 2911 president] said that allows International to replace union members who retire or quit with contractors or other non-union members.”All in all, the local president wasn’t nearly as enthusiastic as the Solidarity House press release. “‘Paying for health care we saw coming,’ Coil said. ‘But the loss of job security isn’t good.’”

Another, and not the last, ramification of the historic UAW deal with the Big Three.

Yet Another Roadmap
Hackneyed superlatives were in abundance as the Bali conference on climate change finally broke up. The chief UN organizer of the event declared it to be the breaking down of “the Berlin Wall of climate change.” They had to go in to overtime to secure a “roadmap”–to more meetings. Anticipating coming rounds, Mexico's under-secretary for environmental policy predicted, “the mother of all battles will be in 2009.”

They almost didn’t get that far. The government representing the country directly responsible for more than a quarter of the world’s greenhouse emissions threatened to exercise a Security Council-like veto of the final document because it “prejudged” the need for specific targets for emission reductions and didn’t make “developing” countries play by the same rules as developed ones. U.S. delegate Paula Dobriansky was visibly shaken as she was roundly booed when presenting this Washington line.

Of course, many delegates were aware of just how disingenuous American criticism of developing countries really is. For example, it’s estimated that at least six percent of China’s greenhouse emissions are the direct result of production of goods headed for the USA. Global bosses export pollution as well as capital in their drive to return products and profits to their home base. They should be responsible for cleaning up their mess abroad as well as at home.

Mincing no words, a delegate from Papua New Guinea told Dobriansky, “If you cannot lead, leave it to the rest of us. Get out of the way.” Shortly thereafter the U.S. delegation relented, joined the “consensus,” and it suddenly looked like the final scene of reconciliation from Blazing Saddles.

Such celebration is premature to say the least. As a story in today’s Los Angeles Times recalls,

“U.S. negotiators played a key role in writing the Kyoto Protocol, which called on industrialized countries to reduce their emissions to 5% below 1990 levels. But President Clinton refused to submit the agreement to the Republican-controlled Senate for ratification when it became obvious it would be rejected.”

Of course, Clinton’s successor renounced Kyoto. The net result was a watered down treaty with modest goals on emissions and no action on deforestation and other related problems. The world’s leaders seem to be counting on a fresh Clinton in the White House in 2009, along with a friendly Senate. That scenario remains to be seen. Even if it does shake out that way after the elections there is still no guarantee that this roadmap will be any more helpful than the much heralded Roadmap to Peace that was supposed to resolve the crisis in the Middle East.

Have You Stopped Using Steroids?
Even if you don’t share my passion for baseball you should be disgusted and alarmed by the Mitchell Report. George Mitchell is a former Senate Majority Leader who has spent his retirement years working on projects such as brokering the surrender of the IRA in occupied Ireland. He also is on the board of directors of the Boston Red Sox, until recently was on the board of the parent company of the ESPN cable TV sports networks, and is a close personal friend of baseball commissioner Bud Selig. So he was available to lead the “investigation” of steroid use by baseball players. He has now issued a “historic” report.

Mitchell names names–big names and lots of them. In the tradition of both congressional investigations and the British justice system in Ireland so familiar to him, Bud’s buddy matches up little credible evidence with those accused as steroid abusers. Some were fingered by the proven pathological liar, Jose Canseco, in a sensational book. Others were ratted out by club house attendants trying to curry favor with prosecutors charging them with unrelated offenses. A few were denounced by ex-spouses and girlfriends. This pitiful display of “evidence” led Mitchell to recommend that no disciplinary action be taken on the basis of his report. But the fact remains these highly publicized allegations will brand those on the list as “cheaters” for the rest of their lives.

This witch-hunt is more odious, in my view, than the use of steroids. Don’t get me wrong–I strongly oppose the use of such “performance enhancing” poison by athletes. Over the long haul they wreck body and mind. Their use is increasing among kids trying to get a “competitive edge,” even leading to deaths in some cases.

But the baseball owners don’t give a rodent’s backside about the health of players. They’ve welcomed–and profited from–the unprecedented feats that juiced up players have performed. They are now exercising prudent CYA, heaping hypocritical moral judgments on those bringing in six billion dollars to the “sport” last year.

That’s all for this week.

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