Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
December 17, 2012

He Wasn’t Born That Way
Of course, the news since Friday has been dominated by the tragic events in Newtown, Connecticut. 20-year old Adam Lanza helped himself to his mother’s gun collection, shot her, and then drove to a nearby school where he killed twenty first-graders, and six staff, before taking his own life.

There is no deeper emotion than grief over death of a child so young. There can be no greater source of outrage than multiple killings of such innocents.

We all recognize the heroism of the teachers and principal who died trying to protect the kids and the bravery and quick thinking of surviving teachers and other staff who probably saved more student lives.

The shooter was born with Asperger's syndrome, a mild form of autism known for difficulty in communication and a tendency to withdraw--but rarely violent behavior. What may have driven this individual to commit such a horrible crime is not yet known and may never be.

The President’s tearful and halting remarks were shown on television repeatedly. I have no grounds to doubt his emotional display was genuine.

But I also know this same President is responsible–without tears or hesitation--for drone attacks that have killed many more innocent children in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen than perished in Newtown. Somehow they don’t seem to count for as much.

That’s not always the case with the youthful U.S. drone pilots, killing by remote control thousands of miles from their victims. Some have begun to publicly admit the guilt and stress they suffer as they witness on a live video feed the bloody results–including “collateral damage”-- of carrying out the President’s orders.

This horror is controlled by a “joy-stick,” not unlike millions of young people use in video games that often commit pretend unspeakable deadly acts.

Churches have been the venue for those sharing grief and public officials urge us to pray. The Governor of Connecticut reassured us the young victims were already in Heaven. But while recognizing some gain comfort in the pews during such tragic times, I can’t and won’t forget religious fanatics in our midst have been known to incite the faithful to murder in the name of “right to life”–in Wichita even killing inside a place of worship.

Today’s politics and culture have begun to desensitize our human instinct, cheapening the value of human life. While the slaughter of innocent children still grabs all, the daily round of shootings in the poor neighborhoods of every major city are pushed in to the background like traffic noise. Even GI deaths in Afghanistan get little attention today.

It’s not just video games, violent movies and television, or proliferation of guns. These are contents of a bigger package. Efforts to restrict them will be fruitless if we don’t get to the root of the problem. Connecticut has some of the toughest gun laws in the nation and the murder weapons in Newtown were legally purchased by the shooter’s mother.

The breaking down of our sense of basic human solidarity has many insidious aspects–all part and parcel of how a tiny ruling class works to keep us divided, conflicted, and confused, unable to focus on acting in our collective interest.

The pious Governor said “evil visited us today.” Maybe. But it was not the wickedness of Satan. It was a foul deed nurtured by a degenerating society that gives us war, racism, sexism, homophobia, homelessness and growing poverty in exchange for our creation of the greatest wealth in history.

The Connecticut shooter may have inherited autism but he wasn’t born evil. He grew up in a town that closed their mental health facility due to budget cuts in the Clinton administration. Society failed to save one of our own–and lost others in the process. Reclaiming human solidarity, the kind of semper fi that leaves no one behind, is the indispensable first step toward a civilized society that can reverse the trend of such tragic violence.

Right Answers for Wrong Reasons
An AP news story about a new AP-GfK Poll opens,

“A growing majority of Americans think global warming is occurring, that it will become a serious problem and that the U.S. government should do something about it. ...The poll found 4 out of every 5 Americans said climate change will be a serious problem for the United States if nothing is done about it. That's up from 73 percent when the same question was asked in 2009.”

But there was a caveat associated with this good news.

“The biggest change in the polling is among people who trust scientists only a little or not at all. About 1 in 3 of the people surveyed fell into that category. Within that highly skeptical group, 61 percent now say temperatures have been rising over the past 100 years. That's a substantial increase from 2009, when the AP-GfK poll found that only 47 percent of those with little or no trust in scientists believed the world was getting warmer.”

That one-in-three blow off science is certainly disturbing. But unlike Darwin’s Natural Selection, climate change is now palpable in the daily lives of those defending their faith against science. You don’t have to be a climate scientist to tell which way the wind is blowing.

Some of the anti-science faithful now view global warming as being part of the opening of End Times–a final judgment day scenario that the Christian wing believe will be marked by the second coming of the Messiah while practicing Jews await a first appearance. This may become a hot topic in theological debate–but that’s not my beat.

I’m concerned that if we don’t heed the warnings and proposals of science our progeny could indeed face an End Time–but one without a Messiah, and with no body rising to Heaven. We are clearly on a path where climate change will reach a stage when our planet can no longer sustain human life as we know it.

More generally positive than the mixed results of the poll was an article that appeared last week whose title caught my attention-- Think About the Transportation Sector by Larry Hanley and Bill McKibben.

Teaming up with America’s most prominent environmental commentator, Hanley is a first term president of a union that I have paid dues to for more than 22 years–the Amalgamated Transit Union. He was long a bus driver on Staten Island--ground zero of SuperStorm Sandy’s arrival in New York City. They write of that storm,

“Sandy was the largest hurricane ever measured – its tropical force winds stretched out 1,040 miles from the eye. The barometric pressure had never dropped this low north of Cape Hatteras. It was unprecedented in every way – but almost certainly a harbinger of what the future will bring if we keep raising the temperature. When Sandy flooded New York's subways, it brought the city to a halt. Re-opening the system was a challenge – but the real challenge is bringing mass transit to a nation that very much wants it.”

The authors advocate a massive rebuilding and expansion of mass transit–to be provided to users free of charge. That’s what I’m talking about.

One-on-One For a Grand Bargain
I received notification last week that my Social Security benefit will–after an increased deduction for Medicare Part B--be boosted by a whopping fourteen dollars a month. I had to promise my wife Mary that I wouldn’t blow it all in one place. I also cautioned this might well be the last of such big annual raises.

As I write, the President and Speaker of the House are resuming their private one-on-one negotiations to try to avoid plunging over the Fiscal Cliff through a comprehensive bipartisan Grand Bargain. Leaving aside the bogus character of the Cliff itself, Social Security is not part of it. The program that is the sole source of income for forty percent of retirees–and a substantial part for most of the rest–is financed through dedicated payroll taxes on both workers and employers. It plays no role in the deficit.

Nor is the program in imminent financial danger. The more than two-trillion dollars in the Social Security Trust can meet current obligations for at least another twenty years. Discussion of long-term protection and expansion of Social Security need not take place in a crisis mode.

But the President has said we urgently need Social Security “reform” on the level of the bipartisan deal made during the Reagan administration. Then, instead of a cliff a new hill was created, raising the age when workers could retire with a full benefit–now around 67.

Today, citing longer life-spans–which include many elderly unable to do any kind of work–there’s agitation from the Tea Party to Suze Orman for everybody from here on out to work until at least seventy. That will likely be on the table now shrouded in secrecy as the two party leaders try to fashion a deal.

But there’s even more in the works. Neither of the negotiators likes the piddly cost-of-living adjustments that old folks sometimes get. They can’t control our cost of living but they can determine how to measure it. There’s a new push to substitute the present indexing with a “chained” Consumer Price Index. The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) exposes how this alternate price universe is not only a benefit cut but also a stealth tax increase on working people. You can read their report here.

The union movement has organized some small demonstrations at congressional offices but much more is needed to re-electrify what was once feared by politicians as a deadly political third rail.

In Brief...
¶ The Heartland Labor Forum radio show here in Kansas City produced a testimonial about our departed brother:
Jerry Tucker: Labor Visionary.
¶ The AFL-CIO Blog reports, “Students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are taking a stand for striking Palermo's Pizza workers and you can help. They are asking university Chancellor David Ward to cut the contracts with Palermo’s unless the company hires back illegally fired workers and recognizes their union.”
¶ We’ve carried numerous reports on the
Labor Advocate Blog about a wave of teacher strikes in Ontario.
¶ From AP, “Nurses and X-ray technicians represented by the California Nurses Association will begin a one-day strike on the morning of Dec. 24 at seven hospitals operated by Sutter Health and at two San Jose hospitals affiliated with the Hospital Corporation of America, said union spokesman Chuck Idelson. Union officials say the Christmas Eve strike — the eighth by the association since September 2011 — was not called over a salary dispute, but comes as the union and the hospitals remain at odds over staffing levels, health benefits and sick days. Hospital officials want to reduce the number of paid sick days for nurses and technicians, while eliminating health care coverage for those who work less than 30 hours a week, Idelson said.”

That’s all for this week.

Save the Date—Sunday, January 13, 2013, 1PM
Meeting to Re-Launch Kansas City Labor Party Advocates
North Kansas City Library, 23rd & Howell, NKC

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