Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
December 6, 2007

My lack of effective multi-tasking skills has once again led to me missing my goal (not mandate) of reviewing the week on Sunday. Putting together the second installment of my article on the UAW-Big Three agreements got me behind. I hope to get back in synch this coming Sunday but too much has happened this past week to blow it off completely.

Not High On Bali
More than 10,000 jetted in to Bali this week to talk some more about global warming. Chris Goodall, author of How to Live a Low-Carbon Life, said, “Nobody denies this is an important event, but huge numbers of people are going, and their emissions are probably going to be greater than a small African country.”

Just what is expected of this “important event?” The most optimistic hope is that it will begin a long process of more meetings ultimately leading to a new agreement when the Kyoto Accords expire in 2012. The optimists were buoyed by the new Australian prime minister finally signing that country on to Kyoto–leaving the United States as the lone hold out among industrialized countries. To show just how desperate the UN organizers were for good news they hailed the Lieberman-Warner bill moving out of a Senate committee.

While thousands of the delegates amuse themselves with side trips to the beach, or what remains of nearby tropical forest, the most serious discussions are taking place behind closed doors. Don’t expect any dramatic announcements.

You would think such a junket opportunity would be of great interest to union officials. There are, in fact, quite a few in attendance from around the world but not many, and not prominent, from the USA. Of course, Jonathan Tasini is in Bali. He laments, “I am struck by the fact that the delegation organizers had a hard time rounding up a broad representative group from the U.S.--there just didn't seem to be a lot of interest, as far as I can tell.” He offers this explanation,

“Part of the problem is not just the fact that some unions see this issue as a zero-sum game, i.e., that to reverse global warming means hardship for workers, particularly in industries that are seen as contributing more heavily to global warming (the obvious ones are the manufacturing and energy industries). But, I think the larger problem is that there is no political leadership that is willing to stand up and say loudly: this threat requires strong, broad, government action and intervention.”

Labor’s most prolific blogger is right on both counts. The AFL-CIO is opposed to Lieberman-Warner because it is “over aggressive.” Of course, some unions are champions of “clean coal,” drilling in the Arctic, and building more nukes. But even those unions with a somewhat greener outlook, such as USW and SEIU, certainly defer to the political leadership of the corporate parties.

There have been some expressions of impatience at Bali. More than 200 of the world’s leading climate scientists, reminding the jet-setters that “there is no time to lose,” submitted a petition calling for fifty percent cuts in greenhouse emissions by 2050. One of the signers, Jeff Severinghaus, a geosciences professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif., said, “It's a grave crisis, and we need to do something real fast. I think the stakes are way way too high to be playing around.”

It may well already be too late for delegations from the Carteret Islands, the Pacific nation of Kiribati, and islands in Australia's Torres Strait. Rising sea levels have eroded the coasts, bleached the corral, and the now salty soil has zapped their traditional staple crops. And their drinking water has become contaminated by sea water. Some islands have been split in two. Relocation is now the only viable option.

That option will not be as viable for the hundreds of millions living in low lying coastal areas around the world. Included among them are a fair number of the dues paying members of American unions. Perhaps that’s the approach that can stir some more interest among our labor statesmen about the issues now bolstering the convention and tourist industry in Indonesia.

Term Limits
There were two high profile elections last weekend. In Venezuela we were told that Hugo Chavez was trying to make a power grab through proposed constitutional reforms that would make him president “for life.” That was a tad exaggerated. Actually one of the measures would have eliminated term limits. Term limits by definition are undemocratic in the sense that they limit who people can vote for. Had the proposal carried Chavez would still have had to run for office each term to comply with the constitution

Of course, Washington was more concerned about other proposed amendments–that would have “grabbed power” from the banks and oil industry as well as others that would have established a six-hour work day and allowed those in the informal economy to be eligible for state pensions.

In the end, these reforms were rejected by a narrow margin of voters. I’ll leave to another time perhaps to discuss why they lost. My point for now is that the evil Chavez accepted the will of the voters, if not with good grace at least with no recriminations against those exercising their democratic rights.

In Russia, where Vladimir Putin rules, there are also term limits that Bush’s sometime friend is encountering. The recent election there was of a parliament that selects the prime minister–to date a subordinate post. Opposition parties were ruled off the ballot. Demonstrations were roughly dispersed by the police. Leaders were jailed. And Putin’s supporters won a landslide victory.

Now the leader of “free” Russia has options when his presidential term runs out. He can have his hand picked parliament select him as premier and make that the top job. Or he might just abrogate the term limit and stage a landslide vote for reelection as president. Some have suggested he might create a new super-post for himself–sort of like Czar.

Washington is tut-tutting about the shenanigans of this old Stalinist turned capitalist despot but you can bet George W will still be trying to make Vladimir his friend.

Bumper Crops Mean Bare Pantries
St Louis area food pantries serving the poor are an all too typical example of a nation wide problem–they’re running out of food. The biggest demand in recent memory is coming at a time when usual supplies are running low.

A major factor is a dramatic reduction in “surplus” food contributions from the federal government. This surplus is purchased from farmers to maintain price supports. This year crops are good but the private market–including demand for ethanol ready grains and grasses–is so strong the feds haven’t had to buy nearly as much. Soaring food prices have also discouraged charitable donations from food corporations.

From Our Friends In the Senate
29 Democrats joined 47 Republicans and an independent to pass the Peru trade deal. It was the first globalization friendly legislation passed under the Dems new formula of giving labor and environmental issues “equal weight.” Equal as it may be most labor, environmental and human rights groups strongly opposed the deal. While the House Democrats earlier debated and approved it the Peruvian government was busy breaking metal miner strikes against U.S. corporations.

Tiny Peru isn’t going to have the same economic impact as previous deals such as NAFTA and with China. Its main importance to the Establishment is political, a blow against insurgent labor and indigenous movements in South America. Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said, “We ought to help countries like Peru that are not going the direction of Venezuela.” A majority of Democrats agreed.

We’re Good To Go–For A While
While I plan to thank each of you individually I’ll express general gratitude now to those who promptly responded to our e-mail emergency plea for funds. You’re helping us through our cash flow crisis and we can continue our web and e-mail operations into the next year without the webmaster giving up car insurance.

That’s all for this week.

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