Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
February 10, 2008

Nothing Is Too Good For the Vets–And That’s What the VA Guarantees
Veterans not entitled to mental health care
, U.S. lawyers argue was the headline in a San Francisco Chronicle story about the government’s response to a class action lawsuit on behalf of hundreds of thousands of veterans and families. The suit accuses the VA of arbitrarily denying care and benefits to wounded veterans, of forcing them to wait months for treatment and years for benefits, and of failing to provide fair procedures for appealing decisions against them. The plaintiffs say that the department has a backlog of more than 600,000 disability claims and that 120 veterans a week commit suicide.

According to VA attorneys the law entitles veterans only to “medical care which the secretary (of Veterans Affairs) determines is needed, and only to the extent funds ... are available.” A lawyer representing the vets said, “Veterans need to know in this country that the government thinks all their benefits are mere gratuities. They're saying it's completely discretionary, that even if Congress appropriates money for veterans' health care, we can do anything we want with it.”

The Pen Is Mightier
After fourteen weeks on the picket line it appears 10,000 Writers Guild of America members will soon be returning to work in television and film productions--as will thousands of industry workers in other crafts idled by the strike. Patric M. Verrone, president of the West Coast guild, and Michael Winship, his East Coast counterpart, said: “Much has been achieved, and while this agreement is neither perfect nor perhaps all that we deserve for the countless hours of hard work and sacrifice, our strike has been a success.” According to Verrone, the guild had achieved two of its three prime objectives by securing coverage over Internet work and locking in a residuals formula for new media. He called the failure to win jurisdiction over reality television and animation “a heartbreaking loss,” though he vowed to continue the fight.

Michael Moore, a WGA member, offered this comment after attending a New York mass union meeting explaining the tentative settlement, “a historic moment for labor in this country. To have the writers stand up and not give back a single thing, and in fact, to make (the studios) give things, is a real achievement.”

Next up in the industry will be those appearing on camera. The Screen Actors Guild–who showed commendable solidarity with the strike--is pursuing demands similar to the writers. Unfortunately, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists plans to go it alone in talks rather than collaborating with SAG.

Backlash and Back At Ya
With encouragement from the right-wing, taking advantage of growing economic insecurity, attacks on immigrant workers have escalated. Today’s New York Times reports that, after a string of legal victories for fair treatment for undocumented workers over the past couple of years, courts are now swinging in the opposite direction with a vengeance. They point to decisions in Arizona, upholding a tough new law imposing draconian penalties on companies employing immigrant workers, as well as similar rulings in Missouri and Oklahoma. In Oklahoma the judge made clear that undocumented workers “should not be able to bring their claims to court because they were living in the country in violation of the law.”

A lawyer involved in both the Missouri and Arizona cases was Kris Kobach, a law professor at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. Kobach, a protégé of the reactionary Heritage Foundation, was employed by former Attorney General John Ashcroft to develop the Justice Department’s National Security Entry-Exit Registration System and later helped shape the Board of Immigration Appeals. He returned to his academic job in KC so he could run as the Republican candidate for congress in the Kansas Third.

My hometown has also gained some notoriety because of Mayor Funkhauser’s appointment of the secretary of the local branch of one of the Minuteman factions to the Park Board. When the Mayor refused to heed protests from community leaders la Raza cancelled a planned convention in the city and the NAACP and SCLC dropped KC from consideration for future conventions. After milking the headlines of the ensuing outrage for months the Minuteman (actually a woman) commissioner resigned--just before a hastily organized Minuteman convention in Kansas City. However, there were nearly as many protestors from labor, civil rights, church, and community groups as there were anti-immigrant vigilantes at the gathering.

Another fresh example showing immigrant workers are not going quietly was shown this past week in Danbury, Connecticut. As the city council met to instruct the local police to round up undocumented among the town’s large immigrant population five thousand protestors–in a city of 80,000--showed up. Not all were undocumented. The New York Times reported,

“Ted Duarte, 37, a union carpenter who works in Danbury and traveled here from his home in Wallingford to support fellow union members, motioned to the chanting. ‘This says it all,’ Mr. Duarte said. ‘For a city council that supposed to represent the city of Danbury, they should take a look out here — this is Danbury’”

Down On Their Luck
Searching to offset massive losses in their core membership the UAW in recent years started organizing casino workers around the country with some success. But an image tarnished by the disastrous give-back settlements at the Big Three may be leading to an end of that roll. An effort to organize dealers at Argosy in the Kansas City suburb of Riverside lost by a nearly two-to-one margin.

An AFP story on Thursday began,

“Clearing raw land to produce biofuels actually contributes to global warming by emitting large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, researchers warned Thursday.”

Among other problems, they note,

“Converting land to grow corn, sugar cane or soy beans -- crops used in the production of biofuels -- creates a ‘biofuel carbon debt’ by releasing 17 to 420 times as much CO2 into the atmosphere as the greenhouse gas reductions which the biofuels provide by displacing fossil fuels....It would take years, and in some cases centuries, before biofuels derived from crops on converted land would lead to a net reduction of greenhouse gases, according to the report.”

Two weeks ago Tyson announced the closing of a beef slaughter/packinghouse in Emporia, Kansas costing 1800 jobs in that small town. Today’s Kansas City Star says,

“The company cited high grain prices for the reduced supply of animals, and it connected rising grain prices to the boom in turning corn into ethanol. In short, treating food as fuel has made it too expensive to feed livestock.”

Don’t think you’re going to compensate for higher beef prices by eating more bread and pasta. The lure of biofuel crops has led to less wheat being produced. Along with higher fuel costs, this has resulted in record prices for wheat. The cost of a loaf of bread rose more than thirty cents in the final quarter of last year and bigger hikes are on the way.

As usual, much of the material for this column was taken from stories posted on our Daily Labor News Digest.

That’s all for this week.

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