Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
February 13, 2012

Onward Christian Soldiers, Marching As To War
Conforming to the stereotype that converts are more Catholic than the Pope, Newt Gingrich denounced the White House and Courts for launching a war on religion in general and Catholics in particular. His rivals for the Republican nod to become our next President–a fellow Catholic, a Mormon, and a Baptist–chimed in their Amen. Some Catholic Bishops used the Pearl Harbor metaphor in solidarity with their once lost but now found lay defender of Faith.

Now I have nothing against Christians. Some of my best friends and nearly all of my neighbors accept that designation. Over the years I have often supported, with both words and material contributions, Catholics under the gun in real, bloody wars against them--such as in Occupied Ireland. Freedom of individuals to worship–or not worship–as they please is a democratic right worth fighting for.

But that, of course, is not what is happening here. First of all, religious dogma is not the sole motivator behind the bellicose language. The Catholic Church, claiming 66 million adherents, is not only the biggest Christian sect in the USA–it is also a major employer, especially in health care and education. As boss, they have used religion to argue–too often successfully–they should be exempt from many labor and anti-discrimination laws, not to mention avoiding paying taxes on profits. Despite their homilies urging us to remember the poor, the business side of the Church is notoriously anti-union in their own profit centers. They tend to oppose government mandates, such as what the Republicans call ObamaCare, for the same reasons as many secular bosses.

Including birth control coverage in mandated health insurance plans was a promise made by President Obama to get enough votes in Congress to finally close the deal on his contentious health care “reform.” It was one of the few progressive pieces of what was essentially an enormous tax payer gift to the health insurance robber barons. To completely renege on this pledge in an election year could leave the President vulnerable to defection of his needed support from women. Catholic employers seek to exploit this by lining up other religious extremists and Tea Party activists to both save them some money by rolling back mandated employee insurance while also scoring a victory for Church control over women’s bodies.

Of course, the Bishop’s Pearl Harbor analogy doesn’t hold water. The Japanese bombing in 1941 gained infamy as a sneak attack. The birth control provision has been lurking in the background for about two years. But the White House has granted numerous waivers of provisions in the new law and where there is Faith there is always hope. Laurie Goldstein wrote in the New York Times,

“When after much internal debate the Obama administration finally announced its decision to require religiously affiliated hospitals and universities to cover birth control in their insurance plans, the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops were fully prepared for battle. Seven months earlier, they had started laying the groundwork for a major new campaign to combat what they saw as the growing threat to religious liberty....”

The fact the hierarchy had to divert time and attention away from handling the scandal of widespread child molesting by men the Faithful are instructed to call Father, along with the systemic cover up at the top, emphasizes this is more than their routine attacks on women’s rights.

I’ll grant them religious liberty is at stake. Many, probably a majority, employed by the Church’s hospitals and schools do not take their moral direction from the Holy Father. And, polls in fact show Catholics are no more likely to adhere to Church Dogma forbidding birth control than those of other or no faith. The religious liberty of these workers and their families is also precious and nonnegotiable. Basic human rights, codified in the U.S. Constitution, reject state support for imposition of religious rules on the unwilling.

The way to take care of any defects in “ObamaCare”–and there are many–is to replace it with single-payer, covering all medical services for everyone.

As far as Newt, and all of the other peddlers of theocratic rule inciting religious war, as long as their side sticks to words and politics, and refrains from murdering any more doctors, I say-- bring it on!

Split Decision On Splitting Atoms
While Israel and the USA threaten war on Iran’s nuclear program, that Tehran says is for generating electricity, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved two new nukes in the state of Georgia. These will be the first to be built in this country since the partial meltdown disaster at Three Mile Island in 1979.

The decision to go ahead was not unanimous. Reuters reported,

“NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko cast an extraordinary dissenting vote, citing the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan in March 2011 that spurred the NRC to review whether existing and new U.S. reactors could withstand natural disasters like earthquakes and floods.

“‘I cannot support issuing this license as if Fukushima never happened.’ said Jaczko, who has close ties to congressional Democrats. ‘I believe it requires some type of binding commitment that the Fukushima enhancements that are currently projected and currently planned to be made would be made before the operation of the facility.’”

There’s been more news from Fukushima over the past week–none of it good. Commenting on the state of the cleanup efforts commissioned by the Japanese government so far, Hiroko Tabuchi wrote in the New York Times,

“... the government awarded the first contracts to three giant construction companies — corporations that have no more expertise in radiation cleanup than anyone else does, but that profited hugely from Japan’s previous embrace of nuclear power. It was these same three companies that helped build 45 of Japan’s 54 nuclear plants — including the reactor buildings and other plants at Fukushima Daiichi that could not withstand the tsunami that caused a catastrophic failure...”

Yesterday, the British Guardian’s Tokyo correspondent posted a story about the apparent heating up of Reactor #2 that had been declared in “cold shutdown.” Justin McCurry writes,

“The plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), said the temperature inside No 2 reactor – one of three that suffered meltdown after last year's earthquake and tsunami – may have reached 82C [180F] on Sunday....Cold shutdown is achieved when the temperature inside the reactors remains below 100C and there is a significant reduction in radiation leaks. Given that Tepco assumes a margin of error of 20C, the actual temperature could have risen to 102C. Plant workers are unable to take accurate readings of the temperature inside the damaged reactor because radiation levels are still too high for them to enter and examine the state of the melted fuel, which is thought to be resting at the bottom of the reactor's pressure vessel.”

Largely as a result of the Fukushima disaster, Japan suffered its first trade deficit since 1980 last year and economists predict the shortfall may continue for several years due to the huge increase in energy imports needed to offset the nuclear loss.

First Ship In Berth Nine
The Coast Guard escort was no longer needed after all as the merchant ship Full Sources became the first to dock at a new Bunge-owned EGT grain terminal at Port Longview, Washington. For several months there had been militant protests by ILWU Local 21 and supporters as EGT flouted the union’s jurisdiction in the Port by using a contractor whose workers were in a non-waterfront union. There were numerous arrests of union supporters and fines running about 300,000 dollars were levied against the ILWU. The Obama administration acted to help out local law enforcement in protecting the first ship slated to load grain with the Coast Guard on water and in the air.

At the end of the day, however, because all ports are busy and potential solidarity actions could have ramifications far beyond Longview, the port bosses decided to defer any showdown battle with the ILWU until another time. By the time the first ship reached Berth Nine the contractors were gone. The Daily News serving the Lower Columbia River area reported,

“...four ILWU workers were on the dock tying down the ship, while seven more were working inside the terminal. EGT is hiring from a pre-approved pool of workers dispatched from the ILWU hall, and the company expects to employ about 25 hourly ILWU employees at the terminal working 12-hour shifts, when needed. Negotiators for both sides continued talks Tuesday to complete a labor agreement, though union officials announced [last] Monday they had resolved the ‘fundamental’ issues of a contract.”

Hats off to the ILWU and those who stood in solidarity with them.

Time Short For Early Birds
For the first time, the biennial conference sponsored by Labor Notes will be held outside of the state of Michigan–this year in a hotel near Chicago’s O’Hare Airport May 4-6. This year’s theme will be “Solidarity for the 99 percent.”. The 2010 conference in Dearborn attracted about 1200 participants, including many labor activists from other lands. I’ve already registered for the conference and reserved a KC Labor Information Table. You can save 35 bucks on the conference fee by
registering no later than March 2.

In Brief...
¶ A blurb on the website of a new book,
Retirement Heist by Wall Street Journal investigative reporter Ellen Schultz, “A little over a decade ago, most companies had more than enough set aside to pay the benefits earned by two generations of workers, no matter how long they lived. But by exploiting loopholes, ambiguous regulations, and new accounting rules, companies essentially turned their pension plans into piggy banks, tax shelters, and profit centers.” Thomas F. Adams does a good review in Labor Notes.
¶ Michael Hiltzik takes an honest look at the much heralded mortgage settlement negotiated with five big banks in an aptly titled Los Angeles Times article,
Mortgage settlement is great — for politicians and banks.
¶ From the New York Times, “Eleven states sued the Environmental Protection Agency on Friday over its delays in tightening air quality standards involving soot. The Obama administration has faced intense opposition to the stricter regulations from industry and Republicans, who claim that they would drive up energy costs and hurt economic growth.”
¶ Although student loan debts can’t be discharged through bankruptcy their drain on incomes is pushing more borrowers in to insolvency, according to figures compiled by the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys.
¶ I want to let those of you not on our
e-mail list know that the long-promised concluding installment dealing with labor strategy has been posted–Forging A Trident Strategy For American Workers. I also want to thank my friends at Labor Standard for cross-posting all three installments in a neat format on their site.

That’s all for this week.

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