Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
April 26, 2009

Same Planet, Different Worlds
I don’t know if Hallmark has a card out but later this week will see the completion of the “historic” First Hundred Days of the Obama administration. Much ink and many pixels are being devoted by pundits and promoters to this early marker.

A perhaps misplaced sense of duty still leads me to check out the venerable weekly, The Nation from time to time and I ran across 100 Down, 900 To Go, by publisher/editor Katrina vanden Heuvel. It is written in anticipation of a Nation Forum, Obama @ 100, to be held Wednesday in Washington

When I started reading The Nation while in high school in the Fifties it was considered radical. They took on the FBI and the Witch Hunt, published top notch investigative stories about the plight of farm workers, and were the first to expose Kennedy’s CIA role in the Bay of Pigs invasion.

There’s little trace of that heritage evident in the 100 Down piece. It is remarkably upbeat and apologetic about the current powers-that-be. To be sure, Ms vanden Heuvel expresses constructive criticism. She thinks the recovery package was a bit stingy. As far as the wars she says,

“On Afghanistan, I am concerned that it will bleed us of the resources needed for economic recovery, further destabilize Pakistan, open a rift with our European allies, and negate the positive effects of withdrawing from Iraq on our image in the Muslim world.”

Not exactly the clear denunciation of imperial trampling of other nations that I read in The Nation of my youth. But, then that would not be so “constructive.” Immediately following her concerns she reassures us “there is reason for optimism,” and expresses admiration for the President’s “commitment to pragmatism and experimentation.”

Other articles I read this past week demonstrated application of the Obama pragmatism and experimentation in the auto industry. For example, though in a unabashedly bourgeois paper, a piece in the Wall Street Journal by Nat King Jr was a breath of fresh air after vanden Heuvel’s measured syntax hailing the chief,

“The negotiations among the UAW, the administration and Chrysler are politically delicate for a White House that relied heavily on union support in key auto states like Michigan, Ohio and Indiana during the campaign.

“Nonetheless, at both Chrysler and General Motors Corp., the administration is demanding sacrifices -- including lower wages, significant job cuts and leaner benefits -- that will probably diminish the UAW's clout in the industry and as a political force.”

You think?

King also warns on pensions.

“Even less clear is what will happen on the pension front. Chrysler's pension is under-funded to the tune of about $9.3 billion...”

Such blue collar issues didn’t make vanden Heuvel’s editors cut. But there are other pragmatic solutions in the works for priorities she did mention, such as the energy bill.

From the Friday Wall Street Journal,

“House Democrats are weighing a plan to give some of the nation's biggest polluters a 10-year cushion from the impact of greenhouse-gas regulations to get a cap-and-trade system in place now.

“Under the proposal, electric utilities would get free permits to emit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases for as long as ten years, after which they would gradually begin paying. In exchange, utilities would be required to shield consumers and businesses from higher electricity rates during that time.”

In the world of practical politics such a deal to get votes of Senators from coal and oil producing states seems shrewd. After all, “we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Only problem is ten more years of unrestricted emissions will boil our biosphere past a couple of more tipping points.

Today’s Washington Post has a story on Edith Childs. Childs, a county councilwoman from rural South Carolina, stepped up to turn around a lackluster Obama rally during last year’s primary with the chant Fired Up!–Ready To Go! After that the somewhat sedate Obama took her to virtually all his campaign events in the state. His victory there was a crucial turning point in vanquishing Hillary Clinton.

But Obama’s First Hundred Days have not been kind to Childs and her constituents. The Post notes,

“On Day 4 of his presidency, the Solutia textile plant laid off 101 workers. On Day 23, the food bank set a record for meals served. On Day 50, the hospital fired 200 employees and warned of further job cuts. On Day 71, the school superintendent called a staff meeting and told his principals: ‘We're losing 10 percent of our budget. That means some of us won't have jobs next year, and the rest should expect job changes and pay cuts.’ On Day 78, the town's newly elected Democratic mayor, whose campaign was inspired partly by his admiration for Obama, summarized Greenwood's accelerating fragility. ‘This is crippling us, and there's no sign of it turning around,’ Welborn Adams said.

“On Day 88, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that South Carolina had set a record for its highest unemployment rate in state history, at 11.4 percent. Greenwood's unemployment is 13 percent -- more than twice what it was when Childs first started chanting.

“‘We have a lot of people who live in cold houses, with no jobs and no food,’ Childs says.”

Edith Childs and Katrina vanden Heuvel may share the same planet but they live in quite different worlds. While the constructive liberals at The Nation optimistically parse White House sound bites our economy and environment are in free fall. 900 days to go? That was how long working people held out during the World War II siege of Leningrad. Let’s hope we too have enough healthy survivors to liberate ourselves and rebuild.

In Brief
¶ We were pleased to see our friend Judy Ancel’s article,
Beyond ‘Buy American’: Sorting Allies and Enemies, in the May issue of Labor Notes. Judy spoke on this topic at the New Crises, New Agendas conference in Kansas City earlier this month. Judy, director of the Institute for Labor Studies at UMKC also makes available a curriculum packet on Economic Nationalism, Buy American and Solidarity.
¶ The Chemical Safety Board, at a public meeting near the site of a fatal explosion at a West Virginia Bayer CropScience plant, gave a preliminary verdict that safety lapses led to a runaway chemical reaction. A separate congressional investigation said the explosion came close to compromising a tank holding methyl isocyanate, or MIC, the chemical that killed thousands in Bhopal, India, when it leaked from a former Union Carbide plant in 1984. Carbide once operated the West Virginia plant, which is now owned by Bayer. Bayer continues to block public release of information under the Maritime Security Act.
¶ Coming up this week: Tuesday,
Workers Memorial Day. Friday, Happy May Day!

Mail Problems
Those of you who receive this column by e-mail may have noticed you didn’t get one last week. We didn’t skip it. The
April 19 Week In Review was posted on three different pages of the kclabor.org website on the evening of April 19. But our e-mail service wouldn’t send it out.

Instead I received a cryptic message saying it couldn’t be sent because it contained spam. The “spam check” feature that gives details repeatedly timed out. Urgent messages to customer support went unanswered–because, as I later learned, there’s no longer humans present on weekends or at night.

Monday morning I got word that all addresses in the kclabor.org domain were being blocked by Spamhaus–the folks who do such a wonderful job in protecting us from spam. I was given a couple of links and wished good luck. Since my IT team was already tied up with other projects, I spent the better part of Monday in a fruitless effort to sort out what had happened. By mid-week, through no fault of my own, the block appeared to have been lifted. If you’re reading this by e-mail apparently we are still saved from the dark side.

A similar incident occurred last fall. At that time it could be attributed to my web server host who temporarily had some major problems with spam gangs. That was quickly fixed. It’s always possible that e-mail addresses can be “harvested” by bad guys from websites, Outlook address books, cc lists on legitimate messages, etc., and used to disguise bogus messages. Needless to say, we don’t send out commercial offers of any kind. Checking the routing headers can confirm such scams don’t originate with us and certainly would not justify blacklisting our whole domain.

Although I have set up an alternative Google group as backup, I am reluctant to switch the lists over. It’s not only a big job entering the names and addresses but inevitably some fall through the cracks. But, if there are any further incidents, I will have to do that. If some day you get a message from me inviting you to join the Google list you’ll know why and I hope you will respond to the necessary “opt in” procedures.

That’s all for this week.

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