Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
May 24, 2009

Memorial Day
In the USA tomorrow is Memorial Day, one of those holidays now structured to give a three-day weekend. While it has come to mark the launch of summer travel and outdoor recreation, Memorial Day was first observed in 1868 by a veteran’s group decorating the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers in Arlington Cemetery. By 1890 it became an official holiday in all but the former Confederate states. The Jim Crow regimes in the south had their own day just for honoring the dead of the defeated army. Only after World War I gave new dead in a common conflict did Memorial Day become truly national in character—though several southern states still have a separate decoration day for Confederate dead.

Unfortunately, since the so-called War on Terror was launched in 2001 there has been a steady stream of new American dead and, of course, many more killed by U.S. forces in Asia.

It’s appropriate to remember all the victims of all the wars tomorrow. It’s also a time to reflect on the problems of the surviving veterans, from the Vietnam era down to today’s deployments. Tens of thousands of them suffered physical wounds, nearly all are emotionally scarred, and many face economic hardship as well.

It’s even more important to try to save the living from the wars that continue, and the credible threats of future ones. And our sense of solidarity must also extend to the working people of other lands who suffer because of U.S. war and occupation that is part and parcel of the corporate agenda for world domination

More GIs died along with many Iraqis this past week. That war is far from over.

More GIs were killed, along with many Afghans this past week. That war is escalating.

U.S. drones killed Pakistanis this past week and the Swat offensive, carried out by Pakistan’s army under direction by the Pentagon, is killing untold numbers and has created two million refugees. Expect more of the same there.

There’s a new commander-in-chief in charge but the same imperial policies of his predecessor remain. He assured this continuity by retaining Bush’s Secretary of Defense. This past week the Democrat House, by a 368-60 margin, approved the new President’s request for 96.7 billion just to top off the war machine in Iraq and Afghanistan until the next regular budget cycle.

Until we organize to stop this war drive that is solely in the interest of Big Business these actions will insure fresh dead for future Memorial Days. Wishing or praying for peace will not make it so–we will have to fight for it.

No More Free Rides
I used to think I was a model credit card customer. Every due date I pay my balance off in full. Last check of my FICO score had me at 831. The card company collects a fee from the merchants I do business with–mainly Brookside Market and various filling stations–but occasional online shopping, airline and hotel bills as well. But it appears my days as a credit card holder are numbered. An AP story shows what Chase really thinks of me,

“The free ride is likely to end for many who use their credit cards as a convenience and pay off their balances in full every month. Squeezed by the economy and further by this [new credit card ‘reform’] law, banks will now target people who have avoided paying an interest charge or an annual fee.... Expect to pay at least $50 to $100 a year.”

But even that may not be sufficient retribution against us “free riders,”

“Trying to make up for lost revenue, banks are considering charging interest from the date of a purchase instead of allowing a grace period, now typically 20 to 25 days.”

I expect to pay neither an annual fee nor instant interest. If this fee gouging comes as predicted I will take scissors to plastic. I survived thirty some years before bank credit cards became widely available and I can spend my golden years without one as well.

But most working class Americans are not in a position to rip up rip-off cards. Too often those cards are their last shaky line of defense against poverty. They will have to accept whatever the banks--bailed out with our tax dollars--decide to impose.

The “reforms” in the new law don’t amount to a hill of bubkus and don’t take effect until next year. (One part of the bill kicks in immediately, however–you can now feel free to carry concealed firearms in our national parks and wild life refuges.) The banks have plenty of time to adjust and plenty of excuses for taking immediate action on new fees, raising interest rates, etc.

As if we needed any, here’s another example of why we should really nationalize the banks and other financial institutions and run them in the public interest.

A Glimpse At Our Side
So-called public television of PBS maintains its facade of impartial fairness primarily by offering Bill Moyers Journal. Moyers has earned an impeccable reputation as a journalist, is semi-retired with no career ambitions, and is not afraid to take on the tough issues. The major broadcast networks treat single-payer like it was one of those phrases that can get you shut down by the FCC if uttered unbleeped. But last Friday Moyers returned to the topic by interviewing some who have been ruled verboten by Senator Baucus–Donna Smith, whose personal health care story was documented by Michael Moore in SiCKO, now serving as a legislative advocate for the California Nurses Association; Dr. David Himmelstein, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Plan; and Sidney Wolfe, MD, acting President of Public Citizen and director of it's Health Research Group.

I would especially recommend this show to those unionists–including, regrettably, my good friends at the UE–who have supported single-payer but now see salvaging Obama’s “public option” as the task of the day.

The public option is in fact a shapeless concept about which little is known. Forced to speculate, Dr Himmelstein made a convincing case that any such option would become a dumping ground for the sick and the poor that the insurance robber barons don’t want.

Nor would any public insurance segment lead to the kind of cost savings that single-payer would realize. Hospitals and doctors would still have to maintain huge bureaucracies to deal with their privately insured patients. Privatization of Medicare billing now in place, along with the Medicare Advantage private plans living off Part B, are among the principal reasons public Medicare is rapidly being drained dry.

Moyers’ guests were right on the money with their well-reasoned insistence that universal, quality healthcare is incompatible with for profit insurance companies.

Smith argued that healthcare was really a question of human rights. Like all past successful human rights movements single-payer supporters are beginning to see the need for demonstrations and civil disobedience as part of the strategy needed to win.

In addition to the discussion with these single-payer advocates Moyers showed some interesting film clips. One was of state senator Obama a few years back telling a union gathering he was in favor of single-payer. But he cautioned this could only become a serious option if the Democrats won the White House and both houses of congress. In a more recent clip, after he had been elected President, and the Democrats had won both houses of congress, Obama answered a question about single-payer with the explanation it would be just too disruptive in America where we have deeply rooted employer provided private insurance. If you missed the show you can view it online by clicking here. To see a short YouTube video of CNA actions at the Capitol click here.

In Brief...
¶ On Thursday, the UAW announced a tentative agreement with General Motors. Less than 24 hours later the Canadian Auto Workers closed a deal with GM Canada. Both were imposed by the White House, with the help of the Canadian and Ontario governments putting “a cannon to the head” of the CAW. So far no details of the UAW contract have been publicly disclosed. The Detroit press even turned to “troublemakers” in hope of some tidbits. I was pleased to see a photo featuring two old UAW friends, Dianne Feeley and Larry Christensen, on the Detroit News site along with mention of UAW Local 1700 President Bill Parker calling a meeting to discuss plans to save a Sterling Heights plant. More next week.
¶ Apparently California is not too big to fail. The Los Angeles Times reported, “California needs to solve its financial crisis by itself and should not expect an emergency bailout from the White House, an array of Obama administration officials said Thursday, making clear they had no appetite to step in and provide financial assistance or loan guarantees.” By some estimates the state will run out of money by July.
¶ When veteran corporate campaigner Ray Rogers, appearing on behalf of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, tried to raise a point-of-order at an RJ Reynolds shareholders meeting he was not only gaveled out of order; off duty police hired by Reynolds wrestled Rogers to the floor, handcuffed him, carried him out and charged him with trespassing. Wonder if Max Baucus was around?
¶ US Energy Secretary Steven Chu says the US will not be able to cut greenhouse emissions as much as it should due to domestic political opposition. The Nobel Laurent physicist told BBC he feared the world might be heading towards a tipping point on climate change.

We’ll be observing the holiday Monday. Our next update of the Daily Labor News Digest will be Tuesday, May 26.

That’s all for this week.

Next Troublemakers School--Bay Area--May 30

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