Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
July 21, 2011

Note: Certain strange abbreviations and awkward formulations are necessary to comply with e-mail rules of some ISPs.

Coming To You From the Heat Dome
I can’t recall television weatherpersons ever using the dome term prior to this summer. A huge anti-cyclone has trapped hot, humid air in the central United States for quite some time now generating long stretches of triple-digit (F) temperatures and heat index readings as it moves at a snail’s pace. Its reach has even led to record-breaking heat across much of Canada, contributing to big forest fires.

Kansas City is presently near the center of the Dome but the heat that has claimed the lives of thirteen local residents is certainly not the only extreme challenge we face in these parts. Just a few miles to our north the Missouri River has flooded out a number of small towns along with thousands of acres of farm land and a major rail main line. A big coal-fired Kansas City Power & Light power plant was for a time cut off by flood waters and a nuke plant in Nebraska had to be shut down. A forty-mile stretch of I-29 will likely remain closed for months. Meanwhile, to the south of us, not all of the rubble has yet been cleared from Joplin–hardest hit in a deadly barrage of tornadoes throughout the region.

Extreme weather is a regular story on the evening news shows. While you can learn a lot about anti-cyclones from the experts interviewed you almost never hear the terms “global warming” or “climate change.” That’s like explaining how HIV works without mentioning the AIDS epidemic–or measures that could stop it.

I want to thank my old friend Traven Leyshon for again interviewing me on Equal Time Radio on WDEV up in the temperate rain forest of Vermont. The topic was the recent presentations I made to the KC Labor Forum, Climate Change Has Begun–What Can We Do About It? Interviews are usually later posted online and I will pass on the link when it’s available. Stay cool.

Promise Keepers Turn To Gang
August 2 is still Doomsday. Without a deal pronto, that’s the day when the USA defaults on promised debt obligations, unleashing a cascade of destruction throughout the world’s financial markets. Or so we are told--by those who also warned of “Carmageddon”when the 405 freeway in Los Angeles was closed for road work last weekend. In fact, the real impact of a technical national default is anybody’s guess. It’s uncharted territory.

We do, however, have a fresh domestic example of reneged promises by a smaller government unit. You may recall hearing about the depressed mill town of Central Falls, Rhode Island last year. That’s when the town’s school administrators fired every single teacher after they rejected a longer work day at the same pay. The President and his Education Secretary cheered this union-busting. After much public outrage, the teachers were given a second chance to accept take-backs–which they did.

Central Falls now again rates some attention in the New York Times. In a Wednesday article, City in Rhode Island Asks Retirees to Sacrifice, Abby Goodnough writes,

“Robert G. Flanders Jr., a state-appointed receiver who is trying to right the city’s finances, found himself on the stage at Central Falls High School on Tuesday, asking retirees to help solve ‘a horrible dilemma’ by giving up a significant part of what they had always assumed was untouchable income.... No recipients, including widows of retirees, would see their pensions cut by more than half or to less than 10,000 a year, said Mr. Flanders, a retired Rhode Island Supreme Court justice. The 141 retirees will have to vote on the proposal in the coming weeks, and he pressed them to accept it, saying bankruptcy could lead to ‘even more drastic’ changes.”

Like many state and local employees around the country these former emergency responders were not part of the Social Security system. The promise of better pensions was used by government bosses as justification for keeping wages–and the capacity for individual savings–lower. If the retirees now reject half-a-loaf to sustain their Golden Years they risk losing even crumbs.

It is unlikely that the U.S. government would take such an approach to the Chinese government, or other major holders of national debt. But President Obama, and prominent Senate Democrats such as Gang of Six Dick Durbin from Illinois are targeting the “horrible dilemma” they claim threatens Social Security.

There will be no 8/2 Doomsday. The ruling class in the world’s richest country will not permit the cracked tea pots to indulge themselves by playing what Warren Buffett has described as “Russian Roulette.” The bipartisan Gang of Six and others are working to keep the country’s FICO Score healthy.

At the same time, of course, they will use the fear and confusion around Doomsday to slash even more of the public sector–and promised benefits paid for by dedicated payroll taxes. As has been the case over the past twenty years, it will be Democrats leading the way.

On Monday we posted a link to an excellent article on the Canadian site, The Bullet, by Martin Hart-Landsberg, Professor of Economics and Director of the Political Economy Program at Lewis and Clark College, Portland, Oregon. Entitled The Deficit Battle, it succinctly tells what you need to know not only about the current bad acting in Washington but also its recent historical context. It’s well worth a read.

One of the useful graphics included in the article was a vivid comparison of the ratio of tax increases to cuts in spending in some past major deficit agreements under Reagan, the first Bush, Clinton, and Obama’s initial proposal this time around.

As you can see, supply side hero Reagan used massive tax hikes to correct the short falls created by his previous ill-considered tax cuts. Despite Bush I’s famous “read my lips” pledge, he accepted tax hikes to make up well over a third of his 1990 compromise. Bill Clinton kept his pledge to end Democrat “tax and spend” ways with spending cuts for a full two/thirds of his deficit deals. The Obama plan projected about eighty percent of the deficit reduction would come from cuts in government spending.

While Congress has been going nowhere fast, the President’s disciples have been very busy promoting his crusade on state and local levels. Former White House Chief-of-Staff Rahm Emmanuel, now occupying the Chicago Mayor throne long held by the House of Daley, is kicking butt of those unions reluctant to get with the new austerity program. His latest move was a decree to contract out the city’s curbside recycling as a step toward eliminating all unionized city trash hauling. An arbitrator has ordered Illinois Governor Quinn to pay 30,000 state workers the two percent negotiated raise due July 1 he had denied by fiat. Quinn plans to appeal the grievance award in court. Under threat of massive layoffs, the leaders of New York’s main state employee unions caved in to give-back demands of Working Families Party Governor Cuomo.

A villain in a Len Deighton novel once advised that you could promise a prisoner anything to get their cooperation because they will be in no position to complain later. That’s a good description of promises made to a working class currently held prisoner to the bosses’ two-party rule.

A Line We Don’t Cross
One news source missing from what we post or comment on for the past several months is the Huffington Post. I respect all genuine union picket lines–even electronic ones. In the case of HP I am a member of a union involved–the
National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981. The NWU site explains,

“There has been a strike and boycott against the Huffington Post since last March, led by the Huffington Post Union of Bloggers and Writers (HPUB), the National Writers Union (NWU) and the Newspaper Guild (TNG). Please honor the electronic picket line; don’t post or share articles on the Huffington Post until this is resolved.

“In the short-term, we are trying to win a settlement for the hundreds of journalists who contributed their work for free in order to bring more traffic to this ‘progressive’ blog. These were journalists who worked on assignment, under editors. After establishing a progressive brand and following based on this free labor, Arianna Huffington sold HuffPo to AOL for 315 mln, and landed a 4 mln a year job as content director for AOL.

“She and AOL owe these hundreds of writers, and we are working towards reaching a settlement. But even more important, we want to set a standard for a living wage for all online writers we can take to other content farms, like Demand Media, worth $1.5 billion that pays its 9,000 freelancers a penny-a-word. In the process, and in order to win these demands, we are building a bigger and more powerful NWU.”

Coming Up
Barring unforeseeable developments, next time we’ll look at some important contract bargaining going on or slated soon in both the USA and Canada.

That’s all for this week.

Alliance for Class & Climate Justice

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