Labor Advocate Online

Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
July 30, 2007

Health Briefs
* In yet another confrontation designed to embarrass the White House through provoking a likely veto, kid-friendly Democrats are making a big deal out of SCHIP–a scheme to help states insure children who live in poverty with parents who don’t qualify for Medicaid. The plan offers no help to adults. While public policy discourages smoking as a serious health risk the children’s advocates count on projected revenue from a 61-cent per pack increase in federal cigarette tax to insure poor kids health. This is the centerpiece of congressional health care reform.

* Two veteran’s groups filed a class action suit that charged that the VA health system is being overwhelmed, leading to “shameful failures” in treatment. “Unless systemic and drastic measures are instituted immediately, the costs to these veterans, their families, and our nation will be incalculable, including broken families, a new generation of unemployed and homeless veterans, increases in drug abuse and alcoholism, and crushing burdens on the health care delivery system and other social services in our communities,”said the plaintiffs. The VA acknowledges a backlog of 600,000 claims–a number certain to swell unless adequate resources are allocated soon.

* Some employers aren’t content with demanding just a pound of flesh from their workers. The Los Angeles Times reports on a growing trend to fine employees deemed to be too fat. On the cutting edge is a hospital chain, Clarian Health Partners. Hoping to trim fat from their employee health care costs they dock workers up to thirty dollars every two weeks for exceeding their standards for weight, cholesterol and blood-pressure. Clearly, in their view, these are not innocent health problems but the result of committing the cardinal sin of gluttony, perhaps slovenly as well. Contrition in lost wages is required before the sinners can be absolved. I sure hope Social Security doesn’t adopt the same approach. According to the “guidelines” I should be weighing in at 172 pounds–a scale reading I haven’t seen since I was sweating it out as a catcher in my sophomore year in high school.

* The California Department of Managed Health Care has fined Kaiser Permanente--the largest HMO in the state, with 29 medical centers and more than 6 million members–three million dollars for its haphazard investigations of questionable care, physician performance and patient complaints at its California hospitals.

* Meanwhile HR676, providing for single-payer replacement of the present failed health care system, wallows in House purgatory, not yet enough candles lit to even bring it to committee.

A Distraction
Many people who have faith in the system often react indignantly to outrages by office holders by calling for impeachment. While I would shed few tears for the removal of most elected officials impeachment threats are rarely credible and tend to be distractions from fighting the real crimes and misdemeanors of the Establishment. I found this long-held belief reinforced last week as some good antiwar folks stirred up much publicity–and heated exchanges among the chattering classes–by staging civil disobedience against John Conyers of all people. The reason for their wrath? Conyers, senior Democrat in the House, declined–on grounds he had no support--to introduce impeachment motions in the Judiciary Committee he chairs.

I’m not an attorney for this Detroit Democrat. He’s not in my party. He does talk a good game though. I first heard Conyers in 1964, his first election campaign, when he debated the Socialist Workers Party candidate for president, Clifton DeBerry. Conyers said, “I agree with almost everything Brother DeBerry said here today. The main difference between us is that he’s running as a socialist and will lose while I’m running as a Democrat and will win.” He did win and has continued to do so every two years since. He has over the years introduced progressive legislation such as a bill for a 35-hour work week, and the current single-payer HR676. Unfortunately, because of the party that made him a personal winner, and that he has loyally served, such legislation has yet to go anywhere.

Going after a congressman who opposes the war, and is very much outside the inner circle of the phony opposition, makes no sense. It diverts attention from the crimes going on in Iraq and Afghanistan and gives the harried war makers a little breathing spell. I urge Cindy and Code Pink to put aside this distraction and get back to work on projects such as building the September 15 March On Washington to End the War Now.

We Had Hoped For Better
The headline in the AFL-CIO Blog read, “AFL-CIO Calls for Energy Policy to Fight Global Warming.” Certainly recognizing that global warming is something that should and can be fought is a step forward for the biggest union federation in North America. They have some good points in their new policy paper such as,

“A growing body of scientific evidence has confirmed the environmental challenges posed by global warming. Human use of fossil fuels is undisputedly contributing to global warming, causing rising sea levels, changes in climate patterns and threats to coastal areas. Because of these dangers, the AFL-CIO supports balanced measures to combat global warming.”

But they are still are weighed down by the baggage of “partnership” with the employers, and ultimately futile efforts to preserve jobs that are major contributors to global warming. They oppose “extreme” measures that “would undermine economic growth, harm particular sectors, or placing ourselves at a disadvantage to other nations.” They specifically call for continued use of present fuels, coming down on the side of coal. They emphasize the problem with oil is that so much of it is in insecure foreign locations. They support carbon credit auctions that are “reasonable in scope, and must assure that no sector is disproportionally burdened.”

All of these caveats backslide from the promise of the headline. This “balanced” approach, in line with the mainstream of American capital and narrow focus of too many union officials, could even be used to justify drilling in the Arctic, subsidies for “clean” coal, and trillion dollar rip-offs in carbon trading markets.

Can we imagine such a balanced approach if our nation was being invaded? It’s high time we recognize that’s the level of crisis we face with global warming. There will be extreme measures whether we choose them or not. Our choice is how soon and bold we will act to minimize environmental destruction and also, if we act in time, maintain decent jobs and living conditions for union members and all workers.

As usual, much of the material for this column was taken from stories posted on our Daily Labor News Digest, appearing Monday-Saturday by 7AM Central.

II’m going to be taking some personal time off and the next Week In Review will appear around August 12. 

That’s all for this week.

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