Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
August 10, 2009

I Would Have Sent A Different Message
It’s become increasingly painful to watch the televised collapse of the Kansas City Royals. Still, if you’re a loyal fan you should, like old-style marriage vows, stick with your team for better or worse, etc.

But Saturday night even my pathetic loyalty reached its limit even though the home team went on to give the Oakland Athletics the beating they so richly deserved. The deal breaker for me was that this game intended for recreational diversion was merely the stage for a nearly four-hour long pro-war rally complete with two-way hook ups to Afghanistan and fly-overs by Blackhawk helicopters. The theme was support our heroes on the front lines for us, and families back home were given the chance to send messages live over global TV.

While there’s nothing heroic about the military objectives in Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Iraq, I do care deeply about the men and women in uniform in harm’s way in those places. Had the gung-ho Fox Sports commentators asked me to send a message to the GIs it would have been–we’re working to bring each and every one of you home where you belong, right now. But there were no such views expressed at the Kauffman Stadium war rally.

There was little mention there of the “heroic” Operation Iraqi Freedom that is supposed to be winding down. Last week a well respected scholar, Sabah al-Baghdadi, released a devastating analysis of official statistics demonstrating the lasting impact of this ongoing war. Just a few highlights:

• One million widowed Iraqi women.
• Four million orphaned Iraqi children.
• 800,000 “disappeared.”
• More than 40 percent under the poverty line.
• While there were little more than 100 cases of AIDS at the time of the invasion today there are 76,000.

Transparency and accountability are buzz words de jure but the real goals and results of the Bush/Obama wars receive scant mass media attention--other than staged spectacles now tainting even our national pastime. We need to do something about that.

A modest step in rebuilding a movement to bring our GIs home took place at a conference in Pittsburgh in July. This October will include the eighth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and the seventh anniversary of bipartisan congressional authorization of the Iraq war. Among the actions called for by the National Assembly was to “designate October 17 as a day for mass rallies, marches, coordinated local and regional demonstrations and other forms of protest with unequivocal antiwar demands.” US Labor Against the War has endorsed this effort. In Kansas City we are beginning to rebuild KCLAW and will work to put together some kind of event on 10/17.

USLAW is also organizing a presence at the September AFL-CIO convention, hoping to put that body on record against the war in Afghanistan as well as Iraq.

And, while we’re at it, let’s get the war drive out of baseball as well.

Health Care I
Back in June, President Obama announced the drug industry, organized under the acronym PhRMA, had agreed to contribute 80 billion over 10 years to the cost of the health care overhaul. Not then announced, but recently acknowledged, Obama gave a pro to their quid by agreeing to continue the ban on Medicare negotiating prescription prices, or any other additional changes in drug status quo.

Imitating the police prefect in Casablanca, liberal Democrats, dickering to slightly reduce the infamous “doughnut hole” in Medicare-sanctioned prescription coverage, expressed shock when the White House admitted this would be verboten under the agreement with Big Pharma. But defusing such quarrels are why the commander-in-chief gets the big bucks.

And it will be big bucks indeed according to the Sunday New York Times. If their deal holds, PhRMA is prepared to spend more on advertising in support of Obama’s health care “reform” than John McCain spent on his entire presidential campaign. They have already spent many millions through front groups such as Healthy Economy Now, and Families USA. These “advocacy coalitions” embrace groups such as SEIU, and AARP, to give cover to the health insurance and drug robber barons running the show.

‘Health Care’ II
The media has given big play to those using shout and spout tactics to disrupt, even shut down congressional “town halls” about health care. A few weeks earlier, many of these same verbal storm troopers rallied around the theme that President Obama should be removed from office because he was born in Kenya. (BTW, his principal electoral opponent was born in Panama.)

The Kenya story, promoted by slurring heads on various cable networks, is an outright lie, well refuted. Most of the latest outrageous charges by trash talk radio agitators--such as Rush Limbaugh, who has compared Obama’s health care plan to “Hitler’s socialized medicine” [?!]-- are just as deceitful. A former Speaker of the House has warned the plan promotes euthanasia. Former Alaska governor and GOP Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin, follows up on Gingrich’s theme by branding the Obama plan “evil,” for imposing a “death panel” to decide who must die.

Though their names are familiar, Limbaugh, Gingrich, and Palin don’t represent the top echelons of the American ruling class--who are currently quite pleased with the Obama administration, as well they should be. The mighty mouths’ base includes a rag tag assortment of anti-tax, anti-government strip mall capitalists serving “Tea Parties” out of cracked pots; anti-immigrant vigilantes; the various survivalists watching for unmarked black helicopters; and, not at all amusing, religious fanatics praising the Lord while loading their ammunition and stalking targets. They are the vanguard cadres of a home grown fascist movement.

Successful fascist movements in the past, such as in Italy and Germany between the World Wars, gained power only when society completely broke down and mass working class parties were unable to resolve the crisis. Fascism is not the first choice of the bosses and bankers who much prefer the present set-up of voluntary submission to their authority by the working class majority. Turning to the fascists is like paying the Mob for “protection.” They are far from needing protection today.

But even when not immediately required, the Establishment keeps the potential for fascism alive in the wings just in case. Limbaugh, Gingrich, and Palin are trying to demonstrate they can call out troops at a twit’s notice and are worthy of financial backing by the powers-that-be and respectability by the media. Our mirror opposite, they too are confident their day will come.

It would be a mistake to exaggerate the current threat of fascism. But neither can we afford to just laugh them off or try to avoid them. We should reaffirm, in no uncertain terms, that denying free speech by breaking up meetings is unacceptable in a democracy. Picketing gatherings and handing out leaflets with opposing views should also be protected free speech. But nobody has the right to silence opponents through violence and disruption. And that includes not only the proto-fascists but sectarian leftists who try to trash other’s meetings, and the SEIU thugs who attacked the last Labor Notes conference, as well.

Of course, Obama and his allies don’t come to this fight with completely clean hands either. They don’t have to summon followers by Twitter to silence their opponents; they use the power of government they control to arrest single-payer activists who object to being excluded from “civil conversation.”

Democracy is a working class issue. The Bill of Rights was only added as amendments to our Constitution after a threat of a new uprising by working people against our “Founding Fathers.” We have nothing to lose and everything to gain from a free exchange of all ideas. We dare not fail to defend this right. Messing with us should be far from a tea party.

Negative Externality
A Harvard professor opened an opinion piece in the New York Times,

“During the presidential campaign of 2008, Barack Obama distinguished himself on the economics of climate change, speaking far more sensibly about the issue than most of his rivals. Unfortunately, now that he is president, Mr. Obama may sign a climate bill that falls far short of his aspirations. Indeed, the legislation making its way to his desk could well be worse than nothing at all.”

I would agree with half of N. Gregory Mankiw’s pronouncement–the present climate legislation is worse than nothing at all. He goes on to do an admirable job in exposing the scam of cap-and-trade. But, he soon drifts from dealing with climate science back to the “dismal science” he teaches–market economics.

“Emitting carbon is what economists call a ‘negative externality’— an adverse side effect of certain market activities on bystanders. The textbook solution for dealing with negative externalities is to use the tax system to align private incentives with social costs and benefits.... A carbon tax is the remedy for climate change that wins overwhelming support among economists and policy wonks.”

So instead of the invisible hand of the market we should rely on the stealthy hand of taxation to save our biosphere. I guess this would work the same way that steep taxes on booze and tobacco have turned us in to a nonsmoking nation of teetotalers.

But carbon emissions, while negative, are hardly mere side effects of market activities. They are central to present economic production in the world today. Making them more expensive is not an acceptable substitute for replacing carbon driven production methods with available clean, renewable energy sources. This nonclassic approach, which is really our only hope for preserving human civilization, will undoubtedly eliminate many “private incentives” in order for society to survive. That is why it is overwhelmingly rejected by Ivy League economists and wonks.

There are textbooks other than the “classic” ones written by Professor Mankiw & Co. that deal with this relatively recent intersection of economic and climate crises. And more are coming from people like John Bellamy Foster and Ian Angus. They deserve our attention and action.

Where Do You Get Your News?
Most of what we write about in the Week In Review is based on material in articles we posted on the
Daily Labor News Digest. But there’s always much more in the Digest than we have space to deal with once a week. Unfortunately, while the e-mail list for the WIR has steadily grown, visits to the News page remain disappointingly low. Since posting the news is by far our most labor intensive project we really need to raise our readership to justify continuing it.

I urge you to give us a trial for a week. Like any newspaper, you probably will not read every one of the 50-75 articles typically posted but you should find lots of useful material about the labor, environmental, and antiwar movements, as well as the big issues of concern to the working class on a global scale. It’s always on, free of charge, updated by 7AM Central, Monday-Friday.

That’s all for this week

KC Labor Home Daily Labor News Digest Past Weeks In ReviewSign Up For E-Mail List

Site Meter