Saturday, December 13, 2008

Sure, I Remember

I spoke to one of my sisters back in western PA last week, and she said it was snowing. She asked me if I remember snow. Barely. A storm is coming in tonight here but we get rain and maybe sleet, and on rare occasions, a thirty second snowstorm. Nothing like the above, which I well remember. This photo is by Pittsburgh Post Gazette photographer Bill Wade, and it was taken some years ago fairly close to where my other sister lives. And to where we all grew up. Nothing like the silence in the newly fallen snow. (Before the back tires start screaming all over town.)

Hooverville, D.C.

If you thought yesterday's post was a little over the top, you should read this memo--or "action alert"--circulated to congressional Republicans on Wednesday, confirming that the reason Senate Republicans opposed the funds to prevent a cascade of catastrophe to the U.S. economy, was union-busting, plain and simple.

The motivation in the memo is pure partisan politics. That doesn't mean there isn't more to it as well. For example, 18 Republicans voted against the $14 billion for two automakers, with all kinds of oversight and strings attached, who also voted FOR the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street financial institutions, with no real oversight or strings attached.

And now we learn that the Federal Reserve is refusing to tell the media, even under the Freedom of Information Act, which institutions they gave some TWO TRILLION DOLLARS to.

Interesting that Republicans and Herbert Hoover were linked twice on Friday. A bit weird that it was by a Republican Senator and the current VP, Dick Cheney.

Bush avoided a market meltdown Friday by announcing that the executive branch will find a way to rescue GM and Chrysler, although no plan has yet been announced. GM announced "temporary" plant closings and layoffs. The media finally woke up to the danger all this represents, at least to some extent.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Will We Remember December 11?

Just a few days after the governor of Illinois was arrested for, among other things, intending to sell a U.S. Senate seat, we have seen something even worse: Senate Republicans were willing to put millions of Americans out of work and destroy the economic future of their country because they hate the union movement.

That's the long and the short of it. Because of the intransigence of these few men, the bridge loan to two of the Big Three U.S. car manufacturers that was negotiated by Democrats and the Republican administration, and which the House of Representatives passed, failed to gain the 60 votes in the Senate necessary to proceed on Thursday night, ending this session of Congress. Even though the United Autoworkers union partially capitulated to their extortionate demands.

So if you're reading this Friday morning and wondering why the stock market is falling off a cliff, now you know. About the only thing left to rescue the market and the economy is Secretary of Treasury Paulsen using some of the $350 billion bailout money already voted--with no such objection by Republicans, because the money has been going to big banks and financial institutions, where executives rake in tens of millions in bonuses. There is one report that this is being considered. It had better happen quickly on Friday.

The most active Republican Senators in opposition are from states that host foreign carmakers, with weak or nonexistent unions. Their statements indicating that General Motors and perhaps Chrysler should go into bankruptcy are sheer hypocrisy, as well as delusional. There is no possible chapter 11 for General Motors, financial analysts say, because no bank has the funds to protect them. And when GM goes, so go the others, and so goes the nation. Bankruptcy means liquidation, with devastating consequences, not only to this already devastated economy, but to the future possibilities of recovery.

America needs industrial capacity and skilled industrial workers. America needs unions, especially now, when the few rich have a dangerously high percentage of total wealth, and the working middle class has so little that millions are struggling to survive, even when they have jobs.

But these irresponsible, callous and stupid men are willing to turn a Great Recession into a Great Depression, just in time for Christmas. If allowed to stop this rescue, they will have done more damage to this country than terrorists could even dream of. And December 11, 2008 will be a day that lives in infamy.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Moon Over Mount Olympus

Now we've got one--an excellent photo from this year's conjunction of the Moon, Jupiter and Venus, taken earlier this month by Vangelis Tsintsifas on Mount Olympus in Greece. By now, the Moon is moving towards full (on Friday) and because it's particular close this month, it is particularly big and bright. We had a clear night here Tuesday night and the Moon was gorgeous. Check it out.

It's Always the Top Story

It was supposed to be the Obama story of the day, but something else came up. PE Obama and VPE Joe Biden met with Al Gore, before Gore travels to the climate talks in Poland, and before Obama announces his Cabinet appointments to Energy and Environmental Protection.

In the brief press meet afterwards, Obama reinterated his support for making the Climate Crisis an urgent priority. “"All three of us are in agreement that the time for delay is over, the time for denial is over. We all believe what the scientists have been telling us for years now, that this is a matter of urgency and national security, and it has to be dealt with in a serious way,” Mr. Obama said. “That is what I intend my administration to do.”

But nobody paid much attention to this, because something else came up. And something else always does. That's a major problem for confronting this crisis with the breadth and depth and intensity it requires. Speaking of Mr. Obama, pre-eminent U.S. Climate Crisis scientist (and second only to Gore as the chief target of the Climate Crisis deniers) James Hansen wrote recently, "The challenge he faces is unprecedented. I refer not to the inherited economic morass, as threatening as it is. The human toll due to past failures and excesses may prove to be great, yet economic recessions, even depressions, come and go. Now our planet itself is in peril. Not simply the Earth, but the fate of all its species, including humanity. The situation calls not for hand-wringing, but rather informed action."

That puts it in perspective, but it is this perspective that is most difficult to attain and hold. It's too big, too outside everyday life, everyday issues, and the kinds of things we're used to chattering with our media enablers. So there's always something else.

Perhaps the good news is that there are other reasons for doing many of the things we need to do to address the Climate Crisis--reasons and actions perhaps easier to grasp and build support for. Like building a green economy, including fuel-efficient and alternative fuel vehicles, a more efficient and greener electrical grid. Or smaller scale changes that add up--weatherizing, redesigning, replacing wasteful technologies. All of these are already proposed are parts of the Obama economic recovery.

Al Gore endorsed this approach in an oped last month: "Here is the good news: the bold steps that are needed to solve the climate crisis are exactly the same steps that ought to be taken in order to solve the economic crisis and the energy security crisis. "

These efforts will change more than the economy. They may begin the kind of changes we need to make to respond to what's here as well as what's coming. Our communities as well as our nation will change. That's inevitable. But now we have a chance to change constructively instead of reacting with fear.

Part of the economic change we need--addressing the needs of the poor and middle class as well as the desires of the rich--must also be part of how we address the Climate Crisis and related environmental issues.

One of those calling for change on this basis is Oakland, CA activist and lawyer Van Jones. I've been meaning to blog on this interview in Sentient Times since it came out in August, but...there was always something else. In this interview--worth reading in its entirety--Jones identifies the social and racial aspect of the problem, as what he calls "eco-apartheid":

“Eco-apartheid” is a situation in which you have ecological haves and have-nots. In other words, if you are in the San Francisco Bay Area, and you visit Marin County, you’ll find hybrid vehicles, solar panels, organic food, organic everything. If you then get in your car and drive twenty minutes, you’ll be in west Oakland, where people are literally choking on the fumes of the last century’s pollution-based technologies. That’s eco-apartheid, and it’s morally wrong, because we should deliver clean jobs and health benefits not just to the wealthy, but also to the people who need them most. Eco-apartheid doesn’t work on a practical level either, because you can’t have a sustainable economy when only 20 percent of the people can afford to pay for hybrids, solar panels, and organic cuisine, while the other 80 percent are still driving pollution-based vehicles to the same pollution-based jobs and struggling to make purchases at Wal-Mart."

Other activists--particularly Native American activists, pointing to the preponderance of toxic waste dumps and other dangerous sites on tribal lands--have long raised the issues of environmental justice. But Jones is adding a very practical addenda, another spin to Obama's contention that we need a society where the wealth is more evenly distributed: without that, we won't get to a greener country, or to adequately addressing the Climate Crisis:

"For the sustainable economy to be successful, it has to be a full-participation economy. Right now it is a niche economy, a lifestyle economy... It is easy for the eco-elites in Massachusetts or northern California to wrap themselves in the trappings of sustainability and think that the problem has been solved, but the people who clean their houses are going back to neighborhoods that may be fifty years in the past in terms of their ecological sustainability. As we move toward a sustainable economy, if we do not take care to minimize the pain and maximize the gain for the poor, they will join forces with the polluters to derail the green revolution..."

All this is only part of what needs to be done. Bill McKibben outlines some other general areas, such as some kind of carbon tax, and American support--American leadership-- for international Climate Crisis measures. (McKibben argues elsewhere that the solution Tom Friedman suggests in his latest best seller won't work--that America leads by the example of its own green economy which other nations will emulate-- because there just isn't time for it to work. Everybody has to get at this now or it will be too late.)

We can make progress addressing the Climate Crisis incrementally by a kind of "plus" philosophy: i.e. the green economy is good for the economy, for the middle class, for energy independence, plus it helps save the planet. Or as Obama said Tuesday: “We have the opportunity now to create jobs all across this country, to re-power America, to redesign how we use energy, to think about how we are increasing efficiency, to make our economy stronger, make us more safe, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and make us competitive for decades to come, even as we are saving the planet.”

We can make progress saving the planet by doing something else. But we're also going to have to take actions because they address the Climate Crisis that confronts the world, and that inevitably means taking actions with the world.

All of us will be forced to confront Climate Crisis realities sooner or later. And when that time comes, we will be talking about nothing else. Way before then we'd best understand that local CC problems have global causes. The planet: it's always the top story.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Two Faces of the Economy

While Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain demanded a $10 million bonus--count'em, John, that's ten big ones--for doing his bit in the financial meltdown which his company survived with federal bailout millions, these Chicago workers are living in their abandoned factory to get the money they're owed, amounting to a crucial few thousands. See post below. Thain photo from Business Week; workers from NY Times.

Class Warfare

"It's class warfare!" Such has been the right wing/Wall St. Republican chant, the battle cry which in the 08 campaign became the bleat. Sheer cynicism for the party of projection, as they waged pitiless class warfare against the poor and the middle class since the 1980s.

Now Barack Obama has won the argument: that historically, everyone does better when everyone does better--the rich prosper in a more sustainable fashion when the middle class is big and strong. But Obama isn't President yet, and class warfare is flaring.

It's gone underground with Bush's burrowing of ideologues in the federal government, and in his last pathetic power grab, his imposing of anti-union bias and other aggressions against workers in the Big Three bridge loans, perhaps including his own appointment of a "car czar" to micro-manage federal involvement regardless of what the Obama administration wants to do.

But it's way out in the open in two news stories. On the one hand, there's Merrill Lynch chief executive John Thain, who didn't let his company's failure softened by federal bailout millions stop him from asking for a $10 million bonus for himself. When the request became public, the firm's compensation committee reportedly denied it.

On the other hand there's the Chicago employees of Republic Windows and Doors whose money was stolen by their company when it suddenly closed the factory. They are union employees, and they refused to be dissed. They occupied the factory, and spread the word. These things don't always attract attention, but this one did:

Chicago workers in the third day of a sit-in on the floor of their former workplace peered through the windows of a door Sunday, amazed by a mix of supporters, politicians and journalists who packed a foyer outside.

"We never expected this," said Melvin Maclin, a factory employee and vice president of the local union that represents the workers. "We expected to go to jail."

The 200 workers demanding severance and vacation pay have become a national symbol for thousands of employees laid off nationwide as the economy continues to sour. They occupied the plant of their former employer, Republic Windows and Doors, after the company abruptly fired them last week. "

Chicago has rallied to their side--and this time they've got an additional warrior. When asked about it at a press conference Sunday, PE Barack Obama said : “The workers who are asking for the benefits and payments that they have earned... I think they’re absolutely right, and understand that what’s happening to them is reflective of what’s happening across this economy.”

Union, company and bank officials met Monday and will meet again Tuesday to resolve the Chicago situation. But it needs more than a symbolic victory. Class warfare against the working class and the middle class must end.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Going Forward Together

On December 7, 1941, elements of the Japanese military attacked U.S. ships at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. At the request of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the U.S. declared war the next day, effectively entering World War II around the world. One internal consequence was the imprisonment of some Japanese American families in internment camps.

Sixty-seven years later, today, December 7, 2008, President-Elect Barack Obama will appoint U.S. General Eric Shinseki as Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Shinseki is Japanese American. He is the first Obama appointee of cabinet rank to be of Asian descent. Both he and the President-elect who appointed him were born in Hawaii.

He will be responsible for U.S. military veterans. His numerous charges with the most pressing problems are veterans of Iraq. Shinseki is best known as the General who told Rumsfeld and other Bushites that they would need far more troops for a far longer time than they had planned to take and hold Iraq. For that he was fired.

And among his charges are a very small number of veterans of World War II.

Is this a great country or what? The land of reconciliation, as well as irony. And of looking forward.