Unions, Politics and the Press

Posted February 28, 2011 on 3:37 pm | In the category Collective Bargaining, Economy, Politics, Press, U.S. Domestic Policy, Wisconsin Governor | by Jeff

Oligarchy: a form of government in which all power is vested in a few persons or in a dominant class or clique; government by the few.

The moves by Republican governors to eliminate collective bargaining rights by public employee unions represent an attack on what had become a basic human right and goes far beyond any attempt to address states’ deficits. Issues related to costs of pensions and health insurance have been successfully addressed by some cities and states via negotiations; the new strategy of simply eliminating unions’ bargaining rights is a callous affront to the public employees who teach our  children, patrol our streets, fight our fires, treat the mentally ill, etc. The fact that corporate America is running away from providing health insurance and pensions does not make it right.

America’s financial elites managed to take the country to  the  edge of the abyss and then feathered their nests with taxpayer bailouts to save the country from the results of their near criminal behavior.  Add to that the idiocy of choosing an unnecessary war that will cost the country upwards of $3 trillion (according to Nobel prize economist Joseph Stiglitz) and we have the need to find a scapegoat. Could it be that it is the thieves and cheats of corporate America? the “too big to fail” investment banks? the bailed out auto executives? the hedge fund manipulators? the mortgage crooks? No. It is determined in Wisconsin and Indiana and New Jersey and throughout the country that it is the teachers, the school custodians, the librarians, the police and  firefighters, the mental health workers, the hospital scrubbers, the prison guards, the snow plowers, the bus drivers, etc.   They are the unionized public workers with living wages, health care benefits and pensions. They are the ones to punish for having gained those benefits in honest, open negotiations.  Welcome to the new America – the country run increasingly by big money, Ayn Rand greed and – alas – a major dose of ignorance fostered by a weak or complicit press, a  simple-minded tea party and a fully aware, manipulative Republican party leadership.

And just where is the press in all of this? In an apparent intent to present divergent views, it too frequently ends up a tool for information manipulators, promulgating, for instance, the big lie of the Wisconsin governor that unions are responsible for the deficit and that they have some mysterious power to bring the state to its knees. The fact that the Wisconsin unions have offered to make the concessions asked for by the governor has gotten lost in the lack of honest coverage of the governor’s plan to cripple unions as a reward to his corporate sponsors.

Whether workers are entitled to paid vacations, health insurance, retirement pay, paid sick leave etc. are issues of concern to all workers – unionized or not – but having the right to negotiate for those benefits is a human right that needs to be defended.

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Where you want to live – – the Commonwealth by Jove

Posted February 23, 2011 on 3:59 pm | In the category Canada, Europe, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

The British magazine The Economist has come out with its annual ranking of most livable cities, and the results, controversial though they may be in the particulars, do indicate in their overall findings a remapping of the desired urban world which would have seemed frivolous only a decade ago. For the fifth straight year, Vancouver is ranked first, which is no surprise. But that 3 of the first 5 cities are in Canada – Toronto (4) and Calgary (5) join Vancouver in this group – and that 7 of the first 10 – Melbourne (2) , Sydney (7), Perth (8), Adelaide (9) and Auckland (10)- are from the British Commonwealth must give the Brits a rare sense of pride in the old colonial empire and the feeling that it did bear some fruit. After all, London itself is only ranked in the mid 50s, just after New York, and only 2 European cities – Vienna (3) and Helsinki (6) make the top ten. In its analysis of this surprising shifting pattern of livability, the Economist find a common denominator: the most livable cities are mid-sized and in wealthy countries with a low population density – Canada and Australia -and are splendidly situated, usually on the coast.

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American House: How Low Can It Go?

Posted February 20, 2011 on 1:35 pm | In the category Economy, Obama, Politics, Republican Party, Tea Party, U.S. Domestic Policy | by Jeff

When Americans went to the polls last November did the majority really vote for a decline in their quality of life? It would seem so as we see what their elected representatives in the House are choosing to eliminate or reduce. The initial attack in the House of Representatives targets virtually every nominally progressive program subject to discretionary funding. It attacks support for health programs, environmental programs (many also related to the health of Americans), arts and humanities programs, nutrition programs for pregnant women and infants, food supply regulation, student loan programs, clean water programs, public radio and tv and etc. etc. etc. The list goes on and will most likely enter many peoples’ consciousness only when they get a dose of salmonella, or have to drop out of college, or develop asthma, or have to rely on Fox and CNN for their TV news and analysis.

This opening shot is a sample of what seems likely to come. The scorched earth Republicans and Tea Partiers are intent on finishing the job – started during the Reagan years – of increasing income inequality in America, and reducing opportunities for those at the low end of the income ladder to climb out of lives characterized by inadequate educational opportunities for their children, over-priced and inadequate healthcare, and a public life devoid of art and culture.

The driving abstraction for these efforts is the “deficit”, and the Democrats (including President Obama) have joined with much of the national media and press in allowing the Republicans to determine that as the field of battle.  While many Republicans are not actually serious about reducing the deficit (witness their unwillingness to eliminate the Bush tax reduction for the richest 5% of Americans) they are dead serious about eliminating or seriously damaging virtually any program intended to improve the quality of life for all Americans.  The current budget reductions are a spit in the ocean of the deficit but even so those reductions will retard the economic recovery thus reducing tax revenue further and thus adding to the deficit. So be it for rational thought from this crew.

Lost in all the Republicans’ blather is the reality that the deficit grew enormously under Bush due to the bizarre choice of war in Iraq, the Bush tax reductions, and the costly Bush prescription drug program, which turned out to be a gift to the drug companies. So we face a future of declining quality of life while the people who created much of the deficit AND the people who destroyed a healthy economy through near criminal mortgage and hedge fund frauds continue to work their black magic.

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Belgium breaks the world record

Posted February 18, 2011 on 2:54 am | In the category Europe | by Mackenzie Brothers

Little Belgium, host of the parliament of big Europe, has set a new world record that may be hard to equal in the foreseeable future. For 250 days it has continued to muddle through without a functioning government. For many decades the mystery has been why the country exists at all since, as Der Spiegel so delicately put it, only three things have held it together: the national football team, beer and the king. And now the football team is third-class, the beer is a globalized brew and the king, like all European kings and/or queens, is quaintly irrelevant. So why should the French-speaking Walloons and the Dutch-speaking Flems be forced into a union that neither of them seems to want?

Nobody seems to know the answer to that, and the proof of dysfunctionality is that democracy has led to a parliament full of parties so antagonistic to each other, largely on linguistic grounds, that no coalition government can be formed or even imagined these days. Bilingual countries like Canada should be taking notes furiously in an attempt to avoid a similar fate. But wait, something extraordinary seems to be happening in Belgium. Without a government, things are running much more smoothly that it did with a government. It turns out that civil servants carry out the necessary work very well without bellowing politicians to bother them.

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