Saturday, February 26, 2011

Structural Crises and Union Busting

A very good friend of mine retired as a high school teacher at age 55, and lives on a pension/social security income that amounts to pre-tax around $55,000/yr. He taught for thirty or so years. Did he earn it? Sure. He's a brilliant and highly responsible man. He worked hard for his pension. But, writ large, unless we start to take back some of the massive amounts of money given the rich via tax breaks, he and his fellow retirees, including another very good friend of many years, are bankrupting us. Not he, but the great changes in the structure of the American economy, are to blame. Given falling rates of profit and the increasingly disproportionate distributions of income that are starving the middling and lower classes while enriching those at the top, moneys to the state funds are not keeping pace with locked in state pension and other outflows of money. The chief crisis hitting states, especially NJ, is tied up with state employee benefits, be they to present employees or pension/medical to those retired. (See, by the way, Matt Bai's article on Chris Christie in February 27, 2011New York Times Magazine. The article is quite supportive of Christie's complaints of union superpower. But take a look as well at the chart comparing state crises across the country. NJ is in real trouble. But look at Wisconsin!)

Anyway, the issue is structural, and requires a massive alteration in the way state administrations and employees do business. But union busting is not the way to go. First, of course, collective bargaining is a right.It ensures that employees, e.g., teachers like my friend, be decently remunerated; it protects them from arbitrary and capricious treatment by superiors; it protects workers from onerous working conditions, either by ensuring against them or, should something arise, via grievance machinery.

On the other hand, something may have to be done to ensure a separation between union funds and funding legislative and gubernatorial candidates so that elections are virtually bought.. But that must be true for corporate an other such funding. A new McCain-Feingold law? I know that's anathema to the conservative US Supreme Court majority, but it may be a way out. Let's remain with teachers and educational policy: I am the first, having watched the horrible decline of college preparedness of freshmen from 1965, when I started to teach at the college level, to now, 2011, to argue for a radical curricular reform, including more mathematics; more, and earlier, foreign language instruction; more reading, and of whole books; geography; social science, including political science, and history. Why have we a crisis in education? Who is to blame? First, the parents, who don't read and don't encourage their kids to read. And second, anti-scientific authoritarian and secular interest groups that have inordinate power to push their agendas. And next, the sclerosis caused by those in the Educational Establishment who are in charge of the curricula. Busting up the power of those interest groups and intransigent forces would be most salutary. But I would never suggest that those interest groups, or educational administrators associations or teachers unions be broken up. A strong governor could really set in motion great reforms. And he or she can accomplish much without destroying rights of workers that have a pedigree going back to 1932 Norris-LaGuardia and the NLRA. One need not be retrograde and reactionary to create real reform and to overcome a structural financial crisis. That's what statesmanship is all about.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Real Logic Behind Union Busting

The union busting drive that is underway in Wisconsin and elsewhere has an overarching goal: the redistribution of income to those in the $300,000 - $350,000,000+income classes.

The goal is realized in a number of ways: lowering corporate tax rates while raising middle and lower worker tax rates with cries of 'we must all shoulder the burden"; union busting which of course brings down incomes of public sector teachers, social workers, and as well those of private sector service workers; and the effect of layoffs: an abundance of dis-employed workers enters the job market, thereby "disciplining," that is, frightening those lucky enough to have jobs with layoffs for any infraction of employer demands . Disemployment of state workers means as well, cuts in social services to those in the various working classes: these cuts lower middling and lower class social wages and thus disposable incomes. The redistributions of incomes and wealth from lower and middling to the top will now run unabated. Expect to see privatization of social security programs back on the table. Tea party members and their sympathizers who are tired of "government on their backs," who want to "return to the Constitution as originally intended" etc., are either gainers from this overarching program or are duped ignoramuses. The birther movement is, of course, a convenient ally: it doesn't take much Freud to understand that worries about Obama's birthplace are really outrage at Obama's birthrace. These "worries" only delegitimate liberal-New Deal values, and ensure that banking deregulation and other policies that make for a better "business climate" (read: that redistribute incomes and wealth upward) are forthcoming. .

This is the America we are moving into as the overall long term rates of profit are falling; as key investment decisions are moving from the NYSE to Hong Kong, Singapore, and elsewhere (while the NYSE itself becomes a German subsidiary and an extension of German financial power, even as the German-led EU fades with the US); as the yen becomes a chief global currency. (See current stories in the Wall Street Journal).(Just wait until Chinese naval ships begin to patrol oil shipping lanes in Persian Gulf and Somalian waters, or Chinese military forces sett up camp in Central Asia to ensure pipeline security from the Caspian Sea to China, etc. As these signs of the diminution of American hegemony become apparent; as the squeeze on profits here accelerate while they climb in China, and we can expect some real jingoist warmongering with demands for new military spending requiring patriotic "belt tightening" by ... guess whom?

The scramble is on for the dollars earned and/or still coming here, and GOP strategy is to ensure that those dollars are heading to those at the top. The logic is there: all that is needed are a new breed of Cato Institute/Murdoch/Koch Bros. et. al.inspired politicos like Scott Walker, Mitch Daniels and Chris Christie, to put these policies into effect, and the goal is within reach. Scapegoating the unions is a first, and very major, opening round attack.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Truth about Al Gore and the Internet

Since 2000, Al Gore has been maliciously maligned by many in the Republican Party and the media for supposedly claiming that he invented the internet. He never claimed such. What he claimed was that he was "instrumental in creating the internet." Moreover, as Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn, the scientists who in fact did invent the internet note, Gore was very much instrumental in getting the internet going, and making it accessible to the world. The following two items should dispel the malicious propaganda that has spilled forth from Gore's political opponents and members of the press all to willing to destroy a man's reputation.

For Cerf and Kahn:,net.txt

and see as well this excellent article by UCLA professor Phil Agre: