Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Endgame in Libya? It's move two in the chess game

It's truly amazing that Republicans have finally, FINALLY found a war they oppose, which is 2 two week long, minor little air attack. I'm sure they're shy of the "entanglement" that this could created. They don't mind being in Iraq or Afghanistan for 8 years with no end in sight. They didn't mind when Bush 41 committed US ground forces to Somalia. These missions didn't have clearly defined objectives, especially 2 weeks into them. They were all hugely costly in terms of money and American lives. How many American lives have been lost in the current Libyan intervention? Sarah Palin is beside herself complaining about the $600 million dollar cost of the operation when Iraq and Afghanistan combined cost thousands of times as much and still are not over. And how dumb do you have to be to be confused about what is going on in Libya? We're bombing Gadaffi's forces and (not so) secretly arming the rebels. Rightwing dunderheads want to know what the "endgame" looks like. Big clue here. This isn't even close to the "end game". We're not even at the middle game. They want to know how the last move of the game will look when we are at move two on the chessboard. Hint to armchair generals like Sarah: don't use chess metaphors when you don't even understand how shoots and ladders works. You want Obama to predict how things will turn out 37 moves in the future when you can't even figure out how the horsie moves. I will note that Saint Ronald bombed Libya in 1986, and it is part of right-wing orthodoxy that Reagan can do no wrong. Nobody asked what his "end game" was there. He just wanted to bomb Gadaffi, and that was good enough. Of course Obama would never be allowed the same license.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Hypocritical war-hawks against Libyan operation

It's amazing how right-wingers have supported pretty much every war that Bush 43 ever started, but now have discovered their opposition to these same kinds of operations, the moment Obama became president. They had no problem with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan dragging on for many years after their optimistically promised deadlines, but now, by golly, they don't want foreign entanglements.

Operations in Libya have been going on for about a week and right-wingers have already insisted that we are in a quagmire, that there is no plan for an exit strategy, and despite the fact that nothing could be more clear or obvious to anyone with an an IQ greater than 50 as to what we are doing (no fly plus destroying pro-gadaffi heavy weaponry), they insist that they have absolutely no clue what the mission there is.

Granted, when right-wingers plead ignorance and stupidity, it's hard not to believe them. However, even they aren't dumb enough to truly be confused about the situation. Gas prices have skyrocketed since Libya became destabilized, and it is certainly in the US national interests (and indeed in NATO's interest) to restore stability.

However, the US did even better, going to the UN and the Arab League, and allies like NATO and securing promises from all of them that they would specifically confront genocide and war-crimes that Gadaffi and his supporters were committing and are still committing. These types of justifications have been used for many interventions, including George Bush 41's intervention in Somalia, which put American ground forces there for months, saddling the next president with a military morass that ultimately resulted in events like those described in Blackhawk Down.

The only thing more clear than the mission in Libya is the glaring hypocrisy of war-hawks who now pretend to oppose current operations with the flimsiest of excuses. They think the mission is too vague. Welcome to the fog or war. Most missions are vague. They think it's too costly. Please, it costs nothing compared to any of the other military conflicts we have engaged in recently, and the potential benefits outweight any conceivable costs by at least an order of magnitude (i.e. ten times).

I know that right-wingers are ignorant of a lot of things, but surely even they have heard the part of the Marine Hymn (you know, line one) that says, "From the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli...." Even several hundred years ago it was in our national interest to insure that matters in Tripoli (that's Libya for folks for still haven't figured that out) remain stable.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Nuclear's Teenage Invincibility Syndrome

I see it everyday with teenagers. They all think that they are indestructible and therefore that nothing bad can ever happen to them. It is egotism, and wishful thinking too be sure, but at least teenagers have the excuse of youth. The nuclear industry constantly evinces a similar level of false confidence in the invincibility of their technology. Yet, they are far from invincible, as the events in Fukushima, Japan show all too clearly. The designs of these reactors were downright negligent and slipshod in terms of disaster preparedness. Even a smaller tsunami likely could have flooded the basement levels where their electric pumps and batteries were kept to circulate coolant. This design is about like giving a beer helmet to a teenage driver and expecting that he (or she) will use it solely for head protection.

Similarly, the cooling facilities for spent rods clearly are inadequate to prevent the release of radioactive materials in the case of emergency. The "invincible" plan was that water would always cool the rods. But what happens, as in the case in Japan, when these pools crack and spring leaks? What happens when the facility around it catches on fire?

Perhaps teenagers would believe that such systems were failsafe and foolproof, but the people of Tokyo, one of the most populous in the world, must now pay for the foolhardy and all too fallible presumptions of a nuclear industry that needs to finally grow up.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Radio Activism

There is a place for legitimate criticisms of the fat-cat, irresponsible, faked-safety-report culture in the Japanese nuclear industry. However, many concerns by opponents are completely overblown and their ignorance of the science makes all activists look uninformed. Take fears of radioactive iodine crossing the Pacific Ocean and possibly affecting people in California. Those trace amounts which do reach us will most commonly be I-131 which has a half life of 8 days. If it gets absorbed into plants and the plants grow for a month or two before harvest, and then are sent to the green grocer then, by the time it reaches your shopping basket, it would have been degraded by about 4 or 5 half lives, which effectively means there is none of it left.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Nuclear Industry Blames Everyone But Themselves

There was this attempt to rehabilitate nuclear energy a couple years back. A nuclear renaissance was announced. The problem, as always with nuclear, is that the industry is its own worst enemy. They had changed nothing about how they operate or how they plan to operate in the future. Sure they tell you about a million nifty new reactor designs they have, but they don't actually intend to build. Yes, those designs are safer and more convenient, but they would also be too expensive, or in some cases, not expensive enough, and they don't want either one of those scenarios. They want the multi-billion behemoth that has massive cost overruns. They claim that those darned protesters and alarmists are causing the cost overruns, but they secretly don't really mind spending more money, especially when Uncle Sam is guaranteeing the loan and kicking in huge subsidies to boot.

Unfortunately, the nuclear renaissance ground to a halt because nuclear power, in short order, did what it did best, which was tripping over its own feet and taking itself out of the game. Of course the Japanese reactor in Fukushima is 40 years old, built toward the end of the first nuclear golden age. However, it will likely spell the end of the second golden age before it even had much of a chance to get started.

That's the thing about nuclear power that must be so maddening for the fans. The harder it tries, the more spectacularly it fails. And right now the Japanese nuclear industry is flirting with epic failure.

The almost complete inability to respond in a real emergency situation underscores one of the real issues with nuclear power and not the phony ones about protesters or CO2 emissions. The real problem with nuclear is that it cannot insure itself against the risks it creates, because the risks are too large. No insurance company on the planet wants to insure nuclear reactors. The governments themselves have to provide this kind of insurance. Therefore, in the middle of real emergencies like Tsunamis, the government also has to scramble to clean up the mess left by a nuclear industry who always wants to cut corners and which has few incentives to act otherwise.
Indeed, why should they break their backs to insure safety when the government will always jump in and save their bacon in the end. It's not like these types of explosions and releases of radioactive materials hadn't happened in the past in Japan. Faked safety reports and slapdash concern for safety have been hallmarks of the industry for decades, since nuclear energy is a national priority, due to low fossil fuel reserves. However, the second unfortunate geographical fact about Japan is that they live in one of the most quake-prone areas of the world. There is a reason that we all use the Japanese word tsunami to describe what happened there.

Gosh, given the huge amount of geological activty, why does Japan produce so little power from geothermal anyway? Estimates are that they could produce dozens of gigawatts, with current technology. That might mean a dozen or so less nuclear plants, which would be a baker's dozen less headaches.

Obama finally mans up...sort of

It might be French jets in the skies over Libya, but they are only part of a coalition lead by the US and NATO who are finally acting to blunt Gadafi's murderous warfare against his own people. Naturally, Obama didn't want to hand another PR victory to Al Quaeda by having American planes strike the first blow, though they could have long ago. By spreading the risk around and forcing the Europeans and even the Arab League countries to be part of this operation it leaves the US far less exposed and less on the hook for potential problems down the line. Critics of Obama will criticize absolutely any action he takes no matter what as they always have. If he had intervened they would have preached the virtue of doing exactly what he is doing now, which is coalition building and working with allies. So naturally, now Obama's opponents insist that he should have been more of a cowboy and acted weeks sooner before there were any UN resolutions or public commitments from other countries to help out.

The reality is that if the US had decided to act alone, before others were ready, then this would have removed all the pressure from other countries and their participation would have evaporated. The US should not have to fix all world problems, and we need the rest of the world to get used to that. Europeans will have to act, especially in their own backyard, if they regard the threat as grave enough.

BTW, this conflict is far from over. There are still all kinds of problems, including the potential destruction of huge amounts of oil production infrastructure, which could make the price of gas go through the roof again. I hope that Obama prosecutes price-fixers this time. Bush certainly wouldn't/didn't because he was in bed with them as an oil tycoon himself.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Mexicans didn't steal my job and education didn't bankrupt the state

I have a friend who is an English teacher, who is convinced that illegal Mexican immigrants are out to "steal his job". I told him, Jim (not his real name), you're an ENGLISH teacher. How is a mexican worker, who doesn't even speak ENGLISH, going to steal YOUR job as an ENGLISH teacher? Of course, the delusional often have answers. Jim thinks that they will do it through "bilingual education", which he insists is not BI-lingual at all, but just an attempt to replace English with Spanish as our official language. I must not have noticed how, according to him, we are being prohibited from speaking English in this country and instead being forced to speak Spanish for all official transactions.

Perhaps he should be more worried about the right-wing assault on teacher pay and attempts to do away with all job security for teachers, where they can be fired instantly, without due process, and seniority will count for nothing. These are the people trying to steal jobs from teachers and trying to take money out of their paychecks, and their pensions to boot.

Some argue that the state has the right to cut teacher pay and take money away from their pensions because those jobs are paid for by taxpayers. Well teachers are taxpayers too, so they have as much interest as any other taxpayer in whether the government uses the money wisely. However, the law says that students have to attend school and the wages they pay to teachers in public schools are less than the wages that most private schools pay. Therefore, if anything, the taxpayers are getting a bargain.

Furthermore, the fact that taxpayers are paying for something doesn't mean that the government is entitled to cheat the person doing the work. If the government contracts with a person to build a bridge and then politicians get together an vote that they only want to pay the contractor half of already agreed upon price, then they can't justify this on the grounds that "the taxpayers are paying for it", or even that "taxes are too high already". It may be that taxpayers are cash strapped, but the bridge still needs to be built and the materials still cost what they cost. You can't vote to repeal either one of these facts.

The same applies to education. It still costs a certain amount to train a person who is willing to endure day-long abuse by teachers, administrators, parents, etc while delivering all the most up-to-date educational material and following all the rules required of them (by the government/taxpayers). You passed laws which demanded that we teach the way we teach. You passed laws that said we had to have certain amounts of training. You spelled out in minute detail every single area you wanted us to cover in the educational standards. You asked for it and we gave it to you at a price we already agreed upon. You can't now turn around and say that you didn't really want all those things and you don't want to pay us for the work we did because you think taxes are too high.

It's not the fault of teachers that taxes are too high, and this wouldn't be an excuse to cheat us out of our salaries and pensions anyway. Sure, the government spent money on our salaries and pensions, just like they spent money on lots of other things. However, that doesn't prove that teachers are the ones to blame for the governments financial woes.

Some people say, but education is a huge part of the state budget, and this is true. But that doesn't prove that we created the mess. If you lower taxes and have other economic mismanagement, reducing revenues, education will still be a large chunk of the budget. However, the reason for the reduction in revenues is not because of education spending. It's because of those other things, like cutting taxes in the middle of a recession, and investing state funds poorly. I understand that other taxpayers are also hurting in a recession. But that doesn't entitle them to get together and vote to raid my bank account so that they can all have a nice vacation. That's money that I saved out of my paycheck, which I already noted is a smaller paycheck than many private schools pay out.

Likewise, the money that I put into pension funds is largely my money, even if my employer made some contributions too. I dare say that I have put far more of my money into my teacher pension, as both a teacher and taxpayer, than the average taxpayer is. These same people who begrudge me my pension, despite the fact that I serve the public and educate their children, get pensions of their own. If the government had no pension then it is unlikely that they would be able to attract teachers in the first place. We would instead work for private companies who offered these pensions. So the government has to offer comparable benefits to get us to work for them.

This all part of the social contract which so-called conservatives want to abruptly rip to shreds after decades and even centuries of agreement about what constituted a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. That doesn't sound very "conservative" to me. It sounds like an untested scheme that is likely to fail along with many other gimmicks and quick fixes that often get proposed as shortcuts to dealing with difficult problems.

Jim's brother hates government too, even though Jim's brother Bruce worked as a police officer for 20 years before retiring on a state pension. He too thinks that the government is trying to pick his pocket and that immigrants are here to take the part time job that he still has to work as an emergency dispatcher to make ends meet.

I asked Bruce, if you want to prevent immigrants from taking your jobs, how do you propose to shut down all the internet and telephone communications in the country. Bruce wasn't sure what I meant, but I pointed out to him that he works in the telecommunications industry and there are plenty of people in India and elsewhere in the world who are also being hired by US firms to handle call center traffic. We call this outsourcing.

If Bruce is worried about all the immigrants trying to take his job, what about the "digital immigrants" who can work from half a world away for less than half of what they pay Bruce? Furthermore, how will the US government collect tax revenues on the digital immigrants living in India. They won't of course, because they are Indian citizens, not American citizens. But these jobs used to be done by American workers whom they could tax. Even illegal immigrants who were here physically, often ended up paying taxes, albeit into a social security account that was not actually their own. These illegal immigrants in the flesh often had tax deductions taken out of their paychecks, but they know that they cannot attempt to collect them, because then the government might discover that they are undocumented workers and send them back. So the government gets money from them, but never has to give them refunds or social security benefits.

This isn't true of digital workers. In fact, I have also heard people make the modest proposal that we could save a lot of money if we just hired people from India to teach in our public schools, via the internet. The only question I have for these people, aside from the one's raised above, is how they expect Mister Depak to maintain order in the classroom and keep the kids on task and not killing each other from half a world away? When Johnny isn't learning and says he doesn't understand what Mr. Deepak from Bangalore is trying to teach him, what are we going to do then? Call in Mr. Chang from Bejing perhaps?

Maybe a better idea would be to try to ditch the silly schemes to nickel and dime teachers in this country, stop all the constant interference, and let us do our jobs. I know that virtually every person who is not a teacher thinks that he or she can teach better than the people who actually are the teachers, but I don't come to McDonalds and tell you you're flipping burgers wrong, so why don't you stop coming to school and giving me bad advice on how to teach.

And stop worrying about Mexicans trying to take your job. They prefer tacos, not burgers, and fast food isn't much of a job to steal in the first place. Neither is making beds in a hotel or picking cotton. Even hundreds of years ago Americans didn't want to do that, which is why they imported slaves to do it for them. Now the (wage) slaves are coming here voluntarily, and we say the (wage) slaves are stealing our job. Sorry, I don't want a slave job. If that's the kind of job they are stealing then I feel sorry for the (wage) slave, but I certainly don't lament the fact that an American no longer has to work it. I wish the (wage) slave didn't have to work it either.

It's RadioACTIVITY not Radiation, people!

I hate to have to do this, and it seems almost as pointless as trying to get George W. Bush to stop saying, "nukUler", but almost every major newspaper and TV report keeps talking about "radiation leaks" and detecting "radiation traces" in California, and generally worrying about "radiation". The correct term is radioACTIVITY. Radiation is electrons and neutrons. Light is a form of electromagnetic "radiation", because it *RADIATES* in all directions from a source. Radio waves are another form of radiation. We do not say that "radiation" leaks out of a light bulb or the antenna of a radio. Furthermore, the "radiation" from a light bulb, in the form of light, will not set off a geiger counter, nor do we say that the light is "radioactive".

On the other hand, there are RADIOACTIVE materials. These include plutonium and uranium (some types more than others), for example. These materials, when they decay, DO emit "radiation", the most harmful of which can be *ionizing* radiation. If these material get inside your body then they will continue to emit harmful radiation, because they are are radioactive. People take supplements like potassium iodide (KI) to block the uptake of a radioactive form of iodine into the thyroid.

Other materials may be only slightly radioactive. For example, radioACTIVE steam was released from the reactors in Japan early on, in an attempt to help cool them. This radioACTIVE material quickly dissipated in the air. The mildly radioactive material is still there, but it spreads out so that it is less concentrated and therefore less harmful in smaller doses.

Here is a summary: Radiation does not equal radioactive. Radioactive does equal radiation.

Radiation itself is not necessarily harmful. Many things radiate (and therefore constitute "radiation"), such as light and radio waves. The "radiation" produced by nuclear (no not nucUler) reactors in Japan, like the light from a light bulb in Japan, cannot travel very far without becoming very faint. Airborne radioACTIVE materials, on the other hand, from the Japanese reactor may indeed travel a much greater distance. A few particles can make it all the way across the Pacific Ocean, though, it is very very very (very very ...) improbable that large number of particles will make it all the way to California. It is far far far (far far...) more likely that the radioactive material which may be released will stay in Japan. For example, when the US bombed Hiroshima (and Nagasaki) we didn't worry about the (don't say radiation) radioACTIVE material from the bomb crossing back over the Pacific Ocean and "getting us". Most all of the radioactive material stayed in a close region around the site of the bomb. We used to conduct above ground nuclear tests in the desert southwestern US. In fact, the first such one was at Trinity, New Mexico. We also exploded nuclear devices on or near islands in the Pacific. All of these threw radioACTIVE materials into the air which circulated all over the place. If we have so much time on our hands that we want to worry about utter nonsense, then it would be better to worry about those, because they produced far more radioactive materials. Chernobyl likewise released a great amount of radioactive material, but not much of it made it to the US mainland.

I know it won't stop the constant, almost intentional misuse of these terms for me to point all this out, but it feels good to do it anyway. In fact, as with "nucUler", people will probably decide to make the mistake more than ever before and push for a redefinition of the terms so that they can finally be correct about something.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

In japanese "it is difficult" means "no effin way"

Just in case people haven't picked up on this, in Japanese culture and etiquette, they avoid saying that no or declaring that something is impossible. Instead they often use the euphemism "it is difficult". Therefore, when the prime minister says the situation there is "extreme difficult", what he is really saying is that it is effed up beyond belief and that they have no clue how to fix it. Take the two nuclear reactors that are melting down. They keep making these excuses that say things like , "gosh we can't be sure that the core has really melted, because we haven't been able to look inside and see". Well no kidding. But would we really accept this kind of idiotically evasive answer from anyone in our own country if a reactor near us had its cooling equipment explode and emergency efforts looked partially effective at best. There is absolutely no chance that some melting of the rods has not occurred. Cesium monitoring stations are reporting high levels of radioactivity. Let's not try to sugar coat this or hide behind the smokescreen of uncertainty that always exists in any emergency. Minimizing the situation will not change it or prevent the facts from coming to light in the not-at-all distant future anway..

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Nuclear Power's Cheating Heart

I know that many people, especially of the completely uninformed right-wing variety, are in love with nuclear power. In their one-size-fits-all world, it should produce 100% of all power. It must really be a b*tch to see absolute and unequivocal proof that their lover has strayed again, in this case, in Japan at the the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Facility, where the cooling system failed, following a massive earthquake. This caused the cooling water to rise above the boiling point and released about 1000 times the normal level of radioactivity.

That was before the cooling system exploded, crumbling the walls of the reactor containment facility and leaking even more radioactive material. These are the same containment facilities that we are constantly assured could take a direct hit from a 747 or withstand the strongest earthquakes. In fact the building did withstand the earthquake, it that turns out not to matter, because it set off a chain of events where the potential for much more serious problems, including a partial meltdown, are possible.

Of course, it is possible that things will be brought back under control. The plan is now to flood the reactor with seawater before temperatures can get high enough for the rods to melt. Perhaps a Japanese Chernobyl will be avoided. Perhaps it will remain only be a Japanese Three Mile Island. However, like the TMI incident, it is questionable whether this multi-billion dollar facility will ever operate again. Three other reactors in Japan also shut down, BTW, though presumably they shut down safely. Hopefully there will not be 4 Japanese Three Mile Island incidents. The quake was devastating enough without additional man-made disasters compounding the situation.

Imagine if a wind or solar generation facility that cost billions of dollars just suddenly and unpredictably became unusable. Imagine if a 20 kilometer radius around it had to be evacuated indefinitely. Imagine if three other billion dollar alternative energy plants also shut down indefinitely.

Nuclear power boosters, after licking their wounds for a while and declaring everyone else to have over-reacted, often sit around nursing their broken hearts. Nuclear power lets them down again and again, but like battered housewives, they dutifully return to it, and in relatively short order. They always talk about the good that they see in it. They talk about the latest, greatest, fancy, high-tech reactors that cannot possibly let them down the way the current ones seem to. They talk about all the times that things didn't go wrong, and how this is just a minor blip.

Of course, if we were getting 100% of our power from this type of nuclear facility then it would be a blip multiplied at least 10 fold. Instead of only having a near disaster every couple decades, we might have only every couple years. And the odds of a near disaster turning into a total disaster also increase.

I believe that the newest, safest forms of nuclear fission should continue to be investigated, but it should only be part of the power mix, not anywhere near 100%. The main reason is cost, and the next major reason is that fact that these facilities are never as safe in practice as they are claimed to be in theory. The latest generation reactors, such as Pebble Bed Moderated Reactors (PBMB) or even Liquid Fluoride Thorium Moderated Reactors (LFTMR) supposedly cannot melt down the same way. PBMRs, are not even cooled with water, and supposedly the encased "pebble" fuel would stop producing heat efficiently without the circulation of a coolant. LFTMRs also avoid the buildup of Xenon, and have no fuel rods at all. Yet these are never the reactors that seem to get built, perhaps because they would be way more expensive than the older, mass-producible generations of reactors we have today.

It is, simple put, 100% false that there are no credible alternatives to nuclear. The same amount of money and time spent drilling super-deep geothermal wells would likewise produce huge amounts of power that was always available, for example. However, the main issue is avoiding one-size-fits-all thinking. Having multiple, diversified power sources makes things more robust, not less. The wind doesn't blow all the time, but it's always blowing somewhere and the sun is pretty predictable too, especially in the desert.

Demand for power itself is variable, so it is acceptable to have variable sources of generation. The problem with nuclear is that it does not vary easily with demand and therefore a lot of power generated at low peak times must be stored. Without certain renewables, like hydro power, nuclear would be even more wasteful than it is already, because there would be no practical way to store this excess production.

The point is that we not put all our eggs in one nuclear basket. All but the most blinded by love should be able to see that now, one would hope.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

If Wisconsin dirty trick was legal.....

If it was possible for Republicans to pass a bill with no democrats present .... then that proves that people criticizing democrats for obstruction don't know what they're talking about. After all, right wingers, who wanted democrats to return so that they could be steam rollered kept screaming about how the legislators weren't doing their jobs, but now these same republicans say that it wasn't even necessary for democrats to be there in the first place to pass legislation. If it was legal for Republicans to act as they did, which is highly doubtful, given strict open-meeting laws in Wisconsin, then clearly these Republicans were incompetent at their own job, because they didn't act for three weeks when they had the power to do so.

They need to get their story straight. Besides, these missing democrats are doing a better job of representing the interests of their constituents than they would if they were just going to be automatically voted down anyway. The republicans who want the democrats to return are not the constituents of these representatives anyway.

It is also worth noting that Walker has tried to manufacture this kind of phony crisis before, when he tried to bust courthouse unions in Milwaukee in favor of a fat-cat crony deal with Wackenhut. He failed to follow the law then as well, however, and now Milwaukee has to pay back pay to all their courthouse security, as well as pay for the private contract.

This phony $137 million budget "crisis" is as transparently fraudulent as they get. Even in New Mexico we have a budget shortfall of larger than that and our total operating budget is far less. Every year legislators deal with gaps bigger than this and routinely plug them without abolisihing the rights of public employee unions.

On top of that, Walker offered about as much in tax breaks to businesses as the total amount of the alleged "shortfall". If there was really a budget crisis then all he would have to do to plug it would be to rescind the tax breaks, rather than demand that public workers take what amounts to an 8% pay cut.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Against senority? Tell the rest of the world.

When it comes to teachers and other public employees, it seems that today's crop of "reformers" wants to take away every right in sight including the job security which comes with senority. Strangely, they don't seem to think that giving deference to senority is a problem in just about any other profession. In fact, I suspect that most people, in most jobs, would be appalled if they saw companies discarding 20 and 30-year veterans like yesterday's garbage and replacing them with people who have five minutes of job experience. It is not just teachers and public employees who have systems based upon senority. It is embedded in the entire fabric of the labor market throughout this nation and, in fact, throughout most of the world. Abolishing these practices amounts to a voiding of the social contract that society has with those who work to build it and keep it going.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

I guess unions do work after all

Soon-to-be-recalled Republican Governor Scotty Walker is waging a Moammar Gadafi style civil war against the labor rights of the citizens of his own state who have the misfortune of being public employees under his "leadership". It is clear to us all now that his attack on unions has absolutely nothing to do with balancing budgets and everything to do with attempting to destroy union rights. It's not about balancing budgets, but about payback to political cronies who coincidentally are getting just as much in tax cuts as he proposes "saving" by imposing what amounts to a tax on public workers in the state.

This is interesting, because it requires Republicans to admit that unions are actually effective at securing higher wages for their employees. Contrary to a half century of right-wing propaganda against unions, Walker is admitting that union workers make more money and have more benefits, compared to their non-union counterparts, and he wants to put a stop to that right away, by God. It's unfair for them to make more than the rest of us....except it's fair for rich people to make more...especially the Koch brothers who underwrote his campaign. Taxing the rich is unfair, by Republican logic, but taxing a group of working class public employees by charging them higher fees for medicine and retirement is A-OK.

What's so wrong with working people bargaining for more money, anyway? Isn't this the American way? Republicans have even fought against minimum wage, refused to raise it for a decade, and have created sub-minimum wage "training wages" which are used as loopholes to short change workers even today.

Talk about a race to the bottom. If you get rid of a system that has and proven to help people earn higher wages, as even Republicans now admit, replace it with their proposed systems which pay less than current minimum wage, how is this supposed to help the "average Joe" that McCain/Palin so epically failed court in their disastrous presidential campaign?

I know, I know, by the magic of voodoo it with mysteriously "trickle down", but "how's that been working out for ya", to paraphrase Sarah, over the last 30 years that Republicans have been hocking it as the patented cure-all elixer for our economy? Wages are flat for the average worker while the rich are richer than before. Mighty geysers of tax dollars have blasted (not trickled) upward and into the bank accounts of the rich, but the middle class worker has less net worth than before under the leadership of primarily Republican presidents and a Republican congress.

Trickle-down economics has itself been an epic failure, so much so that now, as I alluded to earlier, Republicans are playing "divide and conquer" games with American citizens, pitting union workers against non-union ones, much like Moammar Gadafi is known to pit one tribe of Libyans against another in a desperate bid to hold on to privilege and power. However, history has shown us that you can't build up the rights and pay of non-union workers by tearing down the rights of union employees. If employers will not make concessions to an organized group of professional negotiators, what makes people think that they will offer anything better to unorganized amateurs and individuals?

Walker has inadvertently spilled the beans here, about the Republican double standard on labor. He wants to abolish unions so that he can pay people less, but this means that unions do succeed in getting people paid more. This means that those who haven't been brainwashed by decades of anti-union misinformation, should be wanting to go out and join one, rather than demanding that the ones that exist be abolished.

It is also noteworthy that Walker's egotistical comparisons of himself to Ronald Reagan when dealing with striking air-traffic controllers is completely off the mark. There were no strikes in Wisconsin. Reagan was dealing with people who were on strike even though public workers are forbidden from striking. I have already addressed the silliness of calling a one day "sick out" a strike as well. A real strike is not a minority of workers calling in sick for one day. A real strike is occupying the factory floor and bringing work 100% to a stop for weeks or months. Nothing like that was happening in Wisconsin.

Air-traffic controllers acted first and force Reagan to respond after-the-fact, but Walker threw the first punch in this brawl trying to cut wages and benefits that had already been negotiated under contract. He doesn't like the contract so he wants to change the law to say that he doesn't have to follow it. Gee, wouldn't it be nice if we could all just change any law that we didn't feel like following. That's how Gadafi operates. Then Walker threatens to layoff thousands of workers unless his demands are met. No negotiation. Hummm, this sounds more and more like Libyan dictatorship everyday.

So maybe when Walker is removed as Governor, by a popular uprising at the polls, then he can move to Libya, where there are no pesky union labor laws. He would probably get along fine with people like Gadafi, if he is still in power.

Oh and lest you protest too much about how Walker never threatened violence like Gadafi, Walker actually was already on record before he started this fight as threatening to call up the national guard to deal with union protesters. So far he hasn't had the courage to attempt to follow through with that, perhaps because he has already generated enough negative publicity for himself.

It must also be said, on the subject of protesting too much, that right-wingers have been apoplectic about a few people on the left who started twittering about wishing Walker would die. Of course, they know quite well, if for no other reason than because many of those complaining have participated in it themselves, that not a single day goes by without fringe right-wingers wishing death upon Obama and in many cases calling for more direct assassination of him and other Democrats such as Reid and Pelosi. Therefore, when a few people on the left talk about something far less direct, though still distasteful, their hypocrisy on the subject gives them no room to manuever.