Why not single payer?

by Steve, March 29th, 2009

politicsI’ve been pretty hands-off on the new prez, at least publicly. But I keep asking myself a couple things. First, why they hell haven’t we nationalized the banking system yet? Second, why the hell isn’t Obama talking about single payer health care?

(Of course we knew ahead of time that Obama is something of a market fundamentalist, so we already know the answer to those questions.)

“Medicare for all” is the smartest thing we could do for the economy. It would eliminate the wasteful, burdensome, redundant and immoral private health insurance racket in one fell swoop, and eliminate the leading cause of personal bankruptcy in the US.

Even if Obama isn’t willing to consider it, circumstances may eventually force the issue. Meanwhile, a grassroots groundswell is building, with Laborer’s Local 483 among Portland unions to endorse passage of HR 676, the United States National Health Insurance Act.

I urge you to join with the laborer’s in calling your US Rep and encouraging them to support HR 676.

Atheists, welcome. Socialists? Not so much.

by Steve, January 20th, 2009

politicsI should be thrilled, as an atheist, to be on President Obama’s short list: “Christians and Muslims. Jews and Hindus — and non-believers.” Seriously. For all the God goin’ around today (some of it a tad — ahem — intolerant), I was surprised to get an atheist shout-out. (As for my Sikh, Buddhist, Wiccan, Pagan, Confucianist, Shintoist, Jainist, Bahá’í, and agnostic brothers and sisters, they may not feel so special being grouped in with us non-believers.)

Less surprising was President Obama’s ode to the market and its “power to generate wealth and expand freedom.”

Well, it’s sure provided the idle rich with a lot more wealth and freedom over the past 30 years, but any student of economics knows the market doesn’t create wealth. It merely distributes wealth, which is created from capital and raw materials by human labor. The market has proven itself very adept at the upward redistribution of wealth from those who create it to those who finance it.

Obama’s proposed trillion dollar (we all know it’ll get there) stimulus plan is a bastard child of New Deal-style public works investment and Reagan-era trickle down (better-termed “shovel up”) economics.

Them rich capitalist bastards don’t need any damned retro-active tax breaks. In fact, we need to levy a wealth tax on their accumulated capital, and use it to finance even more public investment. The kind that not only builds roads and schools, but also reinforces our tattered social safety net with universal cradle-to-grave health care.

Don’t get me wrong, folks. I’ve been doing the happy dance all day, ‘cuz George W. Bush went riding off into the sunset today, and the election of Barack Hussein Obama II is undoubtedly one of the most important milestones in our nation’s history. His suspension of the kangaroo court at Gitmo is a significant ray of hope, even as he continues the jingoistic talk of being “at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred.”

(The notion of a “war on violence” is more ironic than a “war on terror” is risible, and equally absurd, isn’t it?)

So you want to be a barista

by Steve, November 21st, 2008

Maybe it’s the economy. Or maybe it’s just the way evil do-gooders do business. But have you ever seen a five-page application (PDF) to work in a coffee shop?

Besides the usual work history and contact information, they want you to write a short essay about why you want to work at Ladybug Organic Coffee Company. They also give you a cutesy “pop quiz” with the following questions:

  • Please tell us about a time that you provided excellent customer service. (Well, there was that one time at Mickey D’s…)
  • What one thing makes you absolutely stand out above the rest? Why should we hire you over applicant X? (Because I wasted an hour of my life answering these ridiculous questions?)

Okay, no big deal so far, but then it starts getting good:

  • What is the most important thing that you have ever learned and how has it changed your life? (Well, there was that time I stayed up all night drinking Mountain Dew driving a school bus to a Grateful Dead concert, then took a Xanax to get a couple hours of sleep before waking up and dropping acid for the show. I learned to never, ever, sleep under the school bus after the show, because some drunk deadhead might come and pee on your leg. Man, what a show, though. Jerry changed my life that night.)
  • What are your greatest strengths, the things about yourself that cause you greatest pride? (Ah, pride, that deadly sin that employers always want us to indulge in. Well, I’m pretty proud of my gluttony and sloth! And I’m pretty good with lust, too.)
  • What are your greatest weaknesses, the things about yourself that you could benefit the most from working to improve? (It’s okay to have weaknesses! Unless of course, you’re Superman or Wonder Woman!) (Dude! Speaking of lust! Wonder Woman! Wonder Woman! All the world’s waiting for you, and the power you possess! In your satin tights, fighting for your rights and the old red white and blue! Wonder Woman! Wonder Woman!)
  • Tell us about your best friend and why they are a part of your life? (Would that be my best real or imaginary friend?)
  • What is something that you do on a regular basis to make the world a better place? (I believe… Just by waking up every day, and walking lightly on Mother Earth, and smiling at strangers, I make the world a better place.)
  • What is one thing that you think would make Portland a better city? (Ooh! Ooh! Ooh! I got this one: More coffee shops?!?)

Then there’s a whole series of yes/no questions:

  • I can usually work weekends. No.
  • I get along well with many different types of people. Yes, as long as they’re cool.
  • I am always upbeat and positive Always? Uh, well, no, I guess not. I mean, I’m mostly always upbeat, just not always.
  • I can work during most holidays. No.
  • I enjoy working evenings. No. I mean, wait, that means I can sleep in, right? Yes.
  • I am a problem solver. Depends. What kind of problem?
  • I enjoy getting up early. I prefer staying up until it is early. Is that a problem?
  • I like to work by myself. Absolutely! Then I can smoke out in the cooler.
  • I pay attention to details. When I come out of the cooler, all the details are so, like, intense, man!
  • I am a good listener. I’ve listened to every bootleg of the Dead at least six times
  • I like to clean. Who doesn’t? Whenever I’m out of weed, I clean my roommate’s bong and get a couple good hits out of it.
  • I am a quick learner. What was the question again?
  • I can multi-task. I can kick a hacky sack while reciting the set lists from the Dead’s last six shows at the Greek Theater in Berkeley.
  • I am self-motivated. Everything’s cool, man. Stuff will get done.

And finally: “Last question. What one word describes you best and why did you choose that word?”

I’d have to say “cool.” Because if you’re not being cool, man, you’re being uncool. Nobody likes it when you’re uncool. I think it would be cool to work at your coffee shop! Is there, like, a dress code or anything?

Labor creates all wealth

by Steve, July 31st, 2008

I was looking for a bumper sticker with this message, and couldn’t find one that I liked.

So I made a couple myself.

Happy May Day!

by Steve, May 1st, 2008

laborI always find that on International Workers Day it is good to reflect on the basic reality that labor creates all wealth. This year, as the global economy teeters on the brink of calamity, the end game of three decades of deregulation of the financial sector, this concept is especially poignant.

Hedge fund managers, investment bankers and stock traders don’t create wealth, they skim it. It would actually be more accurate to say they steal it, since they don’t produce anything of intrinsic value to society.

The sub-prime crisis is just the canary in the coal mine, indicating a financial system rife with ethical corruption and iniquity. Among other things, this crisis represents one of the greatest transfers of wealth away from black Americans in the history of our nation. To blame the victims, even as we bail out the predators to the tune of $30 billion, is as offensive as it is ignorant.

Capitalism is predicated on continuous growth. Like a shark, it must keep moving to survive. This basic premise ignores the fact that we live in a closed system with finite resources. It is becoming undeniable that the system is feeding on itself in a way that, if left to its own devices, will lead to its demise, much like Marx predicted.

It may not be too late to steer clear of total collapse. The first step is to re-regulate all aspects of the financial sector.

We’ve also got to stop squandering money and lives on the Iraq occupation. This military adventure is part and parcel of the gross upward redistribution of wealth of the past decades.

And we’ve got to socialize health care in this country as part of a new New Deal. Instead of continuing our devastating investment in “killingry,” as R. Buckminster Fuller called it, we need to reinvest in “livingry.”

Will Obama be the FDR to Bush’s Hoover? So far both Democratic candidates have bent over backwards to show their loyalty to Wall Street, which indicates we’re not likely to see any major change of course from three decades of bi-partisan neoliberal deregulation.

There is another way, which is better for the planet, better for our neighbors, and which, above all, gives credit where credit is due: to the workers.

Too bad nobody running for president is willing to talk about it.

Charting Portland’s Political Landscape

by Steve, April 21st, 2008

election08Local politics, particularly in a liberal city like Portland, are not a localized version of the national scene. There is not a labor/business split in our governing bodies, for example, and nary a Republican in sight serving in any significant local public office.

The historic split in municipal politics has come between real estate developers, who want to maximize the value of their land by increasing density, and those who have stood in their way: neighborhood preservationists and environmentalists.

Siding with the developers, you often find labor, since commercial real estate development usually means union jobs.

But a funny thing happened on the way to global warming. The developers managed to co-opt environmentalists with the idea of “smart growth.” Without the environmental movement in their way, the developers now have virtual carte blanche to run things as they please.

One of the only constituencies left in opposition to this juggernaut are those who oppose gentrification and favor rent controls, that is, people who are virtually powerless by definition.

There’s also the business constituency, relatively weak in Portland compared to other big cities, which takes issue with using tax revenue to subsidize anything, except maybe parking. But they don’t object to gentrification, since it tends to grow markets for the goods and services they sell.

To be clear, I like the ideas of limiting sprawl, preserving green spaces, and developing housing near employment. But the “sustainable” label has been used and abused beyond recognition in Portland. We’ve significantly over-built condos in the central city, publicly subsidized to the tune of millions of dollars annually with a streetcar system that does not solve any identifiable transportation problem and an aerial tram to no place in particular.

Additionally, the “sustainable development” crew has pushed “skinny lots” in our core residential neighborhoods, and multi-story condo developments in our distributed town centers, like Belmont, Hawthorne, Alberta, and now Interstate and Mississippi. All of this is predicated on the notion that we’ve already maxed out our available housing stock, and must choose between building up or building out.

People who object to having a nine-story condo building towering over their back yards obviously don’t understand that we’re going to have 300,000 new residents in Portland, Real Soon Now.

That’s the canard that’s repeated ad nauseum and without qualification or any sense of irony by the candidates who represent big developers. Oh, they’re coming, whether we like it or not, they assure us, and we better make sure we build up rather than out to accommodate them.

So commercial real estate developers not only get to maximize their land values by increasing density under the cloak of “sustainability,” they’re given significant public subsidy to do so.

And what about the “G” word? Yes folks, “smart growth” is progressively gentrifying every neighborhood in Portland’s residential core. This isn’t very “smart” if you, like me, value the diversity of your neighborhood.

And that brings us to what’s wrong with the Mayor’s race in Portland. You’ve got Sam Adams, unabashedly pushing the big developer’s agenda, and Sho Dozono unabashedly pushing the big business agenda (criticizing Adams for opposing Wal-Mart).

But this is a false dichotomy, since they both essentially represent big money. Neither candidate says “boo” about rent stabilization, preserving affordable housing (as opposed to building it per the big developers’ “smart growth” vision) or preserving the historic quality of our neighborhoods.

Both, of course, are “green” candidates, as is virtually every candidate running for city office (Mike Fahey nothwithstanding). But neither of them seems to have much interest in affordable housing.

At yesterday’s North Portland Candidates’ Forum, Adams went so far as to say North Portland has too much affordable housing, a reference to all the public housing on the Peninsula. Which could be taken as thinly-veiled racism.

It could also be construed as missing the point, since it isn’t just the poor and working poor who struggle with housing prices in Portland, but increasingly two-income, middle class families.

At least in the council races, there are a couple candidates who will speak earnestly about issues of housing and gentrification.

For seat #2, being vacated mid-term by Erik Sten, Ed Garren has been the only candidate to actually talk about rent control. Nick Fish talked about “fixing the roof before putting in a jacuzzi” at yesterday’s forum, which is nice. But Jim Middaugh, Erik Sten’s chief of staff, mostly wanted to remind us of those 300,000 people moving here. (Sure, Middaugh talks a good game on his campaign Web site, but I can’t get over the feeling that it’s just boilerplate. He wanted to talk a lot more about those 300,000 new residents yesterday than the communities displaced by the City Hall business as usual his candidacy represents.)

Likewise John Brannam, running for seat #1, who was the first to intone the 300,000 figure at yesterday’s forum. We all know where Chris “streetcar” Smith stands, of course, so much so that he doesn’t even have to speak of the 300,000 promised ones.

In his Willamette Week endorsement interview, Smith talked of replicating the kind of development supported by the central city streetcar loop on the east side. Yes, folks, condos and streetcars for all your friends! To Gresham with the unwashed masses! Let them ride MAX! Somehow, Smith thinks we can cut our carbon footprint in half by pushing all the po’ folks to the margins of our metro area. Well, maybe he doesn’t really think it through that far. But that’s the upshot of gentrifying our close-in neighborhoods with the kind of development he champions.

Amanda Fritz and Charles Lewis stand out as candidates for seat #1 who want to focus on neighborhoods. Lewis had the audacity yesterday to speak of affordable housing (gasp!), and Fritz has been steadfast in her advocacy for shifting the city’s budget priorities to basic services in the neighborhoods. (I’ve already endorsed Fritz for this seat.)

So our Portland body politic is divvied up into a handful of sometimes-overlapping camps, with an overarching “sustainable” umbrella big enough to offer refuge to all kinds of scoundrels. (“Sustainability” is to Portland politics what patriotism is to national politics.)

Dozono is alone in his big retail fealty, but Sam Adams has good company in the real estate developers’ court with Jim Middaugh and Chris Smith.

Those seeking to preserve the character and livability of neighborhoods, affordable family housing, and communities of color are harder to come by, and they aren’t going to have any mayoral coattails to ride this election season. Ain’t it a shame?

Rally With PPS Custodians and Food Service Workers Today

by Steve, January 28th, 2008

laborAfter eight months of negotiations, Portland Public Schools is sticking to their “initial offer” of a 33% pay cut for our custodians. This is an insult to working people everywhere. This would guarantee the loss of many experienced custodians. They are already understaffed, and our children’s health safety will be further jeopardized if we don’t convince PPS negotiators to come to the table with a reasonable offer.

There is a rally Tonight, at 6 pm at PPS headquarters, 501 N. Dixon St. This rally will feature none other than SEIU International president Andy Stern. Stern will also be speaking at a forum tonight, America: A Country of Greed or Greatness? (7:30, First Congregational Church, 1125 SW Park Ave.)

Here’s a printable placard (53KB PDF) to take to the rally and the school board meeting that follows.

Rally With PPS Custodians Today

by Steve, November 19th, 2007

laborPPS Custodians Rally Against 30% Pay Cut!

Tonight, Monday November 19th 6:00 PM

BESC Building 501 N. Dixon (Just North of the Rose Garden/Memorial Coliseum)

Come Join Us In Supporting Portland Public Schools Custodians and Nutrition Services Workers in Their Struggle to Win A Fair Contract!!!

Come Let The PPS Board Members Know That People Care About Clean , Safe , Well Maintained and Operational Schools… and that PPS Workers Deserve Decent Wages, Benefits and Working Conditions!!!

(From comments on this blog)

Show Your Support for PPS Custodians and Food Service Workers

by Steve, October 21st, 2007

Here’s a printable sign (53 KB PDF) you can put in your car, home, or business window to show your support for Portland Public Schools’ custodians and food service workers. (Here’s some background on the issue.)

PPS Lowballs Rehired Custodians

by Steve, October 15th, 2007

laborAfter being forced to rehire the custodians they illegally fired, Portland Public Schools has decided to try to cut their pay by nearly 30%.

In negotiations for a contract that expired June 30, PPS proposes reducing starting wages from $14 an hour to $10.70 and forcing employees to absorb future increases in health care costs. This is especially insulting, since many of the rehired custodians left other jobs to return to PPS based on the current wages.

This is an obvious pattern in PPS labor negotiations.

At the school board meeting last week, Linda Hush-Loomis, the wife of a PPS custodian, testified “My husband left a job paying nearly $13 per hour, the cut would leave him around $11 per hour.”

PPS just approved a bond to payoff the approximately $15 million settlement with the illegally fired custodians. Now they’re using the same tactics that eventually led to the illegal firings in the first place. Does PPS have no institutional memory? Or are they just ethically bankrupt?

There is a petition (32KB Microsoft Word document) available to print and gather signatures if you want to show your support of these hard-working, under-appreciated employees.