Wednesday, September 14, 2005

What about Gulfport?

Most of the attention in the aftermath of Katrina has rightly focused on the horrible human tragedy that has taken place in New Orleans, and how race and class may have affected the response on the part of the federal government. Most of the rest of the Gulf Coast, as a result, has fallen off the radar screen. Take Gulfport, Mississippi, for instance.

Gulfport is a medium-sized city (71,127), whose racial make-up is roughly 62 percent white and 33.5 percent African American. According to a story in the webzine Salon nobody in Gulfport has even seen anybody from FEMA yet--13 DAYS AFTER THE EFFIN HURRICANE. Most of Gulfport was detroyed in the hurricane, and the residents there have not been happy with the federal government's response to their situation, as Dick Cheney can attest. They can be no happier with their lard-ass Republican governor (and former chair of the RNC), Haley Barbour, who, despite his close connections with the Bush administration, has not been able to get anyone to pay any attention to Gulfport except for the occassional photo op (see Cheney link above--and after his reception there, they are probably having a difficult time even getting that). Gulfport is a working-class town:
The median income for a household in the city was $32,779, and the median income for a family was $39,213. Males had a median income of $29,220 versus $21,736 for females. The per capita income for the city was $17,554. 17.7% of the population and 14.1% of families were below the poverty line. Out of the total population, 25.8% of those under the age of 18 and 13.7% of those 65 and older were living below the poverty line.
While Gulfport has a much smaller percentage of residents living below the poverty line, there are still a substantial number--and a substantial number who will find recovery from this disaster extremely difficult.

The point of all of this is not to try and diminish the effect that race has had in this fiasco; large numbers of poor Gulfportians are undoubtedly African American. It is to argue, instead, that class plays a role just as important.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

New Orleans levees

Michael Ledeen early this afternoon from his cave at NRO:
Rich: you are quite right to ask 'how come it was the new, reinforced, federally funded levees that failed?' and it is entirely plausible that the materials used were inferior. If NOLA were Naples (and you know that NOLA is 'our Naples') everyone would know, intuitively, that the levees were inferior because a lot of the money had been pocketed by the local pols and mafiosi. Maybe that's worth looking into?
Maybe Ledeen's daughter can debrief him on the nine billion dollars that "local pols and mafiosi" (also known as contractors) in Iraq skimmed while the Coalition Provisional Authority, with the assistance of the best and brightest from the Heritage Foundation, was in charge of the country.

The New New Orleans

After yesterday's post on the faults of the Toledo Blade, today I have come to sing their praises--or, at least, the praises of one of their reporters. Jenni Laidman reports on the science beat for the paper, and her article this past Sunday, "Raising New Orleans," lays out the options for what should be done in the city as rebuilding starts. The key is overcoming the man-made problems that created the susceptibility in the first place.
"Experts in coastal geology, storm surge behavior, levee engineering, and other disciplines who focus on the unique coastal region of Louisiana point to the critical work that mud, sand, and river sediment must play in creating a city that would be able to withstand another devastating natural disaster."
In other words, the levees that have protected the city from flooding have also contributed to the city sinking below sea level. After raising most of the city above sea level, the levees must also be raised to levels that can withstand a Category 5 hurricane--but even that is not enough:
Mr. Suhayda envisions a rebuilding plan that begins with levees that are higher than the 14-foot levee needed for a category 3 storm. On Wednesday, he said he stood in the gap of one of the broken levees.

“The water that came through this spot flooded 80 percent of the city,” he said. “Let’s build a category 5 levee, but let’s assume it will fail,” said Mr. Suhayda. “We have to have back-up plans B and C.”

Plan B, in Mr. Suhayda’s view, would prevent the near total inundation of the city by a single levee breach, as happened in Katrina.

“We have to compartmentalize the city like waterproof chambers in an ocean liner,’’ he said.

“A majority of the levees performed exactly as they should,’’ he said, but that didn’t save the city. Compartmentalizing would allow the good levees to do their protective job.
Plan C, according to Suhayda, is for essential buildings like hospitals--which were never part of the evacuation plan--to get their generators out of the basement and above the possible flood.

A step that should be taken in conjunction with this is restoring wetland areas south and east of New Orleans, which would act as a buffer for New Orleans:
While improved levees seem a nearly inarguable condition for a rebuilt New Orleans, others see protection against future storm surges as a far more practical solution than raising a sinking landscape by filling in the lowlands.

“Geologically, it makes more sense to me to think about protection of New Orleans, rather than try to fill New Orleans with sediment,’’ said Mr. Roberts.

It’s a matter of restoring lost friction. Hurricanes slow when they cross land, and for centuries Louisiana’s 7,000 square miles of coastal wetlands acted as a natural brake on raging storms. But the processes that built the marshlands over 5,000 years are gone, victims of human settlement. The river no longer floods, and it was flooding that released sediment into the ever-renewing delta wetlands. Much of the sediment that would have maintained the wetlands now jets into the Gulf of Mexico.

Activities like oil and gas exploration and canal dredging compounded the sediment loss. So does the natural subsidence of the watery marshlands in an era of rising sea levels.

As a result, Louisiana lost 1,900 square miles of wetlands from 1930 to 2000. If nothing changes, another 700 square miles will disappear in the next 50 years, according to a U.S. Geological Survey report issued in 2003.

The problem, of course, is that all of this will cost hundreds of billions of dollars--and the political will to follow this course over the next ten to twenty years. Expecting this kind of leadership from the present Republican leadership, however, is about as intelligent as spitting into Katrina-force winds.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Jack Kelly--A National Disgrace

In the past year, the Toledo Blade has earned a Pulitzer Prize for its series on the atrocities committed in Vietnam, and put themselves in consideration for another such award with their top-notch reporting on the still developing Coingate scandal. Why they still feel the need to carry the rantings of a fourth-rate Republican hack like Jack Kelly is beyond reason.

Kelly was a minor political appointee in the Reagan administration. He has been able to parlay that into a position on the national board of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Toledo Blade, with a weakly (no, that is not a typo) column in each paper. This week's
topic was the Bush administration's (non)response to Katrina. Kelly cites an expert, Jason van Steenwyk, a "Florida Army National Guardsman who has been mobilized six times for hurricane relief. He notes that:'The federal govern­ment pretty much met its standard time lines, but the volume of support provided during the 72-96 hour was unprecedented. The federal response here was faster than Hugo, faster than Andrew, faster than Iniki, faster than Francine and Jeanne.'”

At first glance, this Steenwyk guy seems to have a lot of experience in hurricane response--until you do a little research. See, Hurricane Iniki occured in Hawaii in September 1992. Do you remember another big hurricane that occurred late in August of that year? Hint: it was the first Atlantic hurricane of the season. That's right--Hurricane Andrew. Don't worry if you got it wrong; so did Kelly
--"For instance, it took five days for National Guard troops to arrive in strength on the scene in Homestead, Fla., after Hurricane Andrew hit in 2002 [emphasis mine]. But after Katrina, there was a significant National Guard presence in the afflicted region in three days.

The point here is, you can't cite Steenwyk as a source of firsthand knowlege for both Iniki and Andrew, because he could not have been at both. To his credit, Steenwyk attempts to (slightly) correct the record at his blog, linked to above.

Back to Kelly, though. Don't you remember how the media praised the first President Bush for his administration's rapid response to Andrew? It was one of the reasons he was re-elected, wasn't it? Jack, buddy, did you have an acid flashback there, or did your memory just go selective? The slooooow response to Andrew was one of the factors that cost Bush pere the '92 election.

Not only is Kelly apparently a former drug-use, but he also imbibes wingnut kool-aid during working hours:
"A better question — which few journalists ask — is why weren’t the roughly 2,000 municipal and school buses in New Orleans utilized to take people out of the city before Katrina struck?"
Yep, if only Nagin would have packed off 12,000 to 13,000 evacuees on those 2,000 buses, this whole disaster could have been averted. Then the rescue teams would have only had to handle 20,000 evacuees that would not have had seats on the buses, instead of the 32,000 that they ended up having to rescue off of rooftops. And all of this time, I thought it was the fault of the Bush Administration for repeated failures to address serious problems with the security of this country.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Katrina and Davis-Bacon

After resting for six months, I've got a lot to say. It has become quickly apparent that George Bush is determined to rebuild the Gulf Coast on the backs of the working-class. In one of his earliest actions, Bush announced that he was revoking Davis-Bacon protections for workers employed on Katrina-related reconstruction projects, meaning that contractors can pay below the "going rate"--meaning, below the union rate--on these projects. Time magazine is reporting via Kevin Drum that the White House plan to boost the President's popularity (his approval rating is as low 38 percent in some polls)is to throw unlimited amounts of money into reconstruction projects down there. So, the Bush administration is going to spend huge amounts of tax dollars along the Gulf, but limit the amount of money that will be paid to workers--who will probably be risking their health, and possibly their lives, in the remnant of the "toxic soup" that now covers most of New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf Coast. Hmm, sounds like Bush is once again taking care of his "base."

September 11 -- Four Years After

As many have already noted, today is the fourth anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center, the Pentegon, and the crash in western Pennsylvania. This has also been widely noted as the defining moment of the first Bush term. Many Americans chose to overlook the fact that Bush ignored the warning of the impending attack, given during his month-long vacation at his compound in Crawford on August 6, 2001. After getting word of the first attack on the World Trade Center while on his way to a grade school in Florida, Bush sat in the classroom while Chief of Staff Andrew Card informed him of the second attack. After completing his PR responsibilities, Bush and his entourage spend most of the rest of the morning on Air Force One, while most of the rest of America (and the world)watch in horror as the twin towers collapse in New York City--killing nearly 3,000 tower workers and first responders.

With the help of the SCLM, however, most Americans have been able to willfully ignore these shortcomings, and see the strong leader that we wanted to see during that unsettling time. That image of strong leadership most Americans retained, despite the failure to capture Osma bin Laden, and despite the "failures of intelligence" that led to the vanity war in Iraq.

Since the Bush "mandate" in the November election, however, the scales have begun to fall from the eyes of many Americans. With nearly 1900 casualties in the Bush vanity war and the continual rise of gas prices, there has been good reason for Bush's steady fall in popularity. Events along the Gulf Coast during the past two weeks, however, have exposed Bush for the abysmal leader that he is. Despite being briefed on Saturday, before the storm hit, Bush continued on his merry way, west to Phoenix and San Diego, to a friendlier crowd to attempt to sell some more Social Security snake oil as well as some Iraq War oil. In the meantime, of course, the city of New Orleans drowns in one of the disaster scenarios that FEMA had previously warned against.

Which finally brings us full circle. We are perhaps more vulnerable to attack and disaster four years after the events of 9/11. Four years that should have been spent in shoring up government capabilities to respond to events like Katrina, have been instead wasted on public relations window-dressing by the Busheviks. Four years that should have been spent improving the levys in southern Louisiana were instead spent issuing nonsense terror warning meant to shore up Bush's poll numbers. Perhaps 10,000 mostly poor, and mostly black, Americans--three times the number killed in the terror attacks of 9/11--have had to pay the ultimate price for Bush's incompetence.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

February Hiatus

After taking most of February off, I am determined to be more diligent in posting my thoughts here. Much is occuring that affects the working world, and is deserving of comment. Plus, someday, someone may stumble across this blog and get a few laughs at its (and my) pretensions.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Financial Advice for Bush Little

I'm concerned for the financial health of Fearless Leader, to the point of offering him some unsolicted financial advice. As many of your are probably aware, Bush Little has been self-employed most of his adult life, running several oil-related businesses into the ground, losing in his initial foray into the family business of politics, and snorting or drinking up most of the money he was able to scam--er, earn. It was not until the early 1990s that through the dint of the efforts of family friends that he was able to utilize his family's political connections (remember, when Bush I was his eminence) to gain the gift of a minor share of a baseball team, the Texas Rangers.

From this modest start, Bush Little was able to blackmail taxpayers in Arlington, Texas, to build a publicly financed stadium for the team by threatening to move it, and no longer allow fans to pay big money for the privilege of seeing the team lose more often than not. On top of this success, Bush Little and partners were able to find some dumbf*ck with too much money to wildly overspend to purchase this albatross. After paying back his "loan," Bush Little escaped with a nice little nest egg, and move back into the family business.

Upon being selected by the Supreme Court to be President, Bush Little placed his nest egg in what he assumed was a safe investment, Treasury notes. Just like the Social Security Trust Fund. Now President Bush Little jets around the country telling screened and hand-picked audiences that there is no trust fund, that by 2018--or at worst, by 2020 (well, okay it might be even a little bit later)--the system will be bankrupt, busted, broke. President George P. Bush (not a prediction, just a fact) will by then be reduced to selling apples on the street corner to finance our military occupation of Iraq. The point of all this being, Bush Little's nest egg is in the same sad shape as the Trust Fund. A worthless IOU that his government has no intention of honoring.

Maybe George P. can find him a good corner.

Friday, February 04, 2005

SS ... The Continuing Saga

Bush Little has taken the Big Con that is his Social InSecurity plan on the road. In Nebraska, someone had the termity (and managed to stay off the Not Welcomed at Bush Functions List) to call the preznit a liar--a truth for which he was then shouted down. The response to ending Social Security as we know it continues to be extremely underwhelming, gratifyingly, despite the best efforts of the Busheviks.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

SS and the Working-Class

The worm is still turning on this issue, but it doesn't appear that Bush Little (the CRISIS is coming! the CRISIS is coming) has the votes to end Social Security as we know it. Whether democrats will retain their spinal cartridge (almost backbone, but not quite) on this issue is also unknown, but we can remain hopeful.

What remains largely undiscussed, however, is the class dimension of this issue. When those two champions of the working-class, Ronald Reagan and Alan Greenspan, cooked up this reform of social security in 1983, payroll taxes (disproportionately paid by the working-class) were increased to set up the trust fund, which would invest the excess in treasury notes to create the "surplus," looking forward to the time when there would be more retirees than contributors to SS. This has allowed the federal government to maintain the lowest income tax (paid, disproportionately, by plutocrats) in the industrialized world. Kevin Drum, in the Christian Science Monitor, has the details here.

The proposed Stockbroker Welfare Act of 2005, on the heals of the Big Pharma Welfare Act of 2004, once again demonstrates Bush's contempt for workers in the United States.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

The CEO Preznit

Just asking--you thing the CEO Preznit learned union-busting as a MBA student at Haaarvaard, or is this something he picked up in his extensive business experience running all of those oil exploration companies into the ground? The report from the Times on the plans do away with civil service protections for federal employees, beginning with the Department of Homeland Security, and spreading like cancer to the rest of the federal government in the future. Contact your US reps/senators, and let them know this is unacceptable.

More on Workplace Violence

The story continues to evolve at the Toledo Jeep Assembly Plant.

Production scheduled to resume today at site of


With 303 robots and about 1,000 employees building Jeep Libertys at any one
time in 2.1 million square feet, the Toledo North Assembly Plant is a massive
example of some of the latest manufacturing techniques used in the auto

On Wednesday, the plant's 522,500-square-foot body shop was the site of
a violent spree when 54-year-old Myles Meyers shot three co-workers and killed
Production at the Toledo Jeep complex was shut down Wednesday night
and yesterday, but is scheduled to resume today. About 3,800 people work at
Toledo Jeep, which is owned by DaimlerChrysler AG.

Meyers and the three men, one of whom, Roy Thacker of Oregon,
died of his wounds, were among about 125 employees who worked at the plant's
second shift in a shop roughly half the size of Westfield Shoppingtown Franklin
Park. More than two-thirds of the plant's robots are used for welding in the
highly automated body shop.

About 800 Liberty bodies are assembled daily in
the shop, where the process for building the compact sport utility vehicles

Other articles from the Blade have reported that Meyers was arrested in Michigan late last year and charged with the possession of a small amount of marijuana and the possession of a shotgun. The bearing of this news on events remains to be seen; workers at the plant feel the same way:

Body shop workers wrestle with grief


Chuck White knew emotions were running high yesterday morning in the Toledo
North Assembly Plant's body shop

Employees restarted Jeep Liberty production for the first time since
54-year-old Myles Meyers killed a supervisor, shot two other employees, and
killed himself.
A 22-year Toledo Jeep veteran who works on the chassis line,
Mr. White said he could tell by watching the number of Liberty bodies being
built that co-workers at the site of Meyers' Wednesday shooting rampage were
having a hard time.
Usually, the body shop finishes 50 to 60 vehicle bodies
an hour, but yesterday morning they were building about 28, he said.

The reaction was understandable, said Mr. White, who worked with Meyers for
several years a decade ago and was reluctant to return to the plant yesterday.

"I had a hard enough time myself at the other end of the plant," the
Toledoan said after he and other final assembly shop workers were sent home at
lunch because of a lack of painted bodies for them to finish.

"This is like something out of a nightmare."

Spooky and surreal were some of the most common words used by Jeep workers
to describe their return to DaimlerChrysler AG's Toledo North plant.

Second-shift employees were on lunch break when the shootings occurred.
Workers throughout the plant yesterday were briefed about what happened,
given time to ask questions, and urged to accept help from grief counselors at
the plant.

Additional time was spent with workers in the body shop area on the first
shift, causing a shortage of vehicle shells to be finished, prompting the
company to send some workers home early, Chrysler spokesman Ed Saenz said.

Production isn't likely to be at 100 percent on the second shift, either,
he said.

An information session will be held Monday for some body shop workers who
called to say they were not prepared to report to work yesterday, said Dan
Henneman, chairman of United Auto Workers Local 12's Jeep unit.

Both Toledo North, where Libertys are built, and the Jeep Wrangler's
factories on Stickney Avenue and Jeep Parkway were closed by Chrysler on
Thursday to give workers time to grieve and seek counseling.

Workers will be given bereavement pay for Thursday, and more than 100 have
requested counseling, Mr. Henneman said.

Although they don't understand or condone Meyers' actions, some workers are
upset that the repairman who had been at Toledo Jeep for 21 years is being
portrayed by the media and others as a gun-toting drug addict, Mr. Henneman

Meyers was arrested last month in Tecumseh, Mich., for drug possession and
had a shotgun in his car.

Some workers said pressures run high at Toledo North, which started making
Libertys nearly four years ago and has employees working together in teams under
a fellow union member instead of on one job.

Some said union-management relations have been terrible, and they hope
supervisors will change their attitudes.

Many workers have talked about being surprised a violent incident hadn't
occurred before, said Toledoan Kelly Owens, who has worked at Jeep for more than
11 years.

"It's sad that it happened, but nobody's really surprised about it," Ms.
Owens said.

Management's response, besides grief counselers and closing the plant for the day, is to insist that this matter had been resolved amicably, that Meyers did not have to serve a suspension, that everyone parted with smiles and handshakes all around.

That may be the case; but then why did Myers target his immediate supervisors? One of the things that is clear about this incident was that Meyers had three specific people he was looking to shoot, one of whom he killed. Would Meyers take such a drastic action if this dispute were indeed resolved "amicably?"

Ironically, Daimler-Chrysler (DC) and UAW Local 12 were named recipients of an award for labor-management relations by the local Labor-Managment-Citizens Committee (L-M-C) for their negotiations during their last contract (also reported in today's Blade).

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Workplace Violence

Events here in Toledo have made starting a labor blog today a somber event:

Two dead, two hurt in Jeep plant shooting

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) -- An auto worker wired a shotgun to his
body and burst into a Jeep assembly plant, killing a supervisor and wounding two
other employees before killing himself.

The alleged gunman, Myles Meyers, had met with plant officials
to talk about a problem with his work the day before his fatal spree Wednesday
at a Jeep Liberty Plant, authorities said.
After entering the plant at about
8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Meyers had pointed the gun at a woman in the plant's body
shop office and ordered her to summon three other people, telling her he did not
plan to hurt her, police Chief Mike Navarre said.

"He gave her three names. He told her who he wanted and
who he was going to shoot," Navarre said.

She summoned one of the three men, Michael Toney, who was
shot and wounded. Supervisor Roy Thacker, who was on the list of three, was
killed after he went to the office on his own, while a third man who was not on
the list, Paul Medlen, was wounded later, authorities said.

...Meyers, 54, of Toledo did not show up at work as scheduled
Wednesday but used his employee access card to get into the plant, police Capt.
Ron Spann said at a news conference Thursday.
Meyers met a day earlier with
his bosses and union leaders to talk about a problem, but he was not
disciplined, said Mary Beth Halprin, a spokeswoman for Chrysler Group, a
division of Jeep's parent company, DaimlerChrysler.

"The issue had been resolved amicably," she said Thursday. "We had been
given no hint that something like this would happen."

Meyers, according to earlier reports published in the Toledo Blade, had been given a three-day suspension for arguing with his supervior, Roy Thacker.

Norm Reithmeier, a 21-year Jeep plant employee, said he was
working in the vicinity of the shooting but did not see it happen. He knew
Meyers — they both started work making Jeeps about the same time.Mr. Reithmeier
said there had been friction recently between Meyers and a supervisor, and a
verbal argument on Tuesday resulted in a written three-day suspension for
Meyers.But at the plant, suspended employees work during their suspensions, with
a record of their discipline placed in their personnel file. Accumulated
suspensions result in termination.
hundred workers were in the plant at the time of the shootings. All were sent
home shortly after the plant was secured.

“I know Myles. Myles was a good dude. He didn’t have to go out
like that, but when you get pushed. … Roy [Thacker] was a good guy. He didn’t
need to go out that way, either,” Mr. Reithmeier said.

Part of the problem here, in my opinion, is the position that many unions now find themselves in after twentyy-five years of being whipsawed by corporations. Unions are no longer acting as advocates for workers, but as intermediaries between management and workers.

Earlier reports of this incident in the Blade mentioned that Meyers had been given a three-day suspension, but that such suspensions were now served in the plant (in a detention hall?). Management and Meyers obviously had different opinions on the resolution of this, and those diffences played themselves out tragically on Wednesday night.

Declaration of Independence for the Working-Class

Ninety-nine and a half years ago, "Big Bill" Haywood declared the adoption of the constitution of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) the "Declaration of Independence for the Working-Class." While the One Big Union carries on the fight, Haywood's part in the struggle ended with his death and burial in Moscow in 1928. The aim of this blog is to take up Haywood's struggle by analyzing news and events from a worker's point of view. Nathan Newman ( has called for labor blogs, rather than blogs about labor (i.e., blogs that focus upon workers and their unions, rather than occasional blog posts about union politics). This site aspires to be a voice for such a direction.