Free Speech Zone Archive

Uniting for Ukraine

Uniting for Ukraine
Getty Images

Terry Bohuslawsky spoke Ukrainian before he ever learned English, attended Ukrainian schools in Cleveland and, along with his classmates, looked forward each year to decorating the elaborate Easter eggs known as pysanky.

Bohuslawsky, whose parents emigrated from Ukraine, continued to honor his heritage in adulthood. He worked with others to preserve the culture at home while contributing to hospitals, churches and other causes in Ukraine to help the people there rebuild after communism.

Now, in the face of Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s aggression, Bohuslawsky knows that Ukraine’s future depends on a bond much more powerful than the one he and his friends have with their ethnic homeland. It will take the solidarity of working people around the world to help save the Ukrainians and deter future aggression.

“It’s like being in the union,” observed Bohuslawsky, a member of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 979 and an electrician at the Cleveland-Cliffs steel mill that stands near the city’s original Ukrainian settlement. “We all fight for the same reasons. We all fight for what we deserve.”

Since Putin’s unprovoked attack, working people around the world rallied around Ukraine.

The global union IndustriAll began soliciting donations for immediate help and Ukrainians’ long-term needs. Trade unions in Poland, Slovakia and several other countries sent members and trucks to the Ukrainian border to pick up refugees. USW members in Canada donated to Red Cross relief efforts as well as to overseas unions that are aiding war victims, while labor leaders across America called for public pension funds to divest assets related to Putin’s regime.

“It kind of gives you goosebumps,” Bohuslawsky said of the worldwide resistance to Putin.

“We have to fight now,” he explained. “They’re attacking us today, but they’ll be after someone else tomorrow.”

Energy embargoes represent the biggest development yet in this remarkable mobilization of international citizens and unparalleled movement to weaponize shared sacrifice in the fight against tyranny.

The USW, whose 30,000 oil workers account for about two-thirds of America’s oil refining capacity, took a critical step Monday when it not only demanded that the U.S. halt imports of Russian crude but vowed to oppose “with every lever available to us” the processing of Russian-sourced oil on American soil. Cutting off Russian oil deprives Putin of money he needs to continue the destruction of Ukraine.

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Workers Petition Congress: Protect Our Pensions

Leo W. Gerard USW President Emeriti

The total number of workers at risk is 1.2 million. In my union, the United Steelworkers (USW), 100,000 are threatened. Daryl A. Bugbee of Olivet, Mich., is one of them. He wrote Congress’ Joint Select Committee on Multiemployer Pensions on Aug. 8:

“I am the father of a special needs child who will always need assistance. Without my pension, I will not be able to help meet his needs.”

Workers like Daryl count on that money. Most didn’t earn enough to invest in stocks or a 401(k) for retirement. The pension was everything.

Now, they’re vulnerable because 8 percent of multiemployer pensions are collapsing. This is not the workers’ fault. Often, it’s not even the employers’ fault. It’s because of economic forces that couldn’t be predicted and Congressional decisions to deregulate Wall Street and ignore trade violations.

Now, these workers are justifiably looking to Congress for help. Daryl pleaded, “I am writing to urge you to take action needed to restore the failing pension plans.”

Congress could help. It moved in that direction by establishing the Joint Select Committee on Multiemployer Pensions. The committee set a deadline of Nov. 30 to recommend a solution. But after researching for a year and conducting five hearings, the committee appears paralyzed. That’s no help to Daryl and 1.2 million other working and retired people facing financial crisis.

“Please adopt legislation that would protect our benefits,” Daryl implored.

Legislation was introduced last year that would protect the pensions. It’s called the Butch Lewis Act. It would enable the Treasury Department to sell bonds to finance long-term low-interest loans to the troubled pension plans. That’s what Daryl and the 300 other USW members who wrote the Joint Select Committee this year want. Or something similar. They won’t nitpick. They’re scared.

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The Disappearing Deficit

When President Obama took office, the U.S. budget deficit was $1.4 trillion dollars.  In 2013, it was less than $680 billion.  In 2014, it’s projected to be about $514 billion.

And here’s more good news.  Revenues taken in by the federal government are expected to increase by 9 percent in 2014 to $3 trillion, while spending will increase by only 2.6 percent.

The increase in federal revenues is due to a few factors.  First, some tax cuts for businesses are set to expire.  Second, the Social Security payroll tax will also run out in 2014.  Finally, the overall economy is expected to continue to improve, thereby also providing an uptick in revenue.

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Playing Politics with People's Lives

Given the somewhat troubled relationship between the Republican Party at large and its Tea Party subset, this report from Talking Points Memo is disconcerting.

"When a moderator for a recent Georgia Republican primary debate asked candidates by a show of hands whether they would vote to extend benefits for the thousands of American workers who have been stuck with long-term unemployment, the question was met with an awkward pause.

At the Mayor's Day Senate Forum in Atlanta earlier in the week, none of the six candidates raised their hands in favor of extending benefits, but when the opposite question would ask -- who would vote against such a proposal -- all six candidates raised their hands. Rep. Paul Broun's (R-GA) arm shot up the fastest.

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No, You Can’t Scare Me, NCAA!

To the tune of Union Maid:

College athletes, swift and strong, have been exploited long. They’ve been used up, and cast aside, Been working for a song.

But, there is a College Team, that has a noble dream. For just reward, for efforts long, And dedication keen.

So they fight to organize, under laws long recognized. To, in good faith, negotiate, And, their rights exercise.

NCAA? You can’t scare me, I'm sticking to the union, I'm sticking to the union, I'm sticking to the union. Oh, you can't scare me, I'm sticking to the union, I'm sticking to the union 'til the day I die.

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He Can’t Be Serious

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was a crusader not only for racial equality but also for economic justice.  Those efforts were inextricably intertwined for the civil rights iconic leader.  For instance, the 1963 March on Washington was actually called the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  In the last year of his life, King directed most of his energy into the Poor People’s Campaign, an organization dedicated to advocating for economic justice.

Economic inequality, including racially-stratified inequality, has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years. President Barack Obama has even referred to inequality as the defining challenge of our time.  Compare Dr. King’s and President Obama’s stance on economic inequality to this bit of lunacy.

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A True Emergency

As with food stamps, so with Emergency Unemployment Compensation or EUC.

It’s been estimated that for every dollar paid out as food stamps, about $1.73 goes back into the U.S. economy.  By way of extrapolating, let’s apply that same ratio – 1:1.73 – to Emergency Unemployment Compensation.

The national average for weekly EUC benefits is about $300.00.  So we can assume, based on that figure and the ratio above, that for every such single weekly payment, about $519.00 returns to circulation.

There are approximately 1.3 million folks who, as of December 28, lost EUC.  That means that not just $519.00, but a whopping $674 million is removed from our still-slightly-shaky economy every week.

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A Populist, Progressive Budget

More than a year ago, the Progressive Caucus in the U. S. House put together what they dubbed The People’s Budget.  Here, you can read that budget in its entirety.

Some of its original provisions have become moot (i.e., those involving bringing troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan), but the budget retains these and other consequential planks:

1.      Eliminate the deficit by targeting its main drivers: the causes and effects of the recent recession.

2.      Train teachers and restores schools; rebuild roads and bridges and ensure that users help pay for them

3.      Invest in job creation, clean energy and broadband infrastructure, housing and R&D programs

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Corporate Tax Breaks: Dead Wrong

Leo Toribio Pittsburgh, Pa.

An article by Laurence Kotlikoff in the NYT suggests that income taxes for corporations should be abolished and that would produce more jobs.

The author claims to have developed a computer model that demonstrates his claim. But this wouldn't be the first time when a computer model was dead wrong! In fact, as more than one commenter noted, as corporate tax rates declined, so did employment. That clearly points to a problem with the model. Was Professor Kotlikoff's model created by the same people who created

Corporate income taxes are paid only on profits, not on every dollar of revenue. One way for a corporation to cut its income taxes would be to hire more workers, which would reduce its profits, ergo, reduce its income taxes.

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Push-back to Pope Francis’ Illustrate Need for TPP and TAFTA Transparency

Hugh J. Campbell Philadelphia, Pa., son of a Steelworker

CNBC’s report, Pope's sharp words make a wealthy donor hesitate, highlights the pontiff’s criticism of what he calls "an economy of exclusion and inequality," blaming ideologies that "defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation."

Defense of the marketplace was an aim of the Confidential Memorandum: Attack of American Free Enterprise System sent by Lewis Powell to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Powell listed the pulpit as among the perfectly respectable elements of society attacking the marketplace. His August ,1971 memorandum was keep secret until long after  Powell was confirmed as a U.S. Supreme Court justice, not unlike the secrecy surrounding the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA).

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Second Bill of Rights

In his Second Bill of Rights  in 1944, Franklin Roosevelt opined that citizens have a basic right to employment that pays a living wage; freedom from unfair competition and monopolies; decent housing; basic medical care; adequate education, and Social Security.

How much of this has been accomplished?

  1. Employment that pays a living wage: Sorta, kinda.  Current efforts to raise the federal and some states’ minimum wage offer hope here.
  2. Freedom from unfair competition: Not so much.  According to the United Mine Workers, NAFTA is largely seen as a failure by organized labor because jobs have decreased instead of increasing as promised.
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The 1 Percent and the Rest of Us

It’s a cliché: a picture is worth a thousand words.  These charts are probably worth millions.  They depict the degree to which the economy of the United States has become one of haves (about 1 percent of the population) and have-nots (the rest of us).

As of the end of 2012, corporate profits in the United States as a percent of GDP were at an all-time high, while wages, evaluated by that same metric, hit an all-time low.

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The Myth of Food Stamp Queens

I’ll start with a brief bio.  I’m newly retired.  Social Security leaves me a couple hundred dollars short each month, so I plan to apply for the SNAP program – that is, for food stamps.

The instinct of some to condemn SNAP participants as freeloaders or criminals is troubling.  I’m neither.  I have a Master’s degree in Computer Information Science.  I taught for over 20 years at various institutions of higher education.  The lack of a doctorate cost me jobs, though, and now causes me to have to rely on food stamps to supplement my income.

Despite millions of SNAP participants having stories like mine, we’re seeing a trend.  When the poor or middle class object to preferential treatment for the rich, it's called class warfare.  But when the very-well-to-do refer to food stamp recipients as welfare queens, it’s okay.

Caricatures of food stamp phonies created by conservative media are bogus.  Here’s the reality.  On average, an individual receives about $133 per month in food stamps.  That works out to about $4 per day.  As the Baltimore Sun put it, Blow it on a frappuccino, and that's one less day's food.

Any government action that discourages fraud is, of course, worthwhile.  But there's no evidence SNAP is out of control.  It helps feed more than 40 million Americans at an annual cost of $64 billion, or about $1,600 per person per year.  That’s hardly exorbitant.  Rather, it emphasizes the hardships created by the worst recession in several decades.

Michele Petrovsky, Webmaster at Tools4Change Author of, Cathedral or Bazaar?  Fix Higher Education – Teach by the Seat of Your Pants , Donkey Dharma, and Quick Guide to Linux Glen Mills, Pa.