Monday, May 9, 2011


Connecticut Workers Fight Back

By Reginald Johnson
May 9, 2011

Everywhere they look, union workers see their middle class lifestyle being threatened.

Quality jobs are lost as manufacturing firms send work overseas. Governors in several states try to cut the pay and pensions of unionized public employees and take their bargaining rights away. Members of Congress set their sights on Medicare and Social Security as a way of reducing federal spending.

Increasingly, at rallies and protests around the nation, union workers are expressing their anger over this turn of events and their determination to do something about it.

On May Day, Connecticut’s unions joined in the fightback. Several hundred union workers and union officials rallied at the state capital, where Gov. Dannel Malloy is trying to force state employee unions to give up $2 billion in concessions to close a budget gap.

Speaker after speaker denounced the greed of corporations and the wealthy, who they said, are not doing their fair share to pay for government operations. They also attacked politicians who are looking to cut social benefit programs --- directing most of their fire at Republicans and not specifically criticizing Malloy or other Democrats.

The theme of the rally, appropriately, was “Enough is Enough.”

“So far all the answers to our problems is we have to give back. Well, why do we have to give back? “ asked State AFL-CIO President John Olsen. “So that corporations don’t have to pay taxes and they can get rebates? So that the rich can take all the wealth and hoard it?”

Olsen went on, “You know we in labor are always accused of waging class war. Well, let me tell you something brothers and sisters. There is a class war going on and it’s against the middle class. They’re trying to exterminate us!”

Ed Reilly, business manager of Local 15 of the Ironworkers said union workers are tired of being pushed around by corporate owners and their right-wing allies and are ready to take a more militant approach.

“Today we say no. We’re going to fight you on every corner. We’ll fight you in the legislatures and we’ll fight you in Congress. If necessary, we’ll fight you in the streets!” Reilly shouted as the crowd cheered.

Reilly also said, referring to those in the state legislature, “We put you in those offices, and we’ll take you out if necessary!”

Many of those at the rally were in the construction trades, including sheet metal workers and ironworkers. Also present in large numbers were members of the Teamsters union, including truck drivers and employees of Sikorsky Aircraft in Stratford, which makes helicopters for the military.

State and municipal workers who are members of AFSCME were also on hand. Municipal workers around the state are under the gun as cities strapped for cash look at possible layoffs as a means of cutting costs.

Many of the protesters wore T-shirts saying “Stop War on Workers.”

Speakers at the event and those in the audience stayed away from criticizing Malloy, even though the concessions being demanded from unions are substantial. News reports indicate there is a possibility of 4,700 layoffs if an agreement is not reached between unions and state officials.

Even Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman got up to say a few words at the rally, assuring the crowd that the administration supports unions. “We’re not like Wisconsin or Massachusetts,” she said, referring to anti-union bills that passed under a Republican governor in Wisconsin and some surprisingly anti-union legislation that is now being considered in heavily-Democratic Massachusetts.

Luke J. Ford, a representative of the Sheet Metal Workers, Local 40, said the recession and bad government policies are really creating tough times for many members.

“There’s too much off-shoring going on. We’re losing jobs,” he said. “We need more manufacturing.”

Ford said companies should only be allowed to move operations overseas if they can only sell their products those countries. He said firms are playing a double game --- running away from the U.S. to benefit from cheap labor in China and other countries, and then turning around and selling their products back here, where consumers have more money.

Ford also called for more government funding to create jobs.

June Pinkin, a retired school teacher from Manchester, who wore a sign saying “Jobs Not War,” said the state needs a more progressive income tax so that wealthier citizens pay a greater amount.

“The U.S.A. and Connecticut cannot afford low taxes on the rich,” she said.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Turning the Page?

By Reginald Johnson
May 3, 2011

So Osama Bin Laden is dead, reportedly killed by U.S. special forces in a commando raid on a compound in a city not far from Islamabad, Pakistan.

If this is true, that the alleged perpetrator of the 911 terror attacks on the U.S. is gone, then it is a time to breath a sigh of relief, close the chapter on this book and declare victory over al-Qaeda.

We can now say our mission in Afghanistan is over, we won, time to pack our bags. We can stop bombing the heck out of civilians, losing our own soldiers, and spending billions in the process. We can bring the troops home and start spending money not for war, but for addressing many domestic needs --- rebuilding our infrastructure, building new schools, building a better energy system, and widening health care opportunities.

I do hope the death of Bin Laden will be used by President Obama in a positive way to change American foreign policy and pull back from our massive involvement in both Afghanistan and Iraq. I think it would do our country --- and the world --- tremendous good.

But something tells me, it won’t happen that way. A couple of reasons for skepticism. First, history. Remember the “peace dividend?” That was the money that was supposed to be freed up when the old Soviet Union and communist countries in eastern Europe collapsed. That was the end of the Cold War, and the near elimination of communism --- after a 50-year struggle.

There was talk of substantial cutbacks in military spending and reducing our military presence around the globe. Not needed now.

Wrong. There were some modest cuts in defense spending, but nothing huge. In a few years, there was talk of new threats, this time from world-wide terrorism and new enemy states. By the end of the 1990s, we were hectoring Iraq over alleged weapons of mass destruction, expressing fear over Iran and sending missiles into Afghanistan to knock out a previous ally and now Islamic terrorist, Osama Bin Laden. And defense spending was back to the old clip.

Based on what happened then, you can expect right-wing politicians and many wormy Democrats to sound the alarm now that "the threat's not over" and "there's still enemies out there," and we can't pull back. These calls will create political pressure on Obama to "not pull out precipitously."

The other more subtle reason why the U.S. will remain parked in Afghanistan and Iraq --- albeit at a somewhat lower profile, but still with a substantial presence --- is oil. Iraq has lots of it, and Afghanistan is a key location for access to the vast oil and gas reserves of Central Asia. The U.S. does not want to lose out on its ability to tap this area and bring oil out via pipelines through Afghanistan. Chinese interests are involved in Central Asia to gain oil, and this is seen as a threat.

I never believed terrorism was the only reason for the American invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. It was a lot about energy --- particularly in the case of Iraq --- and this fact has been covered up, even to this day. Revenge for 911 was the other part of it. There certainly was good reason to believe al-Qaeda and Bin Laden --- based in Afghanistan --- were the perpetrators of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, given previous terrorist incidents and public statements. American officials, including former President George W. Bush, claim they had enough information to justify the October 2001 attack on Afghanistan. ( It must be noted, however, that charges were never brought against Bin Laden, and the FBI said they had “no concrete evidence” linking him to 911).

I’m hoping against hope that there will be a page turning now. Let’s get back to focusing on our own country and providing jobs for everyone and rebuilding our economy.


Stop the Madness

By Reginald Johnson
May 2, 2011

As the world marked the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear accident last week, you had to wonder whether our leaders have learned anything at all about the perils of nuclear power.

The Chernobyl disaster should have been enough to end the whole concept of developing energy through nuclear fission. The plant in the Ukraine exploded on April 26th, 1986, sending a cloud of radiation over much of the old Soviet Union and Europe. Dozens of firefighters died as a result of fighting the fire and getting acute radiation sickness.

Some 800,000 liquidators were brought in to clean up the wreckage and bury the radioactive waste at the plant and nearby towns. Thousands of them have died as a result of the radiation exposure. Children of liquidators have been born with deformities.

Some 150,000 to 200,000 people had to be permanently evacuated from the land around Chernobyl and huge areas are now uninhabitable because radioactivity remains in the soil.

Estimates range on how many people who lived in the area of the old Soviet Union and eastern Europe died as a result of radiation-induced cancers. Conservative estimates put the figure at 4500 while a Greenpeace study points to 200,000 deaths or expected deaths. But a more recent study by the New York Academy of Sciences said close to 1 million people have already died from the Chernobyl disaster.

Even in the early years after Chernobyl, it was clear the impact would be deadly and wide ranging. You would think government leaders in the U.S. and around the world might have paused and thought, ‘hey, maybe we better phase these nuclear plants out, or at least crack down on the facilities that have a history of safety problems.’ No, the nuclear industry was allowed to keep running their plants pretty much unfettered. This, despite the fact that some power stations had a pattern of safety violations while others sit precariously near earthquake fault lines.

It was just a matter of time before another disaster occurred, and so it did in Japan on March 11 of this year. A 9.0 earthquake hit the Asian nation and a resulting massive tsunami came crashing in on the Fukishima Daiichi power plant, which has six nuclear reactors. The cooling systems at the complex --- which are vital to prevent the radioactive fuel rods and spent fuel from overheating and exploding ---were knocked out with the loss of power. Hydrogen explosions then occurred, causing extensive damage.

A tremendous amount of water was dumped on the reactors to keep them cool. Eventually, power was restored, but due to the high level of radiation in the plant, workers have been unable to make the needed repairs to the cooling systems and the situation remains unstable.

Dr. Michio Kaku, a professor of theoretical physics at the City College of New York called the situation at Fukishima a “ticking time bomb” in an interview with Amy Goodman on the show Democracy Now!

As workers try feverishly to clear up the problems, the plant is emitting radiation into the air and soil, and dumping thousands of tons of radioactive waste water into the ocean.

Strontium 90 and plutonium, both lethal elements, have been found in the soil outside the plant. The tap water in Tokyo, 136 miles away, is now contaminated.

Winds have now carried radioactive particles around the world. Elements such as Iodine 131 ---- which is linked to thyroid cancer --- has shown up in the U.S. in municipal drinking water in Los Angeles, Phoenix and other cities. Cesium 137 has shown up in milk samples in Vermont.

Government officials in Japan and in the U.S. maintain the radioactive pollution is “within allowable limits” and not hazardous to humans. But this claim is debunked by nuclear critics.

Harvey Wasserman, a long-time anti-nuclear activist and writer, said there is no “safe” level of radiation exposure. “Anyone who tells you otherwise is either ill-informed or deliberately deceiving you. If it’s detectable, it’s dangerous. If iodine shows up in any quantity in milk, it should not be drunk,” Wasserman said during an interview with Scott Harris on the Between the Lines radio show.

Leaders Oblivious to Hazards

Despite the horror of Chernobyl and the ongoing crisis in Japan, world leaders support the continuation of nuclear energy.

With the exception of Germany, which will now phase out atomic plants (thank you to them), other countries stubbornly stick with the nuclear program.

President Barack Obama recently restated his support, saying developing nuclear was one major step in avoiding the use of carbon-based fuels, which create global warming. He never mentioned that a crash program to develop renewables, such as wind and solar, would get us away from fossil fuels and also avoid the huge risks inherent in nuclear power.

And despite Chernobyl still fresh in the memory of so many who lived in the Soviet Union, Russian President Dmtry Medvedev continues to back nuclear power. The Russians plan to help Turkey build new plants.

I must be missing something. The logic escapes me. Here you have two terrible disasters connected with nuclear power plants, fatal cancers left and right, a pretty bad accident at the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania in 1979, and national leaders still back nuclear power. Huh?

There are so many risks that go with running nuclear power plants --- so many chances for things to go wrong, and so much potential for the worst kind of health catastrophe.

Chernobyl showed what can happen when there is operator error; Fukishima is showing what can happen when a natural disaster strikes and cooling systems are knocked out.

Every nuke plant, as far as I am concerned, is fraught with danger. But I want to mention one in particular because it is near the nerve center of this country and the biggest population center of this country.

The Indian Point nuclear power station sits 19 miles from New York City --- with 7 million people, and millions more in the immediate environs. The plant also lies close to an earthquake fault! What happens if an earthquake knocks out power at the plant? Indian Point, like other U.S. plants, has no back-up power capability. You could have a partial meltdown or full meltdown and deadly radiation would shower the New York area.

Talk about an awful scenario.

It’s time to get real about nuclear power. It is simply not worth the risks.

We have alternatives.

Let’s move to close all these plants now and end nuclear power.