Category Archives: trade unions

Troubled Britons


No matter the outcome of the British referendum June 23 on leaving the European Union, the argument over the U.K.’s role in Europe and the world is up for grabs. It promises a troubled British political scene for some time to come.
The argument over whether to leave the European Community, or stay in and try to bring it closer to what London would like it to be, has split the Conservative Party. Whatever the outcome of the referendum, it probably means the end of the tenure of Prime Minister David Cameron who has opted for staying in against the Party’s possible majority of “Euroskeptics” At a time when the opposition Labor Party leadership has been grabbed by ultra-leftists who want to go back to the old socialist tenants of the movement, that is likely to produce a fractious political scene, trimming Britain’s traditional worldwide commanding role.
In turn, it is going to limit the supporting – and often leading – relationship that Washington has relied upon with Britain’s traditional worn but still abundant worldwide imperial heritage. Pres. Barack Obama not only chose not to use it, but made a fetish of his anti-English prejudices. A new president, however, even Hillary Clinton who quietly is rejecting much of her support of Obama as his secretary of state, is likely to again look to the traditional “special relationship: between the U.S. and the U.K.
Britain, of course, always had its reservations about joining the EU. London’s City role as one of the principal world financial centers, in part based on the universality of the British pound sterling, always negated joining the EU’s monetary union. But now with the Euro under attack, Germany’s Angela Merkel and her allies in the rest of Europe, not only want to reinforce the Euro but to move toward further political integration. In effect, there is a general consensus on the Continent among the advocates of the EU that if it doesn’t move further toward integration, it will fall apart. But the growing criticism of the EU’s inroads on what many British see as their independence and every day life is anathema in London.
Pro-Brexit Tories have been infuriated by Cameron’s campaign to keep Britain in the bloc and his dire warnings about the consequences of leaving. There is more and more questioning of his political achievements and the debate has turned very nasty. The usually mild manner former Conservative Prime Minister Sir John Major, an advocate of staying in, has called his Tory opponents “dishonest”, “deceitful” and “squalid” for favoring withdrawing from the EU.
Cameron initially promised a referendum on Britain’s EU membership to quell a rebellion by Conservative Eurosceptics but it has turned out to be the opposite, producing a bitter fight which cuts across all party lines. That’s only a year since the Conservatives won a resounding national election but promises now to end Cameron’s reign long before its promised four more years.
The Conservatives have been divided for more than a quarter of a century over the issue. The argument has turned on whether the U.K.’s membership affords it additional trade and economic rewards or if interference by the unelected Brussels Eurocrats in sometimes minor British laws and customs is worth the price.
Cameron had already promised to quit the Party leadership before the 2020 election, and the referendum has given a platform to the contenders to succeed him. That could be Boris Johnson, the former Conservative mayor of London, a much more controversial figure. The offspring of upper class English parents living in New York, he has been called an elitist, lazy and dishonest and accused of using racist and homophobic language. Whether accurate or not, these accusations contrast with what had been a much more generally acceptance of Cameron, and promises political fireworks in the months ahead.
sws-06-17-16

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La France, les pauvres!


The French are going through terrible times.
As a principle target for the Moslem terrorists, Paris, with two bloody attacks in the past 18 months, now has unlimited security concerns, bracing for further attacks.
The government of Pres. François Hollande, a socialist mind you, has taken the country’s restrictive labor laws in hand to make that peculiar if highly personalized French work ethic internationally competitive. France’s unions – actually a smaller portion of the work force than in most countries – are in revolt, as much among themselves as with Hollande, with daily strikes in transportation and other services. The old former Communist CGT is leading the pack, often violently.
In that inimitable French sympathy for the downtrodden, the public is largely supporting the strikers. So Hollande has had to resort to extra-legislative action to get the ruinously restrictive labor laws off the books. They not only make firing a worker almost impossible but also block the organization of new businesses through hiring restrictions. Eventually he will have to tackle the 35-hour workweek which was adopted in 2000, supposedly to minimize unemployment and to enhance quality of life in an industrial system demanding more of workers. Most observers believe it has failed on both counts.
Most of the economic indicators are grim. In the first quarter, the economy grew at only a half percent. Ten percent of the workforce or over 10% is unemployed, a rate almost twice that of the rest of the European Community. The worst is that among the young the figure is closer to 25%. The French government is borrowing at a rate higher than theoretically permitted by the EC. France’s enormous overstuffed public sector accounts for almost 60% of its GDP.
To aggravate the situation even more, Paris and most of central France, is suffering a record flood. The Seine has burst its bounds and threatened the Louvre, the world’s most historic museum, with paintings being carted off for safety. [Leonard da Vinci’s Mona Lisa was housed on an upper floor.] The terrorist threat, labor snafus and the flood are bound to cut into tourism, accounting for 3% of the GDP as the most favored destination in the world with almost 90 million foreign tourists in 2013.
It is common for Americans to denigrate France and the French. The rapid collapse before the Nazis in 1940 set that pattern of thinking. But the French deserve better of us. It has to be remembered that American independence might not have been achieved without George Washington getting the help of the French navy at Yorktown. It was the autocrat Napoleon Bonaparte who took the French Revolution’s promises of liberty, equality and brotherhood to the rest of Europe where they remained, at least, as goals of future governments. Nor can it be forgotten that France led world technology through the 19th and early 20th century. That hideous monument to Gustave Eiffel’s engineering skill, still towers over Paris as well as his constructions all over the world, in Vietnam, for example, where his railroads are still remarkable engineering achievements. The Panama Canal was his concept, even if the French companies failed in their attempt to create it.
France, traditionally has accommodated large numbers of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe. But it is now handicapped with an Arab Moslem minority, given sanctuary after Charles DeGaulle recaptured power by abandoning the French military bitter victory in the Algerian War. For various reasons, the seven million have resisted the normal francoization and former indigestible and depressed separate communities around Paris. [Hollande does have a female Moslem minister of labor.] But it is increasingly clear that all of Europe, including Germany, has a similar growing problem of absorbing Mideastern and African migrants.
France still has a great deal to contribute to the wealth of Western culture. And it will likely get through the current crisis with its own inimitable solutions. In the meantime, it deserves the sympathy of American friends, and where possible, their assistance.
sws-06-13-16

The health muddle [cont.]


The health muddle [cont.]
Just as it looked like it couldn’t get much worse, new statistical evidence shows that health insurance is getting more expensive for most workers because of the increase in deductions.
Employer-provided health plans are defying earlier predictions their numbers would decrease in the face of new Obamacare regulations. But while the overall number of plans did not decrease appreciably, the plans’ members were hit in 2015 on the average with nearly 9% in more than $1,000-deductions. That means, of course, that the average worker is carrying a bigger part of the total plan expense than before.
The increases continued an already growing trend. The average deductible before their insurance kicks in has more than tripled from $303 in 2006 to $1,077 today. It also explains, to some extent, why workers’ wages have flattened. In their negotiations with employers they have taken medical insurance benefits stead of higher wages. It explains why these deductibles have increased more than seven times the increase in wages. It also explains why although increases in medical insurance premiums to an individual worker have actually fallen, by 1% over 2014, for the first time in a decade [even though they are up 3% for family plans]. In effect, the worker is exchanging any increase in premiums for higher deductibles.
That also means that one of the principle, if infinitely complicated aspects of Obamacare, has been having little effect. The Affordable Care Act [Obamacare] was supposed to supply subsidies through marketplace funds to offset increases in premiums. But aside from all the difficulties of getting these funds into place – state-administered funds versus federal funds – the growing difficulty for the average wage-earner is this increase in deductibles [and co-pays] rather than the premium itself.
A Kaiser Family Foundation’s study reports the average deductible for a more liberal plan this year is more than $2,500. So that predictions of critics of Obamacare that it would undermine company plans so far is now being born out. Of course, this is being reinforced by the so-called employer mandate in Obamacare which requires employers with 100 workers provide health benefits, a figure which drops to 50 workers in 2016. Business circles argue that this requirement is eating into overall employment, accounting in part for the growing structural unemployment rates even while the economy sputters to regain its footing. Management is reluctant to add workers and wherever possible will try to get under the ceilings.
Another piece of bad news in the Kaiser study is that the Obamacare’s 13% tax on so-called “Cadillac” plans offered by employers has led many companies to withdraw them. Opposition to the tax is coming as much from the Obama Administration’s normally loyal unions as from business circles.
It’s hard not to say we told you so. The slap-dash, one-party, Obama Administration’s effort to solve the infinitely complicated problems of modern medical care, a sixth of the economy, in one piece of legislation was always doomed. No one should minimize the problem of matching the growing technology, much of it expensive in its initial development, to the demands of an aging population. But we would plead with the critics of Obamacare, especially those determined to wipe it out and start over, not to look for any “golden key” solutions.
The problems of applying the incredible achievements in medical science to a growing population require study and compromise. These can best be made on a case by case basis, in a series of pieces of legislation, which may in some optimistic future be collected, but for the moment require attention to detail. It is one of the few issues which unitrs all Americans, and we wait impatiently for solutions – not a solution..
sws-09-22-15

America, bursting with energy!


The U.S. energy juggernaut, powered by new technology and common sense, keeps rolling on.

Gains in energy production and productivity probably account for much of the projected 3.5% increase in the gross national product in the last quarter of 2013. Of course, even if it doesn’t get he expected adjustment downward later, the gains represents only a small part of the race to recoup the losses of the past seven years since the 2007-08 financial crisis hit. Nor unfortunately is energy production in itself much of a labor intensive activity, making little contribution toward the most horrendous unemployment problem since the end of World War II or maybe the Greart Depression. And it is very much still with us despite some masterful Administration playing with statistics [that notorious form of lying!]..

But what would be laughable if not such a tragic reflection of the Obama Administration’s war on the economy, are the claims in the President’s state of the union address for effecting the energy progress. In fact, this Administration has done just about everything it could to inhibit the expansion of fossil fuel development. Nevertheless Administration efforts to hike prices in order to force the markets into still high cost so-called green energy sources and away from fossil fuels has come a cropper. The enormous strides of deep drilling recovery from shale have worked a revolution in energy, the heart and soul, of course, of the American economy. As one spokesman for the industry said at a Congressional hearing a few days ago, until now our gas recovery in America had been largely the oozing from these shale deposits. Now the industry is going after the heart of the reserves deep in the earth.

But gas hasn’t been the only energy source that has had to overcome Washington’s efforts to stifle cheap fuel. The President’s stacked Environmental Projection Agency has waged a war against our vast coal reserves – possibly unconstitutionally — instead of speeding the search for new ways of burning and utilizing our almost limitless energy resource. It has stifled leasing of government lands for oil and gas development. [Luckily the successful movement into shale gas and oil production has had private lands for a playpen to demonstrate an entirely new source of energy.]  It has thrown up barriers to oil and gas exports which would permit the energy companies to use the cheaper American domestic sources in surplus, not only to enhance energy profits but by lucky coincidence to defanging a half century’s use of oil to abet jihadist politics by Middle East producers.

The President’s exaggerated claims for “alternative energy” advances are largely fiction. Hundreds of millions from the Administrative stimulus package have gone into bankrupt entities which even the President has admitted had few “shovel ready” projects as he had earlier claimed, Furthermore, fossil plants are still needed to meet increased energy demands in even this relatively stagnant economy. For when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine electricity demands still have to be met. Never mind the horrendous cost and endless litigation for new high voltage networks that nobody wants in their backyard to carry these “alternatives’ production from their origin where they cannot be stored to the urban markets where they are needed.

No more did the ballyhoo of the liberal media die down over an empty rhetorical State of the Union drama – shamelessly ending with an appeal to every patriot’s tears with an endorsement of the struggle of a heroic wounded soldier – than there was a new ringer. The State Department, somehow charged with the audit because of the involvement of our neighbor and near-twin, the Canadians, announced there are no environmental constraints against building the Keystone XL Pipeline. It is the fifth time a government inquiry has said the $5.4 billion project, to be funded entirely by the private sector, has been given an environmental stamp of approval. Some fifteen thousand pages of scientific and technical evidence published in four environmental analysis reports since 2010 had already concluded the project would have minimal impact on the environment. The trajectory from Canadian tar sands through the Dakotas – where it would pick up increasing oil production from one of the largest finds ever in the U.S. – toward refineries in Texas looks like a thunderbolt, zigzagging to avoid supposed local environmental hazards. Even organized labor, what had been Obama’s most loyal constituencies. has been pressing the Administration to go ahead for the tens of thousands of construction jobs it would produce. The proposed 1,179-mile pipeline extension would run from Hardisty, Alberta, to Steele City, Neb., and then join up with a southern link already completed in January this year to the Texas refining and petrochemical complex and ports. The 485-mile southern section of the pipeline operated by Calgary-based TransCanada did not require presidential approval because it does not cross a U.S. border.

What the Administration could have been doing instead of diddling with this obvious decision is devoting its subsidies to pipelines to carry our now huge surplus of gas in the form of liquefied natural gas [LNG] to a new network of filling stations around the country. Japanese and Hong Kong taxis have been using imported Indonesian LNG successfully and with great economic benefit for more than half a century. We have a few municipal bus and truck fleets around the country using it, ironically, largely because of environmentalist pressure for the reduction of carbon emissions which results from gas rather than other heavier fuels. In fact, again, it has been the growing substitution of gas for old style coal burning turbines – largely for purely economic reasons – that permitted the President to trumpet the fact that the U.S. has succeeded in the goal more than any other country in reducing carbon emissions. But that has not not, as he hinted, taken place because of anything the government has done. [Mandated higher mileage for Detroit’s automobiles which the Administration crows about is a minimal contributor, if at all. What it has done is drive manufacturers toward lighter weight vehicles, hopefully not ahead of the meticulous and difficult development of stronger metal alloys and crash-resistant design.] In fact, some auto engineers point out transforming a 1960s standard gasoline engined car to LNG would only be a matter of a thousand dollars or so The hitch is a network of filling stations to dispense the LNG from transcontinental pipelines..

Even the environmentalistas of NPR have had to acknowledge the explosion of energy in the northern plain states in a series emphasizing the seamier side of the enormously profitable developments there. That has been not onlya bonanza for the companies but for the lowest unemployment rates in the nation. “National People’s Radio” emphasis is less on the hundreds of thousands of jobs and taxes paid local governments and additional income for farmers, some eirtscrabble poor – and the benefits for energy consumers created by a traditional American oil boom..

But what the government-subsidized network series does underline is that in part because of war against expansion of pipelines, “$1 million a day just being thrown into the air” or “flared”, burned into nothingness as an unused byproduct of the search and development of the golden light crude oil of the region. NPR’s solution to the problem is, of course, more regulation rather than directing federal subsidies toward the rapid creation of new pipelines. That kind of program could carry this wasted gas wealth to newly emerging petrochemical and other manufacturing “in-shoring” from its earlier flight of American industry to more attractive business environments overseas.

Bottom line: even the anti-business, anti-free enterprise, anti-libertarian thrust of the Obama Administration and its often mindless Washington bureaucracy has not been able to squelch the vitality of the U.S. economy. The struggle will go on for at least another three years. But in the energy revolution now going forward despite the statism of the current Washington leadership, American initiative and enterprise is reasserting itself for what one hopes will be its inevitable economic victory in its best U.S. traditions.

sws-02-02-14