Weekly Audit: Chicago workers strike back, jobs strike out, Obama strikes new New Deal

Zach Carter, Media Consortium blogger

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President-elect Barack Obama rolled out his highly anticipated priorities for an economic recovery package this weekend, but the current Congress remains focused on bailouts, with the fate of U.S. automobile manufacturers still hanging in the balance.Mike Madden details the Detroit drama for Salon.com, reporting on how lawmakers who would ordinarily be receptive to a salvage plan have become skeptical in the wake of the Bush administration's handling of the Wall Street bailout. After being promised that their votes would be used to help fend off foreclosures, members of Congress have responded with outrage as Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has devoted all of his legislatively allocated funds to the purchase of preferred stock in financial companies.Josh Marshall offers a compelling analysis of the public reaction to the Big Three's predicament over at Talking Points Memo, noting that the widespread reluctance to reward bad behavior at the automakers could be tied to the fact that most people actually grasp how car companies work, whereas the average American has no idea what role Citigroup really plays in the economy."I do think a big, not very good, and really underappreciated reason for the disjuncture is that the auto makers are structured in a way, are economic entities in a way, that most of us can have some basic understanding on how they operate, what they do," Marshall writes.While the Big Three have undeniably been horribly mismanaged for decades, losing even one of them would have major economic aftershocks. General Motors alone employs well over one million workers.The role of unions in the collapse of the Big Three has also been blown completely out of proportion. Not only have major newspapers grossly overstated union wages for Detroit by factoring in decades of built-up pension costs as labor expenses for current employees, they have recently featured editorials claiming that unions exercise too much power in the current economy. Ezra Klein of The American Prospect takes the Washington Post's Sebastian Mallaby to task for simultaneously bashing unions and praising economic growth in countries like Sweden and Denmark, which both have union densities of about 80%, compared to 12% in the U.S.Which is why it is nice to hear that union workers at the Republic Windows and Doors factory in Chicago-- who received just three days' notice that the plant would be shut down-- have refused to leave the facility until they are granted severance pay. Check out Ron Ruby's interview with factory worker Raul Flores live from the sit-in for Air America Radio.Obama's new New Deal also gives progressives something to celebrate after several recent centrist selections for cabinet positions. We finally have an economic policy that does not begin and end with the financial sector.The next president's proposals include a massive push to boost the energy efficiency of government buildings, repair public schools and provide them with new teaching technologies, and invest in new health care technologies. The plan also includes some of the most basic infrastructure layouts, with a 21st century twist: Obama pledged to rebuild roads and bridges across the country and expand the availability of broadband interenet access.John Nichols writes for The Nation that Obama's focus on infrastructure will be particularly helpful for construction workers, who have been hit hard by the recent housing market downturn.But while the recovery package would be a step in the right direction (the term "recovery" appears to be roughly synonymous with the word "stimulus," with added hints of AIG, Lehman Brothers and skyrocketing unemployment numbers), it is far from the final word on the nation's economic troubles. For Obama to carry out his campaign promise to make health insurance available to everyone in the U.S. would not only be good for the nation's physical well-being, it would also cushion the shock stemming from mounting job losses, as Sarah van Gelder notes for YES! Magazine. An extension of unemployment benefits would also help laid-off workers pay the bills while they search for new work.Speaking of job cuts, the Labor Department delivered another devastating set of unemployment data last Friday, revealing that the U.S. economy lost 533,000 jobs in the month of November, the largest monthly decline in 34 years.Carlo Basilone produced nice video spot for The Real News detailing the scope of current U.S. economic difficulties. Although 10.3 million people are now unemployed nationwide, a staggering 10% are living on food stamps, revealing that many of those who still have jobs are not being paid enough to make ends meet.As Farron Cousins notes in a piece for GoLeft TV, monthly job losses could reach over one million next year and remain at that level for several months.On the Wall Street front, David Moberg provides an excellent history of recent financial innovation and subsequent financial collapse in a piece for In These Times. Chelsea Green features Woody Tasch's inquiries into alternative financial structures that are actually tied to communities and the environment rather than unsustainable risk and short-term executive compensation models.This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy. Visit Economy.NewsLadder.net for a complete list of articles on the economy. And for the best progressive reporting on critical immigration and healthcare issues, check out Immigration.NewsLadder.net and Healthcare.NewsLadder.net.This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and created by NewsLadder.

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