Friday, January 1, 2010

Some news items of note as 2009 ends

Four items from 2009 stuck out to me as underrepresented in the media end of year wrapups,so here they are.

(1)RIP-Dennis Brutus

The South African anti-apartheid activist and poet died in Dec 2009 at the age of 85. His activism landed him a prison sentence in Robben Island prison and into exile for for several years. While less known than Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu, he was an active participant in the struggles to end apartheid in South Africa.

He was also a teacher and poet for decades.

My favorite poem by him was a haiku:

"The mirror reflects, the viewer sets the angle"

Here is a link to the Washington Post obituary for Dennis Brutus:

(2) 20 year anniversary of Tiananmen Square

At the time I viewed this as a clear cut democracy movement attempting to move China towards a Western style democracy. The more I read the more nuanced it appears to have been. Whatever the motives of the demonstrators, the reality is the demonstrations resulted in the toppling of the General Secretary viewed as too liberal in his treatment of the demonstrators, Zhao Ziyang, and the ascendency of the more hard line Li Peng,who had succeeded Zhao Ziyang as premier.

While there were certainly many seeking a more democratic society in China, behind the scenes it appears some party members were angling to line up behind whoever they perceived would be the ultimate winners in an internal Communist Party power struggle.
Since many of the principal players in the demonstrations were in their early 20s in 1989 and are still young enough to have many more productive years, it will be interesting to see if they are able to impact China's future as leadership in China changes over coming decades.

Some books that shed light on China over the last 30 years:

***Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang

Zhao Ziyang served in multiple postions withing China over several decades ,but was unseated as Premier for what the inner circle of the Chinese Communist Party perceived too soft a stance in dealing with the protesters at Tiananmen Square. He spent the last several years of his life under house arrest.

***Tiananmen Moon:Inside the Chinese Student Uprising of 1989 by Philip J Cunningham

Cunningham , an American who lived & studied for years in China, served as translator for the BBC and other media outlets during the uprising and interacted with several of the student leaders extensively during the uprising. He raises serious questions about how the students were able to conduct themsleves as freely as they did at Tiananmen Square for as long as they did (several weeks) without some level of support within the upper reaches of party circles.

***The Man on Mao's Right: From Harvard Yard to Tiananmen Square,My Life inside China's Foreign Ministry by Ji Chaozhu

Ji Chaozhu , who grew up in the U.S. after his family left China in the 1930s, returned to China as an adult and worked his way from serving as Chou En Lai's interpreter to serving as an ambassador. He was retired by the time of the Tiananmen Square uprising ,but witnessed some of it and at the time pondered whether it might have been an omen of another Cultural Revolution to come--- which did not take place after Tiananmen.

(3) mininum wage decrease in Colorado first decrease since 1938

While it does not impact a majority of workers and may only come to a loss of less than $100 a year for the workers it does impact, the decrease in the minimum wage seems another step in the race to the bottom economically. It lowers the economic floor for entry level and unskilled jobs which could ultimately have an impact on the wages all workers can expect.

Effective Jan 1,2010 the minimum wage goes down from $7.28 an hour to $7.24 an hour.
$7.24 an hour times 40 hours a week equals $289.69 a week. If paid weekly we can multiply by 4.33 (which takes into account the occasional 5th pay) to get monthly gross $1,253.97 which translates to $15,047.62 annual gross income. This is about $500 above the 2009 poverty income guidelines for two people of $14,570. This is awful close to the economic edge if you are a single parent or a couple in which one person can not find work or is not able to work ,but can't get disability payments.
I understand the minimum wage in Colorado is linked to the inflation rate,but at $7.28 an hour a household was not exactly living with much of a cushion to absorb a medical catastrophe or a cold spell in the winter that drives up the need for heat or a hot spell in the summer that may create a situation in which air conditioning is not a convenience,but a life-saver.

This is a link to the Colorado State Labor Department:

Here is a link to the 2009 poverty guidelines from the US Health & Human Services administration:

(4) No Cost Of Living Adjustment for Social Security recipients for first time since1975.

The lack of a Soc Sec COLA is also linked to the economy as consumer prices have dropped, particularly energy expenses. The AARP notes that ,although overall consumer expenses have decreased, medical related expenses which may disproportionately impact Soc Sec recipients have continued to increase at a rate well above the inflation rate.

The AARP points out that the average Soc Sec monthly check is $1,094.

Here is the press release from Soc Sec about this:

Here is an article from AARP about how no COLA may impact seniors: