Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
October 24, 2011

Recycled Peace, Frugal War
Wow, two wars ended in one week. No President has ever done that before. No wonder they gave the guy a Nobel Peace Prize.

The Commander-in-Chief declared GIs now in Iraq will be “home for the holidays.” He went on to say,

“Because after a decade of war, the nation that we need to build — and the nation that we will build — is our own, an America that sees its economic strength restored just as we’ve restored our leadership around the globe.”

Of course, this is a somewhat recycled joyous announcement. Last year, during the campaign season for the Midterm elections, TV newscasts showed us the very last “combat” troops pulling in to bases awaiting deployment elsewhere. Serendipitously, there was work available for most of them in Afghanistan. The mission of those remaining in Iraq was limited to training the Iraqi army–though dozens of GIs have been killed there since.

The Status of Forces Agreement–initially brokered by President Bush--calls for the complete withdrawal of troops by the end of 2011. The current Administration had been negotiating with Baghdad about maintaining a substantial force indefinitely--but broke down over the question of immunity for American soldiers . Making the best of a somewhat embarrassing situation, the White House decided to simply celebrate victory once again. In a cynical gesture toward the New Priorities movement they even hinted at a peace dividend that would boost the ailing economy.

Both conservatives and liberals have questioned the wisdom of total U.S. withdrawal while Iraq remains in bloody chaos. But a retired brass hat serving as a military commentator for NBC showed surprising candor by saying it was the invasion, not the withdrawal, that is responsible for the instability being left behind.

Similar instability seems likely in Libya as well. After tolerating the Tyrant for more than four decades, Obama collaborated with British Prime Minister Cameron and French President Sarkozy–like him, also in serious domestic political trouble–launching a high-tech war in support of a murky “revolution” in Libya. Khadafi, after being targeted and strafed by U.S. drones and fighters, was finally captured by rebels and tortured to death last week. Lynchings of accused Khadafi supporters are widespread and thousands have been jailed without charges by the rebels. According to the head of the NATO-recognized provisional government, the secular character of Libya will be replaced with “Islamic law” in the new constitution. If this is interpreted like Saudi Arabia it’s, of course, bad news for Libyan women. This is what NATO-installed democracy looks like.

As the White House hailed victory in this mini-war they took cost-conscious pride in the fact that the U.S. spent only a measly one billion in the NATO Libya effort. Well over a trillion was spent to destabilize Iraq.

Since the wars of the past decade were unjust in their aims and implementation I don’t join the war makers in referring to all GIs as heroes. But neither do I hold the working class women and men in uniform responsible for the crimes of the Bush and Obama administrations. They did their duty in service of elected government. Those discharged bear physical and emotional burdens from combat experience. They return to a job market that isn’t giving heroes any breaks.

Not all are coming home. Unfortunately, at least one war continues–the decade-long expedition in Afghanistan. Don’t put away those “Bring the Troops Home Now!” buttons just yet.

Dress Rehearsal In Grant Park?
On Saturday, about 1500 Occupy Chicago protesters demonstrated in the city’s LaSalle Street financial district carrying signs ranging from Greed Sucks to No War But the Class War. Later many went to a make-shift camp site on the Congress Plaza end of Grant Park. As they had done a week before, Chicago cops swooped in about 1AM Sunday morning to break up the camp and arrest those violating the park curfew.

Unlike the famous raids ordered by Mayor Daley I during the 1968 Democrat Convention, the protesters did not physically resist the police. In fact there was some good-natured competition to get a seat on the vans and buses Chicago’s Finest had brought to haul them to the main Police Station. “Take me next,” many shouted.

Among those apprehended were Registered Nurses staffing a First Aid Station–members of National Nurses United. Here’s some excerpts from a NNU press release,

“NNU is asking supporters to call Mayor Emanuel’s office at 312-744-5000 and demand they immediately drop all charges against the nurses and other protesters, and stop the harassment and arrests of the nurses and others peacefully exercising their free speech rights....Nurse leaders of National Nurses United who set up a nurses’ station to provide basic first aid to Chicago protesters – as NNU has done peacefully in five other cities across the U.S. – were among the some 130 people arrested by Chicago police. The police also tore down the first aid station, and arrested scores of others who had peacefully assembled to support the station....Emanuel has been perhaps the most aggressive mayor in the nation in repression of the occupy Wall Street movement with mass arrests on at least two occasions now. The Chicago Tribune Saturday reported that city officials are trying to send a message to world leaders of being “tough” on demonstrators in advance of upcoming meetings of G-8 and NATO leaders in May....NNU also has first aid stations now established at occupy protests in New York’s Zuccotti Park, site of the first Occupy Wall Street protests, Los Angeles, Washington, San Francisco, and Detroit, and will be opening up others in coming days.”

Earlier the NYPD was involved in a more sophisticated incident.

Andrew Cuomo, Working Families Party Governor of New York, has not only been busting public sector union chops. Last week he announced he would not extend the state tax surcharge on the incomes of the wealthiest. He modestly compared this courageous, unpopular act of more hand-outs to the rich to his father Mario’s stand against capital punishment when he was Governor.

In a recent poll, 72 percent of New York registered voters favored increasing income tax on those making a million or more. Unions and community groups quickly formed a coalition to fight to at least maintain the present surcharge. For their name, they adopted the nomenclature of their new Occupy Wall Street allies–99 New York. When OWS learned Cuomo was coming down from Albany to accept an award in the Big Apple they organized a suitable welcome.

But some ironic twists set this apart from just another OWS day in the neighborhood. Cuomo’s “Game Changer of the Year” award ceremony at the Skylight Studios was hosted by Arianna Huffington. Huffington was once a conservative advocate who frequently contributed to William Buckley’s National Review. But in the new millennium she converted to liberalism and went on to found Huffington Post–an online news site billed as a progressive answer to corporate media.

A slick marketer, Huffington relied on “citizen journalists,” recruiting prominent academics, artists and labor and social movement leaders, to contribute articles gratis. She also exploited free lance writers for unpaid work they contributed in hopes of making HuffPo, as it became known, a success and maybe eventually earning a living from their writing.

HuffPo, of course, did become a success. America On Line decided to pay Huffington 315 million to acquire it as their news hub and they retain the progressive alternative publisher to run it for a six-figure salary. The amount of this windfall she shared with the free lancers who helped make HuffPo such a valuable property was equal to the number of calories in Coke Zero. Only after a now withdrawn boycott of HuffPo supported by the Newspaper Guild and National Writers Union has she agreed to at least discuss guidelines for compensation for free lancers. (For more details see the National Writers Union Pay the Writer Campaign.)

But wait, there’s more. One of the guests invited to the HuffPuff awards was Naomi Wolf. While she has gained prominence and literary success as a feminist writer she shouldn’t be typecast solely in that role. She has also been a sought after and well compensated political consultant, including Bill Clinton’s 1996 campaign and Al Gore’s 2000 White House bid. Unlike most such consultants, however, Wolf has at times ruffled the powers-that-be around free speech issues, including in New York City.

To her credit, when Wolf saw the OWS protesters being pushed across the street and hassled by New York’s finest she couldn’t resist going to talk to them. Initially, she had planned to offer to personally raise their concerns to Cuomo inside. When she discovered the cops wouldn’t allow the OWS folks on the sidewalk in front of the Studio she declared that wasn’t right and, with a small group of protesters, began picketing back and forth in front of the award venue. In an act she later described as a “Stalinist erosion of rights,” dozens of cops set upon the sidewalk line and Wolf and others were arrested. A cop told Wolf to save her complaints for the judge. Wolf, and her partner, film producer Avram Ludwig, were detained for about a half-hour at a different precinct from the main body and then released with a summons charging them with “refusing a lawful order.”

Meanwhile, just like on Broadway, the Game Changer Award show went on.

Still Waiting On Chrysler
I was fully expecting to be able to review all of the Big Three UAW agreements this time. The official yes vote by Ford workers was 63 percent. But, as I get ready to put this WIR to bed, Chrysler is surprisingly still up in the air. Stay tuned.

In Brief...
¶ From the CBC this morning, “A GO Transit bus strike has been averted, but a walkout by York Region Transit workers began on Monday morning, causing travel problems for thousands of commuters traveling north of the city....About 340 employees represented by Amalgamated Transit Union 1587 are affected by the walkout. About 220 Viva drivers represented by ATU Local 113 also walked off the job, stopping service on five express routes.” Issues include wages and benefits.
¶ David Clay Johnson writing for Reuters about Social Security payroll tax figures for last year, “There were fewer jobs and they paid less last year, except at the very top where, the number of people making more than $1 million increased by 20 percent over 2009. The median paycheck — half made more, half less — fell again in 2010, down 1.2 percent to $26,364. That works out to $507 a week, the lowest level, after adjusting for inflation, since 1999. The number of Americans with any work fell again last year, down by more than a half million from 2009 to less than 150.4 million.”
¶ Us Social Security pensioners will be doing better next year than workers at GE or Tier-1 auto workers–we’ll be getting a raise. For the first time in three years, the Cost-of-Living Index used for SS benefits gives us a hike of about 3.6 percent. However, an increase not yet announced in Medicare Part B premiums will reduce that amount. The current average monthly benefit–before Medicare deduction–is 1,082.

I’ve been invited to participate in a teach-in about climate change at Occupy KC, tentatively scheduled during the 3-6PM time block this Saturday, October 29. If you’re in the area I hope to see you there.

That’s all for this week.

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