Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
December 18, 2011

Since this is the last WIR of the year it is somewhat expanded beyond our normal length. Our next will appear on or about January 2 of the New Year.

An Unjust End to an Unjust War
Of course, I’m happy to see the last American troops leave Iraq. I’ve been part of the movement that tried to prevent the invasion in the first place and has called for immediate withdrawal ever since.

More than a million GIs served in Iraq over a nearly nine year period. 4,487 died there. Tens of thousands suffered life-changing physical wounds and injuries. Virtually all have to deal with mental and emotional anguish that lingers for a life time.

Of course, it was even worse for the peoples of Iraq. Like the Vietnam war, we will never have a precise figure of those Iraqis who perished. Many deaths were never recorded. Various studies have come up with widely different estimates. Some only count noncombatants. We can be certain that well over 150,000 Iraqis who would otherwise be alive today died because of the effects of this war.

In addition to leaving behind destitute Iraqi widows and orphans, the heritage of the U.S. occupation includes:

* a war-torn infrastructure still largely in shambles
* the once best health care system in the Arab world now barely functions
* the substantial gains for women’s rights won long ago in Iraq are fast disappearing
* long dormant tensions between Sunni, Shia, and Christian have erupted in to mass violence
* trade unions are still being repressed.

No one can bring back the dead. But the country that directly spent over 800 billion dollars to destroy civil society in Iraq can–and should–spend at least that much to support a recovery.

But the only large scale reconstruction project undertaken by the USA in Iraq is the American embassy. With a staff of 17,000–many of them well armed mercenaries providing security--it is the biggest embassy in history. It is there not to help the widows and orphans but to facilitate the U.S. corporate agenda in that country. Should they perceive an urgent threat to those interests a phone call to Kuwait can and will bring GIs and attack planes back in hours.

So my celebration of the end of the Iraq war is somewhat muted. And I haven’t forgotten that other even longer war in Afghanistan where there is still no end in sight. I won’t neglect continuing to share with readers the truth about the dirty high-tech war and its consequences in Libya. Nor will I ignore the plight of returned veterans, many of whom are now “homeless heroes.”

As the great Eugene V Debs taught, for us there is no war but the class war.

And I Get the Cigar
I always welcome some rare good news these days and I got some from my friend Dave Bernt, a UPS steward in Chicago Teamsters Local 705. Dave closely collaborated with his wife Nayeli to augment the ranks of working class militants–their new daughter Isabella arrived last Tuesday, weighing in at a quite respectable 6 pounds, 14 oz Nayeli and Isabella are both doing fine--and rookie dad Dave as well as can be expected.

From Useless to Worse
Introducing a summary of German press commentary on the COP 17 Climate Change Conference in an appropriately titled article,
The Durban Climate Agreement 'Is Almost Useless', the editors of Der Spiegel said,

“The climate talks in Durban ended with an agreement to agree on a new agreement on emissions cuts in coming years. The outcome was hailed as historic by the organizers, but German commentators say the pledges remain too vague and the progress too slow -- while global warming is accelerating.”

This useless exercise in Durban was actually the most benign recent development on the climate front. Immediately after Durban, Canada and Russia announced they were abandoning their Kyoto commitments when that treaty expires next year and Japan is expected to do the same. Of the three biggest polluting countries the USA never ratified Kyoto and China and India, as “developing nations,” have no binding quotas.

The one solid victory of the climate change movement–forcing President Obama to at least delay approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, from the Alberta tar sands to Gulf of Mexico ports, until 2013-- is already being challenged. The White House and Democrat congressional leaders accepted a Senate Republican mandate for a fast-track decision on the dirty project in exchange for extending the suspension of collecting Social Security payroll tax for--two months. The deal is still uncertain as the House, where the cracked tea pots often challenge the authority of their own leadership, is balking. Stay tuned.

While no progress is being made on reducing emissions from industry, energy, and transportation the feedback loops already begun because of past emissions are being recognized as much worse than previously thought. After observing scientists collecting data on methane bubbles in frozen Alaska lakes, Justin Gillis wrote an informative article in the Saturday New York Times, As Permafrost Thaws, Scientists Study the Risks. He says,

“Experts have long known that northern lands were a storehouse of frozen carbon, locked up in the form of leaves, roots and other organic matter trapped in icy soil — a mix that, when thawed, can produce methane and carbon dioxide, gases that trap heat and warm the planet. But they have been stunned in recent years to realize just how much organic debris is there.

“A recent estimate suggests that the perennially frozen ground known as permafrost, which underlies nearly a quarter of the Northern Hemisphere, contains twice as much carbon as the entire atmosphere.

“Temperatures are warming across much of that region, primarily, scientists believe, because of the rapid human release of greenhouse gases. Permafrost is warming, too. Some has already thawed, and other signs are emerging that the frozen carbon may be becoming unstable.”

On the other side of the Bering Sea, Russian scientists have been studying dramatic plumes of methane as wide as a kilometer (⅝ of a mile) bursting out of the rapidly melting Arctic Ocean.

Some readers may get impatient with my repetitive harping on these matters. Sometimes I feel like the radio operator on the Titanic must have when tapping out S-O-S. Like him, I know there are not enough life boats to go around. We need to transfer to seaworthy vessels to reach port safely. If current emissions keep fueling feedback to its full potential it will be bleak indeed for Baby Isabella’s generation.

The polluters that profit from this destruction of the biosphere, and the governments they control, are not going to act in time to save a planet that can nurture human civilization as we know it. They are ignoring all distress calls.

It’s up to us to rescue ourselves. The working class needs to say Game On, taking political power to implement needed emergency measures, before climate change reaches Game Over.

Regulatory Dust-Up
While Republicans--and many union officials--want immediate approval of Keystone the GOP thinks much more study is needed before imposing new regulations on another fossil industry. In his Coal Tattoo blog in the Charleston (W.VA..) Gazette, Ken Ward Jr exposed a rider attached by the House majority to funding of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) requiring a delay in a new dust standard, part of the End Black Lung campaign, until there can be further review. Ward writes,

“Never mind the peer-reviewed studies that show a resurgence of black lung in parts of the nation’s coalfields. Never mind the data showing that miners working under what are currently legal levels of coal dust are developing black lung. And forget about the fact that public health and worker health experts have for years been urging MSHA to do exactly what agency chief Joe Main is trying to do — tighten the legal limit for coal dust. I don’t know if there’s a war on coal, but you have to wonder if there’s really a war on coal miners.”

Regulatory Brush-Off
Robert Pear writes in the New York Times,

“In a major surprise on the politically charged new health care law, the Obama administration said Friday that it would not define a single uniform set of 'essential health benefits' that must be provided by insurers for tens of millions of Americans. Instead, it will allow each state to specify the benefits within broad categories. The move would allow significant variations in benefits from state to state, much like the current differences in state Medicaid programs and the Children’s Health Insurance Program....The announcement by the administration follows its decision this year to jettison a program created in the law to provide long-term care insurance, a move that disappointed liberal backers of the program championed by the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy.”

Pear further notes,

“In recent months, federal health officials have taken a number of steps that could help inoculate Mr. Obama against charges that he was foisting a rigid, inflexible model of health care on the nation. Several states have received temporary waivers from tough new federal standards that require insurers to spend more of each premium dollar for the benefit of consumers. Federal officials have also provided temporary exemptions from some provisions of the law for some employers and labor unions offering bare-bones coverage.”

In the end, the only “rigid, inflexible” content to this reform, hailed by many union officials as the greatest thing since sliced bagels, is the continued domination of health care by the insurance and drug robber barons. Advocates for single-payer reform, similar to what was won in Canada decades ago, have not given up and are holding a National Strategy Conference in Houston January 28-29. You can find out more by clicking here.

On the Waterfront
Last Monday the Occupy Oakland movement and some (mostly non-port) unions, hoping to build on a successful “general strike” in Oakland in November, called for a shutdown of all West Coast ports. In several major cities there were at least partial closings for one or two shifts. But the run-up and aftermath of the port strike actions generated a big--and heated--debate within both union and Occupy ranks. Good people I respect could be found on most sides of the controversy.

Without going in to local tactical questions best decided on the scene, and certainly ignoring disputes about who said what at which meetings, I will make some substantial comments about what I view as underlying questions of principles and strategies in strikes, and community actions. But, because of space limitations, not today. Instead, this will be included in a promised Part Two of an earlier article that started out about the Big Three contracts. I’ll also deal with the trending topic of the Middle Class. I’m aiming to have it posted shortly after the first of the year.

After posting December 19 news headlines, I’ll be taking my normal year-end break from webmaster duties, resuming Monday, January 2. Whether you celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, or, like me, secular comradeship and self-indulgence, I wish you and yours a Happy Holiday!

That’s all for this year.

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