Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
May 31, 2011

A Skewed Holiday
Yesterday was Memorial Day in the USA. The putative theme of this official holiday is honoring U.S. men and women who died in America’s long list of wars. The emphasis, however, is to whip up patriotic support for the three current wars where GIs are in harm’s way.

Just as I mourn miners killed on the job at the same time I advocate eliminating the use of coal, I think the sons and daughters of the working class who lost their lives in combat deserve recognition–even if the aims of the wars that claimed them were unjust.

But, unlike the brass hats and the servile mainstream veteran’s groups, I extend the same sentiment to those “enemy” soldiers who were also mostly working class youth doing what they saw as their duty to their country in all these wars.

Completely absent from Memorial Day is any mention of the noncombatants who have died in far greater numbers than soldiers whether this be through “collateral damage:” so-called “strategic bombing” targeting workers; atrocities like My Lai; or through starvation, disease or hypothermia because of war disruption of food, medicine and fuel supplies. Over the weekend, fourteen women and children’s lives were snuffed out by U.S. bombs in Afghanistan–more than the nine GIs who were blown away by roadside bombs in that bloody land.

Today’s emphasis on air war, along with the introduction of body armor and dramatic advances in combat medicine, has kept fatalities to a much lower rate than experienced in my generation’s war in Vietnam. Combined U.S. combat deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan are less than a tenth of the total in the earlier war.

But most coming home alive from combat are profoundly changed by their experience. Some are affected by undiagnosed and untreated concussions and many suffer from PTSD–physical and emotional wounds that make it difficult to resume normal civilian life. More than 4,000 Iraq/Afghanistan veterans have died since being discharged–a number roughly equal to combat deaths. While some are the ultimate result of physical wounds many more are suicides or untimely death through erratic behavior. Their average age was 31.

Of the 1.3 mln vets of current wars 552,000 have filed disability claims for war-time wounds. Many of these are contested by the Veteran’s Administration and even those accepted face long delayed and often inadequate treatment. Veterans for Common Sense did what the brass-dominated American Legion would never do–they sued the VA and won. Jeremy Schwartz wrote in his blog,

“It’s no secret that veterans face long, and sometimes interminable, delays in getting health care and disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. But this week, a federal appeals court took the extraordinary step of ruling that the VA is violating the constitutional rights of veterans when it forces them to wait weeks for critical mental health care and years for disability benefits. The historic decision, which came largely as a result of the efforts of an Austin veteran’s organization, has the potential to radically change the way the VA provides care to veterans.”

The government that sent these vets off to kill or be killed will likely appeal this decision to the Supreme Court–as many of those they call heroes continue to die abandoned.

Their ranks will continue to swell as those still fighting for the Big Business Agenda on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, and at sea and in the air in Libya, are discharged. And, of course, more will never make discharge. Their only “benefit” will be life insurance to their next of kin and a digitally recorded playing of Taps in the graveyard.

To make Memorial Day complete requires not only honoring the fallen of all sides, uniformed or not; it also means rededication to end the wars our masters launched, demanding to bring every last one of our GIs home now--where we accept responsibility for taking care of their needs.

Joplin Feels the Heat
Though they are all gone now, over the years I had some close family ties in Joplin, Missouri and visited there dozens of times. When I was a kid it was a bustling town of about 80,000, a regional center of zinc, lead and coal mining. Today it is about half the size. The mines all shut down years ago--but not before they literally undermined much of the town. Until recently, the biggest environmental issue in those parts was the occasional loss of structures and roads collapsing in to abandoned mine sink holes.

Over the past week this shrinking and sinking small town became the center of world attention. A Force-5 tornado churned up about six miles of Joplin, wrecking thousands of structures and leaving behind at least 139 dead, hundreds more injured, and still about 20 missing. All the television news anchors rushed to set up live broadcasts from Joplin. President Obama and Governor Nixon have been on the scene to be seen as well.

The views we were shown resembled those old black-and-white photos of Berlin in May, 1945. No two bricks or stones were left standing, framing wood was scattered like the opening of Pick-Up Sticks. The residents were praised for their faith and resilience and numbers were flashed on the screen for the rapid response fund raising of the official Establishment charity, the Red Cross.

Not mentioned was this project of Planned Parenthood,

“We're grateful to learn all of the staff at the Planned Parenthood St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri health center in Joplin and their families are alive. The health center escaped the storm with only minor damage, and reopened yesterday Wednesday, May 25. In the wake of this tragedy, Planned Parenthood affiliates of Missouri are implementing a special statewide emergency....The Joplin health center will be providing care free of charge from now until the end of June to anyone in need - existing patients, their families, or those who have never been to Planned Parenthood before. We invite anyone who is in need of care, whether they need to replace a birth control prescription lost to the storm, check their blood pressure, or speak to a health care professional, to come to the Joplin health center. No appointment is necessary. You can help by making a gift in support of our friends in Joplin. 100% of every dollar raised will be earmarked for this special emergency fund and will take care of the people of Joplin.”

Mary and I have each donated to this project and you can do the same by going here.

Certainly tornadoes are not unusual in this area and the weather conditions that create them are well understood. F-5 is rare but I saw the effects of one that devastated Kansas City’s Ruskin Heights district, along with my high school, in 1957.

But Joplin is the deadliest in what has been a record year for tornadoes in the USA, touching nearly every state east of the Rockies. At the same time, there has also been massive flooding–much earlier than usual--with more on the way as mountain snow melt kicks in. The question is being asked, is there a connection between this surge in extreme weather and climate change?

Meteorologists will truthfully tell you that specific weather events cannot be attributed to climate change. But the honest ones do acknowledge that climate is a determining factor in weather patterns. As climate changes the weather we have come to expect from past experience also changes. Yesterday’s extreme can evolve in to a new norm.

The melting of much of the arctic ice is undoubtedly affecting the jet stream that dominates weather over much of Canada and the USA. Warmer water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico enhance the warm, humid air flowing northward. The climatic changes impacting these two giant weather-makers fit past predictions by climate scientists of an increase in extreme events.

William Chamedies, an atmospheric scientist and dean of the Nicolas School of the Environment at Duke University recently told a reporter,

“It is almost impossible for us to pinpoint these specific events...and say they were caused by climate change. On the other hand we do know that because of climate change those kinds of events will very, very likely become more common, more frequent, more intense. So what we can say is that these kinds of events that we are seeing are consistent with climate change.”

“Very, very likely” is as close as a scientist ever comes to saying certainly.

A new finding on global warming just being released is not good news. After reviewing an advance copy, Fiona Harvey, Environment correspondent for the British Guardian, wrote Monday,

“Greenhouse gas emissions increased by a record amount last year, to the highest carbon output in history, putting hopes of holding global warming to safe levels all but out of reach, according to unpublished estimates from the International Energy Agency. The shock rise means the goal of preventing a temperature rise of more than 2 degrees C [3.6F] – which scientists say is the threshold for potentially ‘dangerous climate change’ – is likely to be just ‘a nice Utopia’, according to Fatih Birol, chief economist of the IEA. It also shows the most serious global recession for 80 years has had only a minimal effect on emissions, contrary to some predictions.”

We should not only view Joplin as a human tragedy, worthy of humanitarian solidarity. It should be a clarion warning–as loud and shrill as the sirens sounded when a twister is spotted--of what to expect if meaningful action is not taken pronto to stop global warming.

In Brief...
¶ Robert Pear writes in the New York Times, “Medicaid recipients and health care providers cannot sue state officials to challenge cuts in Medicaid payments, even if such cuts compromise access to health care for poor people, the Obama administration has told the Supreme Court.”
¶ During negotiations with General Electric for a new national contract the UE is posting
regular updates on their website. Our old friend Chris Townsend tells us “As you will see the General Electric Company has made clear its demand for massive rollbacks in health care, pensions, and wages, among other things. Our work to resist this disgraceful attack is cut out for us. I have been part of the UE bargaining committee since 1991, and there is no question that this is the most difficult contract battle we have experienced over those years. Stay tuned.”
¶ The 50,000-member Canadian Union of Postal Workers has submitted both a revised contract proposal and a legally required 72-hour strike notice to Canada Post.
¶ Mischa Gaus reports in Labor Notes, “Vermont’s health care unions and grassroots activists celebrated Thursday as the governor signed into law the nation’s first bill authorizing health care for all residents as a human right.” We’ll have more to say another time.

That’s all for this week.

Alliance for Class & Climate Justice

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