Week In Review
A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
June 21, 2011
This catch-up edition will get us back on a once-a-week schedule.
If it wasn’t for all the people dying and the resources squandered, the debate about whether the war on Libya is a war could be amusing. The Republicans who defended Reagan and both Presidents named Bush against the constraints of the War Powers Act of 1973 have now traded places with the Democrats. While the GOP condemns President Obama for dissing Congress, the top Donkey leaders peddle the White House line that because no GI grunts’ boots have touched Libyan soil the law doesn’t apply. The President’s own lawyers didn’t buy that argument but the Democrats hope we’re still so euphoric over the killing and vindictive burial of bin Laden--another act of questionable legality–we’ll cheer on the destruction of Khadafi as long as the Marines don’t return to the shores of Tripoli.
The lawyers and politicians can argue til the cows come home about the War Powers Act but most of us know a war when we see one. President Truman was the first to evade the Constitutional mandate to seek a congressional Declaration of War. When he sent American forces to Korea in 1950 it was called a “police action,” and the titular prime contractor was that body for peace established by the victors of World War II–the United Nations. But everybody called it the Korean War. It ended only when President Eisenhower decided it was time to end it.
After the Johnson-Humphrey administration got a congressional resolution in response to a faked incident in the Tonkin Gulf, an “intervention” already under way by U.S. “advisers” was escalated against Vietnam, later expanded to include Cambodia and Laos as well. But everybody called it the Vietnam War. A mass antiwar movement, that eventually came to penetrate even the troops on the ground, contributed to the ultimate American withdrawal. The War Powers Act was in direct response to that bloody conflict.
NATO would not have done anything in Libya without the blessing and support of President Obama. Their belated discovery that Khadafi was a harsh dictator was every bit as disingenuous as the Tonkin Gulf incident. Perhaps, if left to their own, a genuine popular movement similar to Tunisia and Egypt might have developed in Libya. The goal of Washington and their NATO allies is not to support a people’s revolution but rather to pick those who will replace the Khadafi regime after NATO wins. They want control of Libya not only for its oil but also to counteract legitimate uprisings against American-backed repressive regimes throughout the region.
Obama launched this war in grand style. Stealth bombers from Whiteman Air Force Base, just down the road a piece from where I live, were among the first wave of what was called establishing a “no-fly zone.” The U.S. Navy fired a barrage of Tomahawk cruise missiles rivaling the “shock and awe” of the start of the Iraq War.
Since moving beyond “no-fly” to an open objective of regime change–expedited by the killing of Khadafi if possible–the bombing and strafing was supposedly turned over to NATO allies. But, as revealed in today’s New York Times,
“Since the United States handed control of the air war in Libya to NATO in early April, American warplanes have struck at Libyan air defenses about 60 times, and remotely operated drones have fired missiles at Libyan forces about 30 times, according to military officials. The most recent strike from a piloted United States aircraft was on Saturday, and the most recent strike from an American drone was on Wednesday, the officials said.”
And, of course, the U.S. remains an indispensable active participant through refueling, and use of Airborne Warning and Control System planes and drones. And those deadly Apache helicopter gun-ships being flown by British, French and Canadian crews were either built in the USA or under license from Washington.
In my book, though newer and smaller in scale, Libya is just another dirty war like the long-running ones in Afghanistan and Iraq. It runs counter to the interests of the working people of both Libya and the USA. It serves only the geopolitical and profit interests of the corporate masters with whom we battle at home. It needs to be stopped–now.
The first word I saw about the tentative agreement at GE was a Sunday evening release by the UE. It was not inspiring. UE General President John Hovis was quoted,
“While the proposal contains important improvements and advances, it also contains certain disappointments. However, given the current economic climate overall it’s an agreement we can support.”
UE said that they had agreed not to release details of the settlement until after both the IUE and UE conference boards had a chance to review it. However, IUE jumped the gun Monday posting a summary with a somewhat misleading headline--IUE-CWA Beats Back GE's Attempt at Massive Health Care Cost Shifting--on the GE Workers United website. Many newspapers and wire services soon released stories based on it.
While GE did back off their initial demand that the unions accept the 35 percent of premium cost unorganized salaried workers must pay, union paycheck deductions will go up--from 21.5 to 24 percent–of still growing demands of the health insurance robber barons. The IUE summary does not include all details about new health care plans–those will not likely be disclosed publically until GE and UE, per their agreement, release them Wednesday at 1PM.
Unfortunately, that is not the only concession in the tentative deal. All workers will receive a 5K lump sum in lieu of a general wage increase July 1. There will be back loaded raises of 2.25 percent in 2012; 2.5 in 2013; three percent in 2014. Capped cost-of-living adjustments are expected to add an additional 1.13 per hour over the life of the contract. With no raise the first year--and more being taken for health care--GE workers real pay will continue to decline.
But the biggest game changer disclosed so far affects the next generation of GE workers. They will be denied the traditional defined benefit pension, stuck instead with the uncertainty of a 401(k).
While not as harsh as recent deals the UAW, Steelworkers, and IAM have had to eat, there’s no way to honestly pretty up this deal–it’s the biggest setback for GE workers since coordinated bargaining began.
It’s particularly galling because GE is highly profitable. GE’s pension fund is so over funded they have not had to contribute any of their own money to it for over 25 years. They are simply following the pattern set by other corporations that have claimed poverty, sticking it to GE workers just because they think they can.
The review by the two national union conference boards is a formality. They are not likely to reverse their lead negotiators. The tentative agreement will be voted on by the ranks by June 29. After their decision we will have more to say.
Find Nuke Rules Too Strict
An AP report, US nuke regulators weaken safety rules, begins,
“Federal regulators have been working closely with the nuclear power industry to keep the nation's aging reactors operating within safety standards by repeatedly weakening those standards, or simply failing to enforce them, an investigation by The Associated Press has found.”
Some of the examples they cite include,
“When valves leaked, more leakage was allowed — up to 20 times the original limit. When rampant cracking caused radioactive leaks from steam generator tubing, an easier test of the tubes was devised, so plants could meet standards. Failed cables. Busted seals. Broken nozzles, clogged screens, cracked concrete, dented containers, corroded metals and rusty underground pipes — all of these and thousands of other problems linked to aging were uncovered in the AP's yearlong investigation. And all of them could escalate dangers in the event of an accident.”
Another installment of their investigation said,
“Radioactive tritium has leaked from three-quarters of U.S. commercial nuclear power sites, often into groundwater from corroded, buried piping, an Associated Press investigation shows. The number and severity of the leaks has been escalating, even as federal regulators extend the licenses of more and more reactors across the nation.”
The Obama administration’s efforts to prove they are serious about tackling burdensome regulations of this industry runs counter to the trend around the world. A recent referendum in Italy rejected a nuclear future there, following similar government decisions--in the face of mass demonstrations--in Germany and Switzerland.
The lesson to be drawn from the AP’s valuable investigation is not that we need stricter safety regulations. Nuclear power and its waste products are inherently unsafe even if we could place trust in greedy owners and deferential government bureaucrats. We need a policy of no nukes, new or old.
¶ A Los Angeles Times article reporting on a recent study, “In some parts of the United States, men and women are dying younger on average than their counterparts in nations such as Syria, Panama and Vietnam. In 737 U.S. counties out of more than 3,000, life expectancies for women declined between 1997 and 2007.”
¶ From the AFL-CIO Blog, “In just two months, workers, activists and other volunteers in Ohio have collected 714,137 signatures of Buckeye State voters to place on the November ballot the repeal of Gov. John Kasich’s (R) bill that eliminates the collective bargaining rights of more than 350,000 public employees.”
¶ I remind those of you in the New York City area that the Protest Wall Street March and Rally, initiated by National Nurses United and endorsed by a wide range of labor and activist organizations, will begin tomorrow, Wednesday, June 22, at Noon at the Federal Hall across the street from the Stock Exchange.
That’s all for this week.
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