Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
July 20, 2008

Space Time Continuum
The White House announced Friday that it was open to a “general time horizon” for withdrawal of U.S. troops in their negotiations with the Baghdad regime established by the occupation. The UN mandate for occupation expires at the end of the year but Bush, and Senator McCain hoping to replace him, have bitterly rejected any timetables for getting out. No one can say for sure just what or where the horizon is but at least it will be after Bush returns home to Crawford.

Senator Obama expressed his latest views on the twin wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the New York Times the other day. His position in some ways resembles that of Senator Fulbright during the Vietnam war. Fulbright was a “dove” on Southeast Asia because he didn’t think the area was vital to U.S. interests. On the other hand, he was a strong supporter of the 1965 U.S. invasion of the Dominican Republic, overturning a democratically elected government that Washington didn’t like. He saw the D.R. as being in the Monroe Doctrine sphere of influence.

Obama’s arguments on Iraq do not flow from any principled objection to preemptive war. He thinks it has been a strategic mistake, a diversion from what he sees as a more important war and occupation, now running for nearly seven years, in Afghanistan. He wants a gradual redeployment, between now and the summer of 2010, of most “combat” troops from Iraq. He says,

“Ending the war is essential to meeting our broader strategic goals, starting in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the Taliban is resurgent and Al Qaeda has a safe haven....As president, I would pursue a new strategy, and begin by providing at least two additional combat brigades to support our effort in Afghanistan. We need more troops, more helicopters, better intelligence-gathering and more nonmilitary assistance to accomplish the mission there.”

So, he accepts part of the Bush Doctrine’s preemptive “war on terrorism.” He even hints at extending the war in Afghanistan to Pakistan as well.

It is true that the invasion of Iraq was not essential to the interests of the American Establishment. It was a foolish neocon adventure launched, despite pleas from close allies, with much hubris and little understanding of the consequences. But, unlike Fulbright’s cynical assessment of Vietnam, the incompetent occupiers cannot now simply cut and run from defeat without first securing Iraq’s immense oil resources–and the deals Big Oil are sealing to exploit them.

In this regard, Obama’s position is not essentially different from Bush/McCain. While he rejects “permanent” bases in Iraq his redeployment timetable applies only to “combat” troops–meaning those carrying out patrols and offensive actions. He has indicated in the past that he will maintain thousands of GIs designated for “security duty.” He would also keep further reserves, in places such as Kuwait, capable of rapid deployment in Iraq if U.S. commanders deem it necessary.

It wouldn’t be accurate to say there are no differences between Obama and McCain on the wars. But both would continue to put GIs in harm’s way in unjust wars. Both would squander hundreds of billions urgently required for social needs on war. With some tactical disagreements, both are deeply committed to keeping America the World Cop, defending corporate interests wherever necessary across the globe.

Those interests are not the interests of American working people and not the interests of our working class sisters and brothers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the antiwar movement, like labor and other social movements, will be disoriented the next few months by the diversion of choosing one of the bosses’ candidates to occupy the White House. We don’t have a credible working class alternative in November.

But we should be ready to hit the ground running after the election, no matter which one wins, to rebuild a mass movement around the working class solution to these wars–Bring All the Troops Home Now.


Their long-time Cold Warrior leader Albert Shanker must have made some unpleasant turns in his final resting place as the American Federation of Teachers adopted a resolution entitled, Against the Current U.S. Policy of Permanent and ‘Preemptive’ War. The statement was sponsored by the Professional Staff Congress, City University of New York; United Teachers Los Angeles; and the California Federation of Teachers–all affiliates of US Labor Against the War.

My friend Andy Pollack has produced an excellent account of the recent antiwar assembly in Cleveland.

Green Jobs Rally
The Green Jobs for America campaign of the Steelworkers and Sierra Club is sponsoring a rally in St Paul next Sunday, July 27. Steelworkers president Leo Gerard, radio commentator Jim Hightower, and Minnesota AFL-CIO president Ray Waldron, will be among the speakers. The event, running 1-4PM, will be held at Saint Paul College, 235 Marshall Ave, Saint Paul, MN.

Of course, I naturally consider transit workers to be in green jobs. I got a call from my former local president, now an ATU IVP, Javier Perez this past week alerting me to layoffs that are happening in transit agencies around the country because of fuel costs. These come as more people are turning to transit–because of fuel costs. The ATU is asking for support for HR6052, entitled “Saving Energy Through Public Transportation Act of 2008" as it comes to the Senate. You can help by clicking here.

Failing Health
The Commonwealth Fund has issued a new report card comparing health care in the USA to the rest of the industrialized world. Not surprisingly, even while spending twice as much as other countries, the super-power again fails miserably. Some concluding bullets from the report’s executive summary,

* Up to 101,000 fewer people would die prematurely each year from causes amenable to health care if the U.S. achieved the lower mortality rates of leading countries.

* Thirty-seven million more adults would have an accessible primary care provider, and 70 million more adults would receive all recommended preventive care.

* The Medicare program could potentially save at least $12 billion a year by reducing readmissions or by reducing hospitalizations for preventable conditions.

* Reducing health insurance administrative costs to the average level of countries with mixed private/public insurance systems (Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland) would free up $51 billion, or more than half the cost of providing comprehensive coverage to all the uninsured in the U.S. Reaching benchmarks of the best countries [such as Britain’s NHS] would save an estimated $102 billion per year.

Saving a 100,000 lives and a 100 billion dollars a year by just doing what most other countries do would seem a worthy, reasonable, achievable goal. But there is one other important difference between America and all the others that helps explain our worsening comparison in health–all of these other countries have at least one mass working class party that has fought to win their superior health care.

Tightening Below the Belt
General Motors celebrated their hundredth anniversary of founding in Flint this past week. Given the devastation of Michael Moore’s home town as a result of GM’s downsizing over the years this cruel joke would seem suitable for a New Yorker cover cartoon.

New restructuring announced by GM last week doesn’t rate any celebration either. They are trimming truck production by 300,000 units meaning numerous shift eliminations, possible permanent shut down of at least two plants, and spreading layoffs through parts suppliers. White collar wages will be frozen for two years and thousands of positions eliminated. They will, with the UAW’s agreement, “defer” a scheduled payment to the VEBA now responsible for UAW retiree health care benefits. The non-UAW salaried retirees received perhaps the unkindest cut: effective Jan. 1, GM will end health benefits for 97,400 salaried retirees 65 or older, their spouses and dependents.

Senator Obama was quick to promise to fight for relief–not for the affected workers but for poor GM and their counterparts at Ford and Chrysler. In a letter to the UAW, released by his campaign, the Democrat hopeful said,

“By providing tax credits and loan guarantees for our automakers and by expanding consumer tax incentives for ultraefficient vehicles, I will provide real solutions necessary to help this industry compete and win in the global economy.” A four-billion dollar figure is being tossed around.

Yet Another Crane Disaster
On Friday, the purported world’s biggest mobile crane crashed at a Houston area refinery. Four were killed, seven injured. From published reports it’s not clear what was being done at the time of the accident. The 400-foot boom crane, belonging to Deep South Crane and Rigging, was not scheduled for any lifting but its engine was running when it crashed.

There have been numerous fatal crane accidents this year in places such as New York, Miami, Las Vegas, and a power plant construction site near Kansas City.

Texas does not have a state OSHA or any crane regulations. It is one of 35 states that requires no qualifications for crane operators.

One Last Trip
This Friday I’ll begin the last of four trips over the last four months. This time I’m headed to Superior, Wisconsin where I’ve been invited to speak to a group of young socialists. I’m sure I will learn much from the exchange and I always enjoy a trip to the Twin Ports–as long as it is in July. As usual when on the road we’ll skip a couple of days updating the
Daily Labor News Digest and we’ll be a little late with the next Week In Review.

That’s all for this week.

Demand Guaranteed Healthcare on a SinglePayer model for everyone in America, for life.

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