Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
August 6, 2012

A Day That Lives In Infamy
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt used that phrase to describe one of many infamous acts by the Japanese Empire during World War II–the surprise bombing of the US Navy base at Pearl Harbor. Far more infamous is today’s date in history marking the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, followed three days later with another variety of A-Bomb attack on Nagasaki.

Pearl Harbor was the incident that overcame strong antiwar sentiment in America to take our country in to a global contest for control over resources and markets that claimed about seventy million lives. Hiroshima was the beginning of a compressed end game that finished that war.

These bombings were not the worst in terms of total casualties in a single event. The British RAF under “Bomber” Harris early on developed the technique of fire-storm bombings with huge civilian death tolls in Hamburg, Dresden, and other German cities. Curtis Lemay’s American bombers later used the same methods with even more devastating effect on Tokyo’s wood structured working class neighborhoods. (Lemay later became notorious for his call to bomb Vietnam “back in to the Stone Age,” and in 1968 was “segregation forever”Governor George Wallace’s Vice-Presidential running mate.)

But, even though the 1945 prototype fission devices were puny compared to the later hydrogen weapons, never before had a single bomb done so such damage and never before had the world seen the effects of mass radiation poisoning. The Emperor soon asserted his authority over government and, in an unprecedented radio address to his subjects who heard his voice for the first time, instructed them to surrender.

Japan, essentially out of food and fuel, had been offering through third-party neutrals to surrender with only one condition–maintaining the Emperor. Insisting on unconditional surrender, President Truman ordered what is so far the only use of nuclear weapons on human beings. After the surrender, the U.S. agreed to maintain the Emperor.

The real motive of these bombings was to dramatically demonstrate the USA was a super-power with horrible new weapons--and the will to use them. But within a few years the Soviet Union had nuclear weapons as well. By the Fifties peace was being maintained through a de facto policy with an appropriate acronym–MAD, mutually assured destruction.

Today many countries have nuclear capability and there are still more than enough bombs in place to destroy the Earth’s population many times over. On this infamous anniversary we should:

* Remember the first victims of nuclear war
* Remember it was our own government that carried out this infamy.
* Renew the neglected struggle to disarm the war-makers of their weapons of mass destruction.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki–Never Again!

The once most prominent global warming denier in the scientific world, Berkeley physics professor Richard Muller, recently wrote in the New York Times,

“Call me a converted skeptic. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I'm now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.”

This convert is surely considered an apostate by the billionaire Koch brothers who had pumped big bucks in to Muller’s research team in the expectation that it would give some shred of credibility to the dismissal of the most serious challenge yet to humanity’s future.

Muller went on to tell readers of the Times,

“As carbon dioxide emissions increase, the temperature should continue to rise. I expect the rate of warming to proceed at a steady pace, about one and a half degrees [centigrade] over land in the next 50 years, less if the oceans are included. But if China continues its rapid economic growth (it has averaged 10 percent per year over the last 20 years) and its vast use of coal (it typically adds one new gigawatt per month), then that same warming could take place in less than 20 years.”

The fifty-year figure is close to the conservative consensus projections of UN bodies–which are dismal enough. The twenty-year variant would mean brutal changes not for our great-grandchildren but for most of today’s population.

In fact, over this past summer most of us in North America residing east of the Rockies got a sneak preview of the earliest stages of what will only, with some ups and downs, get worse. As the Guardian summarized congressional testimony by leading climate scientists,

“Drought, wildfires, hurricanes and heatwaves are becoming normal in America because of climate change, Congress was told on Wednesday in the first hearing on climate science in more than two years.”

There was bipartisan agreement only on one essential point–there is no prospect for any kind of climate legislation in the foreseeable future.

In the meantime, America’s breadbasket is coming up crumbs. The majority of the USA corn crop is in various gradients of less than good. Soy beans aren’t much better. Midwest orchards and vineyards are in rough shape as well. And livestock is suffering from parched pastures and dried up ponds as well as the heat.

Also hit hard by the drought are the inland waterways of the Mississippi River System where barge traffic typically carries enormous cargoes, especially of grain and coal. The Mississippi has been completely closed at times at La Crosse in the north and Vicksburg in the south. Many stretches in between have sufficient channel depth for only one-way traffic leading to near gridlock.

Global capital is responding as they best know how–making windfall profits off of calamity. Brazil has already planted a record corn crop and is standing by to do the same with soy beans. They likely will press for a break in the punitive U.S. tariff on cane-based ethanol to meet the corn shortfall. And China has planted a vast corn crop destined for export.

While the American beverage industry may get enough high fructose corn syrup, all this will mean higher food costs on the world market–including consumers in the USA. Congressional Austerity may compound this through substantial cut-offs of the record number of Americans already depending on food stamps. Even more ominous is the impact of lost food production on the hundreds of millions across the planet who were going hungry even during bumper crops.

It’s time to preach to not only tardy scientists but to also win converts among those who have the power to change things–the working class.

The Lefty Pageant
Since they dropped baseball, there’s not much that interests me at the Olympics. Okay, I admit I was impressed with the gravity defying African-American teenage gymnast dubbed “The Flying Squirrel” but not much else in the competitions caught my attention–not even Ann Romney’s dancing horse. I was not only shocked that three national badminton teams were expelled for shaving points–I was just as amazed to learn this was a competitive team sport.

But I was glad I agreed to watch much of the opening ceremony with my wife Mary. It was not only a technical marvel but also a trenchant chronicle of Britain from Stonehenge to FaceBook. But most surprising to many was the elaborate celebration of the National Health Service.

Now the NHS is socialized medicine, pure and simple. It is one of the few reforms of the postwar Labor Party governments that has survived. Even though the present Conservative-Liberal coalition government has been chipping away they have not dared try a frontal assault. When some in the Tory press tut-tutted about this “leftist” injection in a patriotic spectacle the Tory Mayor of London became an avid cheerleader for NHS.

There’s good reason for NHS popularity. It not only gives a level of universal quality care not seen in any other industrialized country–it’s also the most cost-effective. Properly marketed, it’s one potential British import that could blow away the competition.

In Brief...
¶ AFGE finally concluded a ten-year sort of contract for 45,000 airport screeners employed by the Transportation Security Administration. Wages are not included in an agreement that mainly provides for bargaining over parking, uniforms, attendance policy, and how part-time employees can win full-time positions.
¶ Reuters reports, “Two major Canadian unions unveiled a formal plan to create the country's biggest private-sector union on Wednesday, but left open which political party they would support, who would lead the new organization and what it would be called. The Canadian Auto Workers and Communications, Energy and Paperworkers want to join forces to form a 300,000-strong union that would span growing resource sectors such as Alberta's oil sands as well as central Canada's shrinking manufacturing economy.” The CEP is affiliated to the NDP, Canada’s labor party. The CAW left the NDP several years ago and mainly supports the Liberal boss party.
¶ From the CBC on Thursday, “Student demonstrators and their supporters took to the streets of Montreal with renewed vigor last night following word that Quebec's political ranks are gearing up for a late summer election campaign — the latest turn of events in the months-long protest over tuition fees and controversial legislation.”

That’s all for this week.

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