Week In Review
A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
August 8, 2010
Neither Responsible Nor the End
President Obama announced to a gathering of the Disabled Veterans of America that withdrawal of U.S. “combat” troops from Iraq will be completed by the end of this month as promised. He told them this was a “responsible end” to Operation Iraqi Freedom, launched in March, 2003. But Steven Lee Myers in the New York Times noted in Obama’s speech “a telling, if largely overlooked, caveat: ‘The hard truth is, we have not seen the end of American sacrifice in Iraq.’” Myers goes on to say,
“As of Sept. 1, the 50,000 troops who remain will be part of six brigades organized as trainers — a much thinner force than the 140,000 there when Mr. Obama took office. They will be stationed at a few large bases, to which they have already been withdrawn.
“These troops could still be sent into combat, depending on what happens around them. But that possibility has been relegated to an unwanted contingency — one the Obama administration hopes is remote — rather than the mission.”
There is still a lot happening around them. Another Times reporter, Anthony Shadid, summarized some events in Iraq just on the day of the President’s announcement,
“ Three mortars crashed in Baghdad neighborhoods, where five roadside bombs were detonated and two cars were booby-trapped. Two other mortars fell in the Green Zone, still the citadel of power in a barricaded capital and still a target of insurgents who seem bent on proving they were never defeated.
“By dusk, a car bomb tore through Kut, an eastern town long spared strife.
“‘Nothing unusual,’ said Murtadha Mohammed, a 20-year-old baker, as he shoveled rolls into bags a short walk from one of the bombs. ‘We’ve been raised on this.’”
Iraqis a little older than this young baker remember that before the war, even with a brutal, corrupt dictatorship, and shortages stemming from U.S.-imposed sanctions since the first Gulf War, Iraq had the best health care system in the Arab world; women had educational and career opportunities on a level unknown in the rest of the Middle East; Shia and Sunni lived side by side peacefully in many neighborhoods, often intermarrying; Baghdad was considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world; and electricity was available 24x7.
Today, after seven years of U.S. “liberation,” the health care system is in shambles; women are retreating; sectarian violence is rampant; Baghdad is a city divided by blast walls.
Myers, in an earlier article wrote that currently, “the streets are littered with trash, drinking water is polluted, hospitals are bleak and often unsafe, and buildings bombed by the Americans in 2003 or by insurgents since remain ruined shells.”
And–even though Iraq is purchasing large amounts of electricity from Iran and Turkey–on average, there is only about five hours of electricity available per day even in Baghdad. Maku kahraba–there is no electricity–has become a widely used, all purpose curse.
Nor is there anything unusual about the fact that the corrupt politicians groomed by the occupiers seem incapable of forming a workable government. However, the lame duck regime is carrying out a ruthless repression of Iraq’s courageous trade union movement–using Saddam Hussein’s laws.
The withdrawal of 90,000 troops from Iraq on Obama’s watch has enabled him to commit additional forces to his war in Afghanistan–which is not going well for him at all. U.S. contractors in Iraq have been assigned primary security for sensitive American holdovers from direct occupation such as the Baghdad Embassy. No Marines in dress uniform there. You’re more likely to find Peruvian lads hired by the contractors.
The Action Program adopted at the recent United National Antiwar Conference calls for,
“The immediate, total and unconditional withdrawal of all U.S. troops, mercenaries and contractors from Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, and the immediate closing of all U.S. bases in those countries. Bring all the Troops and War Dollars Home Now!”
This is accompanied by the just demand,
“Compensation to be paid to the peoples whose countries the U.S. attacked and occupied for the loss of lives and massive destruction they suffered.”
These are right on the mark. Supporters of this Action Program will be participating in the One Nation October 2 March on Washington for Jobs, Justice and Peace. Details can be found by clicking here.
Credit Where Credit’s Due
Remember, not quite two years ago, when trillions of dollars suddenly vanished like BP oil in the Gulf? Some big banks failed, the stock markets plunged. Credit became unobtainable for businesses big and small, not to mention ordinary consumers. Millions of home mortgages drowned “under water” as real estate prices plummeted. And more than eight-million jobs were lost within a few months.
The consensus of economists picked by President Obama–including Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke held over from the Bush administration–was that restoring credit flow was vital to preventing total collapse. Fannie and Freddy were “nationalized,” and the biggest banks bailed out, to free up funds for essential credit. And, as a gesture of commitment to American manufacturing, the White House poured cash in to two of the former Big Three automakers–while also helping them slash labor costs through a planned, expedited bankruptcy.
This strategy for recovery has had mixed results–with the mix definitely favoring the rich and infamous. Corporate profits have rebounded. The Dow-Jones Industrial Average has reclaimed about half of what it lost during the melt-down.
Credit access is still a problem for micro-business, the self-employed, and some farmers. That’s why they have become a fertile recruiting ground for the cracked tea pot crowd. Gaining little from government stimulus they are ripe picking for those advocating cutting taxes and “big government.”
Credit is not a big problem for major companies. Just the opposite. American nonfinancial corporations have more cash on hand than they know what to do with–currently 1.8 trillion dollars. They amassed this liquidity during the worst crisis since the Great Depression by simply firing workers and cutting wages while squeezing more productivity out of those still on payroll. Even during occasional upturns in some industries they have so far done little more than schedule additional hours of work or bring some temp workers on board. There has been no relief in mass unemployment.
This may seem like a sweet deal for the corporate bosses. Actually it represents a serious challenge for them. Even though the courts treat them as “persons,” companies are different than you and me. They have no need to squirrel away money for the kid’s college education, or for retirement. The internal laws of their economic system require substantial investment of surpluses in either expanding current operations or acquiring new profit centers in other markets. Right now, they cannot find enough investment opportunities that promise sufficiently attractive profit returns.
Meanwhile, declining tax revenue has forced massive cuts in public services. Scott Canon wrote in the Kansas City Star, “The jobs report released Friday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that even though the private sector added 71,000 jobs, federal, state and local government jobs fell by 202,000.” This was on top of 170,000 public sector workers axed earlier since the first of the year. And this is just the beginng.
The same issue of the Star carried this headline, After state budget cuts, KC's bus service has a dismal outlook. Brad Cooper writes, “The outlook for the already troubled bus system worsened recently when it didn’t get a $3 million boost from Missouri that it had hoped for, but instead lost $640,000 in existing revenue from state budget cuts.” The Democrat Governor, Jay Nixon, responsible for these huge cuts recently called a special session of the legislature to approve 150 million dollars in tax breaks in an effort to bribe Ford not to move one of its assembly lines from the Claycomo plant.
The Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, for whom I drove a bus for fourteen years until retirement, has not yet begun big layoffs. But they are demanding that ATU Local 1287 accept a wage freeze contract and give up three paid holidays.
Finally, let me note us old folks on Social Security got the word this week that since inflation is so low monthly benefits will be frozen in 2011 for the second consecutive year.
The working class is hurting and things will probably get worse. The idea of mass demonstrations for Jobs, Justice and Peace mentioned above is a good one. But I suspect the motives of the organizers, and the theme at the event in Washington, will simply focus on keeping the Democrats in control of congress–as they have been throughout the economic crisis.
It is high time we take our Labor Party out of mothballs, update the program and strategy, and begin to take the message of a working class party in to our workplaces, communities, campuses, and union halls. We can do little to even defend ourselves against bosses, bankers, and their servants in both boss parties without building political power in our own interest.
Behind the Smoke Is Warming
Russia is experiencing their hottest summer on record, sometimes exceeding 100 degrees F. Not coincidently, the heat has been accompanied by massive wild fires in tinder-like Birch forests. The heat is so intense it has ignited peat deposits that will likely burn out of control for months, maybe years.
The Russian Army is hastily building a canal around the Sarov nuclear base, Russia’s equivalent to Oak Ridge, in hopes of preventing a radioactive disaster.
In Moscow, barely forty miles from the leading edge of the fires, smoke is so thick it has reduced visibility to near zero. Health officials are urging everyone to stay inside, estimating that carbon monoxide and particulate pollution is equal to smoking eight packs of cigarettes a day. (I catch hell from my wife and doctor for consuming one.)
Other big forest fires have been raging in British Columbia and southern California.
The biggest iceberg to be seen in nearly fifty years broke off from Greenland last week. Six hundred feet thick it takes up an area of over 100 square miles.
These are reminders we didn’t need that climate change due to global warming is already at work. But there’s news even more grim. Marlowe Hood opens an AFP story with these paragraphs,
“UN climate talks tasked with curbing the threat of global warming are backsliding, delegates from both rich and developing nations said Friday at the close of a week-long session in Bonn.
“Even as evidence mounts that deadly impacts are upon us, negotiators said, chances for a compromise deal under the 194-nation UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) are slipping away amid furious finger pointing.”
Union Maid Needs Support
An e-mail message from American labor’s most dedicated and prolific singer, Anne Feeney, contained some disturbing news,
“On August 3rd, in Sweden, a lung specialist advised me that I have an 11 cm tumor on my lung that is stressing both my heart and lungs in dangerous ways. As terrifying as this diagnosis is, it is in many ways a relief to get an explanation for the several mysterious and troubling symptoms I've had for the past few months... including increasing fatigue, shortness of breath, terrible coughing, and bizarre heart rhythms.
“I could have stayed in Sweden for the bronchoscopy, biopsy and surgery ... my health insurance would have covered everything in Sweden that it covers here. But even the best case scenario here will involve a protracted recovery period and probably at least six months out of work. It was also hard to think about being so seriously ill so far away from my children, and my lifelong network of friends in Pittsburgh.”
Anne has made arrangements for a stand-in to lead the tours of Ireland she normally conducts. A friend has set up a way to communicate with Anne during her recovery at:
Anne will, of course, face some serious financial challenges. She says,
“This diagnosis has wiped out most of my meager folksinger's savings. I've had to cancel a lot of work that I was counting on, and incurred a lot of unexpected travel expenses. Although most of my medical bills will be covered (now that I've come up with the $6000 in deductibles and copay), it seems unlikely that I'll be able to return to my hectic tour schedule, or any full time work, for several months.
“If you want to help me out with what are going to be fairly staggering expenses by folksinger's standards... I'm hoping to find 1000 folks who'll pony up $50 ... I really *don't* want any larger donations ... I don't want anyone to dig deep for this... and if $50 is hard for you to come by, PLEASE don't think about sending me a cent. I know I have enough dear friends who are doing okay that those of you who are struggling shouldn't spend a second worrying about my finances.
“You could send a check to me:
2240 Milligan Ave
Pittsburgh PA 15218
“or you can send a donation via Paypal to email@example.com "
I’ve Been Summoned
Tomorrow I have to report for jury duty. I’ve had to cancel updating of the Daily Labor News Digest for this week. Hopefully my duty will be fulfilled in the next few days and I can get back on regular schedule by Monday, August 16.
I apologize for an unusually long review this time and will strive to be briefer in the future.
That’s all for this week.
Alliance for Class & Climate Justice
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