Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
October 13, 2008

They’re Pulling Out Of Iraq
No, unfortunately this doesn’t refer to the U.S. and British occupation forces. It is a description of the U.S. mass media. In September, 2007 there were 219 stories filed by “embedded”reporters. Last month there were 39. NBC and CBS no longer have full-time Baghdad bureaus. According to the Washington Post,

“Veteran journalists say stories about Iraq, where roughly 155,000 U.S. troops are deployed and where the United States spends approximately $10 billion a month, have become tougher to get on the air and into print.”

Of course, there has been a general reduction of news staff across the board for economic reasons. This helps the media barons to rationalize their cut backs in war coverage–which just happens to coincide with the bipartisan line that the Iraq mission is nearing completion, whether through “victory” or “redeployment.”.

But there is still enough reporting available to those seeking it out to expose this new lie about the occupation. There has been a resurgence in not only sectarian violence but also a surge in skirmishes between militias representing rival political factions in preparation for the next round of elections.

The British press continues to expose the miserable conditions of Iraqi working people. For example,

* Yet another cholera outbreak, this time in Babil province, south of Baghdad, where corrupt officials bought and used chlorine water treatment well past its expiration date. All of Baghdad must either boil drinking water or obtain it in plastic bottles–which are overwhelming land fill dump sites.

* Before the war, despite inhumane sanctions imposed by the U.S./UN, Baghdad had electricity between 16 and 24 hours a day. This has dropped to just under 12.

* Of the 34,000 doctors registered in pre-war Iraq, 20,000 fled, 2,000 have been killed and 250 kidnapped.

And, of course, not even the British media have informed the world about the ongoing struggles of the Iraqi trade union movement and the promising First International Labor Conference in Iraq scheduled for February.

It is understandable that working people in the USA–and much of the rest of the world–are preoccupied with the economic crisis. But, in addition to the elementary duty of solidarity with working people under attack by the government speaking in our name, it needs to be recognized that the war machine–of which Iraq is just one component–is itself a big part of the economic crisis, and a huge obstacle to any recovery.

Saturday, while much of the peace movement was hustling votes for their perceived peace candidate, there were modest protests in a number of cities marking the sixth anniversary of the congressional vote that authorized the invasion of Iraq. The presence of a new levy of college students was encouraging.

Regardless of who wins the election coming up three weeks from Tuesday, the war/occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan will remain, as well as the economic crisis. We cannot afford to neglect either. We need to renew a mass movement demanding the immediate withdrawal of the troops, contractors--and our employers trying to rip off the resources of the occupied countries.

But honest journalists should stay.

Their Nationalization and Ours
First there was the “nationalization” of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and AIG. Now there are talks going on for globally coordinated “partial nationalization” of banks along the lines suggested by the “New Labor” guardians of British finance capital.

Their nationalization schemes are solely for the benefit of the biggest monied interests. Tax payer money will be used to try to cushion the losses they suffered with the collapse of the credit bubble, and to restore the basic flow of credit necessary to the day-to-day functioning of the economy.

Their objectives do not include renegotiating usurious mortgages leading to massive foreclosures. Nor will they try to restore even part of the staggering retirement fund losses. Most of Norway’s social security fund–800 million dollars–was lost in the collapse of Lehman. All told, retirement losses from investments are estimated to be two trillion dollars. But no, their aim is simply to return, at the earliest opportunity, full control of a leaner, healthier banking system to those who created the crisis.

Leaving aside the question of whether this plan will work as they hope, clearly such nationalization does not benefit the working class. But that doesn’t mean we should dismiss nationalization as a part of our strategy. In fact, an unintended consequence of this form of bailout is that it has made nationalization a topic of discussion allowed in polite company rather than a taboo left over from the days of the Evil Empire.

For example, the California Nurses Association issued a press release last week entitled, If We Can Nationalize Banks, Why Not Healthcare? It quotes CNA executive director, Rose Ann DeMoro,

“Clearly, the proposal to partially nationalize some banks comes as our financial system continues to plunge off the cliff. But there's no less a critical emergency in our healthcare system...In homes and hospitals across America, our healthcare system is dying a quiet death. The millions of Americans who endure their pain away from the spotlight of Wall Street or the glare of TV lights deserve sweeping systemic solutions as well.”

This is in sharp contrast to the position of Senator Obama, as made clear in his television advertising. Obama supports bailout nationalizations but rejects single-payer healthcare reform as “extreme,” bringing “government control and tax increases.” He favors incremental tweaking of the dying system DeMoro accurately described.

Nationalization is an empty vessel. It can be used by the ruling rich to advance their interests–or it could be used by a working class government to serve human needs and social justice. A nationalized financial system, democratically managed by the working class and our allies, would not only stop the foreclosures by renegotiating fair mortgage rates; it could also be used to shift investments away from the irrational markets in to social planning for a new economy.

It is vital that we start thinking in such terms. The melt down of the credit and stock markets may be stopped and temporarily stabilized. But these problems, serious as they are, are not the most fundamental challenges to the system today. The credit bubble masked the even more basic problem of overproduction.

Just take one example–the auto industry. For some time, there have been more cars, light trucks, and SUVs registered in the United States than there are licensed drivers. This became possible through both successful marketing methods and big changes in credit. Not long ago the standard car loan was for three years. Today eight year loans are not uncommon. This huge market attracted successful competitors to the Big Three from Japan, Korea, Germany.

Clearly this absurdity could not survive indefinitely. When fuel prices started surging, leading a new wave of inflation, auto sales collapsed. There is a glut of used vehicles that will never be completely sold down. General Motors and Chrysler are in serious negotiations about merger–just to survive.

Auto and construction have historically been the driving engines of the U.S. economy. Their precipitous downturn is not a temporary hiccup. We are unlikely to ever see a return to the lofty levels of the credit bubble days.

If we are to avoid another Great Depression, and if we are to stop the urgent threat of climate change posed by global warming, then we have no acceptable alternative but to develop a working class program that includes creating a dynamic new public sector out of nationalization of key industries and using that sector to plan a reorganization of the economy.

Let’s start talking–in order that we may act.

That’s all for this week.

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

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