Jan 312014

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

(Some of our readers abroad may be puzzling over the title of this WIR Extra. It is not a Latin motto; it’s the acronyms for President of the United States and State of the Union. POTUS’s SOTU Address Tuesday night warrants stand alone attention.)

Mission Almost Accomplished
The President took ownership of the Afghanistan war in his first term, soon carrying out an Iraq-style surge and intensifying the ultimately successful hunt for bin Laden–in Pakistan. Even though there have been more GI casualties during the Obama chapter than the seven years of Bush, being a Nobel Peace laureate as well as a presumed Friend of Labor and all good causes, seems to have provided POTUS with a remarkably effective Teflon coating on this life-and-death issue.

Tuesday night the President assured us the mission in Afghanistan–whatever that may have been–will be completed by the end of the year. All U.S. combat forces will be withdrawn by then. His goal is to soon negotiate a Status of Forces Agreement that would keep a relatively small number of GIs in Afghanistan for security and training tasks only.

The real original mission of the 2001 invasion was to “do something” in response to the 9/11 attacks for which bin Laden claimed “credit.” It soon was developed in to a new doctrine–modestly called the Bush Doctrine–serving notice on the world that the only remaining super-power reserves the right to intervene militarily anywhere, any time they please.

There was no expectation of a long drawn-out war that would ultimately last twice as long as America’s Vietnam war. The Taliban government was quickly routed. Victory seemed assured with only some mop-up–and kill/capture of bin Laden–remaining. Bush advisers were so pumped they immediately started planning the next imperial adventure in Iraq.

Their shock-and-awe foray looked initially promising there as well with the quick collapse of Iraqi forces and Saddam Hussein going in to hiding–eventually captured and executed. Most readers will remember the spectacle of President Bush landing on the deck of a Navy carrier under a huge banner proclaiming “Mission Accomplished.”

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, and more than 4,000 Americans were killed after that stunt. As the Iraq war dragged on civil society was destroyed along with infrastructure and homes. Long dormant sectarian rivalries were revived and manipulated by the occupiers. Not a day goes by now in Iraq without sectarian violence claiming dozens of lives. That’s what Afghanistan will face as well when the Obama mission is complete.

The use of U.S. and allied forces made bad situations worse in both countries and their continued presence will not help anyone deserving. There’s no acceptable reason to wait for the end of the year–bring all the troops and contractors home now.

Well over a million Americans served in Iraq, Afghanistan, or both. One of those proclaimed heros was honored at SOTU. But while veterans are cheered by politicians and exploited by Big Business in television commercials, the fact is these men and women are treated shabbily by the government that sent them in to harm’s way. There was only fleeting, vague mention of this scandal in the President’s speech.

It’s the Economy POTUS
While the President, with the help of the media and too many who should know better, may be getting a pass on war the polls still show a big majority think the country is on the wrong track. Their main complaint isn’t same sex marriage or birth control. As Bill Clinton’s first campaign declared–it’s the economy, stupid.

Actually the President seems a bright guy–but so was Bush 1. As far as it went, POTUS gave a pretty good summary of the state of the economy,

“After four years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher, and those at the top have never done better. But average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled.”

The working class has suffered more than just stagnation. Record numbers depend on food stamps–a program again cut by bipartisan agreement just before the big speech. There are still more long term unemployed than at any time since the Great Depression–and extended unemployment benefits expired at the end of 2013. The Affordable Care Act has barely made a dent in the tens of millions of uninsured. Social Security monthly benefits–the principal income for a majority of retirees–have been frozen most years on Obama’s watch as their medical and drug costs soar. Student loan debt has grown to be bigger than car loan debt–with no guarantee of a job at graduation–as the Obama administration also pushes a privatization agenda in public K-12 schools. There’s a lot of hurt–and little hope–in my class today.

It doesn’t require the Ivy League education the President acquired to know that the appearance of empathy and an imaginative rechristening of worthless promises is the indicated response by the Establishment.

The only truly new proposal was MyRA. To encourage savings, workers not eligible for traditional Individual Retirement Accounts could have their employer deduct modest amounts  from their paychecks that would be used to buy secure government bonds.

Of course, this is a twist on very old, and sensible programs. At one time even kids could buy savings stamps at school to be pasted in to a book. When the book was filled it could be exchanged for a savings bond. My grandmother gave me a quarter every week to buy my stamps. Bonds could also be purchased without a fee at the Post Office. And many employers had payroll deductions for bonds. Buying bonds could be a safe supplement to Social Security and employer pensions in retirement.

All these programs went away with the creation of IRAs. The IRA has to be handled by a licenced administrator and usually they are also used to make investment decisions. The lion’s share goes in to the stock market–which of course can go down as well as up. The only certainty about an IRA are the administrator fees.

The IRA has been a boon to finance capital and the stock market and most employers have used them to not to supplement but to replace defined benefit pensions. The President wants to use bonds as a bridge for the working poor to IRAs–while at the same time advocating reducing Social Security benefits.

One highlight of the speech was the announcement of an executive order that all new Federal contracts with the private sector will require the workers on these jobs to be paid at least 10.10 per hour. The President also urged Congress to adopt this rate as the new Federal minimum wage.

The short-term impact of this will be zero. The executive order affects only future workers and Congressional action before the next SOTU is dubious. It is mainly a tactical maneuver to undercut the popular demand of a fifteen dollar an hour minimum.

While fifteen would be more than double the current 7.25 it is hardly a princely sum. It’s still five bucks below the average wage for nonsupervisory employees. But it would bring dramatic relief to the working poor and their increased consumer spending would be a big boost to the overall economy.

First raised in strikes and demonstrations by fast food and retail workers, there is a growing Fifteen Now movement in communities around the country. Even the Democrat Mayor of Seattle has joined the Socialist on the City Council in working for Fifteen as the minimum for that city. Voters in suburban Seatac established Fifteen in their airport community. More about these efforts can be found at the 15now.org website.

No Climate Surprise
Not so long ago we were reassured by prominent environmentalists that the President was going to make climate change a priority in his second term now that health care reform had been secured. POTUS did acknowledge that climate change is real and must be addressed. That’s a better attitude than expressed by the heads of state in Canada and Australia. But the soup ladled out in SOTU would have been derided as too thin at the Salvation Army.

The President promises to cut red tape to promote natural gas in manufacturing. The market for natural gas is of course driven by fracking, a process harmful to health and environment on many levels that negates any marginal greenhouse emission gains.

POTUS also requested Congress give tax incentives to companies switching heavy trucks to so-called “alternative fuels”–for example, natural gas.

There was no mention of his decision expected soon on the XL short cut to the Keystone Pipeline bringing the world’s dirtiest hydrocarbons from the Alberta tar-sands.

The day following the big speech, documents released by Edward Snowden were published revealing how the NSA spied on delegates at the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit, supplying valuable information to POTUS in his wrecking any chances for a meaningful agreement there. Even the ever hopeful Bill McKibben was outraged by that revelation.

Wired Up Kids
The President was enthusiastic about a component of his privatization strategy for present public education. The first to benefit from extension of high speed internet access to twenty million more students in 15,000 K-12 schools will be private partners Apple, Microsoft, Sprint and Verizon. Many states and local districts are already buying lap-tops or pads for every student to use this new asset.

The long term goal, not yet discussed beyond think tanks, goes far beyond students accessing Google and Wikipedia. They dream of replacing most classroom teachers–maybe even physical classrooms eventually–with national streaming of talented teachers of every subject who made the audition cut to every pupil’s i-Pad.

The leaders of America’s labor movement also like to use the latest technology. The AFL blog carried a live feed of twits from president Trumka and other labor luminaries during the speech.  Their remarks were as insightful as kids in church whispering during the homily.

The official opposition was granted free time by the networks to respond. This was shared by four including a reach out to their weakest voting blocs by a Latina speaking in Spanish.

The highest ranking elected Socialist was not offered any air time but Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant was spot on with a YouTube response following SOTU. You can access both the video and text of her remarks, well worth checking out, here.

I’ve given you some reading material for any gaps in the Big Game Weekend and cleared the decks for the next WIR.

That’s all for this Extra.

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Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member

Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member

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