May 242013

onaschoutsmall by Bill Onasch

A Multi-Purpose Holiday
Monday is Memorial Day in the USA. For weeks already we have been bombarded with advertising about Memorial Day “sales” by car dealers, big box retailers, and drive-in restaurant chains. We are also enticed to travel “destinations” over the span of what is a three-day weekend for many. The holiday prop for this commercial frenzy is defined in Wikipedia,

“Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. Formerly known as Decoration Day, it originated after the American Civil War to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War. By the 20th century Memorial Day had been extended to honor all Americans who have died while in the military service.”

That’s a worthy gesture I support. I would extend that sentiment though to include all who have perished in wars–including combatants of all sides and the civilian “collateral damage” as well.

But the day is not limited to quiet respect for the fallen through prayer by the religious or decorating graves. Politicians and brass hats always loudly use the occasion to try to whip up support for current wars adding to the list of the departed while on duty. That they are largely ignored by those taking a long weekend for recreation or shopping seems an insufficient response to such life-and-death matters.

When I was a little kid, I often pestered my maternal grandfather to let me peek at his Marine dress blue uniform he had preserved since his post-World War I honorable discharge. In those radio days, I often sat with him to listen to a fifteen-minute performance of the US Marine Band playing Sousa marches every day at 4PM on WDAF. That music stirred me then–and still does.

While he was clearly proud of his stint as a leatherneck, grandpa was no jingoist. He never personally got in to combat–he mainly guarded the Navy’s coal in Guantanamo and the Brooklyn Navy Yard during the transition to oil-fired boilers. But he saw and heard enough from those returning from the trenches in Europe to convince him such slaughter and maiming of good people should never again be permitted. He was one of the few family members who defended my later antiwar views.

In my book, the last just war fought by the U.S. armed forces was the Civil War that gave rise to Decoration Day. That conflict had a righteous cause–abolishing slavery. All since have been driven by corporate  and financial interests of the class that rules.

U.S. armed forces for decades carried out internal genocidal campaigns against American Indian nations.

The Spanish-American War, launched around what proved to be a false pretext, took the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Cuba away from a crumbling empire and established the USA as a global power.

The quick victory against Spain opened what military historians call the Banana Wars–a series of military interventions in Panama, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. Nicaragua was occupied almost continuously from 1912-1933–until a liberation uprising led by  Augusto César Sandino, and a Depression budget crisis, forced American withdrawal.

Late American entry in to what President Wilson came to call the War to End All Wars–my grandpa’s war–tipped the balance of power in a bloody impasse to the alliance led by the old and brutal British Empire against the newly assertive German one. From that point on, the USA became the strongest global power.

To overcome massive public opposition to U.S. involvement in what became the Second World War, FDR skillfully maneuvered the Japanese in to firing the first shot. As a warning of what the American super-power was now capable, that war ended with the only use to date of nuclear weapons against human beings.

Reeling from the loss of China to the Chinese, the Truman administration got UN sanction for the Korean War–a stalemate still only in truce status.

Another setback for Washington was the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba–secretly armed and given limited tactical support by U.S. armed and intelligence forces–but stopped on the beach by the revolution’s defenders.

LBJ followed up on JFK’s earlier policy of sending U.S. “advisers” to a corrupt dictatorship in south Vietnam with an all-out disastrous seven-year war ending in defeat.

Johnson also found time to dispatch GIs once more to the Dominican Republic to oust a democratically elected socialist government.

Reagan organized a massive task force to invade tiny Grenada because of their ties to Cuba.

When Panama’s dictator, long loyal to U.S. policies, got sideways with his masters Bush I carried out his first military action. He, of course, followed that up with perhaps the most lop-sided major conflict in history–the coalition effort in the First Gulf War.

His son went back for a second helping of quick victory in Iraq–leading to a total destruction of civil society in that country that continues even since American withdrawal after an eight-year occupation.

This is not an exhaustive list. There were numerous other small interventions of varying military success. And, of course, I have yet to mention the longest war in U.S. military history. It is still going, in fact experiencing a new Taliban offensive in Afghanistan.  Far from presenting any kind of credible exit strategy, the Obama administration has managed to spread the conflict in to Pakistan as well.

I love the diverse working class majority of the country of my birth and think we are as good as any.  I’ve never been a flag burner. While I’ve enjoyed experiences in other lands I prefer to stay where I am  to fight for a better place rather than becoming an expat.

But I understand that these arrogant imperial policies of the government that speaks in our name have earned fear, mistrust, and outrage among much of the world. Some strike back with horrible vengeful acts of terrorism. The U.S. superpower war machine is not only morally reprehensible but endangers the security, freedom, and material interests of my America–working class America.

It particularly cynically endangers the mostly working class men and women who volunteered to serve their country in uniform. Many have been killed, and many more have suffered physical and emotional wounds, fighting wars based on lies.

They were not part of any consultation about global strategic policies. Few are heroes, even fewer are war criminals. The men and women who serve and have served have done so out of a sense of duty to their country’s elected government. We need to make amends for allowing their commendable dedication to be corrupted by politicians serving not nation but ruling class.

Yes, we should remember the war dead. But we should also, adapting the military parlance now in vogue, tell the living who still serve–we’ve got your six and we’re leaving no one behind. We will not rest until every last GI is removed from harm’s way by bringing them home where they belong–now.

And we should redouble efforts to win living veterans the care they were promised by those who sent them off to danger. The Veterans Administration has nine-hundred thousand unprocessed claims for benefits from those the war-makers like to describe as heroes. Shame is an inadequate adjective for such traitorous abandonment.

While I hope my venting may help remind us of the reality of war being buried under two-bit scandal  mongering in the media, I don’t wish to completely spoil a well-earned holiday break for readers. We all need a little relief in times of crisis. After arranging a reliable cat-sitter, my wife Mary and I will be heading north to Ames, Iowa to celebrate the high school graduation of a daughter of good friends we have watched grow up. May you have as pleasant a weekend experience as we expect to have.

For Those Who Care…
If, as most scientists say, our most important knowledge is usually the result of failed experiments than the many hours I recently invested in a futile attempt to use new software for updating the website surely portends great success. I can now edit already existing web pages but still can’t upload new ones.

But I don’t want success to go to my head. Since I can’t afford the patience of youth I will forego further experiments for now and continue to add new material on the KC Labor WordPress site.

In Brief…
* The Washington Post reported, “Karen Lewis, the fiery leader of the Chicago Teachers Union who led a strike last year and became a nationally known anti-school reform figure, has been elected to another three-year term as president. Today she will lead the first of three days of protests against Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to close 54 public schools.” Of course, the Lewis-led slate, who won about eighty percent of the vote, is not against all school reform–just those attacking public education. After the mass protests against closings failed to move the Mayor-controlled school board the issue has been taken to court.
* Regular readers have seen a lot in this column about the host of environmental threats from hydraulic fracturing–known as fracking–in gas extraction. Der Spiegel reports a new twist to this topic, “ The fight over fracking in Germany has taken an unexpected turn: German breweries are now warning that the controversial method of extracting natural gas from rock layers deep in the earth would affect their ability to brew the best beer. The process threatens to contaminate drinking water, according to a letter written by the German Brewers Federation to the federal government, and quoted by the mass daily tabloid Bild. Regulations controlling the brewing of beer in Germany date back to the beer purity law, or Reinheitsgebot, of 1516 — the world’s first food purity law. According to the Brewers Federation, German beer still may only be made from malt, hops, yeast and water.”

That’s all for this week.

May 162013

onaschoutsmallby Bill Onasch

Denial No Longer Plausible
Clothing has long been a sweet deal for Globalization. The world’s poor are desperate enough to work dirt cheap for contractors kept at arm’s length from those actually buying the labor to supply the consumer market in North America and Europe. So cheap in fact that the global merchants can simultaneously reap enormous profits while keeping consumer prices relatively low in the industrialized countries–softening the impact of falling wages and elimination of decent paying jobs. It’s win-win–except for garment workers in Asia, Africa, and Latin America and the displaced former garment workers in the industrialized countries.

As unions asserted their presence in places such as Egypt and El Salvador, Bangladesh has become an outsourcing favorite. About four million–eighty percent women–toil in textile and garment plants in one of the poorest nations on Earth. The overseers contracted by companies such as Walmart and GAP to hire and manage the workforces that supply them are tight-fisted, stern taskmasters. Average starting pay is 38 dollars–a month.

Over 1800 garment workers have been killed on the job in Bangladesh over the past eight years–mainly through fires and building collapse. Until recently, this carnage has been largely ignored in the American and European mass media. The real clients of these sweatshops often deny any connection to the deathtraps. 

Only now, after the death of more than 1100 mostly women garment workers in a single criminally negligent workplace incident, are we beginning to hear about the appalling conditions where America’s lowest price always clothes are produced. The German newsmagazine Der Spiegel published a compelling interview with an injured survivor rescued from the rubble three hours after the collapse of the eight-story Rana Plaza, housing five factories.

Some commentators seek to give a cynical twist to the story–that consumer demand for cheap clothes is what reluctantly drives merchants and contractors to such deadly, inhumane exploitation. They suggest we are hypocrites if we complain while we are the beneficiaries of cheap, stylish threads. Better we keep our eyes closed and mouths shut while displaying the free advertising logos gracing our garments.

But Steven Greenhouse, writing in the New York Times, was among the first to warn that junkyard dog might not hunt,

“A wide spectrum of government officials, investors and religious groups are warning major retailers like Walmart, Benetton and Gap that they could face financial repercussions from consumers, damage to their stock value or sustained public protests if they do not adopt stricter garment manufacturing standards….the United States trade representative notified Bangladesh that Washington might withdraw, suspend or limit that country’s trading privileges. The trade representative was responding in part to a complaint that the AFL-CIO filed, asserting that the Bangladesh government had worked in concert with its apparel manufacturers to suppress labor unions.”

A few days later, the British Guardian reported,

“Some of the world’s biggest fashion chains, including H&M, Zara, C&A, Tesco and Primark, have signed up to a legally binding agreement to help finance fire safety and building improvements in the factories they use in Bangladesh. The move came on Monday, as the Bangladeshi government agreed to allow the country’s four million garment workers to form trade unions without permission from factory owners, a major concession to campaigners lobbying for widespread reforms….On Sunday, the government also announced a plan to raise the minimum wage for garment workers, who are paid some of the lowest wages in the world to sew clothing bound for global retailers.”

It will take at least six months for the Bangladesh government to set up its machinery for implementing the deal. And, while any wage improvement will be welcomed by the impoverished workers, even a doubling of their monthly wage would only bring them up to the daily minimum wage in the USA–itself poverty level by our standards.

The track record of similar past deals is not good. And even Bangladesh has competitors in the race to the bottom. The military dictatorship in neighboring Burma, now certified by the Obama White House as moving toward democracy, has hopes of joining the consumer supply chain as well. And, in a story about workers killed in a roof collapse at a Phnom Penh shoe factory Reuters reports, “Cambodia has seen a rush of investment in recent years, especially into the shoe and garment sector, with Western and Asian firms attracted by its low-cost labor. The International Monetary Fund says garments account for about 80 percent of the Southeast Asian country’s exports.”

Not all major brands are signing on to the new agreement. The most notable holdouts so far are Walmart and GAP. GAP doesn’t like the legally binding part. Walmart says they will do their own safety inspections of their contractors and will pull orders from those who don’t fix dangers. But they have made no offer of additional money for workplace safety measures.

The Globalization phase of capitalism has adversely impacted workers in countries rich and poor alike–including the USA. Relatively cheap clothing of increasingly disappointing quality is a poor consolation for dead workers abroad and shrinking wages and jobs here at home. The AFL-CIO trade complaint was a helpful step but we need much more active cross-borders solidarity with workers struggling against bosses everywhere.

And Closer to Home
Another recent workplace disaster was the fire and explosion at the West Fertilizer Company that killed fourteen, injured many more, and devastated much of the small town of West, Texas. A follow up story in the New York Times showed fewer “job-killing” regulations in place there than were technically on the books in Bangladesh.

“Texas has always prided itself on its free-market posture. It is the only state that does not require companies to contribute to workers’ compensation coverage. It boasts the largest city in the country, Houston, with no zoning laws. It does not have a state fire code, and it prohibits smaller counties from having such codes. Some Texas counties even cite the lack of local fire codes as a reason for companies to move there.

“But Texas has also had the nation’s highest number of workplace fatalities– more than 400 annually — for much of the past decade. Fires and explosions at Texas’ more than 1,300 chemical and industrial plants have cost as much in property damage as those in all the other states combined for the five years ending in May 2012. Compared with Illinois, which has the nation’s second-largest number of high-risk sites, more than 950, but tighter fire and safety rules, Texas had more than three times the number of accidents, four times the number of injuries and deaths, and 300 times the property damage costs.”

What Goes Up In the Air But Never Comes Down?
Of course, we should never say never. But it can take millennia for carbon dioxide accumulation in the atmosphere to dissipate. A recently published survey of thousands of peer-reviewed papers in scientific journals has found 97.1 percent agreed that climate change is caused by human activity–such as burning massive amounts of coal, oil, and natural gas. During this past week, CO2 atmospheric concentration broke the 400 parts-per-million barrier. Best available science estimates this is the highest concentration in three million years–long before humans started roaming our planet.

A much more moderate balance of carbon dioxide between atmosphere, plant life, and oceans was in fact an essential ingredient in producing the biosphere that proved conducive to the thriving of our species. The greenhouse effect of atmospheric carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels, along with increasing acidity of our oceans from being a  “carbon sink,” puts our biosphere in imminent danger. My generation won’t live to see the worst effects that will result if corrective action is not soon taken but our grandchildren will–and it will be too late for them to do much about it.

So why did the hubbub about Benghazi talking points, IRS demands for paperwork from political groups seeking tax exempt status, and the burial ground for the suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing, push this story about a new threat level of developing global catastrophe out of the news cycles?

There’s no mystery involved here. The global capitalist economy revolves around the use of fossil fuels. It’s been very rewarding for the ruling class that calls the shots. Their absolute wealth–as well as their share of the distribution of wealth–is also setting all time records.  That’s why they ignore or deny the danger and urge us to do the same. If need be, they witch-hunt climate scientists, threaten our jobs, and, in some parts of the world, employ paramilitary murderers to stop challenges to their environmental exploitation.

The class that thrives on the profits flowing from destruction of our biosphere is not going to voluntarily change their ways. If human civilization as we know it is to survive the crisis they created and continue to fuel their rule must be replaced.

Science has given us both an understanding of this crisis we confront–and realistic alternatives that can halt and reverse the threats short of environmental disaster. We should be eternally grateful for that. But they are few and lack the clout to take on the climate-wreckers.

There is only one stratum of society that has both the material interest and the power to take on the bosses and bankers running the show today–the working class. We are many. We do all the work. It’s always our boots on the ground in every war.

The future of humanity depends on our ability to rejuvenate class consciousness, to organize both industrially and politically and–most important of all–incorporate system change, not climate change in to our goals. Our species survives only if and when we prevail in the fight for both class and climate justice.

A New Home for the WIR
With this edition we begin to anchor our Week In Review column on a WordPress-powered companion to the site. This is part of a giant workaround required by the failure of obsolete Microsoft FrontPage software to reliably publish to our host server. As we work with new Site Spinner software from Virtual Mechanics to take back control of the KC Labor website–if all goes well beginning Monday, May 20–WordPress will be the venue for new material. Our Monday-Friday daily news digest  will resume on the Labor Advocate Blog May 20 as well. Stay tuned and thanks for your patience.

That’s all for this week.