Nasty Letters To Crooked Politicians

As we enter a new era of politics, we hope to see that Obama has the courage to fight the policies that Progressives hate. Will he have the fortitude to turn the economic future of America to help the working man? Or will he turn out to be just a pawn of big money, as he seems to be right now.

Sunday, March 30, 2008


Obama Overstates Kennedys' Role in Helping His Father

By Michael Dobbs
Sunday, March 30, 2008; A01

Addressing civil rights activists in Selma, Ala., a year ago, Sen. Barack Obama traced his "very existence" to the generosity of the Kennedy family, which he said paid for his Kenyan father to travel to America on a student scholarship and thus meet his Kansan mother.

The Camelot connection has become part of the mythology surrounding Obama's bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. After Caroline Kennedy endorsed his candidacy in January, Newsweek commentator Jonathan Alter reported that she had been struck by the extraordinary way in which "history replays itself" and by how "two generations of two families -- separated by distance, culture and wealth -- can intersect in strange and wonderful ways."

It is a touching story -- but the key details are either untrue or grossly oversimplified.

Contrary to Obama's claims in speeches in January at American University and in Selma last year, the Kennedy family did not provide the funding for a September 1959 airlift of 81 Kenyan students to the United States that included Obama's father. According to historical records and interviews with participants, the Kennedys were first approached for support for the program nearly a year later, in July 1960. The family responded with a $100,000 donation, most of which went to pay for a second airlift in September 1960.

Obama spokesman Bill Burton acknowledged yesterday that the senator from Illinois had erred in crediting the Kennedy family with a role in his father's arrival in the United States. He said the Kennedy involvement in the Kenya student program apparently "started 48 years ago, not 49 years ago as Obama has mistakenly suggested in the past."

The real story of Barack Obama Sr.'s arrival in the United States and the subsequent Kennedy involvement in the airlifts of African students sheds light on the highly competitive presidential election of 1960 and Africa's struggle to free itself from colonialism, as well as the huge strides made by the Obama family, which has gone in two generations from herding goats in the hills of western Kenya to the doors of the White House.

In his speech commemorating the 42nd anniversary of the Selma civil rights march, Sen. Obama linked his father's arrival in the United States with the turmoil of the civil rights movement. Although the airlift occurred before John F. Kennedy became president, Obama said that "folks in the White House" around President Kennedy were looking for ways to counter charges of hypocrisy and "win hearts and minds all across the world" at a time when America was "battling communism."

"So the Kennedys decided 'we're going to do an airlift,' " Obama continued. " 'We're going to go to Africa and start bringing young Africans over to this country and give them scholarships to study so they can learn what a wonderful country America is.' This young man named Barack Obama got one of those tickets and came over to this country. He met this woman whose great-great-great-great-grandfather had owned slaves. . . . So they got together and Barack Obama Jr. was born."

A more accurate version of the story would begin not with the Kennedys but with a Kenyan nationalist leader named Tom Mboya, who traveled to the United States in 1959 and 1960 to persuade thousands of Americans to support his efforts to educate a new African elite. Mboya did not approach the Kennedys for financial support until Obama Sr. was already studying in Hawaii.

Mboya, a charismatic politician, was assassinated in 1969. His daughter Susan, now living in Ohio, said the mass airlifts of Kenyan students to the United States had a "huge" impact on the young African nation, which gained its independence from Britain in 1963. She cited a University of Nairobi study that showed that 70 percent of top Kenyan officials after independence, including Obama Sr., were products of the American program.

In the late 1950s, there was no university in Kenya, and educational opportunities for Africans were limited. The British colonial government opposed Mboya's efforts to send talented young Kenyans to the United States for an education, arguing that there was a perfectly good university, Makerere College, in neighboring Uganda. The U.S. State Department supported the British and turned down Mboya's requests for assistance.

During his 1959 trip to the United States, the 29-year-old Mboya raised enough money for scholarships for 81 young Kenyans, including Obama Sr., with the help of the African-American Students Foundation. Records show that almost 8,000 individuals contributed. Early supporters included baseball star Jackie Robinson, who gave $4,000, and actors Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier.

There was enormous excitement when the Britannia aircraft took off for New York with the future Kenyan elite on board. After a few weeks of orientation, the students were dispatched to universities across the United States to study subjects that would help them govern Kenya after the departure of the British. Obama Sr. was interested in economics and was sent to Hawaii, where he met, and later married, a Kansas native named Ann Dunham. Barack Jr. was born in August 1961.

Among the other students on the first airlift was Philip Ochieng, who went on to become a prominent Kenyan journalist. In a 2004 article for the Nation, Kenya's leading newspaper, Ochieng remembered Obama Sr. as "charming, generous and extraordinarily clever," but also "imperious, cruel and given to boasting about his brain and his wealth." Obama Jr. paints a similar portrait in his best-selling 1995 autobiography, "Dreams From My Father," describing his father as exceptionally gifted but also "wild," "boastful" and "stubborn."

After the success of the first student airlift, Mboya decided to expand the program in 1960 and to include students from neighboring African countries. This time, he raised $250,000 for 256 students. Universities and colleges promised scholarships worth $1,600,000, but Mboya still needed money for the airlift itself. His American friends suggested that he approach Sen. John F. Kennedy, who had just launched his presidential campaign. In addition to chairing a Senate subcommittee on Africa, Kennedy controlled the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation, named after his older brother who was killed in World War II.

The two men met at the Kennedy compound at Hyannis Port, Mass., on July 26, 1960. Kennedy later said that the family was initially "reluctant" to support the program because of other commitments but eventually agreed to provide $100,000 because it was impossible to raise the funds elsewhere.

Stephen Plotkin, an archivist at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston, said a search of the records did not turn up any evidence that the Kennedy family supported the 1959 airlift.

Vice President Richard M. Nixon, determined not to be outdone by his Democratic rival for the White House, persuaded the State Department to drop its long-standing refusal to fund the program. The head of the Nixon campaign "truth squad," Sen. Hugh Scott, accused Kennedy of attempting to "outbid the U.S. government" in a "misuse of tax-exempt foundation money for blatant political purposes." Kennedy responded by accusing the Nixon campaign of "the most unfair, distorted and malignant attack that I have heard in 14 years in politics."

The former executive director of the African-American Students Foundation, Cora Weiss, said some of the money provided by the Kennedys was used to pay off old debts and subsidize student stipends. Even though Obama Sr. arrived the previous year, he and other members of the 1959 cohort benefited indirectly from Kennedy family support.

According to a letter on file in the Mboya papers at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, "most" of Obama Sr.'s early expenses in the United States were covered by an international literacy expert named Elizabeth Mooney Kirk, who had traveled widely in Kenya. Kirk wrote to Mboya in May 1962 to request additional funds to "sponsor Barack Obama for graduate study, preferably at Harvard." She said she would "like to do more" to assist the young man but had two stepchildren ready for college.

Susan Mboya credits the student airlifts with helping to make Kenya "an island of stability in a region rocked by turmoil" until very recently. "We were fortunate in having a lot of highly educated people who were able to come back and take over the government after the British left," she said. Products of the airlift project included Africa's first female Nobel Peace Prize winner, the environmentalist Wangari Maathai.

Obama's Selma speech offers a very confused chronology of both the Kenya student program and the civil rights movement. Relating the story of how his parents met, Obama said: "There was something stirring across the country because of what happened in Selma, Alabama, because some folks are willing to march across a bridge. So they got together and Barack Obama Junior was born. So don't tell me I don't have a claim on Selma, Alabama."

After bloggers pointed out that the Selma bridge protest occurred four years after Obama's birth, a spokesman explained that the senator was referring to the civil rights movement in general, rather than any one event.

Obama Sr. never quite lived up to his enormous potential. He achieved his dream of studying at Harvard after graduating from the University of Hawaii. He divorced Dunham in 1963 and married another woman.

He returned to Kenya and became a close aide to Mboya, a fellow Luo tribesman, at the Ministry of Economic Development. According to his old "drinking buddy" Ochieng, he antagonized other officials with his "boasting," was "excessively fond of Scotch" and ended up in poverty "without a job." He got into frequent car accidents, one of which led to the amputation of both his legs. He was killed in another car accident, in 1982, at the age of 46.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Today ---------- 28 March 2008

News & Analysis
Iraqi government offensive in Basra threatens to trigger Shiite uprising

US shipped fuses for nuclear-armed missiles to Taiwan

WSWS reports from American Axle strike in Detroit

Strike wave continues in Greece

Ecuador: deepening crisis, floods trigger surge of inflation

Australia: Federal and NT Labor governments expand punitive measures in Aboriginal communities
News & Analysis
US-Pakistan ties fray, as Washington seeks to bully new government

$10 million for American Axle CEO
Richard Dauch and the aristocratic principle in America

US: Hundreds of aging American Airlines planes grounded for inspection

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Wright’s anger is part of the problem
Gene Lyons

Posted on Wednesday, March 26, 2008

As recently as 2000, Democrats were outraged that, due to the Supreme
Court’s ruling in Bush vs. Gore, not all of Florida’s presidential votes
counted. In 2008, advanced thinkers supporting Sen. Barack Obama have
persuaded themselves that fairness dictates that none of them should
count. Nor Michigan’s, either. Better that the voters of two critical
swing states comprising close to 10 percent of the electorate be
disenfranchised than that Obama’s inevitable nomination be delayed.
Nobody’s expected to notice the main reason that Team Obama faulted
every suggested re-vote plan: He wouldn’t stand the proverbial
snowball’s chance of winning either state’s primary. Rather than face
that unpleasant truth, his supporters proposed various compromises with
one common denominator: that Obama be awarded delegates he hasn’t won.
That this strikes them as reasonable reflects the deep unreality into
which roughly half the Democratic party has fallen. Once again, with
feeling: The votes belong to the voter, not the candidates. Oddly, it’s
Sen. Hillary Clinton, who grasps that elementary democratic principle,
who critics say feels entitled to the presidency. Meanwhile, TV pundits
like CNN’s Jack Cafferty warn us that should Obama’s supporters be
disappointed in their hopes, “you wouldn’t want to live in this
country.” A more concise way of turning the November contest into a
racial referendum can’t be imagined. Who will win that one? Then what?

In Time, Mark Halperin provides a list of “Painful Things Hillary
Clinton Knows—Or Should Know.” No. 7: “The Rev. Wright story
notwithstanding, the media still wants Obama to be the nominee—and that
has an impact every day.” We’ve come full circle. So confident have the
Beltway media courtiers grown in their social and political status that
what once was furiously denied is now boasted about. Politicians may
come and go, but Chris Matthews, Howard Fineman, Tim Russert and Maureen
Dowd preside over a permanent House of Lords.

Media coverage of Obama’s speech on race was characteristic. That it
would be a brilliant piece of oratory was foreordained. After all, it
was on Obama’s favorite theme, the subject of his two books and now his
presidential campaign: himself as a living symbol of racial

As such, parts of his speech struck a deep chord with anybody concerned
about America’s Original Sin of slavery and Jim Crow. Few Democrats
could fail to be moved by his rebuttal of his pastor’s bitterly
divisive, racially tinged rhetoric, with its “God damn America!” and
“U.S. of KKK A.”

“The profound mistake of Reverend [Jeremiah] Wright’s sermons,” Obama
said, “is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It’s that he
spoke as if our society was static, as if no progress has been made, as
if this country—a country that has made it possible for one of his own
members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition
of white and black, Latino, Asian, rich, poor, young and old—is still
irrevocably bound to a tragic past.

“ What we know—what we have seen—is that America can change. America can
change. That is the true genius of this nation. What we have already
achieved gives us hope—the audacity to hope—for what we can and must
achieve tomorrow.”

Except here’s my problem; several problems actually: The dream of a
multiracial coalition to heal America’s wounds isn’t new. It’s Martin
Luther King Jr.’s dream, murdered 40 years ago next month.

Granted, more malignant nonsense such as Rev. Wright’s crackpot rants is
vended in the name of God than all other topics combined. Are his views
more objectionable than Pat Robertson’s or John Hagee’s? I’d say less.
At least he doesn’t predict the future or blame events like Hurricane
Katrina or the 9/11 attacks on people’s sex lives. Wright peddles DVDs
of his inflammatory sermons on the church Web site. Could Obama possibly
imagine they’d help build that coalition that King dreamed of? Second,
what do the Obamas, Harvard Law graduates, tell their two little girls
about Wright’s downright delusional contention that the United States
government created the AIDS virus to exterminate African Americans?
Anybody named Clinton or Gore who sat still for something like that
would be derided as an inauthentic phony patronizing black folks for
political gain—a faker, a con man. Cosseted and protected all his life,
Obama’s speech shows that he understands that the Rev. Wrights of this
world do as much to keep blacks down as white racism does. All this
self-pitying obsessing over the sorrows of history leads nowhere. So how
come he’s been sitting there for 20 years pretending he doesn’t ?

—–––––•–––––—Free-lance columnist Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author and
recipient of the National Magazine Award.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Winter Soldiers Sound Off

The Progressive
April 2008 Issue
Dahr Jamail

Jason Moon suffers from persistent insomnia as he wrestles with memories of his time in Iraq. “While on our initial convoy into Iraq in early June 2003, we were given a direct order that if any children or civilians got in front of the vehicles in our convoy, we were not to stop, we were not to slow down, we were to keep driving,” says the former National Guard and Army Reserve member. “In the event an insurgent attacked us from behind human shields, we were supposed to count. If there were thirty or less civilians we were allowed to fire into the area. If there were over thirty, we were supposed to take fire and send it up the chain of command. These were the rules of engagement. I don’t know about you, but if you are getting shot at from a crowd of people, how fast are you going to count, and how accurately?”

Moon is taking part in Winter Soldier. This is public testimony organized by the Iraq Veterans Against the War about the human consequences of failed U.S. policy in the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The group takes its name from the Winter Soldier testimony by Vietnam Vets, including John Kerry, in 1971, which played a part in turning public opinion against that war.

“We’ve heard from the politicians, from the generals, from the media—now it’s our turn,” said Kelly Dougherty, executive director of Iraq Veterans Against the War. Dougherty, who served in Iraq in 2003 as a military police officer, said, “It’s not going to be easy to hear what we have to say. It’s not going to be easy for us to tell it. But we believe that the only way this war is going to end is if the American people truly understand what we have done in their name.”

When I was reporting from Iraq for eight months on and off between November 2003 and February 2005, Iraqis told me of atrocities U.S. soldiers were committing. The accounts now from soldiers themselves confirm an awful picture.

“An Iraqi was once selling soda out of a motorcycle to soldiers in a waiting convoy,” says Moon. “In the side-car was his seven-to-eight-year-old child. When the man refused to go away, the MP on patrol put him to the ground with a gun to his head and started stripping his vehicle and searching it. They then took the child, picked it up into the air, and threw it full force onto the ground. I didn’t see the child get up.”

Moon says soldiers devised cruel tricks to play on Iraqi kids. “Whenever we arrived in an area, we did so along with support vehicles with the radios, tractor trailers, bulldozers, and graters,” he says. “So we would park those in a circle with yellow police tape around. Iraqis had to stand outside that tape as we stood inside the tape, armed and ready. That was our little base of operations. Soldiers would place a $20 bill in the sand with a little bit showing and walk over to the other side of the vehicles and wait for a kid to charge under the tape to try to get the bill, which was equal to an average monthly salary there. If some kid was stupid enough to take the bait they would chase him, trying to hit him with the end of their bayonet or the butt of their rifle.”

Moon says his section sergeant would rally the troops every day in the motor pool with, “I hope I get to kill me a haji today. I hope I get to shoot somebody today.”

Moon tells me of a soldier in his tent who used to boast of swerving intentionally to hit the kids that rushed to pick up the food tossed by patrol members and to run over the food so the kids couldn't get it.

“It was a game,” Moon said. “When the soldier who had thrown the food asked him why he had done it he said, ‘Yeah, I want to hit one of them. I want to kill one of those kids.’ ”

Moon brought back a video that shows his sergeant declaring, “The difference between an insurgent and an Iraqi civilian is whether they are dead or alive.”

Moon explains the thinking: “If you kill a civilian he becomes an insurgent because you retroactively make that person a threat.”

Following a long family tradition, Cliff Hicks joined the military at seventeen in 2002 because “we had been attacked, so it seemed like the right time.”

He served from October 2003 to August 2004. He admits that he and other soldiers with him have been physically abusive towards Iraqi civilians.

“Hell yeah, that happened,” he says. “That was extremely common. My platoon leader, a lieutenant, broke the arm of an old man because he was being difficult.”

Hicks tells one story of how he himself beat up an Iraqi detainee.

“One night on a foot patrol in Baghdad, we found a thirty-year-old Iraqi who we were told had an attitude,” he says. “He acted like he wanted to fight with us, so we all jumped on him and beat the shit out of him. I zip-stripped him with plastic handcuffs behind his back, dragged him to a pole and tied him to it, guarding him while the rest of my platoon ran into his house to raid it. He was yelling and screaming and talking to the crowd. I’m eighteen years old and alone, guarding this guy in downtown Baghdad late at night. He’s talking to this massive crowd behind me. I couldn’t get him to shut I just beat the shit out of him. The whole time it freaked me out: He’s a prisoner, totally defenseless, you’re not supposed to beat up prisoners, but for all I knew this guy was telling his friends to kill me.”

Living under daily threat took a psychological toll. “Insane driving was even more common than beating people’s asses: 99 percent of the time you drive around in Iraq, and 99 percent of the way you get killed in Iraq is driving your vehicle into something that blows up,” Hicks says. “So you’re driving, scared to death, pissed off, you have a vehicle commander who’s looking at a map, yelling at a radio, being an asshole, and criticizing everything you do. He’s freaked out because he doesn’t want you to do anything stupid, and you don’t want to do anything stupid. Our tanks weigh seventy tons, our Humvees six tons, and we drove as fast as we possibly could.”

The temptation to misuse their powerful vehicles sometimes got the better of the soldiers. Iraqis “have these stands where they sell kebabs, motor oil, gas, and stuff, and one time we just got off the road and plowed through a whole row of these things,” he says. “We would just cruise through, make everybody run away. We would run over empty cars. I remember one time I saw a really shiny Mercedes. I asked my tank commander, ‘Sir, can I crush that car?’ He didn’t say yes, but he said, ‘I didn’t see anything.’ So I ran over the car.”

The language barrier also contributed to the abuse, Hicks says. “We didn’t have interpreters half the time when I was there,” he says. “We couldn’t communicate. They are not doing what you need them to do, so you freak out and beat the crap out of people all the time over there. It happened so much it’s not even worthy of note. People are just constantly getting their asses kicked over there, for no reason.”

What’s going on in Iraq seems to reflect what the psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton calls “atrocity-producing situations.” He used this term first in his book The Nazi Doctors. In 2004, he wrote an article for The Nation applying his insights to the Iraq War and
occupation. “Atrocity-producing situations,” he wrote, occur when a power structure sets up an environment where “ordinary people, men or women no better or worse than you or I, can regularly commit atrocities....This kind of atrocity-producing situation...surely occurs to some degrees in all wars, including World War II, our last ‘good war.’ But a counterinsurgency war in a hostile setting, especially when driven by profound ideological distortions, is particularly prone to sustained atrocity-all the more so when it becomes an occupation.”

Moon and Hicks testify to that. Their stories were vetted by Iraq Veterans Against the War, and the dates they served, and the units they served with, all checked out. While their service in Iraq was several years ago, other accounts from soldiers who have been there more recently bear out their experiences.

Hicks confirms reports of illegal detention of innocent Iraqis and willful destruction of their property. “You drive around Baghdad and most of these houses don’t have numbers, none of the streets are named, all the houses and streets look the same, and the interpreters, half the time they don’t even know where the hell they are,” he says. “So we’re always raiding the wrong house but you still have to bring in some prisoners. You can’t come back without prisoners. So we just rounded up any fighting-aged
male we could find.”

One particular incident stands out in Hicks’s mind. “There was a tall apartment complex, the only spot from where people could see over our perimeter,” he recalls. “There would be laundry hanging off the balconies, and people hanging out on the roof for fresh air. The place was full of kids and families. On rare occasions, a fighter would get atop the building and shoot at our passing vehicles. They never really hit anybody. We just knew to be careful when we were over by that part of the wall, and nobody did shit about it until one day a lieutenant colonel was driving down and they shot at his vehicle and he got scared. So he jumped through a bunch of hoops and cut through some red tape and got a C-130 to come out the next night and all but leveled the place. Earlier that evening when I was returning from a patrol the apartment had been packed full of people.”

Looking back on his time in Iraq, Hicks sees a hopeless situation. “You go out on your first mission and all the Iraqis think you’re a loser, they ignore you, or flip you off, or draw their finger across their throat, yelling obscenities,” he says. “Even though some were nice to us, you quickly lose any trust in them, and you lump them all together. The only way you can stay safe is to assume that outside the wire everybody wants to kill you. You don’t want to be there. And it comes down to, ‘Well fuck, I hate being here and I can’t go home…So I wake up every fucking day and I think, ‘The only reason I’m here is because you fucking people are forcing me to be here. I hate you fucking people, and you hate me, and that’s just how it is.’ And once you get to that place, it’s over.”

Monday, March 24, 2008

Happy Anniversary, America!
How Lethally Stupid Can One Country Be?
By David Michael Green

24/03/08 "ICH" -- -- Watching George W. Bush in operation these last couple of weeks is like having an out-of-body experience. On acid. During a nightmare. In a different galaxy.

As he presides over the latest disaster of his administration, (No, it’s not a terrorist attack - that was 2001! No, it’s not a catastrophic war - that was 2003! No, it’s not a drowning city - that was 2005! This one is an economic meltdown, ladies and gentlemen!) bringing to it the same blithe disengagement with which he’s attended the previous ones, you cannot but stop and gaze in stark, comedic awe, realizing that the most powerful polity that ever existed on the planet twice picked this imbecilic buffoon as its leader, from among 300 million other choices. Seeing him clown with the Washington press corps yet once again - and seeing them fawn over him, laugh in all the right places, and give him a standing ovation, also yet once again - is the equivalent of having all your logic circuits blown simultaneously. Truly, the universe has a twisted and deeply ironic sense of humor. Monty Python is about as funny - and as stiff - as Dick Nixon, by comparison.

It’s simply incomprehensible. It’s not so astonishing, of course, that a country could have a bad leader whose aims are nefarious on the occasions when they are competent enough to rise to that level of intentionality. Plenty of countries have managed that feat, especially when - as was the case with Bush - every sort of scam is employed to steal power, and then pure corruption and intimidation used to keep it. History is quite littered indeed with bimbos and petty criminals of this caliber. What is harder to explain is how a country of such remarkable achievements in other domains, and with the capacity to choose, and in the twenty-first century no less, allows this to happen. And then stands by silently watching for eight years as the tragedy unfolds before their eyes, all 600 million of them, hardly any of them even blinking.

And so, remarkably, as we mark now the fifth anniversary of the very most tragic of these debacles, the most destructive and the most shameful - because it was the most avoidable - the sad question of the hour is less what is to be done about it than will anyone even notice? Not likely. And not for very long if they do. And, most of all, definitely not enough so as to take meaningful action to bring it to an end, even at this absurdly late date.

But let’s give credit where credit is due. This is precisely by design. This is exactly the outcome intended by the greatest propaganda-promulgating regime since Hermann Göring set fire to the Reichstag. It was Göring himself who famously reminded us that, “Naturally the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. …Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”

Sure worked in Germany. And it worked even better here, because these guys were so absolutely careful to avoid exposing the costs of their war to those who could demand its end. For example, by some counts, there are more mercenaries fighting in Iraq, at extremely high cost, than there are US military personnel. There’s only one reason for that. If the administration implemented the draft that is actually necessary to supply this war with adequate personnel, the public would end both the war and the careers of its sponsors, post haste. For the same reason, this is the first American war ever which has not only not been accompanied by a tax increase, but has in fact witnessed a tax cut. Likewise - to ‘preserve the dignity’ of the dead, of course - you are no longer permitted to see photographs of flag-draped caskets returning to Dover Air Force Base. And the press are embedded with forces who are also responsible for their safety, which is just a fancy way of saying that they’re so censored they make Pravda look good. It is, in short, quite easy for average Americans to get through their day, every day, without the war impacting their lives in any visible respect, and that is precisely what hundreds of millions of us are doing, week in and week out. All of this is courtesy of an administration that couldn’t run a governmental program to save its own life - but, boy, they sure as hell know how to market stuff.

So perhaps there is no excuse, after all, for my naïveté, for my credulousness in wanting to believe that twenty-first century America might be different enough not to follow the smallest of men - a personal failure and a 40-year drunkard who, unlike Herr Göring’s führer, couldn’t even claim charismatic eloquence as the sole virtue accounting for his power - to follow such a petulant child off the deep end of a completely unjustified war. Perhaps Americans and American democracy are no wiser or better than any other people or political system, even today, even after the worst century of warfare in human history, even after the mirror-image experience of Vietnam. Maybe the experience of Iraq hasn’t even changed them, and they’ll once again follow like lemmings when led to war by pathetic creatures such as George W. Bush, fifty years from now. Or five years from now. Or even five months from now, as the creature d.b.a Dick Cheney tees up a confrontation with Iran in order keep Democrats out of the White House, and himself out of jail.

Sure, presidents and prime ministers, no less than kings and führers, will lie their countries into war. Sure, they’re very good at it, and getting better all the time. Definitely a frightened people are more prone to stupidity than those lucky enough to contemplate in the luxury of quiet safety. Without question, it helps an awful lot - if you’re just Joe Sixpack, out there trying to figure out international politics in-between a long day’s work, helping the kids with their algebra homework, and the Yankee game - to have a checking-and-balancing Congress, a responsible opposition party, and/or a critical media helping you to understand the issues accurately, rather than gleefully capitulating to executive power at every opportunity. But that by no means excuses a public who were fundamentally far more lazy than they were ignorant or confused. And lazy is one thing when you’re talking about a highway bill or even national healthcare. But when it comes to war, lazy is murder.

I don’t think it took a giant leap of logic to understand that this war was bogus from the beginning, even based on what was known at the time. The war was sold on three basic arguments, each of which could have been easily dismantled even then with a little thoughtful consideration.

The first was WMD, of course. So, okay, perhaps your average American didn’t know that the United States government (including many in the current administration) had actually once supplied Saddam Hussein the material to make these evil weapons, and had covered for him at the UN and elsewhere when he used them. Although this historical myopia is very much part of the problem, of course. Americans are so ready to denounce supposed enemies without doing the slightest bit of historical homework to become acquainted with the slightest bit of history to make sense of the situation. If you don’t know that the US actually canceled elections and helped assassinate a ‘democratic’ president in Vietnam, of course you’re going to support war there. If you don’t know that the US toppled a democratically elected Iranian government to steal the country’s oil and then installed a brutal dictatorship in its place, of course you’re going to be angry at US diplomats being held hostage. And if you don’t bother to learn the true history of Iraq, perhaps you’ll find the WMD argument quite persuasive.

But, in fact, even without the historical background information, it never made a damn bit of sense. Iraq had been pulverized by war and sanctions for over twenty years prior to 2003. Two-thirds of its airspace was controlled by foreign militaries. Its northern region was effectively autonomous, a separate country in all but name. It was in no position to attack anyone. Moreover, it hadn’t attacked anyone - not the United States or anyone else. Indeed, it hadn’t even threatened to attack anyone. Shouldn’t that be part of the calculation in determining whether to go to war? Do we really want to give carte blanche to any dry (we hope) drunkard in the White House who today wants to bomb Norway (”They’re stealing our fish!”), or tomorrow wants to invade Burkina Faso (”They dress funny!”)?

Too often, of course, the historical answer to that question has unfortunately been yes, we apparently do want to do that. But let’s consider the massive warning signs in this case, even apart from what could be known about the administration’s lies at the time. Shouldn’t it have been enormously problematic that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11? Even the administration never had the gall to make that claim. Wasn’t it transparent to anyone that America had plenty on its plate already in dealing with the enemy we were told we had, rather than adding a new adventure to the pile? And why wasn’t this thing selling throughout the world, or even amongst the traitorous half of the Democratic Party in Congress? Remember how everyone at home and abroad - yes, including the French - supported the US and its military actions in Afghanistan only twelve months before? Shouldn’t it have been a warning sign of epic proportions that these same folks wouldn’t countenance a war in Iraq just a year later? That the administration had to yank its Security Council resolution off the table, even after breaking both the arms of every member-state around the horseshoe table, because it could still only get Britain and two other patsies to lie down for this outrage, out of a total of fifteen, and nine needed to pass?

And how about the logic of that whole WMD thing, after all? Did anyone ever stop to think that several dozen other countries have WMD, including some that are pretty hostile to the United States? Did anyone not remember that the Soviets once had nearly 25,000 strategic nuclear warheads pointed in our direction? What ever happened to the logic of deterrence? To mutually assured destruction? And what about the mad rush to go to war, preempting the UN weapons inspectors from doing their job? Are we really okay with the notion that instead of ‘risking’ whatever would have been at risk by giving the inspectors another six or eight weeks to finish up, we’ve instead bought this devastating war down on our own heads for no reason at all? If you stop to think about it, it makes you shudder. Which I guess explains why not too many people stop to think about it.

The second rationale for war was the bogus linkage between Iraq and al Qaeda. The extent and ramifications of this lie are so significant that the White House, it was just recently revealed, squelched a Pentagon report showing no connections between the two. Is this sort of censorship what the Bush administration means by democracy, the remedy it’s always preaching for the rest of the world but never practicing at home? Anyhow, remember how definitive Cheney and the rest were of this supposed al Qaeda linkage, based pretty much entirely on a meeting between two operatives in Prague which likely didn’t even take place? Now we find out that the Department of Defense has spent the last five years combing through a mere 600,000 documents, and found zero evidence of such a link. Not some evidence. Not mixed evidence. Zero evidence.

But you could tell even then that they had almost nothing to go on. Christ, the United States government itself has had far more interactions with al Qaeda - including helping to build the beast from its inception - than one disputed meeting between two spooks in Prague. Doesn’t it seem that a decision to go to war should hang on more than a single thread like that, let alone a narrow and tattered one? And how many of us are down for attacking any country right now that might have had a single meeting between a low-level functionary and an al Qaeda representative?

Then, once again, there’s the matter of that whole pesky logic thing. Pay attention now, class. What do we know about al Qaeda? They are devoted to religious war - jihad - in the name of replacing governments across the Middle East with theocracies, or better yet recreating the old Islamic caliphate stretching across the region, right? Right. Now if this vision could have more thoroughly contradicted Saddam’s agenda for a secular dictatorship seeking regional domination on his own Stalinist terms, it is hard to imagine how. You don’t need a PhD in international politics to see that these two actors were about as antithetical to each other as the Republican Party is to integrity. Then again, even having one doesn’t necessarily mean you have the foggiest clue about what’s going on in the world, as Condoleezza Rice clearly demonstrated by brilliantly failing to anticipate that Hamas would win elections she had pushed the Palestinians to hold. For someone serving as secretary of state, this idiocy is the rough equivalent of anyone else being shocked when a dropped bowling ball hurtles to the ground, because they’re not yet fully acquainted with the concept of gravity. Evidently, in Texas this is what they call ‘credentials’.

Lastly, Bush’s little adventure in Mesopotamia was supposed to bring democracy to the region, remember? Never mind, of course, that there has long already been a fairly thriving Islamic democracy, right next door. Oops! It’s called Turkey. And let’s not forget Mr. Bush’s long-standing devotion to democracy, as he amply demonstrated in the American election of 2000. Or as he has continually manifested by bravely and publicly pushing the Chinese to democratize. Just as he has with his pals in Egypt and especially the family friends running Saudi Arabia, the recipient of more American foreign aid than nearly any other country in all the world. And let’s not forget the several hundred thousand perished souls from Darfur, whom this great champion of human rights has fought valiantly to keep alive by… by… well, I’m sure he’s done a lot behind the scenes. Sure is gonna be hard for them to exercise their precious right to vote from the next world, eh?

What is clear is that the reasons given to the American public for the war in Iraq were entirely bogus. This much is already on the public record, from the Downing Street Memos and beyond. Even if we can only speculate on why they actually invaded - oil, glory, personal insecurity, Israel, clobbering Democrats, Middle Eastern dominance - what we know for sure is that the rationale fed to the public was a knowingly fabricated pack of scummy lies. It wasn’t about WMD, it wasn’t about links to al Qaeda, and it sure wasn’t about democracy.

But even if we can’t identify the true motivations within the administration for invading, we can surely begin to see the costs. Probably a million Iraqi civilians are dead. Over four million are displaced and now living as refugees. Together, these equal a staggering one-fifth of the population of the entire country. Meanwhile, the remaining four-fifths are living in squalor, fear and a psychological damage so extensive that it is hard to grasp. America has lost 4,000 soldiers, with perhaps another 30,000 gravely wounded. Hundreds of thousands more will be scarred for life from their experiences in the hell of Mr. Bush’s war. Our military is broken and incapable of responding to a real emergency, at home or abroad. Our economy will sustain a blow of perhaps three trillion dollars before it is all said and done. Our reputation in the world is in the toilet. We have turned the Iranian theocracy into a regional hegemon. And we have massively proliferated our own enemies within the Islamic community. That would be one hell of an expensive war, even if the reasons given for it were legitimate. It is nearly incomprehensible considering that they were not.

This week, a man died in France, the last surviving veteran of World War I, a devastating conflict that - even a century later - nobody can still really explain to this day. Meanwhile, Dick Cheney, John McCain and Joe “Make-me-SecDef-Mac-oh-please-pick-me-Mac” Lieberman parachuted into Iraq for photo-ops to sustain the war they don’t have the integrity or the guts to abandon. Never mind that their visits had to be by surprise, and that they stroll around the Green Zone wearing armored vests - surely the most powerful measures of the war’s success imaginable. Of course, to be fair, we’ve only been at it for five years now. Perhaps after the remaining ninety-five on McCain’s agenda go by, Americans will finally be safe enough in Iraq to announce their visits in advance.

So, Happy Anniversary, America! You put these people in charge, and then - after seeing in explicit in detail what they were capable of - you actually did it again in 2004! You stood by in silence watching the devastation wrought upon an innocent people, produced in your name and financed by your tax dollars. And you continue to do just that again, now in Year Six.

Brilliant! Put on your party hat, America. You won the prize.

You’ve successfully answered the musical question, “How lethally stupid can one country be?”

David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York. He is delighted to receive readers’ reactions to his articles (, but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. More of his work can be found at his website,

NY Times article questions official explanation of sex probe that forced New York governor to resign

By Barry Grey
24 March 2008

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An article published by the New York Times on March 21 raises serious questions about the official explanation given by federal prosecutors for the high-powered investigation into the sexual activities of former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer that led to Spitzer’s public humiliation and forced resignation on March 12.

The article, written by David Johnston and Philip Shenon, cites Justice Department lawyers and former federal prosecutors who make it clear that federal criminal investigations into public officials, like Spitzer, who are identified as clients of prostitution rings are extraordinarily rare.

The article also points to anomalies in the 47-page affidavit filed March 5 along with the federal complaint against four employees of the Emperor’s Club prostitution ring which Spitzer allegedly patronized. The affidavit lists ten clients of the call-girl ring, but does not name them, referring to them only by number. Spitzer, client number 9, is the only one whose identity was leaked by federal officials to the press.

And, as the Times article points out, the affidavit “provided far more detail, some of it unusually explicit, about Client 9’s encounter with the prostitute than about any of the nine other clients identified by number in the document.”

The implication is that the affidavit was drawn up in such as way as to provide quasi-pornographic grist for a media-promoted sex scandal that would compel the recently elected governor to resign—which is precisely what occurred. Within two days of the first reports of Spitzer’s links to the call-girl ring—published by the self same New York Times—the governor announced his resignation.

The article underscores the point as follows: “Several current and former federal prosecutors and prominent defense lawyers who reviewed the document said the inclusion of such salacious details about Mr. Spitzer’s encounter with the prostitute went far beyond what was necessary to provide probable cause for the arrests and for searches, the purpose of the affidavit.”

While questioning the official explanation, the article draws no conclusions as to the motives behind the Spitzer investigation. However, the only plausible interpretation is that the Justice Department/FBI probe was a political operation directed by the Bush administration for the purpose of reversing an election and removing from office the Democratic governor of the third largest state in the country.

This conclusion is reinforced by a March 22 McClatchy Newspapers report that Roger Stone, a resident of Miami Beach and notorious Republican “dirty trickster” since the Nixon era, had a role in the probe of Spitzer. The Kansas City Star reported that Stone’s lawyer sent a letter last November to the FBI alleging that Spitzer had hired prostitutes while in Florida.

The letter, released by Stone’s lawyer, states: “The governor has paid literally thousands of dollars for these services. It is Mr. Stone’s understanding that the governor paid not with credit cards or cash but through some pre-arranged transfer.”

Stone, recruited by the 2000 Bush campaign to block a recount of votes in the disputed Florida election, is credited with organizing the near-riot of Republican congressional staff members and other operatives that succeeded in shutting down the vote recount in Miami-Dade County. According to the Star, the letter from Stone’s lawyer was in response to requests from FBI agents investigating Spitzer to speak with his client.

As the World Socialist Web Site has said since the eruption of the Spitzer affair, we have no political sympathy for the former New York governor, a typical American bourgeois politician and multi-millionaire who, in his short term in office, proposed or carried out hundreds of millions of dollars in budget cuts to social programs. Nor are we indifferent to the social issues raised by the purchase of the services of a human being for personal gratification.

However, the essential issue raised in this case is the role of the state apparatus, utilizing the immense financial and technological resources and police powers of the federal government, enhanced by the new domestic spying powers granted under laws enacted in the name of the bogus “war on terror,” in manipulating political life and intimidating, silencing or removing those deemed to be political obstacles.

The March 21 New York Times article sheds additional light on the scope and intrusiveness of the Justice Department investigation into the former New York governor, and makes clear that it was anything but routine. It begins: “The Justice Department used some of its most intrusive tactics against Eliot Spitzer, examining his financial records, eavesdropping on his phone class and tailing him during its criminal investigation of the Emperor’s Club prostitution ring.

“The scale and intensity of the investigation of Mr. Spitzer, then the governor of New York, seemed on its face to be a departure for the Justice Department, which aggressively investigates allegations of wrongdoing by public officials, but almost never investigates people who pay prostitutes for sex.

“A review of recent federal cases shows that federal prosecutors go sparingly after owners and operators of prostitution enterprises, and usually only when millions of dollars are involved or there are aggravating circumstances, like human trafficking or child exploitation.”

On the massive scale of the dragnet, the article states: “The focus on Mr. Spitzer was so intense that the FBI used surveillance teams to follow both him and the prostitute in Washington in February. The surveillance teams had followed him at least once before—when he visited the city in January but did not engage a prostitute, officials said, confirming a report in the Washington Post. Stakeouts and surveillance are labor-intensive and often involve teams of a dozen or more agents and non-agent specialists.”

On the extraordinary nature of the Justice Department decision to pursue a criminal investigation into Spitzer’s use of call-girl services, the Times cites Bradley D. Simon, described as “a veteran Justice Department trial lawyer who was federal prosecutor in Brooklyn throughout the 1990s.” The newspaper writes:

“Mr. Simon said it was unusual for the department to bring criminal charges in a prostitution case in which there was no allegation of the exploitation of children, human trafficking or some more serious crime.

“He said that in his eight years in the Brooklyn office in the 1990s, he could not recall a single major criminal case that centered on prostitution charges. ‘There were a lot of serious crimes—organized crime, narcotics cases, major financial crime investigations,’ he said in an interview. ‘Prostitution was not a high priority.’”

The article concludes: “Justice Department officials insist that it has a strong record of breaking up large prostitution rings around the country, but many of the cases they cite involve cases brought several years ago, especially before the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks; after that, the department vowed to focus its attention on national security threats.

“And for years, they acknowledge, the department has rarely, if ever, prosecuted or even identified the clients of a prosecution ring.”

The Times cites unnamed government officials who defend the Spitzer investigation and repeat the official story that it began when one of the then-governor’s banks filed reports with the US Treasury Department of suspicious transactions in his account. “The reports suggested to investigators,” the newspaper writes, “that Mr. Spitzer might have been trying to keep anyone from noticing transfers of his own funds. That is the kind of activity that can bring an investigation of the possibility of corruption.”

However, even if this account of the origins of the investigation is true, it does not explain why a decision was made by the Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section and the US attorney of the Southern District of New York to continue the probe after no evidence was found of bribery, influence-peddling, illegal use of campaign funds or any other form of political corruption.

The Times article cites the unidentified government officials as saying that “once they learned that such a prominent figure was involved in soliciting prostitutes, and had seemed to be arranging sex in violation of the statute that prohibits travel across state lines to engage in sex, they wanted to follow the evidence.”

Why? At the point where no evidence was found of corruption, there was no legitimate reason for the Justice Department to press ahead with a criminal investigation of the governor of New York.

The statute referred to is a 1910 law known as the Mann Act, banning the interstate transport of females for “immoral purposes.” This federal law has been used numerous times for reactionary purposes, including the cases of black boxer Jack Johnson, Charlie Chaplin and singer Chuck Berry. The Justice Department and FBI had to invoke this law to justify a federal probe of Spitzer’s sexual activities.

But none of the Public Integrity Section reports for 2004, 2005 or 2006, which cite dozens of cases of bribe-taking and influence-peddling by public officials, have a single reference to prostitution or the Mann Act.

The Times cites “senior political appointees” at the Justice Department in Washington as saying they had “little involvement in the case,” and asserts that Attorney General Michael Mukasey, a former federal judge in New York, was not even told about the case until shortly before March 5, when the complaint was filed against four of the prostitution ring’s employees.

This flatly contradicts previous reports that Mukasey signed off on the Spitzer probe. Moreover, it is wholly unbelievable that top officials in the Justice Department would not have been consulted about a criminal investigation of a powerful and nationally prominent elected official.

The information contained in the New York Times article confirms the analysis made by the World Socialist Web Site and a number of legal experts that the investigation of Spitzer was a politically motivated dragnet organized by the Bush administration for reactionary and anti-democratic ends.

It was well known that Spitzer had presidential aspirations. He had also made many enemies on Wall Street, because of his well-publicized investigations, during his time as New York State attorney general, of prominent bankers and stock market officials.

A political “hit” against Spitzer would be entirely in line with the modus operandi of the Bush administration, which came to power on the basis of electoral fraud and the suppression of votes, and continued its anti-democratic and conspiratorial practices by dragging the country into war on the basis of lies and using the Justice Department to carry out trumped-up voter fraud prosecutions of Democratic candidates and their supporters, as revealed in last year’s scandal over the firing of nine US attorneys.

In a country wracked by political and economic crisis and dominated by an ever-widening chasm between a financial oligarchy and the working class, the methods of conspiracy and provocation, including the use of sex scandals as an instrument of political manipulation, become increasingly pervasive.

The ultimate target is not the Eliot Spitzers of the world, but the democratic rights of the American working class.

See Also:
Bush administration illegally examined Obama passport file
[22 March 2008]

Friday, March 21, 2008

Mobilize auto workers behind the American Axle strike

Statement of the World Socialist Web Site editorial board
20 March 2008

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The following statement is posted as a leaflet in pdf format. We urge our readers and supporters to download and distribute it as widely as possible.

The World Socialist Web Site and the Socialist Equality Party call upon all auto workers to mobilize in defense of the three-week-old strike by 3,650 workers at American Axle & Manufacturing plants in Michigan and western New York. By resisting the company’s wage-cutting demands, American Axle workers are taking a stand for the entire working class.

What is at stake in this struggle? Once again, a company run by multi-millionaire owners is demanding that the wages and conditions of the workers be permanently slashed to near-poverty levels. This is a situation that confronts millions of workers in the US.

American Axle CEO Richard Dauch—who received at least $60 million in total compensation over the last five years—has threatened to close plants and shift production to lower-wage factories in the US and Mexico unless workers accept a $14-an-hour wage cut, sharp reductions in medical coverage, the elimination of employer-paid pensions and retiree health care benefits, and hundreds more job reductions.

Last week, three workers at the Detroit plant were arrested after the company began to implement its threat to ship products out of the strikebound factories.

This is a struggle not simply against one company. Behind Dauch stand the biggest corporate and financial interests, which are determined to make the working class pay for the financial crisis on Wall Street resulting from the bursting of the real estate bubble.

The question posed is: Who is to pay for the failure of American capitalism?

It is not only manufacturing workers whose livelihoods are being attacked, but far broader sections of the working class. At the bankrupt investment bank Bear Stearns, more than half of the company’s 14,000 employees lost their jobs and the entire work force at a stroke saw their life sayings wiped away by the collapse of the firm’s stock.

The needs of working people are irreconcilably opposed to a system that is entirely geared to increasing corporate profits and further enriching a financial aristocracy. The fact that the entire working class confronts a ruthless offensive by big business, backed by a government and two-party system that defend corporate America, demonstrates that this is fundamentally a political struggle between opposing social classes.

The industrial mobilization of the working class must be guided by a new perspective and strategy and the building of a political movement that opposes the capitalist system, whose failure is being demonstrated each day in the spread of home foreclosures, a financial crisis that threatens to plunge the country into a new Depression, and growing social inequality.

The role of the UAW

The fight against wage-cutting, the loss of jobs and the destruction of all the gains won by previous generations of workers cannot be conducted through the existing labor organizations, such as the United Auto Workers union. They categorically defend the profit system through their collaboration with the corporations and their political alliance with the Democratic Party, which they falsely portray as a “friend of the working man” in order to block the building of an independent party of the working class.

Last year the UAW signed contracts with the Big Three automakers that imposed on its own members 50 percent wage cuts and the destruction of health benefits and pensions. In return, the union became the proprietor of a health care trust that constitutes one of the largest private investment funds in the US, with more than $50 billion in assets. Under the terms of the deal, the UAW has become the single largest shareholder in General Motors and Ford.

How, by any stretch of the imagination, can one describe such an outfit as a working class organization? It is a business, controlled by a bureaucracy that at every point sets out to advance its own financial interests by collaborating with the auto companies at the direct expense of the workers who are compelled to pay dues into its coffers. Its major function is to stomp out dissent within the ranks and soften up workers to accept management’s demands.

With its control of tens of millions of shares of GM and Ford stock, the UAW has a direct financial incentive to assist the auto bosses in slashing labor costs, wiping out jobs and driving up the exploitation of its own members on the shop floor.

American Axle was set up in 1994 after GM spun off its axle and forging operations in order to slash labor costs for its parts production. The number one auto maker and its Wall Street investors are demanding that American Axle deliver a decisive blow to the striking workers in order to break the resistance of all auto workers to even greater concessions that will be demanded as the US auto companies face slumping sales and a further loss of market share.

The most dangerous threat facing American Axle workers is the deliberate effort of the UAW to isolate and sabotage their struggle. The UAW’s top leadership has taken the negotiations out of the hands of local representatives in a sure sign that a sellout is being prepared.

On March 4 the Detroit Free Press reported that the UAW offered substantial wage cuts to American Axle on the eve of the strike.

According to a March 17 article in the Automotive News, the UAW International is seeking “job guarantees” from American Axle to end the walkout, basically on management’s terms. “General Motors has contracted hundreds of millions of dollars of new business annually with American Axle. The union wants those axles and other parts built in UAW-represented US plants, not in Mexico, said a source close to the situation,” the publication reported.

It continues, “The job guarantees are needed to salve the pain of concessions the UAW must make at American Axle to bring wages and benefits more in line with the axle maker’s competitors, said Dave Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research think tank in Ann Arbor, Michigan. ‘Plant investment is the quid pro quo,’ he said.”

As always the UAW is negotiating, not to defend its members, but to defend its own interests. The Automotive News article makes clear that the UAW International is trying to arrive at agreement with Dauch to secure the maximum number of dues-paying workers in return for agreeing to the wholesale destruction of wages, benefits and working conditions.

Whatever “job guarantees” the UAW claims it has obtained will not be worth the paper they are written on. The UAW said it received such promises from GM, Ford and Chrysler last year. But once the contracts were ratified the companies eliminated entire shifts at their assembly plants and wiped out thousands of jobs.

American Axle workers are defying the pattern of wage- and benefit-cutting contracts the United Auto Workers union has accepted throughout the auto industry. Having faced widespread opposition to its betrayal of Big Three auto workers, the UAW is determined to make sure the American Axle strike does not become a rallying point to oppose its pro-business policies.

The way forward

If this struggle is not to be isolated and sabotaged, the conduct of the strike and negotiations must be taken out of the hands of the UAW. Rank-and-file committees should be set up, independently of the UAW, to unite auto workers and working people in the communities threatened with layoffs and plant closings. These committees should call demonstrations, organize mass picketing to stop production at the American Axle plants, and fight to expand the strike to GM, Ford, Chrysler, Delphi and the other auto and auto parts companies in order to overturn the concession contracts signed by the UAW.

The fight of auto workers must be linked up with the struggle of the working class as a whole—against the threat to jobs, the wave of home foreclosures, cuts in social programs, and the squandering of billions on the war in Iraq. This must be the start for the building a new political movement of the working class based on the fight for an international and socialist alternative to capitalism.

The decimation of cities like Detroit, Cleveland and Flint, Michigan has been part of a deliberate policy of deindustrialization, which has led to the destruction of six million manufacturing jobs since 1979. This was done by the most powerful financial interests, which sought to free up capital from “underperforming” industries in order to reap vast fortunes in the stock market and through other forms of financial swindling.

At the same time, companies like American Axle shifted production to Mexico, China and other low-wage countries in order to maximize returns for investors and enrich the top corporate executives. The response of the UAW has been to peddle nationalist poison in order to drive a wedge between US workers and their brothers and sisters internationally, while collaborating ever more closely in the slashing of wages, benefits and jobs.

The attack on auto workers is international. In recent days, BMW has announced the elimination of 8,000 jobs in Germany, and GM Europe said it would cut 5,000 jobs in Belgium, France, Spain and Germany. A genuine fight in defense of jobs is possible only by uniting auto workers on an international scale based on a socialist program.

American Axle’s financial books must be made public. The huge payouts for Dauch and other top executives must be frozen and the tens of millions they have squeezed out of the company returned.

The vast assets of the auto industry—built up by the labor of generations of workers—can no longer be the personal property of America’s wealthy elite, who dispense with them as they see fit. If the industry is to be run for the good of society, it must be transformed into a publicly owned utility and placed under the democratic control of working people. This will not only guarantee a good standard of living for auto workers and their families, but the production of safe, high-quality and affordable transportation for consumers.

The fight for this socialist and internationalist policy requires a break with the Democratic Party—the twin party with the Republicans of big business, inequality and war—and the building of a mass socialist party of the working class. This is the aim of the Socialist Equality Party. We urge auto workers to consider our program and make the decision to join and build the SEP as the new revolutionary leadership of the working class.

We encourage autoworkers and others to contact the WSWS.

See Also:
American Axle workers in Detroit discuss political issues in strike
[14 March 2008]

On Iraq war’s fifth anniversary, Bush says US troops must stay

By Bill Van Auken
20 March 2008

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President George W. Bush marked the fifth anniversary of the US war in Iraq on Wednesday by touting the supposed successes of the “surge” that sent an additional 30,000 US troops into the occupied country, while insisting that the expanded troop levels must be maintained to avoid “chaos and carnage.”

As with so many such speeches, the White House dragooned an audience of officers and enlisted men who were compelled to stand at attention when the president took the stage and applaud on cue. Had Bush dared to speak before an audience of ordinary Americans not under military discipline, he would likely have faced catcalls and boos.

A poll released by the CNN cable news network to coincide with the fifth anniversary showed Americans opposing the war by a two-to-one margin, with similar majorities expressing the view that it should have never been waged in the first place and that the next president should withdraw US troops from the country within a few months of taking office.

Significantly, 71 percent of those polled blamed the massive war spending in Iraq—now estimated at over $12 billion a month—for the deepening crisis gripping the US economy.

Yet, with his own popular ratings remaining at near historic lows for a US president, Bush swaggered onto the stage at the Pentagon and proclaimed that “the United States of America will continue to fight the enemy wherever it makes a stand” and “will stay on the offense.”

The central policy thrust of his speech was that the escalation he ordered in Iraq over a year ago—which saw troop levels raised to 160,000—must be continued, with at least 140,000 soldiers and Marines kept in the country indefinitely.

This is a position which faces substantial opposition within the military’s own uniformed command, with many senior officers warning that continuing the present deployment levels will “break” the US Army. A recent poll by Foreign Policy magazine of some 3,400 active and retired US military officers found that 88 percent believed that “The war in Iraq has stretched the US military dangerously thin.”

But Bush did not direct his anniversary address to allaying fears of his military audience. Instead, he used their uniformed ranks as a prop for political attacks against those opposing the war or just merely questioning the continuation of the surge.

Much of the speech involved recycling the tired and thoroughly discredited lies that were used to justify the war at its outset. Bush began by proclaiming that the “shock and awe” bombardment of Baghdad and the subsequent land invasion were launched in March 2003 “to liberate the Iraqi people and remove a regime that threatened free nations.”

He provided no details as to the nature of this supposed “threat.” Those given at the time—alleged stockpiles of Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction” and ties between the Saddam Hussein regime and Al Qaeda—have been amply exposed as crude fabrications.

Just days before Bush’s speech, the Pentagon quietly released its findings based on an exhaustive study of some 600,000 Iraqi government documents captured after the invasion. It concluded that there existed no operational ties whatsoever between Baghdad and the Islamist terrorist network, something those with any knowledge about Iraq’s Baathist regime had long known.

This did not stop Bush from using the word “terrorist” at least 20 times in his 25-minute speech and inserting 15 references to Al Qaeda.

As for the claims that the US invasion served to “liberate the Iraqi people” and, even more preposterously, that it has helped create a “democracy in the heart of the Middle East” that “will serve as an example for others”—the president’s rhetoric would be merely laughable, if it were not for the depth of the tragedy it is meant to mask.

Iraq lives under the boot of a foreign occupation that has cost the lives of well over a million people and driven at least four million more from their homes, either as refugees abroad or internal exiles. The country’s economy and basic infrastructure have been decimated. Under conditions in which more than half of the working-age population is unemployed and 40 percent barely survive on $1 or less a day, whatever existed in terms of social welfare and aid to the poor before the invasion has been dismantled.

Washington’s divide-and-rule tactics have unleashed a savage sectarian conflict that has split long-mixed communities into hostile and segregated camps, leaving millions terrorized and homeless. Men, women and children walking in the street are subject to summary execution by US troops or private security contractors without warning. At least 60,000 Iraqi civilians are being held in detention camps and prisons run by the US military and Iraqi puppet forces, the vast majority of them without charges, much less trials. Torture remains rampant.

To speak of such conditions in terms of “freedom,” “liberation,” and “democracy” is an obscenity.

Incredibly, Bush turned inside out his old argument for invading Iraq—that Baghdad would supply its non-existent weapons of mass destruction to Al Qaeda for attacks on America—in order to defend the country’s continued occupation. Without maintaining the current military escalation, he warned, Iraq would descend into “chaos” producing an “emboldened Al Qaeda with access to Iraq’s oil resources, [which] could pursue its ambitions to acquire weapons of mass destruction to attack America and other free nations.”

This new lie is every bit as grotesque as the one used to justify the war in the first place. The vast majority of those resisting US forces in Iraq are not Al Qaeda, but Iraqis who refuse to accept the foreign occupation and re-colonization of their country. Among the tens of thousands who have been rounded up by the American military, barely a handful have been identified as Islamist militants from other countries. Even the Al Qaeda organization inside Iraq—which did not exist before the US carried out its military “regime change”—has no operational ties to the organization led by Osama bin Laden or those blamed for the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama gave his own speech on the fifth anniversary of the war, choosing Fayetteville, North Carolina, home of the Army’s Fort Bragg, as the venue for his remarks. He stressed his own commitment to the so-called “war on terror,” declaring, “What we need is a pragmatic strategy that focuses on fighting our real enemies,” and once again defended his position that the US should attack alleged terrorist targets inside Pakistan, with or without that country’s approval.

He also used the speech to answer his rival for the Democratic nomination, Senator Hillary Clinton, who had accused him of equivocating on his commitment to withdraw US troops from Iraq. Obama again pointed to Clinton’s 2002 vote in the Senate to authorize the US war, while acknowledging that their positions on future troop withdrawals are virtually identical.

In her own remarks earlier in the week, Clinton claimed she would reduce the US troop presence in Iraq “in a responsible and careful manner.” She praised the US war’s impact on the Iraqis, declaring that it had “given them the precious gift of freedom,” but cynically declared that Washington could not “win their civil war.”

Both Clinton and Obama have advanced platforms that call for continued US military operations in Iraq for purposes of “counter-terrorism,” protecting US facilities and interests and training Iraqi military forces, meaning that tens of thousands of American troops would remain in the country indefinitely.

For his part, the Republican Party’s presumptive presidential candidate, Senator John McCain, echoed Bush’s praise for the surge, declaring, “America and our allies stand on the precipice of winning a major victory against radical Islamic extremism.”

Bush concluded his own remarks Wednesday with the assertion that the war in Iraq “is noble, it is necessary, and it is just.”

Millions of people all over the world and within the US itself know that the opposite is the case. This is a criminal war of aggression waged in pursuit of the interests of America’s financial elite with the aim of establishing US hegemony over one of the main oil-producing centers of the world. It has produced a dirty colonial-style occupation that has inflicted massive suffering on the Iraqi people. At the same time, it has become a debacle for US strategic interests and irreparably discredited the US government in the eyes of the bulk of humanity.

See Also:
Five years after the invasion of Iraq: A debacle for US imperialism
[19 March 2008]

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Five years after the invasion of Iraq: A debacle for US imperialism

By the editorial board
19 March 2008

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Five years after Washington inaugurated its “shock and awe” campaign, striking Baghdad with cruise missiles and precision-guided bombs, it has become abundantly clear that the war of aggression against Iraq has produced the greatest geo-political disaster in American history.

The war’s costs, in terms of both US imperialism’s global position and sheer dollar amounts, have eclipsed the immense damage wrought by the protracted intervention in Vietnam nearly four decades ago. It has already lasted longer than the American Civil War, World War I, World War II and the Korean War. Even in Vietnam, after five years of major troop deployments, the withdrawal of American forces had already begun.

A “war of choice” that was launched as a demonstration of the overwhelming and irresistible force of American militarism has turned into an operational debacle that has strained the US armed forces to the breaking point and eroded the strategic position of the United States in every corner of the world.

For the Iraqi people, the war has produced a catastrophe. For the American people, as well, it has yielded nothing but suffering and tragedy. It unquestionably constitutes the single greatest war crime of the twenty-first century. In both its motivation and execution, it embodies the essential characteristics of similar crimes carried out in the last century.

The International Tribunal at Nuremburg that convicted the leaders of the Third Reich summed up its verdict with the following observation: “War is essentially an evil thing. Its consequences are not confined to the belligerent states alone, but affect the whole world. To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime, it is the supreme international crime, differing from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

The “accumulated evil” wrought by the decision to launch a war of aggression in Iraq continues to unfold. According to the most credible estimates, it has cost the lives of over 1 million Iraqis, while turning over 4 million more into refugees, driven by violence and destruction either out of their country or into internal exile.

A poll released this week that was conducted for the British Broadcasting Corporation, ABC News in the US and German and Japanese television found that nearly half of the residents of Baghdad said at least one family member had been killed since the occupation began.

The same poll found that over 70 percent of Iraqis want US troops out of their country, a sentiment that has remained steady throughout the occupation, but which is consistently ignored by the US political establishment and the mass media.

The divide-and-rule strategy employed by the US occupiers and Washington’s attempts to fashion a puppet regime based on ethnic politics created the conditions for a savage sectarian war that claimed untold victims and “ethnically cleansed” large sections of Baghdad and other areas where Shia, Sunni and Kurdish Iraqis had previously lived side-by-side.

The destruction of social infrastructure caused by American high explosives five years ago—as well as the previous years of punishing sanctions—has only been exacerbated by the disintegration that has unfolded under US military occupation. Essential infrastructure remains devastated, with the population deprived of electricity, fuel, clean water, sanitary facilities and garbage collection, creating hellish conditions and an immense public health crisis. The killing of over 600 doctors and medical professionals and the flight of thousands of others, together with severe shortages in medicine and equipment, have left Iraq’s health sector in a state of collapse.

The death toll among US troops will soon top 4,000. At least 60,000 more have been wounded, and many thousands more American soldiers and Marines sent into this dirty colonial war have come back with severe psychological problems.

As for the costs to American society, it is now estimated that the occupation is consuming some $12 billion a month and could total as much as $3 trillion. A report by the Joint Economic Committee of Congress found that the war thus far has cost an average American family of four $16,900, an amount projected to rise to $37,000 by 2017. These vast sums have been diverted from pressing social needs in the US itself, while the massive expenditures have contributed significantly to a raging financial crisis that threatens to plunge the economy into a depression.

It is a measure of the perverse mindset of the US president—and his criminal indifference to the loss of human life—that in a video conference last week with US military personnel in Afghanistan, Bush declared himself envious of those fighting in America’s colonial-style wars, calling it “a fantastic experience” and “in some ways romantic.”

Equally delusional were the comments made by Vice President Dick Cheney during an unannounced visit to Baghdad. Cheney called the five-year war a “successful endeavor” that “has been well worth the effort.”

The reality is that five years after a US invasion that was expected by its organizers to swiftly replace the government of Saddam Hussein with a stable US client regime, 160,000 US troops remain deployed in the country and—as the extraordinary security measures surrounding Cheney, even in the fortified Green Zone, make clear—no area can be claimed to be fully secure.

The surge initiated by the Pentagon a year ago has yet to create conditions in which American commanders believe they can reduce occupation forces even to the level that existed at the beginning of the invasion. The surge, which Cheney said was responsible for a “remarkable turnaround,” has not halted the daily bloodbath. Even according to US government figures, on average 26 Iraqi civilians were killed every day in the month of February.

To a large extent, the reduction in what remains a horrific death toll is attributable not to US pacification efforts, but to the fact that the sectarian violence unleashed by the occupation has largely separated Sunni and Shia populations, leaving fewer people to kill. Meanwhile, the Pentagon is financing and arming former Sunni insurgents, who have no loyalty either to Washington or the US-backed government, but who for the moment see the Shia-dominated security forces and militias as the greatest threat.

As for Iraqi perceptions of conditions in their own country, the recent poll indicated that more than half believe the beefing up of the US troop presence in Baghdad and Anbar Province has made matters worse.

A war based on lies

As is now universally recognized, the war was prepared in 2002 and early 2003 with a campaign of deliberate lies and fabrications about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and ties between Baghdad and Al Qaeda, both of which proved to be non-existent.

The Bush administration, with the complicity of congressional Democrats, sought to exploit the fears and political confusion in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks to implement long-prepared plans to seize control of a country holding the word’s second-largest proven oil reserves and turn it into a platform for the extension of US military power throughout the region.

Notwithstanding the popular disorientation fostered by a relentless propaganda campaign waged by both political parties and backed by a subservient media, there was broad opposition to the drive to war, reflected in massive demonstrations both in the US and around the world.

The five years since the invasion have not only seen the original lies thoroughly exposed, but also a complete discrediting of the US government and US policy in the eyes of the world’s population. The old attempt to drape predatory US policies in the mantle of democracy—used to some effect during the two world wars and the Cold War that followed—is now rejected with contempt by people around the globe, who have been repulsed by the killings and repression in Iraq and atrocities such as the sadistic torture practiced at Abu Ghraib.

Of equal importance is the discrediting of the political system within the US itself. Rejecting the official story relentlessly sold by the mass media and the two major parties, the American people by a large margin have come to oppose the war. Yet it continues unabated, and the president who launched it—who is despised by millions and retains the support of less than a third of the population—retains undiminished power to pursue a policy of unrestrained militarism. Nothing could expose more thoroughly the undemocratic character and political rot that pervade the entire governmental system within the United States.

The global eruption of American militarism and the crisis of US and world capitalism are inextricably linked. In the final analysis, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the threat of a new war against Iran, are a product of the attempt by the US ruling class to maintain the hegemonic position of US capitalism by military force, under conditions in which it can no longer do so by virtue of its economic weight. The most important war aims of Washington are to establish a stranglehold over the oil resources of the Middle East and Central Asia, in order to gain a decisive strategic advantage over its economic rivals in Europe and Asia.

The Iraq war is not an aberration. War is the inevitable product of a world situation dominated by the increasing tensions between a globally integrated economy and the capitalist nation state system in which the decline of US imperialism poses the most explosive consequences. Despite the failure of the US adventure in Iraq, objective pressures are pushing Washington towards new confrontations with enemies ranging from China to Russia to Venezuela.

The economic crisis that is driving this policy is not merely conjunctural, but systemic. It is now acknowledged widely within financial circles that the credit crisis that has erupted with the bursting of the housing bubble has put the United States on the edge of the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

The sharpest expression of this economic crisis is the unrelenting growth of social inequality. The financial elite’s policy of using military force to gain control of world markets is pursued at the direct expense of the masses of working people, who are paying for it through attacks on their jobs, living standards and basic democratic rights.

The Democrats and the war

The evolution of the 2008 election campaign has already made it clear that the American people will once again be denied the right to decide at the polls whether Washington should continue its criminal war against the Iraqi people. The Democratic Party, following a now well-worn path, is once again preparing to politically disenfranchise the substantial antiwar majority of the American electorate.

In the 2002 midterm elections, the Democratic leadership in Congress took a deliberate decision to deliver the votes needed to authorize the invasion of Iraq, reasoning that it would thus take the question of war “off the table” and enable it to wage a successful campaign based on economic issues. The result was a severe defeat that delivered both houses of Congress to the Republicans.

In 2004, the party leadership steered the nomination to two US senators—John Kerry and John Edwards—who had voted for the war in 2002 and who made it clear they had no intention of withdrawing American forces. Indeed, Kerry suggested that, if elected, he would launch his own “surge.”

In 2006, the Democrats won back control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate in a vote that clearly represented a popular repudiation of the war. Having gained control of Congress, the Democrats proceeded to do nothing but provide funding for the war to continue.

Now, the two remaining candidates for the Democratic nomination are locked in a national security campaign aimed at proving themselves best qualified to serve as commander-in-chief. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have advanced platforms that provide for the continued presence of the US military in Iraq for purposes of counter-terrorism operations, the protection of US facilities and interests, and the training of Iraqi puppet forces—meaning that tens of thousands of troops would remain in the country indefinitely. Obama’s former senior foreign policy advisor spelled out in a recent interview with the BBC that no one should take his promises regarding troop withdrawal too seriously, as they would be scrapped the moment he entered the White House and began consultation with the military brass.

No doubt, there exist within the ruling elite bitter divisions over the conduct of the war and plans for future US policy in Iraq. These differences, however, begin from the standpoint of advancing the interests of imperialism on a world scale and whether the tying down of immense US military power in Iraq is hindering the use of that power elsewhere. Many of the Democrats advocating troop withdrawals from Iraq are calling for these same troops to be sent to Afghanistan.

The character of the supposedly liberal opposition to the Iraq war found its most grotesque expression in last Sunday’s opinion section of the New York Times in which the paper’s editorial board called upon nine “experts on military and foreign affairs to reflect on their attitudes in the spring of 2003” to the war. All nine, without exception, were advocates of the war, most of them drawn from within the administration or from right-wing think tanks. Some, such as Richard Perle and Paul Bremer, bear direct responsibility for the atrocities carried out against the Iraqi people.

The implication is that in March 2003, everyone agreed that war against Iraq was necessary. Differences arose only afterwards due to the exposure of “faulty intelligence” and because of the Bush administration’s flawed execution of this necessary act.

This is a lie. There were millions who recognized that the war was an act of criminality carried out on the basis of lies.

For its part, the World Socialist Web Site had no illusions as to what was behind the war or what it would produce.

As we wrote in “The crisis of American capitalism and the war against Iraq” on March 21, 2003: “All the justifications given by the Bush administration and its accomplices in London are based on half-truths, falsifications and outright lies. At this point, it should hardly be necessary to reply yet again to the claims that the purpose of this war is to destroy Iraq’s so-called ‘weapons of mass destruction.’ After weeks of the most intrusive inspections to which any country has ever been subjected, nothing of material significance was discovered.”

And we predicted accurately: “Whatever the outcome of the initial stages of the conflict that has begun, American imperialism has a rendezvous with disaster. It cannot conquer the world. It cannot reimpose colonial shackles upon the masses of the Middle East. It will not find through the medium of war a viable solution to its internal maladies. Rather, the unforeseen difficulties and mounting resistance engendered by war will intensify all of the internal contradictions of American society.”

Today, an effective struggle against the war cannot be waged based on protests and appeals to the existing two-party system, or on yet another attempt to place greater power in the hands of the Democrats by putting Clinton or Obama in the White House and giving the party a larger majority in the Senate. What is required is a rejection of imperialism itself.

Ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and defeating the already well-advanced plans for further and even bloodier wars in Iran and elsewhere is possible only through the fight to mobilize the working class against the capitalist system that is the source of war.

This means an irreconcilable break with the Democratic Party and the building of a new mass political movement of working people based on a socialist and internationalist program.

This is the alternative which the Socialist Equality Party and the World Socialist Web Site will fight to place at the center of the struggles to come in the run-up to the November election, advancing the demand for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all US troops from Iraq and Afghanistan and demanding that those who conspired to launch these wars of aggression be held accountable, both politically and legally.

We urge all of our readers and supporters to draw the lessons of five years of the Iraq war and join us in this fight for the independent political mobilization of working people in the United States and internationally against imperialism.

See Also:
Shades of 1929: Bear Stearns collapse signals deepest crisis since Great Depression
[18 March 2008]