Wednesday, December 10, 2008

“Car Czar” to slash wages, jobs of US autoworkers

“Car Czar” to slash wages, jobs of US autoworkers

By Jerry White

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The White House and Congress are reportedly close to a deal to provide a $15 billion bridge loan to General Motors and Chrysler. The proposed legislation would establish the framework for drastically shrinking the US auto industry and sharply cutting the wages, health benefits and pensions of autoworkers.

There are still disputes within the political establishment over the bailout, with a section of right-wing Republicans denouncing any government effort to prop up the failing automakers as “socialist” and arguing that bankruptcy is a more effective way to slash labor costs or simply liquidate unprofitable companies.

However, a consensus appears to be emerging—involving the Democratic congressional leadership, the Obama transition team and the Bush administration—that the failure of the auto industry and the loss of hundreds of thousands more jobs could lead to a full-scale depression and collapse of the banking system. A bipartisan agreement is near to avert the bankruptcy of the US automakers, at least in the immediate future, while appointing a government overseer who would have as much, if not more, power over the Big Three companies than a bankruptcy judge.

The plan, drafted by the Democratic congressional leadership and submitted to the White House Monday, empowers Bush to appoint a so-called “car czar” to oversee the dispensation of federal loans and the restructuring of the industry. The choice of the term “czar” is apt because the official will have dictatorial powers to tear up union contracts, review financial books and records of the companies and approve or reject all capital expenditures over $100 million.

According to some press reports, this official, whose appointment will not be subject to Senate confirmation, will have the power to dictate terms to GM, Chrysler and Ford as well as to the United Auto Workers and other unions, suppliers, vendors, and creditors. The mandate of the “czar” will be to ensure that the companies take any and all measures needed to pay back the government loans.

In a staggering display of hypocrisy, Bush administration spokesmen are invoking the interests of taxpayers to demand that the auto companies demonstrate that they will not take public funds only to return later for more. This is coming from the same government that allocated $85 billion to bail out the insurance giant American International Group and then handed over an additional $55 billion to the financial firm, and which injected $25 billion into Citigroup and then provided a $300 billion bailout to avert the Wall Street giant’s bankruptcy.

The real motivation for this sudden concern for the taxpayer is revealed by official statements and press reports indicating that the “car czar” will require far deeper cuts and more brutal concessions from the UAW than those agreed to up to now by the companies and the union bureaucracy.

The destruction of tens of thousands of auto jobs and the gutting of what remains of the wage, pension and health care gains won by previous generations of autoworkers is to be used as a precedent for a new and unprecedented attack on every section of the working class.

Under the bill submitted to Bush by the Democratic leadership, the presidential appointee will draft, by January 1, a series of benchmarks the automakers must meet. If these requirements, including submitting new long-term reorganization plans, are not fulfilled by March 31, the “car czar” can call in the emergency loans for immediate repayment, throwing the companies into bankruptcy and liquidation.

House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat, said the bill would give the loan overseer “a lot of the powers that you would get in bankruptcy.”

Two weeks ago the Democratic congressional leadership, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, blocked a bipartisan loan agreement on the grounds that the automakers had not presented serious plans for returning to profitability. Last week the automakers returned to Capitol Hill, pledging to slash jobs, wages and retiree benefits, with GM saying it would close nearly two dozen plants and eliminate another 31,500 jobs.

The United Auto Workers union signaled its total surrender, agreeing to reopen its contracts and negotiate wage and benefit concessions that would put labor costs on par with non-union workers at the US plants operated by Detroit’s foreign competitors. In addition, the UAW agreed to abolish the Jobs Bank program—which provides temporary income security to laid-off workers—and allow the automakers to defer billions in payments for retiree health care benefits.

At a press conference on Sunday, President-elect Barack Obama said, “The automakers have come forward and put a more serious plan on the table, but more needs to be done.”

In an interview the same day on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Obama said the bailout bill would put the auto industry’s “feet to the fire” and “put the pressure on, the way a bankruptcy court would” in order to force through “tough decisions” involving management, labor and all stakeholders. “We have to figure out,” he said, “how workers can maybe have to take a haircut but still keep their jobs, their health care and homes.”

BusinessWeek noted that GM was proposing to reduce its total debt and long-term liabilities from $63 billion to $30 billion. While this would be difficult to wrench out of creditors and suppliers, the magazine noted, “Getting the union to budge might be easier.”

The Democrats and Republicans are in negotiations for an appointee who would retain the “car czar” position under a new Obama administration. Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch—who was dubbed “Neutron Jack” in the early 1980s for eliminating 112,000 jobs—has been named as a possible choice. Nancy Pelosi reportedly favors the appointment of Paul Volcker, the head of the Federal Reserve under the Carter and Reagan administrations who was chiefly responsible for the wave of downsizing and union-busting that occurred during the recession of the early 1980s.

The UAW has demonstrated its willingness to go along with any attack on jobs and living standards, without even the pretense of opposing the demands of the corporations, the Bush administration and Congress.

In exchange for sacrificing autoworkers’ interests, the UAW is reportedly seeking a deal to protect the income and privileges of the union bureaucracy. An article in the Wall Street Journal Monday noted that in return for concessions, the UAW is seeking to expand the number of equity shares it holds in company stock and obtain a seat on GM’s board of directors.

U.S. to announce rescue for corporate credit unions: Journal

U.S. to announce rescue for corporate credit unions: Journal

By Robert Daniel

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Some major corporate credit unions, whose finances have been hurt by losses on mortgage-backed securities, are the subject of a federal rescue plan to be announced this week, The Wall Street Journal reported. The plan entails tapping a $41 billion lending facility that Congress made available to credit-union regulators in September, the Journal reported. Credit unions largely haven't received funds from the Bush administration's rescue packages, the paper said. These credit unions are member-owned cooperatives that, like banks, take deposits and make loans.

Economy bad all over -- even before current crisis

Economy bad all over -- even before current crisis

Economic troubles reached most of nation's cities long before current financial crisis

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Things really are bad all over -- and they had gone bad even before the housing and finance industries crashed and sent the economy into a tailspin.

New census data shows that throughout the first half of the decade, the slumping economy touched nearly every community in the country. Incomes dropped while poverty and unemployment rose in the vast majority of the nation's cities and towns.

Small and medium-sized cities in the Midwest, already suffering from an ailing auto industry, were hit the hardest, with unemployment rates doubling or tripling in communities throughout Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.

The numbers weren't as bad in other parts of country, but no region was spared, with incomes dropping as home prices escalated. The result: an unsustainable housing market that ultimately fueled the current economic crisis.

"For a while we were on a binge of living beyond our means," said David Wyss, chief economist at Standard and Poor's, the credit rating service. "We were financing our spending habits by treating houses like giant ATMs."

The data, which is being released Tuesday, is the first detailed economic, social and demographic information for small- and medium-sized cities since the 2000 census. It was collected over three years, from 2005 through 2007, providing a mid-decade snapshot of every community with at least 20,000 residents.

The data comes from the American Community Survey. Census takers interview 3 million households a year for the survey, which produces annual data for geographical areas with populations of 65,000 or more. For areas with at least 20,000 people, the survey produces three-year averages.

The new numbers explain why the housing bubble burst and why the economy was such a big issue in this year's presidential campaign. They also explain why voters soured so much on President George W. Bush's handling of the economy, even before the current financial crisis.

The years covered by the report include the housing market at its peak. Incomes had started to rise while poverty and unemployment rates had begun to fall, following the recession earlier in the decade.

But in the vast majority of America's cities and towns, economic conditions never fully reached the prosperity that marked the beginning of the decade.

The Associated Press analyzed economic data from the 2,000 or so cities and towns across the nation with populations of 20,000 or more, comparing the 2005-2007 data to figures from the 2000 census.

Among the findings:

--Median household income dropped in 79 percent of the cities and towns. Incomes dropped in the wealthiest communities as well as the poorest. Charleston, Ill., home to Eastern Illinois University, saw the biggest drop -- 31 percent -- to a median household income of just under $21,000.

Nationally, incomes dropped by 4.3 percent during the period, to $50,007.

--The poverty rate increased in 70 percent of the cities and towns. Athens, Ohio, home to Ohio University, had the highest poverty rate, at 52.3 percent, in the 2005-2007 period.

Nationally, the poverty rate increased from 12.4 percent to 13.3 percent since the start of the decade.

--The unemployment rate increased in 71 percent of the cities and towns. Muskegon, Mich., a city of about 40,000 near Lake Michigan, had the highest unemployment rate, at 22.1 percent.

Nationally, the unemployment rate increased from about 4 percent in 2000 to 6.6 percent in the 2005-2007 period.

--Median home values increased in 92 percent of the cities and towns studied -- doubling and tripling in many cities, mainly in California. Nationally, the median home value increased 26 percent, to $181,800.

It's not surprising that many communities were doing better in 2000 than they were mid-decade, said Scott Hoyt, senior director of consumer economics at Moody's

"The year 2000 was at the end of an incredible boom that lasted a decade," Hoyt said.

Incomes were up, unemployment was down and the dot-com bubble had not yet burst on Wall Street.

"We just didn't have enough years of expansion" this decade, he said.

On The Net:

U.S. Census Bureau:

Coming soon to U.S., 1 million jobs lost every month: Report

Coming soon to U.S., 1 million jobs lost every month: Report

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London-based GFC Economics is making a frightening prediction: By spring 2009, the United States could be facing more than 1 million layoffs every successive month.

Expenses related to corporate debt, and muddy credit markets consumed by fear, are driving a fast-approaching "hard landing," claims a Sunday report in UK's Guardian.

"Corporate bond yields have rocketed since the credit crisis began as investors flee risky assets in search of safe havens such as US Treasuries. That effectively means many firms are being forced to pay eye-watering interest rates to borrow funds," the paper reported.

"November's jobs figures were so much worse than analysts had expected that the Dow Jones share index actually rallied by 259 points, more than 3 per cent, as investors bet that Washington would have to launch a major new rescue package for the economy even before President-elect Barack Obama takes over the White House in January."

Sunday morning, during an appearance on Meet the Press, President-elect Obama cautioned Americans that the crisis would only get worse before it begins to ease. He also outlined a new stimulus package some senior Democrats have said could cost as much as $1 trillion.

"Mr. Obama refused to put a cost on the plan, but senior Democrats are talking about $700 billion, with others urging up to $1 trillion," reported the Times Online. "When he met the nation’s governors last week he was told that on the state level there was $136 billion worth of building projects ready to go if federal money was made available."

David Frost, director-general of the British Chamber of Commerce, paints a grim deadline.

"The worry is that next year the job losses will be just horrendous," he said. "All sectors are taking the hit. In the middle of the year it was construction and estate agencies. Now it is services, the automotive industry, retailers. Firms are waiting for Christmas and if they can't see any improvement they will cut their payrolls."

World Bank predicts global gloom

World Bank predicts global gloom

The World Bank has forecast a significant decline in global economic growth in 2009 for both developed and emerging countries.

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In a report assessing economic prospects, the Bank has predicted that the world's annual economic growth will slow to 0.9%, from 2.5% this year.

The rate of growth for emerging economies is expected to be around 4.5%, down from 7.9% in 2007.

The Bank said a deep global recession could not be ruled out.

And its forecast suggests that, on a per capita basis, world growth would be negative in 2009.

"Following the insolvency of a large number of banks and financial institutions... capital flows to developing countries have dried up and huge amounts of market capitalisation have evaporated," the bank said.

The World Bank has warned that some emerging economies are likely to face serious challenges, including bank failures and currency crises, even if global bail-out plans start restoring confidence in financial markets.

The Bank's chief economist, Justin Lin, said the financial crisis "has eased tensions in commodity markets, but is testing banking systems and threatening job losses around the world".

It also warns that capital flows to developing countries are shrinking fast, reducing the level of investment, while the slowdown in world trade is likely to cut into their export markets.

Regional impacts

Even the fast-growing emerging giants, India and China, are likely to suffer from the slowdown. The World Bank projects China's growth to slow from 11.9% in 2007 to 7.5% in 2009, while India's growth prospects will be cut from 9% to 5.8%.

The impact of falling commodity prices has been positive for around half of developing countries.

In response to the global downturn, the World Bank is increasing its support for developing countries by helping local banks recapitalise and providing aid for infrastructure projects.

Despite the current crisis, the Bank says that the long-term growth prospects for developing countries remain strong, and this will lead to substantial reduction in world poverty rates by 2015, with just 15% of people living on less than $1.25 per day, compared to 25% in 2005.

However, it warns that severe poverty in sub-Saharan Africa will fall less quickly, with 37% still living on $1.25 per day by 2015.

Legal Scholars Outraged by Talk of Blanket Pardons

Legal Scholars Outraged by Talk of Blanket Pardons

Whether Bush Can Grant His Administration Pre-emptive Pardons on Torture, a Dicey Area of the Law

By Daphne Eviatar

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In his Nov. 16 interview on CBS’s “60 minutes,” President-elect Barack Obama reiterated his pledge to shut down Guantanamo Bay and end U.S.-sponsored torture. Both actions would be “part and parcel of an effort to regain America’s moral stature in the world,” he said.

Obama’s advisers are similarly encouraging him to look to the future and avoid the appearance of seeking vengeance for past practices. But many legal experts insist it’s as important not to let those responsible for diminishing America’s moral stature get away scot-free.“When we speak about accountability, we’re not talking about vengeance,” lawyer and writer Scott Horton told at a packed forum on torture at New York University School of Law last week. “We’re really talking about the future.” President George W. Bush “has set a precedent that we cannot let stand.”

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who also attended the forum, added: “Accountability is one of the most important questions before the country. It’s critical to preventing a recurrence of the lawbreaking that clearly has been done [by this administration].”

Liberal lawyers and civil rights advocates have been calling for prosecutions, even impeachment, of Bush officials tied to torture for years. Elizabeth Holtzman, a former Democratic congresswoman, published “The Impeachment of George W. Bush” in 2006. Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, published his book, “The Trial of Donald Rumsfeld: A Prosecution by Book,” in September. Others have published volumes of evidence implicating Bush officials in potentially criminal conduct . Among the most influential are Jane Mayer’s “The Dark Side,” Phillipe Sands’ “Torture Team” and “The Torture Papers,” a collection of administration documents on detainee abuses edited by Karen Greenberg, executive director of the Center on Law and Security at NYU, and Joshua Dratel, a prominent defense attorney who represents detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

But as the administration nears its end, the debate over what Obama should do about officials who authorized torture, humiliation or systematic abuse of detainees as part of the “war on terror” has become more urgent. (The NYU forum attracted so much interest that hundreds of vociferous supporters of prosecution were denied entry into the auditorium because of fire-code restrictions.)

Even as the pressure on Obama to take action grows, some prominent legal experts are urging restraint.

In a Nov. 26 Op-Ed in the Washington Post, Harvard law professor Jack Goldsmith, director of the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Dept. from 2003-2004, urged the incoming administration to let bygones be bygones. The decisions to use waterboarding or other forms of torture on terrorist suspects should not be prosecuted as criminal actions, he argued. Instead, they were wartime policy decisions that shouldn’t be second-guessed by lawyers. “[T]he greater danger now is that lawyers will become excessively cautious in giving advice and will substitute predictions of political palatability for careful legal judgment,” he wrote.

But what if President Bush pardoned himself and all other officials who authorized abusive interrogations of prisoners? Would that render the torture-accountability debate moot?

In August, Stuart Taylor Jr., a Brookings Institute fellow and columnist for Newsweek and the National Journal, argued that the president should issue a blanket pardon — and leave it to a non-prosecutorial truth commission to set the record straight for posterity.

Atty. Gen Michael Mukasey, however, has insisted repeatedly that neither investigations nor pardons are needed, because everyone in the administration was acting on the advice of Justice Dept. lawyers — and thus did nothing wrong.

As the debate over accountability heats up, the possibility of Bush issuing a blanket pardon increases — and that outrages lawyers and legislators who would see such a move as a flagrant abuse of executive power.

In November, Nadler, the congressman, introduced a House resolutiona petition on the Internet to collect signatures of those who support the resolution. So far, almost 50,000 have signed it. urging the president not to pardon officials who authorized torture and potential lawbreaking. Since then, has been circulating

But legal experts say that neither the resolution nor the petition would have any legal effect on the matter.

“Congress can’t control the pardon power,” said New York University law professor David Golove, an expert on executive power. “For practical purposes, there are no clear limits.”

The breadth of the president’s pardon power has been challenged before, particularly after President Abraham Lincoln pardoned former confederate officials who swore an oath of loyalty to the Union. But in Ex Parte Garland, the Supreme Court spelled out just how far-reaching the president’s power is.

The pardon power “clothe[s] the president with the power to pardon all offenses, and thereby to wash away the legal stain and extinguish all the legal consequences of treason — all penalties, all punishments, and everything in the nature of punishment,” the court ruled.

Accordingly, if Bush pardoned administration officials accused of authorizing torture — say, Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney, former Cheney chief of staff Richard Addington or former Justice Dept. lawyer John Yoo, to name a few frequently mentioned possibilities — legal experts say the pardons would be extremely difficult to challenge in court. The fact that none of these men have been convicted of anything makes no difference.

The Confederates pardoned by Lincoln hadn’t been indicted or tried, either. Similarly, President Jimmy Carter preemptively pardoned draft evaders during the Vietnam War when he took office in 1976. Even the Watergate-plagued Richard Nixon, pardoned by Gerald Ford in 1974, was never convicted of a crime.

Could Bush pardon himself?

That’s legally dicey. Although it’s never been done before, nothing in the Constitution specifically prevents it.

“I do not believe that a president can issue a pardon of himself,” said Holtzman, a panelist at the NYU forum. “I believe that would be an abuse of the pardon power.”

Some say that pardoning administration officials whose actions you signed off on would also be an abuse of power. Allowing a president to do that may set a precedent that’s even more destructive, say some legal experts, because it would remove any incentive for future presidents to follow the law.

“One of the most effective potential weapons to assure that a runaway executive does not violate the rule of law is that the people who carry out the president’s wishes are themselves subject to legal jeopardy,” said Golove.

In that regard, the U.S. presidency is similar to the British system. Although by law the English king could do no wrong, his ministers could, explained Golove. “So the way you controlled the crown was by threatening to bring criminal prosecutions against those who carry out his orders.”

That’s been the case in the United States as well. “So to allow the president to pardon those people is to remove to a considerable extent the incentive for the executive branch to follow the law,” contended Golove. “I see this as a terrible problem.”

Carolyn Patty Blum, emeritus professor at UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law, agrees. “Bush doesn’t really need to pardon himself if he preemptively pardons others, because then no one has an incentive to talk about his role.”

Some commentators, such as Taylor, have argued that a blanket pardon would still allow for the appointment of a truth commission along the lines of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It could be easier for such a body to learn what really happened because participants wouldn’t face jail for participating.

But Blum, a consultant to the International Center for Transitional Justice, which specializes in accountability for human-rights abuses, disagrees. “[Our] institutional experience working with truth commissions around the world is that the opposite happens. Once people feel they are already protected, they don’t have any incentive to come forward.”

In South Africa, she noted, people were pardoned only after they testified truthfully about their crimes.

Pardons for administration officials would not necessarily close down the inquiry, however. A pardon wouldn’t stop victims of torture from suing U.S. officials, for example, and revealing the truth — although federal government officials can claim all sorts of immunities that would make such cases difficult to pursue in the United States. And a pardon would not prevent another country, or an international tribunal, from investigating and prosecuting war crimes and other violations of international law.

“Hitler could not pardon himself and the Nazi general staff for war crimes committed during World War II,” said Golove. “Even if he could have pardoned them under German law, that wouldn’t have had any effect at the Nuremberg Tribunal.”

As Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights noted at the NYU forum, “You cannot pardon war crimes and torture. Maybe here, but they’re not going to walk so freely in Europe.”

The center and prosecutors abroad have already sought to bring administration officials to trial in Germany, France, Italy and Spain, among other countries. Although charges probably wouldn’t land any U.S. officials behind bars, it could at least put a crimp in their travel plans — and prompt investigations that might further tarnish the Bush legacy.

Unions Aren’t the Problem

Unions Aren’t the Problem

Workers win a big round in Chicago factory sit-in

Workers win a big round in Chicago factory sit-in

The creditor of a Chicago plant where laid-off employees are conducting a sit-in to demand severance pay said Tuesday it would extend limited loans to the factory so it could resolve the dispute, but the workers declared their protest unfinished.

The Republic Windows and Doors factory closed last week after Bank of America canceled its financing. About 200 laid-off workers responded by staging a sit-in at the plant, vowing to stay until getting assurances they would receive severance and accrued vacation pay.

Their action garnered national attention, seen by some as a symbol of defiance for workers laid off nationwide.

A resolution appeared closer when the bank announced that it had sent a letter to Republic offering to "provide a limited amount of additional loans" to resolve the employee claims.

The bank appeared to side at least in part with disgruntled workers, expressing concern in a statement Tuesday "about Republic's failure to pay their employees the Employee Claims to which they are legally entitled."

Bank of America has been criticized for cutting off the plant's credit after taking federal bailout money itself.

Leah Fried, a spokeswoman for the union representing the workers, said Tuesday that it was too soon to know whether the sit-in will be called off. She said that workers would have to vote to end the action but that negotiations among the bank, the company and union representative continued.

Workers, who received just three days' notice before the plant shut down on Friday, argue that the company violated federal law because employees were not given 60 days' notice that they were losing their jobs.

The company did not return messages seeking comment Tuesday.

A Crisis of Conscience: Conscientious Objection, Law and Morality

A Crisis of Conscience: Conscientious Objection, Law and Morality

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Upon the realization that their primary function is to wage war and kill other human beings, some soldiers [1], pursuant to the dictates of their consciences, refuse to fight and apply for discharge from military service as a Conscientious Objector. That is, following a religious and/or moral "awakening," the soldier determines that war is either always morally wrong and a violation of conscience - General Conscientious Objection (GCO) - or, if not always wrong, it is wrong and a violation of conscience in the particular circumstance in which the soldier is required to fight and kill - Selective Conscientious Objectionwar in any form or the bearing of arms," [2] (SCO). Conscientious Objector (CO) status may be granted, however, only to soldiers who are able to demonstrate a "firm, fixed and sincere objection to participation in based upon "religious training and belief," to include strong moral and ethical convictions, that has "crystallized" since enlisting in the military. Consequently, Selective Conscientious Objectors are not eligible for CO status.

This distinction between General and Selective Conscientious Objection and the military's refusal to acknowledge the latter presents the soldier with a crisis of conscience regarding whether to follow orders and participate in what he determines to be an immoral and illegal war or to follow the dictates of his conscience, disobey orders, refuse to fight and face serious disciplinary action. Upon analysis, it is clear that the military's position on CO status is morally and legally untenable - inconsistent with the demands both of morality and of law.

Inalienable Human Rights and Conscientious Objection

Religion and the rule of law teach us that life is sacred and inviolable That is, that human beings possess an inalienable right to life. Correlative to this right is the moral and legal obligation not to kill another human being, i.e., not to violate this right in others. This inalienable right to life is the basis of the Just War principle that requires innocents to be discriminated and afforded immunity, that they not be attacked, injured or killed in war. In the view of the GCO, this right and immunity can never be overridden or forfeited. Hence, war is never a moral option. For others, however, rights are not absolute, but prima facie. That is, under some conditions, rights and immunity can be forfeited, rendering the individual liable to be justifiably injured and/or killed in war. Hence, some wars, wars against aggression for example, may be morally justifiable and provoke no objection of conscience even should the use of deadly force be required. What soldiers with either perspective have in common is the conviction that should they be required to participate in an illegal and immoral war and to kill innocents, given the sanctity and inviolability of human life, they have a moral obligation to refuse to fight, an obligation to become a CO.

The Legal Concern

Military theorists, at least sincere and knowledgeable ones, realize that wars can be just or unjust. Further, they understand that, despite being subjected to rather sophisticated Pavlovian conditioning techniques during basic training intended to prepare soldiers for battle and to overcome what Gen. S.L.A. Marshall identified as an aversion to kill, soldiers must maintain an ability to make moral and legal judgments. That is, the military does not want robots, programmed automata that respond unquestioningly to superior orders. By law, soldiers are not required to obey all orders.

"The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him." [3]

In fact, at least since the United States Nuremberg Military Tribunals (NMT), soldiers are legally obligated to sometimes disobey superior orders. US chief prosecutor Robert K. Jackson at the NMT declared in 1948:

"[T]he very essence of the [Nuremberg] Charter is that individuals have intentional duties which transcend the national obligations of obedience imposed by the individual state." [4]

United States Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) 809.ART.90 (20) makes it clear as well that a soldier is required only to obey the "lawful command of his superior officer." The obvious implication of this is that military personnel should, in fact they are required, under threat of legal sanction, to disobey an unlawful command or order. Clearly, then, under International and US Military Law, the individual soldier is empowered to make critical legal judgments, many times under very stressful and coercive conditions, regarding whether to obey or disobey an order.

The Order to Fight in an Unjust War Is an Illegal Order

To wage an unjust war is a crime of aggression. Aggressors, because they violate the rights and immunity of their victims, are acting illegally and immorally. They are Unjustifiable Combatants. Consequently, Unjustifiable Combatants suffer the sanction of forfeiture of their rights and immunity and become liable to be harmed and killed, all things being equal, in self and national defense. The victims of aggression, however, have done nothing to warrant forfeiture of their rights and immunity. They are innocent and maintain their right, their privilege, to war against the aggressor in self and national defense. They are Justifiable Combatants. In war, then, all combatants are not moral or legal equals.

The order to participate in a war of aggression and to kill innocents (Justifiable Combatants or noncombatants) violates the sanctity and inviolability of human life and the tenets of international and United States military law. Consequently, the order to fight an unjust war is an immoral and illegal order and an affront to conscience. Because leaders may be incompetent or corrupt, and because human beings remain responsible for their actions despite becoming members of the military, soldiers must not unquestioningly obey orders and presume the war to be just. Rather, before participating in war, they are morally and legally required to make the important, though oftentimes difficult judgment regarding whether the "enemy" maintains or forfeits his immunity, i.e., whether the war is just or unjust. Further, should their determination be that it is unjust, not only can soldiers refuse an order to fight, they are legally and morally obligated to do so. That is, they are legally and morally required to become Selective Conscientious Objectors.

A False Distinction

Inalienable human rights are values we hold sacred in this nation. In granting CO status, the military is recognizing and accepting the validity of these values and indicating a respect for the religious belief and/or moral imperative of soldiers to act in accordance with the dictates of conscience pursuant to these rights, i.e., to refuse to kill innocent human beings. Theoretical ethical variations in the scope of application of this right, whether the soldier accepts rights and immunity as absolute - killing is always immoral (GCO) - or prima facie - killing is sometimes permissible (SCO) - while, perhaps, of interest to ethicists and philosophers, should have no relevance to determinations of CO status since in either case; morality and law demands that soldiers respect the rights and immunity of innocent human beings and refuse to kill.

Consequently, there is no moral or legal basis for the military to distinguish between GCO and SCO, accepting the former and rejecting the later. This is particularly important in a society that, while not condemning all war, does recognize the very real possibility that some war may be immoral and unjust. Finally, the failure to recognize SCO is inconsistent with the accepted legal obligations of soldiers as established by the Nuremberg Principles and the Uniform Code of Military Justice to obey only legal orders.


Whenever a soldier refuses to obey an order to fight in what he deems an immoral war by virtue of a decision of conscience, it is not only appropriate, but morally and legally required to "put the war on trial" as well. While it may be the case, that individual determinations regarding the morality and legality of a war may be mistaken, since national leaders make mistakes as well, the soldier's decision of conscience must be taken seriously and given credence through a fair and legitimate hearing or trial that does not accept the war's justness as given. Consequently, such proceedings must go well beyond the two questions that have typified courts marshals to date: "Were you given a command to fight in Iraq?" "Did you obey this command?" and must include a third and most important and relevant question, "Is the Iraq War just?"

I have argued that the act of fighting in an unjust war is illegal and immoral. I caution the reader, however, to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past (a mistake, I fear, that is again gaining acceptance among a frustrated activist community) of moving from the illegality of the war to the criminality of the warriors. There is a profound moral and legal difference between condemning the act and blaming the actor. Determining moral and legal culpability is a complex process that goes well beyond a determination that the war is unjust. It must involve as well an evaluation of individual motivation, intention, whether the soldier has the information necessary to make such profound moral judgments, and, as stated in the Nuremberg Principles, whether "... a moral choice was in fact possible to him." While we admire and praise those who are capable of making such judgments and possess the moral courage to act in accordance with the dictates of their consciences, given the severity of the legal and social sanctions the soldier must suffer, it is not at all certain whether refusing to fight under the threat of such sanctions is obligatory or supererogatory - "above and beyond" what we can morally require a person to do. What is even less warranted is to blame the warrior for the war as though his not refusing to fight is the cause and the reason the war continues. Rather, we must understand that ultimately the responsibility and blame is with those who manipulate, deceive and use war as a means of acquiring wealth or power. We must understand that in a democracy all citizens bear responsibility for the actions of their government, and that there is blood on all our hands. We must understand that rather than to condemn and vilify the soldiers, we must educate and help them comprehend the true moral and legal nature of war. Most importantly, we must strive to create an environment in which adolescents and young adults feel empowered to act upon their moral convictions and refuse to fight. Finally, we must ensure that refusers and deserters are supported and provided protection either through SCO laws, legal defense funds, or, more drastically, by providing sanctuaries from military apprehension and prosecution.



[1] For purposes of convenience, I will use the generic term "soldier" to refer to all members of the military regardless of branch of service or gender.

[2] DoD Directive 1300.6; AR 600-43 §2-10; MILPERSMAN §1900-020; MCO 1306.16 E; AFI 36-3204; Gillette v. United States, 401 US 437 [91 S.Ct. 828, 28 L.Ed.2d 168 (1971)].

[3] Article Four, Nuremberg Principles.



Camillo "Mac" Bica, Ph.D., is a professor of philosophy at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. He is a former United States Marine Corps Officer with service in Vietnam and a long-time activist for peace and justice.

US companies announce more mass layoffs

US companies announce more mass layoffs

By Joe Kishore

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The ongoing assault on jobs in the US continued unabated on Monday, with several major companies announcing planned layoffs numbering in the thousands. Nearly 2 million jobs already have been cut so far this year.

Topping the list was Dow Chemical, which announced on Monday that it would cut 5,000 full-time workers and close 20 plants next year as part of a major company reorganization. The company also announced that it would temporarily idle 180 plants.

Dow, headquartered in Midland, Michigan, is the second-largest chemical company in the world. It is the world's largest producer of plastics, including many that are used in the automotive and construction industries, two sectors in the midst of a sharp economic slump. Dow's products are used in a wide variety of production and consumption goods and is therefore a barometer of the general state of the world economy.

Dow CEO Andre Liveris said that planned cuts had been accelerated "given the deterioration of the world economy and most of our markets."

The cuts in Dow's full-time staff represent approximately 11 percent of its global workforce of 46,000. It will be temporarily idling 30 percent of its operations and cutting about 30 percent of its contract labor (6,000 jobs). The company has not given any details on which plants will be affected.

In a conference call, Liveris pledged to maintain the company's regular dividend payment to shareholders, despite the economic downturn.

The announcements at Dow come less than a week after DuPont, another major chemical maker, announced cuts of 2,500.

Also on Monday, 3M, a conglomerate that produces a wide variety of consumer and commercial products, said that it had already cut nearly 1,800 jobs in the fourth quarter of 2008, on top of 1,000 cuts in the third quarter. The jobs have been cut in US, Europe, and Asia.

Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world's largest brewer, said it would cut about 1,400 jobs, or about 6 percent of its workforce in the US. Most of the jobs will be salaried positions at its St. Louis headquarters.

On top of earlier announced cuts of more than 1,000 salaried workers, about a quarter of the company's salaried jobs will be eliminated. In addition, Anheuser-Busch announced that it would shed 415 contractor positions.

Monday's announcements add to a bleak jobs outlook as the US enters into deep recession and possible depression. US payrolls fell by 533,000 in November, the biggest fall since 1974. Last week, a number of major companies announced thousands of layoffs, including GM (2,000 workers), AT&T (12,000 workers), and Credit Suisse (5,300 workers).

Official unemployment is at 6.7 percent, but this vastly underestimates joblessness in the US. In November alone, over 400,000 workers left the job market, meaning they are no longer counted as unemployed.

Over the next several weeks, major industrial companies in the US are set to announce their earnings projections for the next year, and analysts expect more mass layoffs.

A report in Reuters on Monday ("Wall street braced for grim views from industrials" by Scott Malone) noted, "Investors expect many US industrials to follow the lead of 3M, which on Monday set a profit target for next year that was about 12 percent lower than analysts had forecast. What will be on their mind is how General Electric, United Technologies and other manufacturers plan to ride out the deepening global recession. More job cuts are likely to be a key theme."

A CNN report cited Bernard Baumohl, chief economist at the Economic Outlook Group: "The economy is now deteriorating with frightening speed and ferocity—it's truly horrific. We'll see significant declines going forward."

CNN reported, "Baumohl expects December's job loss total to exceed November's 533,000 announced by the government Friday, but remain in the 550,000 to 600,000 range. He predicts the economy will have lost 3 million to 4 million jobs for the two years ending Dec. 31, 2009."

Both full and temporary employment is falling off a cliff. Outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas said that job cut announcements from US companies were the second-highest on record in November. Temp agencies also shed over 100,000 jobs last month, the highest since figures began to be collected in 1985.

And this is only the beginning. The planned massive restructuring of the US auto industry—with or without a loan from Washington—will involve tens of thousands of job losses at the Big Three alone, and these losses will ripple throughout the economy. One analyst predicted that dealerships across the country would shed up to 100,000 jobs in response to the decline in sales at General Motors.

The Conference Board, an independent research group, said on Monday that job losses in the recession could total 3 million by the middle of next year. This represents approximately 1 percent of the total US population and more than 2 percent of the employed population.

A figure of 3 million job losses is in fact a conservative estimate. Including projections for December, losses for 2008 could reach close to 2.5 million, and by all indications job cuts are accelerating. Under these conditions, the 3 million figure could be reached some time early in the New Year.

Insurgent attacks on NATO trucks highlight US military crisis in Afghanistan

Insurgent attacks on NATO trucks highlight US military crisis in Afghanistan

By Barry Grey

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A series of attacks on US and NATO military equipment depots in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar on Sunday and Monday have underscored the increasingly dire security situation facing American and allied forces conducting the counterinsurgency war in neighboring Afghanistan.

Anti-US insurgents attacked three depots in separate incidents, destroying some 200 trucks and containers loaded with military equipment and supplies bound for American and NATO forces across the mountainous border in Afghanistan. The trucks contained dozens of Humvees and military personnel carriers and other materiel.

The third major attack by insurgents on NATO supplies in Pakistan in less than a month, it was the biggest and most successful assault to date on the transit route for 80 percent of military supplies going to US and allied occupation forces in Afghanistan. Last month, some 60 insurgents, identified by NATO officials as Taliban, hijacked a convoy of trucks on the Khyber road between the two countries in broad daylight.

At 2:30 AM on Sunday, 200-300 insurgents overwhelmed the rudimentary security at two lots where the trucks were parked. They disarmed security guards, then threw grenades and fired rockets at the loaded trucks, destroying about 150 vehicles. Early Monday, an additional attack on Western supplies was reported in the same area. A security guard said 50 containers were burned and some vehicles destroyed by rocket fire.

The attacks were all the more remarkable since they occurred in the center of a city that houses the 11th Corps of the Pakistani Army.

The torching of the NATO supplies followed an evidently unrelated car bombing Friday in Peshawar city center that killed 29 people.

The US ships the bulk of its war supplies from the Pakistani port of Karachi, via forward staging grounds in Peshawar, over the Khyber Pass into Afghanistan, a landlocked country. Peshawar is the last staging point before the border, about an hour's journey, or 40 miles away. From Peshawar, Pakistani trucks loaded with the military supplies go through the Khyber section of Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The Khyber area is almost totally controlled by factions of the Taliban and other insurgents, and many civilian government officials no longer dare to travel the same road the trucks use.

American officials said the destruction of the equipment at the Peshawar depots would have "minimal" impact on US and NATO military operations in Afghanistan. They declined to give a figure on the number of Humvees and other vehicles destroyed in the raids.

However, the threat to the supply lifeline into Afghanistan is of immense significance. Asia Times Online quoted Dr. Farrukh Saleem, the executive director of the Center for Research and Security Studies in Pakistan, as saying: "The Soviets' defeat in the Afghan war was primarily due to the cutting off of its supply lines. The Mujahideen focused on choking the supply routes from Central Asia into northern Afghanistan. At present, there is one US combat brigade in Afghanistan [about 5,000 men]. This December, another combat brigade will arrive, while two more combat brigades will arrive next year. Therefore, more supplies will be needed. If, at this juncture, the militants cut off the supply lines, it will be devastating for NATO forces in Afghanistan."

Aisa Times Online also noted that in July, when NATO-Taliban battles in Afghanistan were at their height, Taliban attacks on NATO's supply lines reduced NATO's storage capacity of food and other items from one month to just one week at important bases such as Ghazni and Helmand.

The latest attacks coincide with mounting evidence that the US-NATO military situation is deteriorating sharply within Afghanistan itself. The New York Times reported Sunday that a new US combat brigade being sent to Afghanistan next month will be deployed to two provinces bordering the capital city Kabul to the south, rather than to regions in the east and south of the country where most of the fighting has occurred.

This is an admission that the anti-US insurgency has gained strength in recent months and is now threatening Kabul itself. Security around Kabul has dramatically worsened in the past 12 months.

Almost all of the 4,000 combat troops of the Third Brigade of the 10thTimes, "Wardak and Logan had been relatively secure until late last year. But by most accounts, Taliban activity has soared in the two provinces in the past year, as the insurgents have stepped up attacks against Afghan and foreign forces, sometimes even controlling parts of major roads connecting Kabul to the east and south." Mountain Division will be sent to Logan and Wardak provinces, adjacent to Kabul. According to the

In response to the worsening situation, the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama is planning a major escalation of US military violence in both Afghanistan and the tribal regions of Pakistan on its border. Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, whom the president-elect is retaining from the outgoing Bush administration, plan to add more than 20,000 US combat troops to Afghanistan in the coming months. Combined with another 6,000 aviation and support troops, the planned military escalation will bring the total US troop contingent in the country from 32,000 to 58,000.

The toll of civilian deaths will rise accordingly. There will be an increase in incidents such as the US-NATO bombing on Saturday of the village of Shena Kali in the Nadali district of Helmand. Residents there said two houses were bombed, including the house of a farmer where nine people were killed. A second villager said ten people, including women and children, were found dead under the debris of one of the houses.

The military escalation within Afghanistan will be combined with stepped up attacks on adjacent tribal regions within Pakistan and demands that the Pakistani government escalate its military operations against anti-US insurgents. The US is seeking to exploit last month's terrorist attacks in Mumbai to increase pressure on Islamabad to intensify its military collaboration in support of the US war in Afghanistan.

David Sanger, the White House correspondent of the New York Times, published an article Monday revealing that the Bush administration is preparing to give Obama a lengthy and highly classified strategy review of the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan. A central component of the review, according to Sanger, is a recommendation that Obama tie future military aid to Pakistan to a demand that Islamabad reconfigure its military away from its long-standing tensions with India in order to concentrate on wiping out insurgents in the border regions with Afghanistan.

Implicit in this is a wider war that increasingly engulfs Pakistan as well as Afghanistan. The Times cited a "senior military official" as saying, "the message of the report is that you can't win in Afghanistan without first fixing Pakistan. But even if you fix Pakistan, that won't be enough."

Another press report cited Ashley Tellis, a former National Security Council specialist on South Asia, as saying, "This is a decades-long project," and adding, "The transition alone will take a decade until you can switch to the Afghan National Army."

Obama, for his part, routinely speaks of the "central front" in the "war against terrorism" as being "Afghanistan and its border regions with Pakistan." Interviewed Sunday on NBC News' "Meet the Press" program, Obama outlined a broad imperialist strategy in Central Asia that includes the implicit threat of a wider war. "We can't continue to look at Afghanistan in isolation," he said. "We have to see it as part of a regional problem that includes Pakistan, includes India, includes Kashmir, includes Iran." He added that he wants "a new national security strategy that uses all elements of American power."

Victory to the UEW Plant Takeover in Chicago!

Victory to the UEW Plant Takeover in Chicago!

By Mark Vorpahl

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See also - Ill. Governor suspends all state business with Bank of America:

December 08, 2008 "Information Clearinghouse" -- On December 5, in Chicago, the owners of Republic Windows and Doors were set to close their doors after declaring financial ruin and abruptly laid off its 260 mostly Latino workers. Rather than passively accepting this kick in the teeth, the United Electrical Workers Union (UE) members decided to fight back, using a tactic not seen in this country since the 1930’s. They occupied the factory and have continued to do so in shifts since Friday.

This struggle is of exceptional importance because of its boldness in responding to the economic crisis and how it is affecting working people. This boldness could set an example for future confrontations and therefore deserves the attention and support of all workers.

The chain of events leading to this crisis started when Republic Window's creditor, Bank of America, refused to extend credit to the company. According to Crain's Chicago Business, Republic Window's sales had fallen from $4 million to $2.9 million in the last month. However, Bank of America is flush with $25 billion from the bi-partisan bail out. At a solidarity demonstration outside the plant on Saturday, protesters expressed the situation concisely with stickers and signs reading, "You got bailed out, we got sold out."

Workers are demanding $1.5 million in severance and vacation pay owed them by management. Federal law mandates that workers get paid for unused vacation time and are either given 60 days notice of a mass layoff or pay for that time. The UE workers were only given three days notice of the closing. Republic Window and Door's officials are claiming that Bank of America is not allowing them to make these required payments and benefit adjustments. Bank of America has responded by stating that they have no "...right to control whether a company complies with applicable laws or honors its commitment to its employees." While this bickering between thieves continues, the workers’ intolerable situation and justified anger remains. "We aren't animals," Apolinar Cabrera, a 17-year Republic Windows employee, told Chicago Town Daily News. "We're human beings and deserve to be treated like human beings."

Workers have also expressed their suspicion that Republic Windows and Doors intends to move out of state and restructure their finances, leaving debt and misery in the wake. Some have reported that as early as two weeks ago the company started moving equipment out of the plant.

In this economic crisis, given what the capitalists are trying to get away with by making working people pay for the recession, the stakes are high. A 14-year machine operator at the company, Ron Bender, observed, "We're doing this for the other working people in the country. What's happened to us can happen to anyone -- they could just close up and put you out and give you no severance pay."

The AFL-CIO and Change to Win, as well as all other organizations concerned with the rights of working people should line up in solidarity with these UE members by educating and mobilizing their ranks in support. A victory could embolden workers across the country to resist the results of Wall Street's greed and the bailout, which will be all the more needed as times grow harder. It could serve as a stepping stone for greater victories in the future where workers will not simply demand vacation and severance pay from a bankrupt company, but demand that such a company be nationalized under workers' control. Furthermore, such a working class movement could go beyond addressing the problems at a given company and win victories for all workers in the areas of health care, ending the current wars, ensuring adequate funding for education, creating jobs for all, and so on.

The news has been brutal and frightening for workers over the last few months. A worldwide recession of unknown depth and duration is unfolding. In this country, the number of home foreclosures is expected to hit seven million by the end of the year. Last month alone 533,000 workers lost their jobs, contributing to the highest unemployment rate in 15 years. And while this decline accelerates, workers have been stung with a Democratic Party-led bi-partisan bailout of the financial institutions whose reckless greed is responsible for this mess. The New York Times estimates that this rescue package for the wealthy will cost seven trillion American taxpayer dollars (see "The Bail Out Intensifies" on this site). While this arrangement helps to ease the capitalists’ anxiety, they place a dark cloud over working people's future. Rather than promoting economic growth, the bailout measures are more likely to result in hoarding on the part of the bailout's
beneficiaries as well as produce inflation. Meanwhile, unemployment will continue to climb, and there will be further slicing of our already cut-to-the-bone social safety net by the capitalists’ politicians.

The inevitable consequence of such developments is that people are left with no choice but to fight against the conditions they are forced to endure. They begin to see that there are opposed interests at play between those who control the economy and political system, and those who are expected to do all the sacrificing. Workers will be compelled to act and, as a result, begin to become aware of themselves as a class where, if they are to defend themselves and their rights, must unite against those who are accustomed to ruling them without question. Under such circumstances, the workers' demands are always modest and partial to begin with, but, to the degree that their actions rely on their independent strength as a class, they plot a course towards growing confrontation with the capitalist status quo and thereby raise the question of who shall control society, working people or the rich minority. Nationwide, such a course initially starts with an
accumulation of small skirmishes, unavoidably leading to a social explosion that can place the working class' interests on the historical stage in a way that would have been seen as impossible just a short time ago. The worker's occupation of Republic Windows and Doors could prove to be a skirmish that sets the example for a working class upsurge that will bring more change and hope into our lives than any capitalist politician ever could.

There is no telling how long this occupation and the struggle behind it will continue. Workers, Republic Windows and Doors, and Bank of America are supposed to meet at 4:00pm on Monday. Nevertheless, these workers' actions have already made a mark in labor history. Food has been coming for them from all over in solidarity. You can donate by going to and clicking on "anger in Chicago," or by writing a check payable to the "UE Local 110 Solidarity Fund" and sending it to UE Local 1110 Solidarity Fund, 37 S. Ashland, Chicago, IL 60607. Messages of support can be sent to organizer Leah Fried <>. At the Jobs with Justice Web site, you can send a message of protest to Bank of America. You can also call UE at 312-829-8300.

Even President-elect, Barak Obama, because of massive public support for the UE workers, has felt compelled to offer support to the workers at Republic Windows and Doors in the form of lip service, without promising any specific action.

Organized labor should call on the government to take over Republic Windows and Doors and let the workers run the plant themselves. This demand could be part of a government emergency public works project that would make all public buildings, beginning with public housing, more energy efficient by installing new windows and doors. Such a program could then be the first step in establishing a broad-based coalition that would advocate a public works program that would put people back to work while maintaining their standard of living. This program could instill confidence among working people and their allies and inspire them to proceed onwards to fundamentally change the economic system so that it would serve the needs of people, not the pursuit of profits for the rich.

In these hard times, now more than ever, an injury to one is an injury to all. A victory for UE Local 1110 at Republic Windows is a victory for all workers!

See also - Ill. Governor suspends all state business with Bank of America: In a stinging note of support for the laid off workers that have taken up residency in Chicago's Republic Windows & Doors factory, the Governor of Illinois has suspended business with Bank of America until it reissues credit to the shuttered company.

Blame the Takers, Not the Makers

Blame the Takers, Not the Makers

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When multiple media outlets put out the same story line, these companies, seemingly separate, establish a media narrative that quickly congeals into an apparent popular opinion -- even when such views actually reflect a narrow slice of elite opinion.

We saw this at work in the now infamous run-up to the Iraq War, when almost all corporate news outlets united to cheerlead the war, based on lies.

More recently we've seen a profound political distaste for the auto companies, with a special vehemence for the United Auto Workers (UAW) who are portrayed as greedy, lazy 'ne'er-do-wells', who are paid far more than they're worth.

Rarely are executive compensations questioned, but men and women on the line are repeatedly pointed to, quite unfairly.

This is the psychological fruit of decades of wars on workers, which really comes from the turn of the last century, when law and corporate opinion criminalized unions as 'syndicalism.'

Through decades of bitter labor struggles, these laws were overturned, but business never really agreed to the core idea of workers' rights, and bided its time until a better season.

That season arrived with the election of Ronald Reagan, who, although he ran on the feel-good nationalism of "Morning in America", waged an old-fashioned war against unions by breaking the Air Traffic Controllers--literally putting them in chains to break their strike in 1981.

No matter which party won an election since then, they placated business and hit labor.

One need look no further than the Democrat, William J. Clinton, who fought for NAFTA, which, because it supported businesses when they went offshore in search of cheap labor, severely weakened union power across the board.

Isn't it ironic that media reflects such an anti-union bent when many corporate (at least newspaper employees) reporters are members of the Newspaper Guild?

But union membership isn't determinative; company ownership is. And media is often a small part of a much larger corporate conglomerate.

When the UAW was strong, it strengthened the hand of labor almost all across the board.

The UAW fought long and hard for the wages they've earned. They shouldn't be dogged for this.

They are the makers, not the takers.

The media narrative should be, why aren't all American workers paid a more decent wage?

That's the story that should be the lead on the front page.

The Curse of Global Capitalism

The Curse of Global Capitalism

By Jon Ronnquist

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Many have quite rightly argued that the forces which drive the sink-or-swim free market economy are beyond any conventional means of containment. Like a cancer which fights for its own survival at all costs, including eventually the host itself, so does the free market economy feed without consideration for the clear boundaries of sustainability, tolerance and fairness.

This is exacerbated by the universal debt based system of finance, which narrows considerations of profit into ever shorter time spans, thus creating antipathy towards long term visions and factors beyond profit, such as negative impact and future repercussions. For those who have understood this all along, the current economic implosion is not only understandable, but inevitable. Any parasite which draws more from its host than the host can sustain, will eventually kill it, and so we have what we have today. In this case the host is the working man, upon whom the burden of debt has been allowed to grow beyond his ability to manage, thus forcing a collapse at the very base of the pyramid.

Continuing this analogy of disease, we can see something of considerable interest with regard to our current situation. Any disease could be said to be parasitic, in so far as it can only live and grow within the infected host. And all disease is ultimately terminated in one of two ways. Either the host, through its own agents or with the help of medicine or surgery, is expelled or killed. Or when such efforts fail, the host dies and the disease with it. Looking at the economy this way, we can quite easily compare it to a life threatening illness, a cancer of the nation so to speak. And here we are at the end of the cycle. Prudence, oversight, consideration and even public solidarity, could all be said to have failed. And now we find ourselves at a cross roads, which I for one, do not believe is anywhere near as clear cut as our trusted men of office might have us believe. Looking at the current course being taken by governments across the world, we seem to be racing to rebuild the very thing which brought about this disaster. And they are right in a limited sense. If we want to start the process all over again, credit must be made available again at all costs.

But is that what we really need? Even if a large majority of existing debt were simply wiped out, which it theoretically could be when you consider that the money borrowed never existed in the first place, it would not guarantee against a repetition of the cycle now coming to an end. If we start borrowing again, we will simply buy ourselves a little more time. Borrowing is as short sighted a solution as the desperate profit frenzy it predisposes us to. The fact that borrowing has been institutionalised among working people in the last few decades, does not mean it is either wise or prudent. Very few of the millions whose lives have been ruined by the burden of debt will insist they are better of for it. And as that number begins to increase dramatically, the true nature, and perhaps even intent, of large scale money lending is revealed. Debt is a trap, and like any trap, it was set in place by those who would profit to see it walked into. It is no coincidence that there isn't anywhere near enough money, or even arbitrary value, in the world to pay all existing debts. And with the collapse of Wall Street and the billions in false value they have created over the years now disappearing like the smoke and mirrors it has always been, there is even less. A vast majority of those who owe, are stuck with their debt as a mathematical fact. And many more must rely on the continued borrowing of their debtors and clientèle to pay their own debts.

The idea that an object or institution can sky rocket in value without fundamentally changing, is a fallacy, albeit one which has made many people rich in the years of false optimism leading up to the current crisis. And the proof of that fallacy is the equally illogical way in which that value has now disappeared. How can the worth of a single stake in GM go from over $90 in 2000, to just under $4 in 2008, while the quantity, quality, usefulness, dependability and economy of its product remains effectively the same? The answer is that it can't. At least not in reality. But as has been proven, cut throat capitalism and reality have very little in common. I myself have never bought stock for this simple reason, I find the gloating optimism of those who see their shares increase in value just as annoying as their mind numbing whimpering when it crashes. People who bought their house in the eighties love to brag about the difference between what it cost them and what it's now worth, and seem oblivious to the fact that the house is no better or worse than it was and people who were unlucky enough to be born in the twenty first century have to sell their souls to get a home of their own. What we do see is home owners gambling with their new magically created “wealth” by borrowing against it while their incomes remain the same.

And what is the real effect of all this on the ground? Well, from where I'm standing, it looks like the number of people who aren't too busy to stand up and do something about it is growing smaller everyday. If hypocrisy means blaming others for problems to which you yourself are a party, even if indirectly, then the list of hypocrites will soon dwarf those who are left standing at the picket lines or marching on the capital. And is all this just the luck of the draw? I think not. Bankrupt people are primarily useful in that they tend to introvert and feel voiceless and powerless. When it comes to gaining control, the thing to bankrupt is governments. And what do we see now? Just about every country in the developed world is being plunged into a whole new level of debt, as they borrow to save the very institutions that have colluded in the systemic strangulation of our economies, an act of propitiation and cowardice that should leave even the sceptics asking questions about who is really calling the shots.

The real problem is that those who have been riding the wave and now see the party ending, will instinctively want to keep the music on and the champaign flowing. If the average consumer was savy enough to see the folly of this, we wouldn't be in this mess in the first place. I wholeheartedly believe we should let the system die, hook line and sinker. Those who have bought into the false economy with the most reckless abandon will undoubtedly suffer. Many of the victims will be fundamentally innocent, guilty only of ignorance and perhaps turning a blind eye to that itch of the conscience which over indulgent consumers and borrowers do so well, myself very much included. But is misery really too high a price to pay for a chance at a future, if not for ourselves, than at least for our children and theirs? Or should we stake the entire future on a chance for a few more years of easy credit and false optimism? And let's not forget that our fear of letting go of this daydream we have been living may be no more justified than our naïve belief that it was taking us somewhere worthwhile in the first place. The things upon which this society is built, the factories, the roads, the working man and woman, the minds that dreamed it all up, are not going anywhere. The technology to pull man out of whatever dark age a total collapse of the current system might create, exists and has existed for years, heavily suppressed by the vested interests which have fought so hard to maintain the status quo.

I would rather spend the next five years ploughing fields with an ox, than haggle with my bank over terms and conditions, if at the end of it I was dependant only on the rays of the sun, the rise of the tide, the blowing wind and a hard days honest work for my livelihood. If we could replace money as the catalyst of human endeavour with conscience, a few years without my plasma TV and MP3 player might just be worth it. Hell, I'll just read more. Truth be told, much of what makes us happy, including technology, could be as easily, if not more so, available if it is removed from under the shadow of profiteering powers. The idea that financial profit is the catalyst of human advance is probably one of the most sardonic myths of the modern world. The creators of this world are not driven, only curtailed, by considerations of money. The great minds of these times, and others, were almost unanimously driven by higher and more honourably motives. Our current dependence on the system we have is such that any radical departure from it will almost inevitably lead to temporary chaos of one kind or another. Some cancers are too far spread to be removed at no cost. And yet to continue living with it is a guarantee of a slow and painful death, from which no recovery will be possible.

The environment for one, is at it's peak of tolerance for the rape it has suffered under successive generations of profit driven plunder. Even a short resurgence of the system as it now exists would almost certainly mean irreversible damage, if that is not the case already. The standard of living to which the Western world has in most part become accustomed is not very high and is not remotely as egalitarian as existing technology would allow, and yet it is grossly above our means within the framework in which it is being provided, both in financial and environmental terms. Many, if not most, falsely believe that current unsustainable methods and sources will be phased out by technology in the hands of contemporary industry and government, but if this were true, much of it would have happened a long time ago. The drastic advances and the infrastructure they require will not be made at the behest of human needs or environmental concerns, but only as a consequence of non profitability, as resources become prohibitively scarce. The problem is that by the time that day comes, it will be too late and any chance of making the necessary changes will be gone. It is time we take our future out of the hands of those who see only tomorrow and place it in our own hands and our vision of a better century. One of the ways to do so is to resign yourself to the need for some things as we know them to end, even some we have come to regard as indispensable, and in our arrogance, ours by rights. If we cannot do that, then perhaps we will get what we rightly deserve. Although in all likelihood, it is our kids who will be footing the bill, perhaps even with their lives.