It is not too often I am pleased by the foreign policy announcements from this administration, but last week’s announcement that the war in Iraq was in its final stage and all the troops may be home for Christmas did sound promising. I have long said that we should simply declare victory and come home. It should not have taken us nearly a decade to do so, and it was supposed to be a priority for the new administration. Instead, it will be one of the last things done before the critical re-election campaign gets into full swing. Better late than never, but, examining the fine print, is there really much here to get excited about? Are all of our men and women really coming home, and is Iraq now to regain its sovereignty? And in this time of economic crisis, are we going to stop hemorrhaging money in Iraq? Sadly, it doesn’t look that way.
First and foremost, any form of withdrawal that is happening is not simply because the administration realized it was the right thing to do. This is not the fulfillment of a campaign promise, or because suddenly the training of their police and military is complete and Iraq is now safe and secure, but because of disagreements with the new government over a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). The current agreement was set up by the previous administration to expire at the end of 2011. Apparently the Iraqis refused to allow continued immunity from prosecution for our forces for any crimes our soldiers might commit on Iraqi soil. Can you imagine having foreign soldiers here, with immunity from our laws and Constitution, with access to your neighborhood?
Some 39,000 American troops will supposedly be headed home by the end of the year. However, the US embassy in Iraq, which is the largest and most expensive in the world, is not being abandoned. Upwards of 17,000 military personnel and private security contractors will remain in Iraq to guard diplomatic personnel, continue training Iraqi forces, maintain “situational awareness” and other functions. This is still a significant American footprint in the country. And considering that a private security contractor costs the US taxpayer about three times as much as a soldier, we’re not going to see any real cost savings. Sadly, these contractors are covered under diplomatic immunity, meaning the Iraqi people will not get the accountability that they were hoping for.
While I applaud the spirit of this announcement – since all our troops should come home from overseas – I have strong reservations about any actual improvements in the situation in Iraq, since plans are already being made to increase the number of troops in surrounding regions. What we really need is a new foreign policy and there is no indication that that is what we have gotten. On the contrary, the administration fully intends to keep troops in Iraq, indefinitely, under a new agreement, while the Iraqis are doing their best to assert their sovereignty and kick us out. Neither are we going to be saving any significant amount of money. My greatest fear, however, is that this troop withdrawal from Iraq will simply pave the way for more endless, wasteful, needless wars.
The 1946 Oakland general strike began with a dispute at two downtown department stores, Hastings’ and Kahn’s, where 425 clerks (mostly women) were on strike for union recognition.
The strike, a landmark event in Northern California labor history, was also a significant, though misunderstood, episode in the strike wave of 1945-1946, the greatest strike wave in numbers in US history at the point.
The Oakland strike was very much in the spirit of the strike wave but it wasn’t a “called strike.” At the time Stan Weir was employed on the assembly line at Chevrolet’s East Oakland plant, a member of UAW local 76. He was riding a streetcar, on his way to work on Monday morning, December 3, the day Oakland was shut down.
“Shortly before 5 am, Monday, December 3, 1946, hundreds of workers passing through downtown Oakland… became witness to the police herding a fleet of scab trucks through the downtown area. The trucks contained commodities to fill the shelves of two major department stores whose clerks had long been on strike.
“The witnesses, that is, truck drivers, bus and streetcar operators and passengers, got off their vehicles and did not return. The city was filled with workers, they milled about the city’s core for several hours and then organized themselves.”
World War II ended in August, 14, 1945. V-J Day marked the end of war abroad and the beginning of rebellion at home. There had been strikes throughout the war years, often wildcat strikes in defiance of the no-strike pledge – policy demanded by the government from above, and supported by not only the unions but also radical organizations including the Communist Party.
So one result was pent-up demands. There were frustrated expectations – plus the widely held conviction that the time for sacrifice – both overseas and at home – was over. There was the belief that there had been sacrifice enough. By the end of September the number of days “lost” (won) to strikes had doubled, by the end of October it had doubled again. 200,000 coal miners struck in September; 44,000 Northwest lumber workers followed; as did 70,000 Midwest truck drivers, 40,000 machinists in San Francisco and Oakland, East Coast longshoremen, and many more – and this despite the statement from Philip Murray, president of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), that “no change will be made in the CIO’s no-strike policy…” and the similar pledge by American Federation of Labor (AFL) President William Green: “V-J Day will not mean an automatic ending of the restraint on strikes.”
1945 was just the prelude and US workers were not to be contained. There were more than 5000 major strikes in 1946, the largest and most sustained strike wave in US history, surpassing the strike years of 1919 and 1934. These strikes included the autoworkers who closed eighty General Motors plants in 50 cities. The steelworkers struck for 25 days, 750,000 strong, at that point the single largest strike in US history (to be surpassed by Latino May Day strikers in 2006). 400,000 coal miners struck. President Truman threatened to draft striking railroad workers.
At one point, there were 1,600,000 workers on strike. By the end of the year 4.6 million workers had been on strike. 28,500,000 work days had been lost to the employers. It was a magnificent display of working class power – it was “too big,” also too popular, to be defeated.
The trade union leadership was divided at the top – the AFL still competed with the CIO, though not for long, as they soon united to purge the left. Rank-and-file solidarity, however, was widespread. Just as in 1919 and 1934, the strike wave increased workers appetites; in 1919 there was the general strike in Seattle and in 1934 the general strike in Minneapolis.
In 1946 there were general strikes in Rochester, NY; Stamford, CT; Lancaster and Pittsburgh, PA and, of course, Oakland, CA.
“By nightfall /on the 3rd/ the strikers had instructed all stores except pharmacies and food markets to shut down, Bars were allowed to stay open, but they could serve only beer and had to put their juke boxes out on the sidewalk to play at full volume and no charge. ‘Pistol Packin’ Mama, Lay That Pistol Down’, the number one hit, echoed off all the buildings. That first 24-hour period of the 54-hour strike had a carnival spirit. A mass of couples danced in the streets. The participants were making history, knew it, and were having fun. By Tuesday morning they had cordoned off the central city and were directing traffic. Anyone could leave, but only those with passports (union cards) could get in.
“The comment made by a prominent national network newscaster, that ‘Oakland is a ghost town tonight,’ was a contribution to ignorance. Never before or since had Oakland been so alive and happy for the majority of the population. It was a town of law and order. In that city of over a quarter million, strangers passed each other on the street and did not have fear, but the opposite.”
The Oakland Strike spread from the bottom up. There was never much evidence of official union leadership in the streets. But there were streetcar operators and bus drivers and truck drivers who refused to honor police cordons, demanded an end to “scab” labor and denounced the city administration and the police.
“Before the second day of the strike was half over a large group of war veterans among the strikers formed their own squads and went through close-order drills. They then marched on the Tribune Tower, offices of the anti-labor Oakland Tribune, and from there marched on City Hall demanding the resignation of the mayor and city council. Sailor’s Union of the Pacific (SUP) crews walked off the three ships at the Oakland Army base loaded with military supplies for troops in Japan. By that night the strikers closed some grocery stores in order to conserve dwindling food supplies.
“In all general strikes the participants are very soon forced by the very nature of events to themselves run the society they have just stopped. The process in the Oakland experiment was beginning to deepen…
“The top local Teamster officials, except one, were not to be found; the exception would be fired five months later for his strike activity. International Teamster President Dave Beck wired orders ‘to break the strike’ because it was a revolutionary attempt ‘to overthrow the government’. He ordered all Teamsters who had left their jobs to return to work.
At last, the unions acted. 142 unions affiliated with the Alameda County AFL declared a “work holiday” and 100,000 workers walked off their jobs. The business of Oakland effectively came to a halt.
“A number of the secondary Oakland and Alameda County union leaders did what they could to create a semblance of straight trade-union organization. The ranks, unused to leading themselves and having no precedent for this sort of strike in their own experience, wanted the well-known labor leaders in the Bay Area to step forward with expertise, aid, and public legitimization.
“The man who was always billed as leader of the 1934 San Francisco General Strike, ILWU President Harry Bridges, who was then also State CIO President, refused to become involved, just as he did 18 years later during the Berkeley Free Speech Movement struggles. The rank-and-file longshoremen and warehouse- men who had been drawn to the street strike were out there on their own.
“No organized contingents from the hundreds available in the warehouse and longshore hiring halls were sent to help, No CIO shops were given the nod to walk out or ‘sick-out’. Only through CIO participation could significant numbers of blacks have been drawn into this mainly white strike. The ILWU and other CIO unions would honor picket lines like those around the Tribune Tower or at the Oakland Army Base, but otherwise they minded their own business.
“Bridges had recently committed himself to a nine-year extension of the wartime no-strike pledge.”
The strike ended two days later. It was “… 54 hours old at 11 a.m. on December 5. The people on the street learned of the decision from a sound truck put on the Street by the AFL Central Labor Council. It was the officials’ first really decisive act of leadership. They had consulted among themselves and decided to end the strike on the basis of the Oakland City Manager’s promise that police would not again be used to bring in scabs.
“No concessions were gained for the women retail clerks at Kahn’s and Hastings Department Stores whose strikes had triggered the General Strike; they were left free to negotiate any settlement they could get on their own. Those women and many other strikers heard the sound truck’s message with the form of anger that was close to heartbreak.
“Numbers of truckers and other workers continued to picket with the women, yelling protests at the trucks and appealing to all who could hear that they should stay out. But all strikers other than the clerks had been ordered back to work and no longer had any protection against the disciplinary actions that might be brought against them for strike-caused absences. By noon only a few score of workers were left, wandering disconsolately around the now-barren city. The CIO mass meeting that had been called for that night to discuss strike ‘unity’ was never held.”
Historians tend to argue that 1946 strikes were mostly about wages, a “wage offensive” writes one. And this was true to a degree and in this the strikes were often successful, in the short term, in two ways; first in today’s terms, workers’ average gains were about $2 an hour and, because of the way demands were formulated, low wage workers benefited most – hence the idea at the time of a “solidarity wage.” But they were also about lives and beliefs, workers aspirations and they were a rebellion against control from above.
So the 1946 strikes also reflected the legacy of the 1930s, the inheritance of confidence US workers felt along with their capacity to organize and fight, but there would not be another such uprising until the strike wave of the 1970s (1967-1981).
In a sense the Oakland strike was both an end and a beginning. The victories of the 1930s were consolidated but from on high – by the “new men of power” (Mills). There were no women on labor’s first team. These men collaborated with management and government officials to institute a corporate compact, an unwritten agreement, the so-called “The New Deal Formula” of Industrial Relations.” The unions would “deliver the goods” but this and post-war prosperity compromised, and sometimes eliminated rank-and-file participation and undermined shop floor power – wages could be increased, benefits won (for union members) by making deals at the top. McCarthyism drove the rebels to the margins. In addition, wartime patriotism, both as the result of service, but also reflecting war-time no-strike pledges and war productivity drives dampened militancy and deradicalized American workers. At the same time, the Cold War had already begun on the shop floor.
“The Oakland General Strike was related to the 1946 Strike Wave in time and spirit, and revealed an aspect of the temper of the nation’s industrial-working-class mood at war’s end. Labor historians of the immediate post-war period have failed to examine the Oakland Strike, and thus have failed to consider a major event of the period and what it reveals about the mood of that time. In developing their analyses they have focused almost entirely on the economic demands made by the unions that participated in the Strike Wave. These demands were not unimportant. But economic oppression was not the primary wound that had been experienced daily during the war years.”
One last point: overwhelmingly, the strike wave was regional in character. It was a wave of strikes in the Northeast, the Great Lakes Region (including West Virginia) and to a lesser degree California. The rest, the South in particular, remained non-union. The demand that the CIO “organize the /segregated/ south” had been abandoned. These regions, not surprisingly, led the Republicans in recapturing Congress in 1946, in turn to the Taft-Hartley in 1947 — “the slave labor act” according to the AF of L).
Organizing the unorganized, black workers, women workers, farm workers, would have to wait.
See Stan Weir, Singlejack Solidarity, George Lipsitz, ed., (Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press, 2004)
Stan Weir, “The 1946 Oakland General Strike,” libcom library, Nov 22, 2005. Downloaded, October 21. 2011.
Cal Winslow, Mendocino
October 31, 2011
Cal Winslow is the author of Labor’s Civil War in California, PM Press and an editor of Rebel Rank and File: Labor Militancy and Revolt From Below during the Long Seventies (Verso, 2010). He is a Fellow at UC Berkeley, Director of the Mendocino Institute and associated with the Bay Area collective, Retort. He can be reached at email@example.com
After UNESCO voted to give the Palestinians full membership, the words of State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland contained a hint that the Obama administration at the highest levels is quite seriously concerned about the possible consequences for America of cutting off funds to the UN agency as required by Zionist lobby driven law enacted by Congress. (The U.S. funds about 22 percent of UNESCO’s budget or roughly $80 million annually; and $60 million was scheduled to be sent this month).
Most of Nuland’s shortish statement would have been sweet music to the Zionist lobby’s ears.
“Today’s vote by the member states of UNESCO to admit Palestine as a member is regrettable, premature, and undermines our shared goal of a comprehensive, just, and lasting peace in the Middle East. The United States remains steadfast in its support for the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state (what nonsense, I add), but such a state can only be realized through direct negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians (again what nonsense). The United States also remains strongly committed to robust multilateral engagement across the UN system. However, Palestinian membership as a state in UNESCO triggers longstanding legislative restrictions which will compel the United States to refrain from making contributions to UNESCO.”
But the end words of Nuland’s statement (presumably reflecting her mistress’s views) would not have been so comforting for the Zionist lobby. “U.S. engagement with UNESCO serves a wide range of our national interests on education, science, culture, and communications issues. The United States will maintain its membership in and commitment to UNESCO and we will consult with Congress to ensure that U.S. interests and influence are preserved.”
One possible implication of the words emphasized is that President Obama and perhaps even Secretary of State Clinton have looked into the future and realised that if America did default on its obligations to UNESCO, there could be moves to suspend or even expel it from the agency. Probably many misinformed Americans would welcome that happening, but it would be bad for America’s image in the world. The further implication is that President Obama is at least thinking about trying to persuade Congress to untie his hands on the matter of cutting off funds to UNESCO with the argument that it’s not actually in America’s own best interests to do so.
That, it seems, is what Zionism’s First Lady in Congress fears. (We’ll get to who she is in a moment). Her response to Nuland’s words on behalf of the State Department was the following: “This is no time for the U.S. to back down… Congress must pass pending UN reform legislation to cut off funding to any UN entity that grants any upgraded status to ‘Palestine’. Such strong action is the only way to deter other UN bodies from following in UNESCO’s footsteps, and to prevent U.S. taxpayer dollars from paying for biased entities at the UN.”
In passing I have to say that I never cease to be amazed by the mind-blowing hypocrisy of almost all Americans in positions of political power. By far the most biased entity at the UN is the United States of America.
The Zionist lobby’s First Lady in Congress is the Cuban-American born Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. (Her maternal grandparents were Sephardic Jews from Turkey who became active in Cuba’s Jewish community. Her mother converted to Catholicism). She was the first Republican to be elected to the House of Representatives from Florida and she is today the chairwoman of its Foreign Affairs Committee. In that capacity she introduced the bill to cut off US funding to any UN organization that recognises Palestinian statehood. She also advocates cutting funding to the Lebanese Armed Forces and the West Bank and Gaza.
That’s on the one hand. On the other is the fact that one of her major campaign funders was Irving Moskowitz, a Florida businessman who is a major funder of illegal Israeli settlements on the occupied West Bank including East Jerusalem. Also a fact is that the J Street lobby group called on her to return campaign contributions from him because, it said, “he actively works to de-rail the chances for a two-state solution.”
Against that background it was entirely logical that she would take (as she did) the lead in demanding that the Obama administration “halt its condemnations of an indispensable ally and friend of the United States.”
Once upon a time it was only those seeking to be elected on the Democratic ticket who felt the need to kiss the Zionist lobby’s bottom. Now the Republicans are at it, too.
What chance does any American president have of confronting this lobby in order to be able to put American’s own real and best interests first? My answer (I never tire of giving it) is no chance unless and until enough American voters are informed enough to call and hold their Congressmen and women to account.
Ros-Lehtinen’s history indicates that she is a fan of targeted assassinations, so presumably on this matter she thinks Obama is doing a better job than George “Dubya” Bush.
She appeared very briefly in 638 Ways to Kill Castro, a Channel 4 documentary film broadcast in the UK on 28 November 2006. It told the story of some of the many attempts by the CIA to kill the Cuban leader. Her contribution included this: “I welcome the opportunity of having anyone assassinate Fidel Castro and any leader who is oppressing the people.”
When a 28-second clip of her saying that was circulated on the internet, she denied it by claiming that the production team had misrepresented her by splicing clips to make the sound bite. Director Dollan Cannell then released the unedited tapes of the interview with her, proving that she had twice welcomed an attempt on Castro’s life. It was the production team that had been misrepresented by her, not the other way round. Cannel asked for an apology but he didn’t receive one.
An inability to say sorry is, of course, one of the hallmarks of all who support Israel right or wrong.
“I think it’s dangerous, this class warfare”
– Mitt Romney on OWS, Oct. 4, 2011
Occupy Wall Street (OWS) represents a nationwide movement-in-the-making that is independent of the two-Party duopoly. Both the movement’s staying power and its effectiveness depend crucially on this independence. The established powers are fully aware of the dangers implicit in a truly popular democratic, i.e. independent of the two Parties, movement. It is therefore on our agenda to beware of colonization by the powers that be. No one worries about Republican infiltration. It is the Democrats who have the most to lose by OWS. We can be certain that the Party’s operatives will attempt to incorporate the movement into an agenda that does not challenge the legitimacy of the Democratic Party by, for example, underscoring Obama’s whole-hog subservience to Wall Street, and the Party leadership’s acquiescence to the president’s across-the-board betrayal of his once enthusiastic acolytes.
MoveOn has already moved in. An effective Fifth Column can waste no time. The organization responded immediately to OWS’s much publicized presence and broad appeal -polls show most Americans sympathetic to OWS- by forming local groups across the country and never identifying with the already existing OWS, which is at this point no more than the unorganized aggregation of its local assemblages. So far OWS has no clear agenda, no pointed set of demands, nor a clear notion of the sanctions an effective movement would impose if whatever demands are ignored. These are the circumstances we expect a savvy mole to exploit.
MoveOn is a force to be reckoned with. It has developed a sizeable following and an effective communications network. Its principal bad guys are the Republicans; nowhere in its message do we find a statement of preconditions for electoral support of Democratic candidates. The premises implicit in MoveOn’s stance are three: the exclusive objective of big politics is to win elections, no one but a Republican or a Democrat stands a chance of winning a presidential election, and the Republican will always be worse than the Democrat. From these (defective) premises the conclusion does indeed follow that supporting Democrats goes without saying. In fact, it follows that we need not know anything more about a Democratic platform than that the Republican will be worse. MoveOn has bought a subscription to Democratic politics with an obligatory renewal clause.
The organization is in effect an arm of the Democratic Party. It creates a political space in which activists who might otherwise be building a Left political alternative to the Democrats can be seduced to remain in the Party. Accomplishing this goal has never been more urgent to the Democrats than it is now. Disaffection with Obama and the Party is rampant in liberal circles. But MoveOn’s meetings will never conclude that the Democrats’ performance demonstrates that working within the Party will not move us away from Uncle Sam’s multiple wars or toward national health care and a reversal of the tendency toward widening inequality.
Is it possible that deindustrialized, financialized American capitalism is incapable of delivering on the New Deal and Great Society promises that define postwar liberalism, much less on the demands of genuine Left egalitarianism? Could it be that the liberal-conservative, Republican-Democrat alternatives are now politically obsolete? Surely the historical moment has arrived when these questions are up for serious consideration. OWS could in principle address these issues by virtue of its independence of the Parties. MoveOn will not touch them.
The Democratic Party will brook no independent political tendencies. It will marshall its forces on whatever scale necessary to discredit and defeat perceived Left challenges. The Howard Dean campaign of 2003-2004 is a paradigm illustration of the lengths to which the Party will go squelch independent tendencies out of step with the Party consensus.
Dean’s initial issues were health care and fiscal responsibility, but disenchanted Democrats siezed upon his opposition to the Iraq war as their principal rallying point around his campaign. Dean quickly appropriated the momentum of growing anti-war sentiment and took it online with great success. “We fell into this by accident,” Dean averred later. “I wish I could tell you we were smart enough to figure this out. But the community taught us. They seized the initiative through Meetup. They built our organization for us before we had an organization.”
An independent grass roots movement-in-the-making had appropriated Dean’s campaign. Its impressive gains were acknowledged by the Washington Post, which reported in 2003 that “His rivals grudgingly concede that Dean … has clearly tapped into something. He is attracting the largest crowds of the nine Democratic contenders… His supporters arguably are the most intense for this early in the process, tens of thousands of them self-organizing in about 300 cities once a month.” By September 2003 Dean was the leading fundraiser among the Democratic aspirants. The organizer of an earlier Republican online effort, the e.GOP Project, admitted that Dean’s base was “ahead in the game. . . . Left of center organizations are showing more energy, innovation and more strength in numbers.”
The effectiveness of Dean’s grass roots base is all the more impressive given his support for NAFTA, Medicare cuts, and his identification with the politics of the reactionary Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), whose operatives set out to defeat the disloyal upstart early in his campaign. Especially threatening to mainstream Democrats were the findings of polls showing most Americans in synch with Dean’s opposition to the war and therefore out of step with the Party leadership, which was solidly in the Clinton, New Democrat camp. Along with fundraisers for the Democratic National Committee, the DLC began running a series of ads attacking front-runner Dean for his position on NAFTA and Medicare, and for his NRA support. There was of course no mention of Clinton’s championing of NAFTA, nor of his pre-Lewinsky plans with Newt Gingrich to initiate the privatization of Social Security.
The major media were happy to jump onto the Democratic establishment’s attacks. They had started going after him the minute he made a campaign issue of breaking up the corporate media monoplies. Their coup de grace was the invention of “the scream”, Dean’s shout of exuberance intended to cheer up his supporters at a post-caucus rally after the Iowa primaries.
For a time after the Iowa caucus the airways were running the scream non-stop, encouraging the perception of Dean as a crazed nutcase. In context Dean’s shout was all of a piece with the crowd’s yelling and hollering. The television crews recorded the event by plugging into an audio source picking up Dean’s microphone, not the sound of the room. The cameras zeroed in on a tight shot of the candidate; the rest of the room was unseen. The media never provided the wide-angle visual-auditory shot until after the desired impression had been foisted upon viewers. As CBS news online put it after the damage had been done, “In a nutshell, you are not seeing that Dean’s speech fit the tone of the room.” Here we see the unsurprising dovetailing of the politics of both the media and the Party.
Equally unsurprising was Dean’s joining forces after his defeat with the very scoundrels who had worked so hard to bring him down. Mission accomplished: Dean was effectively reabsorbed into Democratic business as usual. The Party remained unchallenged from the Left.
OWS is comparable to the independent grass roots movement-in-the-making that put Dean’s campaign on the political map. But it has identified with no mainstream political figure. There is no individual personality to function as a whipping boy to discredit the entire movement. OWS itself will surely be the target of a sustained Party attempt either to discredit it altogether by character assassination or to keep it within the Democrats’ ambit by, for example, incorporating it into MoveOn. The movement will face the choice whether to remain independent of Democratic control or to become either an appendage of MoveOn or a marginalized grouping in the wake of MoveOn’s growing organizational effectiveness. Considerable political acumen is called for. How shall OWS retain its integrity while incorporating into its political program, such as it is, a determination to resist the sirens of MoveOn or any other arm of the Democrats? This is not a rhetorical question; I’m really asking.
I’ve belatedly made myself part of OWS. No one in the movement knows exactly where it is going. How could it be otherwise, given the number of disillusioned, angry and frustrated citizens motivated by a broad range of scandals – foreclosure, bankruptcy, a health care catastrophe, loss of the bulk of retirement savings, unbearable student debt and job loss? OWS does perceive all this as directly related to the economic crisis, the record inequality currently afflicting the citizenry, and the administration’s exclusive concern with protecting the cynical and lawless financial plutocracy. The gaping disconnect between Obama’s promises and his real-world performance has produced a profound sense of betrayal. No wonder that many are impelled to express in concert some form of resistance.
I stumbled onto MoveOn’s organization here in Tacoma when I misread an announcement and ended up not at an OWS meeting but at MoveOn’s initial gathering. The people were seated, much like an audience, in front of a table where the two MoveOn representatives were signing people up. One of the reps was on the staff of Washington Democratic Representative Adam Smith (sic).
The MoveOn representatives were in charge. They announced that the group would be divided into seven smaller discussion groups. The two reps instructed the groups that they had twenty minutes to come up with a brief list of concerns. After this, a representative from each group would state his/her group’s main issues. These would be written out by one of the MoveOn reps and displayed for all to see. From these combined lists the group would select the issues to adopt as its own. It’s worth mentioning that while there were no students present, five of the seven groups listed the student debt burden as among their priorities.
When it came to our group’s list, one of us, a plumber, stated our three concerns: should we adopt an overarching slogan, like Ban Derivatives Trading or Reinstate Glass-Steagall (everyone in my group, composed of retirees, wage earners and small businessmen, knew what Glass-Steagal was), to write down or forgive entirely student debt, and whether our group should maintain its independence of the two Parties. The third concern was not displayed by the rep.
Another member of our group asked why the independence concern was not acknowledged, and by the way, why should we not join the OWS people who were at this moment occupying a park on Tacoma’s main drag. Is there any reason why we should not be united? The rep replied that OWS and “our” group were “two different organizations.” But why, another asked, should that make any difference to an issue on which the two organizations are in accord. “Well,” replied the rep, “there are many different unions aren’t there? It’s the same thing.” “Sure,” I chimed in, “but a company union is not really a union.” End of discussion, the reps decided.
At the time of that meeting, the majority of Democrats on the congressional Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, the “supercommittee” whose principal agenda is to recommend the largest cuts in social spending they think they can get away with, had not yet announced its plan. Their announcement at the end of October turns out to be well to the right of the recommendations of the first incarnation of the deficit reduction committee, the National Commission On Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. Obama appointed as co-chairs of that bipartisan team the fiscal conservatives and privatizers Erskine Bowles, at the time a director of Morgan Stanley, and retired Republican Wyoming senator Alan Simpson. Most of the remaining committee were ideological clones of the co-chairs; the Commission was a stacked deck. The day before his appointment Bowles said to The New York Times “There isn’t a single sitting member of Congress – not one – that doesn’t know exactly where we’re headed.” The same day, Simpson remarked to the Washington Post “How did we get to a point in America where you get to a certain age in life, regardless of net worth or income, and you’re ‘entitled’? The word itself is killing us.” (Feb. 17, 2010)
The Bowles-Simpson proposed cuts in social spending were as expected: $383 billion from Medicare and Medicaid. But the current Joint Select Committee Democratic majority beats that by $92billon; they’d slash a total of $475 billion. And they recommend about $850 billion less in revenue increases than Bowles-Simpson. The current Democratic plan features greater Medicare beneficiary cuts ($200 billion)than B-S and is eight times the level of Medicare beneficiary cuts recommended in Obama’s September 19 budget plan. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes that “Since half of Medicare beneficiaries have incomes below about $21,000, it would be extremely difficult to secure $200 billion in savings from increased Medicare beneficiary charges without requiring significantly larger out-of-pocket payments by beneficiaries with incomes as low as $12,000 or $15,000.”
It is not enough to point out with due indignation that, in the words of an October 31 statement from the AFL-CIO, “Republicans and Democrats on the federal deficit “Super Committee” have called for big cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka says the AFL-CIO stands firm against cuts to these essential middle-class programs.” Of course both Republicans and Democrats want a reduction in the social wage, but the significance of the present Democratic stand is its more draconian recommendations relative to the predetermined reactionary position of B-S. Nor are we persuaded by our MoveOn liberals’ rejoinder that the Republicans dismiss the Democrats’ plan and demand even greater cuts. So what? Whatever the Democrats put forward, however poisonous it may be, the Republicans will always, on principle, demand something worse. Piling invective on the Republicans is not unworthy, but in this context it’s a distraction.
Keeping the Democrats on the hook should be implicit in whatever pointed demands OWS might come up with. That won’t happen if MoveOn has its way.
Alan Nasser is Professor Emeritus of Political Economy at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org
President Obama’s descent to Israel-groveling was fast and furious, considering it’s been a short time from his June 2009 Cairo speech to his September 2011 UN speech. MJ Rosenberg dubbed Obama as the most Israel-subservient president ever: “Obama isn’t lying about his ‘pro-Israel’ record… This administration has been the most one-sided supporter of everything Israel asks for since 1948. There is no competition. Not even George W Bush comes close.” Maybe, but it’s clear this president, as every president before him, will do anything to get re-elected. What humiliation: the American president, elected by wide mandate, rendered supine by a pair of fanatics like Benjamin Netanyahu and his gloating neo-fascist cohort Avigdor Lieberman. The road to Washington runs through Tel Aviv.
There has never (yes, “never”) been, since at least the 1940s but unquestionably since 1967, “honest” brokerage from Washington or at least, if insistence on honesty is misinformed or naively misplaced, temporary impartiality for the sake of US interests. There is a yawning gap between the fiction of US pressure on Israel and the reality of capitulation to Israeli demands. American presidents have not had the political will to use their national representation to challenge Israel for the sake of US interests. The US has always presumed to be able to manage and quiet Palestinian and Arab interest or opposition, usually by initiating activity towards mediation and peace process, but without ever exerting the required pressure on its ally Israel. The notion of American “pressure” on Israel has always been a tactic to mollify Arab frustration, ever holding out the promise of just resolution of conflict.
There has never been a Zionism desiring peace, only the erasure of the Palestinian national presence from historic Palestine and resolve to realize the Holy Land’s unblemished “Judaization.” (The Israeli state or elite is not interested in genuine peace, and those, like MJ Rosenberg, who point out that the Israeli public supports a Palestinian state by a significant majority fail to mention that this in effect means a Bantustan state requiring little to no Israeli compromise. With the exception of a small Israeli minority, the majority just want the pesky Palestinians to disappear from their lives.)
There has never been “national unity” among perennially, hopelessly factionalized Palestinian elites and leaderships, resolved to monopolize Palestinian politics, and who’ve historically been as much of a detriment to their people as of help.
The only honest part of this dismal reality, for over a century, is the unbendable dignity and resistance of the Palestinian people and their current historical willingness to coexist in peace and mutual respect with those who displaced them and continue to dispossess and torment them.
Washington’s frantic, fulminating response to the Palestinians’ UN bid, its determination to preserve its monopoly and management of the “dispute,” is neither startling nor new. The American diplomatic, political, economic, and military machine is set on autopilot in behalf of Israel—the Palestinians, the distressed American people, the decline of US power, economic bankruptcy, genuine US interests, and the Middle East be damned. This of course won’t last much longer as the US strategic role, more accurately domination, in the Middle East is losing ground, its respect vanishing worldwide.
In any case, it may be that the Palestinian leadership’s full UN membership bid far from represents a clean break from bilateral negotiations whose central function is enabling Israel to proceed with its colonization and annexations unabated. The Palestinians accepted, however reluctantly, a deferment on a Security Council vote, allowing the “Quartet” time to convince both sides to restart “peace talks” by devising a framework for renewed negotiations toward a deal at the end of 2012 (in time for US presidential elections). The Israelis of course will not accept “preconditions” while the Palestinians insist on a halt to colonial settlement construction and 1967 lines as the basis of negotiations.
The Palestinian calculation, in addition to fears of US retribution in the form of vital aid cut-off (which can be catastrophic for Palestinian livelihood), is that this will break the deadlock, perhaps lead to an exertion of pressure on Israel. But this, a way out for them via meaningful negotiations, is a forlorn hope from a leadership whose only self-justification for existence is the two-state, peace process industry. That twenty-year industry’s brief is interminable engagement with frameworks and mechanisms rather than the substance of peace.
All this craziness in the service of not cornering Washington into exercising its veto, which it realizes will weaken and isolate it, along with its reckless, destabilizing partner Israel, further.
Being open to negotiations is smart if, indeed, the Palestinians adhere to a synergistic strategy, based on an uncompromising set of principles, willing to eject without hesitation that component which does not work (bilateralism) and forge ahead with that which does, or has a better chance of modest success (multilateralism).
But vital components of this strategy are missing, including political and national unity and democratic inclusion of civil society. The decades-long resistance of the PLO/PA to embracing grassroots democracy is a predictable outcome of believing the US can deliver. The leadership, concerned with its privileges and power and its prerogative to undertake and dabble in any political or diplomatic initiative it deems justified, cannot easily extricate itself from its Washington dependency and grip, accept that the Palestinian strategy has been a monumental failure and resort to the undiluted democratic will of its people.
The options of going to the General Assembly for collective recognition of a Palestinian state to add to the current 114 or to “upgrade” Palestinian observer status will have to wait, except that the Palestinian strategy includes piecemeal upgrade, as the recently successful application for full membership in UNESCO (and presumably other UN agencies), which has Washington going ballistic, attests. The Palestinians are apparently not about to let multilateralism based on international law and UN resolutions quietly die to accommodate American-Israeli designs whose implicit or unspoken assumption is that the Palestinians do not and should not enjoy the right to legally and diplomatically advance their cause or defend themselves against military occupation.
The argument that a hopelessly Israel Lobby-captive US will move aside for others to make Palestine-Israel peace is not very realistic, at least at this period; emerging nations, unless sporting a unified, coordinated position and overcoming divergent interests, do not have the power and influence to implement a UN based peace settlement. Nor is the EU, a key, though not very unified player, willing to subordinate or imperil its inter-Atlantic strategic partnership with the US, the EU’s conundrum a barometer of how strongly and to what lengths the US will defend and shield Israel. The obstacle to advancing a fair settlement requiring Israeli adherence to international law by emerging nations and the EU—i.e., influential states in the international community—is and has always been this: the awesome asymmetry of military power between Israel and the Palestinians, and less so between it and its neighbors, underwritten by the open-ended guarantee of US military power.
What explains this Israel right or wrong lunacy, this congenitally dysfunctional advocacy in behalf of a foreign state? To make the rationally contingent argument that the US would not continue along this path if it did not think that its decades-long Israel-first policy is a success for itself and its partner, is a partial explanation that neglects a larger, more complex context. That context is not only the presumed alignment of US and Israeli hegemonic goals, but also lies in the domestic front.
US behavior flows from American historical, ideological, cultural, and economic foundations. However, this is confused by the fact that the US and Israel have become politically and strategically indistinguishable. American support for Israel is multi-causal including imperial folly and great power hubris, but unconditional support is a product of domestic influences. It’s clear that the “special relationship”—the depth, effectiveness, and pervasiveness of Israel’s influence in American politics, the reflexivity of US support from president to Congress, governor to state legislature—is obvious and puzzling, even bizarre.
This reality is due not only to the vaunted Israel Lobby, but also to the American media that serves as Israel’s uninhibited supporter and promoter. There is no deviation of opinion, across the entire spectrum of American media, local to national, including films and television, from the sustain-Israel-first-at-all-costs consensus.
If the American elite and policymaking establishment indeed “thinks” or presumes that its policies have been a success, it is certainly not because of objective reality. In addition to the imperial thrust, it is because of an enormously dominant pro-Israel ideology and narrative, and a false perception perpetuated by a powerful, organized Lobby and its pervasive support by the mass media and cultural image-makers. Israel’s influential intellectual supporters, conservative and liberal, developed the ideological rationales for the “special relationship” propagated through their dominance of research institutes, think tanks and in the media, and through their common presence as officeholders, appointees, and advisers. Most of the American intellectual class has been intimidated into blather on the topic of Israel and Zionism.
Israel and its interests became effectively institutionalized in the American socio-political system after decades of this Israel-influence build up in American politics, society, media, and culture.
In a rational world, US interests require, as they did since 1967, a viable, not a sham, Palestinian state that satisfies the Palestinians, dramatically reduces tensions through the normalization of Arab-Israeli relations, rolls back religious-political extremism, and generally works as a stabilizing factor in the Middle East. To settle Palestine-Israel justly and fairly is absolutely vital to maintaining any semblance of US influence in the Middle East. In a rational world, the Palestinians’ eminently reasonable UN bid is the best that could happen to and for the US.
Such a balanced approach is something the American people, despite the mighty efforts to control the official discourse, intrinsically understand. Support for Israel is neither a fixed determinism nor a deep cultural phenomenon regardless of evangelical and neo-conservative fervor, or the support of mainly white Republicans who internalize Israel’s mythos as their own. Support for Israel is the fruit of unrelenting organization and pressure. Majorities of Americans, in poll after poll, reject taking sides in the Palestine-Israel conflict, oppose Israel’s settlement building, and support the idea of fairly resolving the conflict. A majority even rejects going to war for Israel’s sake should it and Iran engage in open conflict, while half would not use US troops to help Israel even if attacked by a neighbor.
This is encouraging. Even while confounded by the Israel narrative beaming through their radios and television screens and printed in their newspapers, Americans simply desire neutrality. Even in the context of a pro-Israel media and politicians, these typical survey results belie the claim of monolithic cultural or religious foundations in support of Israel, or of an exceptional or special relationship or great public commitment, love, or bond. This suggests that, were an American president to “draw a line in the sand” in dealing with Israel, the American public would back him or her by a solid majority, albeit opposition hypocrisy and pandering to the Lobby remains a problem for any fair-minded government or politician.
The false fusion and institutionalization of American and Israeli interests may well lead to a disaster for the Israelis and Palestinians as well as the region. At the same time, the assumed categorical permanency of support for Israel may erode faster than anyone believes as the US inevitably confronts its own great crises in the cause of American, not foreign, interests.
- Issa Khalaf has a Ph.D. in political science and Middle East Studies from Oxford University.
TEL AVIV — A Palestinian restaurant in Jaffa was set on fire in a suspected “price tag” attack, Israeli daily Haaretz reported on Monday.
A local official said that the terms “price tag” and “Kahane was right” were written on the walls. Jaffa residents reported the incident on Monday morning.
Police have opened an investigation into the incident, which occurred on Yefet street at the Abu el-Abed restaurant, Haaretz reported.
Hardline Jewish settlers have adopted what they call a “price tag” policy under which they attack Palestinians and their property in response to Israeli government measures against settlements.
Slogans often cite Rabbi Meir Kahane, an extremist leader who advocated transfer of Palestinians from Israel.
There have been a string of recent attacks within Israel, although most violence takes place in the occupied West Bank.
A mosque in the village of Tuba Zangaria in northern Israel was set on fire in early October causing heavy damage to the carpets and walls.
On the outside of the mosque were scrawled the words “price tag” and “revenge” in Hebrew, Israeli police said.
Also in October, vandals defaced graves in two Palestinian cemeteries in Jaffa. The Islamic cemetery al-Kazakhana and nearby Christian Orthodox cemetery in the town were broken into at night, locals told reporters.
“Death to Arabs” and other racist slogans were daubed on graves, they said, and gravestones were smashed.
Around twenty percent, or 1.3 million people, of Israel’s population are of Palestinian origin.
They are largely the descendants of Palestinians that managed to remain during the 1948 war, when an estimated 700,000 were expelled from or fled their homes during fighting that would see the establishment of the state of Israel.
Rights groups say that Israelis of Palestinian origin face discrimination in employment, education and public funding within Israel.