Thursday, March 24, 2011

The wars

The much celebrated withdrawal of the last U.S. "combat" forces from Iraq has come and gone and yet 50,000 U.S. soldiers remain. It defies common sense to define elite units of Special Forces soldiers as "non-combat," but that's not stopping the Pentagon or White House.
Many of the departed soldiers have been replaced by private contractors and the cost of our occupation is shifting from the Pentagon to the State Department. The U.S. embassy is the same size as Vatican City and rivals any palace estate of the previous regime. It is our own unique symbol of power.
The Iraqi government we protect has recently turned to violence to put down protesters trying to exercise the political freedom that we claim our very presence provides. As they say in Iraq, same donkey, different saddle.

The above is from Lyle Boggs' "Wars slip out of the news, but bills are still adding up" (Appleton Post Crescent) and if broadcast media gave even half the attention to the wars that columnists have done in the last weeks, Americans would have access to much more information about the wars than they currently do. It's really amazing to hear certain blowhards like Ed Shultz, for example, pontificate about Libya and grasp that they have no clue what's taking place in Iraq and how Nouri's responded to protests.

Saturday in Los Angeles, Iraq War veteran Kevin Baker delivered an important and moving speech (March Forward!):

On this day last year, Spc. Derrick Kirkland, who I served on a tour in Iraq with, hanged himself in his barracks room. He was found dead on March 20th.

This date also marks the date of the brutal invasion and occupation of Iraq by the United States. These two dates now mark two specific but not isolated atrocities committed by this government.

Derrick Kirkland was killed by this government—for sending him to a war we had no reason to fight, then neglecting him when he asked for help.

He was in Iraq on his second tour and was sent home early because the pains of PTSD and other issues were to much to bear alone. Kirkland had tried three times before to kill himself. Despite 3 suicide attempts, Army psychologists labeled him a “low” risk for suicide. He was ridiculed and mocked by his chain of command, who then placed him in a barracks room by himself. He was there only 3 days before he took his life.

As someone who has battled though the Army medical system, I can tell you that it is not designed to help anybody. In fact, it sets up barricades to ensure soldiers stay in the military, despite seeking help. There are only a fraction of the number of psychiatrists that are needed. Appointments are months apart and treatment is reduced to nothing more than “checking boxes” to make soldiers legally ready for another deployment. Kirkland is not an isolated incident. In 2009 and 2010, more soldiers killed themselves than were killed in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Soldiers are killing themselves on an average of one per day.

If you want to know how much our chain of command cares about us, just look at what our executive officer Major Keith Markham, in memos he sends to other officers: “We can accomplish anything we put our minds to ... with an endless amount of expendable labor.” The “expendable labor” this officer is speaking about is Derrick Kirkland, and every other soldier who has lost their life to suicide, and in combat.

Officers build their careers off of the backs of enlisted soldiers. Officers like Major Markham, General Petraeus, and everyone in the Pentagon, don’t care about its soldiers—our friends, loved ones, husbands, daughters, sons and wives. If this government does not care about its own soldiers then why would we even begin to think it cares about “liberating” peoples of another nation? This is why we say ‘this is not our war’ and service members have an absolute right to refuse orders to Afghanistan and Iraq!

We can stop these wars, but we need each other to do it. Those of us who mourned Kirkland’s death, those of us who were sent to die in these wars, we know that this government cares nothing about us; we’re just the cannon fodder in their wars for the rich. Those experiences have woken us up, and we are fighting back, and we will fight back until we stop these criminal wars!

Click here to read the origional statement circulated after Kirklands death.

Imagine if that had been broadcast on the TV news. Instead the Iraq War is presented in such a way -- on those rare times it is presented -- to encourage detachment on the part of viewers.

It also lets media pet Barack off because he's not held to any real standards. Steve Chapman (Chicago Tribune) examines the Son of a Bush's candidacy and how he's conducted himself since becoming president and concludes, "George W. Bush and Obama have more in common than we thought. In 2000, Bush argued for a humbler role in the world — rejecting nation-building and accusing Clinton of overstretching our military. Once in office, he abandoned that approach. Obama has been similarly faithless to his own stated policies. War is the central business of the presidency. Once someone becomes commander in chief of the most powerful military in history — even someone elected on his peace credentials — he is helpless to refrain from using it. Said Obama in 2002: 'I'm not opposed to all wars. I'm opposed to dumb wars.' That first sentence was true." Vincent Giandurco (Fairfield Minuteman) also probes the Son of a Bush:

During the 2008 campaign, then-Senator Barack Obama was able to catch Senator Hilary Clinton in the primaries because of one issue: War. Mrs. Clinton was a moderate hawk on Iraq. In order to alienate her from the most active, ardent members of the Democratic base, Obama defined himself as the anti-war candidate. He said Iraq was the wrong war, begun without proper reflection by the gunslinger Bush, leading to atrocities like domestic eavesdropping and torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantanano Bay. He promised to get out of Iraq yesterday, to close Gitmo and stop the wiretaps (both so reviled by the Left). Then he pledged to focus on Afghanistan, wrap that up, and get out by July of this year. Everything Bush did was bad, so he would end all of it. This rhetoric succeeded. The Left wing of the Party flocked to him, gave him time, money, and adulation, and he won.
After taking office, Obama reiterated these pledges as agenda items. The results? Iraq: We're still there. He closed Gitmo by executive order, but that was for show. It is still open. He called the wiretapping illegal, but we’re still doing it. Promising 10,000 more troops in Afghanistan, he instead sent 40,000, and it’s unlikely we’ll win that war before the 2012 election. Not closing Gitmo nor ending the wiretaps are just plain broken promises.
This evidence shows that after making his name as the anti-war candidate, Obama has in fact turned out to be a moderately pro-war President. That was until this week. On Friday, at the end of a tragic week in Japan which had diminished media attention on the Middle Eastern uprisings, he called a press conference. After weeks of criticism for being too passive on Libya, he did a complete 360. Without any mention of available intelligence on the status of the rebellion, or of the rebels’ allegiances, and without any clear military strategy or goal, he announced that he had approved missile strikes on Libya. He went from ignoring Libya and blabbing about his NCAA bracket picks to declaring war on Libya in three days.

The following community sites -- plus World Can't Wait, War News Radio, Jane Fonda and -- updated last night and this morning:

David Bacon's latest book is Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press) which won the CLR James Award. We'll close with this from Bacon's "FOUNDRY WORKERS STRIKE TO SAVE THEIR HEALTHCARE" (Berkeley Daily Planet):

BERKELEY, CA 3/22/10 -- A strike of over 450 workers in one of the largest foundries on the west coast brought production to a halt Sunday night, at Pacific Steel Castings. The work stoppage, which began at midnight, has continued with round the clock picketing at the factory gates in west Berkeley.
Local 164B of the Glass, Molders, Pottery, Plastics and Allied Workers International Union (GMP) has been negotiating a new labor agreement at Pacific Steel for several months. The old agreement expired on Sunday night.
The strike was caused by demands from the company's owners for concessions and takeaway proposals in contract negotiations. Those include:
- requiring workers to pay at least 20% of the cost of their medical insurance, amounting to about $300 per month per employee.
- a wage freeze for the first two years of the agreement, and tiny raises after that.
- eliminating the ability of workers to use their seniority to bid for overtime, allowing criteria including speedup, discrimination and favoritism.
"All eight other foundries in the Bay Area have agreed to a fair contract," said Ignacio De La Fuente, GMP international vice-president. "Workers at Pacific Steel haven't had a raise in the last two years, in order to help the company pay for increases in health plan costs. Pacific Steel is now alone among the rest in trying to make its workers give back $300 a month."
The $300/month would mean an approximately 10% cut in wages for most workers at the foundry.
Joel Soto, a member of the union's negotiating committee, has worked eight years at Pacific Steel, and has a wife, 2-year-old child and another on the way. Soto said, "We've been trying to save money for a house. If we have to give up $300 a month, we'll have to continue renting. My wife and I both support our parents, and that $300 cut is what we're able to give them now that they're old. And with my wife pregnant, we can't do without that medical care."
Benito Navarro has ten years at the foundry, and a wife and son. "That $300 is what I pay for my car to get to work. I'm the only one in my family working, so if we don't have that money, I'll have to give up the car. But I'd rather eat than drive."

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thomas friedman is a great man

oh boy it never ends