Thursday, October 07, 2010

Iraq snapshot

Thursday, October 7, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, the political stalemate continues and celebrates its 7th month birthday, Nouri is reportedly using Iraq's press organs to promote him as a done-deal, Senator Daniel Akaka wants to be sure surviving spouses of deceased veterans are getting all they deserve, the SIG worries Iraq is prepping for news domination as a result of violence (due to the stalemate), and more.
The Iraq War hasn't ended.  A big-to-do was made over a new phase of the illegal war.  But now it appears the already laughable to-do was even more fake.
Oh things are gettin' real crucial
Up the old wazoo
Yet you cry, "Why am I the victim?"
When the culprit's y-o-u
What did your mama tell you about lies
She said it wasn't polite to tell a white one
What did your daddy tell you about lies
He said one white one turns into a black one
So, it's gettin' ready to blow
It's gettin' ready to show
Somebody shot off at the mouth and
We're getting ready to know
-- "Skeleton," written by Stevie Wonder, first appears on his album Characters
Press TV reports today that the central government or 'government' out of Baghdad is complaining about the American military "moving around the city without being escorted by Iraqi forces, while using Iraqi army uniforms and vehicles as a disguise." Nouri al-Maliki's spokesperson Ali al-Dabbagh is quoted stating, "We Iraqi people cannot accept the presence of foreign troops on our land soldiers, it is crushing the national feeling and that is why we have been happy that the troops are leaving and the balance of the troops is going to diminish next summer." At Texas Tech yesterday, the Special Inspector General for Iraq, Stuart Bowen, spoke about the Iraq War. Logan G. Carver (Lubbock Avalanche-Journal) reports Bowen does not see an immediate rosy future for Iraq and that he declared, "Iraq will soon be back, I fear on the front pages. Our worst fears could be realized."  Anthony Shadid heads the New York Times' Baghdad Bureau and he spoke earlier this week at the University of Central Oklahoma expressing his own worst case for Iraq.  Mark Schlachtenhaufen (Edmond Sun) reports, "Iraq is entering a crucial period, which could include a coup triggered by disenchantment and frustation with the political class, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist [Shadid] said Monday."  The Iraq War is not over and even those serving in Iraq currently have made it repeatedly clear how insulting they find that press notion, many in the press continue to repeat the spin.  Thomas E. Ricks (CNAS) post an e-mail from a soldier who explains that the August 31st speech ending 'combat operations' meant little to nothing.  Excerpt:
This message provides clarification on the awarding of wartime awards and badges for Operation New Dawn (OND). Effective 1 Sep 10, OND began signifying an end to combat operations in Iraq.  However, combat conditions are still prevalent.  Due to the nature of combat conditions, wartime awards will continue to be issued in theater until a date to be determined. Commanders will continue to process retroactive award recommendation through their peacetime chain of command to…"   
So, we aren't executing combat operations, BUT we still have combat conditions.  In conjunction with this, Hostile Fire Pay (rightly, in my mind) continues to be paid to those serving in Iraq and environs.

October 7, 2010 -- Today marks the 9th anniversary of the start of the Afghanistan War, now the longest war in American history, with 1,321 American service members killed in action, at least 8,000 wounded, tens of thousands of Afghani civilians killed, and over 352 billion of American taxpayer dollars wasted. Military Families Speak Out (MFSO), the largest organization of military families to speak out against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, calls on Senators and Representatives to bring our troops home now and provide the support they need to recover from the wounds of war, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), and Military Sexual Trauma (MST). 

Members of Military Families Speak Out (MFSO), and their chapter Gold Star Families Speak Out (GSFSO), will be participating in vigils and actions to mark this day. We are also involved in the launch of a national veteran-led campaign to end the military's widespread practice of deploying wounded troops into war zones. Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) Operation Recovery: Stop the Deployment of Traumatized Troops will focus on ending the practice of deploying service members suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), and Military Sexual Trauma (MST).  

One MFSO family member recalls the experience of her cousin who served in the US Marine Corps, and was deployed after 2 tours of duty, including the 2007 troop surge in Fallujah, Iraq, "He wasn't mentally stable enough to return to combat operations in Afghanistan but the Marines deployed him anyway. He had to go because orders are orders. On December 26th 2009
, just two weeks into combat operations in Afghanistan, he killed himself because he couldn't handle the war raging in his head."   

How many more lost lives and injured young souls will it take before our Congressional leaders will demonstrate the kind of courage our loved ones in the military show every day? When will Congress stop thinking about political posturing, show the courage to end the war, and allow our surviving troops to heal and recover from this nine-year debacle?    


Family members of both the Afghanistan and Iraq War veterans, including many with personal experience of having a loved one deployed while wounded, are available for interview. We will be supporting the IVAW press conference at 1:30pm at Russell Senate Office Building, (Constitution Ave NE, and Delaware Ave. NE) At this press conference, veterans and military family members will testify about their experiences with redeployment and announce the launch of Operation Recovery.    

Military Families Speak Out includes over 4,000 military families whose loved ones serve or have served in the military since 2002; it is the largest organization of military families to be speaking out against wars in the history of the United States. Gold Star Families Speak Out is a national chapter of MFSO and includes families whose loved ones died as a result of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. More information about Military Families Speak Out can be found at; more information about Gold Star Families Speak Out can be found at

Alsumaria TV reports, "Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki held talks with US under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns over Iraq government formation." And in a ridiculous attempt to make Nouri look 'powerful,' his administration leaks news of a supposed assassination attempt that was foiled. That many people want Nouri dead would not be surprising. But it's 2010 -- nearly 2011 -- and when you leak news of a 2007 attempt today, you really are reaching. But it's a special day.
March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board noted last month, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. They are claiming they have the right to form the government. In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister. It's seven months. Seven months, blow out the candles, Nouri.
Salah Hemeid (Al-Ahram Weekly) observes, "Al-Maliki is believed to have made enormous concessions to the Sadrists in order to lure them into supporting a new government with him as prime minister, including the promise of key government posts, a larger say in political and security decisions, and the release of Sadrists members jailed for violence."  Matt Kane (Huffington Post) surveys the current talk and notes:
It's obvious from an American point of view why this is a startling development. In addition to al-Sadr having openly fought American troops, he receives a lot of support from Tehran. In a political game which saw America send its vice president to Iraq to broker a deal, a reversal that favors Iranian interests (as an Iraqi government with a strong Sadrist influence does) is a worrisome development.               
From an Iraqi standpoint, the alliance between the Shiite coalition of al-Sadr and some INA parties and the Shiite al-Maliki to form a strongly Shiite government, despite the Sunni-backed al-Iraqiya party winning a plurality of the vote in March, could strain sectarian relations. The party has already stated that they will not take part in an al-Maliki government, and a powerful Sunni governor has said that the country is "headed for a dictatorship" if al-Maliki stays in power. Given that Sunnis and Shiites were engaged in sectarian violence that amounted to civil war not three years ago, these developments are not beneficial to what is a very socially fragile state.
Noting a media campaign under way in Iraq to crown Nouri prime minister, Sappho (Roads To Iraq) explains, "The great­est dif­fi­culty faces Al-Maliki will be his abil­ity to con­vince the Kur­dis­tan Alliance (Maliki still needs the Kurds to block Allawi's attempts to form the gov­ern­ment), this is because offer­ing the Pres­i­dent office is no longer an issue for the Kurds, Tal­a­bani, Kur­dis­tan -- Barzani came to see that the Pres­i­dent post for the Kur­dis­tan Alliance is beyond discussion. Maliki needs to offer more con­ces­sions to the Kur­dis­tan Alliance, and for sure Kirkuk will be one of many. If Maliki agrees to hand-over Kirkuk to the Kurds, he will face seri­ous con­se­quences, at least the with­drawal of the Iraqi National Alliance's deci­sion to sup­port Maliki's can­di­dacy (espe­cially, the Sadrists)."
Turning to some of the reported violence today . . .
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing injured three people, another Baghdad roadside bombing which claimed 1 life and left three traffic police officers injured, a Baghdad carrier-bag bombing exploded in a shoe store leaving two people wounded, a Baghdad sticky bombing left three people injured and a Falluja sticky bombing which claimed 1 life and left another person wounded. Reuters notes 2 Iskandariya bombings which claimed 3 lives and left eight people injured.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad attack in which 1 man was shot dead, a Mosul home invasion in which 1 woman and her teenage daughter were shot dead, a Mosul attack that damaged a car in "the motorcade of Nineveh Provincial Council member," 1 "woman and her daughter" were shot dead in Mosul as they were walking, and, dropping back to Wednesday, 2 people were shot dead in Mosul in separate incidents.
War is big business. Peter W. Galbraith knows that as he's just gotten "between $55 million and $75 million," James Glanz (New York Times) reports, as a result of posing as an impartial advisor to the Kurds while working for the oil coompany DNO -- DNO being a detail he concealed. Glanz notes:

Iraqi government officials and American analysts have asserted that Mr. Galbraith's dual role during the constitutional negotiations implied a conflict of interest, since the provisions he championed could have increased the value of his own interests. But he has rejected such claims, saying that he was merely helping the Kurds press their long-stated policy goals. "So, while I may have had interests, I see no conflict," Mr. Galbraith said last year.

Farah Stockman (Boston Globe) adds
that the latest news could harm Peter's state senate run in Vermont and observes, "Yesterday's announcement confirms that Galbraith played a crucial role in helping a Norwegian oil company, DNO, set up operations in the semi-autonomous Kurdish territory of Iraq in 2004. A year earlier, Kurdish leaders had paid Galbraith to help them negotiate with Iraq's central government. He also helped draft provisions of Iraq's constitution that gave Kurds control over newly discovered oil fields in their region. In 2005, he advised the Kurds informally on an unpaid basis."

We've covered this issue since before the DNO details came out. I've repeatedly called Peter out here for years and years, check the archives. We've now finished up the issue unless there are charges and/or new details that emerge or unless Peter speaks on the issue. I know the family and I showed no favoritism on the issue but I'm done with it now and if Glanz wasn't covering it today and/or Peter wasn't running for elected office, we wouldn't be noting it today. But we did and we opened with. Barring the already noted new developments, we're done with this story except as a detail in the story of greed and how it motivated the illegal war.

On greed, know how to detect a con job? A con artist offers you what sounds like a really good deal but there's a qualifier to it, usually something along the lines of, "there's a limited window of time" as they attempt to hurry you into making a risky move. Remember that as you read Leila Fadel's report (Washington Post) about US officials such as the Commerce Dept's Francisco Sanchez leading an Iraq tour and telling business execs, "If you want to really play a role here, you have to be here now." As Fadel points out, "Iraq is ranked fifth from the bottom on Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index - tied with Sudan and ahead of only Burma, Afghanistan and Somalia. Iraq's ranking has dropped drastically since 2003." Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) quotes Sanchez insisting, "I'm not trying to sugar-coat this but what I am trying to say is, the Iraqi government is sorting through some of these challenges as the physical security increasingly improves. You can't wait for everything to be perfect." Serena Chaudhry (Reuters) notes, "Companies on the mission included Boeing, Bell Helicopter Textron, ICON Global Architectural Engineering and Wamar International." One wonders Sanchez will promise to attend any and all funerals? Probably not. He'll pitch to get American business into Iraq but he'll be busy if and when the funerals roll around. Like most con artists, he'll have moved on to his next mark. In other blood money news, CBS News reports, "The State Department is awarding contracts that could amount to $10 billion to eight private security companies over the next five years. The Worldwide Protective Services contracts will cover safeguarding State Department facilities and personnel in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Israel, according to sources familiar with the contracting arrangements. The contracts, which are for one year with four options to renew, will be awarded over the next few months. So far, close to a billion dollars has been awarded to SOC to provide security for the U.S. Embassy and diplomats stationed in Baghdad."

The illegal war has led to filings with the Iraq Inquiry from human rights attorneys. The UK's Law Gazette reports, "The Solicitors International Human Rights Group and the Law Society's international action team found fault with the UK government's two main justifications for the invasion, in a written submission to Sir John Chilcot's inquiry into the Iraq conflict."
Turning to the US, are the surviving spouses of deceased veterans receiving all they are owed?  Senator Daniel Akaka's office issues this alert:
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii) is urging widows and widowers of deceased veterans to check to be sure that they received VA compensation for the month of their spouse's death.  According to new figures from the Department of Veterans Affairs, approximately 196,030 widows and widowers have received a total of $124,348,136 in month-of-death back payments since Senator Akaka uncovered a VA accounting error in December 2008. 
"Nearly 200,000 widows and widowers have finally received their benefits, but I want to be sure that all surviving spouses receive the compensation they are eligible for.  I urge the survivors of disabled veterans to contact VA if they did not receive compensation during the month of their loved one's death," said Akaka.
For almost 12 years, surviving spouses of veterans were wrongly denied benefits.  In 1996, a law was enacted instructing that when a veteran receiving VA benefits died, the spouse would be entitled to a payment for the month of death.  However, due to an error, VA wrongly demanded the money back from many surviving spouses.  Senator Akaka learned of the problem when a Maui widow contacted him for assistance after a paymetn for the month of her husband's death was taken from her bank account by the Treasury Department. 
Looking into the case, Akaka discovered that VA had failed to adjust its computer programs and notification letters to surviving spouses after the law was changed. As a result, surviving spouses were still being told that the check they received was an overpayment which needed to be returned to VA.  In cases where the money had been spent, such as for funeral expenses, the Treasury would withdraw the money from the widow or widower's bank account. 
VA has implemented new notification letters and changed its practices.  However, surviving spouses should ensure that their month-of-death benefit was paid as promised.  In some cases, VA may not be aware that the veteran had a surviving spouse, as marital data is not always collected if the veteran's benefit does not take a spousal amount into account.  (This occurs when a veteran's monthly compensation check is based on a disability rating of less than 30 percent, or when a veteran does not tell VA that he or she has married after VA benefits are commenced.)
For more information from the Department of Veterans Affairs, click here.  LINK.
Kawika Riley
Communications Director and Legislative Assistant
U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs
Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), Chairman
Yesterday's snapshot covered the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing on the VA's IT program.  Kat covered the hearing last night in "MUMPS?" covering the technology aspect (confusing terms) and noting Roger Baker stated, "We wrestled mightily with implementing the Chapter 33 system and a lot of it was because of the short time frame to get it implemented and then the fact that it was very popular with the folks using it. And so we had a relatively poor IT system that VBA had to use in that first semester and we saw the impact of that. Veterans did not get paid in a timely fashion. With another year, we're able to implement the longterm solution much better." That was the only other mention of the 'mix up' involving the Post 9/11 GI Bill.  (Yesterday's snapshot noted Belinda's Finn's remark on it.) Wally covered it at Rebecca's site with "The economics of today's hearing" which focused on asking why are contractors getting bonus pay just for doing their job, and Ava covered the hearing at Trina's site focusing on Scott Brown (Trina's senator) "What Senator Scott Brown has learned (Ava)."
An important hearing took place last week, Bob Filner chaired a hearing on the true costs of war which was covered in the September 30th snapshot and the October 1st snapshot. Kelley B. Vlahos ( reported on the hearing at length on Tuesday and I want to note one section first:
You could practically count the number of members who bothered to show up on one hand, and they were all Democrats. Three congressmen not on the committee sat in, including Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), one of the few GOP war critics in Congress, who sat noticeably in front of 25 empty committee seats. But within an hour or so, all were gone but Chairman Bob Filner (D-Calif.), looking lonely across from the sizable (but definitely not standing room only) audience of mostly veterans' advocates all too used to the feeling of talking to a wall.
Congress voted to adjourn before the hearing.  Filner and those present deserve tremendous credit -- my opinion -- for being there.  I believe the others were Walter Jones, Harry Mitchell, Harry Teague, Ciro Rodriguez, Jerry McNerney, Zachary Space, Jim Moran and George Miller. All of those House members are running for re-election but they managed to be at the hearing.  And Congress is still adjourned so I think Senators Daniel Akaka, Richard Burr, Scott Brown and Mike Johanns deserve credit for being present for yesterday's Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing.  And, personal note, if I'm tired or have a small child with me, I usually sit as far in the back as possible.  At the House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing, I was both tired and had one of my goddaughters with me (Rebecca's daughter) so I was in the back.
The hearing focused on the true costs of the war which including caring for those who served -- a bill that's ignored repeatedly.  We'll again note this from Chair Bob Filner's opening statement (delivered, not his written statement:
Chair Bob Filner: It struck me as I looked at a lot of the facts and data that we-we see across our desks that, as a Congress, as a nation, we really do not know the true costs of the wars we are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. [. . .] We all look at the data that comes from these wars. It struck me one day that the official data for, for example, the wounded was around 45,000 for both wars.  And yet we know that six or seven hundred thousand of our veterans of these wars -- of which there are over a million already -- have either filed claims for disability or sought health care from the VA for injuries suffered at war -- 45,000 versus 800,000? This is not a rounding error. I think this is a deliberate attempt to mask what is going on in terms of the actual casualty figures. We know that there is a denial of PTSD -- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It's a 'weakness' among Marines and soldiers to admit mental illness so we don't even have those figures until maybe it's too late. We all know that women are participating in this war at a degree never before seen in our nation's history and, yet, by whatever estimate you look, whether it's half or two-thirds have suffered sexual trauma.  The true cost of war?  We know that over 25,000 of our soldiers who were originally diagnosed with PTSD got their diagnosis changed or their diagnosis was changed as they were -- had to leave the armed forces, changed to "personality disorder."  And not only does that diagnosis beg the question of why we took people in with the personality disorder, it means that there's a pre-existing condition and we don't have to take care of them as a nation.  Cost of war? There have been months in these wars where the suicides of active duty have exceeded the deaths in action. Why is that?  When our veterans come home from this war, we say we support troops, we support troops, we support troops? 30% unemployment rate for returning Iraqi and Afghanistan veterans. That's three times an already horrendous rate in our nation. Guardsman find difficulty getting employment because they may be deployed. Now a democracy has to go to war sometimes. But people have to know in a democracy what is the cost. They have to be informed of the true -- of the true nature -- not only in terms of the human cost, the material cost, but the hidden cost that we don't know until after the fact or don't recognize.  We know -- Why is it that we don't have the mental health care resources for those coming back? Is it because we failed to understand the cost of serving our military  veterans is a fundamental cost of the war? Is it because we sent these men and women into harms way without accounting for and providing the resources necessary for their care if they're injured or wounded or killed?  Every vote that Congress has taken for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has failed to take into account the actual cost of these wars by ignoring what we will require to meet the needs of our men and women in uniform who have been sent into harms way. This failure means that soldiers who are sent to war on behalf of their nation do not know if their nation will be there for them tomorrow. The Congress that sends them into harms way assumes no responsibility for the longterm consequences of their deployment. Each war authorization and appropriation kicks the proverbial can down the road and whether or not the needs of our soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan will be met is totally dependent on the budget priorities of a future Congress which includes two sets of rules: One for going to war and one for providing for our veterans who fight in that war. We don't have a budget for the VA today as we are about to enter the new fiscal year.  We are trying to provide for those involved in atomic testing in WWII -- who were told would be no problems and yet they can't get compensation for cancers.  We cannot -- This Committee and this Congress has a majority of people who say we should fully compensate the victims of Agent Orange for injuries in WWII -- I'm sorry, Vietnam. Yet was have a pay-go rule on a bill that's coming out of here. They say it's going to cost ten billion dollars or twenty billion over the next ten years.  We don't have it.  Why don't we have it?  They fought for this nation.  We're trying to deal with the Persian Gulf War still -- not to mention all the casualties from this one.  So we have to find a pay-go.  But the Dept of Defense doesn't have to.  So they system that we have for appropriating funds in Congress is designed to make it much easier to vote to send our soldiers into harms way.  That's much easier than to care for them when they come home.  This Committee and everyone of the people here has had to fight tooth and nail to get  enough money for our veterans.  We got to fight for it every day.  We've been successful in the last few years but we don't know if that will -- if that rate of growth will continue.  This is morally wrong in my opinion and an abdication of our fundamental responsibilities as members of Congress. It is past time for Congress to recognize that standing by our men and women in uniform -- meeting their needs -- is a fundamental cost of war and we should account for those needs and take responsibility for meeting them at the time that we send these young people into combat. Every Congressional appropriation for war, in my view, should include money for what, I'm going to call it, a veterans' trust fund that will ensure the projected needs of  our wounded and injured soldiers are fully met at the time that their going to war is appropriated. It's not a radical idea.  Business owners are required to account for their deferred liability every year. Our federal government has no such requirement when it comes to the deferred liabiilty of meeting the needs of our men and women in uniform even though meeting those needs is a moral obligation of our nation and a fundamental cost.  It does not make sense fiscally, it does not make sense ethically.  If in years past, Congress had taken into account this deferred fiscal liability and moral obligation of meeting the needs of soldiers, we would not have the kind of overburdened delivery system that we have today in the Veterans Administration. And would veterans and their advocates on Capitol Hill have to fight as hard as they do every year for benefits that should be readily available as a matter of course? Would they have to worry as much as they do today that these benefits will become targets in the debate over reducing the federal budget?  Listen to this statement by one of the co-chairs of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility -- that's trying to figure out how we balance our budget -- former Senator [Alan] Simpson said, "The irony is that veterans who saved their country are now in a way not helping us to save this country in this fiscal mess."  That is, they should defer their health and welfare needs because of a budget problem.
On the mounting costs of the current wars, Kelley B. Vlahos offers a common sense solution:
Here's an idea -- how about ending the wars? Several (failed) attempts were made in July by members to start withdrawing troops now (instead of 2011 -- what's the difference?). Most "experts" are increasingly framing operations in Afghanistan as hopeless, and with Muqtada al Sadr on the ascent in Iraq, we're likely not too long for that place either. Why not save a few skulls (and a lot more money) in the meantime? Then we can concentrate on the billions in lifetime costs we're already obligated to pay.  
If a kid repeatedly broke his bones climbing trees, his father wouldn't take on a part-time job just to pay for the medical bills, he would tell the kid to stop climbing the damn trees and come home.  
We need to get our men and women out of the trees and back home, and then we can start the healing.   
 David Bacon's latest book is Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press) which won the CLR James Award. Bacon can be heard on KPFA's The Morning Show (over the airwaves in the Bay Area, streaming online) each Wednesday morning (begins airing at 7:00 am PST). And we'll close with this from Bacon's "California's Perfect Storm" (Rethinking Schools):
The United States today faces an economic crisis worse than any since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Nowhere is it sharper than in the nation's schools. It's no wonder that last year saw strikes, student walkouts, and uprisings in states across the country, aimed at priorities that put banks and stockbrokers ahead of children. California was no exception. In fact, other states looked on in horror simply at the size of its budget deficit-at one point more than $34 billion. The quality of the public schools plummeted as class sizes ballooned and resources disappeared in blizzards of pink slips. Fee increases drove tens of thousands from community colleges and university campuses.    
But California wasn't just a victim. Last year it saw a perfect storm of protest in virtually every part of its education system. K-12 teachers built coalitions with parents and students to fight for their jobs and their schools. Students poured out of community colleges and traveled to huge demonstrations at the capitol. Building occupations and strikes rocked the University of California (UC) and the California State University (CSU) campuses. Together, they challenged the way the cost of the state's economic crisis is being shifted onto education, with a particularly bitter impact on communities of color. Activists questioned everything from the structural barriers to raising new taxes to the skewed budget priorities favoring prisons over schools.      
Rise and Fall of the Master Plan
When the current recession hit, California had already fallen from one of the country's leaders in per-pupil education funding in the 1950s to 49th among the 50 states in the last decade. That fall was more than just a decline in dollars. It was the end of a commitment to its young people that started in 1960, when a wave of populist enthusiasm put liberals in control of the California Legislature and governor's mansion. Together, they issued a Master Plan for Higher Education that promised every student access to some degree of postsecondary schooling. Community colleges were free, omnipresent, and accepted everyone. UCs had no tuition and charged only nominal "fees" for university services. Strikes led by Third World students and civil rights demonstrations opened the doors wider to people of color and youth of working-class families generally. The state's reputation as an economic and technological powerhouse owed much to the students who passed through the system in the decades that followed.
By last year, that era wasn't even a memory for students who have grown up in an age of shrinking expectations. Yet on paper, at least, the promise remained. In urging students and teachers on UC campuses to fight instead of giving up, noted radical sociologist Mike Davis called it an epic challenge. "Equity and justice are endangered at every level of the Master Plan for Education," he argued. Davis called on his fellow faculty members to look out of their office windows. "Obscene wealth still sprawls across the coastal hills, but flatland inner cities and blue-collar interior valleys face the death of the California dream. Their children-let's not beat around the bush-are being pushed out of higher education. Their future is being cut off at its knees."                     
Strike! he urged them. "A strike," he said, "by matching actions to words, is the highest form of teach-in. The 24th [the date last September for the first walkout] is the beginning of learning how to shout in unison."