Saturday, May 16, 2015

Iraq snapshot

Saturday, May 16, 2015.  Chaos and violence continue, the State Dept lies about what KRG President Massoud Barzani said during his DC trip last week, the US House of Representatives passes the National Defense Authorization,  Ramadi is being lost but the White House seems unconcerned, we look at the targeting of Sunnis, and much more.

Monday, Finance Minister Rafe al-Assawi and the Governor of Nineveh Province Atheel al-Nuajaif (brother of Iraqi Vice President Osama al-Nujaifi) were hosted at a Brookings Institution event which was moderated by Kenneth Pollack.  We've covered the event in the Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday  and Thursday snapshots.  We'll continue the coverage today.

Kenneth Pollack:  As you are painfully and personally aware, one of the problems with the current federal system is that we've had a corruption of the justice process and key Sunni leaders -- again, present company included --  have been targeted by the central government using that judicial system.  How would you think about a future Iraqi system that would prevent that from happening?  How do we go about creating an Iraq in which you and Tareq al-Hashemi [Iraqi Vice President whom Nouri al-Maliki swore out an arrest warrant and who was tried in absentia despite Constitutional protections preventing that] and Ahmed al-Alwani [Ramadi MP whose home Nouri ordered a military attack on during a dawn December 2013 morning -- the raid left several people dead -- including al-Alwani's brother -- al-Alwani has since been convicted to death by the 'impartial' and 'fair' and 'legal' Baghdad court system] and others can't be personally targeted by this system.

Former Minister Rafe al-Assawi:  And it depends upon Iraqis.  All Iraqis -- Shi'ites, Sunis, Kurds, Muslims, Christians -- whether to live together in a united Iraq, to respect these designations of authorities.  Now for sure there is interferences in the judicial system.  American -- and you, Ken -- can help a lot to restore.  Everything needs to be restored.  Everything is damaged.  So you have to restructure damaged Iraq -- as I indicated in my presentation -- PowerPoint.  So restoring Iraq again means you have to build again. On the corruption side -- which is really in the security and non-security institutions -- part of this is totally controlled by militia.  So money create militia and militia took money.  And it is a vicious circle.  That's why I said the challenge is to restore back again the state.  So it depends on how serious are Iraqis -- including me and my colleagues -- to rebuild Iraq?  Otherwise, if everyone keep only observing's Iraq's burning, saying 'this is not my job,' or  we only keep beating others for participation or giving promises without implementation we will not move any step.

Kenneth Pollack:  Governor, anything you'd like to add on the judicial system?

Governor Atheel al-Nujaifi:  I think that the corruption and all that problems may be solved easier if we are near to the people, not farther away from the people.  Now with controlling everything from Baghdad, they have no interest, no concern what happen in Mosul [which the Islamic State took control of last June] or in Anbar [which the Islamic State controls part of] -- what the people of Anbar want.  They want to found Mosul and Anbar, they want them to belong to them, not follow the problems or the corruption in their cities.  And that's what happened in Mosul exactly before the collapse of Mousl.  The corruption in the army is too much but Baghdad, they didn't care with that corruption, they care that the Mosul people must belong to them.  So I think dividing the authorities as I said [he spoke of the need for a model similar to the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government -- while al-Assawi noted that the division of powers is in the Constitution but it is not being followed] and we can see the KRG as a model, dividing the authorities.  Even if there is a problem between some of the Kurdish leaders and Baghdad, there is no real problems that can't be solved, no problems inside their autonomy.

Anbar Province was noted in the discussion.  Last month, Haider al-Abadi ordered the start of the assault on Ramadi, a key city in the province.  The assault has not gone well by any measure -- including the civilians left wounded and terrorized.

Ramadi was a topic in Friday's State Dept press briefing moderated by spokesperson Jeff Rathke.

QUESTION: Yeah. Jeff, do you have any reaction to the advances made by ISIS today in Ramadi in Iraq?

MR RATHKE: Right. Well, in conjunction with Anbari tribal forces, Iraqi Security Forces have been confronting ISIL fighters in Ramadi and around Anbar province for several months. Today, ISIL is once again attempting an offensive in the city of Ramadi. I don’t have a battlefield update to provide, but I would highlight that the coalition is supporting Iraqi Security Forces to help protect the citizens of Anbar province and to support their efforts to force ISIL from Ramadi and other cities. We continue to provide targeted air support in ISIL-held and contested areas, and that includes numerous airstrikes in Ramadi today. But as for the status on the ground, I would refer you to the Iraqi Government for their update. And about – for the details of U.S. military support, my colleagues at the Pentagon can share more detail.

QUESTION: And do you consider what happened as a blow for the Iraqi Government and the Iraqi forces?

MR RATHKE: Well, look, we’ve said before that there will be good days and bad days in Iraq. ISIL’s trying to make today a bad day in Ramadi. We’ve said all along we see this as a long-term fight in conjunction with our Iraqi partners against ISIL. We are confident that Iraqi forces with support from the coalition will continue to push back ISIL where they’ve tried to gain advantages on the ground. So our policy and our engagement remains the same.

QUESTION: So is it the U.S.’s view that Ramadi is falling to ISIL, is under ISIL control, or would you say that it’s contested?

MR RATHKE: Well, I would – I’m not in a position to confirm reports that – I know there have been several reports out there – about the situation in the city center. I’d refer you, again, to the Iraqis for up-to-date information. We have said in the past that Ramadi is and the areas around it have been contested for months, and – but as to the situation in Ramadi right now, we’re working with the Government of Iraq to get a clearer picture of the situation.


QUESTION: (Inaudible) consider keeping Ramadi out of ISIS’s control a strategic priority, or is this going to be like Kobani where it’s not a strategic priority unless you win, and then it becomes a strategic priority?

MR RATHKE: Well, no. I think what we said about Kobani was that it was a strategic priority for ISIL. So – but anyway, to switch back to --

QUESTION: Do you consider this – yeah.


QUESTION: Do you consider this a strategic priority for the anti-ISIL coalition and for the Iraqis that this does not become an ISIL stronghold?

MR RATHKE: Well, this is a fight that’s being led by the Iraqis, so it’s the Iraqi Government’s job to set priorities. So that would be their – it’s their country and they need to set those priorities and we support them. Clearly, Ramadi is important and it’s a large city. It’s been contested for some time. And Anbar province – we’ve talked a lot about other actions in Anbar province in recent weeks and months, so Anbar is important, Ramadi is important. I’m not going to place labels on them to try to suggest a prioritization.

QUESTION: You – this building and this Administration has been a leader in creating a global anti-ISIL coalition.

MR RATHKE: Certainly.

QUESTION: Do you consider it important that they – that ISIL not gain what would be a significant victory here? I mean, are you --

MR RATHKE: No, I’ve just said Ramadi is important. I agree with you. But what I --

QUESTION: But are you willing to tell the people of Ramadi, the civilians in Ramadi, “We will not let this city fall”?

MR RATHKE: Well, again, we are – our approach in Iraq is to support the Iraqi forces as well as the tribal forces and all the forces who are fighting against ISIL under the command and control overall of the Iraqi central government. So we – that commitment remains and we are going to continue that support, and that’s not going to change.

QUESTION: Jeff, on this --


QUESTION: -- do you consider that the Iraqi Government bears some responsibility in the falling of Ramadi since they didn’t provide the tribes and the Sunni militia the arms that they asked for or they need?

MR RATHKE: Well, first of all, this – I’m not going to start from the assumption that the city has fallen. I’m not issuing that judgment from this podium. With regard to the outreach to the Sunni tribes, this has been a priority for Prime Minister Abadi. He and other senior Iraqi government officials have been reaching out to the tribes to bridge differences and to build trust. We know there’s a lot of history there to be overcome and Prime Minister Abadi has been working continuously to address that.

So in broader terms, taking a step back from Ramadi, we have been encouraged by the Iraqi Government’s efforts to enlist and to arm tribal fighters in the campaign. They’ve been building on the thousands of Sunni fighters who have joined the popular mobilization forces, as they call them, over the past six months. I would highlight as well that the Anbar governor just last week held a ceremony to induct about a thousand more tribal fighters. So these units are going to be working with and coordinating with the Iraqi army. Prime Minister Abadi last month visited Anbar and delivered weapons to Sunni tribes. Of course, there are more efforts to organize and to arm the Sunnis and to integrate them; those who want to fight ISIL will be needed in the coming months. This is a long-term effort, so – and – but we will continue to support the Iraqi Government in that effort.

QUESTION: But – one follow-up on this.


QUESTION: Did you consider that the Iraqi Government is fulfilling its commitment regarding the Sunni tribes, first? And is – or will the U.S. provide the Sunni arms directly without passing the Iraqi Government?

MR RATHKE: Well, our policy on arms transfers to Iraq is – remains the same. We – all of those arms transfers are coordinated through the Iraqi central government. That’s not going to change. And as I said, Prime Minister Abadi has made it a priority to reach out to the Sunni population in particular in Anbar, and so we support those efforts.

Namo, go ahead.

QUESTION: We have seen little progress in Prime Minister Abadi’s outreach to the Sunnis, because – I mean, if you just look at the cities and towns that have been falling to ISIS in Iraq, almost all of them have been Sunni towns. It’s predominately Sunni towns. Does that – what does that tell us? Does that – doesn’t that tell us that the Iraqi army, which is basically a predominately Shia army, is unwilling to protect Sunni areas? Or doesn’t that also tell us that Prime Minister Abadi has failed in his outreach toward – to the Sunnis? Because they have been demanding weapons and also some equipment that they need to defend themselves.

MR RATHKE: Well, and the Iraqi Government has been providing it. So they --

QUESTION: But they have failed.

MR RATHKE: No, but – I wouldn’t accept that characterization. The prime minister has been reaching out. He has made the commitments to enlist and to arm tribal fighters. And those aren’t just the commitments on paper, they’ve been happening. I was just talking about some of the most recent steps in answer to Michel’s question. And so in addition to his personal engagement in Anbar, there was just last week an induction of another thousand tribal fighters. So yes, more efforts are needed but Prime Minister Abadi has focused on this and he continues to pursue that.

That is Jeff Rathke and the State Dept's opinion.

It is not fact and should not be mistaken for fact.

The Congress begs to differ.

And too bad for the State Dept, Congress can cut off funding.

Now the White House and the State Dept can go around Congress if Congress cuts off funding -- the White House and the State Dept can do that by (a) breaking the law, (b) creating a Constitutional crisis and (c) courting impeachment of US President Barack Obama.

If they choose to pursue that, it will certainly liven up the remainder of Lame Duck Obama's final term in office.

Congress' opinion on the matter can be found below:

Requirements relating to assistance for fiscal year 2016
In general
Not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this subsection, the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State shall jointly submit to the appropriate congressional committees an assessment of the extent to which the Government of Iraq is meeting the conditions described in subparagraph (B).
The conditions described in this subparagraph are that the Government of Iraq—
is addressing the grievances of ethnic and sectarian minorities;
is increasing political inclusiveness;
is conducting efforts sufficient to reduce support for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and improve stability in Iraq;
is legislating the Iraqi Sunni National Guard;
is ensuring that minorities are represented in adequate numbers, trained, and equipped in government security organizations;
is ending support to Shia militias and stopping abuses of elements of the Iraqi population by such militias;
is ensuring that supplies, equipment, and weaponry supplied by the United States are appropriately distributed to security forces with a national security mission in Iraq, including the Kurdish Peshmerga, Sunni tribal security forces with a national security mission, and the Iraqi Sunni National Guard;
is releasing prisoners from ethnic or sectarian minorities who have been arrested and held without trial or to charge and try such prisoners in a fair, transparent, and prompt manner; and
is taking such other actions as the Secretaries consider appropriate.
The Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State may submit an update of the assessment required under subparagraph (A) to the extent necessary.
The assessment required under subparagraph (A) and the update of the assessment authorized under subparagraph (C) may be submitted as part of the quarterly report required under subsection (d).
Restriction on direct assistance to Government of Iraq
If the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State do not submit the assessment required by paragraph (1) or if the Secretaries submit the assessment required by paragraph (1) but the assessment indicates that the Government of Iraq has not substantially achieved the conditions contained in the assessment, the Secretaries shall withhold the provision of assistance pursuant to subsection (a) directly to the Government of Iraq for fiscal year 2016 until such time as the Secretaries submit an update of the assessment that indicates that the Government of Iraq has substantially achieved the conditions contained in the assessment.
Direct assistance to certain covered groups
In general
Of the funds authorized to be appropriated under this section for fiscal year 2016, not less than 25 percent of such funds shall be obligated and expended for assistance directly to the groups described in subparagraph (E) (of which not less than 12.5 percent of such funds shall be obligated and expended for assistance directly to the group described in clause (i) of such subparagraph).
Additional direct assistance
If the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State withhold the provision of assistance pursuant to subsection (a) directly to the Government of Iraq for fiscal year 2016 in accordance with paragraph (2) of this subsection, the Secretaries shall obligate and expend not less than an additional 60 percent of all unobligated funds authorized to be appropriated under this section for fiscal year 2016 for assistance directly to the groups described in subparagraph (E).
Cost-sharing requirement inapplicable
The cost-sharing requirement of subsection (k) shall not apply with respect to funds that are obligated or expended for assistance directly to the groups described in subparagraph (E).
Rule of construction
Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the groups described in subparagraph (E) shall each be deemed to be a country for purposes of meeting the eligibility requirements of section 3 of the Arms Export Control Act (22 U.S.C. 2753) and chapter 2 of part II of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2311 et seq.).
Covered groups
The groups described in this subparagraph are—
the Kurdish Peshmerga;
Sunni tribal security forces with a national security mission; and
the Iraqi Sunni National Guard.

That's Sec. 1223 of H.R. 1735 which passed the House on Friday (it remains a bill, the Senate has to pass their version) on a vote with 269 members supporting it (41 were Democrats) and 151 opposing it (143 were Democrats) while 12 members elected not to vote.

Wow, there is widespread Democratic opposition to this Iraq proposal.


The Iraq issue is the least controversial element of the bill (well the changes related to the registration and tracking of sex offenders is probably the section that has the most support from Democrats and Republicans, but after that, Iraq's the least controversial).

If you're not grasping that, Democrats are noting publicly their problems with the bill.  Leo Shane III (Military Times) reports, "House lawmakers on Friday approved a $612 billion defense authorization bill for next year despite objections from Democratic leaders and a White House veto threat over plans to skirt spending caps with oversized temporary war funds."

That makes me laugh.

For two reasons.

First, I've been at these hearings, Armed Services Comittee hearings, and heard Democrats and Republicans on the Committee -- both sides -- insist that the military must be sacrosacnt and not part of the sequestration (automatic cuts) and blah, blah, blah.

And, for the record, in the Veterans Affairs Comittee hearings (House and Senate), we hear the same statements, the automatic cuts should not effect the VA.

Every committee works to protect its own turf.

And now Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader, is objecting to fudging numbers because . . . she thinks sequestration should just be eliminated when it comes to the military.

More money flows to the DoD than any other element in the budget but Nancy is opposed to cut being implemented on Defense.

Once upon a time, Americans believed in a thing called  "shared sacrifice."

Meaning we all share in the cuts equally.

But they don't want to do that -- it's not full of the high drama Congress and the White House count on.

It's like the issue of the homeless in America.

Congress doesn't give a damn.

Unless it's veterans.

If it's veterans homeless, oh, let's talk, let's do, let's fund.

But the American citizens that Congress is supposed to represent -- all citizens, not just veterans?

They don't give a damn.

Nor does Barack.

He's promised that veterans homelessness ends this year.

Well bully for him.

But when does the US government ever intend to end homelessness in America?

The crisis exploded during Ronald Reagan's two terms as president.

And he's more or less blamed for it.

But Ronald Reagan's not only out of the White House, he's dead.

What prevented George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Bully Boy Bush and now Barack Obama from seriously addressing this issue and ending homelessness in America?

The only thing that stopped them was a lack of caring.

(HW is infamous for stepping over the sleeping homeless while leaving various DC eateries.)

Paul Kane (Washington Post) offers that "Democrats largely opposed the measure Friday because of their demands for new negotiations to set up different spending limits on defense and non-defense agencies that were imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act."

I hope that's clear enough for everyone.

The second reason I laugh?

The Iraq measure in the bill was supposed to be so controversial.

It is to the White House but it's not to Congress -- not to Congressional Democrats, not to Congressional Republicans.

Well they bellowed, and they hollered
And they threw each other down
Down in this valley
This cruel and lovely valley
Oh it should have been an alley
In some low down part of town
-- "Memorial Day," written by Carly Simon, first appears on her album Spy

And didn't they, though?

Didn't the press -- mirroring the White House -- because goodness forbid they come up with their own behavior -- insist that this was wrong, so wrong, so wrong?

Didn't they tell you that this Iraq section was going to be rethought?  And maybe pulled from the bill?

Didn't happen.

Never was going to happen.

And only idiots who hadn't attended Congressional hearings would have bought and/or promoted that nonsense.

It passed.

And it's not the source of Democratic objections.

Even the White House has sat its wild ass down on this matter realizing that they never had a chance at turning Congressional opinion on that in the first place but certainly not after certain thugs in Iraq -- thugs in the Iraqi government -- thought they could publicly threaten harm to the United States?

Congress is many things.  Arrogant to be sure.  But it's not a weak-willed president desperate to cave and remain silent in the face of threats from another country.

More than anything else, those threats solidified support in the House for this already popular provision.

So the Democrats are bothered that, to avoid spending caps, the bill ups the temporary expendiatures.

Margaret Griffis ( reports 62 people were killed across Iraq on Friday.

She forgets that the bill we noted above includes arming the Sunnis.

Back to Friday's State Dept press briefing:

QUESTION: Just one question about the Erbil-Baghdad.

MR RATHKE: Yeah. I think we’re going to need to move on. So yes --

QUESTION: Just one quick question about the Erbil-Baghdad. Because the – over the past couple of days, that oil deal that the United States has been praising for quite a few – quite a while as a successful deal seemed to have come to the edge of collapse, with the Kurdish leaders accusing Baghdad of having failed to abide by the terms of the agreement. And even the prime minister of the Kurdish region said they are going to take independent steps if Baghdad fails to implement that deal. What is your understanding of the deal between Erbil and Baghdad?

MR RATHKE: Mm-hmm. Well, we just had very good visits to Washington both by Prime Minister Abadi and the Iraqi Kurdish Region President Barzani. One of the things that was discussed with them was the – were the important issues facing Iraq. And we understand that Baghdad and Erbil remain committed to seeking implementation of the deal. We continue to urge both sides to work together toward resolving the payments issue and fully implementing the agreement that was reached at the end of 2014. ISIL is the main threat, and we continue to encourage the central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government to work together to fight against ISIL and resolve those issues.

No, Jeff Rathke, that's what the administration 'understands.'

It's the lie they repeat.

And KRG President Massoud Barzani was very clear in his public appearances that not only are Kurds not getting weapons, not only is Baghdad not honoring their public promise from last December re: oil revenues, but they are also not receiving their portion of the federal budget.

That's a huge deal.

But grasp that Iraq was unable to pass a budget for 2014.

So the KRG didn't get money then.

Rathke is less than honest in his remarks.

But he wouldn't work for the State Dept if he didn't know how to lie.

Facing up to stagnation

This is a repost from the United Kingdom's Weekly Worker:

Facing up to stagnation

The latest US figures are indicative of a continuing problem, writes Yassamine Mather

Alarm bells

After all the hype about economic recovery in the United States, quarterly data relating to the rate of growth, deficit and productivity are ringing alarm bells throughout the world.

In March 2015, the US recorded its biggest monthly trade deficit since the 2008 global financial crisis, fuelling concerns that the economic contraction in the first three months of the year might signal more serious problems. The deficit recorded for goods and services rose to $51.4 billion, which was up 41% compared to the $35.9 billion recorded only a month earlier. Exports rose by less than one percent, while imports grew 7.7% on the back of increased consumer demand for cars and mobile phones. According to the Financial Times,

Labour productivity fell an annual 1.9% in the first three months of the year, while unit labour costs rose sharply, official figures showed on Wednesday. The output per hour figures came as the country’s gross domestic product barely grew during the quarter, even as it added an average of nearly 200,000 jobs a month ... the figures confirm a longer-run trend of slowing productivity that is alarming policy-makers and complicating Federal Reserve decision-making.1

Figures released by the US treasury show the rate of growth from the first quarter of this year to be 0.2%, dashing any hopes of a rise in interest rates. In fact interest rates have barely moved above zero for more than six years, emphasising the fact that this has been the weakest recovery from recession in the last 50 years. And the problems are not limited to the US. According to the Office of National Statistics, the rate of growth fell to 0.3% in the UK - the slowest quarterly growth for two years.

Last week predictions by the International Monetary Fund that China’s growth would not exceed 6% by 2017, following news of another fall in the country’s rate of growth to 7% in the first quarter of 2015, will also affect the US and world economy.2 What is more, the awaited economic miracle of emerging markets is not materialising. Countries in Latin America, Africa and elsewhere are especially dependent on commodities production and they have been falling one by one into recession, or at best stagnation - an inevitable consequence of global underconsumption.

The US administration and sections of the media have blamed cold weather for the poor figures. However, with the exception of the construction industry it is difficult to see how the weather played such a crucial role. The reality is that retail sales, business investment and housing development have all been weak, pointing to a slowdown. The fact that the growth in consumer spending dropped to 1.9% in the first quarter, down from 4.4% in late 2014 and the weakest for a year, is a far more significant contributor. The fall in the price of crude oil has also affected investment in the US oil and gas sector, and impacted on banks involved in major loans to the oil sector.

Another important contributing factor has been the decline in the export of US goods, mainly manufactured products - a consequence of a sharp rise in the dollar since autumn 2014. Now that there is no possibility of an interest rate rise, it is likely the US treasury will try to bring down the value of the dollar. The problem is that most major economies are playing a similar game, with monetary injections or quantitative easing leading to ‘competitive devaluations’ of various currencies. But, far from solving any country’s economic problem, this only serves to delay the inevitable crisis. A cheaper dollar can only help for a short time before unofficial, undeclared European or Chinese devaluation of their respective currencies negates it. The world economy is contracting and finance capital’s solutions are making the situation worse.

Throughout the recent election campaign, Labour faced accusations that it created the economic crisis of 2008 - the Conservative argument that Labour’s ‘irresponsible’ economic public expenditure programme led to debt and crisis has been repeated ad nauseam by the mass media. This lie was scarcely challenged by the “pro-business” Labour leadership, which employed defensive arguments and promised to stick to Tory austerity policies, albeit with a lighter touch. Economists of the right and left agree that the economic crisis of 2008, which threatened the large financial institutions with collapse, was prevented by the bailout by governments. Following the crisis the policies of Gordon Brown were no different from those of Republican president, George W Bush.

Continued crisis

There are fundamental reasons why capitalism in general and US capitalism in particular seems incapable of emerging from stagnation. The turn to finance capital, in the 1970s, was primarily aimed at weakening the working class in advanced capitalist countries - reducing public-sector costs through privatisation, the introduction of an internal market and the contracting out of government services and activities. All this was accompanied by the imposition of IMF/World Bank market conditions on all loans to the ‘third world’ - a policy that has had devastating consequences in the countries of the periphery.

Finance capital’s short-termist nature means it is necessarily unproductive, parasitic and therefore dependent on value from the productive sector. Ismael Hossein Zadeh sums up the situation as follows:

A recent report by the Federal Reserve Bank shows that, while aggregate national wealth in the US rose by $1.49 trillion during the first quarter of 2014, the real economy (as measured by GDP) actually contracted by one percent - according to the department of commerce, the decline in GDP was actually 2.9% ... In a similar report, the Financial Times recently noted that household wealth as a whole is up 43% since the depths of the economic slump in 2008, despite the slow or non-existent recovery in the labour market and an actual decline in median household income, down 7.6% since 2008.3

In other words, the financial sector has benefited from an unprecedented rate of growth, while all other sectors continue to face the possibility of stagnation. Even before the collapse of the price of oil and the subsequent crisis in banks associated with toxic loans to the oil sector, a shift of income away from the working class and the growth of real returns to the capitalist class had created the basis for another crisis. The levels of unemployment and underemployment are constantly rising. In the ‘third world’, this has become a serious problem, leading to mass migration even at the risk of losing one’s life. In the ‘first world’, every attempt is made to hide the real figures, through the use of terms such as ‘economically inactive’ - the true number of unemployed is distorted, as e-contracts, temporary and at times unpaid work in endless ‘job creation’ schemes hide the severity of the problem.

While 25 million Americans are unemployed or working only part-time when they want and need full-time jobs, corporate America has a cash hoard of more than $2 trillion, which it refuses to invest in new production. Instead it is happy to pay interest for saving accounts, as well as using capital in speculative trade and stock buybacks - all profitable activities in the short term.

In fact the Dow Jones and the US stock market is doing well. However, the majority of the population are worse off, as real income has dropped thanks to declining or stagnant wages. For 70% of the workforce, inflation-adjusted hourly wages are still lower than they were in 2007. According to economic editor John Whitefoot,

If you’re rich, 2015 will probably be another year of celebratory wealth creation. If, on the other hand, you’re not, 2015 will feel an awful lot like 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2009. Wall Street and the US government will tell you the economy is doing well, but it won’t feel like it. In fact, according to a national survey, 70% of Americans believe the US economy is permanently damaged, while 84% do not believe the economy has improved since the recession ended in 2009.4

It is this level of inequality at a time of stagnation that worries the more far-sighted sections of capital, be it in articles in the financial journals or the attention given to Thomas Piketty’s book, Capital in the 21st century.

In fact Piketty’s concerns about the problems caused by inequality and the danger it represents for the future of capitalism have been picked up by sections of the capitalist class. Piketty deals with inequality of wealth rather than capital and this determines that his solutions are reformist. That is why the book has supporters amongst those who want to save capitalism.

Of course they are right to say that the levels of austerity and inequality we are facing have reduced the basic power of consumption, producing stagnation, and as a result of that capitalism is in trouble. The problem is that, because result is confused with cause, they have no solution to the current economic chaos. Inequality is a consequence of capitalist exploitation, a consequence of extracting surplus value. It cannot be dealt with unless one addresses the root cause.


1. Financial Times May 6 2015.
2. In December 2014 China officially became the world’s largest economy in terms of goods and services, overtaking the United States, which had held the position since 1872. According to the IMF, the Chinese economy was worth $17.6 trillion compared with $17.4 trillion for the USA. However, the same year was also marked by China’s weakest rate of growth in 24 years - it fell from 7.7 % in 2013 to 7.4%. Clearly its economic position should be judged in relation to its population of 1.36 billion.

Creative Commons Licence
Published by November Publications under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.


Single Mom Fired for Organizing Strike for $15 and a Union

This is a repost of Bryan Watson and 15 Now's alert:

Urgent Solidarity Needed!

darlettaBrinks Armored Trucking terminated Darletta Scruggs, a 15 Now activist and single mother, for organizing a strike of 50 drivers and messengers as part of the April 15th National Day of Action for $15 and a Union. Brinks can’t be allowed to threaten workers with financial ruin for standing up for their rights on the job.

Let Brinks know we have Darletta’s back!
Show your solidarity by:

1.  Sign the petition 
2.  Make a donation to Darletta’s defense campaign today

Flood Brinks’ phone lines today! Demand they give Darletta her job back.
Call Brinks Customer Service at 773-475-2600, Ext. 1. Ask to speak to the Branch Manager. If there no answer, leave a message!

Darletta’s Story

I worked as a route coordinator at Brinks on the West side of Chicago since August 2014. Despite being the single mother of a three year old child, I was required to work a minimum of 50 hours a week. I was often told not to leave the building for my lunch break.
strike brinksBrinks pays most of its workers way under
$15/hour, and has taken away our annual raises, even though the company made $3.5 billion last year. Brinks cut workers’ overtime pay last year, even though most workers work up to 16 hour days, often with no breaks. Then earlier this year, they took away workers’ earned vacation time, implementing an accrue-as-you-go policy with no compensation for time that workers had saved under the old system. So when I told my co-workers about the April 15th national strike for $15 and a union, they were ready for action. Things got organized in just three days, and a big majority of the drivers and messengers walked out on April 15th!

I was targeted and fired just one week after our a successful strike. Management gave no official communication as to why I was fired, but repeatedly intimidated and threatened me for supporting the drive for union recognition. Because I was a dispatcher and paid a salary instead of hourly pay, Brinks labels me as “management” and says I don’t have legal protection to fight for my rights or be represented by a union. But we’ve filed a legal challenge with the NLRB challenging their definition of management and their unjust decision to fire me.

Since the strike, a majority of Brinks drivers and messengers have signed union cards, but management refuses to recognize the union or negotiate. Instead they are using the leverage of the economic hardship they can inflict on employees through reduced hours or termination. We must not allow companies like Brinks to just fire someone for speaking up against unfair working conditions or intimidate workers into submission while they pocket millions. We must fight back!

Brinks provides service for many banks like Chase and Bank Of America, and large corporations like Walmart and McDonalds, companies known for opposing workers rights. It is time that workers are paid adequately and big businesses are held accountable for worker exploitation and intimidation tactics. That’s why I got active with 15 Now. We need to fight, because MONEY IS NOT MORE VALUABLE THAN HUMAN LIVES!!!


Musical of matchgirls’ fight strikes a light in dark times

The following is a repost from Great Britain's Socialist Worker:

Musical of matchgirls’ fight strikes a light in dark times

The famous strike by young women match factory workers in 1888 inspired Glasgow musical Striking a Light, writer Colin Poole told Socialist Worker

Published Tue 12 May 2015

Issue No. 2453

‘Our fight is your fight’—matchgirls bring the solidarity onto the stage
‘Our fight is your fight’—matchgirls bring the solidarity onto the stage

Where did you get the idea for doing a musical about the Matchgirls’ Strike of 1888?

We originally got the idea after a fundraiser at the Govanhill Baths in Glasgow, where the play will open on 19 May.
That’s significant in itself, as the there was a big battle to keep it open in 2001.

What does the musical focus on? 

Match bosses Bryant and May tried to get their workers to sign a letter denouncing a newspaper article by women’s rights campaigner Annie Besant. Her article attacked the appalling working conditions.
That’s what sparked the walkout, and we’ve got that in the musical.
The main characters are two young matchgirls, Kathleen and her next door neighbour Mary.
Mary is a bit more experienced, but Kathleen hasn’t been politically involved before.
Kathleen’s father is opposed to the walkout in the beginning, but is won around.
But her brother Tom is very supportive. He’s a docker, who’s just become involved in socialist politics through the unions.

It’s a mixture of a musical and a play. So how did you structure it? 

We wanted to keep the musical element within the play, but still wanted to draw out the politics.
That’s why we structured it as a “play within a play”, set in a dance hall.
To make it all fit together we decided to add another character, Burlington Bertie,  to narrate the story.

What sort of songs have you used in the musical and how did you choose them?

We’ve used a combination of old songs from the period and new songs that we specifically wrote for the musical.
We’ve also used It’s The Same The Whole World Over, which is already quite a political song, but we rewrote the lyrics to attack the bosses more.

Do you think the story of the Matchgirls’ Strike is relevant today? 

Many of the matchgirls were actually migrant workers from Ireland.
Bryant and May tried to blame migrant workers and pit workers against each other.
They use all the same divide and rule tactics that politicians and bosses are using now.
The way the bosses are presented is also relevant.
We explicitly portray Bryant and May as fat cats—and make them look very feline.
Women workers are still not paid as much as men today.
So it’s also important to tell the story of the first successful strike by women workers in Britain. 

Has this fed into much of an atmosphere around it?

Yes, definitely. We’ve already given 25 tickets away to the Unison union homelessness strikers.
But there’s also been a lot of interest after people found out how it resonates with what’s going on today.
And the musical also shows how people can fight back against it.

Striking a Light
Written by Fatima Uygun, Colin Poole and Jim Monaghan 
Govanhill Baths, Glasgow G42 7RA
Until 23 May 

Payments © Socialist Worker (unless otherwise stated). You may republish if you include an active link to the original. 

Friday, May 15, 2015

Isakson, Miller Statement on Replacement Denver VA Medical Center

jeff miller

That's US House Rep Jeff Miller is the Chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee and this is US Senator Johnny Isakson.


They issued the following joint-statement:

Contact: Amanda Maddox, 202-224-7777
Thursday, May 14, 2015
Isakson, Miller Statement on Replacement Denver VA Medical Center
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and U.S. Representative Jeff Miller, chairman of the Senate and House Committees on Veterans’ Affairs, respectively, released the following statement regarding the replacement Denver Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center construction project:
“The Department of Veterans Affairs replacement Denver VA Medical Center is the biggest construction failure in VA history. Since the project’s inception, the cost of the hospital has ballooned from $328 million to $1.73 billion. Yet as the project spiraled out of control, VA ignored congressional pleas to get things back on track at almost every turn. Because of a near complete and total lack of focus on the project at the highest levels of VA and the department’s disregard for congressional oversight, the future of the Denver replacement hospital is unclear.
“For its part, VA to this day has refused to take this project seriously. Instead of putting forth a realistic plan for covering the enormous cost overruns in Denver by finding efficiencies in its existing budget and eliminating waste, VA has essentially demanded that taxpayers subsidize the department’s incompetence with an $830 million bailout. Incredibly, VA is asking for this bailout in the absence of any accountability whatsoever for the problems in Denver while just today the public learned the department is improperly spending as much as $6 billion on procurements per year. VA’s top leaders may have been ushered into their positions based on their business sense, but their response to the Denver debacle, which has been devoid of accountability and practical cost-savings initiatives, would not fly at any business.
“We’ve been down this road before. Last year, VA promised to fire those responsible for manipulating wait times, stop its longstanding pattern of whistleblower retaliation and fix the department’s corrosive culture. That hasn’t happened yet, and Congress will not tolerate any more empty VA promises. So if the department is serious about getting the Denver project back on track, it needs to show us rather than tell us.”
The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs is chaired by U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., in the 114th Congress.

Isakson is a veteran himself – having served in the Georgia Air National Guard from 1966-1972 – and has been a member of the Senate VA Committee since he joined the Senate in 2005. Isakson’s home state of Georgia is home to more than a dozen military installations representing each branch of the military as well as more than 750,000 veterans.

Why is an attack being called a "riot" and was Qasem Soleimani present?

Yesterday, Shi'ite militias attacked Adhamiya, a Baghdad neighborhood which is predominately Sunni.

صور الايراني قاسم سليماني مع الزوار الشيعة لحظة دخوله م الى السنيه ببغداد وحرقها اليوم الفجر وروع المدنيين
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Qasem Soleimani is an Iranian and he is the commander of the Quds Force.

He was calling the shots during the assault on Tikrit -- during the weeks and weeks when nothing was accomplished.

To get US air strikes on the area, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had to agree to withdraw Soleimani from the province.

If Soleimani was present in Adhamiya at the time of the assault, that makes it even more frightening and troubling.

  • Shi'ite militias assaulted the area.

    It was not "a riot."

    If citizens of Baltimore are outraged and decide to riot in Baltimore, that's a riot.

    If outraged citizens of Chicago decide to attack Baltimore, that's an attack not a riot.

    Outsiders came in an attacked the neighborhood, burned the Sunni Endowment.

    That's not a "riot."

    That's an attack.

    In other news, the Defense Authorization bill might get voted on in the House Today.  Deb Reichmann (AP) offers a rundown of it here.  Note that points of contention in the House do not include the issue of arming Iraqi groups directly.  Barack's opposed to it but he's not in the House and Democrats in the House have other concerns.

    The following community sites -- plus Suan's On the Edge, Z On TV and NPR Music -- updated:

  • The Truth
    10 hours ago 

  • The e-mail address for this site is