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27 February, 2011

Dispatch from the War

The war in Afghanistan drags on and on. We've been told that it is a just one, the ordnance is being aimed at truly bad guys who want to terrorize us and treat women badly. Because Al Qaeda really did attack us, and really was in Afghanistan at one point, this war appears more legitimate than the one in Iraq, which was based on a series of lies.

So we've sent troops and more troops to Pashtun country, that strategic nowhere that somehow lures in global powers to remind them that they are not invincible. Some would argue that the Afghan war is not just 10 years old, that this phase began in 1980 when the Russian superpower came to the head of the line and went in for their beating. And when the US began training and arming Osama Bin Ladin, Taliban warlords, and their bloodthirsty ilk to fight the Soviets. I remember being a smartass college freshman, nabbing a free meal at my aunt's house while my CIA uncle expounded on the wisdom of this course, arguing back that arming an enemy's enemy was short-sighted and stupid.

The 1980 election of Ronald Reagan--appearing to so many Americans afflicted with 21st Century dementia as a visionary and winner of the Cold War--ushered in another war. Or at least, like Afghanistan, another phase of a conflict that has gone on for generations. Some people call it class war, and I guess they are right, but I look at it as a war on work. Reagan's first frontal assault was to fire unionized air traffic controllers. He apparently figured that collective bargaining was more of a threat to America than having inexperiences scabs directing air traffic.

Then began the re-tooling of the tax code that has continued ever since, through BushI and II, and for that matter the alleged Democrat Clinton: decrease income tax for the wealthy, make it easy for corporations to put money and jobs offshore where they don't pay tax, create loopholes for those who can afford them, cut capital gains and estate taxes. All of this having the effect that the US taxes labor, not wealth. If you have enough money to live off of investment income, you've never given a smaller portion to the government.

Bush I, running against Reagan in the primaries, had denounced this as 'voodoo economics,' possibly laboring under the blueblood fear that if you piss off the proles too badly, they will turn on you. But soon enough he was playing along with the 'trickle down' theory, in which the rich get everything they damn well please and the poor are told that the piss and dregs are rewards. Decades of data prove that cutting taxes on wealthy individuals and on corporations does not create or even protect jobs. The rich get richer. The corporations increase executive bonuses and maybe invest in machinery (mostly not American made) that increases productivity and allows more layoffs. Within our borders, they pit state against state to compete for the dwindling number of jobs, demanding tax breaks, infrastructure paid for by the locals, and workers willing to forego unions.

The corporations large enough to buy substantial influence pushed through trade deals that shipped enormous numbers of jobs overseas to places where workers have even less protection than we do. Workers the world over have been screwed by globalization.

Part of the reason why we have seen revolutions in North Africa is that there are large numbers of unemployed young people there. When the future looks dim enough, people rise up. Americo has escaped this so far with a mix of paranoia based propaganda (support Reaganomics or the commies will take over), jingoism (we are right, and could never learn from another nation), and maybe most powerful of all, aspiration (you may be rich some day, and you won't want socialists stealing your wealth then, will you?).

Of late, the cranky bigotry of a generation that did pretty well without having to try, who don't understand that the middle class is being squeezed out of existence, has been mobilized by the wealthy few to be their tea partying foot soldiers. This actually gives me some cause for hope: the oligarchs must see opposition on the horizon to be pouring money into brownshirt brigades, feeble as they are. They want some cannon fodder, some buffer as they try to strip away collective bargaining, to balance the budget with pay and benefits looted from the workers and the poor.

The Egyptian and other revolutions seem to have awakened something that was absent in our democracy. Wisconsin workers suddenly stood up in large numbers, saying "Enough!" This weekend, there were rallies in every state capitol, standing in solidarity with the Wisconsin workers. As I stood in the Olympia crowd, surrounded by thoujsands of others, there was an energy. A strange mix of anger at being victimized and peaceful determination to stop the downward slide of the workers.

A few days earlier, over a thousand people showed up to hear Congressman Dennis Kucinich, one of the few to push for universal health care, for workers' rights, and against the wars. He reminded the crowd that the right wing blames public workers and domestic government policy for the debt, but that it is really the fault of our overseas wars. The vast majority of our budget pays for weapons and war, not teachers and firefighters. It is time to stop ignoring that fact, to stop the wars against overseas boogeymen and against our own working class.

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