In Syria, on the border of Turkey, thousands of Kurdish men, women and children are camped, waiting to see what will happen to their home city of Kobani. Another 200,000 people have fled into Turkey. In Kobani, Kurdish forces are battling street to street with forces of ISIS, the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Until now, the Turkish government has shut its borders, making sure supplies don’t reach the Kurdish fighters. The United States waited until last week to provide support to the Kurds against advancing ISIS forces. To the politicians in Washington and elsewhere, Kurdish lives, like Iraqi lives and American lives, are just part of an equation. We are manipulated. Our lives are only worth anything when they fit into the bigger picture.
Most people have never heard of the Kurds before. Kurdish people are the largest ethnic group in the world who have been denied a state of their own. There are 30 million Kurdish people split four ways, living in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey.
The Kurds have fought for decades for a state of their own, or at least cultural independence and some control over their lives. The governments of Iran, Turkey, Iraq, and Syria have all carried out an intense repression of the Kurds. Tens of thousands of Kurdish people were killed. For example, during the 1980s, Saddam Hussein carried out a war against the Kurdish people in the North of Iraq. Some 200,000 Kurdish civilians were killed, their bodies dumped into mass graves. Similarly, in the last decades Turkey has carried out a war against the Kurds, killing 30,000. These governments fear that if this small population is granted control over its own life, it will inspire other people in the region to ask for the same thing. As many other times in history, a minority group is made into a scapegoat to send a message to the rest of society – don’t stand up for your rights or this could happen to you.
In the last decade, the situation for the Kurds has changed. The wars in Iraq and Syria have made it impossible for these states to dominate the Kurdish population in the same way. In the Kurdish region of Syria and Iraq, the population has begun to take control. Kurdish language and culture has flourished where it was once banned.
The Turkish government is horrified by this growth of an independent Kurdish region. There are 14 million Kurdish people who live in Turkey. Many of them are workers, and many of the poorest people in Turkish society sympathize with the Kurds. Demonstrations of Kurdish people and their allies against the Turkish government have erupted in the last weeks. More than 30 people have been killed and 360 wounded in these demonstrations, and Turkish planes have bombed Kurdish towns in the South of Turkey.
It’s no secret that the U.S. supports Turkey. The U.S. relies on Turkey as an economic and military ally in the Middle East. There are two major U.S. military bases in Turkey. For decades the U.S. has looked the other way while the Kurdish people are oppressed. The U.S. government has placed the Kurdish nationalist movement and its organizations on its list of so-called “terrorist groups”. This is of course the same list that once included Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress during the time when the U.S. was allied with white supremacist South Africa.
This explains why the U.S. and Turkey have waited for ISIS to eliminate the Kurdish fighters. The borders were sealed, no supplies or weapons were allowed through. The U.S. military did not drop food or water, and it purposefully missed ISIS targets in its attacks. The U.S. was waiting for the Kurds of Kobani to die. As Secretary of State John Kerry said, “Kobani is not central to our strategy”.
But the Kurds are defending their homes and fighting for their lives. And they are winning. Finally, this week, the U.S. and Turkey began letting supplies through. They prefer to take credit for victory in Kobani, rather than let the Kurds show that ordinary people can fight for themselves.
No matter which language they speak, when government officials pretend to care about people’s lives, they are just calculating the costs and benefits. It’s the same story whether we’re talking about people in Syria, Iraq, Turkey or the U.S. They are manipulating us and the people of the Middle East. It’s up to us to see through their lies, to stop being manipulated, and to stand up for ourselves.
The Ebola outbreak, which started last March in Guinea, has continued to spread in West Africa. With close to 3500 dead, it now affects six countries in the region. It has quickly gone from an outbreak to a pandemic. It is estimated that the virus could infect over one million people. It is not just a health threat, but is causing a social and economic crisis of huge proportions to the already poor and suffering peoples of the region. The Minister of Defense of Liberia, one of the countries seriously affected, said “Ebola threatens the very existence” of his country.
Ebola, a virus which exists mainly in Africa, was identified in 1976 in the Congo. Infection results in a hemorrhagic fever which is lethal to 60% of those who catch it. But, since 1976, no vaccine has been developed and tested. Ebola is regarded as a disease of the poor in Africa. Big drug companies are not interested in researching it since they won’t make a big profit selling the vaccines, as those currently impacted cannot afford medicines of any kind.
Transmission of the virus, is by direct contact with body fluids or organs of an infected person. So controlling the spread of Ebola relies on a quick diagnosis of the virus, placing the patient in an isolation area and identifying and tracking the patient’s previous contacts. This is where the totally underfunded and underdeveloped health systems of the countries where people are sick and dying prevents such a response. In Liberia, there is only one doctor for every 100,000 inhabitants.
Why has this happened? Liberia, with a population of a little over four million people, has been under the control of the United States since its birth in 1822. From 1989 to 2003, the US supported rival political factions or dictatorships. Recent civil wars have taken the lives of nearly 200,000 people and forced 800,000 others to flee their country. Today Liberia is one of the poorest countries in the world with an average yearly income of $454. It is a country rich in raw materials. For decades it was basically a rubber plantation for Firestone Tire. More recently it has been a source for diamonds and a tax haven and a place where shipping companies can register their ships to escape liability in case of accidents and avoid regulation of working conditions for sailors.
In Sierra Leone, the other major victim of the Ebola virus, life expectancy is around 45 years. It has also been torn apart by civil war, with warlords building their armies with children, fighting for control over the trade in what are known as “blood diamonds”. These tragedies occurred with the full knowledge, and often support, of the European and US powers.
The Ebola pandemic is the horrific result of centuries of robbery of the African continent by the richest countries which owe much of their current wealth to the enslavement of Africans and plundering of African resources. Confronted with this disaster, those responsible have been slow with their minimal response. The US has waited until now to send 3000 troops and promise $100 million to supposedly help fight the Ebola pandemic. Compare this to the more than one trillion dollars the US government has spent on its wars on the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. During these wars, the US deployed whole field hospitals, health services, helicopters and personnel in a matter of days. It has taken months to send a small amount of aid to these African nations.
We live in a world today where the divisions between the rich and the poor are growing – not just between the rich nations of the world and the regions they have impoverished, but between the wealthy of the rich nations and the rest of us. The basics of life, like health care, are not considered a right, but just another way for the rich to profit.
The desperate poverty and diseases that have been restricted to much of Africa and Asia are having an impact here as well. The threat of Ebola spreading beyond West Africa is now a reality. And maybe that is why there is the beginning of a response. The Ebola pandemic is just another example of why we cannot depend on those who are responsible for these problems to solve them. This is a sick system that needs to be removed before it kills us all.
Last week President Obama made an address calling for military intervention in Iraq and Syria against the group known as ISIL, the Islamic State in the Levant. Like a comic book story, Obama painted a picture of ISIL as an evil force causing death and destruction. The United States military is therefore called upon to save the day from this evil. But the world is not a comic book, and in fact the United States government and its military have brought far more death and destruction to the region than ISIL. And now Obama is calling for more.
The U.S. has carried out two wars against Iraq in 1991 and in 2003. These wars have resulted in the death of nearly a million people. And between the wars, the U.S. imposed sanctions on Iraq depriving the country of medical supplies and crippling the economy. Over half a million children were estimated to have died of malnutrition, disease, and lack of medical care. Who is responsible for the biggest body count in Iraq? Not ISIS, not Al-Qaeda, not Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party. No, the biggest killer is the United States.
The U.S. has not only inflicted violence on the Iraqi people. It has destroyed the economic and social infrastructure. In the 1970’s Iraqi people did not have political freedom, but they had access to health care, education, and a standard of living that rivaled the most advanced countries in the world. Today Iraq is a country of blackouts, broken streets, and hospitals that can’t even provide anesthetics to do surgery. The water and soil have been poisoned by U.S. military ammunition, which uses depleted uranium. Children are born with birth defects and an epidemic of cancer plagues the country.
The gruesome video of ISIL beheading the reporter James Foley was horrifying. But how does ISIL compare to the regime the U.S. put in place after the invasion? The government of Nuri Al-Maliki supported by the U.S. carried out between twelve and 20 executions daily. Victims of Al-Maliki’s government included young people under the age of 18. In Maliki’s prisons, accused opponents of the regime were subjected to torture and rape. The Obama administration did not lift a finger against this government until recently. Under pressure from the Obama administration, Nuri Al-Maliki was forced to step down only because he had failed to control ISIL and stop the uprising.
So what is really going on? In 2003, the U.S. military overthrew Saddam Hussein, and then formed a government balancing Shi’a Islamic political parties like Al-Maliki’s Dawa Party against Sunni tribal leaders. These forces were pitted against the Kurdish minority in Iraq. In other words, the U.S. orchestrated the ethnic and religious conflict that is causing so much violence now.
But this divide and conquer system is unraveling. Under the impact of the civil war in Syria, the Sunni tribes of Iraq are rising up. There is no doubt that the uprising is being conducted under the banner of Sunni Islam, and these forces are carrying out horrible atrocities against religious minorities and the Shi’a who they see as complicit with the U.S. occupation. But it is not clear who the supposed ISIL fighters are. It is likely many of them are former members of the Ba’ath Party army that served Saddam Hussein. Now they have rallied to ISIL simply as a means to regain control of Iraq.
People around the world are right to be horrified by the gruesome violence, and the murder of journalists like James Foley. It is this deep concern and fear that the Obama administration is playing to with their comic book story of good vs. evil. But this is an insult to our intelligence and a dishonor to Foley. He opposed the U.S. war on the Middle East and was captured while trying to report the truth about it.
We need to understand that the biggest terrorist in the Middle East is the U.S. military that has murdered more than a million people, shattered the whole of Iraqi society, and laid the foundations for a brutal civil war. Knowing this, how could anyone believe that the U.S. military will return to Iraq to stop the ongoing violence? In the coming weeks as the U.S. military mobilizes to inflict more destruction we should say NO to U.S. violence against the people of Iraq and the Middle East!
There have been five major extinction events on earth where most of the larger plant and animal species were wiped out. The last extinction killed the dinosaurs. An asteroid crashing into earth and drastically changing the climate caused that extinction. Now we are living in what could be the sixth extinction. But this time, our species would be the cause of disaster as well as a victim.
Scientists have been documenting and alerting us to the dangers of climate change for decades. But those who are in control of society, politically and economically, have refused to act. And each year the situation has gotten worse. Severe weather is just the tip of the iceberg. Rivers are drying up; oceans are becoming more acidic; sea levels are rising; grasslands are turning into deserts – the ecology of the planet is in crisis.
Scientists explain that ongoing carbon emissions into the atmosphere are causing this worldwide change in climate patterns that threaten another extinction event. It’s true that carbon emissions are the immediate source of this situation. But the real problem is what is behind this climate change.
Capitalism – A Deadly System
This drastic climate change is just one outcome of this deadly system known as capitalism, where the only goal is profit. This economic system is what’s driving us down a path of mass extinction. And as long as the corporations and the politicians who serve them are left in charge, they will keep heading us in the same direction. Their system puts profits before all else, – the environment and those who do the work to produce those profits.
This disregard for the environment is nothing new. Rivers, lakes, oceans and the air have been dumping grounds for the poisons produced by their industries. Entire mountaintops are being blown up to get at coal, one of the deadliest polluting fuels.
Trying to regulate this destruction is not enough. We have seen laws imposed when people mobilized a large enough opposition. But, as the movements subside and the pressure is reduced, the laws are not enforced or they’re overturned. Or corporations just break the laws and risk the fines because their profits are so huge.
As a result, this system of capitalism has led to the misery of billions of people and destroyed vast areas of the earth. If we are to have a future, we must put a stop to the system that is destroying us.
We Must Look to Ourselves
People around the world know that something is deeply wrong. Our schools, our cities, our lives and our planet are being torn apart. We are working harder for less. We can’t hope for change or look to the politicians with their false promises.
We can’t leave our future in the hands of those who have put humanity on the endangered species list. They will continue to pollute and ravage the planet to get the profits that await them, even if it means destroying the precious possibility of humans and other species to live on the earth.
Our lives and our planet are worth more than their system of production and pollution for profit. It is in the interests of the majority of people to stop this environmental destruction. It’s up to us to change it. The challenge we face today is one that will decide the fate of humanity.
We need a society that is organized to meet human needs, that develops scientific knowledge to understand the world and how we can live well. Working people make this society run, and together we can organize a society that truly puts our needs and the needs of the planet above all else – a truly socialist society. Only when we remove the drive for profit and put the needs of humanity front and center, will we be able to tackle the problem of climate change. Society will then be organized recognizing that our needs include a healthy planet.
That society is possible. It is the only possibility for our species to avoid extinction, and to provide all human beings with healthy, fulfilling lives. Either capitalism will lead to the extinction of our species, or we will carry out the extinction of capitalism. The choice is ours.
For those of us who have jobs, Labor Day means a day off work, or possibly overtime. Some union officials may organize a picnic or a parade. But, it has little or nothing to do with dealing with the situation facing us as workers.
Eighty years ago, in the early months of 1934, workers in the U.S. faced desperate times. The Depression, starting with the stock market crash of 1929, had gone on for five years. Not only were tens of millions unemployed and many homeless, but at the same time the employers were piling extra work on those who still had jobs. Prices of necessities were rising while wage cuts remained in force. Employers acted as if workers had no rights they were obliged to respect.
By Labor Day 1934 US workers had shown that they could start to turn things around for the better. In the spring and summer of 1934 thousands of longshoremen in San Francisco, teamsters in Minneapolis and autoworkers in Toledo, Ohio showed that workers could successfully unite and organize. These workers organized and carried out mass strikes, prevented strikebreaking, and police attacks and defied the National Guard and the courts. These militant strikes won important concessions from the bosses, including higher wages, shorter hours and recognition and respect for themselves as workers and for the new fighting unions they had built.
Key to these victories was the fact the workers themselves controlled their struggles. They selected their leaders from their own rank and file, people whose determination and skill they had come to trust. In Minneapolis, the teamsters (truckers and warehouse workers) had mass meetings every night led by an elected strike committee of 100 rank and file teamster workers. Everyone active in the strike participated in making important decisions. The inclusive democratic way in which the teamsters organized their strike unleashed tremendous creativity, sustained the workers’ courage and insured mass participation in the strike.
The teamsters in Minneapolis organized mass picketing, rallies and marches and also published a daily newspaper to answer the propaganda of the bosses and expose the tricks of the bosses’ politicians. The teamsters used their newspaper to explain the goals of their strike and to explain how winning the strike would benefit all workers. A victory would show the bosses that they could no longer take workers for granted. In Minneapolis and the other big strikes in 1934, working people in the surrounding areas supported the strikers. They joined picket lines and held mass marches that brought tens of thousands into the streets. Sometimes other workers even went on strike in solidarity.
By Labor Day 1934, workers everywhere in the US could see that at last someone was fighting back. The successful strikes of 1934 inspired workers throughout the country to build even larger and bolder mass movements. These massive strikes included factory sit-downs, where workers stayed inside and occupied the factories, paralyzing the most profitable and powerful industries. Thanks to these struggles, workers in the 1930s won important gains, not only higher wages and better conditions on the job but also government programs such as Unemployment Insurance and Social Security. If we have lost most of these gains over the last decades it is because we forgot we had to fight to keep them.
This past Labor Day we didn’t have much to celebrate. Our wages, benefits and working conditions have been under attack for decades. Our basic social services like schools, transportation and social programs are being dismantled. Today, like in 1934, it is more and more obvious that the employers and their politicians will continue to try to make us pay the cost of the crisis of their system. But like those who fought back in 1934, we are the ones who make this society run and we have the power to bring it to a stop.
It’s up to us whether Labor Day next year will be any different. We can learn from the struggles of the past and like the workers of 1934 use our power to begin to turn things around.
On Saturday, August 9, an all-too familiar incident took place in Missouri. Another unarmed young African-American man was murdered in cold blood by a cop. Most of us had never heard of Ferguson but soon it was on the lips of people – both in the U.S. and around the world.
An African American man murdered by a cop, is not a new story. It followed the same script as the murder of other young African-American men like Oscar Grant, Alan Blueford and many others in the Bay Area and around the country. The cop murders an unarmed man. The cop is put on leave, continues to get paid and often leaves town. After dragging out an investigation, no charges are filed. This time, in Ferguson, the cop might be charged. Even if he is, this is not justice. Michael Brown is dead.
Now, after years of repeating the official line on these murders, the mainstream media says there is a pattern. From 2006 to 2012, at least two African-Americans were killed by a cop each week. Other studies say the rate is higher. This is not news. The cops are used to subjugate and terrorize people.
What was Michael Brown’s crime? Walking in the street! We can only imagine the exchange between this white cop and a young African-American man – ordering him to get off the street. And when Michael Brown didn’t bow down to his authority, the cop shot him at least six times.
The outrage didn’t stop there. Michael Brown was left to die in the street with no medical aid. And his body was left there for at least four hours! This was an official lynching – just like the bodies of young Black men hanging from a tree for all to see some decades ago – with the same racist message.
People took to the streets and were met with the same force that Michael Brown faced. Day after day police forces from the area and the National Guard were mobilized against the population, turning Ferguson into a war zone. The invading forces, outfitted with high-tech battle gear, moved in with massive weaponry. They terrorized those in the streets and in their homes, with armored vehicles, flash grenades, tear gas, bean bag guns, sound cannons, rubber bullets and live ammunition.
This show of force was not enough to cause people to quietly retreat. The rage that exists across this society erupted in this small town. The crisis that is daily life for so many – the poverty, the unemployment, the foreclosures, the drugs, the hopelessness that dominates so many lives burst out on the streets of Ferguson.
Ferguson is not alone. Cities like Detroit, New Orleans, and Oakland are symbols of the crisis this system has imposed on so many. And the racism of this society means that the impact of the crisis hits African-Americans, Latinos, Native Americans and other minority groups the hardest. The cops and the prisons exist to enforce these conditions.
So, it should come as no surprise that we would see a rebellion like we have seen in Ferguson. It is long overdue. And it has resonated across the nation – giving voice to those who have suffered under this system for too long. And it has shaken the authority of those who maintain this order.
The officials who run this society for the 1% have rushed in to quell the unrest. They claimed “outsiders” were responsible for the explosion in the streets. Who are the majority of cops, the state police, National Guard and FBI? They are the outsiders. They tried to blame Michael Brown, claiming he had taken some cigars from a store and had small traces of marijuana in his blood. Eric Holder, Obama’s Attorney General, flew in, assuring that an investigation will be held.
We don’t need their investigation. This murder is an indictment of their whole system – a system that values the wealth of a few over the well being of the majority, a murderous system that doesn’t value life.
People’s refusal to quietly accept this murder is a step toward finding a solution. The solution lies with us, the working class, taking action to defend our rights and our lives, to rise above the racism that is pushed on us and unite our forces – in the streets, on the job and throughout the society.
Last month the Richmond city council approved a billion dollar project for Chevron’s Richmond facility to refine dirtier and higher sulfur containing crude oil, which is more toxic than regular oil. This is barely two years after the 2012 fire which sent black fumes into the air and 15,000 people to local hospitals. That was the third major explosion over twelve years.
After the explosion, Chevron was charged with willful neglect by Cal-OSHA for having known in advance that the plant’s equipment needed repairs. Leaks that needed permanent fixes were just clamped shut all over the plant. Chevron, one of the world’s most profitable companies, pulled in 71 billion dollars in profit the year of the explosion. Of course they could have afforded the repairs and safety maintenance, but Chevron made a clear and conscious choice to put profits first.
Chevron has made the argument that their expansion project is about job creation versus the environment, saying that if they were denied the right to expand production, then new jobs that Richmond desperately needs won’t be created. Everything about how we make a living is phrased as do it their way or kiss our jobs goodbye. If we voice concern about conditions at work they tell us we’re even lucky to have a job at all – implying that we must simply accept our conditions.
In return for the expansion Chevron promises to upgrade plant safety, as if they need to be paid off in order to operate a safe plant. One of the promises they made was to fix corroded pipes. As if that were a concession! They also promised to give $90 million over ten years for special projects in Richmond. Some money will go for education resources and student scholarships, Chevron will also give some land to the city for the development of solar panels.
What does Richmond need? This money will go to a few programs, but an expansion of the refineries means more health problems for the community.
Richmond has double the child asthma rates compared to Marin across the bay. As one resident said, “Don’t give our kids backpacks and ice cream and then give them asthma and cancer.” What does it mean to create jobs or send kids to college if we all get sick?
This isn’t just about the Chevron Richmond oil refinery. This is part of a much larger problem that we are facing. The warnings become more desperate, environmental disasters more catastrophic, and the signs much clearer. But capitalism continues to press forward in finding newer and more dangerous ways to exploit the environment and make the problems even worse.
Capitalism is based on the extraction of maximum profits, with complete disregard for the environment Rivers are drying up, oceans are becoming more acidic, sea levels are rising, and what’s left of forests are dying on a massive scale – our planet is in crisis. But the corporations maintain their destructive practices.
The system we live in, that we are taught and trained to believe is the only way to live, is pushing our species down a path of extinction and taking the whole planet with us. As long as the corporations and the politicians who serve them are left in charge, they will keep pushing us in the same direction.
Around the world, people are taking up the struggle against global climate change. From Peru to India to the United States, groups of people have begun to protest the pollution of the planet. This past Saturday in Richmond, hundreds of people gathered to voice their anger and to say that Chevron has no right to bargain with our lives and our planet. Of course, it is not just Chevron. Their system which values profit over life is the root of the problem. It’s up to us to say, our lives and our planet are worth more than their profits. And it’s up to us to change their system, because it is our planet and our future at stake.