Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Clint Jencks Dies

Clint Jencks died on December 15, 2005. Clint was 87 and was a Professor Emeritus of Economics at San Diego State University, having retired from SDSU in 1986. Younger left activists may not know that Clint Jencks was a legendary figure from the American labor
movement and the struggles against McCarthyism.

In 1950, Clint was a leader of the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers
in southwest New Mexico. He led a strike of mostly Latino zinc miners in Silver City, NM. Shortly after this strike, in the midst of the Hollywood red scare, a group of blacklisted film industry artists formed their own production company and were looking for a
story about American working people. They chose a story based on the IUMMSW strike, and used the actual participants in the strike as actors. Clint essentially played himself. Every step in the production of the film, processing, editing, etc. encountered determined opposition from the industry. It was almost impossible to find theaters that would show the film, but in 1954 "Salt of the Earth", starring Clint Jencks opened to very, very limited distribution.

Times changed. Salt of the Earth was ultimately recognized as a national treasure, and was selected by the Library of Congress as one of 100 films to be preserved for posterity. Clint went on to get his Ph.D. in economics at U.C. Berkeley. He joined the SDSU Economics Department in 1964 and played an important role in the SDSU community and in the SDSU faculty union movement for 22 years. After retirement, Clint remained a familiar figure and participant in Democartic Socialists of America and and the San Diego progressive movement.

There will be a memorial service on Jan. 8, 2006.

A DVD of "Salt of the Earth" can be ordered from the Labor Heritage Foundation.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

International Migrants Day

ICFTU OnLine (Brussels 16 December 2005): On the eve of International Migrants' Day on December 18, the ICFTU [International ConfederationofFreeTrade Unions] is drawing attention to the vulnerability of the world's 115 million migrant workers and their families and the exploitation to which they are often subjected.

Following up on the Special Action Plan on migrant workers adopted last year at its 18th Congress, the ICFTU is calling on the international community to take on the challenge of establishing an international policy framework capable of ensuring respect for migrant workers' fundamental rights and offering them decent work opportunities.

"The hostile social and political environment confronting many migrant workers, and the need for appropriate regulation of migration make it imperative for trade unions to play a more active and visible role in promoting solidarity, and in protecting the rights of migrant workers regardless of their legal status in the host country. Particular attention needs to be given to the vulnerable situation of women migrants," said ICFTU General Secretary Guy Ryder.

This same message was at the centre of an international workshop on "Defending and Promoting the Rights of Migrant Workers in the Gulf States" held in Manama (Bahrain) from 26 to 29 November 2005. The Workshop, the first of its kind in this region where over 60% of the workers are migrants,

A 2002 statement from the ICFTU adds some additional detail

The trade unions, which view migrant workers as fully-fledged workers with the same rights as others, are fighting at both national and international levels to promote and ensure the proper application of the legal instruments recognising these rights. The ICFTU, which has been campaigning for several years with human and migrants’ rights associations to obtain the ratification of the international conventions providing for equal treatment for migrant workers in terms of jobs, wages, social security and union rights (ILO Conventions 97 and 143), welcomed the signature by East Timor last week of the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, that had originally been adopted by the United Nations in 1990. Thanks to that 20th signature this legal instrument will finally come into force, thereby providing better prospects for migrant workers around the world.

Information, training, legal advice and recruitment are the main focus of the campaign by the ICFTU and its affiliates to combat the worldwide discrimination against migrant workers.

The Global Policy Forum has links to a nice collection of articles on labour rights and the international labour movement.

The Real Christmas Scandal

From the Center for American Progress

For some on the right, this Christmas season is about little more than empty political symbolism. The most important issue for people like Jerry Fallwell is ensuring the greeters at stores like Target and Lands End say "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays." Self-described "religious conservatives" in the House spent their time yesterday introducing a resolution "Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the symbols and traditions of Christmas should be protected." Meanwhile, that same group of lawmakers has helped push through $50 billion in cuts for programs that provide vital assistance to the poor, including Medicare and food stamps, and passed over $90 billion in tax cuts, mostly for the wealthy. In the Bible, Christians are cautioned not to do as their leaders do, "for they do not practice what they preach." Following the teachings of Jesus, who condemned the actions of those who put public piety before care for the poor, a group of over 200 religious leaders came to Washington yesterday to protest the House budget, which they called "the real Christmas scandal." The Washington Post reports, "Outside in the frigid cold for several hours, more than 200 demonstrators sang religious and holiday songs, prayed aloud and chanted, 'Stop the cuts.'" In an act of civil disobedience, 114 religious leaders were arrested when they refused to leave the steps of the Cannon House Office Building.

THE BUDGET AS A MORAL DOCUMENT: Jim Wallis, founder of the Christian ministry group Sojourners who was arrested at the protest, noted, "The media seems to think only abortion and gay marriage are religious issues." Wallis pointed out, "Poverty is a moral issue, it's a faith issue, it's a religious issue." Wallis is not alone. Christian religious bodies that have weighed in against budget cuts to programs that serve the poor -- including the Catholic Church, the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Presbyterian Church, the Episcopal Church and the United Church of Christ -- represent more than 86 million Americans. It's a small contingent aligned with the radical right that takes a different approach. For example, "groups such as Focus on the Family say it is a matter of priorities," and its priorities are opposing abortion, opposing same-sex marriage, and seating judges who will back its position against those practices. Wallis describes this approach as "trading the lives of poor people for their agenda. They're being, and this is the worst insult, unbiblical."

CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS BY RAISING THE MINIMUM WAGE: For hardworking Americans who earn the minimum wage, "It would take almost their entire December paycheck to afford the more than $700 that the average American spends celebrating Christmas." If Congress adjourns for the holiday without acting it would be "the eighth year in a row that Congress has failed to enact even a small increase in the minimum wage." Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) notes, "By freezing it at an inadequate $5.15 and ignoring the effects of inflation, Congress has essentially given a pay cut to these workers." Hoyer asks, "How can the leadership in Congress leave Washington this week to enjoy a plentiful Christmas and a comfortable New Year knowing that their inaction has guaranteed another tough Christmas for millions of Americans?"

IF THERE IS NO PROBLEM, INVENT IT: While progressives are working to solve real issues, the right is inventing their battles. For example, Jerry Fallwell's Liberty Counsel threatened to sue a Wisconsin elementary school because it planned on singing the lyrics "Cold in the night, No one in sight" to the tune of Silent Night. Fallwell claimed this revision was part of an effort to secularize the Christmas holiday. Actually, the school was just performing a copyrighted play that contains numerous songs about Christmas, including the grand finale, an audience-led group singing of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.” The play has been performed in churches around the country. Fox News gave the Liberty Counsel a platform to issue its threats. Desperate to get out of the media spotlight, the school changed its play, even though the Liberty Counsel's charges had no merit.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

US and Iraqi Opinion on the eve of the elections

On the eve of the Iraqi elections, there are new polls of US and Iraqi opinion.

Pew Poll of US Opinion on Iraq

The intensifying political debate over Iraq has not moved public opinion about the war and U.S. policy. The public remains evenly divided over withdrawing U.S. forces as well as the decision to take military action. The latest Pew survey also shows that Americans have a mixed view of conditions on the ground in Iraq:

* Fully 61% of the public believes that progress is being made in training Iraqi forces, while nearly as many (58%) see progress being achieved in establishing a democracy in Iraq. But on balance, more Americans say the U.S. is losing ground in reducing civilian casualties and preventing a civil war.

* The nearly even division in the public over whether to keep troops in Iraq obscures a more complicated set of opinions about what to do next. Most of those who say they want the troops home "as soon as possible" apparently do not mean "now." And not everyone who wants the U.S. to stay is opposed to setting a timetable for a troop withdrawal. Americans also are wary about consequences of a quick withdrawal - 58% say terrorist organizations will become stronger if the United States withdraws its forces soon.

* There is modest optimism that tomorrow's elections in Iraq will lead to a more stable situation in the country. Roughly four-in-ten
(37%) express that opinion; that is significantly greater than the percentages who said that before previous balloting in Iraq, in October and last January (29% each).

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted among 1,502 adults Dec. 7-11 shows that President Bush's approval ratings have not improved. Just
38% approve of his job performance which is little changed from November (36%). Only about three-in-ten (28%) say he has a clear plan for bringing the situation in Iraq to a successful conclusion.

The survey also finds that the new Medicare prescription drug program is drawing a mixed response. More Americans approve than disapprove of the plan (by 48%-30%), but approval is down from two years ago (55%). And when asked to describe their first impression of the program, more offer criticism than praise; seniors in particular describe the plan as confusing and costly.

Public Unmoved by Washington's Rhetoric on Iraq Modest Election Optimism, Positive Views of Iraqi Troop Training View complete report
ABC poll of Iraqi public opinion

26 percent of Iraqis say U.S. and other coalition forces should "leave now" and another 19 percent say they should go after the government chosen in this week’s election takes office; that adds to 45 percent. Roughly the other half say coalition forces should remain until security is restored (31 percent), until Iraqi security forces can operate independently (16 percent) or longer (five percent).

Average household incomes have soared by 60 percent in the last 20 months (to $263 a month), 70 percent of Iraqis rate their own economic situation positively and consumer goods are sweeping the country. In early 2004 six percent of Iraqi households had cell phones; now it’s 62 percent. Ownership of satellite dishes has nearly tripled, and many more families now own air conditioners (58 percent, up from 44 percent), cars, washing machines and kitchen appliances.

There are positive political signs as well. Three-quarters of Iraqis express confidence in the national elections being held this week, 70 percent approve of the new constitution and 70 percent – including most people in Sunni and Shiite areas alike – want Iraq to remain a unified country. Interest in politics has soared.

Preference for a democratic political structure has advanced, to 57 percent of Iraqis, while support for an Islamic state has lost ground, to 14 percent (the rest, 26 percent, chiefly in Sunni Arab areas, favor a "single strong leader.")

US Right to Invade

Shia areas 59%

Sunni 7%

The election itself looks wide open, at least from the perspective of these October-to-November interviews. Thirty-seven percent of Iraqis said they hadn’t decided which party to support (but were planning to vote). Those with a preference were scattered among a wide range of political parties.

Support for former prime minister’s Ayad Allawi’s Wifaq National Movement, or Iraqi National Accord Movement, was nine percent; the Kurdish PUK, nine percent; the Shiite-affiliated Islamic al-Dawa Party, eight percent. Parties people would "never vote for" include the now-outlawed al-Baath (nine percent) and al-Dawa (seven percent).

National leaders with the greatest trust include the current prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari (15 percent), Allawi (15 percent) and Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani (10 percent), with others in single digits. But al-Jaffari also comes up as No. 1 on the don’t-trust at-all list, at 12 percent. Such is politics.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Juan Cole vs. the loony left

An interesting comment by Juan Cole.

We have to win smart. That means giving the Iraqis their independence ASAP while acting responsibly to avert potential crises if necessary.

There are people* attacking me now because I say I think the US does have the responsibility to forestall massive hot civil war in Iraq if it can, of the sort that could leave 2.5 million people dead and 5 million displaced abroad. That is what happened in Afghanistan from 1979. The US helped destabilize it(the Soviets contributed more to the actual destabilzaiont)in the 1980s and then, under Bush senior, just walked away completely. [Many on t]he American far left never complained about what was going on in Afghanistan in the 1990s, because for them the only source of evil in the world is US imperialism, and since the US had largely left Afghanistan, all was well. No matter if hundreds of thousands of Afghans were maimed as the US turned its back. Somehow they don't complain so loudly about US-led NATO intervention in the former Yugoslavia, which certainly saved hundreds of thousands if not millions of lives. They don't actually care about Bosnians or Afghans or Iraqis, just about hating the US. The US has done horrible things. It has also done noble things. I am hoping that it finally does the noble thing in Iraq, and wins smart, for the Iraqis and for the Americans. Dean gets that. Bush doesn't.

Unfortunately, Cole doesn't have a lot of intellectual backbone if he's not attacking "Likudniks." A few complaints from commenters suffering from"free-floating anxiety" and Cole drops the looney description.

I used the phrase originally "looney left" for these quarters that wanted to paint me as some sort of war criminal for hoping to forestall genocide. The comments section has convinced me to avoid the phrase, because people who consider themselves on the left and are eager to see the US out of Iraq seem to have developed a free-floating anxiety that I might be referring to them or their position. I assure them that I was not; it is to a looney position that I was referring.