Jun 18, 2007
“This growing inequality is not the type of thing that a democratic society can really accept without addressing.” Alan Greenspan, then chairman of the Federal Reserve, made this point to a Congressional Joint Economic committee hearing in June 2005.
Inequality? The word didn’t even begin to paint reality’s picture in 2005. And it’s worse today. The richest 300,000 people pocket as much income as do the poorest 150,000,000 people – one half of the population.
The only thing Greenspan and his ilk have done, other than talk about it, is help the inequality grow. Government policies threw money at Wall Street. And Wall Street financiers turned around and used it to buy and sell whole companies as though they were pieces on a board game.
Cerberus buys up Chrysler in a closed-door deal with Daimler. Before all the papers are even signed, Cerberus takes out a monster group of loans worth 62 billion dollars – using Chrysler, itself, as collateral.
What’s Cerberus going to do with all that money? No one knows, since the company is a “private” company – it doesn’t even have to produce any books to show what it does with all the money. But it’s a safe bet that the top guys in Cerberus are going to pay themselves a very tidy sum for working out this deal. In fact, it’s the purpose of such deals – buy up a company, take out a loan to finish the deal, rake off ten or so billion in profit and then dump the company. All behind closed doors.
And what’s Cerberus going to do when the loans come due? Take out an even bigger loan until the interest payments get so big that Chrysler is strangled – and then dump it. Just like interest payments made on other loans strangled big companies like Bethlehem Steel or Kmart.
Yes, big companies like Ford, GM and Chrysler have always falsified their books. It’s not a different system today. It’s just worse.
Fighting to maximize profit, high finance is no longer interested in buying up companies in order to manufacture products that return a profit. Now they just buy up companies in order to sell them, making billions on the deal – even if they have to take the companies into bankruptcy to do it.
So, yes, it’s worse today. Worse because these wealthy so-and-so’s have been getting away with it for so long, they keep getting more outrageous in their demands.
The auto companies actually dared last week to spread the word they intend to cut wages and benefits by nearly 40% in the contract coming up. What arrogance!
Almost exactly 30 years ago, the then mayor of Detroit explained that the riots that had struck other cities would never hit Detroit, since things were fine in Detroit. People were content.
He couldn’t have been more wrong – and the rocks, bottles and flames that drove him out of the city proved it.
Workers are not content today. And every one of us knows it. We simmer, waiting for our pot to boil over.
Jun 18, 2007
The pro-business press and media have closed ranks to send a dire warning to every auto worker at GM, Ford and Chrysler: accept concessions or lose every job. They say these companies can’t compete with foreign car makers who build cars in the U.S., the so-called “transplants.”
The usual “anonymous executive” told the Wall Street Journal: “We need to eliminate ... like 80% of the gap ... by the end of the contract, or doing business in the United States in unsustainable.”
And what explains this alleged “gap” in labor costs between the “Big 3” and the transplants?
The “gap” is nothing but a big scare story – based on an enormous lie.
There is no “gap” between the Detroit auto makers and the Asian transplants for current wages and benefits. The transplants pay their workers UAW scale, trying to keep the union out. The amount of money that Toyota or Honda sets aside for a current worker’s retirement is almost exactly the same as that for a worker at Chrysler, Ford or GM. Last year, in fact, a Honda executive said in an interview that if the American companies were doing as they should, they would have no problem.
If there is a gap, it’s only because U.S. companies did not set aside the funds they were obligated to deposit into pension and benefit insurance accounts for today’s retirees during all those years the retirees were working. Thirty years, 40 years or even more!
Today, either the companies are lying about not having the money – or else they stole it.
Thousands of executives over the years racked up how many billions of dollars put together? The wealthy who own directly and indirectly more than 90% of all stock waltzed off with hundreds of billions of dollars through dividends, extra dividends, stock splits, stock buy-backs, among other maneuvers. The banks made money hand over fist in interest payments.
If there is no money today for pensions and medical care, the Big 3 took it.
Plenty of workers don’t like this situation and they say so. In every factory and at every retirees’ gathering, workers talk about these things and say, “It doesn’t make any sense.”
We have seen signs of workers who want to resist. GM’s fraudulent spin-off of Delphi and its phony “bankruptcy” was resisted in a vigorous if minority campaign by Delphi workers. The contract-breaking cuts to GM and Ford retiree healthcare stimulated more resistance. After the GM vote passed in a surprise attack, the Ford vote “passed” by less than 100 votes nationally, and the shop-floor resistance was strong enough that the UAW leaders did not risk a vote at Chrysler at all.
In fact, it’s workers’ resistance that has pushed the companies to take their scare tactics to a new level, including the sale-of-Chrysler soap opera. Workers in growing numbers are beginning to call the corporations’ bluff.
If workers can continue to express their anger and continue to reject corporate propaganda, this September’s contract could upset auto companies’ applecart in a big way. And this could easily spread to other companies where workers face the same concessions drive.
It would be about time! Workers have been swindled out of a lot, and the bosses can be made to pay it back.
Jun 18, 2007
The Democratic leadership in the Senate agreed, once again, to try to push the latest immigration bill through for a vote. And George Bush started twisting Republican arms to get his party’s agreement.
This is the latest version of a so-called “immigration reform” that has been delayed, defeated and rewritten several times. Is this newest version any better for immigrants here without papers?
You would think it was, to judge by who is pushing for it. Some of the very people pushing for large immigrant demonstrations last year have stepped forward to say it’s what immigrants want.
Eddie “Piolín” Sotelo, a Spanish-language radio DJ, delivered a million letters supporting the bill to members of Congress. Renan “El Cucuy” Almendarez Coello, another DJ, kicked off a 10-day “Dreams of America Tour,” a cross-country caravan culminating in a lobbying effort to support the bill in Washington. The tour was organized by the Catholic Church and the Service Employees International Union, among others.
So will passing the bill help these workers in a difficult situation?
Not hardly. Lawyers for the Center for Human Rights and Law say these immigrants and their families would be “criminalized in perpetuity.”
And that’s exactly what the bill does.
This bill requires immigrants without papers to go through several steps that take many years under severe restrictions, during which they live under continual threat of deportation.
First of all, 20% or more of immigrants without papers won’t qualify. For the rest, there is delay after delay – amounting to at least 12 or 13 years before they get a full legal status. During that whole time, they need to stay employed and have the approval of their boss to have a legal status.
In other words, deportation hangs over their head if they even think about opposing their boss, going on strike, organizing a union – or simply quitting a boss who is outrageous. They will be chained to their boss in a kind of indentured slavery.
And they will have to pay large fines and fees for themselves and for every member of their family, and renew every four years – paying new fines each time. For a family, this can amount to tens of thousands of dollars.
This so-called “legal status” gives them no right to bring other family members here. The bill also includes a provision for “guest workers,” immigrants brought here temporarily only to serve the wishes of some boss who asks for them.
This bill is not in the workers’ interest – not those immigrants without papers, not those already “legalized” and not any other part of the working class.
The people who are pushing this so-called “reform” serve only the bosses’ interest. Full, immediate legal rights to every immigrant worker and their families!
Jun 18, 2007
On May 8, Edith Isabel Rodriguez, 43 years old, died outside the emergency room lobby of the King/Harbor Hospital in Los Angeles.
Earlier in the day, Rodriguez, doubled over with abdominal pain, had seen a doctor at the hospital, who had prescribed pain medication for gallstones. But as the pain got worse, Rodriguez returned to the emergency room over and over again, asking for another examination. The hospital refused, even after she fell to the floor, writhing in agonizing pain.
In desperation, Rodriguez’s boyfriend and another patient made separate phone calls to 911 for an ambulance, only to be refused. When sheriff’s deputies were called in, they ignored her, claiming that her cries for help were “loud and belligerent.” The deputies found an outstanding warrant on Rodriguez for an old parole violation, and placed her under arrest. She died as the sheriff’s deputies were getting ready to throw her in jail. The cause of death was a perforated bowel, which could have been repaired if she had been treated in time.
Once again came threats to close King/Harbor – as though the existence of the hospital is the problem.
No, the problem lies at the doorstep of the officials who have systematically gutted vital health care services for the poor and the uninsured, like Rodriguez. In five years’ time, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors closed 11 of the county’s 18 health centers and four school-based clinics, which together served 350,000 people each year. They cut 25% of the money to private clinics serving uninsured patients.
At Martin Luther King Medical Center they closed big parts of the hospital, including obstetrics, neonatal and the pediatrics wards. They even got rid of the trauma center.
In so doing, they signed a death warrant for many people exactly like Edith Rodriguez, people without any other access to medical care.
They may not have plotted to murder Rodriguez, but murder her they did.
Jun 18, 2007
Governor Granholm and Michigan’s top legislative leaders – both Democrats and Republicans – have agreed on a new so-called business tax plan. This new plan will reduce taxes for nearly three-quarters of all companies in the state who presently pay state taxes, particularly the biggest ones. These state leaders want everyone to think they have performed a miracle, because while most businesses will pay less taxes, the politicians claim that the total amount of business taxes collected will remain just about the same as today.
How will they do this? By doing two things: They propose to collect a little more money from out-of-state companies doing business in Michigan, and they propose to collect significantly more taxes from insurance companies. These insurance companies are expected to pass the increase on to everyone who buys insurance in any form – like health insurance, car insurance and house insurance that most working people have to buy.
In other words, this new so-called business tax is really a way to shift still more of the few taxes that corporations pay off the corporations and onto working people. It is simply business as usual for both the Democrats and Republicans – in Michigan and all over the country.
Jun 18, 2007
Many students aren’t finding summer jobs this year.
The reason is no mystery. Laid-off older workers are being forced into many of the summer replacement jobs that in the past would have been filled by students.
Students are competing with their parents for the same low-pay, no-benefits jobs.
The big corporations and wealthy people who control them have been making money hand-over-fist
Jun 18, 2007
For several months, tens of thousands of workers have been going on strike in Egypt, especially in the textile sector. Extremely low wages, very poor working conditions, discontent with union representatives tied to the government – all of these things lay behind a movement, which is still continuing.
In December 2006, at a huge industrial complex in the Nile River delta, thousands of workers went on strike for a week. At rallies and occupations of business offices, they demanded their year-end bonus be doubled. Only the government’s promise to give workers the equivalent of 45 days pay ended the strike. The government’s response pushed other factories in the delta region to go on strike. Thousands of men and women stopped work to demand better wages and working conditions.
Other sectors with work stoppages are cement, garbage collection, the food industry, and the government sector as well.
At the beginning of May, Cairo public transit, bus and subway workers went on strike. They even occupied bus depots. The demands of the 4,000 strikers concerned both wages and working conditions. “We’ve suffered for years and our situation gets worse and worse. Management does nothing and no one defends our interests. So we’ve decided to make our voice heard,” a striking bus driver said to the newspaper Al-Ahram. The 12,000 drivers, who every day transport some 10 million commuters in Cairo, work 12 hours a day. Their wages are about $80 a month, even after 10 years on the job, and numerous fines are subtracted from their pay. Prime Minister Ahmad Nazif announced measures to give them bonuses and to stop the fines. The drivers stopped their strike, but threatened to go out again if the promises weren’t kept.
When confronted by such discontent, the government and bosses sometimes try to stall the workers. They also try to silence the militants who best give voice to the workers’ concerns. As an example, on April 25, the Center for Trade Union and Workers Services was simply shut down by the government.
This center was founded in 1990 to coordinate workers at companies in the large industrial centers, to let them know their rights, to bring them aid in movements and strikes. In particular, it sought to express a dissident voice, confronting representatives of the existing union confederation, which is the only confederation and is pro-government and pro-boss.
Faced with strikes growing in number and extent during these past months, the government, supported by the head of the union confederation, didn’t want to hear such views. They sent the police to invade the Center’s headquarters in a working class suburb south of Cairo, and sealed its doors.
Some time ago the Minister of Labor said on television, “This situation has lasted long enough. We are working to resolve the workers’ problems, but there are those who want to start a revolution.” But in fact, tens, even hundreds of thousands of Egyptian workers have had enough of waiting for ministers “working to resolve their problems.”
Jun 18, 2007
Pretending a concern over the millions murdered and displaced in southern Sudan, President Bush announced sanctions against Sudan in the last week of May.
Said Mr. Bush, “I promise this to the people of Darfur: the United States will not avert our eyes from a crisis that challenges the conscience of the world. For too long the people of Darfur have suffered at the hands of a government that is complicit in the bombing, murder and rape of innocent civilians. My administration has called these actions by their rightful name: genocide.”
Outrage over genocide? No. Just fancy words from the supposedly gentle, peaceful president of the U.S.
And the reality? The Bush administration has relied heavily on Sudanese spies for intelligence in its bloody war in Iraq. Thanks to the willingness of the Sudanese government to detain whomever the Bush administration accuses, the country is now called by the State Department “a strong partner in the war on terror.” The chief of intelligence for Sudan was even flown to Washington in 2005 by the CIA, according to press reports.
It wasn’t so he could be held accountable for the bombings, burnings of villages, murder, starvation and rape of the people of Darfur.
Just another case of “birds of a feather flock together”– one lying, brutal thug to another.
Jun 18, 2007
Volkswagen Brussels has now become Audi. Only 1500 workers are left working there, and their wages have been cut by at least 20%.
Everything is fine and dandy for the stockholders of the Volkswagen group, of which Audi is a part. VW Brussels even announced its 2006 profits were more than 140 million dollars, when there were still 5400 workers in the plant. This amount is almost $27,000 made off each worker. So there are no economic difficulties to give as excuses for the layoffs or the reduction of wages.
Layoffs have also hit the subcontractors. The newspapers estimate that some 700 out of 1700 full-time workers directly employed by the subcontractors have been laid off. But when the temporary and part-time workers are added, the figure is much higher.
At Arvin Meritor, the subcontractor who works exclusively for VW Brussels fabricating the doors for the Golf, all temporary and part-time workers have been eliminated. At the beginning of May, the directors of the company announced that the entire factory would close in July because Audi hadn’t yet signed a contract. The workers at Arvin Meritor, who had already struck for six weeks at the end of 2006, began a new strike in May. Their previous strike had stopped VW production of the Golf for about a week.
Arvin Meritor is in reality another workshop for VW, just an external one. It pays lower wages than VW pays for work that is even harder. It is a legal fiction to call such subcontractors independent. Without them, the cars would come out of the factory without seats, without doors, without roofs. Yet union leaders pressured these workers to go back to work, using the pretext that their strike was taking the Audi workers hostage, since the new strike also stopped Audi production.
VW-Audi workers were sent home due to lack of work, with the excuse that the blockage was out of the bosses’ control. Workers’ wages were cut from 20 to 40%. But it was management, and it alone, that is responsible for the blockage in production, and not something out of their hands like an earthquake.
The explanation given for the layoffs, VW-Audi claiming the cause was “uncontrollable,” was in fact illegal. But illegality doesn’t bother the bosses when it allows them to increase their profits.
Jun 18, 2007
Some liberals pretended to be shocked when the news leaked out that the CIA had secret prisons in Europe, at least from 2003 to 2005.
After September 11th, U.S. authorities got authorization from their European allies, under the pretext of a fight against terrorism, to let them fly secret flights over their air space and to use their air fields. Some countries let the U.S. set up secret prisons where the CIA could incarcerate, interrogate and torture those it accuses of terrorism. This was the case in Thailand and on the Island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, but also in Poland and Rumania. The Italian authorities knew and assisted in the CIA kidnapping of an imam – accused of being a fundamentalist, in order to take him to one of these secret prisons for questioning.
Yes, the existence of such secret prisons is scandalous. So is the existence of Guantanamo, the not-so-secret prison on the island of Cuba, and the fact that the U.S. has taken part of the island for its own military base. But the only people who could be surprised by this news are those who think they live in a country where there are iron-clad rules about liberty and democracy, like those written into constitutions or law books.
Reality is much more sordid than these fairy tales for adults, told to put us to sleep.
Jun 18, 2007
Militant, writer, film director and actor, Ousmane Sembène has died at the age of 84. Born in Senegal in 1923 – when it was still a colony of France – Sembène went to France after World War II. He had unwillingly been drafted as a rifleman in the Senegalese part of the French army. Sembène worked as a docker, a mechanic and a mason before writing his first novel in 1956. In 1962, he began a career in film.
As a dock worker in Marseille, Sembène joined the CGT, the union, and also joined the French Communist Party, an experience which formed the basis of his first novel, The Black Docker. In 1957 he published a novel, Oh Country, My Beautiful People! about the aspirations of Africans to escape from colonial domination with its reactionary traditions.
His finest novel appeared in 1960, God's Bits of Wood, telling the true story of African railroad workers who went on strike in order to be treated like their French counterparts. They organized and struck the rail line from Dakar to Bamako, during 1947 and 1948. Women organized a march between the cities to support the strike. Despite attacks by the French colonial troops, they continued to march, earning the respect from the men strikers and drawing the whole community to see the fight they have in common.
Sembène studied cinema in the Soviet Union because "pictures are more accessible than word." He began a career writing film scripts. His first, Black Girl, was a social critique based on the life of a young African woman who went to work in France. The couple employing her treated her like a slave and drove her to suicide. A 1968 comedy he wrote, The Money Order, was a film denouncing the Senegalese bourgeoisie which, in taking over from the French bourgeoisie, attempted to imitate their customs. Ceddo (1976) a film banned by Senegal, denounced the joint invasion into West Africa of Catholicism and Islam.
One of his films, The Camp at Thiaroye, from 1988, was censored in France because it was about an attack by the French colonial army on Senegalese riflemen in that army. The French army imposed a vicious repression against Senegalese soldiers demanding their pay. Most of his films showed that African independence was insufficient to overcome all the problems in these new countries. Many battles would have to be carried out if social justice is to reign in Africa.
His last film, created when he was already 80 years old, attacked the practice of female circumcision. This disgusting, brutal custom of cutting and sewing shut women's genitals still affects millions of African women. The custom, carried out in the name of religion and tradition, still exists in 38 African countries.
Right up to the end, Sembène called for a traveling popular cinema. "Everything could be filmed and taken to the most remote villages in Africa," he declared in 2005, adding, "A militant remains young all his life." And it was as a militant that he accompanied his film against circumcision from village to village, to push forward what would be his last fight.
Jun 18, 2007
In June, the A & P food company announced it was closing or selling off all 66 of its Farmer Jack food stores in metro Detroit.
The fate of more than 4,800 workers is in limbo. Plus, many thousands of people in the area depend on their neighborhood Farmer Jack. But A & P isn’t worried about how folks will work, live, or eat. Like every major corporation, A & P is worried about making profits – lots of profits.
If A & P can take money out of its Farmer Jack properties and use the money elsewhere, to speculate in the hot financial bubble of today, well – inconvenienced, hungry, or jobless people are not its concern! Especially if it can arrange to keep for itself the accumulated workers’ pension and benefit funds!
More and more deals like this are being driven by paper profits made on the backs of workers’ labor. Companies buy other companies, as A & P bought Farmer Jack in 1989. They finance the purchase with loads of new debt. After the value of the purchased company has been exploited to the max, enriching the controlling company – the shell and the employees are ditched. Unless and until a new corporate gambler decides to try its luck – the buildings sit idle, decaying.
Decay is the face of capitalism in our time.
Jun 18, 2007
Home of the Brave shows the impact of the war in Iraq on U.S. soldiers through the lives of four soldiers returning home from the war. To date 1.4 million people have served or are currently serving in Iraq. Tens of thousands have already shown signs of serious stress upon their return.
The movie starts in Iraq (filmed in Morocco) showing us the traumas that happened to the main characters. All four of the returning soldiers come home to Spokane, Washington. Samuel L. Jackson portrays a medical captain, a surgeon who is tormented by lost lives he could not save in war. He returns home not as the doctor he once was, but as an alcoholic, distant from his wife, unable to sleep at night, and prone to violence.
In the role of a military cargo driver, Jessica Biel plays a woman who returns home to face life as a single mother missing a hand and also suffering from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson plays an army specialist who is haunted by the combat killing of an Iraqi woman. He ends up committing suicide. Brian Presley, a specialist whose childhood best friend dies in his arms in Iraq, returns home to his sweetheart only to find he has no other option but to go back to war.
The movie reveals something about the very real problems being faced by vets today. Problems like no job upon their return home. Brian Presley’s character is told by his old boss that he had to hire someone else. He gets a job at a movie theater selling tickets. The character played by “50 Cent” has problems getting benefits for his back injury that he got when he fell in combat. Samuel Jackson’s character has trouble getting along with his wife and teenage son. Jessica Biel’s character has trouble trying to function with an artificial limb, which is clumsy at best. Prior to the war she had been an athlete.
The movie also deals with the more subtle difficulties of feeling alienated from the society the four vets come back to. They can hardly think of anything but what happened in Iraq. The movie shows their pain and anguish and the pain of family members. It is a hard bridge for the two sides to cross.
This film is a film about soldiers. It doesn’t deal with what this brutal imperialist war has done to the people of Iraq. But unlike all the pro-war patriotic flag-waving films, it gives the strong impression that no one can come home unharmed by this horrendous war.
Jun 18, 2007
On his last visit to Baghdad, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told reporters he was there to deliver Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki the message that “our troops are buying them time to pursue reconciliation, that frankly we are disappointed with the progress so far.”
Disappointed? It’s true that Iraqi government officials carry a certain amount of responsibility in the ongoing civil war, because many, if not all, of them are tied to the militias which attack the population. But Gates certainly knows that the brutal, atrocious militias have thrived, above all, thanks to the U.S. occupation!
The well-being of the Iraqi population has never been a concern of the U.S. government. The U.S. has only been concerned about policing the Iraqi people in order to reduce resistance against the occupation.
After the quick overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003, the U.S. military dismantled Saddam’s army and police for fear of a lengthy guerrilla war. But that left Iraq – with the exception of the Kurdish north, which had not been controlled by Saddam – without a police force, at a time when organized armed resistance was starting to form. So the U.S. military used various militias, existing or newly formed, to fill the gap.
The largely Shiite southern Iraq came under the control of Shiite militias, mostly tied to religious organizations. The U.S. military funded these militias and used them, along with the two existing Kurdish militias from the north, in its fight against Sunni insurgents.
But fighting against insurgents meant attacking entire neighborhoods – and sometimes entire cities, as in Fallujah in 2004, for example – where insurgents were based. Thus the U.S. itself started the bloodletting – between Kurds and Arabs, as well as between Shiite and Sunni Arabs – which has turned into the civil war that Gates now lectures Iraqi politicians about!
Of course, the leaders of the militias have their own ambitions – above all putting their hands on part of Iraq’s oil wealth. So they intentionally attack civilians, provoking similar attacks by rival groups on “their own” people, to whom they then offer “protection” in order to solidify their own base. The fighting has thus escalated into a full-fledged civil war, with dozens, if not hundreds, of casualties every day, often people randomly killed only because of the ethnic or religious group they belong to.
For the U.S. military, the situation in Iraq has gotten completely out of control. The U.S. now wants to pull its troops out of Iraq, at least out of the streets, but it wants to see two things before doing that: to have some kind of military success, so the war doesn’t look like a complete defeat; and to leave behind some kind of a unified Iraqi army and police force that can keep the population under control.
With the “troop surge” in the last four months, the U.S. military has started a crackdown on Baghdad and the Anbar province, but that has not weakened the resistance. The insurgents have simply moved to other cities. And the “reconciliation,” that is the U.S.-led effort to consolidate Shiite militias and the Iraqi army and police into a unified force, has also not succeeded because of the rivalries among militia leaders.
In the meantime violence has increased, including violence inflicted on the population directly by the U.S. military. At the same time, conditions continue to deteriorate for the people. With temperatures getting higher, for example, cholera cases have started to be reported, much earlier than the hotter summer months, when cholera usually tends to spread.
Cholera results from contaminated water and can easily be prevented with clean water. But clean running water and electricity, which is needed to purify water, have become real luxuries in Iraqi cities, at best available a few hours a day. With the widespread unemployment and poverty, many Iraqis also can’t afford bottled water – not to mention that many people are afraid to go out and buy water because their neighborhood is terrorized by militias.
The U.S. occupation has truly been a disaster for the Iraqi people. And every new attempt by the U.S. to change the situation makes it worse, because it’s not aimed at helping the population but, rather, controlling it. According to Johns Hopkins University researchers, the violence and deteriorating conditions brought about by the war have caused at least 650,000 deaths in Iraq. As this horrific toll increases by the day, so does the anger of Iraqi people at the U.S. occupation and its representatives on the ground, U.S. troops in uniform. In polls, a majority of Iraqis have named the U.S. occupation as the number one cause behind the civil war, and a majority have said that they approve of violence against U.S. troops.
If the catastrophic situation in Iraq has any chance of improving, the first step has to be the withdrawal of U.S. troops – completely and immediately!