Oct 20, 2008
Many people have said that this election will be a “transformational one.” Well, if there was ever a time when this country needed “transforming,” it’s now!
And the two essential transformations the working class needs are 1) to end the decades long U.S. wars in the Middle East, and 2) to force the people who have caused the economic crisis to pay for it.
So let’s see how the election plays out in relation to these two major crises facing us.
The latest edition of the U.S. war in Iraq, going on now for five and a half years, has given U.S. oil companies a free hand to exploit Iraq’s oil resources – by destroying the fabric of Iraqi society.
What the Bush administration called “the surge” was nothing but “ethnic cleansing.” John McCain and Barack Obama both say that the “surge worked” – McCain claimed the credit for it and Obama recently said it worked “beyond our wildest expectations.” Well, this “surge” that they were so happy about, was nothing but a vast and violent campaign carried out by ethnic and religious militias, backed up by the Iraqi army and the U.S. army, which ended up herding the Iraqi population into veritable prisons, divided along lines of ethnicity or religion.
The war in Afghanistan, which McCain and Obama both want to expand, has been going on now for almost seven years.
This is the result: for all practical purposes, there are no jobs. Half the population of the country cannot buy enough food to today to keep from falling ill. Families have been reduced to selling one child so the rest of the family could survive – for awhile. Oxfam, the humanitarian organization, has said that the situation is so grave that in some northern provinces 80% of the population may die of hunger this winter.
We can measure in cold statistics the enormous human cost brought home to this country by the wars. First, the troops: 4,800 killed, and many more than that who have killed themselves after returning, destroyed by the barbarism of which they were part; another 60,000 seriously wounded; at least one in five already suffering the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – that is, over 320,000 people.
And then the other human cost: all those needs that could have been met with this enormous amount of money, but weren’t. The government reports it has spent 656 billion dollars so far for the war in Iraq. Joseph Stiglitz, the former economist for the World Bank, estimates five times that much, three trillion dollars, when long term costs are counted. And this doesn’t count Afghanistan, whose costs are rapidly escalating.
Think what 656 billion dollars could buy. It could double the number of elementary school teachers for the next seven years – that is, doubling the number of teachers in the grades which are most critical for children’s education. It could buy four years of health care for all the uninsured people in this country. These wars devastated other countries; created animosity throughout the world and especially in the Middle East toward the United States – including toward all of us; laid waste to a generation of young men and women who volunteered for the army – out of a mistaken sense of service or because they could not find a job. And they grabbed the resources that should have been used to improve education, public services and medical care for the American people.
John McCain says quite openly what he would do about these wars: keep the Iraq war going as it is, while stepping up the war in Afghanistan.
Barack Obama, by contrast, has campaigned saying he would reduce the war in Iraq – reduce, not end it – but he also says he wants to increase the war in Afghanistan more rapidly than Bush is doing it. And even before the Bush administration sent troops from Afghanistan into Pakistan, Obama called for doing that, and still calls for expanding the war into Pakistan. That is, he doesn’t propose to end the wars – only to shift the center of the wars.
We have never yet seen a war in this country that was stopped by an election. But we’ve seen quite a few times when illusions in a candidate’s promises have diverted people from organizing opposition to a war. Woodrow Wilson campaigned in 1916, claiming “he kept the country out of war,” only to immediately plunge into war after the election. Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1964 opposed himself to the supposed warmonger, Barry Goldwater – only to throw the country head first into the war in Viet Nam right after his election. And Richard Nixon in 1968 said he had a plan to stop the war in Viet Nam – only to extend it into Laos and Cambodia, while increasing the bombing of North Viet Nam.
If we want an end to these wars, if we want to prevent them being extended into other countries – we must conclude, as with everything else – we have to depend on ourselves, our own forces, our own readiness to fight for what we want.
The same is true, concerning the other big issue we face today, the rapidly unfolding financial collapse.
Today’s crisis is the direct consequence of policies carried out by the biggest capitalists for the last 30 years. When their economy began to contract toward the end of the 1970s, they pushed to increase their profits, by cutting wages and cutting jobs. Meanwhile the government also cut funding for education, social services, public services, and it let bridges, levees and dams collapse – at the same time, whether under Democrats or under Republicans, diverting more and more money to the big corporations and the wealthy who stood behind them. But in so doing, overall cutting the standard of living of the working class and other poor layers of the population, the capitalists vastly reduced the possibility of selling the goods and services their industries produced. Thus, the very thing the capitalists did to prop up their profits only circled back around, threatening to reduce their profits all over again.
To make up their lost profits, the financial sector pushed more and more credit on people. The profits made on this vast expansion of credit were not plowed back into production – they went into financial speculation, which has ballooned into one field after another for more than 15 years: first, an earlier oil crisis; then the so-called high tech development, which ended up in the dot-com bubble; then into real estate, which ended up vastly increasing the cost of housing – in many areas of the country, housing prices doubled or even tripled in less than five years time; then into commodities, pushing up the prices of oil, potatoes, grains, milk, meat, etc.
GMAC, which made its money off the cars produced in GM’s auto plants, ended up plowing the profits from auto into mortgages and real estate, and then it took the mortgages and transformed them into those completely indecipherable financial instruments called collateralized debt obligations. Who knew what they contained, or what any of those other esoteric financial instruments contained – or even what they were?
Most of the capitalists who bought and sold occult pieces of paper like this had no idea what they represented – and they admitted it. But they continued to sell and buy and sell and buy a vast number of such fictitious pieces of paper, making more money off each succeeding sale. It was a virtual pyramid scheme, which pulled the whole financial system along with it.
When some of their own advisers told them the scheme could collapse, they said, “don’t worry.” We’ll make lots of money before then, and if it does collapse, the government will bail us out.
Well collapse it did, and bail them out the government did!
The bail out costs – if the economists can be trusted – the stupendous total of 1.5 trillion dollars the government has already disbursed or committed – and another 3.6 trillion it has guaranteed. All told it comes to 5.1 trillion dollars – so far.
The total GDP – that is the amount of goods and services created in this country – was 14 trillion dollars last year. The government has handed over to these sharks more than one-third of the wealth produced by all the work of all those who toil in all the workplaces of this country.
Where is all this 5.1 trillion dollars, which the government doesn’t have, going to come from? That’s right – it’s going to be paid for by every working person in this country, through taxes, huge cuts in social services, and inflation, which will eat away at workers’ standard of living every day.
In the face of this attack, the leaders of both parties and their presidential candidates have worked to convince us that we must go along with bailing out the criminals whose grasping after profit is at the root of the crisis.
If there is anything that should give us a great big warning about the future, it’s this: even while running for election, trying to grab our votes, not only would they not rock Wall Street’s boat, they were ready to give Wall Street and the whole capitalist class that stands behind it every single thing it demanded. And neither party bothered to extend unemployment benefits – when the whole country was watching what they were doing. Just this little pittance, and they wouldn’t do it!
Wall Street certainly knows it can depend on either one of them – it’s why it lavished so much money on the two campaigns – just as it did with Hillary Clinton’s campaign before she lost the nomination.
The worsening of the economic crisis is only going to make every other ill in this society worse – look at the racist comments that have surrounded the Obama campaign. Look at the sexist ones concerning Clinton, or for that matter Sarah Palin. But much worse than anything thrown at these candidates, who after all, every one of them, represent the capitalist class in this country, is the way that the institutionalized racism of this society will make the black population pay a disproportionate share of the cost of the crisis – as the whole working class gets hit by it. And almost certainly, we will see an increase in racist violence – we already are, including against immigrants.
We are truly standing at the edge of a precipice, in a situation where our future has already been battered. We have to be ready to fight – and those fights have to go up to a social explosion. We have to start fighting against all the attacks that come down on us – without waiting for someone else to do it for us.
If we wait on the results of these elections to solve our problems, we are going to give up valuable time. When we see how fast things are moving in this bail-out, which was nothing but the most enormous attack on working people, an attack for which the bill will be rendered after the election, we better start preparing ourselves to move fast. There is no magic formula for what we have to do. The fact is, we have to decide to respond, we have to convince others, we have to stop kidding ourselves that someone else will do it for us.
No matter who people vote for, no matter who wins, understand this: we are going to come under attack, with the government leading the charge.