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Celebrate Labor Day By Celebrating Labor

From DonkeyHotey on flickr

From DonkeyHotey on flickr

There is a reason why we have a day called “labor day” and not one called “corporation day.”  We do not dedicate a day to the social and economic achievements of entities like Walmart or McDonald’s, because they are not the workhorses that built the country.  Organized labor created a way for workers to stand up against oppressive businesses and corporations who sought to exploit them.

It has been no secret that union membership has been in decline over the past few years.  Union membership, as a percentage of the workforce, reached a peak of 28.3% in 1954.  In 2012, this number was at a 11.3% which is the lowest it has been since 1916.

“Right to Work” laws (RTW) are certainly part of the blame for low union membership.  States with Right to Work laws on the books boast some of the lowest union membership numbers in the country.  For example, Florida was the first state to enact this type of law in 1946 and in 2012 saw only 5.8% of the total employed workforce as union members.   North Carolina, which passed their RTW law in 1947, had only 2.9% of the total employed workforce were members of a union, the lowest in the country.  These laws create no incentive for workers to unionize, because free-riders can reap the benefits of a union contract without having to pay dues.

Another reason could be related to corporate perception of unions and the ideologies that those in the corporations hold.  Take Massey Energy for example.  Massey used to be one of the largest producers of coal in the country before being bought out by Alpha Natural Resources.   The former CEO of Massey, Don Blankenship, was actively opposed to unions in the mines.  Only 1.8 percent of the Massey workforce was unionized. Massey had a reputation for being union-busters, and were prone to firing union workers and refusing to hire others (which the NLRB determined was illegal).  A potential consequence of this attitude was the loss of 25 miners in the Upper Big Branch Mine in 2010, a mine that was not unionized.

Union mines are safer than non-union ones, because the workers can protest working in unfair conditions and have a union rep accompany them to inspect the mines.  Just to give you an idea of the safety comparisons for non-union and union mines:

A report from the March 28, 2007, hearing on Protecting the Health and Safety of America’s Mine Workers released by the House Committee on Education and Labor contains the following statistics for the five-year period of 2002-2006:

Underground coal injuries: 19,282

In union mines: 5,362 (or 27.8% of total)

Underground coal fatalities: 109

In union mines: 22 (or 20.2%)

(Thanks to Meteor Blades on DailyKos for the data compilation here)

Coal mines are not the only place union membership is actively discouraged and fought against, several other industries face this as well.

This Labor Day, remember the fight for fairness that organized labor made, and is still making today.  Corporations are too big and profit too important for individual workers to have a voice.  A balance still needs to be struck in the workplace and individual corporations and state governments have been working hard to tip that in favor of anyone but the workers.

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Peace, Love, and War?

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From Freedom House on Flickr

Today’s post comes to us from Oh the Places You Will Go.  

Today at work one of my bosses proceeded to tell me that if he were Barrack Obama he would make Syria a parking lot…that’s the moment I lost all hope in the average American citizen. He literally said we need to “Hiroshima” them.

Take a moment and step out of everything you have ever known about America. Remove yourself from all sense of patriotism and nostalgia. Then imagine the Syrian people. Being attacked by their own government. Hundreds of thousands dead or displaced from their homes. Then for a moment imagine the US bombing those people. Does that sound like something productive…does it sound like those people need more bombs. Furthermore at what point did the average Syrian citizen become our enemy? Then why would we need to use our own weapons of mass distraction? We confiscate those weapons from other countries. Places bans on the countries we don’t deem trustworthy enough to carry that kind of power. Who put us in charge of making those decision for the rest of the world. Last time I checked, the United States created its country by nearly wiping out the Native American population, spent over two centuries enslaving Africans and put Japanese-Americans in War Relocation Camps, aka our own version of concentration camps.

Our track record with our own people is pretty bad. I’m not saying that nothing needs to be done. That the Syrian people should be left to die. I’m just simply stating that we have no right to add to the death toll.

Visualizing the Lack of Public Support For a Military Strike

The twitter hashtags #Syria and #NoWarWithSyria show a trend in how people feel about the looming military strike by the United States.  Generally speaking, most people were opposed to the intervention.  I read hundreds of tweets and these were a few that conveyed what many people were thinking:

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This screenshot is from a Newsmax poll that has recently been aggregating people’s views on the potential conflict.

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Obama has yet to make his final decision.  Lets hope he listens.

Too Anxious For War

4 pages, 9 days, and dozens of unanswered questions.  

4 Pages

The U.S. government released a four-page unclassified intelligence report detailing Syria’s use of chemical weapons from an August 21st attack.  This is the background the Obama administration has chosen to provide the American people, a four-page report that is supposed to justify a military strike on Syria.  

Given the seriousness of the situation the United States is currently faced with, the justification for potentially going to war with another nation is condensed to a miniscule four-page brief about Syria’s actions.  This is what we are supposed to be comforted by, what the American people are supposed to trust in and believe that our government is doing the right thing.

9 days

The intelligence report released claims that the chemical weapons attacks took place on August 21, 2013.  Today is August 30th.  It has been nine days since the attack, and the United States government has brought up the concept of a military strike well before today.  Senior U.S. officials were telling news sources that strikes could come as early as yesterday (for those keeping count, that is eight days since the chemical attack).   It took the U.S. almost a month to invade Afghanistan after the September 11th attacks, and this involved an actual attack on our country.  

Unanswered questions

What will a military strike even do for the U.S.? For Syria?  For the Syrian people?  How do we justify it as a benefit to anyone?  The White House has not been as forthcoming as many would have liked about its justifications and costs/benefits.  

“It’s important for us to recognize that when over a thousand people are killed, including hundreds of innocent children, through the use of a weapon that 98 or 99 percent of humanity says should not be used even in war, and there is no action, then we’re sending a signal,” he said.  -President Obama (NYtimes)

But when thousands of innocent people, including hundreds of innocent children, are killed by being run over by tanks, shot in the head, and blown up by their own government, this is not something that 98 or 99 percent of humanity says should not be used even in war?  

Uncertainty in Syria Could Lead to Disaster

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From Oxfam on flickr

President Obama is on the verge of making the biggest mistake of his presidency.  If he chooses to launch a military strike on Syria, disaster would strike with it.  Recently, we published a story about how UN inspectors had no conclusive knowledge about the use of chemical weapons.  Since publication two days ago, things have changed and the UN inspectors have confirmed that some form of chemical weapons had been used in Syria.  However, the question still remains as to who was responsible: Assad? Al-Qaeda? Other terrorist networks? An unknown militant group?

 

We do not know, and its unlikely that we will know.  President Obama, however, seems somewhat confident.

“We have concluded that the Syrian government in fact carried these out,” Obama said in an interview with “NewsHour” on PBS. “And if that’s so, then there need to be international consequences.”

Yet in the very next paragraph of this news article, doubt was expressed by other white house and national security officials.

 However, multiple U.S. officials used the phrase “not a slam dunk” to describe the intelligence picture – a reference to then-CIA Director George Tenet’s insistence in 2002 that U.S. intelligence showing Iraq had weapons of mass destruction was a “slam dunk” – intelligence that turned out to be wrong.

Not to sound entirely repetitive from the last article, but are they completely ignoring the fact that, much like Iraq, we have no solid evidence that it was the Syrian army/government/regime that used the weapons?  Yes, Assad and the Syrian government are capable of using these weapons.  Yes, they have done horrific, obscene, and despicable things to the Syrian people.  However, the U.S. government’s sole justification for a military strike appears to hinge on the Syrian government’s chemical weapon use.  And the Assad regime’s direct involvement cannot be confirmed, and a strike seems imminent.  Obama appears to have pulled a page out of George W. Bush’s playbook.

The Syrian people’s interests should, at the very least, be considered when calling for a military strike.  However, the U.S. government seems to be more focused on our interests.  Sound familiar?

WASHINGTON — The White House says President Barack Obama’s decision on a possible military strike against Syria will be guided by America’s best interests, suggesting the U.S. may act alone if other nations won’t help.

National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said Thursday that Obama believes there are core U.S. interests at stake in Syria. She said countries who violate international norms about chemical weapons must be held accountable.

The UK Parliament recently refused to endorse a military strike against Syria, and public approval of a military strike is less than supportive.  A recent HuffPost poll showed only 25% polled support an airstrike.

A knee-jerk response to a situation that the U.S. still has shown to know very little about could be disastrous.  If he were to authorize a military strike against Syria with the knowledge we have from the news today, Barack Obama would likely be making the worst decision of his presidency.

Think Twice Before Bombing Syria

From Henry Patton on flickr

From Henry Patton on flickr

Syria has been in a bloody and horrifying civil war since March of 2011, and no end seems to be in sight.  Bashar al-Assad, the ruthless dictator, has made his position clear: he will not be relinquishing his throne and will stop at nothing to defend his post.  This has translated to bombing his own citizens, running over children with tanks, and authorizing the murder of countless Syrians across the country.

A strike on Syria seems inevitable if you look at the news.  NBC World News is reporting that strikes could happen as early as this thursday.  Sources have suggested that this recent call to arms was due to Assad having used chemical weapons on the Syrian people.

Of course, the United States has confirmed with utmost certainty that Assad’s regime was the ones who used chemical weapons in order to prevent another Iraq WMD problem… right?  Wrong.

In the video above, from MSNBC on Monday, Ed Husain of the Council on Foreign Relations urged a cautious approach to intervention in Syria. He said it was crucial not to act without certainty that Assad — and not al Qaeda or rebel forces, which have also been accused of using chemical weapons — was responsible for the attack.

So we are not sure who is using the weapons, Assad or Al-Qaeda.  Neither would surprise anyone in the international community, but thats not what matters.  What matters is that there is no proof in the pudding.  No proof that either used the weapons, and according to these reports definitely no proof that Assad has used them.  Striking a country based on the assumption that they have weapons and have used them seems irrational, and completely out of character for the United States.

Except its not, and happened in 2003 in Iraq.

Lets go ahead and assume that we do not have a clear indication of who used the chemical weapons.  We at least know for a fact and without a shred of doubt that they have been used correct?  Well, not necessarily.

The prospect of a dramatic U.S.-led intervention into Syria’s civil war stemmed from the West’s assertion – still not endorsed by U.N. inspectors – that President Bashar Assad’s government was responsible for an alleged chemical attack on civilians outside Damascus on Aug. 21 that the group Doctors Without Borders says killed 355 people. Assad denies the claim.

Yes, Doctors Without Borders confirmed that they treated thousands of Syrians for neurotoxic symptoms after a supposed chemical attack.  However, if the mistakes made in Iraq taught the U.S. anything then doing our research should be top priority.  We need proof, beyond any doubt, that Syria has chemical weapons, that they used them, in order to talk about such a military strike.  Its not enough anymore to act on leads that, by circumstance, suggest that Syria is using chemical weapons.  This is not to say that Assad isn’t capable or willing to use them, but the burden of proof has apparently not been met yet.

If you’re getting frustrated with reading this and think this is a bit excessive, I ask you to consider the implications of bombing another country and weigh the options of not making careful and correct decisions based on meticulous research and intelligence.  If you’re getting frustrated because it sounds like I’m suggesting that the Assad regime has not used chemical weapons, let me clarify that I believe there is a very high likelihood that he has.

However a high likelihood is not good enough to justify a military intervention like the ones being suggested by the United States right now.  At least not given what information we have.

The bigger question I would like to pose though is this: Why have we suddenly grown so concerned as to wage a military strike on Syria now?  Why not 2 years ago when this whole ordeal started?  I understand the concepts and rules behind the Geneva convention, and how we as a country have vowed to intervene in uses of chemical weapons.  But this is just one of the many methods that Assad has used to kill the citizens he claims to care about.

Where was the outrage when children who were barely 8 years old were getting run over by Syrian tanks in the streets right in front of their parents?  When a country was firing missiles on their own people simply to stifle some rational and well-placed dissent.  There is an indication that Syria used chemical weapons and suddenly this demands a strong, near immediate, military strike?

I get that the U.S. is trying to uphold its obligations to rid the world of chemical weapons, but this newly-discovered rage seems misplaced.

The greatest fear and biggest cause for concern with a military strike is whether or not it will work.  Will this strike cripple Assad’s regime, or cause him to be even more ill-tempered, taking out his rage on the US and his own people.  I don’t know of a solution for the crisis in Syria, and do think that action needs to be taken.  But I don’t think that we have the solid proof we need to justify a military strike.  There are SERIOUS implications to waging a military strike on a country in such turmoil, and I fear what could happen to that region and to our country.  Maybe my position sounds non-committal, and I am fine with that.

My heart cries for the Syrian people and their struggle, and this blog post cannot possibly convey that type of emotion.  As I sit here and write this from the comfort of a safe environment, many people in Syria are wondering if they will be alive the next morning, whether their families will be alive.  Is this the last time I will kiss my wife goodbye?  Will my child be the victim of a bullet from an Ak-47, wielded by a force that claims to be helping us?  Nobody should have to think of these things, but this is reality for the Syrian people.  Will bombing Syria change any of this, or make it worse?  We don’t know, and that is reason enough not to do it.

(Dis)respect the Chemistry

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From craniodsgn on deviant art

Bashar al-Assad has an inferiority complex.  Normally, when someone has such a thing they try to compensate by creating a facade that they excel at the very things they feel inferior about.  If you’re the ruthless dictator of Syria however, you just use chemical weapons.

President Obama is set to meet with national security advisers today on the subject of Syria’s use of chemical weapons, a subject that comes as very little surprise to the international community.  Though there is yet to be “conclusive proof” (at least that I have read), the general consensus is that Assad and his officials gave the green light for chemical weapons to be used.

The Syrian government has had no moral qualms about killing innocent civilians, including children, to prove a point.  And a halfhearted attempt at establishing a public image by way of an instagram account is not fooling anyone.

The Obama Administration is forced with making a difficult decision on what the United States role in Syria will be for the future.  With the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, it would be unwise to send a large military presence to Syria, but standing idly by doesn’t seem to be an option on the table either.

I despise war and am opposed to military occupations for the most part.  However, the moral compass in me suggests that the United States cannot sit back and do nothing.  Maybe it isn’t any of our business meddling in other countries’ affairs.  But Syrians are being murdered by the dozens every day.  Its hard to do nothing.

Walter White says respect the chemistry, and he is right.  Respect the chemistry by not using it to kill your own citizens.  Maybe Walt does have some moral failings, but he might have a point here.

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