Left Turn is now published seasonally.
On October 2, 2018, Amazon announced that it will implement a $15-an-hour across the board wage floor for all its 350,000 workers, including part-time and contract workers. It also announced a commitment to work to lift the national federal minimum wage (stuck at $7.25 per hour since 2009). It’s fair to say that pressure from activists of the Fight for 15 movement, combined with journalistic exposes of poor working conditions at Amazon’s workplaces, Bernie Sanders’s Stop BEZOS Act, and so on had something to do with this decision by Amazon, the 2nd largest employer in the US (after Walmart).
But, much more needs to be done and demanded. Amazon should allow workers to unionize—and that includes the workers at the Whole Foods grocery chain that Amazon acquired last year. The Whole Foods workers have been pushing to unionize despite opposition from Amazon. Amazon should not use the increase in wages as a cost-cutting ploy. It should not swap minimum wage increases with stock options for its long-term warehouse workers. Furthermore, capitalists can increase profits by speeding up work and hiring fewer workers. What guarantee is there that Amazon won’t do just that? After all, increased productivity combined with fewer workers can more than offset the cost of paying higher wages. Also, will workers now accept unsafe conditions and long hours because they are receiving a slightly better wage? What about the fact that Amazon paid $0 in taxes in 2017? Or, that it is said to receive an estimated $789 million in tax cuts for 2018? Is Amazon hoping to relieve itself from the public pressure to pay taxes by announcing this wage increase? Finally, a slight increase in wages for workers often leads to a loss of eligibility for critical social programs and thereby to an even greater immiseration and worsened living conditions. Will tens of thousands of Amazon workers soon find themselves in such a situation? Clearly then, this is no time for celebration. Class struggle continues.
“In war,” said the 5th c. BC Greek poet Aeschylus, “truth is the first casualty.” Could it be that with the US military the climate will be the last casualty? Readers may judge the latter question to be an example of using hyperbole for persuasion. That may be because a vast disconnect exists between what the military does and what we know. Take the Iraq war in its first four years (2003–2007): it was responsible for more CO2 emissions than 60% of all countries. Try imagining the cost of endless wars in terms of CO2 emissions. Take the US military’s daily use of fuel:it consumes more oil than do 175 countries combined, and generates more than 70% of total US greenhouse gas emissions—and this doesn’t even consider the impact on the planet of making nuclear bombs and generating nuclear waste, nor the trillions of dollars misspent on endless wars of choice that could have been spent on transitioning the world toward green energy with justice for workers. It is clear that we cannot have both ecological sanity and the US military. To make matters more difficult, many environmentalists avoid opposing the US military. This can only change with pressure from below. A recent small step in that direction has been the pressure placed on the newly elected congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to acknowledge the environmental devastation of the military and the military budget as a source of revenue in her recently drafted Green New Deal proposal.
See Stacy Bannerman’s article ‘Is Climate the Worst Casualty of War?’ in Peace in Our Times (Fall 2018), p.21.Bannerman is the founder of Women’s EcoPeace and an advocate for veterans.
On October 6, 2018 Brett Kavanaugh was sworn in as a Supreme Court Justice. His confirmation was eerily reminiscent of Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas’s nomination. The mainstream media primarily focused on the sexual assault allegations and Kavanaugh’s temperament. What was left out was an examination of his judicial record as well as other substantive policy issues.
He has upheld mass surveillance. As an assistant to President Bush Kavanaugh helped to draft legal justifications for torture in the war on terror. Ralph Nader wrote that Kavanaugh could be the “most corporate judge in modern American history” as he has consistently ruled against workers in favor of corporatism. Public Citizen found that he ruled on behalf of corporations in 18 of 22 cases involving consumer or regulatory issues, 11 of 13 involving environmental cases, and 15 of 17 involving worker rights. Furthermore, Kavanagh has written legal justifications for why a President is above the law and has ruled that Government lawbreaking is ‘reasonable’.
Popular Resistance’s January 14, 2019 e-newsletter focuses on “Uniting for a Green New Deal.” It points out that though there are different visions of what constitutes a Green New Deal, the movement for it does include a call for a rapid transition to a clean energy economy while addressing economic insecurity. The danger is, they say, that it could reinforce current ways of doing things, thereby staying in line with our capitalist system’s inclinations rather than being transformative, that is, leading to economic, racial, and environmental justice and peace. Their call for involvement includes the requirement that we be clear about what we mean by a Green New Deal, especially so as more and more people and organizations are getting involved in this movement. Popular Resistance notes, “This week, more than 600 organizations, mostly environmental groups, sent a letter to Congress calling on it to take climate change seriously and design a plan to end dependence on fossil fuels, a transition to 100% clean energy by 2035, create jobs and more. Indigenous leaders are also organizing to urge Congress to pass a Green New Deal that is ‘Indigenized,’ meaning it prioritizes input from and the inclusion of Indigenous Peoples.”
What should be done regarding the power and influence of Iran in the Middle East? This had been the Iran Question for multiple US administrations, until Obama signed the Iran Nuclear Deal in 2015, requiring Iran to discontinue its nuclear activities in exchange for a rollback of economic sanctions. This seemed to open a new and more enlightened chapter in Iran-US relations.
As we know, Trump withdrew the US from the agreement and placed outspoken Iran war hawks in key positions of power. John Bolton is the National Security Adviser, (due to the urging of well- known anti-Iran billionaire/casino magnate, Sheldon Adelson). Michael Pompeo is Secretary of State.
A review of Trump’s subsequent actions makes it clear that a key policy objective is to rollback Iran’s influence in the region. He has re-imposed economic sanctions and announced that he seeks to reduce Iran’s export of oil to zero, as an apparent act of economic warfare. He’s begun to build an anti-Iran alliance. The Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), sometimes referred to as the ‘Arab NATO’, includes oppressive Gulf allies plus Jordan and Egypt. It also has strong support from Israel.
More ominously, Trump’s National Security Council under John Bolton reportedly asked for a list of military options on striking Iran in September 2018. This was in response to Iraqi ‘militants’, aligned with Iran, firing three mortar rounds into a vacant lot in the diplomatic quarter of Baghdad, which includes the US Embassy. No one was injured. The Pentagon reportedly developed such plans but it is unclear whether they were shared with Trump. The request alarmed some people within the Defense and State Departments. It appears that the administration war hawks are seeking a pretext for military confrontation.
Anti-Iran rhetoric is also on the rise. In his January 3, 2019 press statement, Secretary Pompeo claimed that “The Iranian regime is the world’s foremost state sponsor of terror,” adding that the “U.S. will not stand by and watch the Iranian regime’s destructive policies place international stability and security at risk.” The Iranian government may be a threat to its own people’s aspirations for democracy but it’s not a security threat to the world. The following week, in a major speech at American University in Cairo, Pompeo castigated Obama for signing the Iran deal on “our desire to make peace at any cost” with the demonized Iran. He then added that America “never dreamed of domination in the Middle East.” “Can you,” he asked, “say the same about Iran?”
A wild card in all this is Trump himself. He has criticized ‘endless US wars’ in the Middle East—though he suggested the US should have seized Iraq’s oil once there! Does his ‘anti-endless wars’ sentiment extend to a war with Iran? Will he oppose bellicose advice from the Iran war hawks in his cabinet? Is his tough approach aimed at incentivizing Iran to return to the (re)negotiating table with the US on Trump’s terms? Is he seeking regime change? Or is it all just another case of managing turbulent politics via spectacle? It’s hard to tell. We have seen that Trump’s instincts, or whatever motivates him, were to pull some of the US troops out of Syria and Afghanistan, while the (bipartisan) ‘establishment’ in Washington ferociously opposed him. The Iran hawks in Trump’s cabinet also claim that the US withdrawal will create a vacuum which will inevitably be filled by Iran.
It is clear the pressures to confront Iran will grow in 2019. Iran may decide to withdraw from the deal itself, if it concludes that Europe’s unable or unwilling to circumvent US sanctions which allows Iran to benefit economically from staying in the nuclear deal. If Iran were to resume its nuclear program the US will be under much greater pressure from Israel and Saudi Arabia to confront Iran militarily.
All anti-war persons in the US should pay close attention to the Iran Question and demand that the US abstain from any military confrontation with Iran. Lift the unlawful sanctions immediately, discontinue building the anti-Iran coalition in the region and rejoin the Iran nuclear deal.