9/11 – TWENTY YEARS LATER

By Jason Sibert and Patty Friend

With the month of September finally over, we are now just past the 20th anniversary of 9/11, and as such, we can allow ourselves some sober reflections, away from the mass media hype..

The attacks of September 11, 2001 truly represented one of the most barbaric acts in the history of our country. Social Democrats USA still mourns the lives of the 2,977 people who lost their lives in the attack on the World Trade Center. However, the United States went off the rails at this point in our history. First, we invaded Afghanistan when we just should have conducted a counterterrorism operation to capture and punish Osama bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda network. Then we turned the operation into a war to transform the country into a Western democracy. Second, we invaded Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks, for another war of choice. While our country is told by those in the political sphere that we have no money for domestic investment, we can always find money for forever wars. When remembering a sad event like September 11, 2001, we must remember the mistakes our country made shortly after the attacks.

One of the reasons why we made such mistakes was the talking heads in media (cable news, talk radio, internet) that conflated any criticism of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with treason. At that time the American public was confused and really couldn’t comprehend what was happening to our country until years later when the mistakes became more apparent. This chapter in our history carries a lesson about observing foreign affairs, and politics in general, in a stoic manner. We must control our passions and really think about the next move our country should make. This is hard in a world where politics is played around the clock via talk radio, cable news, social media, and several internet media. The way in which information is presented militates against the sound thinking required for a productive democratic republic.

However, one of the bright spots at this point in our history was the way in which the American public came together after the attacks. We put aside the culture wars raging at the time and pulled together for a common cause. This is something so missing in today’s America. Unfortunately, there were some attacks on mosques in the aftermath of September 11, and we shouldn’t tolerate this hatred. We should also not forget another bad moment from 20 years ago, the way we were lied to by the George W Bush administration about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. This led to a war in that country that destabilized the entire Middle East. Then the problems snowballed into the Syrian Civil War and refugee problems that empowered authoritarian politicians in Europe.

As awful as terrorism is, more people have died in the Covid-19 pandemic  What do we see in the pandemic? Resistance to masking, social distancing, and vaccination, the types of things that will keep us from returning to the normal that everyone, despite their political affiliation, wants to do. We also see insane behavior exhibited by people who trust quack remedies and animal medicine (horses and cows) to cure the virus over exhaustively tested vaccines and medications all in the name of some misbegotten nonsense about personal liberty.  Many of the same uninformative media voices are playing the same role they did after September 11, 2001. The tea party revolt, a revolt led by Republican voters against the Republican establishment, was the start of the irrationality that encouraged some to pour hatred on non-whites, “liberals,” and men and women of science. This is sold as “owning the libs.” Now we have the equivalent of a 9/11 event every two days. In this season of introspection and making amends, we really need to look at ourselves and ask ourselves if this country is governable and if we can really be the United States of America.

Social democrats believe in democracy in both the political and economic sphere. The democratic republic is being challenged by both authoritarian democracies and just out-and-out dictatorships (China). We can’t have a more social democratic America if we don’t have a vibrant democratic republic. Let’s honor those who lost their lives on September 11, and the military members who lost their lives in the wars that stemmed from that tragedy. However, let’s not forget the overarching lesson that the terrorist attack taught us – that we must critically question the information before us. Dissent is the highest form of patriotism!  

Jason Sibert is the Executive Director of the Peace Economy Project in St. Louis.

Patty Friend is the National Chair of Social Democrats USA.

AFTER AFGHANISTAN

By Jason Sibert and Patty Friend

For the past few weeks, we’ve been treated to a false media narrative about President Joe Biden’s exit from Afghanistan. Americans watched with horror as the Taliban installed its own theocratic regime. We saw 13 United States service members and 169 Afghan allies killed in a terrorist attack. We also saw Afghans clinging to helicopters and rushing the airport. This narrative was weaved by right-wing news outlets (Fox News) and centrist media voices like MNBC/NBC’s Andrea Mitchell and ABC’s Martha Raddatz (corporate media). In addition, veterans’ groups, and some veterans, have criticized the exit. Let’s make it clear that Social Democrats USA mourns the loss of the servicemembers and our Afghan allies. However, it’s time to set the record straight.

Columnist David Rothkopf did so in his USA Today piece “There’s Chaos and Risk in Afghanistan Exit, but Biden Critics are Getting it Mostly Wrong.”(8/29) Some have said Biden owns the exit. No, this is a war of choice that’s been going on for 20 years. The Donald Trump administration set the deadlines and released 5,000 prisoners. The leader of the Taliban, Mullah Abdul Ghani Barada, in prison in Pakistan, was in on the Trump deal.  Another criticism is that there could have been less chaos in the exit, but there would have been chaos with the Taliban returning to power, regardless of who was president.

Rothkopf agreed that we might have been better prepared for the chaos, but the Afghan government did not want us beginning mass evacuations for fear of an even greater chaos. Some have said we abandoned our allies in the operation. Canada left in 2014 and returned for the evacuation. However, the Trump administration’s foreign policy had no use for our allies and left them out of all negotiations with the Taliban.

The evacuation started out badly but turned out to be masterful in the end. The administration and the military adapted quickly. The airlift was one of the biggest in U.S. military history; over 122,000 people were evacuated. Some have said the evacuation of Afghanistan will make it a breeding grounds for terror. However, the country has always been dangerous, and there are other parts of the world that are serving as a launching ground for terrorist attacks. Afghanistan is no longer the epicenter of the threats.

Others have pointed out that some will be left behind in Afghanistan, but it is wildly unrealistic to think the United States could remove everyone at risk from Afghanistan. What’s being done is above and beyond expectations. Other forms of political, diplomatic, and economic pressure must be used to promote human rights in Afghanistan. The U.S. currently makes up 40 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, and our country should have a lot of influence over what goes on.

Then some have made the argument that we could have left troops there indefinitely because we’ve had troops in Japan, Germany, and South Korea for years. There’s really no comparison because we stationed troops in those countries during the Cold War to counter Soviet Russia. No comparable threat exists today. Also, Trump accelerated the exit and chaos with the release of prisoners held by the Afghan government and his announced May 1 departure date. Staying would have required a bigger investment. Before and after the Trump administration left office, the former president left Secretary of State Anthony Blinken with a hollowed-out State Department. Trump bureaucrats sabotaged the procedure for granting refugee status and asylum.

Others have said that our military presence could have served as a promoter of women’s rights, but the Taliban have been gaining influence for years during our presence. The rural part of the country supports draconian measures against women. Women’s rights is important and a laudable goal in Afghanistan and all over the globe, but we cannot send the American military to protect and defend women’s rights everywhere. We certainly cannot use our sons and daughters to nation build in far off parts of the world that do not want an American-style Jeffersonian democracy.  We can make women’s rights, and other human rights, something to promote as a part of our diplomatic efforts, although our less than sterling recent history at defending abortion rights for women suggests more attention needs to be paid domestically before preaching to other countries.   

Biden has long favored an exit from Afghanistan since his years as President Barack Obama’s vice-president. But back then, he was overruled by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, General Stanley McChrystal, and President Obama. Carnegie Endowment Senior Fellow Stephen Wertheim has noted, “You don’t get to lose a war and expect the result to look like you won it.” SDUSA must stand strong in the whirlwind of criticism of Biden on this matter. Remember, taking a stand against the authoritarian democracy known as Trumpism – a threat to social democracy – is important as our history plays out. Biden and Blinken have been removing Americans and our allies from Kabul Airport, Pakistan, Mazar-i-Sharif and the other countries bordering Afghanistan in the north.

So, lets weave another narrative to compete with the dominant media narrative. SDUSA and its supporters must continue the charge into the 2022 midterm election. The media criticism only strengthens the right-wing, and Biden has already lost polling points. We cannot lose our democratic republic!

Jason Sibert is the Executive Director of the Peace Economy Project in St. Louis.

Patty Friend is the National Chair of Social Democrats USA.

LIZ LEADS LABOR!

AFL-CIO President Elizabeth Shuler

By Patty Friend and Jason Sibert

The labor movement recently lost one of our heroes – American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organization (AFL-CIO) President Richard Trumka. Trumka meant a lot to us because he was a great man and a great trade unionist who advocated for many progressive ideas. As we mourn his passing, we are however buoyed by the election of Liz Shuler, the first woman president of the Federation.

She’s dedicated to organizing the unorganized, which is radical for someone coming out of the building trades. Trumka supported organizing the unorganized, but his presidency coincided with a conservative congress and four years of President Donald Trump and a conservative National Labor Relations board that rarely met or supported workers. Since President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1965, women in America have made tremendous strides, and Shuler is the latest success story.

Her father was an electrical lineman for Portland General Electric and her mother was a secretary for the same company. While in college, Shuler worked summers for GE and received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Oregon in 1992 and was active in the state Democratic Party. Her first job was as a union organizer, one of a small group of women organizers at the time, for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 125. She worked on a campaign to organize clerical workers – mostly women – at PG & E. She became a lobbyist for the IBEW in 1997, representing the union before the Oregon Legislature. One of her chief accomplishments for the union was the defeat of a bill (promoted by Enron) to deregulate Oregon’s electricity market, a terrible anti-union bill. 

Shuler also served on the State of Oregon Management-Labor Advisory Committee on Workers’ Compensation and was appointed an IBEW delegate to the Northwest Oregon Central Labor Council. In 1998, she led the AFL-CIO’s successful effort to defeat California Proposition 226, which would have denied dues check-off to public employees belonging to unions and required all union members in the state to annually give their assent before any portion of their dues could be used for political purposes, another terrible anti-union bill – this kind of legislation has been promoted by Republicans and the right-wing all over the United States. She defeated a bill that was designed to destroy the labor movement and its political power.

After the California effort, Shuler was appointed an IBEW international representative and moved to Washington D.C., where she worked in the IBEW’s Political/Legislative Affairs Department. She was appointed executive assistant to IBEW President Edwin Hill in June 2004, making her the highest-ranking woman in the union’s history, an extremely powerful position. Shuler supervised and coordinated 11 of the IBEW’s departments, including its education, research, political/legislative affairs, public relations, and workplace safety divisions.

Shuler said she intends to spend much of her term reaching out to workers under the age of 35 and using new media to reach out to workers, their families, and union supporters. Organizing the unorganized entails providing new opportunities for the labor movement to engage with workers in the new economy (eg: the gig economy). She also said she would work with the AFL-CIO’s affiliates to balance the federation’s budget, which was running a deficit and whose liabilities exceeded its assets by $2.3 million in 2008.

The story of women in the union movement is a long one, particularly in apparel manufacturing, social services, and hotel and restaurant workers. The International Lady Garment Workers Union, led at one time by social democrat David Dubinsky, was founded in 1900 and had a primarily female membership. The ILGWU merged with the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union, at one time led by social democrat Sidney Hillman, in the 1990 to form UNITE, and UNITE merged with the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Workers Union to form UNITE HERE in 2004. The ACTWU was formed in a revolt against the American Federation of Labor’s United Garment Workers.

More recently, the Service Employees International Union was run by women. The Coalition of Labor Union Women was founded in 1974 and supported by George Meaney, Lane Kirkland, Tom Donahue, and a majority of the AFL-CIO’s executive board who also supported the organizing of women into the unions and endorsed women in leadership positions throughout the movement.  The CLUW supported and worked for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment as well as other progressive legislation. It’s a big deal for a woman like Shuler to emerge from the more conservative building trades. There’s been a lot of progress over the years when it comes to women in these unions.  This is a great day for women trade unionists and a great day for the American labor movement. We predict it will prove to be a great day for the Democratic Party and Americans all over. Congrats to President Shuler – and to us.  

Patty Friend is the National Chair of Social Democrats USA.

Jason Sibert is the Executive Director of the Peace Economy Project.

Editor’s Note: A Happy Labor Day to all AND a Happy Rosh Hashonah – Jewish New Year 5782 – to our Jewish members, subscribers and friends. A rare occasion for both holidays to occur on the same day!

REST IN POWER, RICHARD TRUMKA!

DO RIGHT BY OUR VETERANS!

By Michael Mottern

It was said to me at the Westside Buffalo New York VFW post where I received my hunting license by the instructors that we remember, above all else, hunter safety at all times and thank our veterans. Because if it wasn’t for them, I would not have the privilege of hunting public lands or freely backpacking around Europe. I get it, veterans have made a large sacrifice for us. But we were also told not to dress or act like militiamen or just shoot at anything. “Maybe you would like to take out your camera and snap a picture of your trophy animal instead…”

At that time in 1996 the NRA was not as taboo or the bankrupted organization that stands today. This is why Social Democrats USA recently passed a resolution for environmentalism, Food Justice and Hunters for Regulation & Environmental Protection. Expanding inclusiveness of the SD USA’s large tent of 99 percenters! This includes veterans rights and conservation.

Before 9/11, I believed the military and even conservatives were in limbo about where the military was going and who can their families rally behind for in support? Since then, there has been a sore feeling due to the continuous,endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (hopefully ended with today’s announced pullout), with the veterans at Walter Reed Hospital being really let down when it comes to their rights as well as their social benefits. Veterans overwhelmingly are the 99% that Occupy Wall Street was talking about and the 47% that the 2012 Mitt Romney presidential campaign, for instance, was disparaging. 

America has been outraged and disgusted at the way this country treats its veterans coming back from war and in the mental health community. We can say for certain that nobody cares more about or provide more money in Congress for Veterans Affairs than socialist senator Bernie Sanders; money for benefits like eyeglasses, dental care, hearing aids, mental health therapy and crisis services He understands that better facilities at VA hospitals would be more appreciated then longer deployments and a back door draft!

This isn’t the only time when service members and veterans men and women were screwed over by the government when it came to social welfare. In Buffalo New York in 1919, unemployed soldiers and sailors took to the streets demanding full employment and siding with the Buffalo Soviet before the police kicked out every protester from Niagara Square, most of whom were former and unemployed disgruntled Army personnel. 

In 1932, Congress during the Great Depression cut off extra bonuses for homeless  World War 1 veterans camping out in Washington DC – the Bonus Army. Instead of giving them coffee and sandwiches, President Herbert Hoover with the help of army officer George Patton expelled, shot and beat thousands of Bonus Marchers and killed and wounded several others. Patton would later say it was the lowest point of his career. In fact, these events were so contentious that the common people were in full support of the veterans and the nation’s politics were ripe for revolt!

It shows you if you leave your veterans behind, the government will eventually have to pay the piper.

Michael Mottern is First Vice-Chair of Social Democrats USA.

ENDORSEMENT: DENNIS KUCINICH FOR MAYOR

By Jason Sibert

It’s hard to find anyone in American politics who has kept to his convictions more than Dennis Kucinich. He reentered public life recently with an announcement of a run for mayor of Cleveland, Ohio.  Kucinich has a long career in public service. He grew up in Cleveland, the son of a truck driver father and a homemaker mother. Kucinich started his political career with a run for Cleveland city council in 1967 which he lost. He won a seat on the council in 1969 and was elected mayor of Cleveland in 1977.  

His tenure as mayor (1977-1979) was considered one of the most tumultuous in the history of the city.  He was the youngest mayor in the history of big city mayors, earning him the name “boy mayor.” During his time in office, Kucinich refused to sell the city’s publicly owned utility, Municipal Light. The Cleveland Mafia plotted to assassinate him in a contract killing, but the plot fell apart when he was hospitalized and missed the Columbus Day Parade. The Cleveland Trust Company, a bank, required the city’s debts to be paid in full, forcing the city into default. The company made the announcement after the news broke that the mayor would not sell the utility. Kucinich was defeated by George Voinovich in his reelection bid in 1979. In 1998, the Cleveland City Council honored him for having the “courage and foresight” to stand up to the banks. Municipal Light saved the city $185 million between 1985 and 1995. Kucinich’s stand for city-owned utilities should be considered a stand for social democracy, or what might be called “sewer socialism.”  

Kucinich later served as an Ohio state senator (1995-1997) and United States Congressman (1997-2013). He’s voiced support for single-payer healthcare and a federal Department of Peace over the years. Kucinich is running for mayor on the establishment of a Cleveland Civic Peace Department which will identify hot spots in the city and intervene before the outbreak of violence.  This Civic Peace Department will create new policies which address crime, both in prevention and rehabilitation, establish and coordinate new community-based violence prevention programs and conflict resolution strategies. The candidate for mayor also wants to work on drug addiction by decriminalizing nonviolent drug crimes and making battling addiction a priority. Social Democrats USA gives an enthusiastic endorsement to Kucinich in his run for mayor.  

In other election news in the state of Ohio, Nina Turner ran for the Democratic nomination for Congress in the state’s 11th Congressional district. She was defeated by centrist Shontel Brown who was backed by the Democratic establishment, including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  Turner built a national profile working on Bernie Sanders’ campaigns for president in 2016 and 2020 and was backed by members of “the squad.”  Turner served on the Cleveland City Council and in the Ohio Senate. She stood for Medicare for all, criminal justice reform, expanded public education, the Green New Deal, affordable housing, and a living wage.

She began the race with a 30-point lead in the polls and her opponent has been under investigation for ethics violations. With all that plus the energy of the progressive movement behind her, why did Nina Turner lose? First, as Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ryan Grim pointed out, this was an open primary, so Republicans could vote – and apparently did – for the more conservative Shontel Brown  Secondly, the Young Turks, a progressive talk show, said in a recent broadcast that big money interests moved in an gave Brown an advantage, which I don’t doubt is the truth. Of course, this is a case in point on why we need campaign finance reform, a key point in Sanders’ runs for the presidency. Progressives have shown their ability to organize in recent years in certain political races. However, perhaps we need to organize more!

Jason Sibert is the Executive Director of the Peace Economy Project .