‘Could have gone either way’: Railroad union deal barely survived

“Steering clear of disaster required some 20 straight hours of talks beginning Wednesday that taxed Labor Department coffee supplies, kept West Wing office lights burning through the early hours and left everyone involved bleary-eyed and largely sleepless.”

What a rail strike could mean for you (and the economy)

“Tens of thousands of freight rail workers are prepared to go on strike on Friday at 12:01 am, which could have wide-ranging effects across the economy. It’s already causing some disruptions for rail passengers, freight companies, and others.

The cause is a dispute between the freight industry and the workers who make it run.

Most of the 12 unions representing the workers have already agreed to a proposal put together by a presidential emergency board established by the White House over the summer to try to help resolve the dispute. The proposal includes a 24 percent increase in wages for workers by 2024, but many workers have complained that it fails to address leave, on-call scheduling, and poor working conditions.

The holdout unions’ position is that pay increases aren’t enough to make up for some real downsides — and dangerous aspects — of the job.

The two most powerful unions involved in the negotiations, which represent engineers and conductors, are continuing to resist the proposal, putting both sides in a deadlock. If workers do go on the strike they appear to be hurtling toward, it would be the first such strike in 30 years.”

“If a freight strike were to occur — and especially if it’s long-lasting — it could have disastrous effects across an already fragile economy still reeling from supply chain disruptions and inflation.

“Rail moves a lot of the foundational, basic goods that we don’t think about day-to-day,” said Rachel Premack, editorial director at FreightWaves, which covers supply chains. “They’ll move sand and gravel that would then be crushed into concrete for roads or for laying home foundations. Railroads move the chemicals used to purify water or to compromise fertilizer for crops, soybeans that could become food for humans or [animals] that are then food for humans. It’s a lot of early-chain-type goods.”

Many passenger trains also run on freight rails, and their service could be suspended. Amtrak has already warned of potential disruptions and canceled cross-country trains in anticipation of a strike, though so far its Northeast service will not be affected.”

“Replacing freight with other forms of transportation is not easy if workers do walk out. Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition, told Vox in an interview that one train has the freight capacity of 400 semi-trucks. “I don’t know of a shipper who just has 400 semis sitting in a garage ready to be accessed,” he said. He noted that for agriculture, the timing couldn’t be worse because of harvest season, adding more urgency for a deal.”

“Under the Railway Labor Act, Congress has the ability to block or end a rail strike. Since 1963, it has passed legislation more than 10 times to intervene in rail disputes.

So far, though, Democratic leaders have been reluctant to commit to doing so, while Republicans have been eager to pressure workers into agreeing to the terms set by the presidential emergency board.

If Congress were to intervene, there are a few routes lawmakers could take. They could require the unions and carriers to accept the presidential emergency board’s conditions, which included a pay increase but no acknowledgment of other demands like sick leave. They could extend the existing cooling-off period so both sides have more time to negotiate. Or they could turn the talks over to independent arbitrators who would be tasked with finding a resolution.

For now, congressional Democrats are waiting to see what might come out of the talks the Labor Department is leading between unions and railroad carriers on Wednesday before they lay out a policy response.”

Will America’s Military Reckon with the Reckless Murders Perpetuated by Its Drone Wars?

“Throughout America’s War on Terror, whistleblowers have been warning that drone strikes have frequently killed people who were neither terrorists nor insurgents, just innocent civilians trying to survive in a war zone.

Over the weekend, in a detailed, heavily reported two-part story, The New York Times documented how Washington’s “precision drone strikes” have been anything but precise. Not only did they repeatedly kill innocents, including children, but more often than not the military failed to examine adequately why these mistakes were made, failed to correct its procedures, and failed to hold anybody accountable.

When an ill-advised August drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan, killed aid worker Zamari Ahmadi and nine of members of his family (including seven children), military officials first insisted the strike had hit terrorists plotting to attack the airport as American troops were leaving the country. Only after the media began investigating the strike did the truth came out. Yet last week, the Pentagon announced that no troops involved in the misbegotten strike would be disciplined. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said, “What we saw here was a breakdown in process, and execution in procedural events, not the result of negligence, not the result of misconduct, not the result of poor leadership.”

An alternative way to read that quote, based on the massive Times report from the weekend, is that what happened to Ahmadi and his family was an example of how America’s drone program actually works. It has not, in fact, operated as a tool to surgically take out ISIS terrorist leaders and destroy individual cells, as Americans have been told again and again. The military will admit to killing at least 1,300 civilians in these strikes. That’s just the number of civilians documented in Pentagon reports the Times analyzed. The actual (uncertain) number of civilian deaths due to drone strikes is much higher—between 22,000 and 48,000.”

U.S. Drone Strikes Plunge Under Biden

“Airwars, an independent nonprofit that tracks strikes and casualties in conflict areas like Iraq, Syria, and Libya, provides regular assessments of civilian deaths. And in their latest data which spans the first year of Biden’s presidency, civilian deaths and strikes plunged in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen.

The differences are striking, even keeping in mind we’re comparing just one year of Biden’s presidency with four years of President Donald Trump and eight years of President Barack Obama.

During the length of Trump’s four-year presidency, Airwars documented more than 16,000 air and artillery military strikes in Iraq and Syria, which itself was a decline of more than 1,500 strikes when compared to Obama’s second term. During Biden’s first year, there have been 39 total military strikes spread between both countries.

Alleged civilian deaths in Iraq and Syria skyrocketed under Trump’s four years in office to more than 13,000 compared to 5,600 during Obama’s second term. Thus far, Airwars reports only 10 under the Biden administration. There have been no reported civilian deaths in Somalia thus far during Biden’s term, compared to 134 under Trump and 42 under Obama over both of his terms. Strikes in Yemen, which had declined each year throughout Trump’s administration, have dropped to just four this year (Airwars did not provide civilian deaths for Yemen).

This follows reporting earlier this year that Biden had quietly imposed restrictions on the use of drone strikes outside of active war zones. Trump had eased restrictions and allowed the military and CIA to decide when to strike, thus explaining the dramatic increase in strikes and civilian deaths in Somalia during his term. Biden is now requiring the White House to vet and approve these strikes, for now, until the administration sets up new formal policies (about which we know very little, but observers hope will require more procedures to ensure that civilians aren’t killed).”

In U.N. Speech, Biden Says America Is Not at War for First Time in 20 Years. That’s Just Not True.

“As commander in chief, Biden is still operating under the authority of the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), which, on paper, grants the president only authority to bring the military to bear against those responsible for the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but in reality has been used by multiple U.S. presidents to authorize very broad military interventions throughout the world.

Furthermore, the 2002 AUMF, which directly authorized the military invasion of Iraq, is still in force. The House voted in June to repeal the 2002 AUMF, but that repeal hasn’t passed the Senate yet. We still have thousands of troops in Iraq and are currently planning to keep them there indefinitely. The plan is that these troops will serve as logistics and advisory help for Iraq’s government, but they will most definitely still be involved in fights against the Islamic State.

We may have pulled troops out of Somalia, but we’re still performing airstrikes there against Al Qaida affiliate al-Shabab. In June, the Pentagon announced that it is considering putting troops right back in there.

And none of that gets into the countless—well, not countless, but the numbers are deliberately concealed from the American public—drone strikes in places like Somalia, Iraq, Pakistan, and Libya. We don’t really have data on drone use under the Biden administration yet, save the disastrous one from late August in Kabul that killed 10 civilians, including 7 children. Biden has reportedly quietly implemented stricter rules on the use of drones outside of war zones and the White House is evaluating the legal and policy “frameworks” for continuing to use them.

Biden might not see all of this piecemeal military intervention as “war,” but let’s be clear here: We’re talking about thousands of U.S. troops overseas involved in potentially killing armed combatants. And Biden currently still has congressional permission to wage war.”

Airstrikes Against U.S. Troops in Iraq Highlight Dangers of Our Presence in the Middle East

“rockets struck Ayn al-Asad air base, a military facility in Iraq that hosts American troops. U.S. Army Colonel Wayne Marotto, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, tweeted that the attack did not result in casualties. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the action.

Even without human loss, Monday’s hostilities highlight the risks associated with a continued U.S. troop presence and ongoing military engagement in the Middle East. The attack came just one week after President Joe Biden’s June 27 airstrikes on facilities used by Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Syria, which prompted rocket attacks against U.S. troops in Syria the very next day. There have been many tit-for-tat exchanges between the U.S. and Iran-linked parties since former President Donald Trump ordered the assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in January 2020. Though it’s unclear who ordered the Monday attack, it is clear that U.S. strikes and troops have failed to deter further antagonism from hostile parties in the region.

While Biden has made the Afghanistan troop withdrawal a centerpiece of his presidential agenda, his plans for the U.S. presence in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East are far vaguer. Following the Soleimani assassination on Iraqi soil, the Iraqi Parliament passed a resolution to expel U.S. troops from the country. No timetable for that withdrawal has emerged during bilateral negotiations, however, leaving the fate of the roughly 3,500 remaining U.S. troops in Iraq unsettled. Roughly 900 are still in Syria and their future is similarly murky.”

Biden ordered airstrike after determining Iran supported rocket attacks

“The attacks and retaliatory strike marked the first major military action of the Biden administration. The strike was calculated to signal to Iran that such attacks through proxies in the region would not be tolerated, the officials said, while avoiding escalation into a wider conflict as Biden seeks a diplomatic breakthrough with Tehran on the Iran nuclear deal.
The “proportionate” military response was conducted along with diplomatic measures, including consulting with coalition partners, the Pentagon said.

“The operation sends an unambiguous message: President Biden will act to protect American and coalition personnel,” said Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby. “At the same time, we have acted in a deliberate manner that aims to de-escalate the overall situation in both Eastern Syria and Iraq.””

“”The targets were chosen to correspond to the recent attacks — the facilities are utilized by KSS and KH — and to deter the risk of additional attacks over the coming weeks,” the spokesperson said. “The strikes were necessary to address the threat and proportionate to the prior attacks.”

At around 6 p.m. EST on Thursday night, U.S. fighter jets dropped seven 500-pound precision bombs on seven targets in eastern Syria, the official said. All bombs hit their targets, a crossing used by several Iran-backed militia groups to move weapons and other goods across the border. Initial reports suggest there were no casualties, militant or civilian.

Biden made the strategic decision to conduct the strike in Syria, rather than on Iraqi soil, in order to avoid pressure on the Iraqi government, the official said.

Conducting an airstrike in Syria is also less politically complicated for the Biden administration than an operation in Iraq, said Becca Wasser, an analyst with the RAND Corp. The U.S. does not need to request the permission of the Syrian government as it does not recognize Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime, she said.

The airstrike came after Biden spoke Tuesday with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi. The White House readout of the call hinted at the coming action. The men “discussed the recent rocket attacks against Iraqi and Coalition personnel and agreed that those responsible for such attacks must be held fully to account.””

US strikes Taliban in Afghanistan’s Helmand province without breaking the peace agreement

“The announcement of the targeted airstrikes followed heavy clashes during the weekend that brought the Taliban to the outskirts of the Helmand’s capital, Lashkar Gah. The Taliban also have been blamed for a rash of fighting around the country.

Despite the escalating violence, the U.S. is on course to fulfill a key commitment it made under the deal with the Taliban — to withdraw all foreign forces by May next year.”

“Military officials have said the Taliban have not held to verbal agreements with the U.S. to reduce violence against Afghan forces.

The Taliban also have fallen short of meeting conditions in the February deal, including that they would sever ties with terrorist groups like al-Qaida — the masterminds of the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. — and would start talks in March with the Afghan government.

The intra-Afghan talks only got underway in September and are expected to take months, if not years.”

Months After Soleimani’s Assassination, Another Strike on Militias in Iraq

“The administration of President Donald Trump promised to “restore deterrence” against Iran when it assassinated Iranian spymaster Gen. Qassem Soleimani outside Baghdad International Airport on January 3. But months later, the Iraqi militias formerly armed, trained, and advised by Soleimani seem undeterred, and American troops in Iraq find themselves in an escalating cycle of conflict with no end in sight.
In March, militia forces fired a barrage of Katyusha rockets at Camp Taji, killing a U.S. Army soldier, a U.S. Air Force airman, and a British servicewoman. A local militia close to Iranian intelligence services called Kata’ib Hezbollah appeared to take credit for the attack in a social media diatribe invoking the “right to resist” America’s “malicious project of occupation.”

American forces responded with what the Pentagon calls “precision defensive strikes” against five Kata’ib Hezbollah weapons depots. Iraq accused the U.S. military of killing Iraqi soldiers and civilians instead of Kata’ib Hezbollah members during the raids, aggravating already strained U.S.-Iraqi tensions. The following weekend, Katyusha rockets slammed into Camp Taji again in broad daylight.”