OTHER VOICES

Occupy’s second act

Posted Dec. 14, 2011, at 5:47 p.m.

From Portland, Ore., to Long Beach, Calif., on Monday, Occupy Wall Street demonstrators who had been kicked out of encampments at parks and city centers picketed shipping companies instead, and tried unsuccessfully to shut down port traffic. That makes a certain kind of sense for a group that’s as incensed about corporate misdeeds as it is by failures in government policy, but we’re stil l not sure it’s aiming at the right targets.

In some ways, going after shipping companies is a brilliant next step. At the Port of Long Beach, protesters picketed SSA Marine, a giant port operator partly owned by Goldman Sachs; at the Port of Hueneme, about 150 protesters targeted Del Monte Foods, which is owned by the leveraged buyout firm KKR. These shippers hit about half a dozen hot buttons common to Occupy protesters: They’re owned by big financial companies that contributed to the global economic meltdown, they’re a stand-in for all the woes brought by globalization, and they tend to have questionable environmental records (SSA is involved in plans to build a highly controversial coal-shipping terminal in Washington state) as well as labor practices. By hiring nonunion, independent contractors as truckers, SSA Marine has raised the ire of the Teamsters and other local activists.

Yet at the same time, these companies make terrible scapegoats for our country’s economic ills. Although Goldman Sachs is assuredly guilty of past malfeasance, to target the companies it has financed is both unfair and strategically clueless. SSA Marine isn’t responsible for Goldman’s shenanigans involving mortgage-backed securities. Further, financing provided by the likes of Goldman keep businesses alive and the economy flowing; without it, joblessness would be worse than it is. Moreover, blocking projects meant to transport fossil fuels will do little or nothing to end their us e; the only sensible way to solve our climate and pollution problems is to change government emissions policies. And by injecting itself into the port trucking issue, Occupy is stepping into a legal and political morass.

The shipping industry didn’t get America into this economic mess, and there is little it could do to get us out. In times of rising joblessness, it’s common to blame foreign competition for the losses at home. But blaming ports or shippers for the changes wrought by an increasingly global economy is sort of like fingering automakers for urban traffic congestion. In its search for a new direction, Occupy Wall Street would probably do better to occupy the National Mall than San Pedro.

Los Angeles Times, Dec. 13

Iranians in Iraq

To some, including the U.S. government, the Mujahedin-e Khalq is a terrorist organization that is responsible for the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, of civilians, including Americans in Tehran in the 1970s. To others, it is the voice of democratic Iranian opposition.

This debate, fueled in part by the group’s handsomely paid stable of former U.S. officials who act as advocates, should be put aside to focus on a much more immediate and potentially explosive problem.

Come Dec. 31, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has ordered the closure of Camp Ashraf, an encampment 35 miles north of Baghdad that has been home for 25 years to members of the MEK. The camp currently houses some 3,400 people. The MEK fled Iran in the mid-1980s and took up arms with Saddam Hussein in the fight against Iran; the group has also been linked to Saddam Hussein’s violent suppression of Iraqi Shiites and Kurds, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. Incidents of terrorism attributed to MEK have significantly declined since 2001, but hostility to the group still runs high and was evident in the April massacre of dozens of Camp Ashraf residents by Iraqi forces.

The bloodshed could be even worse if the remaining residents are not moved out of the camp by Mr. Maliki’s deadline, which coincides with the pullout of U.S. troops. Some fear that Mr. Maliki could turn a blind eye to violence at Camp Ashraf or forcibly send to Iran MEK members, who fear persecution.

The Obama administration has won Iraqi agreement for a plan that could avoid these outcomes. Overseen by Martin Kobler, the U.N. envoy to Iraq, it calls for the MEK members to be moved to the United States’ former Camp Liberty base, near Baghdad’s international airport, where they would be interviewed and processed by the United Nations’ refugee agency. Interviews would be done individually, allowing each person to state his or her wishes for relocation without intimidation from the group’s leaders. The United Nations would monitor the process to protect against abuses. Officials say none of the MEK members would be returned to Iran against their will.

This is a decent solution to a thorny problem. The sticking point is the MEK’s Paris-based leadership, which is demanding that U.S. troops or U.N. peacekeeping forces provide security at the new camp. With the last U.S. soldiers on the way out and U.N. peacekeepers nowhere in sight, that is a condition that can’t and won’t be met. It’s time for the MEK — and its American mouthpieces — to drop unrealistic demands and accept a plan that offers the best chance to safeguard its members.

Washington Post, Dec. 14

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