The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Issue no. 1031 — April 3 - 17, 2017

Oppose the U.S. Wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen

Apr 3, 2017

Two months after President Trump took office, the U.S. military has been enmeshing itself deeper and deeper in a string of wars throughout the Middle East region. The U.S. military is sending in more troops and launching more air strikes into Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and Syria.

These attacks have caused devastation and mass slaughter. On March 17, U.S. air strikes and artillery flattened a big part of Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, killing hundreds of civilians. Residents compared the devastation to Hiroshima, Japan, the first target of the U.S. atomic bomb during World War II. Near the Syrian city of Aleppo, U.S. air strikes hit a mosque complex, killing more than 60 people. In another Syrian city, Raqqa, U.S. air strikes hit a school, killing at least 33 people.

U.S. troops have been sent to join the months-long battle for Mosul, a battle that is far from over. They are being sent into battle in Syria and Yemen.

For years, U.S. officials pretended that the wars the U.S. military launched in Afghanistan in 2001 and in Iraq in 2003 were over. They pretended that the U.S. had gotten out, removed all its troops, except perhaps for a few “advisors.” And the U.S. news media fell in line. News from the wars drifted to the back pages. But these wars were not just continuing, they were spreading to other countries and getting more intense.

This happened under Obama. Now, the same thing is happening under Trump.

To carry out these wars, the U.S. military has often relied on drones to drop bombs, a war by remote control. But the bombs are deadly and the destruction is real.

No matter how deadly the bombs are, battles and wars are still waged by troops on the ground. To carry out these wars, the U.S. has used the military forces of its puppet governments, which the U.S. funds and supplies. Besides that, the U.S. has helped build up, train, arm and equip an assortment of militias and terrorist gangs. The U.S. also funds regional allies who act as surrogates for the U.S., including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan. And under some circumstances, the U.S. military collaborates with its rivals. In Iraq, the U.S. military works closely with Iranian forces. In Syria, the U.S. has been working with the Russians. The U.S. may publicly condemn them for atrocities, even while the U.S. bombs the same targets.

But ultimately, in order to maintain its dominant position, the U.S. military relies on its own forces. Sometimes, these U.S. forces are paid mercenaries, provided by private companies. Other times, they are troops of its imperial allies, through NATO. But most often, it is the U.S. military itself, whose numbers in the Middle East are growing.

The populations of all these different countries are caught between warring armies and militias, leaving millions dead. Big parts of the population try to survive in a living hell, with no place to live and no food to eat. The numbers are staggering. The United Nations recently warned, for example, that more than half the population of Yemen faces famine and starvation because of the war, while more than half the population in Syria has been forced from their homes and are living as refugees.

Working people in the U.S. also pay for these wars. They turn people around the world against people in this country, because of the actions that the U.S. government takes in our name. With the devastation, destruction and famines, why would anyone be surprised that terrorism springs out of them?

We have been paying a price for years for these wars. When we give our support for these wars, even just be accepting them, we pay a price in our own human decency. Our tax money should go to pay for schools, roads and so many other things. Instead it is taken for war, death and destruction.

Working people have every reason to oppose these wars, wars that the U.S. government fights to impose the domination of the U.S. capitalist class over the peoples of the world, including the people of this country.

Pages 2-3

Republicans’ Trumpcare Fiasco

Apr 3, 2017

On Friday, March 24th, Republican leaders in Washington pulled the plug on their legislative bill, intended to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act (ACA) After pulling out every trick in their play book to threaten and cajole holdouts, Speaker of the House Ryan cancelled a “do or die” vote of Congress.

Trump, having been elected on a promise to make health care affordable, was stopped cold in his tracks, not by the Democrats, but by his own political party, the Republican Party.

Who thought this could happen? Clearly not Trump or Ryan, who held the clear majority in both House and Senate. While Trump, by his own admission, just discovered how complicated the ACA is, the Republicans of the House and Senate were well aware of its complexities.

In fact, led by Ryan, their plan was not about fixing health care. It was about converting federal Medicaid funding into lump sums of money or “block grants” that Republican state leaders can use as they please.

It was crafted for the wealthy and included elimination of any and all taxes on the wealthy and corporations and of any controls or mandates on the big medical insurers.

What caused the defeat of the bill were the irreconcilable differences in the Republican party over a plan that deeply touched voters with different interests.

In the past, the Republican Party has rested on a wealthy constituency that has disdain for the poor and working class. It rests on right wing morality to mobilize support by being against abortion, against gay marriage, against assistance to poor and working populations.

To the right wing of the party, the bill was unacceptable because it didn’t completely dump all federal spending for the population nor all controls over the bosses and the insurers.

To the middle and left of the party, especially to those elected by voters brought forward by Donald Trump’s campaign, the plan too heavily punished the very base that had brought Republicans to power.

In the end, polls showed only 17 percent of the population in favor of the bill, with 56 percent opposed.

The proposed legislation was no doubt a recipe for disaster for millions. But the failure of the bill leaves in place a health care system that is unaffordable in its own right. Under the current ACA plan passed by the Democrats, many families cannot afford both housing and health care, and many forego health care entirely due to costs like 6,000-dollar deductibles up-front before services are available, combined with sky-high premiums.

Republican plan? Democrat plan? In reality, these are two sides of the same coin. The two-party system is a con game to keep workers running between two sets of representatives, neither of which represent workers.

Affordable Care Act:
Good for Profits

Apr 3, 2017

Donald Trump said (how many times) that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is in a “Death Spiral” because insurers are pulling out of the exchanges.

But from reports on Wall Street, many of the big insurers are alive and well. Big insurers on the Standard & Poor 500 stock index reported earnings well above the average market earnings, which are already at record highs. Over a 7 year period, their earnings increased an average of 135.6 percent while the UnitedHealth Group’s increase was 480 percent! A one hundred dollar investment at the beginning of the Affordable Care Act is yielding $580.50 today!

By pulling out of the public exchanges, and using fancy accounting tricks, the giants have managed to make a megafortune on the ACA while leaving the public in the lurch.

Not to be overlooked: A giant like UnitedHealth Group makes 25 percent of its revenues from Medicare and Medicaid!

So, contrary to Trump’s forecast of gloom and doom, these insurance giants sing, “The government has been good to me! Bless the ACA and Medicaid and Medicare, too!”

Where Did the Coal Jobs Go?

Apr 3, 2017

Donald Trump’s March 27 executive order tells the Environmental Protection Agency to get rid of future regulations on coal-fired power plants.

Trump said during a Kentucky speech that his new executive order would “save our wonderful coal miners from continuing to be put out of work.

In response to Trump’s order, the boss at the largest U.S. coal company, CEO Robert E. Murray, did not promise new jobs. Instead he said, “I don’t really know how far the coal industry can be brought back.”

To this day, the United States produces a lot of coal but the number of coal jobs has been going down ever since 1920. According to researchers, recent job losses in coal have been due to automation.

Fewer coal miners produce an increasing amount of coal. Coal mining now is primarily done through above ground methods called “open pit” and “mountain top removal.” Gigantic trucks, gigantic earth movers and explosives “mine” coal.

Today, only 35 percent of mining is done underground. And parts of underground mining have been automated as well. So even if the amount of coal produced increases because of Trump’s executive order getting rid of regulations, the number of jobs will keep going down. The mining industry is moving toward self-driving equipment, both above ground and below ground.

So this executive order will not bring coal jobs back. It will just guarantee that current levels of air pollution continue. The older coal-fired U.S. power plants – which are heavy polluters – will keep operating.

Trump’s talk of creating new jobs is a fig leaf to cover up the naked truth that he wanted to hand corporations cuts in regulations!

Corporate Taxes:
High Profits, Low Taxes

Apr 3, 2017

Of the 250 richest companies in the U.S. with almost four trillion dollars in profit last year, 100 paid no taxes in at least one of the past eight years.

A new report from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy examined corporate tax returns. They found that giant companies like General Electric, International Paper, and Pacific Gas and Electric not only paid no taxes; they got tax rebates. Other corporations used various means to lower their tax bills, all part of the tax code approved by Congress. Apple, Microsoft and Coca-Cola have ways to ship profits made here overseas, to avoid U.S. taxes. Facebook, Aetna and ExxonMobil gave stock options to their executives, allowing the companies to pretend they lost money.

The tax rebates handed out to just 10 of these profitable corporations came to more than 180 billion dollars. Among the 10 were such well-known corporations as AT&T, Wells Fargo, IBM, General Electric, Boeing, and Procter & Gamble.

That’s where our taxes are going – to the bank accounts of the corporations and the rich!

Minimum Wage Hike Defeated

Apr 3, 2017

Just a week after a big majority of the Baltimore City Council voted to hike the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next several years, Mayor Catherine Pugh vetoed the increase. She also convinced at least a couple of council members who had supported the increase to announce that they would not vote to override her veto.

The mayor had promised to approve such an increase during her election campaign last year. She said she had changed her mind because she didn’t think such an increase was in the best interests of the city now.

But the bill she vetoed wouldn’t have increased the minimum wage at all right now. Minimum wages have fallen farther and farther behind inflation. The minimum would have to be raised to about $11.40 an hour right now in order to be equal to what the federal minimum was in 1968, taking inflation into account. But many economists say that in fact the minimum wage would have to be over $20 an hour or more to match the standard of living of 1968. Currently the city has no minimum wage. The Maryland state minimum is now $8.75 an hour and will rise to $9.25 an hour in July and $10.10 in 2018.

This bill would not have even started phasing in increases over several years until 2019. It wouldn’t have increased the minimum to $15 an hour until 2022 for businesses with 50 employees or more and not until 2026 for smaller businesses – nine years from now! In addition, the bill didn’t apply to workers under 21 years old, nor to workers who receive tips on their jobs no matter what their age.

A minimum wage increase similar to this one in Baltimore was recently vetoed in Montgomery County, Maryland, a big suburb of Washington D.C. The defeat of these measures and others around the country (with a few exceptions), shows that a real fight by the working class, or at least some significant part of it, will be needed to stop the reduction in workers’ standard of living that has been taking place for several decades.

Pages 4-5

“This Government Will Not Give Peace, Nor Bread, Nor Freedom!”

Apr 3, 2017

The following two articles continue our series on the Russian Revolution, taken from the words of people who were active in those events 100 years ago.

After the Russian Revolution broke out in March, Lenin, still exiled in Switzerland, had to follow events in the bourgeois press. In five letters sent to the Bolshevik paper Pravda, he analyzed the revolutionary situation in a way that cut through the mood of conciliation that followed the fall of Czarism and the establishment of a Provisional Government in the hands of the bourgeoisie. Kamenev and Stalin, editors of the paper, only published one of these Letters from Afar:

“How could such a ‘miracle’ have happened, that in only eight days ... a monarchy collapsed that had sustained itself for centuries...? ...

“The first revolution (1905) deeply ploughed the soil, uprooted age-old prejudices, awakened millions of workers and tens of millions of peasants to political life and political struggle and revealed to each other – and to the world – all classes (and all the principal parties) of Russian society in their true character and in the true alignment of their interests, their forces, their modes of action, and their immediate and ultimate aims....

“This eight-day revolution was ‘performed,’ if we may use a metaphorical expression, as though after a dozen major and minor rehearsals; the ‘actors’ knew each other, their parts, their places and their setting in every detail, through and through, down to every more or less important shade of political trend and mode of action....

“The czarist monarchy has been smashed, but not finally destroyed.

“... If there is to lie a real struggle against the czarist monarchy, if freedom is to be guaranteed in fact and not merely in words, in glib promises ..., the workers must not support the new government; the government must ‘support’ the workers!...

“Ours is a bourgeois revolution, we Marxists say, therefore the workers must open the eyes of the people to the deception practiced by the bourgeois politicians, teach them to put no faith in words, to depend entirely on their own strength, their own organization, their own unity, and their own weapons.

“The (provisional) government cannot, even if it sincerely wanted to (only infants can think that the government is sincere), cannot give the people either peace, bread, or freedom.

“It cannot give peace because it is a war government, a government for the continuation of the imperialist slaughter, a government of plunder, out to plunder Armenia, Galicia, Turkey, annex Constantinople, reconquer Poland, Courland, Lithuania, etc....

“It cannot give bread because it is a bourgeois government.... The people will learn, and probably very soon, that there is bread and that it can be obtained, but only by methods that do not respect the sanctity of capital and land ownership.

“It cannot give freedom because it is a landlord and capitalist government which fears the people ...

“Workers, you have performed miracles of proletarian heroism, the heroism of the people, in the civil war against czarism. You must perform miracles of organization, organization of the proletariat and of the whole people, to prepare the way for your victory in the second stage of the revolution.

“... Who are the proletariat’s allies in this revolution?

“It has two allies: First, the broad mass of the semi-proletarian and partly also of the small-peasant population, who number scores of millions and constitute the overwhelming majority of the population of Russia. For this mass, peace, bread and freedom are essential.

“Second, the ally of the Russian proletariat is the proletariat of all the belligerent countries and of all countries in general. At present this ally is to a large degree repressed by the war, and all too often the European social-chauvinists speak in its name, men who ... have deserted to the bourgeoisie. But the liberation of the proletariat from their influence has progressed with every month of the imperialist war, and the Russian revolution will inevitably immensely hasten this process.”

Factory Committees, Soviets, and Workers Power

Apr 3, 2017

In April 1917, a little more than a month after the victory of the revolution in Petrograd and the abdication of Nicholas II, the workers organized themselves more and more independently from the Provisional Government, and they did so certainly against its wishes. Workers elected committees on the level of the workshops, the factories, the working class neighborhoods, and the cities. These were sites of debate where everyone could express themselves and learn, but these committees also made decisions that affirmed the power and consciousness of the working class.

A worker reports how the soviet was built and gained its influence in Saratov, a city 500 miles southwest of Moscow: “It’s been five days since the soviet of workers and soldiers deputies was organized here. But it seems like several years have passed here. Everything has changed. The masses are organized with a remarkable spirit of spontaneity. A feverish work reigns over everything. The last vestiges of what was here just recently and for a long time have collapsed. We are building a new life, a new order. (...) The soviet of workers deputies was organized in 24 hours. At its first meeting, it already had 88 deputies from 49 workplaces. Now we can say that all the workplaces in Saratov are represented in the soviet: 213 representatives from 79 workplaces. The influence of the soviet doesn’t stop growing. (...) The soviet today counts 44 soldier representatives. (...)

A little later, we heard that the peasants in the nearby villages were electing their representatives to the soviet of workers deputies. The delegates from the towns in the region began to arrive. In this way, in five days, the soviet became an important organization, exercising an increasingly serious influence on the life of the region and with its decisions in the interests of the revolution. (...) The freedom of speech, of assembly, and of the press became a reality. Meetings were held every day in the theaters, the conference rooms, etc. Pamphlets were distributed to the soldiers, to the population, to the workers, with the words of the new order: The Constituent Assembly and the democratic republic. In an instant, the thousands of pamphlets that had been printed were all handed out. The paper Izvestia, of the workers deputies, provided a large number of examples. And the executive committee received requests for political literature from many places in Saratov.”

One of the first measures of the soviets was the construction of a militia, from which the old police were excluded. Everywhere, and without waiting, the workers tried in effect to impose their own decisions and the “self-government of the factories.” This is how, in the rope industry in Petrograd, the workers committee stated its new powers:

“To authorize supplementary work; organize the election of workers’ representatives to meetings with management; watch over the sanitary conditions in the factory;

Control the firing and layoff of workers; establish connections with workers in other factories; organize meetings;

Defend the interests of the workers against management; regulate problems of wages with management; organize with them agreements on the questions of vacations;

Represent the workers in front of management in all questions of general interest; the workers must not speak individually with them.”

A militant worker recalled this speech from a meeting of 15,000 miners in the Urals: “In everything dealing with the provisional government, we must deal with the fact that it is made of bourgeois. It cannot satisfy the needs of the revolutionary people unless we press on it with more weight. We must immediately watch the turns of its policies in a bourgeois direction.”

The London Attack and State Terrorism

Apr 3, 2017

Was the attack of March 22 in London that killed four people really an Islamic attack against the British Parliament, or was it a senseless act of despair? After days of commentary on television about the terrorist menace orchestrated from afar by ISIS, the real story came to light – and it was very different.

Like the attacks of 2005 and 2013, the attacker was born and raised in Britain, son of an English mother and a father from the Caribbean. After getting into brawls at the end of drinking binges, he had gone to prison a few times. After he converted to Islam, he changed his name to Khalid Massood and lived unnoticed for fifteen years as a father of three children, well regarded by his neighbors. Then, last December, he and his family were evicted from their home. It had become too expensive, since he didn’t have a job with a regular salary.

For the victims and their families, obviously, a disaster is still a disaster, whatever the causes. But the media and politicians showed shameless hypocrisy in this case. For example, a daily paper ran a headline in giant type: “The Killer Was an Unemployment Insurance Cheat.” Since there was no real terrorist, they were happy to have an unemployed person to blame! This came after the same paper sprayed their usual venom against the “fake refugee terrorists” in their previous issues. And during this time, all the political leaders, from the Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May to the Labour Party Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, sang a chorus of national unity in the face of terrorism.

The same press and the same politicians are totally silent about the victims of coalition bombings. The same day as the attack in London, thirty-three people were killed in the bombing of a school in the Syrian village of Tabqa where hundreds of refugees were hiding. Fifty-two more were killed in the bombing of a mosque four days earlier, also in Syria.

Whether these bombs are American, British, or maybe French, changes nothing. Ignoring the real motives of Khalid Massood on March 22 is no doubt linked to avoiding any discussion of the motivations of the leaders of the rich countries in their wars in Syria and Iraq. They try above all else to impose their imperialist order on the whole region – that is, the rule of their multinationals. And they use terrorism which is just as deadly for the populations as that used by ISIS.

Pages 6-7

Raids Terrorize Immigrants in Chicago

Apr 3, 2017

As Felix Torres opened the door to his house on Chicago’s Northwest side at 6:20 AM on March 27, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents shot him in the arm. They say he had a gun – he and his family insist he was unarmed. After shooting Torres, the agents pushed into the house, pointing guns at the family including his one-year-old granddaughter, and kicked the family out of the house for hours, without giving them time to gather clothes or milk for the baby.

ICE later admitted they had the wrong house and no one in the Torres family is here illegally.

President Trump says raids like this one are aimed at protecting people in this country. He tweeted “The crackdown on illegal criminals is merely the keeping of my campaign promise. Gang members, drug dealers & others are being removed!” What hypocrisy! ICE agents shooting a man in his own house and pointing guns at a family is exactly the opposite of making people in this country safer!

Pretending to stand up to Trump, Chicago’s city government says it’s on the side of immigrants and calls Chicago a “sanctuary city.” But the alderman of the ward where the Torres family lives, Gilbert Villegas, expressed the doubts raised by this raid: “We're going to have to talk to CPD (the Chicago Police Department) to find out if this was a coordinated effort, because if it was in any way, that raises concerns about us as a sanctuary city." Maybe the Chicago police actively help ICE, maybe not. But CPD certainly does NOT stand in ICE’s way or do anything to protect immigrants. No, these raids are supposedly carried out against “felons” identified as such in CPD records, including people with no more than decades-old DUI convictions.

In reality, despite their nice words, the Chicago city government offers no sanctuary whatsoever to undocumented immigrants – or to immigrants who are documented and have been for decades, like Felix Torres, or even to citizens like his U.S.-born one-year-old granddaughter.

The Democrats who run Chicago and the Republicans running ICE serve the bosses, not workers – immigrant or U.S.-born.

The bosses have no interest right now in actually deporting very many immigrant workers. But they do have an interest in terrorizing them to submit to whatever wages and working conditions the bosses want, so this desperate group can be used against other workers. Plus, they have an interest in getting U.S.-born workers to blame immigrants for their problems – instead of the bosses who actually caused them. These ICE raids effectively terrorize immigrant workers without deporting very many.

The Republicans say they’ll protect workers born here by deporting immigrants, and the Democrats promise “sanctuary” to immigrants. Both parties are trying to play us for fools.

Wayne State Takes the Lead in Attacking Professors’ Tenure

Apr 3, 2017

The heads of Wayne State University in Detroit and their friends in the corporate media are mounting a concerted attack on tenure for college professors. University President M. Roy Wilson and Medical School Dean Jack Sobel have started proceedings to revoke the tenure of five medical school professors they claim are “underperforming.”

The five Wayne State professors currently facing hearings to revoke their tenure have taught at the university for an average of 30 years. One of the professors pointed out at a meeting with Sobel that he had been moved to a lab with inadequate equipment to carry out his research, which the university knew full well.

The attack on these five is just the start of a grander scheme to go after tenured professors. Last year Wayne State identified 60 to 80 medical school faculty they claim are similarly “underperforming,” and in August specifically mentioned 37 who could be terminated or forced to retire.

These university officials claim these proceedings are about raising the university’s level of “excellence.” The Detroit News in an editorial even floated the fiction that the attack on tenure was for the good of the students.

What hogwash! Full-time professors are expected to carry out research that is more and more financed by private corporations. In the medical field, for example, most research is paid for and carried out for the interests of the pharmaceutical and medical supply industries. Its direction is determined by what can be made profitable. None of this has anything to do with “excellence” or the welfare of college students.

Wayne State, like universities all around the country, has set up a two-tier system among those who provide instruction to students. Nationally, only about 25% of all college professors are tenured. That figure is half what it was in 1975. At Wayne State, counting graduate assistants who are allowed to be fully responsible for the teaching of classes, only 22% of instructors currently have tenure, and 69% are either part-time professors or grad assistants, paid far less than the tenured professors, with little to no job security.

Tenure assures professors the ability to speak freely in the classroom and the time to devote to classroom preparation, rather than being solely concerned with meeting the requirements of the universities’ corporate sponsors. If universities were truly concerned about education for their students, they would hire more full-time professors, not fewer.

Professors are experiencing what many workers are going through, with a two-tier wage and benefit scheme leading to attacks on pensions, retiree health care benefits and wages for more senior workers. If professors thought tenure gave them complete protection from the attacks workers have faced, they are about to find out otherwise – if university administrators like those at Wayne State succeed in their attacks.

Page 8

Debt Forgiveness?

Apr 3, 2017

In 2007, the federal government set up a program to forgive student-loan debt for people who work ten years in a public-service job. Over 500,000 people who work for public schools, museums, public hospitals, non-profits, or as firefighters were already supposedly approved for the program. Millions more are eligible.

Now that the first wave of these people have worked ten years in public service – the government is going back on its promise. Thousands of approval letters have been sent out – but the Education Department says they are not binding. It had the nerve to suggest that borrowers could not rely on the program’s administrator to say whether they qualify for the program or not!

Many of these workers owe tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. If they have to pay the debt themselves – debt they accumulated in order to get the education they needed to work these public service jobs – these workers will lose hundreds of dollars out of each paycheck.

Imagine if the government instead decided not to pay for the weapons it agreed to buy. Or if the government decided not to give out all the “incentives” they promised to corporations. Of course, they would never do that – because they serve those corporations, not us!

Pricing the Poor out of Education

Apr 3, 2017

The following article is copied from Workers’ Fight, the paper of the British revolutionary workers group of that name. Its subject will be familiar to readers in the U.S., except that the increases in the cost of university education are even more shocking in Britain, where it used to be free.

Over a period of 19 years, university education has gone from free for all, to 1,000 pounds a year (1,250 dollars) under Blair in 2009, and now as much as 9,000 pounds a year (11,250 dollars). This is outrageous. Knowledge has become a commodity to be bought and sold. And like all private companies, university managements are trying to cut costs and raise prices on “their commodity.”

After removing the annual 9,000-pound cap on university fees, the government is allowing increases in line with inflation. So fees have already jumped to 9,250 pounds, and will soon cross the 10,000-pound mark. For a three-year undergraduate degree, this will come to 30,000 pounds (37,500 dollars)! Universities fear that all this could put off potential “customers,” for whom it would be unaffordable to spend these amounts (plus housing and living costs for three years!) while being unable to enter employment during a full-time course. Their solution? To offer an assembly-line-style “fast-track” 2-year degree – but for the same price as a 3-year course!

Education for profit is leading to crazy scenarios. How can knowledge, which is our inheritance from the whole of human history, be “monopolized” by a handful of private companies? No, it needs to be freed from their stranglehold.

Jail “Upgrades” for Rich Criminals

Apr 3, 2017

In California, some criminals can avoid the horrors of jail life – the overcrowding; the unsanitary conditions; the violent fights; and abuse by guards – but only those who can afford California’s “pay-to-stay” jails.

Like everything else in a market economy, the lucky – that is, the rich and connected – can shop around. The price per night ranges between a $25 “bargain-basement bed” in La Verne to a $251 bed in Hermosa Beach.

California’s “justice system” allows judges to send convicts to jails run by cities, instead of the state or county prison systems. So a convict with enough money can hire a lawyer who knows how to transfer the case to a judge willing to do that.

At least 26 cities in L.A. and Orange Counties offer pay-to-stay jail beds, and many of them actively look for customers. Seal Beach, a city of 24,000, even took out an ad in the magazine LA Weekly in 2013, asking, “Why spend your jail sentence of 365 days or less at county?” The ad then listed the “amenities” Seal Beach jails offered: flat-screen TV; computer room; cleanliness; new beds.

They even offer “work release” – which one ex-LAPD cop, sentenced to serve one year in 2012 for stalking and harassing his ex-wife, took advantage of. He spent the daytime hours of his jail time working as a security guard!

Authorities also didn’t seem to be too strict about what type of crime had been perpetrated, as long as the bill was paid for. Some pay-to-stay convicts in California had committed serious and violent crimes leading to severe injury or harm to another person, including robbery, battery, domestic violence and sexual assault.

In this rotten society, prisons subdue an exploited working class. But for people from the more privileged layers of society, who can’t buy their way out of serving time altogether – well, the authorities are ready to “work something out” for them!

Louisiana Prisoners Sue to End Solitary Confinement

Apr 3, 2017

Three Louisiana death row inmates filed a class-action lawsuit against a prison policy requiring all prisoners on death row to be kept in solitary confinement until their execution. They say the policy amounts to “cruel and unusual punishment.”

Because of the policy, many death row inmates in Louisiana spend decades in solitary. Currently there are 71 prisoners on death row in the state, all housed at the notorious Angola State Penitentiary. Fifty-six of those have been in solitary confinement for over 10 years, 45 for over 15 and 20 for more than 20 years.

Death row inmates are kept in small 8 foot by 10 foot cells, with no windows, for 23 hours a day. They are only allowed to leave their cells for one hour per day to shower, make phone calls and walk near their cells. They have no human contact with anyone other than prison employees.

These prisoners are right. Being kept in solitary for any extended period is a form of torture. Human beings are social beings, and need human contact.

The death penalty itself is inhumane, and certainly as long as prisoners are being incarcerated, they deserve to be treated like human beings!

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