The Spark

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

Issue no. 1043 — October 16 - 30, 2017

How to Make A Failing Healthcare System Worse

Oct 16, 2017

Having failed in his attempts to get Congress to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Donald Trump issued executive orders he said would completely overhaul it. He declared: “This is something that millions and millions of Americans will be signing up for. They’ll be very happy, and they’ll get great care.”

Happy? Not hardly – not unless they wanted insurance that provides little coverage! Great care? Not a bit of it!

Under the ACA, someone can have short-term coverage for three months, while they wait for other coverage. Those short-term plans were not subjected to ACA’s requirements that insurance must cover a list of essential health benefits and put a cap on out-of-pocket medical expenses. Trump’s order seems to extend the limit on short-term plans from three months to one year. Effectively, that could mean that insurance companies may ignore these requirements indefinitely, since insurers sell their plans on a yearly basis.

Trump also said he was going to cut off some subsidies the federal government makes to insurance companies that provide health plans on the individual ACA marketplace. The reduction of those subsidies gives insurance companies an excuse to raise premiums. In fact, many already have, citing “unpredictability” in the marketplace. And many states have already approved large increases. In other words, they didn’t need Trump’s executive orders to do so.

In fact, what those executive orders will do is not at all clear. The regulations haven’t been written. Not one detail, not one rule. No one knows who will write them. No one has any idea what will come of it. It’s typical Trump braggadocio, bragging that he has done something, when all he did was open his mouth.

Trump referred to the ACA subsidies as gifts to the insurance companies. He’s right, of course. But we can be sure that no matter how many executive orders Trump issues, he will not harm the insurance companies.

The reality is that medical coverage in this country is aimed first of all at providing profit to the insurance industry, the banks behind them and other medical care industries. The Affordable Care Act, in fact, was written by them. Whatever rules come out of Trump’s executive orders will be written by them.

It’s entirely possible that Trump and the Republicans and Democrats in Congress are simply “playing politics,” each trying to force the other to accept blame for “Obamacare” or whatever they settle on to “replace” it.

But whatever is going to happen, this much is clear: Trump, who has not been able to get a single significant piece of legislation through Congress, is using his latest pronouncement to make it look like he is running things.

Today, after the implementation of the ACA, 28 million Americans remain uninsured and many others are forced to buy expensive healthcare plans that require them to pay a great deal out-of-pocket.

To actually deal with the problem of people not getting the medical care they need, Congress and Trump would first of all have to be ready to take on the insurance companies. They would have to slash profits going to the pharmaceutical and medical supply companies. They would have to make hospital systems non-profit and publicly owned and adequately funded.

If Congress did that, the U.S. might be able to get rid of one of its “honors” – that is, as the country that spends more per person on healthcare than any other industrialized country but has worse health outcomes than any other.

To wait for Congress to do that, however, would be like waiting for them to sprout wings and grow halos. Who would be so foolish?

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Treatment Lacking for Mentally Ill

Oct 16, 2017

The secretary for Maryland's Department of Health and four other officials are being held in contempt of court, due to the crisis in hospital placement for certain psychiatric patients. Last year, the Baltimore Public Defender's Office sued the state because very ill patients, accused of serious crimes, simply waited in jail due to a lack of beds in secure psychiatric hospitals.

But the problem did not begin last year, nor with the Hogan administration. The policy of closing psychiatric hospitals has come from every single administration for the past 60 years! And this problem affects every state, not just Maryland, with other lawsuits filed on behalf of the mentally ill.

Politicians everywhere claimed it would save money needed for the treatment of the mentally ill to close psychiatric hospitals and put these patients in the "community." That is an excuse for people not getting professional care they need, or even being kept in jail. What the politicians did was to eliminate 90% of psychiatric beds in the United States since 1955.

The problem is not just the need for beds and psychiatric staff in Maryland. It's how this society shows complete contempt for those suffering mental illness.

Baltimore Buys Dear and Sells Cheap

Oct 16, 2017

Baltimore officials recently agreed to sell developers a row of five historic commercial buildings on Howard Street downtown. The sales price? The developer will pay $75,000 up front and promises to pay another $100,000 in installments over the next decade. But the city paid well over $580,000 to buy these rundown buildings. This quietly reported deal, like a similar one a few blocks away, is a telling example of how the city squanders its money for the profit of developers, taking it from schools, community centers, sewers, or other public services.

And the money in all these deals racks up!

Saudi Arabia:
Progress at a Turtle’s Pace

Oct 16, 2017

King Salman of Saudi Arabia decided to allow women to drive starting next June 2018. This is the result of almost 30 years of struggle, during which dozens of women were arrested and imprisoned for taking the wheel. "We won!" one of the activists said.

In Saudi Arabia, women may not leave the house if they are not accompanied by a man from their family. For the littlest outing, they need to get authorization from their “legal guardian”. In this macho society, gaining the legal right to drive is a small revolution. Now a woman will be able to apply for a driver's license on her own and then take driving lessons without having to bring someone to be her chaperone.

Along with the struggle by women, the reform also responds to economic difficulties. The fall in the price of oil, the country's single export, cuts deeply into government revenues at the same time that the war in Yemen and the conflict with Qatar stretch the budget.

As a result, some privileged Saudis living on government income can no longer pay the $1,000 per month it costs on average to have their wife driven around by taxi or private driver. As for the less wealthy, who must drive their wives around by themselves, they have to work more hours and don't have the extra time. By now close to one third of Saudi women already work, as cashiers, teachers, or care givers, if only in the presence of other women. The crisis at least accomplished this.

If reactionary pressure doesn't void the decision, within eight months we will see women driving in Saudi Arabia. It will be a step forward for women fighting for their rights.

Pop Tax
– Down in Flames

Oct 16, 2017

Cook County’s pop tax was repealed last week. The Cook County Commissioners passed the tax, which charges an extra penny for every ounce of soda, just a few months ago. It became wildly unpopular when it took effect in August – following close on the heels of big property tax hikes by the City of Chicago and an income tax hike by the state of Illinois. Three months later, most of the commissioners have had a change of heart. The tax will now end at the beginning of December.

The tax was county president Toni Preckwinkle’s pet project. She posed it as a way to address health problems like obesity and diabetes. Of course, these are real problems for the society, and for the working class in particular. To address the problem, Preckwinkle could have proposed to go after the beverage industry, which makes billions off of the working class by selling unhealthy drinks. Or she could try to make healthier drinks more available. Instead, she addressed the problem by treating soda pop like cigarettes or alcohol – that is, by heavily taxing those that buy them.

The campaign to end the tax was funded by the beverage companies and restaurant lobbying organizations. Small businesses like local grocery stores and restaurants undoubtedly put a lot of pressure on the politicians. These forces are more concerned with their own profits than people’s health. But their appeal garnered wide support against a tax that touched a nerve.

The County now faces a $200 million dollar deficit. The County provides vital services for the population, most importantly running the County Hospital system. There is plenty of money in Chicago and the County to run these services – the city center full of glittering skyscrapers is proof enough. Many corporations in Illinois pay no taxes at all. Yet the only solutions the Democratic politicians pass are ones that dig ever deeper into the pockets of the working class.

Mass Murder in Las Vegas:
An Increasingly Violent Society

Oct 16, 2017

Authorities in Las Vegas admit they don’t have a motive to explain why Stephen Paddock cold- bloodedly opened fire on a crowd of 21,000 concert-goers on October 1, killing 58 and wounding more than 500 others. But what is clear is that mass shootings are on the rise in this country. Since 2011, they are being carried out three times more often than they were in previous decades, and they are becoming much more deadly.

This latest mass murder, just like earlier ones, ignited the debate over gun control, that is, enacting laws to restrict the sale of guns and ammunition. After all, Paddock had stockpiled dozens of deadly weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition – in other words, enough armaments to supply a small army.

Of course, to put any bit of hope on the idea that government regulations will solve the problem of gun violence is a terrible illusion. In some states today, such as New York, gun sales are already regulated by the law. But that has hardly slowed their sale and trade, illegally through what is called the “iron pipeline,” with law enforcement agencies often turning a blind eye, or aiding it. And no wonder. Weapons sales are highly profitable, not just for gangs and criminals, but for “respectable” companies, such as Remington, Smith and Wesson, Sturm Ruger and Glock, whose stockholders include some of the biggest financial groups on the planet, including mutual fund giant Vanguard Group and the Cerberus private equity group (which used to own Chrysler). Moreover, these companies have plenty of experience selling weapons all over the world – legally and illegally – fueling wars and destruction, often with the help of the U.S. military.

Today, these same companies actually profit from these mass murders – even as they decry them, since both weapons sales and corporate stock prices increase sharply after every mass murder.

Of course, just because weapons sales are on the rise, it doesn’t automatically lead to increasing numbers of mass murders. But is it so surprising, in this society, where human life is cheapened and violence is glorified in order to justify all the wars that this government carries out all over the world?

No, the mass murders are merely one part of an increasingly violent society.

Chicago Public Housing – “Mission Accomplished”

Oct 16, 2017

The head of the Chicago Housing Authority plans to declare “Mission Accomplished” on their signature project, the Plan for Transformation, by the end of the year. The plan was started by Mayor Daley in 1999. Current mayor Rahm Emanuel then served as the vice-chair of CHA’s board. It was called “the largest, most ambitious redevelopment of public housing in the United States.” But it’s not hard to see through the politicians’ BS to see what was actually “accomplished.” The shoddy state of the buildings was used as the excuse to drive many public housing residents out of the city.

The original plan was to replace or rehabilitate 25,000 public housing units over the course of 10 years. Daley’s “promise” was to replace all the housing that was torn down. Some of the biggest housing developments in the country, including the notorious Robert Taylor Homes and Cabrini Green, were demolished, and quickly. But those units were not all rebuilt – the Sun Times reports CHA destroyed 13,000 units it never intended to replace. Add that to units promised but not yet built, and the city has 17,000 fewer units of family housing than it did at the beginning of the plan.

Armesha Jones, a former resident of the Cabrini Green project, who now lives in a mixed income “replacement” building, notes that developments like these “can’t camouflage what’s going on in the city.” And what’s going on is a purge: the black population in Chicago has fallen by 200,000 since 2000, when the plan began, and by 40,000 just last year alone.

The housing authority has a reserve fund of a quarter billion dollars that it could use to provide thousands of needed units quickly. Instead, CHA policy works in tandem with cuts to schools and other city services to gentrify the city for the benefit of wealthy people.

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Towards the October Insurrection

Oct 16, 2017

This article continues our series on the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution.

At the beginning of October 1917, Kerensky’s government, supported by the Menshevik and Socialist-Revolutionary (SR) compromisers, proved itself to be powerless. Its authority broke down as the struggle for power between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat reached the point of armed conflict. John Reed, a U.S. journalist present in Petrograd, described not only the insurrection itself in Ten Days that Shook the World, but also the situation on the eve of the October Revolution:

“The Government, torn between the democratic and reactionary factions, could do nothing: when forced to act, it always supported the interests of the propertied classes. Cossacks were sent to restore order among the peasants, to break the strikes. In Tashkent, Government authorities suppressed the Soviet. In Petrograd, the Economic Council, established to rebuild the shattered economic life of the country, came to a deadlock between the opposing forces of capital and labor, and was dissolved by Kerensky. The old régime military men, backed by Kadets, demanded that harsh measures be adopted to restore discipline in the Army and the Navy. …

On the pretext that Petrograd was in danger, the Provisional Government drew up plans for evacuating the capital. First the great munitions works were to go, distributed widely throughout Russia; and then the Government itself was to move to Moscow. Instantly the Bolsheviki began to cry out that the Government was abandoning the Red Capital in order to weaken the Revolution.” The bourgeois press was joyful. “Rodzianko, leader of the right wing of the Kadet party, declared in Utro Rossii [The Morning of Russia] that the taking of Petrograd by the Germans would be a blessing, because it would destroy the Soviets and get rid of the revolutionary Baltic Fleet.”

The Mensheviks and the SRs called on the government to prevent the opening of the All-Russian Congress of Soviets, which was set for October 20th but would finally be pushed back until the 25th. From all evidence, the compromisers would lose seats and the Bolsheviks would obtain a majority. Among the workers, soldiers, and peasants, the desire to confront the bourgeoisie had never been stronger. John Reed observed the new delegates who had just arrived in Petrograd for the Congress: “Burly, bearded soldiers, workmen in black blouses, a few long-haired peasants. The girl in charge … smiled contemptuously. ‘These are very different people from the delegates to the first Congress,’ she remarked. ‘See how rough and ignorant they look! The Dark People.’ It was true; the depths of Russia had been stirred, and it was the bottom which came uppermost now.”

Lenin then urged the Bolshevik Party to launch an uprising without waiting for the Congress and wrote: “We must admit that unless the Kerensky government is overthrown by the proletariat and the soldiers in the near future, the revolution is ruined. … We must mobilize all forces to convince the workers and soldiers that it is absolutely imperative to wage a last, desperate, and decisive fight for the overthrow of the Kerensky government.” After two days of relentless discussion, on October 9th and 10th, the leadership of the Bolshevik Party voted 10-2 to launch the insurrection in the days to come.

The leadership adopted the following resolution, edited by Lenin: “The Central Committee recognizes that the international position of the Russian revolution (the revolt in the German navy which is an extreme manifestation of the growth throughout Europe of the world socialist revolution; the threat of peace by the imperialists with the object of strangling the revolution in Russia), as well as the military situation (the indubitable decision of the Russian bourgeoisie and Kerensky and Co. to surrender Petrograd to the Germans), – and the fact that the proletarian party has gained a majority in the Soviets – all this, taken in conjunction with the peasant revolt and the swing of popular confidence towards our Party (the elections in Moscow), and, finally, the obvious preparations being made for a second Kornilov revolt (the withdrawal of troops from Petrograd, the dispatch of Cossacks to Petrograd, the encircling of Minsk by Cossacks, etc.) – all this places the armed uprising on the order of the day.

Considering therefore that an armed uprising is inevitable, and that the time for it is fully ripe, the Central Committee instructs all Party organizations to be guided accordingly, and to discuss and decide all practical questions from this point of view.”

The Military Revolutionary Committee Prepares for Insurrection

Oct 16, 2017

This article continues our series on the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution.

At the beginning of October 1917, the Bolsheviks won a majority in the Petrograd, Moscow, Northern District, and Baltic Fleet Soviets, which reflected the spectacular progression of their influence among the working masses and soldiers. Soldiers from the trenches sent delegates to the Petrograd Soviet: “How long will this unbearable situation last? The soldiers have authorized us to tell you that if by the 1st of November [the 15th of November by our calendar], no decisive steps are taken towards peace, the trenches will be evacuated, and the whole army will march back to the rear!” they insisted. The countryside was also rising up. Trotsky described this period in the History of the Russian Revolution to Brest-Litovsk:

“We were already at that time deliberately and openly steering for a rising and organizing ourselves for it. The opening of the All-Russian Congress of Soviets was fixed, as we said before, for October 25th [November 7th by our calendar], and there could be no longer any doubt that it would declare in favor of the assumption of supreme authority by the Soviets. But such a decision would have to be carried out at once, otherwise it would simply become a worthless platonic demonstration. … We were proclaiming openly, in the name of the Petrograd Soviet and the conference of the Soviets of the Northern District, that the Second Soviet Congress must dismiss the Kerensky Government and become the real master of Russia.

Practically the rising was already proceeding, and was developing in the face of the whole country. … It was a period of incessant meetings at factories, in the Modern and Ciniselli Circuses, in the clubs and barracks. The atmosphere at all these meetings was decidedly electric. Every mention of an insurrection was met with a storm of applause and cries of approval.”

The bourgeoisie cried out about the danger. Kerensky’s government and its supporters, the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks in the Soviets, felt the ground shift beneath their feet. The power was escaping them. When the Main Headquarters of the army called for a two-thirds of the Petrograd garrison to be sent to the front under the pretext of protecting the capital from a German advance, the Petrograd Soviet stood in opposition. It did not trust the general staff, especially since Kornilov’s attempted coup at the end of August had been preceded by several revolutionary regiments being moved away from the capital.

“The Executive Committee of the Soviet refused to give its signature to the demand for the removal of two-thirds of the Petrograd garrison without examination. We declared that we must have proof of the reality of the military need which dictated the demand, and for that purpose some organization to examine the question must be created. Thus arose the idea of establishing, side by side with the Soldiers’ Section of the Soviets, that is, with the political representation of the garrison, a purely operative organ in the form of the Military Revolutionary Committee which ultimately acquired enormous power and became practically the instrument of the October Revolution. …

The first business of the Military Revolutionary Committee was to appoint Commissioners to all sections of the Petrograd garrison and to all the most important institutions of the capital and suburbs.

We received intelligence from various quarters that the Government, or, rather, the Government parties, were busily organizing and arming their forces. From different stores, Government and private, they were removing rifles, revolvers, machine guns and cartridges for the purpose of arming the cadets, students, and, generally, the young bourgeoisie.

It was essential to take some preventive measures at once. Commissioners were appointed to all stores and depots of arms, and they became masters of the situation practically without opposition. True, the commandants and proprietors of the stores tried to refuse them recognition, but it was sufficient for the Commissioners to appeal to the soldiers’ committee or to the employees of the particular store in order to break down the opposition almost immediately. Henceforth arms were only issued under direct orders from our Commissioners. … Regiment after regiment would declare, at the end of meetings addressed by speakers from various parties, that they would only recognize the Commissioners appointed by the Petrograd Soviet, and would do nothing without their sanction.”

Mexico Earthquake:
Workers Buried in Rubble and Left to Die

Oct 16, 2017

When a four-story building in the Colonia Obrera (Workers' Colony) district in Mexico City collapsed in the September 19 earthquake, volunteers rushed to rescue people trapped under the rubble. Survivors had reported that somewhere between 50 and 100 workers were in the building, which housed several businesses, including a garment sweatshop.

Without help from government authorities, the volunteers recovered two survivors and 21 bodies. Then, after three days, authorities intervened – no, not to help the rescue effort, but to stop it! Riot police blocked the volunteers' access to the building, roughed them up, and confiscated their tools, as well as food and medicine that were donated.

Then the authorities quickly sent bulldozers to raze the remains of the building – even though, at other locations, people were still being pulled out of the ruins alive!

Apparently, the authorities were more concerned about covering up the truth on behalf of a few business owners than saving the lives of dozens of workers trapped in the ruins. The authorities also refused to release the names of the companies that occupied the building, and information about the building's inspection and safety record.

The building was probably not up to earthquake standards, since nearby buildings mostly withstood the quake. But the owners of the businesses, in particular the sweatshop that employed low-wage, undocumented seamstresses from Asia and Central America, had also ignored some basic safety rules. For example, the owners had not allowed their workers to participate in an earthquake drill, which was held two hours before the quake struck.

Outraged, residents of the neighborhood protested in front of the building. The protesters' signs and graffiti included, "The life of a seamstress is worth more than all of your machines!" "Not one more buried because of corruption," and "Murderers!"

Protesters remembered how, for workers, nothing had changed since the 1985 earthquake in Mexico City, which killed 10,000 people, among them an unknown number of low-wage seamstresses working in clandestine sweatshops housed in substandard buildings that quickly collapsed. When Mexico's Interior Minister came to the scene to give a speech, angry protesters began cursing and throwing things at him, forcing him to run away.

The protesters are right. Construction and sweatshop bosses have caused the deaths of dozens of workers in the name of profit, with the complicity of authorities, who allowed them to break labor and safety codes and are now covering for them.

Not just in Mexico but all over the globe, including here in the U.S., grossly underpaid women workers, working under inhumane conditions, produce expensive clothing, from which multi-national corporations make billions of dollars.

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Injustice for the Working Class

Oct 16, 2017

A 28-year-old roofer was held for 77 days in a Washington D.C. jail after his case was dropped. His job is gone. The D.C. Department of Corrections claims it was a clerical error.

The roofer, Carlton O. Harris, had the right to a lawyer. But he was afraid to speak up because he thought the guards would hurt him. The only reason he was released was that another inmate told his attorney about Harris’s situation.

Since 2005, taxpayers in D.C. have paid over 18 million dollars for lawsuits brought because thousands of inmates were held beyond their release date or because they were strip-searched unjustly. So the taxpayers pay for the incompetence of the D.C. jail system. Would a wealthy person serve even one hour past their release time?

Tesla, the Electric Bully of the 21st Century

Oct 16, 2017

In September, Tesla workers filed complaints that the Tesla management threatened to fire workers who wanted to unionize at its auto plant in Fremont, California. The Tesla management also prohibited workers from discussing their safety concerns and interrogated them about their union organizing efforts. Some workers were physically threatened.

Toyota and GM jointly built the Fremont plant before shutting it down in 2010. The same Toyota-GM workers are now working for Tesla. But their wages and work conditions are much worse than before.

Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, admitted in an email sent to the workers that the average annual pay for Tesla workers who started in January 2013 is about $39,000, or less than $19 an hour. According to Musk, the corresponding hourly wage at General Motors is nearly $24. Tesla production worker Hai Nguyen says he earned $32 an hour under Toyota-GM joint venture after working there nine years, according to Los Angeles Times. Now he collects $18 an hour at Tesla after four and a half years, although his Tesla work is not that different.

Workers manufacture Tesla's electric cars under dangerous conditions. Ambulances have been called more than 100 times since 2014 for workers experiencing fainting spells, dizziness, seizures, abnormal breathing and chest pains, according to incident reports obtained by the Guardian.

“We had an associate on my line, he just kept working, kept working, kept working, next thing you know - he just fell on the ground,” said Tesla worker Mikey Catura. “Everything feels like the future but us,” added Richard Ortiz, another production worker.

Musk conceded his workers had been “having a hard time, working long hours, and on hard jobs.”

But, undeterred by these substandard wages and dangerous work conditions he admits, Elon Musk wrote pretentiously to his workers that Tesla is “one of the great companies of the 21st century.”

Yes, these 21st century futuristic cars are for the rich – and these 19th century work conditions are for the workers!

Black Man Charged in Racist Violence Against Him!

Oct 16, 2017

The black man who was surrounded in a Charlottesville parking garage by white supremacists during the “Unite the Right” rally and beaten bloody – on video that everyone has seen – is now facing a felony charge.

It is true that, in the video, DeAndre Harris swung a flashlight at a white supremacist who was trying to spear a counterprotester with the pole of a confederate flag. But within seconds, he was kicked to the ground by a group of at least five white supremacists, who pummeled the 20-year-old with sticks and a large board.

Harris suffered a spinal injury and needed 10 stitches in his head. Now he is being charged with unlawful wounding – a crime similar to the one three of his attackers are facing.

Harris had to turn himself in to authorities thanks to a cunning runaround by white nationalists who figured out that in Virginia, an alleged crime victim can generate a warrant through a local magistrate after a police report is filed. Based on the word of a single white man, Harold Ray Crews, without evidence, Harris is charged with a felony.

As Black Lives Matter activists worked to help identify Harris’s attackers in the video and share that information with police, the white power people decided to make Crews the victim.

Crews describes himself on twitter as an attorney and a “Southern nationalist.” He also runs the North Carolina chapter of the League of the South, identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group.

Harris’s attorney, S. Lee Merritt told CNN that this is an attempt to “muddy the waters of who was to blame for the violence at the protest.” Violence that led to the death of counterprotester, Heather Heyer.

The white supremacists stage a protest, carrying weapons, hurling all kinds of racist vitriol and the police arrest a black man who was beaten by the racists!

This could only happen in a racist society, led by a president who has emboldened every wretched, little racist to come out of their holes.

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Northern California Fires:
Unnatural Causes

Oct 16, 2017

When dry winds began to whip through Northern California in early October, wooden electrical poles snapped and crashed to the ground, transformers exploded and downed power lines sent off sparks. Very shortly afterwards, the first wildfires began to rage. Within six days, fires at 16 locations engulfed more than 200,000 acres, reduced thousands of homes and other structures to ash, and killed 40 people, making it the deadliest week of wildfires in California’s history.

Spokespersons for Pacific Gas and Electric (PGE) tried to pass off blame for starting the fires on “hurricane force” winds of over 75 miles per hour (mph). But, according to the weather report, the winds where the fires started only reached 30 or 40 mph at their peak, that is, substantially under hurricane strength. In fact, the winds were much lower than the speed that power lines must be able to withstand under state law: 56 mph.

No, PGE just never spent enough money to properly maintain the electrical infrastructure, leaving it vulnerable to windy conditions that are hardly unprecedented in Northern California.

This is no surprise. PG&E has been repeatedly found responsible for often deadly fires and explosions. One example: PG&E was found guilty of 739 counts of negligence and fined 30 million dollars for a fire in 1994 that was started by trees touching its high-voltage wires. The fire near the town of Rough and Ready destroyed 12 homes and an historic 19th century school house. Afterward, prosecutors found that PG&E had diverted nearly 80 million dollars for tree trimming and other maintenance into profits and executive bonuses.

In September 2015, state investigators found that a pine tree in Amador County came in contact with a power line and sparked the Butte Fire, which burned more than 70,800 acres, destroyed 549 homes and killed two people.

The company was also fined $1.6 billion dollars after it was found negligent in causing the 2010 San Bruno gas line explosion, which killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes.

If California’s infamous “three strikes law” ever applied to corporations, PG&E, its executives and top stockholders would be serving life without parole.

But PG&E wasn’t the only one responsible for this tragedy. Real estate developers made big profits by constructing towns, homes and businesses in a region in which fires used to occur regularly. As a natural part of the environment, smaller fires used to clear dead brush and trees, allowing new life to develop out of more fertile soil. But once there were houses and businesses, smaller fires were suppressed, allowing the build-up of dried brush and trees, which was made much worse by the extreme weather conditions of the last years, especially the very long drought.

So, the sparks from the downed power lines and exploding transformers fell on abundant fuel made up of many years worth of dried brush and trees.

Those raging fires that destroyed so much were the result of decisions made by capitalists only out to increase their profits and wealth, no matter what the cost to people and the environment.

Facade of Fire Safety

Oct 16, 2017

A man who narrowly escaped the Santa Rosa wildfire north of San Francisco explained why he delayed evacuating. “We lived in a certified fire-safe neighborhood – we’d had a wildfire risk assessment completed.”

There’s no such thing as fire-safe! Real estate developers and mortgage lenders profit from building homes in wilderness areas. It is not in their interest to explain that reducing risk by clearing dry brush does not guarantee safety.

In fire-prone areas, it would cost vast sums of money and require comprehensive planning to even come close to fire-proofing a community.

In recent years, the work of wildfire prevention has shifted from state-level public planning and funding to local government and homeowners. Wildfire prevention is now primarily done by local communities applying for small grants and organizing their own clean up of dry brush.

Because of the haphazard way all this is organized, it is no surprise that a recent study found that only 2 percent of communities in high risk areas have done wildfire prevention and preparation.

A “fire-safe neighborhood?” It’s impossible with the chaotic way this system is organized!

Hunger Amidst Plenty

Oct 16, 2017

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) just reported that world hunger has increased in recent years. Yet the world is producing more food than ever – enough to feed everyone!

The FAO report estimated 800 million people lack sufficient food, the big majority of them in Africa, Asia, and war-torn areas with refugees, like the Middle East.

In fact, a majority of those going hungry are in the war-torn areas. In some parts of South Sudan, for example, 40 percent of the people are suffering severe hunger and food deprivation that is “being used as a weapon of war.”

In Yemen, 60 percent of the population lives in hunger, with similar conditions in Nigeria and Somalia. In Syria, an estimated 85 percent of the surviving population now struggles in poverty, with more than 6 million people suffering persistent hunger.

These wars are pushed and fed directly by U.S. imperialism, while even here in the U.S. itself, millions of children living in poverty also go hungry and are malnourished.

Insufficient food has drastic consequences on the development of children’s physical and mental health. Lack of salt, affecting poor people in more than 50 countries, also contributes to damage to growing children.

The world produces more food than ever in history while hundreds of millions, especially children, grow up with permanent damage from hunger. There is no worse indictment of the world’s economy under capitalism.