The Spark

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

Issue no. 1048 — January 8 - 22, 2018

Editorial:
Climate Change Bombs the World

Jan 8, 2018

The country has been hit by extreme weather yet again.

For two weeks, extreme cold swept over the eastern United States, from Minnesota with temperatures of 30 below zero, all the way down to Florida, where “frozen iguanas” were falling out of trees. This long cold snap culminated in a “bomb cyclone,” a winter storm that moved up the east coast, hitting Georgia with freezing rain and South Carolina with half a foot of snow before dumping several feet of snow on New England.

Some people (including, of course, Donald Trump) may say that “global warming” can’t be real if such cold weather reaches the American South. In fact, these extreme weather events, even the ones bringing unusually cold weather, can indeed be attributed to human-caused climate change.

Climatologists explain that while no single weather event can be attributed to climate change, the increase in the frequency of extreme weather events can be. And we’ve seen a very rapid increase in that frequency. Over the course of the last 30 years, the average number of “billion-dollar weather events” in the U.S. had been 5.5 per year. For the past five years, the average jumped up to 10.5. Last year? Fifteen! These events took place all over the country, from drought in the northern Plains states, to raging wildfires in California, to several extremely powerful hurricanes in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico.

There are not only more extreme events, but the events themselves are more extreme. Higher average temperatures mean greater moisture in the air, which translates into heavier rain. Higher temperatures also mean higher sea levels and higher storm surges and more flooding. These changes in temperature and moisture also have an effect on the Jet Stream, making these air currents less stable and more “wobbly” – meaning that cold air can more easily spill down from the Arctic, while warmer air moves north and takes its place. And sure enough, while the Southeast has had record cold temperatures, Alaska has been experiencing record warm weather.

These changes in the Jet Stream also mean that weather patterns can “stall” in one place for longer – contributing to record rainfall and flooding when Hurricane Harvey stalled over Houston, for example, and unbroken drought and more extreme fires in the West.

While the earth’s climate has changed in the past, getting both warmer and colder than it is now, those changes used to happen over much longer periods of time – thousands or even tens of thousands of years. But today’s changes, brought on by increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, have been squeezed into just over 100 years. That’s far more quickly than human societies are used to reacting – especially a society based on the production of profit above all else.

Changes that rapid demand rapid response and reorganization from a society – both to reverse the problem and to deal with the consequences of those changes. And there ARE things that can be done, right now, to decrease the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and start repairing the damage. But this capitalist system, and the people who run it, are not about to jeopardize the profit of their top corporations by completely rearranging how energy is produced, how transportation flows, where people live, how food is produced. It is not even going to rebuild homes and cities to be able to withstand these more extreme events that carry more risk to the general population. If profit will not be made, these corporations, and the governments that represent them, are completely uninterested.

And ordinary working people, with no other options and nowhere else to go, will be the ones to suffer disproportionally. Just ask the working class people of Houston, of Puerto Rico, of the fire-swept areas of California – and the frozen cities of South Carolina.

Capitalism is completely unequipped to deal with the climate change that it has brought about. If humanity is to survive – if life as we know it is to continue on this earth – it is up to the working class to sweep capitalism aside.

Pages 2-3

State of California Homeless Housing Scam

Jan 8, 2018

A 96-unit apartment complex near Los Angeles, dubbed “Sun Valley Senior Veterans Apartments,” is being built 200 feet away from the very busy Freeway 5 – where 200,000 vehicles drive by each day. This, of course, will expose the residents to not only a lot of noise, but also very high levels of air pollution.

The state of California is providing 11.1 million dollars for this project, even though state officials themselves say that living within 500 feet of a freeway will cause high rates of asthma, heart disease and cancer, among other ailments. California has so far awarded a total of 65 million dollars for 10 such “affordable housing” projects within 500 feet of freeways in different parts of the state – in fact one 135-unit building in San Jose is only 25 feet from Highway 87!

So this is what officials mean when they offer “affordable housing” as a solution to skyrocketing rents and homelessness in California. Affordable housing is built on cheap land because the air is polluted; it is subsidized with public money – and while tenants get poisoned, developers and others make a big profit. The Sun Valley project, for example, was originally approved more than 10 years ago for only three homes. The city eventually granted the developers’ request, pitched for by the Congressman and two State legislators from the area, to build 96 units there. After that, in 2015, the land was sold for 3.5 million dollars, more than three times the amount the owners paid for it in 2006.

The state money for the Sun Valley project comes from California’s “cap-and-trade” program which, officials originally claimed, would help to reduce pollution. Companies are allowed to exceed the state’s pollution limits if they pay a penalty for polluting, and the money is supposed to be used to fund “environmentally friendly” projects. And how do these apartments, which are pollution traps, qualify as “environmentally friendly”? They are near a bus stop or train station!

In November, Los Angeles city politicians succeeded in passing a 1.2-billion-dollar bond measure to build 10,000 homes for homeless people. You can bet that speculators are busy looking for land near the freeways.

California Landlords Gouge Fire Victims

Jan 8, 2018

People who lost their homes in October’s wildfires in California have been hit by another menace: rent gouging.

Rent listings in two counties affected by the wildfires tell it all. In Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, some one-bedroom apartments are going for $2,200 these days. In just one month, from September to October, the median rent listing increased 23 per cent in Napa County, and a whopping 32 per cent in Sonoma County! Neighboring counties, which were not affected by the fires, saw practically no change in the median rent.

California declared a state of emergency on October 9, which makes it illegal to raise rents more than 10 per cent in the area – but of course, laws have loopholes. Officials say Airbnb is exempt, for example – and sure enough, “vacation-home rentals” exploded in the area after the fires! Prosecutors say their “hands are tied” when landlords evict tenants to “remodel the building” and then jack up the rent more than the legal limit. Not surprisingly, evictions have increased by 20 per cent in the area – at a time of the year when they usually decreased in the past.

For fire victims, the real disaster is the workings of a system whose aim is to make profit. Greedy speculators preying on the vulnerable is just part of that unacceptable system.

Tax Cut for the Wealthy
– Paid for by Everyone Else

Jan 8, 2018

Trump says his tax cut bill will benefit “everyone,” and that he has kept his promise to the “middle class.”

Yes, most people probably will get a small cut in their withholding taxes in the coming year – only to see that cut taken back a few years later. Other provisions of the tax bill will end up sticking most of us with higher taxes after 2025.

It’s just like the bait-and-switch mortgages crooked real estate companies used in deals that pushed the economy into the 2008 collapse.

Furthermore, a new provision for calculating inflation was snuck into this bill – guaranteeing in future years that we will lose even more. And not just in taxes. This new inflation calculator may be used in the future to reduce inflation coverage in entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare, Disability and Veterans’ benefits.

The best estimates so far find that 1.7 trillion dollars will be cut in taxes over the next ten years. But those cuts aren’t evenly spread through the whole population. More than 1.4 trillion dollars will go either to corporations, other big businesses or the wealthiest 5% of the population. The small remainder will go to the other 95% of people.

Trump and other Republicans say, don’t worry, these tax cuts for the corporations will cause them to invest and create jobs.

No, the last four tax cuts put through – one by Reagan, two by Bush and one by Obama – were justified using the same excuse. But those cuts didn’t create new jobs. Instead, corporations used them to increase executive pay and hand out more money in dividends and stock buy-backs to the small number of people who hold more than 80% of the stock in this country.

Good paying, permanent jobs weren’t created. The wealthy simply put more money into their brokerage accounts – or dumped it into speculation – speculation in real estate, speculation in currency trades.

And what they didn’t put into speculation in this country, they dumped into the money markets overseas, or salted away in the so-called “tax havens” where people like Donald Trump and the Russian oligarchs put their assets in order not to pay any taxes on them.

And that’s only the beginning. Because this tax cut bill, which will increase the budget deficit by almost two trillion dollars, will automatically trigger spending cuts in Medicare and veteran’s benefits. And it will be the pretext for cutting more money out of the social programs that sooner or later every one of us depends on. And it will be the pretext for cutting federal funding for education and payments for public services and infrastructure.

No, this is not a tax cut for “the middle class.” It quite simply is a gift to that class of which Trump is a very greedy example. And here’s an interesting point: at the last minute, a special provision was put into the bill that will benefit people exactly like Trump – that is, real estate speculators. Trump himself is estimated to benefit by one billion dollars over ten years’ time from this and other provisions.

Taken altogether, it means we won’t get a lasting tax cut, AND we will pay for the enormous cuts that will go to the already super wealthy.

Donald Trump has made loads of promises. But the only promises he’s kept are the ones he made in secret to the wealthy class of which he is a part – and to their bankers and their corporations. The Democrats are right when they criticize this bill. But the test will come when they control Congress again. Will they do what they did all those other times when they were in control of Congress – that is, give the votes needed to hand over still more money to the wealthy class that runs this society? They talk a good game when there’s nothing at all they can do. But their past history tells us we ought to be suspicious of them, too.

There’s no point to wait on them to save us. We have the forces to protect ourselves and to back Donald Trump down, wiping that smirk off his face. But our forces don’t count unless we use them.

Baltimore’s Wheel-a-brator Poisons the Population

Jan 8, 2018

Baltimore has a so-called “trash to energy” program. Called “Wheel-a-brator,” it was set up to solve the landfill problem. And it’s true that turning trash into energy could be a solution for all the waste created in human society, since landfills cannot be used forever, and have their own pollutants and poisons seeping out. And technology certainly exists to make the trash-to-energy process really “green,” by treating pollutants before they enter the air or water. Recycling is also possible, allowing trash to burn more completely, with less pollution, and by-products that could be sold after the trash is burned.

Instead, Baltimore’s Wheel-a-brator pollutes more than any other single source. It puts out more than 80% of the sulfur dioxide and more than 60% of the nitrogen oxide in Baltimore’s air. It emits a ton of carbon dioxide for every ton of trash it burns. It also emits such poisons as lead, mercury and hydrochloric acid. And these pollutants make it harder for those with asthma to breathe. The plant is located near four of the poorer districts in Baltimore: Cherry Hill, Curtis Bay, Westover and Brooklyn.

This horror is being paid for by public officials. The city pays Wheel-a-brator to take 160,000 tons of Baltimore trash each year and many more tons from elsewhere. The state also subsidizes the Wheel-a-brator. Maryland legislators, including Baltimore’s current mayor, agreed in 2011 to give a subsidy to all plants that burned trash, by classifying them as “green energy.”

It’s possible to create the energy society needs and get rid of pollutants without doing harm to human beings. The means to do it already exists.

But corporations make money off society’s need for energy. And public officials subsidize them in their recklessly dangerous drive for profit.

Pages 4-5

A “Role Model”
– for a Racist Society

Jan 8, 2018

This past September, William Aitcheson finally paid a civil court settlement that he had owed for decades to Barbara and Phillip Butler. In 1977, the Butlers, who are black, moved to a mostly white neighborhood in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Less than a week later they woke up to a cross burning in their front yard.

Seventeen cross-burnings were reported to Prince George’s County police in 1976 and 1977. Aitcheson was found guilty of six of them. He was also convicted of sending a death threat to Coretta Scott King, who had been invited to give a speech nearby. He had written plans to detonate bombs at the homes of several black families and at local NAACP offices. He had shown a fully-made bomb to an FBI undercover agent; and police later found bomb making materials at his home.

And yet for what was practically attempted murder – he was sentenced only to probation and ninety days in medical prison. The Butlers also won a civil judgment against him for $23,000. He never paid.

In the years after the trial, Aitcheson returned to college. He went from being an exalted cyclops of the Robert E. Lee Lodge of the KKK to a being teacher and scout leader – one who adored Robert E. Lee, according to his former students. In the eighties he became a priest in the Catholic church. He led the congregation in the singing of the Confederate anthem “Dixie.” Every school, church, and institution he came across looked the other way as he spewed the same deadly hatred as he did in his KKK past.

Finally, a member of his church remembered her former high school history teacher of the same name, and googled him. In a matter of seconds, she found what the church had ignored for decades. She also happened to be a freelance reporter. She called the Arlington, Virginia Diocese where Aitcheson preached and indicated that she might do a story. On hearing that he was now “discovered,” Aitcheson decided to step down from his position and to pay his old debt to the Butlers. He suddenly claims to have had a moral transformation.

As for all the institutions that gave him cover and propped him up as a “leader” for forty years – they must only be sorry that he was finally caught.

Puerto Rico:
Half of the Island STILL without Electricity!

Jan 8, 2018

More than three months after Hurricane Maria, almost half the people in Puerto Rico still don’t have electricity.

According to the Puerto Rican government, as of December 29th, 45% of Puerto Rico’s power customers were still facing blackout conditions. That is more than 1.5 million people. But the system that monitors the extent of distribution is not working, so the number could be even higher. According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, it will take at least until May to restore power to the whole island.

In the modern world, electricity is a basic need. Without it, people have no lights, no refrigerators, no hot meals. Businesses and jobs are disappearing on an island with an already very high unemployment rate. And more and more people are forced to flee the island and live as virtual refugees on the mainland U.S.

Officially, only 64 people died from Hurricane Maria. But families, university researchers, and reporters all say the real number is much higher. Families have reported their loved ones dying because they couldn’t get dialysis or bottled oxygen. Others died from the lack of adequate food, medicine, or a way to get to a hospital. Still others died because hospitals and retirement homes lacked electricity.

Experts on population statistics compared the death rates in September and October of 2017 to those from last year. They showed there were 516 more deaths in September and 549 more in October of 2017 than there had been in 2016. And people continue to die from the lack of electricity. In other words, many, many more people have died from the delay in restoring the power grid than died from the storm itself.

The power company and local government point out that restoring power to the whole island is a difficult task, given the extent of the damage and the lack of maintenance for years before the hurricane hit. But Puerto Rico has been a U.S. territory for more than 100 years and its residents are U.S. citizens. The United States government can carry out wars across the world and build bases with electricity for hundreds of thousands of troops in the blink of an eye. It certainly has the means to quickly restore power on one island!

The U.S. claims that it acts to support the interests of people around the world, through its military and through foreign aid. But Puerto Rico is proof of the opposite. How can anyone believe that U.S. policy is driven by the interests of human beings, when it doesn’t even put the resources into restoring this basic need for its own citizens living in a U.S. territory?

Mexico’s Housing Rip-Off

Jan 8, 2018

Sixteen years ago, real estate developers, backed by the Mexican government, launched the largest residential construction boom in Latin American history. An estimated 20 million working class people bought and moved into the houses and the infrastructure built by these developers.

Today, this real estate boom, very akin to what happened in the U.S. before the Great Recession, is in shambles. First, these developers downsized homes – building about one million one-bedroom units as small as 325 square feet. Then, the shoddy infrastructure collapsed and the equally shoddy homes became unlivable. “Gutters run with raw sewage from burst pipes. Streets sink, sidewalks crumble, and broken-down water treatment plants rust. In some developments, blackouts hit for days at a time. Homeowners toting buckets scrounge for water delivered by trucks. Inside many homes, roofs leak, walls crack and electrical systems short-circuit, blowing out appliances and in some cases sparking fires that send families fleeing,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

These developers saddled the working people with high mortgage payments, which increased over time since they were tied to the inflation index and typically reached about 25% of a worker’s wages, economically devastating them and, like in the U.S., causing defaults on a massive scale.

These homeowners got organized and protested against the developers’ fraud. They blocked the roads and sued the developers. But, instead of addressing the house owners’ valid grievances, the police attacked the protesters and the government officials pursued cases against activists. In one case, the government has imprisoned the country’s most prominent protest leader for two years without trial on an invented charge of armed robbery.

The scale of this abject rip-off reached more than 100 billion dollars. Big global investors, the World Bank, Wall Street investment banks, General Motors Investment Corp., university endowments, foundations and U.S. pension funds joined this bonanza. Already filthy rich people got richer, as a result.

This is the same mortgage rip-off we experienced in the U.S. The same investment firms are responsible for this scheme. The same people, backed by the same governments, got richer. The same capitalism ruined working people – in the U.S., in Mexico.

The Iranian Regime Shaken

Jan 8, 2018

Since December 28, the Iranian regime has been shaken by demonstrations that seem to be growing despite hundreds of arrests and 23 officially killed by repression so far. Starting in Mashhad, the second largest city of the country, the revolt rapidly spread to other cities and even small towns before reaching Tehran, the capital. As of January 2, the movement continued to deepen.

These demonstrations were sparked by the government’s announcement that it would increase the price of gas at the same time that it increased the pay of elected officials, during a period when unemployment has been skyrocketing. In reality, the population has been expressing its discontent for more than a year. Demonstrations have become increasingly common in different provincial cities. Workers and retirees have demonstrated in order to be paid their wages or pensions. People who lost their savings when a number of local banks failed have demonstrated to get their money back. And everyone has been denouncing the high cost of living and the shortage of basic necessities. The demonstrations finally converged on December 28, with slogans like “Death to the high cost of living,” or “while the people beg, the mullahs act like God,” or other explicit denunciations of Rouhani and Khamenei, the President of the Republic and the Guide of the Revolution.

While the inflation and shortage of goods are partially caused by the embargo the U.S. and its allies have imposed on Iran since 1979, they are also caused by the pillage of the economy by the rival families that share power. The control of religious institutions, the government ministries, the military, or the Revolutionary Guards, allows the Khamenei, Rouhani, and other clans to enrich themselves. They control imports, revenue from the sale of oil, and grab goods and lands from the state. The population’s exasperation has been aggravated by the fall in the price of oil and the lack of any improvement in the economy since the partial lifting of the embargo in 2015.

The struggles among the different cliques that fight for power are also perhaps playing a role. Ahmadinejad, the president until 2013, has tried to use the discontent of the population these last months against his rivals in the Rouhani clan that used the justice system they controlled to attack him for corruption. This helps explain the relative tolerance of the Revolutionary Guards, the main repressive force in the country, toward the first provincial demonstrations. But as the vice-president Jahangir declared: “Those who are behind the affair must also suffer the consequences of the fire they light ... if a social movement starts and the political movement descends into the streets, it will overtake them.And despite the massive counter-demonstration organized in Tehran by the regime on December 30, this seems to be what’s happening.

The regime of the mullahs in Iran, despite many challenges in the past and despite the hostility of U.S. imperialism, has stayed in power for almost 40 years. Will repression stop the demonstrations, or, on the contrary, increase the level of anger? This question might well be answered in the coming days. Whatever the result, the workers descended into the streets for more than just a new equilibrium between the rival factions. This will not help the high cost of living, the unemployment, or the pillage of the economy by the powerful. And whoever controls it, the regime will remain a dictatorship against the working class and a prison for women.

Not Enough Heat in Many Baltimore City Schools

Jan 8, 2018

About 60 out of 160 public schools in Baltimore City had insufficient heat on the first two days of school following the Christmas/New Year’s break. On the evening of January 1, school officials tweeted that, “School buildings were monitored for heat and water issues throughout the holiday break,” and that all but two schools would open up “on time.”

But the next day, many students and teachers across the city arrived at their schools to find classrooms flooded from cracked water pipes, and temperatures that were barely above freezing. “It was miserable. The kids had their coats, hats and gloves on all day,” said a teacher at one high school. The teachers’ union called for all the schools to be closed until the heating problems were dealt with. Yet all but four of them were officially open the next day until finally all the schools were closed on January 4 and 5 after a snow storm brought even colder temperatures and high winds.

How did Baltimore’s public schools end up in such terrible shape? Decades of under-funding for both teaching and building maintenance. Baltimore has on average the oldest school buildings in Maryland. For many years it has not had enough money for building maintenance and construction. In addition, the city has been forced to return millions of dollars for school maintenance and construction to the state because projects were going to cost far more than originally projected or were taking too long to get started. Thirty million dollars was returned to the state for these reasons last year alone.

This is mainly because the building maintenance department is under-staffed. Most school systems have one building engineer for every school. But Baltimore – with more old schools requiring more maintenance than any other jurisdiction in the state – has only one building engineer for every eight schools!

Money for building engineers has been used instead to hire more teachers, because there hasn’t been enough funding for teachers as well as building maintenance.

Most schools in Baltimore serve working class students, most of them black, many of them poor. The conditions in many Baltimore public schools are an attack on these students and their families.

Pages 6-7

NYC Apartment Fire:
Blaming the Victims
– Again

Jan 8, 2018

Officials are saying that the fire that killed 12 people at an apartment building in the Bronx was started by a 3-year-old boy who was playing with the burners on a stove. Fire officials and the press are practically leading a witch hunt against this family. “The mother admits he has done this before. Why wasn’t she supervising him?” So goes the new rallying cry.

It is not uncommon for children to play with fire or start fires. So why don’t stove manufacturers build stoves taking this into account? There are child-proof pill bottles. They can’t make child-proof stoves? Of course they can.

The mother reported running from the bathroom to grab her child and another child and run from the burning building. Was she supposed to take her son to the bathroom with her? Or tie him up until she came back?

Officials are using this smear campaign to cover-up real problems. The 1916 building was not made of fireproof materials. A fire detector on the first floor – the floor the fire broke out on – was not working

While the fire department did arrive within three minutes, the fire hydrant was frozen. It was the coldest night of the year, with temperatures in the teens. Time was wasted trying to find a working fire hydrant. If the building had had sprinklers, the fire would have drowned in the kitchen and that would be that.

Another problem was the apartment door did not close behind the woman as she fled carrying two young toddlers! She is being blamed for that as well. “Close the door, close the door, close the door,” the fire commissioner said at a news conference. Apparently she was supposed to stop, turn around, put the kids down and close the door! She saved three lives.

All dwellings in New York City with more than three units are required to have self-closing doors. This building had 25 units. The door should have closed behind her. Doors slow fires down. They cut off oxygen that feeds the fire. Her apartment faced the stairwell. The fire spread from her apartment up the stairwell which in effect acted like a chimney.

A self-closing door alone could have made a big difference, buying people more time to escape plus they might have been able to use the stairwell of this 5-story walk-up. Instead, there were 20 people all crowded on the rickety fire escape. Some were afraid to come down on the fire escape, blocking others from using it.

There are hundreds more century-old buildings just like this one in New York City. Those 12 people died horribly and needlessly. This fire was completely preventable.

Chip Design Flaws Put Computers at Risk

Jan 8, 2018

Computer security researchers at Google discovered two design flaws in processor chips used in the vast majority of today’s tablets, smart phones and personal computers, including devices using both Apple and Microsoft operating systems. Hackers could potentially exploit the flaws to gather passwords and personal information from the devices.

The flaws, which have been named Meltdown and Spectre, affect any device containing processors made by Intel since 1995. The Spectre flaw also affects devices with chips made by AMD and ARM. Together, the three companies produce the chips used in almost all electronic devices.

Manufacturers who used the chips are not about to recall all the devices to replace the flawed chips, so Apple and Microsoft, makers of the most commonly used operating systems on affected devices, are left to create software patches to “fix” the flaws. They have come up with patches for the Meltdown flaw, but once installed, the patches could potentially slow down devices by up to 20 to 30 percent. So far, however, no one has come up with a complete fix to address the Spectre flaw, only partial ones.

Computers and the internet can make life and work easier, in many ways, including speeding up communication and allowing access to loads of information to people around the world.

These newly discovered design flaws, however, show the limits of technology under capitalism. Engineering of systems is left in the hands of corporations seeking short-term profits, with no central planning to prevent or solve problems that might arise.

No one should believe their personal information is safe under these conditions, or that computers and the internet are immune to the problems that plague every other aspect of society under capitalism.

Tax Plan Boomerang for Seniors

Jan 8, 2018

The newly passed Republican tax law contains a stealth change that will rob senior citizens. It has to do with the way that cost-of-living increases will be calculated in the future.

The old system was called the Consumer Price Index. It looked at price increases on the same items over time. This new system is called the Chained Consumer Price Index.

This new method under-estimates inflation. It allows for “substitution.” This is how it works. If the price of beef goes up, this formula assumes consumers will “substitute” a cheaper meat. In other words, if consumers “substitute” chicken necks for beef, then there was no inflation – just substitution.

The tax bill changing the IRS to this method will be the foot in the door for other federal agencies to change methodology. In 2013, then President Obama wanted to change Social Security to being based on the Chained Consumer Price Index. He backed down after an uproar.

Senior citizens this year are outraged. A promised 2 percent raise in Social Security benefits was snatched from them due to premium costs for their health insurance – Medicare – going up.

And speaking of under-estimated inflation, Medicare premiums have gone up 7.7 percent a year since 1966!

If the creeps in Congress and the White House think seniors who worked hard all their lives won’t know they are being robbed, they have another think coming!

Page 8

Illinois:
Computer Cuts off Food Stamps

Jan 8, 2018

More than 100,000 qualified people who had followed all the rules had their food stamps cut off in Illinois in November and December, according to a caseworker estimate.

People on food stamps are required to submit a form every six months showing they are still eligible. A new computer system had been set up to turn off benefits automatically if the form had not been entered.

Illinois’ caseworkers are completely overwhelmed with work converting to this new system and entering all the case files. As they reported, there was no way the workers could manually enter everything required to keep the system running because they were “overworked and undertrained.” Vonceil Metts, the president of the local AFSCME union, explained that “everybody’s learning the new system, but the problem is we’re learning on the backs of poor people.”

As a result, people flooded food pantries and charities that give out food. “It’s happening to seniors, young moms, pregnant women, disability, veterans, people who are homeless,” said Diane Doherty, Executive Director of the Illinois Hunger Coalition. “I’ve just never in all my years seen something this dramatic happen to people especially at the holidays.”

The computer system that caused this problem was put in place by Deloitte, a gigantic accounting and professional services company. They have already billed 193 million dollars for the work. And unlike the people who need food benefits to survive, Deloitte will be paid on time.

Youths without a Home

Jan 8, 2018

Between 2016 and 2017, 1 in 10 young people in the U.S. between the ages of 18 and 25 spent some time without a home, according to one study from the University of Chicago. That is nearly 3.5 million young people! And it’s not just in the cities: young people are just as likely to fall into homelessness in rural areas.

Young adults in this country are moving out of their parents’ houses at older and older ages, mainly because housing is simply unaffordable at the wages that most young people can get. But when families or youth are in crisis, staying at home is sometimes not an option. Young people wind up homeless when they flee abusive situations. Or they are kicked out for coming out to their parents as gay, or for getting pregnant.

The “solutions” that this society provides are no solutions at all. Many young people report sleeping in their cars rather than staying in a shelter even when they can get in, because it isn’t safe.

And homelessness and the threat of homelessness make us vulnerable. How many young women stay in abusive relationships because the alternative is the streets?

While young workers are facing all this, the stock market is at an all-time high. That is 21st century capitalism in a nutshell.

Book Review:
At the Dark End of the Street

Jan 8, 2018

A timely book by Danielle L. McGuire explains the fight made by working class black women and Civil Rights activists against rape. It provides a gripping read. Beginning in the 1940s and stretching to the 1970s, it brings to light a largely hidden history.

The book’s title captures its content: “At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape and Resistance — a New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power.”

The story of the abduction and rape of Recy Taylor of Abbeville, Alabama in 1944 begins the book. Recy and her family and friends publicly identified her six attackers and sought criminal charges. As a new member of the Montgomery, Alabama chapter of the NAACP, a young Rosa Parks worked with Recy Taylor to fight for justice. A nation-wide campaign developed, but the fight was unsuccessful.

The book quotes Rosa Parks recalling her work in the 1940s against so many horrible injustices. She described how hard it was to keep losing these battles. She and others just kept on fighting. It was these fights that laid the groundwork for the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott that did succeed.

One of the joys of the book is the explanation of just how organized the women of Montgomery, Alabama were leading up to the bus boycott. How long they worked to prepare for the fight is amazing. In addition to more than 50 church organizations, Montgomery was home to more than 50 social, political and mutual benefit groups at the time of the boycott.

“The rich network of social and political organizations kept Montgomery’s class divided black community relatively connected. In addition, they served as information hubs, where news could travel easily from one neighborhood to the next. The sheer number and diversity of organizations explains the relative speed with which the 1955 boycott began; after all, blacks in Montgomery were already organized. It only seemed ‘spontaneous’ from a distance.”

The book details how widespread it was for police officers and jailers to use rape to punish civil rights protestors, trying to stop the movement.

At the movement’s height, its sheer power forced prosecutors to bring criminal charges against white men for the rape of a black woman. But it took longer still before there ever was a courtroom conviction.

The book ends with the 1975 campaign to free Joan Little, a jailed woman in North Carolina who — because of the force of the movement — was able to be found not guilty for the self-defense murder of the prison guard who had raped her.

This book reveals the bravery of working class black women and Civil Rights activists in their fight against the deeply ingrained rape culture of their era.