The Spark

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

Issue no. 1064 — September 3 - 17, 2018

Workers Need Our Own Political Party

Sep 3, 2018

With the passing of Labor Day, the campaign for the 2018 midterm elections is starting to heat up. We will be bombarded once again with the idea that the only way for workers to get out of the mess we are in, is to vote for one of the two big parties in November.

Working class people today certainly face a mess. Even while the stock market hits one record high after another, 43% of U.S. households don’t earn enough to cover their monthly bills, according to the United Way. Unemployment may be down – but almost all the new jobs are temporary, part-time, or Uber-type jobs with no benefits or protections.

And the services we count on are collapsing. Water systems break down all over the country. Detroit children cannot even drink the water in school! Medicaid and Medicare face cuts. Bridges, sewers, and roads are in worse shape than ever before, and workers are extorted to either pay higher taxes ourselves to fix them, or they will remain broken and we’ll have to pay anyway in car repairs and higher insurance rates.

For a period after World War II, a section of the working class had the idea that they might have a stable life into retirement. Who can even expect that any more? For younger workers, the whole idea seems like a myth. And what will happen when the economy crashes again, as everyone knows it will?

There is plenty of wealth to ensure everyone a decent life. That’s not the problem. We are facing this mess because the rich and their banks and corporations are taking a greater and greater share of the wealth that workers produce. Their profits go up, while we can’t afford rent. They take the money that’s supposed to go to schools and services, and let those schools and services rot.

The Republicans led by Donald Trump want us to blame other workers in order to divide the working class – between those in this country and workers abroad, between immigrants and native born, between black and white. But other workers are not our enemies.

The Democrats don’t use the same racist, sexist, or anti-immigrant language as Trump. But the Democrats, like the Republicans, have proven a thousand and one times that they put the interests of business first, for instance, when they funneled trillions of dollars from our tax money to bail out the richest people in the world in 2008-2010. Are things better for workers in Democrat-run Los Angeles, which has the highest poverty rate in the country if the cost of housing is accounted for? Are Democrat-run Chicago or Democrat-run Baltimore less racist, given the cover-ups of the police killings of Laquan McDonald and Freddie Gray?

Neither party will or can do anything to get us out of this mess, because the Democrats and Republicans are not this country’s real rulers. The wealthiest of the wealthy actually rule. They organize the entire economy based on what will bring them the most profits. To get us out of this mess, we will have to take back the wealth that the banks and corporations have accumulated at our expense, which means taking on their power to control the economy. Neither the Democratic nor the Republican Parties ever have or ever will do anything like that.

The only force that has ever challenged the power of that wealthy ruling class is the working class, when it decides to fight. Today, our situation has deteriorated so far in so many ways, and we are so divided, that it is hard to imagine such a fight. But workers still have power, because we still make everything run.

To engage that power, wherever workers start to fight, it will have to spread. To win against the power of this capitalist class, it will take a massive, determined fight, a class fight. In such a fight, the bosses will use divisions in the working class of race, country, gender, and everything else against us – and our fight will be stronger when we are able to overcome those divisions. And workers will have to find a way to build a different type of party, a fighting party with a policy to put the interests of the working class first.

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Explosion at Chicago Water Reclamation Plant

Sep 3, 2018

An explosion destroyed a water treatment building on Chicago’s far south side early last Thursday morning. Ten water district workers were trapped in the wreckage. Miraculously, no one died. One worker was trapped under collapsed pipes and suffered a severely injured leg – it took firefighters two hours to dig him out.

Residents in the neighborhood complained of strong methane smells for the entire week before the explosion. The city obviously did not move quickly enough – now these workers have paid with their bodies.

Just the latest example of how the society lets vital infrastructure rot – with deadly consequences.

Ten Children Killed by Fire in Chicago

Sep 3, 2018

On the early morning of August 26, a fire swept through the back porch of a house in Chicago’s working class Little Village neighborhood, killing 10 children. The nine cousins and one family friend ranged in age from 3 months to 16 years old.

After the fire, the city charged the landlord with more than 40 building code violations for the two apartments in the building, including for missing smoke detectors and smoke detectors that didn’t have working batteries. These charges are too little, too late for the ten dead kids.

This landlord has been cited before in a different building for not having a smoke detector, as well as for not having a carbon monoxide detector, keeping a building at low temperatures, not having a working space heater, and not providing hot water. For all that he had to pay ... $2,000. For repairs he should have made anyway!

Chicago has great fire codes ... on paper. But in the poor and working-class neighborhoods, the profits of the slumlords come first.

Crazy, Rich Baltimoreans

Sep 3, 2018

Another luxury apartment building, 44 stories tall, just opened in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. A one-room studio will rent for $1,800 a month. Two bedroom apartments there start at $3,300 per month. And the top floor penthouses rent for $8,000 per month.

Yet only a few thousand people in the area could afford a rent of $96,000 per year.

This new building is part of luxury housing going up all around the harbor. But if you are among the half of Baltimore families living on less than $45,000 per year, these new apartments are not for you.

Another developer pointed out, “there are more apartments being developed in Baltimore than any time in history.” But most city residents can’t find one they can afford!

Disneyland Fighting to Keep Poverty Wages

Sep 3, 2018

Disneyland says it wants Anaheim, California to end the lucrative tax breaks the city has been giving the company.

For decades, Disneyland has been pocketing hundreds of millions of dollars in tax money, shamelessly handed out by Anaheim politicians. Disneyland’s parent company, Walt Disney Co., reported a profit of about nine billion dollars in 2017. So why is Disneyland making this announcement now?

Well, Disneyland is apparently trying to get out of any future obligation to pay its workers the minimum wage. That’s what a November ballot initiative would require of companies getting tax breaks from Anaheim – $15 an hour, to be gradually increased to $18 by 2022.

Judging by Disneyland’s reaction, company executives must think that the initiative has a good chance of passing!

Trump Proposes to Freeze Federal Workers’ Wages

Sep 3, 2018

President Trump just announced that two million federal workers would NOT get a pay raise as of January 1, 2019, a raise costing about five billion dollars. The president said, “We must maintain efforts to put our nation on a fiscally sustainable course, and federal agency budgets cannot sustain such increases.” He sounded just like the boss he is.

Trump engineered a tax give-away of 150 billion dollars for the top one percent – millionaires and billionaires! So they deserve a break, while ordinary workers don’t!

Federal workers, state workers, local workers, postal workers, teachers, librarians – all need their wages and benefits. Politicians pretend that decent wages and benefits are the reason for budget problems. NO! It’s those at the top – the people who get 30 times the benefits of the latest tax cuts, compared to middle class people.

Manafort and Cohen Get Tripped Up

Sep 3, 2018

Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen are both lawyers, recently convicted of breaking the law after investigation by Mueller’s team. Both knew the law. Both broke it by lying to bankers and to the IRS.

But are Manafort and Cohen really so unusual? Don’t they have a good deal of company among people paid to know the laws, like corporate officials, lawyers and accountants?

What is different today, and has been changing for decades, is how much the law is enforced and against who. If you hold up someone with a gun, getting $50, you are likely to end up in jail. If you rob shareholders of millions, you are NOT likely to end up in jail.

In 2008, the world headed to economic catastrophe after the shenanigans at Lehman Brothers started a collapse of the banking system. In the end, taxpayers from all the rich countries bailed out the big banks in the U.S. and Europe to the tune of TRILLIONS of dollars. Did anyone go to jail? Ha, ha, not a one of those corporate investment officials or banking executives.

The FBI and IRS say they do not have the manpower to do white collar crime. The justice department brings few cases and finds judges hostile when they do so. A recent Supreme Court ruling regulated a five-year time limit on enforcement actions by the Securities and Exchange Commission. The press has fewer reporters and they cover fewer stories, including about corporate crime.

These are conscious choices by those who run a system of, by and for the rich. Overall, prosecutions of white collar crime by the federal government are down by at least one third in the past three decades, under both Republican and Democratic administrations.

So crooks in the upper echelons can just say, “Bring it on!” No worries! The little guys get jail, but the big guys don’t even pay court fees.

Using Mollie Tibbetts’ Murder to Encourage Racism

Sep 3, 2018

Mollie Tibbetts, an Iowa college student, was found dead, and a man authorities said was an undocumented immigrant was charged with her murder.

Immediately, Republicans tried to use her death to reinforce their anti-immigrant propaganda. Trump posted a video to Twitter, saying “A person came in from Mexico illegally and killed her. We need the wall, we need immigration laws changed, we need our border laws changed.” Right wing media ran hourly coverage counterposing images of Mollie Tibbetts’ smiling white face with the dark stare of her accused murderer, Cristhian Rivera.

To many old enough to remember, these images and rhetoric were an unwelcome echo of the racist propaganda that justified the lynching of black men for a century. This kind of generalization about whole groups of people has always been at the center of racist violence.

There are about 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. A small number have committed murder or manslaughter. But in fact, according to virtually every study, undocumented immigrants are much less likely to carry out crimes of any sort than people born in the U.S.

That is not to say that women in this country aren’t under threat. In 2016, the last year for which numbers are available, more than 3,000 women were murdered in this country. But the vast majority were killed by their husband or boyfriend.

Trump and his allies want to use the tragedy of a young woman cut down, her body dumped in a field, to reinforce the racism of their base, to divide the working class and set us against each other. Workers in the U.S. have heard this story before. We are fools if we fall for it again.

University of Maryland Neglect Kills a Freshman Player

Sep 3, 2018

Jordan McNair, 19-year-old freshman offensive tackle on the University of Maryland football team, suddenly collapsed with convulsions after sprinting up and down the field nearly ten times in 80-degree heat on May 29. Yelling “Drag his ass across the field,” the head trainer had him taken off the field.

Only after an hour, when McNair was still hyperventilating, did someone call 911.

If the department had soaked him in cold water, he would be alive today. But they didn't even take his temperature. A hospital later did: 106 degrees, and heat stroke starts two degrees below that.

After two weeks of agony, McNair died.

In the five years since Maryland joined the nationally televised Big Ten conference, its athletic department’s annual income has soared to nearly 100 million dollars. Maryland pays the football coach two and a half million dollars a year.

But as ESPN reported in August, the coaches and trainers put slave-driving pressure on the young players.

A player was forced to overeat until he vomited. A coach threw weights at players to intimidate them and smacked a meal out of another player’s hand. One former staff member said, “I would never, ever, ever allow my child to be coached here.”

Only after ESPN’s report were four coaches and trainers put on administrative (paid) leave.

Money and prestige mean more for this institution than the lives of its student athletes.

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California Wildfires:
Farm Workers and Smoke

Sep 3, 2018

All across California, officials have issued air quality warnings, as harmful smoke and pollutants blanket the air. This smoke comes not only from the enormous wildfires in California, but from fires as far away as Oregon and British Columbia.

Staying inside isn’t an option for farm workers. Massive summer wildfires often spread to locations close to agricultural fields, where health risks are magnified by increased exposure to fire retardants and pesticides, in addition to the wildfire smoke.

Big farm companies force workers to labor in the fields for long hours under the time crunch of peak harvest, often not even supplying the workers with special N95 protective filter masks and eye protection. Instead, farm workers resort to covering their faces with a wet handkerchief, which won’t fully protect them.

According to California state law, farm workers are supposed to have the right, when at least two people are working, to ask for the day off in these conditions. But most do not, because they will lose their pay. And, given the stepped up persecution of immigrants by the government authorities, there is also a heightened fear of arrest and deportation.

Nonetheless, the workers do sometimes find ways to fight back. Last summer, more than 70 farm workers in northern Washington State walked off the job to protest the death of a fellow worker, as well as the dangerous and unhealthy working conditions. That worker, a 28-year-old father of three, collapsed and died while picking berries amidst scorching heat and heavy smoke from nearby wildfires. But the day after the protest, the company fired all the workers for insubordination.

Big companies operate these farms like semi-feudal plantations. No, this is not China, Mexico or Russia. The capitalists are doing it right here, in the richest country in the world.

Hero of U.S. Imperialism

Sep 3, 2018

Senator John McCain, who died August 25, became the voice of criticism against President Trump within the Republican Party. In their falling out, Trump had said McCain’s five years imprisoned in Viet Nam didn’t amount to much, gaining McCain a lot of sympathy among politicians and media who despise Trump. The eulogies for him from both political parties presented McCain as a hero, a clear-sighted politician who was a humanist, willing to look at “both sides” of an issue.

This son and grandson of U.S. navy admirals was hired as a jet pilot, participating in the U.S. bombing of North Vietnam, which between 1965 and 1968 killed some 182,000 civilians and dropped as many bombs as were dropped in Western Europe during World War II. He was shot down over North Vietnam in his 23rd bombing run, and made a prisoner.

After his return to the U.S., McCain began a political career in the Republican Party, in Reagan’s time. He was re-elected over and over up to the present, helped by the fortune of his wife’s family, who made their money distributing Anheuser-Busch beer.

During his time in Washington, McCain voted against making Martin Luther King’s birthday into a national holiday. In his work on the Senate’s military affairs committee, he favored U.S. interventions overseas, like the bombing of Serbia in 1999 and the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. He has opposed even a partial withdrawal of U.S. troops in recent years.

McCain voted to invade Iraq in 2003. He favored sending more troops, supporting the generals’ requests. Perhaps his experience in a Vietnamese prison camp was the reason he took his distance from torture practiced by the CIA in the name of the war against terror. He supported the right to due process of prisoners held without trial at Guantanamo.

In 2008, running for president, he chose the very reactionary governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, as his vice president. He lost to Obama, without using the racism that riddled the Republican Party in that campaign, simply telling the conservative voters that his adversary was a “socialist.”

Despite the current reactionary direction of the Republican Party, McCain was able to work with the Democratic Party to defend the interests of U.S. capitalists. And in 2008, McCain voted to pass hundreds of billions of dollars to the big banks in order to get out of the financial crisis that was engulfing the world’s economies. So it is hardly surprising that he has gained the homage of the entire capitalist world, which he served all his life.

Poisoning the World

Sep 3, 2018

Dewayne “Lee” Johnson sprayed Roundup herbicides around California school parking lots and sports fields for years. In 2014, he was diagnosed with cancer – and he kept spraying. He had been told by the person who certified him for his job that Roundup is “safe enough to drink.”

But in 2015, the World Health Organization issued a report stating that Roundup’s main ingredient, glyphosate, probably causes cancer. And on August 10, a California jury awarded Johnson 248 million dollars in a lawsuit against Monsanto, finding that the company deliberately sold a product it knew was dangerous.

The case revealed Monsanto’s own internal documents, showing that the company had serious doubts about Roundup’s safety starting in the 1980s. In the late 1990s, the company did its own study establishing that Roundup was capable of causing mutations in DNA – exactly what causes cancer. Those conclusions were buried. Instead, Monsanto worked behind the scenes to manipulate scientific research by ghostwriting articles, manipulating regulatory agencies, and plotting attacks on scientists’ credibility, all to protect the reputation of its product.

Four thousand other people are suing Monsanto – but that is only the tip of the iceberg of all the people hurt by this chemical. Today, glyphosate is the most frequently used herbicide in the world. 9.4 million TONS of the stuff have been sprayed on crops, lawns, and gardens since it was introduced in 1974.

Monsanto plans to appeal the verdict, hiring an army of lawyers, and will no doubt continue to do everything in its considerable power to block the release of any proof that glyphosate is dangerous.

Prisoners Strike Across the U.S. and into Canada

Sep 3, 2018

Prisoners in at least 17 states are on strike, protesting the severely inhumane conditions in prisons. Three hundred inmates in Nova Scotia, Canada have also joined the strike. The strike began on August 21, the anniversary of the killing of George Jackson by prison guards in Soledad, California, in 1971, and is scheduled to run until September 9, the anniversary of the Attica prison rebellion in New York that same year.

The strike is taking place in kitchens, laundries, prison grounds – anywhere prisoners do work. By refusing to work, the strikers are trying to draw attention to the dire problems they face every day: the extremely low pay they get, the overcrowding, the treatment of inmates by guards and prison officials. But strikers’ demands also include greater access to rehabilitation and education, and changes in sentencing laws.

Prisoners are demanding that they be paid regular wages for the work they do. On wages as low as a dollar an hour, prisoners can’t even buy the most basic necessities. And when they are released, they have no money for their living expenses. Texas and South Carolina even allow companies to pay prisoners nothing for the work they do! No wonder prisoners call this slave labor – and they say they accept it only because sitting in prison doing nothing is worse.

In a great irony for those who like to claim they defend the U.S. Constitution, the 13th Amendment actually states that slavery is legal, when a person has been convicted of a crime.

Along with the strike, reports indicate that prisoners are organizing other actions, ranging from boycotting prison stores to sit-ins and hunger strikes. But it is difficult to get accurate information about specific actions and how widespread the prisoners’ movement really is, because prison authorities not only try to put a lid on news coming out of prisons; in some states authorities even deny strikes and other actions are taking place.

50 Years Ago:
The Russian Bureaucracy Crushed the Prague Spring

Sep 3, 2018

On the night of August 20, 1968, the Soviet army invaded Czechoslovakia. The Soviet (USSR) government claimed that this was to give “fraternal aid to the Communist Party and the Czechoslovak people.” Against what threat? The Kremlin saw a threat in the democratization, however timid, of an allied regime.

At the end of World War II, the U.S. and the Soviet Union had been the victorious powers. But each, for their own reasons, feared that a wave of working-class revolutions might break out in Europe, like the wave of revolutions after World War I. The U.S., Soviet and British leaders – Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill – agreed to divide Europe into “spheres of influence,” within which, each power would keep order. Thus, the Soviet army, that first liberated the Eastern Europe countries from Nazi rule, was then to be set against those same peoples.

This “holy alliance” suppressed the possibility of workers contending for power in Western Europe, which the U.S. and Britain occupied. The U.S. and Britain then opened the “Cold War” to undermine the USSR’s influence. Stalin, heading the Soviet bureaucracy, moved to put all of his zone’s levers of command into the hands of governing state parties, called Communist, loyal to Stalin. The “People’s Democracies” of Eastern Europe were born.

But the regimes were neither democracies nor in the interests of the people. The working class played no role whatsoever in building those states, which essentially maintained continuity with the pre-war states – bourgeois, usually dictatorial. But now the states were overseen, and protected, by Stalin and by the surveillance of a secret police.

In 1953, Stalin died, and the working class tried to use this opening. There was an uprising in East Berlin in 1953. Then others in 1956, first in Poland, then in Hungary where Kremlin tanks were sent to drown the Hungarian workers’ revolution in blood.

Thereafter, the heads of Poland and Hungary had enough reason to appear as if they agreed with everything Moscow wanted. They had to assure social peace, if “big brother” in Moscow was to give them any sort of elbow room. But in Czechoslovakia, except for a workers’ revolt in 1953 in Plzen, the regime had not had to repress its population in the same way, and it seemed stable.

It wasn’t until agitation began among student youth in 1967 that the Prague regime became unsettled. The leader Novotny was blamed for economic stagnation and was replaced by others who called themselves “reformers.” Their figurehead, Alexander Dubcek, said he wanted “socialism with a human face.” But, like its Eastern European brothers, this bureaucracy wanted to conceal and whitewash the level of control actually exercised over it by Moscow.

So while the Czech “reformers” largely supported the widespread desire for more freedom, they also at the same time sought to prove that they were still useful to the Kremlin. They tried to reassure Moscow that they had the situation well in hand, that their Party could be depended upon, and they would not break ranks from the Warsaw Pact (the Soviet Union’s military alliance).

The “reformers” introduced little bits of the market into the economy, and abolished press censorship. Freed to take voice, many groups contested the right of Dubcek’s party to run society. Popular sentiment soon seemed to be near or at a boil. To intimidate the population, Moscow organized military maneuvers during the summer.

Brezhnev, now heading the USSR, demanded that the “reformers” certify their attachment to Brezhnev’s version of “real socialism.” But even though they gave in to him, they did not convince him that they could actually keep control of their population. Nor were the leaders of the other People’s Democracies convinced; they worried that their own youth might take fire from the newly rebellious youth of Prague.

On August 21, 1968, Czechoslovakia was occupied by 6,000 tanks and 200,000 troops from the Warsaw Pact. Dubcek and his “reformers” denounced the occupation, but called on the people not to resist. Here and there killings and strikes occurred, but in general the population could do nothing but shake their fists and refuse to help the invaders.

Dubcek was taken to the Soviet Union. Later, he was re-installed at the head of the Czechoslovak Communist Party, agreeing to use his reputation to provide cover for the regime and to justify the “temporary” occupation. The small “reforms” were annulled.

A lead blanket fell on the population for 20 years. Repression by the Russian bureaucracy added to hopes that people in Eastern Europe had about the capitalist West.

The Western powers protested, in words, as was their habit. But the U.S., mired in its war in Viet Nam, preferred to let the Kremlin keep order in its zone of influence. Besides, it was useful to the U.S. to be able to accuse Moscow of repressing popular aspirations, just when the overwhelming military firepower of the U.S. was being unleashed against the Vietnamese people and their fight for independence.

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The Drive to Increase Profit Is a Scourge on Our Lives

Sep 3, 2018

The stock market, which has been spiraling up for nine years and five months, hit new peaks again last week. A business columnist for the New York Times said this reflects “investor faith in a single fundamental fact: Big American companies are making lots of money.”

Yes, they are, lots and lots of money. Overall, profits were up 25% in the three months running from April to June, after rushing ahead 27% in the three months before that. The big Wall Street banks had their richest quarter ever.

The price for these super-profits is the destruction of our living standards, and of our working conditions.

The drive to increase profit is behind two-tier wages, part-time jobs, and temporary jobs. It’s the reason our jobs are run at break-neck speed – putting our bodies and our health at risk – while other people go without any job at all. It’s the reason paychecks don’t keep pace with prices.

The drive to increase profit funnels tax money into corporate accounts, starving public services of needed funds, depriving schools of resources.

Even new technologies become a means to drive up profit. The technologies that companies like Amazon or Microsoft or Apple capitalized on could be used to make work easier, to reduce the hours needed to produce the goods and services needed for society to flourish. The increased productivity coming from new technology could mean higher wages and shorter hours of work for everyone. Instead, this technology was narrowly aimed at only one thing: more profit. 2.53 billion dollars for Amazon in three months; 8.87 billion for Microsoft and 11.52 billion for Apple.

These super-profits aren’t a sign that the economy is becoming more prosperous. They haven’t led to the kind of investment that would produce decent jobs and increased incomes. They haven’t poured into improving the infrastructure of the society we live in.

No, the mass of these profits went almost entirely into the pockets of the super-rich. In the ten years running from 2008 through 2017, 94% of all corporate profit ended up, via stock buybacks and dividends, in the hands of the wealthy class which owns the vast majority of all the stock in the big companies.

And what have they done with this rush of money? They speculated, they poured more money into the stock markets, looking to make a quick buck from rapid shifts in prices. They bought property – only to sell it when its price went up. They bought hundreds of fancy apartments – not to live in, but to shield their wealth from taxes.

The drive for profit fundamentally threatens the health of the whole economy. This rapid accumulation of money led to the collapse of the housing market in 2008, and the bursting of the “ bubble” in 2001. It’s what threatens our future today.

The drive for profit around the world leads to wars that encircle the globe – sometimes fought over oil, sometimes fought over rare metals, sometimes fought over the terms of trade.

This economic system is fundamentally unjust. Capitalism is based on the super-exploitation of the vast majority of the world’s population for the benefit of a very small minority.

To carry on a fight against capitalism has become a question of survival for working people. Simply to hang on to jobs and wages, to prevent the worsening of our situation, we have to fight. We have to bring our forces together as one class.

To make the economy function in the interest of everyone, we have to fight to throw out this capitalist class whose mad chase for profit grinds us all up today.

Arizona Teachers

Sep 3, 2018

An Arizona school district is building a village of “tiny homes” for schoolteachers who can’t afford housing. The new homes will be 300 to 400 square feet – roughly the size of a one car garage.

Teachers’ union president Joe Thomas suggested a better solution would be to “pay teachers a living wage and move away from tiny school budgets.”

No kidding!

What Idiot Wants Teachers to Shoot?

Sep 3, 2018

Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education, has discovered a pot of gold.

Congress passed a law three years ago to provide an extra billion dollars to the nation’s poorest schools. The Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants had three goals: a good education in poorer school systems, improved school conditions, and technology for digital literacy.

Now, DeVos, who could care less about all this education stuff, wants to give the money to the weapons industry – to “teach teachers to shoot.”

After all, she and the Trump administration are NRA-connected and it could result in profits and votes!

The politicians show their contempt for education and teachers and students with every word that exits their mouths. If it wasn’t so deadly, it would be laughable.

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50 Years Ago:
“The Whole World Was Watching” the Democratic Party Convention

Sep 3, 2018

In 1968, the Democratic Party met in Convention in Chicago to nominate its presidential candidate. This is the Convention that has gone down in history – in the words of Hodding Carter, one of its participants – as the work of “a party that had lost its mind.”

For most people who still remember, the 1968 Convention is associated with the 14-minute live telecast from the streets of Chicago, showing police clubbing and viciously kicking unarmed demonstrators, people who had come to protest the U.S. war on Viet Nam and the Democrats who were carrying it out. Some of those people, bloody on the ground, were shown yelling, “the whole world is watching.”

Or people remember from inside the Convention, Chicago’s mayor, Richard Daley, yelling “fuck you” to Senator Abraham Ribicoff from Connecticut, who had criticized “Boss Daley’s” cops.

In fact, the 1968 Democratic convention should go down in history as the symbol of the inability of the Democratic Party to respond to the deep problems of this country – even at the very moment when social forces were urgently pushing those problems forward.

A Country on Fire

Opposition inside this country to the U.S. war on Viet Nam had become so strong that Lyndon Baines Johnson, the Democratic president associated with the war, had been forced in March 1968 to announce he would not run for office again.

Only months before, the heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali had refused induction into the army, facing prison for doing it and losing his boxing title. His resistance to the war became a symbol for millions of black people.

“Why should they ask me,” he demanded, “to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Viet Nam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?”

With the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in April, outrage overflowed into riots that marked most cities in the country. Racist indignity and violence, the war, the poverty – it was all part of the tinder that the assassination of King put the match to.

In Viet Nam itself, U.S. troops had turned to “fragging,” the conscious attacks on commanding officers. The U.S. army was turning itself into an army that would not fight.

Finally – by their actions and sometimes in their statements – workers were turning their backs on the patriotic claptrap that insisted they must support the war by foregoing their demands. They expressed their vast discontent through their strikes. The number of major strikes jumped from 181 in 1963, to 268 in 1965, to 392 in 1968 and 412 in 1969. (To get an idea of the vastness of the workers’ mobilization, compare these figures to the number of major strikes recorded in 2017: seven.)

Making Connections

By the time Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, he had publicly made the connections between the fight of workers for a decent life, the fight of the black population for their rights and the fight against the war. One year before he was killed, King stood at the head of a huge mobilization against the war in New York City. The day he was killed, he was with striking workers in Memphis.

On May 2nd, the Poor People’s March – a mobilization initiated by King before he was killed – took off from Memphis, on the way to Washington, D.C.

Johnson’s War on Poverty, proclaimed so loudly only three years before, was already in retreat. Funds for Head Start and other programs were being cut.

The marchers came from all parts of the country and from different ethnic backgrounds. Setting up a tent city, they called it “Resurrection City.”

Their shanty-town facing the Capitol physically indicted the men who ran this richest country in the world for its rampant poverty. It was an open reproach to Johnson and to the Democrats who controlled not only the White House, but also the Senate, the House of Representatives, the Supreme Court and most state governments.

At the Convention

Facing clear demands for an end to the war, an end to impoverishment, an end to official racism, the Democrats in Convention had no answers, other than to defend the status quo.

Symbolic of this was their nominee for president. On the first ballot, stifling all attempts to address these issues, they nominated Hubert Humphrey.

Humphrey had been LBJ’s vice-president. He had supported every step of the way into the Viet Nam war – including the early steps taken by John F. Kennedy, the president before Johnson. He continued to support it in his speech to the Convention.

This was not so much a “party that had lost its mind,” as Hodding Carter had put it. It was a party that directly represented the interests of the American capitalist class – just as the Republicans do. In a period when those interests had openly come into collision with the interests of the vast majority of the population, the Democrats sided with the ruling class – even if it cost them the presidency, as well as an enormous loss of Congressional seats.

The Democrats were so much defenders of the capitalist system that they were ready to sacrifice themselves for it. Humphrey, in and of himself, was not the problem. He was only a symbol – to choose him demonstrated openly how totally the Democratic Party stood on the side of the American ruling class.

If there ever was a time when all these social forces in movement called out for the formation of a party that represented the interests of the whole working population, it was 1968. And the Democrats demonstrated then, once and for all, that they cannot be that party.