The Spark

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

Issue no. 1098 — February 3 - 17, 2020

Stop the Coronavirus?
The U.S. Can’t Even Stop the Flu

Feb 3, 2020

At the beginning of February, the new coronavirus had killed at least 300 people in China, the country where it seems to have started, with thousands more infected. While it is not yet clear whether the coronavirus will actually become a major international epidemic, it has already spread to other countries, including those that might seem to have the most resources to combat it, like the United States.

But it is clear that despite this country’s vast wealth and all of its modern technology, the United States is completely unprepared for a major epidemic. The problem is not that there is a new virus. The problem is that this system is organized for profit—and that profit comes before everything, including the health of the population.

This can be seen in the fact that last year in the U.S., more than 60,000 people died of the flu.

The flu is relatively easy to combat. There is a flu vaccine. When people get the flu anyway, they need to stay home, rest, drink plenty of fluids, and maybe have someone help take care of them while they recover. But for many people in this country, these treatments don’t work, or don’t happen at all.

Drug companies operate for profit, but flu vaccines are not very profitable. As a result, while flu vaccines are only partially effective, researching better vaccines—and even making sure they have produced enough of them—is not a priority for the drug companies.

Even with a better vaccine, many people would still get the flu—in which case, they need to stay home and rest.

But how many bosses make it clear that they do not want their workers taking sick days, even when they have flu-like symptoms?

Children are one of the most vulnerable groups to the flu. But how many bosses make it known that workers cannot take time off to take care of sick children—and as a result, how many children go to day care or school when they have the flu?

People over 65 are another group especially vulnerable to flu, and many elderly people need special care when they get sick. But how many bosses make it clear they will not allow workers the necessary time to help aging relatives recover from sickness? How many elderly people have no one to help them in this society that throws people out as soon as it can’t profit from them? As a result, many elderly people die from the flu because they don’t get the help they need.

This profit-driven medical system has also fostered distrust in itself. One example: the drug companies consciously pushed opioids, even when the companies knew these drugs were highly addictive versions of heroin, all so they could profit. This has led to millions of people getting addicted, and tens of thousands dying of overdoses.

In light of countless experiences like this, in this individualistic society with its motto, “buyer beware,” is it any wonder that many people do not trust what the medical system tells them? No wonder so many people avoid the flu vaccine, even when it is available.

The profit-driven individualism of this class society runs counter to the most basic requirements to fight an epidemic like the flu, or the coronavirus. Every person who avoids getting the vaccine, every infected person who goes to work, every sick child who goes to day care or school, puts everyone they come in contact with at risk.

In a rational society, that is, one organized collectively to deal with our collective problems, medical research would be directed to fight the deadliest diseases. No one would go to work when they have symptoms of a contagious disease. Those most vulnerable to diseases like the flu—children, the elderly, those with weakened immune systems—would be regularly checked on, and when sick, taken care of. Just imagine what might be done to ensure the health of the population if the wealth and technology available in this country were organized collectively, and dedicated to serving the population’s needs.

But as long as we live in a system where everything is subordinate to the profits of a tiny minority and we are each left to take care of our own health, we will continue to be threatened by potentially curable diseases of all sorts, from the flu to the coronavirus.

Pages 2-3

—Crime Pays

Feb 3, 2020

People in Illinois may have noticed that their wallets are a little lighter these days—partly because power bills are up 37% over the last six years. Why is that? It’s not like the power has gotten any “better” or “fancier” in that time. In fact, Illinois’ power supplier has to get the approval of state regulators and politicians in order to be able to charge consumers more.

So if they didn’t make power “better,” how were they able to get politicians to sign off on raising our power rates? By handing them lots of money, of course! ComEd has the largest lobbying operation in Illinois. They spent 16 million dollars on campaign donations and lobbying, just in 2011. Anne Pramaggiore, a former ComEd CEO, stood next to Mike Madigan, the boss of the Democratic Party politics in Illinois, in a receiving line at a yearly fundraiser for the Democratic Party. So the message was loud and clear—ComEd was sharing its wealth with politicians—in order to be able to take more wealth out of the pockets of its customers.

ComEd has also been very strategic in hiring Springfield lobbyists. They were paying Mike McClain, who happens to be Madigan’s right-hand man.

Another in their army of lobbyists was Angie Sandoval. Sandoval is the daughter of Martin Sandoval—the long-time state senator who was behind the 45-billion-dollar infrastructure bill that passed earlier this year. Sandoval opposed a ComEd rate increase in 2008, but had a change of heart three years later, after ComEd started opening its checkbook to politicians in a big way. Soon after, ComEd hired Angie straight out of college. It surprised nobody when Martin was forced to resign his senate seat; he’s now pleading guilty to federal bribery charges.

Many politicians and a few executives may get thrown out for all this corruption. But we can expect ComEd will keep at it, as long it can find a way to take our money.

Better Not Drink the Water

Feb 3, 2020

New water rules from the EPA make it easier for some businesses and large property owners to pollute.

Environmental activists point out these rule changes could pollute up to half of all wetlands. The new rules would allow pollution in streams flowing into wetlands, despite the protections given by the 1972 Clean Water Act.

The current EPA has at least 15 officials who used to work for oil, coal, gas, uranium or chemical companies. These industries are the most active lobbyists against regulation of polluting. If these companies had to monitor and stop what they put into the air, the water, and the land during their operations, they would have more expenses. So they don’t want to.

That’s why the president called the rule change a “win” for business. He’s more open than other politicians about what’s going on. They get to have more money by polluting. The consequences will be paid by the rest of us.

“Poor Huddled Masses” Not Welcome

Feb 3, 2020

Last Monday, the Supreme Court gave the go-ahead for new “wealth test” rules for immigrants, overturning nation-wide injunctions. Now, immigrants who are thought to be likely to make even occasional or minor use of public benefits like Medicaid, food stamps and housing vouchers can be denied residency or admission to the United States.

The Trump administration announced in August that it would revise the so-called “public charge rule,” which allows officials to deny green cards to immigrants who are likely to need public assistance. In the past, only substantial and sustained monetary help or long-term institutionalization counted. Fewer than 1% of applicants were disqualified on public-charge grounds.

The revised rule broadens the criteria to include “noncash benefits providing for basic needs such as housing or food” used in any 12 months in a 36-month period. Use of two kinds of benefits in a single month counts as two months, and so on.

In the past, “public charge” never included employed persons who receive modest or temporary amounts of government benefits. Several groups have argued that this will lead to increased malnutrition (especially for pregnant or breastfeeding women, infants and children) and increase contagious diseases, poverty and housing instability. Sara Rosenbaum, a professor at George Washington University, said the new program has “already had a measurable effect on Medicaid enrollment,” adding that “we have documented evidence of people just disappearing off the rolls.”

Many immigrants when they first arrive can only get minimum-wage jobs. Even at full-time, minimum wage is not enough. Also, there is the problem of seasonal work, like in construction and agriculture. A person could be temporarily unemployed or have short hours. If they then applied for food stamps, for example, that could place their immigration status in jeopardy.

Most poor people in the U.S. have jobs. Approximately half of all working adults in the U.S. don’t make enough money to pay taxes.

It is clear that the immigration policy is about letting in people to work, while forcing them to make do with starvation wages!

This policy is upside down. We should not deport the people who do the work. We should deport the heads of corporations that under-pay people. And all the corporations and banks that have gotten government handouts!

Los Angeles Has More Vacant Homes than Homeless People

Feb 3, 2020

Los Angeles potentially has more than 41,000 empty housing units, according to a recent study released in November 2019 by UCLA law students and a coalition of economic justice organizations. That’s certainly more than all the people on Los Angeles streets and in shelters—36,165 people, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA).

Many of these units were purchased or built by rich investors who keep these units empty and wait until their sales prices or rents provide a fat profit.

Meanwhile, the low-income working class, who are no longer able to afford these egregiously high prices, join the ever-growing ranks of the homeless.

Hospital Closures:
Putting Profit Above Human Life

Feb 3, 2020

St. Vincent Medical Center, which had been serving patients in Los Angeles for more than 160 years, permanently closed its doors on January 24.

What happened to St. Vincent fits a pattern. Across the U.S., at least 30 hospitals entered bankruptcy in 2019. These hospitals include large ones in big cities, as well as smaller ones serving sparsely populated rural areas. But generally, they have one thing in common: these hospitals provide badly needed, vital services to mostly impoverished working-class and farming communities. St. Vincent’s ER, for example, located in a heavily populated working-class area near downtown L.A., was serving 23,000 patients each year.

In 2018, financial analysts working for Morgan Stanley declared that 18% of hospitals in the U.S. should be closed or considered weak. These analysts were calling those hospitals “weak” NOT because the health care these hospitals provided was poor. No, it was because the hospitals were not producing enough profit by the criteria of Wall Street banks these analysts worked for!

No, it’s not hospitals that have failed. It’s the capitalist system, which puts the unfettered greed of one filthy-rich “investor” above the lives of thousands of working-class people, that is bankrupt and rotten to the core.

Pages 4-5

Child Labor Fuels Cell Phones

Feb 3, 2020

A U.S.-based human rights group filed a lawsuit against five of the world’s largest tech companies—Apple, Google, Microsoft, Tesla, and Dell Technologies—for complicity in the forced labor, maiming and deaths of children working in cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Cobalt is used to make the rechargeable lithium batteries contained in billions of phones and other hand-held products around the world. The demand for cobalt has tripled in the last five years, and is expected to double again by the end of this year. Greater than 60% of extracted cobalt originates in the DRC and 20% of that is mined by tiny hands.

Various companies are implicated in this exploitation. They include a Chinese company that owns cobalt mines and a British and Swiss mining company that “hires” (more like forced-labor) children from extremely impoverished families to work long hours in treacherous conditions to mine the cobalt. The cobalt is then sold to a Brussels-based metal trader, which delivers battery-grade cobalt to the huge tech companies.

Children, some as young as six years old, are paid as little as $1.50 a day, six days a week, for backbreaking and dangerous work digging for cobalt rocks. They labor under horrific conditions while crawling through tunnels or carrying heavy loads. These appalling conditions have resulted in children left with smashed limbs and broken spines, or killed outright in tunnel accidents. In response to the lawsuit, the various companies named and involved have maintained they do “not tolerate any form of child, forced or compulsory labor.”

But the complicity of Apple, Google, Dell, and Microsoft is obvious: companies that exploit child labor are integral to their supply chain. They have to have specific knowledge that cobalt used in their products is linked to child labor performed in hazardous conditions. It gives a new meaning to the expression, “turning a blind eye”!

Capitalists’ Greenwash

Feb 3, 2020

Translated from Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle), the newspaper of the revolutionary workers’ group active in France.

The World Economic Forum brings leading billionaires and their political servants together in the Swiss resort of Davos each winter. This year’s theme was global warming and the environment.

French ministers there promised big companies the unfailing support of the government as the environment changes. The directors of the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund promoted investments in “low-carbon economy” as “good economic stimulus.” They said it’s necessary to “integrate environmental risks into investors’ portfolios.” Meanwhile Trump showed up to ward off “perennial prophets of doom” and “radical socialists” allegedly threatening the USA.

It was nothing but a grotesque farce. After polluting the oceans and groundwater, plundering the resources, warming the climate, and choking hundreds of millions of people, the capitalists are preparing to make a lot of money with “environmentalism.” In the name of renewable energy, governments are preparing to give the bosses unlimited subsidies. Until the moment the workers expropriate them, the capitalists will seek to speculate on the skin of the last polar bear and make a profit by selling clean air, even if there is only one puff left!

U.S. Toxic Occupation of South Korea

Feb 3, 2020

In December, the U.S. military gave four extremely polluted military bases back to the South Korean government.

This was no act of kindness by the U.S. government, which occupies South Korea with 28,500 troops, and forces South Korea to pay nearly one billion dollars per year to subsidize this occupation. For a decade now, the U.S. also has made South Korea spend nearly 10 billion dollars to expand U.S. Camp Humphreys south of Seoul into America’s largest overseas base. The U.S. is consolidating operations there from dozens of its old bases, which were originally built by the Japanese empire before World War II.

On those bases the U.S. military, known as the world’s biggest polluter, had dumped, spilled, and stored materials with dioxin, which causes reproductive, developmental, and immunological problems. Other toxins left behind include cancer-causing PCBs, gas containing TPH, benzene, xylene, lead, arsenic, mercury, and other poisonous metals. For years neighbors of these bases have protested pollution leaks, among other issues. South Korea estimates it will have to spend another billion dollars to remove these dangerous chemicals.

The corporate polluters and the U.S. military should pay for the clean-up!

Sacklers’ Murderous Pushing of OxyContin in China

Feb 3, 2020

The billionaire Sackler family, pushers of the highly addictive opioid pain killer OxyContin, has been aggressively expanding its operation in the global market. Its biggest target is China.

Sacklers’ U.S. company, Purdue Pharma, made $35 billion igniting this country’s opioid epidemic, which has claimed about 400,000 lives since 1999 and left millions severely addicted. Meanwhile, the Sacklers’ net worth skyrocketed to a cool $13 billion.

After more than 2600 lawsuits, the company was finally forced to admit responsibility. Plaintiffs exposed how Purdue misinformed patients and doctors about the risk of addiction and overdose by making that risk appear minimal. To escape financial liability, in September 2019 Purdue utilized corporate America’s most popular “get out of jail free” card—chapter 11 bankruptcy.

But the Sacklers had already been setting their sights on China, where they expected less resistance and even greater profit. There, Mundipharma, another Sackler-controlled company, relied even more heavily on fraudulent practices to hoodwink patients suffering from serious illnesses.

They saw opportunity in the growing numbers suffering from cancer, and sought to substantially popularize pain treatment. This required cultural adjustment, as the population was already skeptical of pain treatments given China’s history of widespread opium addiction, a product of British imperialism during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Mundipharma transported to China the same murderous marketing strategy employed in the U.S. Sales teams went into overdrive with methods reflecting a level of unscrupulous greed that is off the charts. They used recycled sales materials from the U.S., filled with the same unconscionable lies—and new ones. They even fabricated a story that OxyContin was the only pain-killing drug that met World Health Organization guidelines.

Using bribery and backhanded deals, sales representatives were given near-unlimited access to hospitals where some stole lab coats to pose as doctors, allowing them to speak to cancer patients about their treatment. Management even directed employees to reproduce patient and prescription records to target specific doctors and patients for increased sales. Bribery of doctors included paid speaking engagements, cash payments through third parties, lavish dinners and expense-paid vacations.

Oblivious to the carnage of innocent lives lost and destroyed, the Sacklers delighted in the massive profits they were raking in. Between 2012 and 2018, sales of Mundipharma oxycodone rose by five times at nearly 700 Chinese hospitals. Between 2014–2017, OxyContin gained 60% of what company executives refer to as China’s “cancer pain market.”

While tragic loss of life and addiction continue unabated, the Sacklers’ profit was the bottom line. Under capitalism, murderous methods are the way to amass a multi-billion-dollar family fortune.

Coronavirus in an Interconnected World

Feb 3, 2020

Translated from Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle), the newspaper of the revolutionary workers’ group active in France.

It only took a few days for the coronavirus from China to be identified and its genetic information analyzed.

Chinese authorities alerted the World Health Organization (WHO) on December 29 about cases of unusual lung disease in Wuhan in the east. On January 10, the virus’s genetic code was deciphered and made available to all research teams around the world. Since then, networks of researchers and doctors have learned more about the virus’s origin and structure, how it affects people, and how it mutates or changes. This genetic data is shared among hundreds of labs worldwide at the speed of the Internet, traveling even faster than the epidemic. This is a good illustration of the scientific and technological possibilities today when all knowledge is shared.

The virus causing this kind of pneumonia is part of the group of viruses called coronaviruses, because very close up they look like they have a halo or crown. These viruses usually cause the common cold. They are much deadlier for birds and some mammals.

This coronavirus came from a wild animal market in Wuhan. It became able to transfer from an animal to people and cause pneumonia.

In under a month, several thousand people in China contracted the disease. By January 28, more than 150 had died. Infected travelers brought the virus to other countries, but not all these countries have health departments able to monitor its development.

As more observations accumulate, knowledge grows. A screening test was made but no vaccine is available yet. Keeping known patients away from other people is still the best way to prevent the virus from spreading through coughs and sneezes.

So hygienic protocols are very important while scientists gather more information. How contagious is it? How long does it take to incubate? How fatal is it? How widespread could the epidemic become? Scientists have to do their job. But can this society cope with a possible pandemic?

Of course, there will always be viruses and other germs. They are part of life. They always follow people and adapt. Medical knowledge has to adapt in turn. But to limit the worst effects of germs, all the world’s people would need access to the right resources. Obviously, we’re not there yet.

Modern society with the range and speed of travel worldwide means microbes can move far very quickly. In a society ruled by profit, the means to treat people don’t reach everyone so fast, and they don’t even reach everybody.

Policy to Block Migrants Hundreds of Miles from U.S. Borders

Feb 3, 2020

The U.S. is doubling down on its policies to prevent Central American migrants from reaching U.S. borders. Mexico is being forced to cooperate with the U.S. by threats of economic tariffs and other measures. Mexican security forces are being used as hired thugs of the U.S. government.

Recently a caravan of about 4,000 U.S.-bound migrants—mostly from Honduras and Guatemala—attempted to enter Mexico from Guatemala, more than 1,000 miles from the U.S. border. On January 18, Mexican National Guard troops forced hundreds of these migrants back into Guatemala after they had surged across a bridge toward the Mexican city of Ciudad Hidalgo.

Two days later, more than 1,000 of these migrants waded through a river into Mexico and were then driven back across the river.

Three days after this, about 1,000 of these migrants walked across the border at another location and started making their way toward the Mexican city of Tapachula. This time, they were surrounded and subdued by Mexican security forces and taken to detention centers for deportation back to the countries they had come from.

Mexican authorities brag about their success in turning back migrants in order to please the U.S. Officials here in the U.S. brag about their success in getting Mexican forces to do their bidding.

All this to perpetrate the lie that migrants are an enemy of U.S. workers, when in fact, they are part of the same working class we all belong to and are sometimes even relatives of our own families.

Pages 6-7

RICO—An Extortion Threat Aimed at the Labor Movement

Feb 3, 2020

This was the editorial in the SPARK workplace bulletins, the week of January 27, 2020.

On January 6, federal prosecutors filed new charges against a former official of the auto workers union (UAW). New in the charge was the term, “conspiracy to aid a racketeering enterprise.”

“Racketeering enterprise”—these words are taken directly from the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). Today, they are aimed directly at the UAW, not only at a few union leaders who may be corrupt, but at the whole union.

Calling the UAW a “racketeering enterprise” is nothing but an extortion threat, just like a federal prosecutor in New York City used RICO to extort a deal from the Teamsters Union in 1988.

The prosecutor in 1988 was none other than scheming Rudy Giuliani! He filed a civil suit aimed at three dozen Teamsters leaders, making them “an offer they couldn’t refuse.” Facing legal costs of at least $100,000 each just to defend themselves, they also faced the threat of losing their pensions.

Many of the leaders named were corrupt—the kind who would sell out the union, in order to protect their own butt. And that’s exactly what they did. They signed a “consent decree” with the government, letting it take over the union. The government let them skip town with their pensions.

Teamsters members didn’t fare so well.

Under 32 years of government supervision, the Teamsters Union racked up a sorry record. Ron Carey, elected Teamster president twice, was tossed out of the union by the government. Terms of a contract, which workers at UPS had imposed by an important strike, were effectively abrogated. Another fight organized by Carey and rank and file activists over increased weight limits at UPS was sabotaged by local union leaders under the watchful eye of the feds. The Central States pension fund, which had lost part of its funds to mobsters, lost much of the rest to the bankers the government chose to run it. UPS, which had been one of the biggest employers contributing to the pension fund, was allowed by the government to wiggle out of responsibility for the fund. Today, retired Teamsters face a future without the pensions they earned.

A few gangsters who dominated several New York/New Jersey local unions may have been tossed out. But at what price?

The feds are today again throwing around a RICO threat. What does it mean for the labor movement?

Are there some leaders of the UAW who are corrupt, who took union money for their own individual purposes? Undoubtedly. There is not an organization in this corrupt society which doesn’t have corrupt individuals in it.

But a government takeover of the whole UAW will not eliminate corruption. The only ones who really can are the workers who make up the UAW. Organized together, they can get rid of today’s corruption, and they can oversee to prevent it from happening again. But government oversight will not help the ranks to do that. It will only be one more barrier standing in the way to their own organizing.

The big problem with the UAW is not corruption by a few. It’s the policy of the whole union, a policy that essentially does not rest on the ability of the workers to carry out a fight.

The ongoing problem for the UAW is what policy it will have. Will it be a combative, fighting policy, resting on the desire of workers to fight?

Faced with this federal investigation, some leaders of the UAW decided to go ahead with the GM strike. It’s to their credit they did because the GM strike rested on workers’ desire to fight. Will UAW policy continue down this road? Will it aim to take every fight as far as workers are ready to go, expanding them as widely as possible? That’s what is needed in the UAW and in every union today.

Government oversight will not make the UAW more combative. It will only be another impediment in the way of workers who want to organize a fight. Depending on the government means turning your back on your own class, on the ability of workers to organize. But our future can only depend on what our class finds the way to do.

Tottering Heights and the Next Crash

Feb 3, 2020

Translated from Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle), the newspaper of the revolutionary workers’ group active in France.

2019 was a banner year for financial markets. But the real economy continues to collapse.

The financial numbers are impressive. The New York Stock Exchange index flew up by nearly a quarter, and the Paris Stock Exchange rose even higher. Shares of luxury group LVMH—owned by the world’s second richest man, Bernard Arnault—shot up 62%.

But these financial gains came while production ran out of steam and even fell. Finance sucked up ever more massive amounts of capital, depriving the real-world economy. But production is the only place where capital creates actual new wealth, thanks to human labor.

And the world’s big central banks continued to open their floodgates, even though they are supposed to regulate the amount of money circulating in the economy. They didn’t give small business people or small farmers access to credit to prevent them from sinking in these times of crisis, though. Finance strangled them through debt, squeezing them like lemons before letting them die. But central bank money did flow endlessly into financial markets. One financial expert admitted, “Central banks gave financial markets an oxygen mask.”

Bankers used this money to speculate, just like betting on the horses. Shares of companies or other financial products rise in value “according to political and economic events, even Donald Trump’s Tweets,” as another financial analyst explained.

Meanwhile, big companies reduced their workforce or closed plants, like the auto companies. Some small subcontractors shut down. The workers are the main victims. Unemployment hits all branches of industry and the services. The only available jobs now are contingent, gig-type jobs.

The French government ignores reality by daring to say there is no money to pay pensions. Meanwhile, financial markets break all their historical records from before the last recession. A new financial crash would be all the more destructive.

Railroads Slash Workers for Wall Street

Feb 3, 2020

Railroad companies fired more than 20,000 rail workers just in the past year, the biggest layoffs in rail since the Great Recession and a nearly 10% decline in rail employment, according to the Department of Labor. The main reason for these large-scale layoffs is to increase profits through automation and cost cutting, by having longer and faster trains and using fewer workers.

The seven major freight railroads have idled nearly 30% of locomotives in the past year, as they aim to run fewer, but longer, trains. The average train length has increased 25% since 2008 to about 1.4 miles, according to the Government Accountability Office. These companies can run 3-miles-long trains, each with 220 cars.

The freight railroad companies also adopt new technologies and more efficient techniques of directing rail traffic for on-time delivery of goods. Now, the goal is to minimize stoppage time at their terminal stations and use the same locomotive and crew as much as possible, like the airplane shuttles. These new train systems are aided by new technology such as drones and artificial intelligence to monitor tracks and send customers alerts about train locations. Fully automated freight trains, which already began running in Australia a year ago, will be the next target.

As a result of these changes, and adoption of new technologies and operating schemes, the freight railroad companies started to increase productivity and cut the workforce. For example, although railroad company Norfolk Southern’s freight volume declined by 6%, the company reduced crew costs through firings by 13%. The company called these layoffs “good productivity,” and said the company was “accelerating” this strategy heading into 2020. That is, they are going to lay off more people.

Wall Street applauded these changes and railroad stocks soared in 2019. Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific stocks were up 30% last year, and Kansas City Southern’s shares were up more than 60%. The gains were better than the overall market.

So, only the rich benefitted from these changes.

Page 8

Cop Charged with Murder

Feb 3, 2020

A Prince George’s County police officer shot and killed a handcuffed man. At first, the police claimed that 43-year-old William Green, of Southeast Washington, D.C. might have been under the influence of PCP. PCP is a hallucinogenic drug that has been associated with violent behavior. For a whole day, that was the explanation police used to reassure the public for why the officer shot Green—seven times, while handcuffed behind his back, in the front seat of the cruiser.

As it turns out, PCP does not appear to have been involved. It appears the police don’t have evidence to back up their story. In fact, it appears they have a real problem. They are unable to excuse or justify Corporal Michael Owen Jr.’s behavior.

Twenty-four hours after the shooting, the police said something very different. “I am unable to come to our community this evening and offer you a reasonable explanation for the events that occurred last night,” said police chief Hank Stawinski. Cpl. Owen has now been charged with second-degree murder, manslaughter, and associated weapons charges.

Charging a police officer in an on-duty shooting is extremely rare. According to a Washington Post analysis of thousands of fatal shootings at the hands of police nationally between 2005 and 2015, only 54 officers were charged.

Green had been sleeping in his parked car when he was approached by police for allegedly hitting several cars. Maybe Green had been drinking and was sleeping it off. Maybe there was some health issue going on. No one knows. But even the police can’t find a way to justify killing this unarmed, constrained man in cold blood.

Four Friends Launched a Movement

Feb 3, 2020

On Feb. 1, 1960, four friends—freshmen at a historically black college in Greensboro, North Carolina—decided to sit down and have a cup of coffee. The “Greensboro Four”—Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, David Richmond and Ezell Blair Jr.—sat down at a whites-only Woolworth’s lunch counter and waited.

They were refused service. Day after day, more students came in to sit and were not served. Within three days, instead of four people sitting in, it was 300. The retail chain lost money because no one was being served. Within two weeks, sit-ins spread to 15 cities in five states.

At that time, future activist Bob Moses saw a newspaper photo of the Greensboro sit-in. “The students in that picture had a certain look on their faces, sort of sullen, angry, determined. Before ... in the South [black people] had always looked on the defensive, cringing. This time they were taking the initiative.”

To try and stop sit-ins, the police beat and arrested protesters. But instead of young people doing what they were being told to do—just give up—over the next 12 months, more than 50,000 young people protested in more than a hundred cities. And they won a small gain. By the end of 1960, lunch counters were open to black people in Greensboro and many other places.

One of the organizers of the historic sit-in, Franklin McCain, is featured in a new documentary summing up how he felt at the time. “I had a sense of dignity, a sense of worth and manhood to an extent I had never felt in my life before. It was overwhelming and I had the real feeling that if life ended at that very moment, I would not have been cheated at all.”

It was not the first sit-in and it would not be the last. But THIS event, started by four friends acting together, inspired a mass movement throughout the South. What they did captured the imagination of young people, and things took off from there. For the oppressed, the possibility of revolt is always just below the surface.

A Rash of Inmate Deaths in Mississippi Prisons

Feb 3, 2020

Twelve Mississippi prisoners have died since December 29, nine of them at the State Penitentiary at Parchman. Governor Tate Reeves finally took the step of shutting down what he called Parchman’s “most notorious” unit, Unit 29. His action comes only after public outrage including a lawsuit on behalf of 12 inmates over disgusting conditions at the prison.

The number of deaths at Parchman in the last month is more than the number of deaths there over the prior eight years.

Parchman is notorious for its long history of violence and abuse, and deplorable conditions. During the Jim Crow era, mostly black men were often arrested for petty crimes and given lengthy prison sentences. Prisoners were loaned out to private companies and basically used as slave labor.

The state of Mississippi was forced to make some reforms over the years, particularly after it lost a lawsuit filed on behalf of prisoners in 1971. Conditions, however, have worsened again in recent years.

Mississippi has cut its prison funding by 37 million dollars per year since 2014. As a result, the state has lost half of its correctional officers in five years. This is partly the result of low pay for guards, who start at under $25,000 per year.

These cuts have created what the state’s Department of Corrections commissioner called a “pressure cooker type situation” in which gangs control the prisons.

Disgusting conditions in the prisons add to this breeding ground for violence. Prisoners have complained of rats, a kitchen with a stopped-up garbage disposal, food stored in a moldy, warm cooler, and even sewage rising up from the plumbing system into the inmates’ living and eating quarters.

Occasionally, politicians make some pretense of prison reforms when prisoner complaints and public outrage force them to act. Conditions like those at Parchman are hardly unique to Mississippi, however. They reflect a society as a whole in decay. It’s a society that throws prisoners on the trash heap, exactly where capitalist society itself belongs.