Mar 5, 2001
Bush, in presenting a vague outline of the year 2002 budget, proclaimed: "Return the surplus to those who paid it."
There are only two problems: First, there is no surplus. Second, those who pay the most taxes are not getting most of the tax refund.
All this talk of surplus carefully hides one important fact: Bush, just like Clinton before him, can claim there is a big surplus only because Social Security and other such "dedicated" programs are in surplus. A "dedicated" program is one which has its own special tax, which in theory can be spent only on the purposes for which the tax is collected –roads, for example. Social Security itself accounts for almost 70% of the government's total surplus.
Aside from Social Security and these other "dedicated" programs, there is no surplus. The rest of the government's budget is in deficit. The income taxes which are collected are not enough to cover the hundreds upon hundreds of billions of dollars which the government hands over to the big corporations in all sorts of subsidies and to the banks and other financial institutions in interest payments on the existing debt.
The reality is that this tax cut would create a still bigger deficit in the real budget –and Bush acknowledges it when he says that 417 billion MORE dollars will have to be paid out in interest payments on the national debt over the next ten years if his tax cuts are passed.
In fact, the final cost of the tax cuts that Bush is proposing will be paid for by still further cuts in the social programs and in the budgets of agencies which monitor business, like the Environmental Protection Agency or OSHA, for example.
As for Bush's tax refund itself –who will get it?
Forty-five% of the savings from tax breaks –that is, almost one-half –would go to the richest ONE% of the population. Their average tax cut will amount to almost $55,000 –a year!
At the other end of the class spectrum: The bottom 60% of taxpayers will get less than 13% of the tax breaks. Their average annual tax cut will be $256 a year.
At the very bottom are those nine million working families who will get NO tax break at all. Their income is so low that they pay only Social Security tax. It's bad enough that they must pay this most regressive tax of all, which taxes the poorest people at the highest rate. But isn't it ironic that Bush's tax cut –which is being paid for out of Social Security money –is not going to the very people who pay Social Security taxes at the highest rate!
No this tax break is not what Bush called it, "just right." It is plain just wrong. But it certainly is not unusual.
Clinton's tax cut, passed in 1997, provided a similar result: Those at the top of the income scale got most of the tax breaks.
For years, we have been promised tax breaks by both parties –only to discover that our taxes continue to go up while those of the wealthiest people go down, and while the corporations more and more escape taxes altogether.
We pay the vast majority of all taxes, while the wealthy and the corporations get subsidies of all kinds –that is, hand-outs from the government treasury. The government's taxing authority has always been one of the bourgeoisie's most important means of getting money from working people.
The bosses' slogan has long been: Tax the workers to provide welfare for the corporations and the wealthy.
The workers' slogan should be: Tax the wealthy, make the corporations pay!
Mar 5, 2001
On July 1, the City of Detroit will raise water and sewer rates for metro area residents.
Detroit city residents will be billed 7.1% more for water. Suburban residential hikes will average out to 11.6%.
On the other hand, city residents will be billed 13.7% more for sewerage, while the suburban increase will average 7.9%.
This is the second straight year that the Detroit City Council has raised rates. On top of that, they announced that rates will also be raised in 2002 and 2003.
City Council President Gil Hill said that the jumps were needed to pay to meet government standards. But for over 20 years, the city has ignored the existing government standards. They put only minimal money into upkeep of the system. If they had a problem, they simply dumped raw sewage into the Detroit River –where the drinking water comes from.
Mayor Dennis Archer stated that the "increase in water and sewer rates are a direct result from the expenditures that have to be made."
Yes, the system is falling apart, and needs a lot of work. But why is that? Because the city has been diverting money from public services for years. They hand it over to big businesses, to subsidize their projects like: two new stadiums; a new Compuware headquarters; the luxury Riverfront condo development; toxic waste cleanups without charging the polluters one penny; and buying up land, houses, businesses, to turn the property over to GM, Chrysler, and the downtown casinos.
The list is endless.
So yes, now a crash program has to be carried out –because Archer and the City Council have been making these expenditures, at the whim and for the convenience of city businesses.
A broken-down, run-into-the-ground water department has to increase its rates, because the money that should have been there to pay for its upkeep, has long since disappeared into the pockets of the wealthy and powerful.
Mar 5, 2001
If Congress passes Bush's tax plan, it will only further tilt a tax system that already favors the rich.
This "tilt" was exposed in a book which came out last year, The Great American Tax Dodge, written by Donald Bartlett and James Steele. These same authors, a decade ago, won a Pulitzer Prize for their series, "America: What Went Wrong?"
The authors start their book by making a bold statement, "At least $3,000 of what the average person pays in yearly taxes goes to cover taxes that other people should pay –but don't. If you earn less than $40,000 a year, like most people, that's just about every dollar you pay in federal income tax." They estimate that there is 300 billion dollars in unpaid taxes every year; enough, as they put it, to provide health care for the 44 million people in this country without health insurance.
The IRS estimated that in 1996 over a thousand families with income over $200,000 paid no taxes. But the authors state this is the tip of the iceberg, as this only includes those who filed a return and somehow got out of paying taxes. This didn't even count those who never filed a return.
A popular scam is to hide money in overseas bank accounts. The only people usually able to do this are people who have the means to do so.
The book outlines the finances of one of New York's richest families, the Wendensteins. A rich family with a private art collection worth at least six billion dollars, who own a castle in France, property in Switzerland and a 66,000 acre ranch in Kenya. Despite all this they paid no taxes, and didn't even file a tax return.
The authors stated that there is a double standard when the IRS finds someone who owes taxes. For regular people, the IRS figures out what they owe and then demands payment. For the rich, they let the person, or rather their accountants, figure it out, and these returns receive LESS scrutiny than people who file their taxes on time.
In The Great American Tax Dodge, the authors over and over give examples of situations where either laws were written to deliberately favor one or a few wealthy people, or one or a few businesses.
The Tax Reform Act of 1986 gave all sorts of tax breaks to special interests. And in the years since, numerous tax breaks that favored one small group or another have been written into the tax laws. This book points out the many times these laws just happen to favor a person or a corporation which gave big political contributions to the politicians.
The examples in the book are too many to cite. But rest assured, the authors make their point that the tax system is already tilted to favor certain people at the expense of everyone else.
The Great American Tax Dodge is worth reading, if only to understand to what degree, and how, the tax system has been molded in the interests of the wealthiest people.
Mar 5, 2001
On February 26, the U.S. Supreme Court issued another decision restricting women's access to abortion. The court refused to consider a challenge to a South Carolina law that will establish a number of onerous regulations on doctors who perform abortions.
For example, any South Carolina doctor who performs an abortion will have to have offices with especially wide doors, a high rate of ventilation and other features that have no medical justification, but simply make it more difficult and expensive for a doctor to perform an abortion. These regulations are not being required of all doctors –only those who perform abortions.
Even more importantly, the South Carolina law will require any doctor performing an abortion to get a special license –beyond their OB-GYN license public record. In other words, the State of South Carolina, upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, is providing a list of targets for the terrorists who have been attacking, maiming and killing doctors who perform abortions.
Since 1973, when abortion was legalized in the U.S., there has been a massive amount of violence directed against abortion providers and their patients. Among the 2,400 reported instances of violence directed against abortion providers, there have been 7 murders and 16 attempted murders. The actual number of such attacks is much higher. There are no even halfway reliable figures on the number of attacks that have been made against women seeking abortions.
This incredible volume of violence –that has mostly gone unpunished –on top of the abortion harassment regulations that have been adopted in 37 states, has caused a decline in the availability of abortion services, particularly to poor and ordinary working class women. In 1983, for example, 42% of all OB-GYN doctors offered abortion services; in 1995 only 33% did. In 1995, 86% of all U.S. counties had not one single doctor who provided abortion services.
The Supreme Court, in upholding the South Carolina law, gives its stamp of approval to terrorism against women.
Mar 5, 2001
The electric power crisis in California has highlighted the degree to which the basic infrastructure has been left to rot.
In California, as in most states, almost nothing has been done to keep up and expand the entire system of both producing and delivering electricity, an obviously key commodity for the running of the economy and the entire society. The average age of the electric generating plants in California is more than 30 years old, and for more than a decade, the private electric utilities did not bother to build even one new plant. At the same time, the electric power grid, the system of transmission power lines, has not been extended; cutbacks in maintenance have left what exists in a state of severe disrepair. With little slack in the system, any little accident can cause power outages. And during periods of high, but still normal usage, there is not enough capacity in the transmission lines connecting the north and south of the state, and this also leads to power cutbacks.
The choice that the electric utility companies made not to invest to keep the system running adequately is not the exception. The state government itself has dramatically reduced spending on infrastructure across the board. In the late 1960's more than 20% of the state government budget went into building up the infrastructure, that is, roads, bridges, water and sewerage lines, public lighting, public transportation, etc. But with the recessions of the 1970s and 1980s, state spending was slashed to only about three% or less of the budget. With the supposed economic boom of recent years, spending on infrastructure was cut even more, running at less than two% of the state budget. And most of that money has been eaten up by the construction of new prisons.
Added to this are the cutbacks in public housing, schools and hospitals. Daily life in California, as in most states, is marked by jammed freeways and airports, dilapidated schools and public hospitals. Water supplies are strained and water and sewerage lines break.
To take care of even the simplest tasks –turning on an electric appliance or light, commuting to work, going to school –becomes ever more costly and stressful for the population.
The capitalist class claims that its function in society is to plan and invest for the rest of the population, using the state where necessary.
Instead of that, we have degeneration and rot all around us. In fact, the economy is not "booming" –it has been caught in decades of virtual stagnation. And this has led the capitalists to cut back in their investments, while milking old and inadequate facilities for every last nickel of profits, while calling on the state for ever more subsidies –taken from the state's construction and maintenance of public services.
No, the function of the capitalist class is to make profits –and they make those profits today from stagnation and cutbacks, just as they made them from growth and expansion in an earlier era. Not only don't they assure the functioning of society in the best possible way, they are the real impediment in the way of that functioning.
Mar 5, 2001
The Bush administration has proposed to eliminate estate taxes. Under current law, the wealthy are the only ones to pay estate taxes. By the year 2006, no one owning less than a million dollars would be paying any federal estate tax.
This estate tax plan would certainly benefit the Bush cabinet itself. Vice President Cheney may have assets as high as 80 million dollars, so it would be useful for his family. President Bush may have assets as high as 21 million dollars, so it would be useful for his family.
Other members of the current cabinet have estimates of wealth which vary from 242 million dollars (the Defense secretary) to a mere two million dollars (the Agriculture secretary). So the measure would be useful for their families as well.
But what about the rest of us? Our taxes will soon be "adjusted" upward to make up for what the millionaires won't pay any more.
Mar 5, 2001
The recent earthquake near Seattle was a large one –6.8 on the Richter scale (a measure of the quake's destructive power). This large a quake can cause a huge amount of damage and death.
Yet no major building in Seattle or nearby Olympia collapsed, and there were at most only one or two deaths that could be blamed on the quake, and only about 350 people who suffered injuries. Some of this, of course, is a matter of luck –were you standing in the right or wrong place when the quake hit. But luck doesn't explain everything.
Compare Seattle to what usually happens when there is a large quake in a poor country:
7.4 and 7.2 on the Richter scale (2 quakes)
About 18,000 dead (both quakes combined)
El Salvador, January 2001
7.6 on the Richter scale
About 850 dead
India, January 2001
7.7 on the Richter scale
About 19,000 dead, 167,000 injured
El Salvador, February 2001
6.6 on the Richter scale
About 300 dead.
The low casualty toll in Seattle was due in part to that quake's location –about 30 miles underground. This was deeper than the level where most quakes occur. The Seattle quake was also of a type that is less destructive than some other types. But in addition to this, many buildings in Seattle have either been built to withstand earthquakes, or have been retro-fitted to make them more quake resistant.
Certainly, there could have been much more protection in Seattle. There were still many buildings which were partially destroyed. But this at least gives a hint of what can be done.
The protection which existed in Seattle, as incomplete as it was, doesn't even begin to exist in El Salvador, India, Turkey or any other poor countries in the world. The robbery of the poor countries by imperialism centered here in the U.S. means that most people in the poor countries not only eat less, suffer from more diseases and die younger than most people here. It also means that they die in earthquakes by the thousands, because investment is not made to make buildings resistant in earthquake zones.
Mar 5, 2001
Last February 7, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was officially installed as the president of Haiti.
Ten years ago, his triumphal election had awakened immense hope for change, among Haiti's poor population. Aristide now returns as the head of state, but on a totally different basis. Even if there still exist illusions in the midst of the poor population about what Aristide and the politicians tied to him can bring them, his candidature did not raise nearly the same enthusiasm.
In contrast to 1991 when the population was massively mobilized, the recent elections for the presidency were marked by a high abstention rate, including in the poorest neighborhoods, once considered Aristide's bastions of support.
The campaign and voting itself, like the legislative election the previous May 21, were marked by numerous acts of fraud and violence. Moreover, the elections were contested and boycotted by several opposition parties, who denounced "an electoral coup d'etat aiming at installing a new dictatorship." Aristide was the winner, not only because he didn't have serious competition, but also because he had taken care to have all the voting places under the control of people in his pay, who didn't hesitate to use physical threats to run off observers from other parties.
The big powers, for their part, the United States and France in particular, after having bragged about contributing to the "restoration of democracy in Haiti," disassociated themselves from this electoral masquerade. The United States immediately decided to freeze 500 million dollars in aid promised since 1997, while the European Union is waiting, before releasing some 60 million dollars, to see if the new power agrees "to respect democracy and human rights."
The poor population will continue to be the first to pay the cost of a deplorable economic situation. It pays by massive unemployment, by the complete decay of the few public services which exist in the country, and by high prices which have made basic consumer goods unaffordable for the great majority.
There is no reason to expect that Aristide will bring any change in this situation. Neither he, nor the politicians who surround him, speak of taking on the wealthy –those who speculate on basic consumer goods and who loot the state treasury and the public services –in order to better the condition of the vast majority of the people. Neither have they promised that once elected they would raise the minimum wage or ease the extreme misery which rages in the cities as in the countryside.
Instead of these measures, they have established a system of patrolling the poor quarters with bands of hoodlums, who cause a reign of terror, shakedowns, attacks and assassinations, all the while enjoying the goodwill of the police. These bands could very well be used against this poor population if it revolts against the condition it is put in.
Mar 5, 2001
A trial is just beginning in South Africa. The big pharmaceutical companies that make drugs to retard AIDS want to strike down a South African law that allows other companies to import and to make generic medicines. Some 4.2 million South Africans have AIDS and will die soon without the medicines that could keep them alive for many years. The drug companies say the South African law that allows imports of generic drugs from countries like India and Brazil and that allows South African manufacturers to make generic versions violates their patent rights.
A year ago the big drug companies said they were going to allow South Africa and other big companies to buy their anti-AIDS drugs cheaply. This, of course, is nonsense. Even if they cut the price by 80%, the cost is well beyond what the stricken people could afford. But the big drug companies didn't even follow through on this pledge.
The companies involved are the biggest and richest of the pharmaceutical companies: among the most profitable of all business in the U.S., more so even than the oil companies. Merck had 6.8 billion dollars in profits after taxes in 2000, and a rate of profit on stockholders' investment of 50.5% (the average of the 900 biggest companies was 15.8%). Bristol-Myers Squibb was not very far behind, with 4 billion dollars in profits after taxes and a rate of profit of 44.7%.
The price of these super profits will be millions of deaths from AIDS in South Africa, elsewhere in Africa and also in the U.S., where those without insurance can't afford the drugs. These drug companies know full well they aren't going to be selling their anti-AIDS drugs in South Africa, but they are going to fight the case in court, which is expected to last until the end of the year. They will defend what they call their "intellectual property rights," even if it means millions will die. This is capitalism at work.
Mar 5, 2001
In the last week of February, Turkey plunged into a serious financial crisis. As soon as the news of a falling out between prime minister Bulent Ecevit and president Ahmet Necdet Sezer was publicized, investors started to sell massive amounts of the Turkish currency, the lira, on the stock market. Normally this would bring the value of the lira down. But the government, following a plan laid out by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), tried to keep the value of the lira fixed against the U.S. dollar. This, in turn, caused interest rates to skyrocket, rising to as high as 5,000% overnight. When the government finally allowed the lira to float on the market, it immediately fell 36% against the dollar, before rising again slightly.
When the storm was finally over, the lira had been devalued 26%. But the crisis is far from over. Interest rates have fallen back, making borrowing money easier again, but Turkish banks now face another problem: paying debts to foreign, that is, U.S. and European banks, when these payments have automatically risen with the devaluation of the Turkish currency. One bank has already been declared bankrupt and was taken over by the government agency in charge of bailing out insolvent banks. The government has asked the IMF and World Bank, that is U.S. and European banks, for 25 billion dollars in emergency loans.
If the IMF extends new loans, which is likely, it would be the second time within three months. Last December, after a similar crisis, the Turkish government had bailed out 11 banks and received 11 billion dollars in loans from the IMF.
For the past several years, the Turkish government and banks have been having difficulty raising the money needed to make the interest payments on their debt to U.S. and European banks (interest payments take up as much as 40% of the government's expenditures).
In late 1999, acting as a collection agency for the U.S. and European banks, which were worried about collecting their interest payments, the IMF offered the Turkish government a socalled "disinflation program." Until last November, the IMF said that the program was working. But when a big Turkish bank failed, investors took their money out of Turkey in a panic.
This latest crisis has now brought Turkey, and the IMF, back to square one. For decades now, the IMF has come up with one "rescue program" after another for not only Turkey, but practically every single underdeveloped country on the face of the planet. While being advertised every time as new, improved plans, these IMF programs always amount to the same old recipe: wage freezes, cuts in social programs, privatization of staterun enterprises and new loans to pay off the interest on old loans. Of course, these new loans only cause the debt to balloon up, taking up more and more of the state budget and driving these countries deeper into a vicious cycle.
The situation has spiraled down more rapidly in the last decade as a result of massive speculation on global financial markets. Big U.S. and European banks, the same ones that extend loans and offer "rescue plans" to underdeveloped countries, buy and sell large amounts of currency to make quick and hefty profits. Because the volume of this speculation is so large, it can easily send not only a small, but a middlesized economy (like Turkey now or Thailand four years ago) into total collapse. How hypocritical those "experts" in the news media are when they blame these endlessly recurring crises on government "mismanagement" and "corruption" in the underdeveloped countries!
The price of the astronomical profits made by banks and financial interests in the imperialist countries, which collect interest and engage in vast speculative maneuvers, is paid by the working class and poor of the poor countries. The 26% devaluation of the Turkish lira means an automatic cut in the real wages of Turkish workers. The government has already announced a 10% increase in gasoline and natural gas prices, which of course will lead to an increase in the prices of many other goods. A car company has already laid off 150 workers, giving the lira's drop as a reason; more layoffs are expected in the near future. For those still working, the bosses will certainly try to use the economic crisis as an excuse to cut actual wages. At least a quarter of the work force already works for the minimum wage, which was worth about 130 dollars a month before the latest devaluation. And in line with the IMF program, the government is trying to privatize the state-run telephone and airline companies, which is likely to lead to more layoffs.
Last fall, the government announced that it will give its employees only a 10% raise in 2001, with the inflation rate already running at 55%. In December, over one million public sector workers, including municipal and health care workers and teachers, staged an illegal oneday general strike in protest of the 10% raise. Many workers supported the strike by not sending their children to school. The latest devaluation also was met with spontaneous demonstrations in many cities.
It remains to be seen whether these protests will lead to a massive, organized response by the Turkish working class against these increased attacks and exploitation. In any event, that's the only defense workers will have.
Mar 5, 2001
In the last days of his administration, Clinton finally enacted legislation on ergonomic standards for the work place. On the first days of the Bush administration, Republican senators proposed to repeal these ergonomics standards.
A legislative affairs director for the AFL-CIO, arguing against what the Bush administration is proposing, said, "This vote will set the tone, not only for this Congress but for this administration, coming as early as it does."
Undoubtedly. But it's also true that Clinton's action, coming as late as it did, shows exactly what the Democrats are: the party that pretends to be labor's friend while serving big business.
What Clinton could have done, as Bush did, was to enact legislation he wanted in the very beginning of his administration –eight years ago. Then the regulations would have been much more resistant to change. In any case, they would have prevented certain injuries, such as those from awkward positions or from repetitive motions, for the last eight years.
According to official statistics, which we know under-report the injuries which actually occur in the workplace, almost two million injuries were reported, and about 600,000 workers were off the job with these kinds of injuries last year.
If Clinton had issued the regulations early, millions of people would not have suffered these workplace injuries.
Nothing shows the political games played in Washington better than Clinton's issuing new standards at the last minute –when they don't count!
Mar 5, 2001
A Chief of the Dearborn Fire Department, when interviewed by a local TV reporter, recounted Ford's safety record. Last year, his department had 129 runs to the Rouge complex –among which were 23 for fires and explosions, 17 for rescue and medical, 16 for hazardous emissions. He called this "normal" for a big industrial complex, nothing to worry about.
We wouldn't expect anything else from the City of Dearborn, nor from the State of Michigan, which has been very quiet so far. They are, plain and simple, in Ford's pocket.
The union, of course, should be another matter. After the first Power House disaster, however, top UAW spokesmen rushed to issue statements praising Ford's "safety" record and commending its executives for their promises to improve safety. None of the hundreds of "accidents" since then, including this most recent fatal one, have evoked the least public reproach from the UAW leadership.
For years, the top leadership of the UAW has argued that the workers' interests are best served by maintaining a "partnership" with companies that are "friendly." It is out of the question to reproach a "friendly" company like Ford –the top leadership of the UAW has been too busy trying to prove that it is a junior partner that Ford can count on.
Ford's essential priority is to accumulate profit. But profit is wrung from the workers' labor. Everything which gets more production out of the same number of workers –including neglect of safety –improves profit.
There can be no "partnership" which really serves both the bosses and the workers. The "partnership" that has been foisted on us has put the workers in the service of the bosses. The result has been a faster pace of work and inadequate safety protection, with often deadly consequences for the workers.
The workers can best serve their own interests by organizing together against the bosses –which is nothing more than what a union should and could do.
Mar 5, 2001
A steam turbine flew apart February 24 in the Power House of Ford's Rouge complex in Dearborn, Michigan, throwing shrapnel around the area. A 51-year-old man was killed, another injured. The turbine had been undergoing "routine maintenance."
This is only the latest in a series of deadly "accidents" at the Rouge. It was just over two years ago when a boiler, also undergoing "routine maintenance," exploded in the same Power House, killing six workers, and injuring 14 others, many severely.
At the time of that accident, Ford hurried to close off any inquiry by offering to pay a multimillion dollar fine, the largest ever paid in an industrial accident, and by giving large, immediate settlements to the workers or their families. It also indicated that the Power House would be immediately prepared for shut down.
What Ford got in return for its lies and its blood money was the assurance that no one would be prosecuted, nor would Ford itself really be held accountable.
Certainly, Ford could have been prosecuted, as could its executives going up to the very top. The record concerning the first Power House disaster was very clear: Ford, intending to build a new Power House, had severely cut back on maintenance in the old one. It had not installed the safety equipment which the state had ordered it to do. In fact, it had disabled the safety device which would have prevented the explosion, since the safety device slowed down production.
Nonetheless, the State of Michigan safety department signed off on this arrangement, as did the Dearborn Fire Department, as did the union. They were ready to take at face value Ford's assurances that it would henceforth "respect safety."
Since that time, Ford has compiled quite a record "respecting safety" at the Rouge: three other fatal "accidents"; two other major explosions in the steel area; a fire in a new paint plant; a construction accident at the new Power House where one worker died; innumerable other smaller fires and explosions; two total electricity failures, leaving workers in the dark in the midst of dangerous machinery; innumerable emissions of toxic fumes, including one which killed several workers. And this doesn't take into account the number of workers who have died young, including a recent series in the paint plant. Its fumes certainly don't contribute to the good health of anyone working there.
These latest deaths are not "accidents" in any sense of the word. "Accidents" may happen one time, but not regularly as they do at Ford. These so called "accidents" are the result of conscious decisions: Ford systematically puts profits first, at the expense of the workers' lives, health and safety.
Last Saturday, a Ford spokesman informed the press that, despite the accident, "no production was lost; there was no shutdown." Behind those innocuous words stands this horrible reality: a man is killed, but production goes on –even with the body still laying there. That says it all.
Mar 5, 2001
The American Civil Liberties Union has filed suit against the Cook County public defenders office, claiming it has been denying legal aid to 49% of all cases defendants who wish to appeal. The public defenders office represents the poorest defendants, who could not otherwise have a lawyer. The suit says the public defenders office refuses to handle these cases in order to lessen the work load of the public defenders office.
The public defenders office says it tosses out so many cases because the grounds for appeal are frivolous.
It's precisely serious crimes like murder, armed robbery and rape that many of the defendants who rely on a public defender are charged with. How dare the public defenders office say that when someone faces execution or many decades or even life in prison the case can be frivolous? The recent freeing of 13 persons from Illinois Death Row because they were found to be innocent shows that the lower courts are perfectly capable of making serious mistakes. (By the way, none of these 13 were freed by the efforts of the public defenders office, but rather by a university professor whose class pursued their cases.)
Either a person has a right to a lawyer at their trial and to aid them to bring their case as far as they want on appeal, or they do not have a right to legal representation.
It's already the case that the legal representation provided by over-worked public defender attorneys in no way compares to the type of legal representation wealthy people regularly buy, with lawyers and detectives who are willing to put in whatever time is necessary to prove the innocence of their clients –or at least get them acquitted.
The denial of representation to half of those poor people who want to appeal shows that the claim made that this society stands for equal justice and fair representation for all is just a lie.
Mar 5, 2001
On February 1 in the middle of lunch hour, the cable on the historic Angels Flight cable car in downtown Los Angeles accidentally unravelled, sending the cable car hurtling out of control down a steep track and crashing into the other cable car at the bottom of the hill. One person, 83yearold Leon Praport, a survivor of the Holocaust who was visiting the city, was killed. His wife was severely injured, along with six others.
Angels Flight had been reconstructed back in 1996, both as a tourist attraction and to rejoin two parts of the city that are divided by a hill. The initial plans for the cable car included a braking system on the cars that could have decelerated the car after the cable unravelled and have minimized the force of impact. But the city agency that oversaw the reconstruction quietly allowed the construction company to leave the braking system off the car at the last minute saving money and increasing profits.
This lack of safety was then compounded by the fact that the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), the state agency that oversees the running of trains and subways, never conducted a formal safety inspection of Angels Flight. Only once since 1996 did an inspector take even an informal and cursory look around. And only once did the PUC ask to see the Angels Flight records in March 1997. No records were offered –but there was no followup.
The fatal accident on February 1 was a logical outcome of the extreme neglect of all parties concerned, private and government. It also reveals the general lack of concern for safety in all public transport at all levels, both private and governmental.
Mar 5, 2001
The film, "Traffic," a film about the illegal drug trade, is still playing in selected theatres. Directed by Steven Soderbergh, and starring Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Don Cheadle, and Dennis Quaid, among others, the film realistically portrays the many layers of the drug trafficking industry.
Douglas plays the U.S. president's choice to head the Drug Enforcement Agency in leading the so-called "war on drugs." One of the agency's efforts includes the arrest of an important American drug importer, the husband of Zeta-Jones' character. His wife initially is unaware of his involvement in the drug trade, knowing only about his "legitimate" businesses which are in fact money-laundering fronts.
The film also illustrates the drug trade on the Mexican side of the border. Two Mexican policemen eager to bust up a drug shipment are stopped by a Mexican general who pretends to be carrying out his own efforts to bring down the drug traffickers. In reality, the general is simply working hand in hand with one drug cartel in its drive to destroy a rival cartel. The two policemen are unwittingly drawn into helping the general with his effort.
The movie also illustrates the effects of drugs on their users, through the lives of the DEA head's daughter and her friends. These wealthy suburban kids find excitement through using drugs. One of them, however, dies of an overdose. After her DEA chief father catches her using drugs and ships her off to a drug rehab facility, she escapes and returns to her drug dealer, prostituting herself in exchange for drugs.
The film makes the U.S. government appear to be more earnestly fighting the drug war than the Mexican government. Nevertheless, the film generally provides a good look at the many players involved in the drug trade. And it shows something of the way the "war on drugs" is used by politicians for their own political gain.