The Spark

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

Issue no. 654 — April 2 - 23, 2001

Utility profiteering at our expense

Apr 2, 2001

In New York state, last year, electricity rates "spiked" up more than 40% several times. In New England, natural gas prices went up almost as much. This year, natural gas prices almost tripled in Illinois and doubled in Maryland, among other places. In Michigan, a natural gas utility proposed to nearly double its rates, only to pull back for a few months until the smoke from California has blown over.

For, as we all know, California has given the most complete –and most disgusting –picture to the whole nation of what happens when utilities are deregulated. In 1999, consumers in San Diego saw their rates double, then triple. In January of this year, millions of customers for the other two major privately owned electricity companies in the state were hit by rate increases of 20%, only to be followed by rate increases in March of as much as 50%.

But, this is only the beginning for people in California. To pay for this "electricity crisis," the state government increased its indebtedness by 90% in less than a year's time –that is, it almost doubled. The bonds which the state sold, as well as the interests payments on them, will have to be paid by someone. That someone will be the people of California –in "surcharges" added to their electricity bill, in higher taxes, and in enormous cutbacks in public and social services.

The utilities imposed power blackouts in order to force through these enormous rate increases and government bail-outs. All the companies involved –even the two utilities who are claiming to be broke –made stupendous profits.

In the majority of states, affecting a very large majority of the population of the United States, deregulation of utilities has been passed and is in the process of being implemented. The main difference between California and the rest of the country is that California did it first. But other states aren't far behind. And California's deregulation law was the model used in most of the rest of the nation.

The power companies justified their demands for monstrous profits, saying that they were just obeying the "law of supply and demand."

In California, as elsewhere, there may have been small increases in the "demand" for electricity. But the real problem lay with "supply," that is with the large corporations, including the two utilities, which control the generating and transmission of electricity and the production and transmission of natural gas. They consciously took actions to restrict supply to the point that the utilities had to shut down.

Cutting off electricity, the utilities disrupted the lives of millions and the state's economy. With no notice, they cut power to hospital operating rooms, personal medical equipment, traffic lights and elevators; in other words, they show they are willing to risk killing people.

The companies have been ready to use the power that their control over a necessary resource gives them to get their own way.

But working people have a power too, potentially much greater than these companies, because we make everything run. The whole society depends on us and our labor –including these companies and even the government offices in which the politicians carry out their dirty work for the companies.

It is neither natural nor normal we should accept companies' demands for higher profits to the detriment of our own health, safety and well-being.

Pages 2-3

Baltimore utility continues extortion

Apr 2, 2001

Constellation Energy Group, the parent company of Baltimore Gas & Electric (BGE) and Constellation Power, has signed a contract to start supplying California with electricity this month. And Constellation won a 350 million dollar contract for the first power plant to be built in Southern California in at least a decade, scheduled to begin operation in 2003.

Now why would an East Coast utility be supplying California? That state is so large that its economy represents one sixth of the entire country. It sure is a bigger market than the state of Maryland! Now where did Constellation get the money to supply electricity and build California a new plant? From its other customers way back east in Maryland, from whom BGE reaped almighty profit from sky-rocketing natural gas bills this winter. Maryland's Public Service Commission, supposed to protect consumer interests, certainly didn't stop Constellation from gouging people in Maryland, any more than California's Public Utilities Commission prevented theft there.

Constellation Power is well named. The "power" of its capital oils the way for the corporation to reap ever more profits.

Executive pay:
Slower gravy train

Apr 2, 2001

Pay of top corporate execs dropped a little in the last year to an average of only 88 MILLION dollars (including salary, bonus and stock options) –for the year! In other words, each week they got one million seven hundred thousand dollars.

The declining stock market affected their unbelievable wealth because the value of their shares went down. Even Mr-Richest-Man-in-America Bill Gates lost 36 billion dollars in his overall wealth last year.

Gosh, with their income going down, which bills will they have to give up paying each week?

Pentagon pleases its suppliers

Apr 2, 2001

The annual audit of the Pentagon's purchasing system is complete. It shows what audits have been showing since they began: the military pays ten times what anyone else would pay simply going to the hardware store. Last year it was the $76 screw; this year it was the $409 sink (worth $39).

The report implied that contractors know how to "cheat the system." That's the understatement of the year! The report mentions that about nine% of the automated purchases it checked were probably fraudulent.

An automated purchasing system is programmed by human beings. Computers don't think, they follow instructions. So if the purchasing system couldn't buy at the same price we get when we go to the hardware store, then its users planned it that way.

Our tax money is thrown away in this fashion because it is good for the profits of the biggest corporations in the country. Hardly a corporation among the top 500 goes without military contracts.

Decades ago a senator made the point that big business has every reason to look upon the U.S. government's military budget as a permanent subsidy. And every winter the Pentagon follies prove him right.

Train derailments up

Apr 2, 2001

A recent study showed that accidents in which trains left the track were up quite a bit between 1997 and 2000. The number rose from 1,741 to 2,059. The inspector general of the Department of Transportation said that "sometimes" the cause was poorly maintained tracks and inadequate inspections by the railroads themselves.

But don't worry –so says the head of the Association of American Railroads who reassures us that "there is certainly no indication of any safety problem."

Now won't that be comforting to riders on railroads, especially after the spectacular derailment in Iowa in March which killed one and injured 96 others.

The railroads cut back on maintenance and inspections. The government itself cuts back on inspecting the railroads' inspections. But, he says, there's no problem!

No, not for those whose concern is profit.

Forced to work after age 65

Apr 2, 2001

An increasing number of workers are staying at work after they hit age 65. Today, one of every eight people over 65 is still working. This reverses a trend that went from the end of World War II until 1985, with each year a smaller proportion of workers still working after age 65. But for the last fifteen years, the number of older workers staying on has increased each year.

Of course, there are some people who do so because they want to work. It makes sense that they contribute to the production of society and be with their friends at work. But the majority of workers who continue say it's because they are forced to, because they can't afford to retire.

In the decades following World War II, an increasing number of workers were covered by pension benefits, which added to their Social Security checks. But in the last couple of decades, companies have gotten rid of and eroded pension benefits. This has hit the poorest paid workers the sharpest. In 1979, 44% of workers without a high school education had pension coverage from their current employer. By 1996, only 25% did, a very substantial decline.

In addition there is the question of retiree health insurance. Up to a decade ago, many companies funded health care for their long-time workers who retired. Like pensions, these programs have been cut way back. With the explosion in the costs of medical care and drug prices, many retirees can't afford their health care.

The "authorities" tell us that people are living longer. And it's true that people are living longer today than they were a generation ago. But it's equally true that the way jobs are organized, the majority of workers never got to do what they wanted when they were working. No wonder they want now to go fishing, hunting, walking or taking part in outdoor activity; or to travel to other parts of the country, or even abroad and see parts of the world they've only seen on TV; to take up classes, start painting, do sculpture, attend plays or see interesting movies; spend time with their children, grandchildren and old friends.

Older people from the upper classes enjoy doing many of these things without financial worry. So should workers who put in decades of their adult lives contributing to the functioning of society.

It's outrageous that the richest country on the planet doesn't provide them the full means to retire when they are still physically and mentally fit.

Tax day and tax reform in Congress

Apr 2, 2001

On April 16, this year all income taxes are due, a day later than usual. Some workers will pay at the last minute, while other workers have paid before. But no matter when we paid, workers can't escape taxes.

For the last several months there has been a lot of talk in the media about Bush's tax reform bill. Of course, you can't trust what politicians say when they're pushing something. But judging what every tax reform bill in memory has done, it's going to mean even more taxes for us. The tax reform that passed when Reagan was president and when the Democrats controlled the Congress, drastically lowered the taxes on the richest individuals. Between 1977 and 1989, the tax rate actually paid by the richest one% of the families was reduced by 9.2%. But for workers and poor people at the bottom of the society, the tax rate went up.

The Clinton Administration focused on reducing the taxes paid by the corporations. Their actual tax rate went down by 13% between 1994 and 1999, thanks to tax cuts and loopholes provided for them.

Over the last decades a lot of government programs carried out by the U.S. government were switched to the states. But the tax system of the states falls most heavily on workers and the poor. Not one of the fifty states has a progressive tax system. In all of the states the poorest people pay the highest% of their income in taxes, and the rich pay the lowest. This is a regressive system, where the poorest 20% of families pay 12.5% of their income in state and local taxes, while the richest one% pay 7.9%.

Bush's tax proposal is just a continuation of what's been happening. Under his proposal the richest one% of families would receive 43% of the total tax relief, an average of $44,757 each.

The tax system is simply another way the capitalists exploit the workers, stealing from their labor to support the wealthy. The bulk of our taxes go to the big corporations through such subsidies as military spending or research by pharmaceutical companies; and to pay interest on government bonds to the wealthy and the banks.

The politicians hope that by loudly repeating the word "reform" we are going to think this is something good for us. But their reform just means further robbery. And we know it!

Pages 4-5

A small victory in the municipal elections in France

Apr 2, 2001

In the middle of March, cities and towns throughout all of France held elections for city councils. The results showed some shifts, and indicated a real dissatisfaction with the policies of the present national government, currently led by a coalition of parties including those which traditionally were supported by workers. Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), a Trotskyist organization in France, presented candidates, getting a better score than it had gained before in such elections.

What follows is a translation of an article in which Lutte Ouvrière explains its result.

By presenting 129 slates in 109 cities in these municipal elections, Lutte Ouvrière was able to address five million electors. That represented only 13% of the electorate, and the results of our lists, in relation to the totality of the electorate, are in this way modest.

That being said, five million electors nonetheless represent a large poll. In almost all the cities where we were present, and in particular in the cities with a significant workers' population, our results have doubled, indeed tripled in relation to the preceding municipal elections, and there was an increase in relation to our vote in all the elections taken together.

In the majority of cities where we were present, the slates of Lutte Ouvrière got more than 5% of the votes and, in a certain number of cities, 10%. Our higher scores were obtained in the popular neighborhoods or in the public housing complexes where unemployment remains important and where people can't get out of poverty, even when they find an insecure and poorly paid job. Our results reflect the disappointment an important part of the working class feels toward the politics of the government which calls itself the left.

The voters who have voted for Lutte Ouvrière clearly voted against the lists of the right and the far-right. But, at the same time, they have refused to vote for the governmental left. They have wished to show by their votes that they don't recognize themselves in this left government which favors the richest layers of the population, while a part of the world of labor is maintained in poverty. This government pretends to be of the left, but it pours forth tens of billions of dollars in subsidies, tax abatements and reduced social security taxes for the companies, while it closes hospitals, cuts social security benefits and privatizes public services. This government pretends to be of the left, but it has done nothing during the three years it has been in power to aid workers confronting the big employers and their attacks. It allows the big companies to lay off, even when they make fabulous profits. It lets the bosses attack the system of retirement at age 60.

The candidates of Lutte Ouvrière made themselves the spokespersons for millions of workers at the bottom of the social scale, the principal victims of the government's policy in favor of the rich: those who, despite the government's boast that it lowered unemployment, find only short-term contracts or unwished-for temporary work. The bosses' offensive and the government's policy contribute to marginalizing them, to pushing them into ghettoes based on class and poverty.

Well, they are ones who expressed themselves by voting for our slates. And they will express themselves more and more in the future, for they will be more and more aware that this government has nothing to offer them.

The progress of the other lists of the far left confirms this rejection of the governmental policy.

Although we have multiplied by four the number of our city councillors, their number remains weak. But, in the cities where they have obtained the support of a significant part of the working population, with the aid of those who voted to elect them, they will lead a local policy in favor of the exploited, putting a real pressure on the city council majority, whatever be its political complexion.

Hoof and mouth disease

Apr 2, 2001

The TV showed the disgusting spectacle in England when farmers were forced to burn tens of thousands of animals, most of whom were healthy, because of an outbreak of hoof and mouth disease. This disease is not dangerous to humans, but it can quickly destroy livestock, and it is highly contagious.

It seems that the British infection broke out when the remains of an airline passenger's plate lunch were given to pigs near Newcastle, even though this is illegal. These remains were definitely contaminated and the pigs became sick. The pig farmer brought his animals to a slaughterhouse far away and in this way the pigs contaminated sheep.

Animals are forced to eat what they are given, but it's humans who are hungry for profit. If the error of one farmer can lead to such a catastrophe, it's because the entire system works in a crazy way.

It is possible to vaccinate cows and sheep against hoof and mouth disease, but Britain and other European countries have not done this for more than a decade. A big part of the problem actually originated here in the U.S., when the U.S. government, along with Australia and New Zealand, carried out a maneuver in respect to vaccinations to improve their position for exporting animals and meat.

In the United States, hoof and mouth disease had been eradicated by a systematic and long-lasting campaign of vaccination. Other countries were somewhat behind.

In that situation, the three big meat producing countries forced through laws against importing meat from animals still being vaccinated.This blocked most countries from selling their meat in the U.S.

It's true that the vaccination of animals doesn't take place under sanitary conditions, and in the course of the vaccinations various bacteria and viruses enter the animal. Sometimes the animal gets sick, but other times it carries the infection and spreads it to other animals. So there is a reason to stop vaccination once hoof and mouth disease is wiped out.

But hoof and mouth disease wasn't completely stamped out everywhere. And so long as it wasn't, vaccination would need to continue. The disease can spread rapidly from one region to another, from one country to another, and even across oceans, given the international aspect of trade. Nonetheless, the U.S. government used this as an excuse to exclude meat from other countries, cutting out the competition for the giant U.S. meat packing companies like IBP and Cargill.

The British government, like those in other European countries, gambled when they stopped vaccination against hoof and mouth disease in the early 1990s. They wanted to get quickly into export markets, and they bet the disease wouldn't come back. But now it has, and the losers are the tens of thousands, and maybe hundreds of thousands of healthy animals that are being slaughtered, as well as the small farmers driven out of business.

Meanwhile the disease has spread into France and other European countries, with reports that it has now appeared in the U.S., whose unvaccinated animals could easily fall prey to an epidemic.

The current epidemic in Britain is not due only to the action of the virus which causes hoof and mouth disease, but is also the consequence of economic choices made deliberately for profit, and masquerading behind sanitary concerns.

Energy crisis in Russia:
Cold and fraud kill

Apr 2, 2001

(This article is translated from a recent issue of the French Trotskyist weekly Lutte Ouvrière, Workers Struggle.)

The prime minister of Russia, Vladimir Putin, dismissed Alexander Gavrine, the minister of energy after people in the region of Primorye, near the sea of Japan, died of the cold. Putin also forced the governor of the Primorye region to resign and sent a warning to the Russian energy monopoly chief, Anatoly Chubais. Chubais was the advisor on privatization for the previous administration of Boris Yeltsin.

Ice in homes

This drama was played out at the highest levels of the Russian bureaucracy. With the entire region frozen since autumn, the situation in Primorye took a sharp, even explosive turn. There have been demonstrations in cities, massive blockades on the rail lines, take-overs of official buildings. So it has been difficult for the federal authorities to ignore the problems.

This past year the Russian Far East experienced an early harsh winter, with shortages of fuel, gas and electricity. There are villages lacking any light or heat; there are adults closeted in their homes because workplaces were closed; there are children at home because classrooms were freezing. Throughout the region, the situation is hardly less frightening: public services are interrupted if they exist at all. Public housing, when it has heat, keeps the temperature around 50 degrees. In other places, the thermometer doesn't even reach zero, and people take refuge in front of their ovens for heat. Supplies are so scarce that malnutrition and hunger are already hurting the most vulnerable –the old and the young and the sick. The authorities refuse to publish any statistics, of course, but we know that people have died from this cold.

Economic chaos

This is not a "natural catastrophe." Similar weather conditions existed in other years. In Central Russia, as a newspaper reported, where the climate is milder, "people in the region of Samara have frozen to death in winter," thanks there also to what authorities did or didn't do.

Frost in people's homes reflects the general economic disorganization since the Soviet state has broken apart. The state has been incapable even of assuring that heat reaches all regions regularly.

Businesses are on the brink of financial disaster, unpaid by the state or by their clients. Administrations receive no tax money; state treasuries are empty. Government authorities cannot organize the production of electricity, gas and heavy fuel oil because of the financial mess in the energy sector. For several years, the public sector charged with furnishing electricity has found itself caught in a problem without a solution. The state must furnish energy to those who either are unable or unwilling to pay for it –a problem made worse by the fact that the Russian state not only does not keep order, but also is responsible for aggravating this chaos.

The state, or rather the men who make up its apparatus, are pursuing other ends, like profit. Putin is up against the same problems Yeltsin faced. He is supposed to prevent the economic disintegration of the country and to guarantee at least some respect for the law. Yet he can't get businesses to pay their electricity bills. He can't force the electricity monopoly to deliver supplies because they are not being paid regularly by their clients. Nor is the state itself able to pay the bills.

The break-up of the state

At each level of the state is the same vicious circle resulting from the egoism at the top of the Russian bureaucracy. In Primorye, the governor denounced the supposed "energy mafia" (the central monopoly of Russian energy, the EES, started by Chubais). The governor accused it of cutting off the supply; he claimed the energy monopoly is ready to let people die of the cold in order to make money from exporting the energy supplies. Chubais responded by informing the media of certain little deals done by friends of this governor, deals involving the purchase and sale of fuel oil for profit. Chubais said the friends of the governor are the ones forcing a rise in energy prices, further freezing the population of Primorye.

What's worse is that Russia has no lack of energy: oil, gas, electricity. What it has is the break-up of the former Soviet state at the highest levels, thanks to the boundless greed and rivalry of the top bureaucrats.

Actually, Putin didn't exactly dismiss the governor of Primorye; he simply allowed the governor to arrange who would be his successor. Since the governor's slogan in the last election was, "I am the region," we can well imagine how his own chosen successor will act. He and his pals will continue to rip off the region for any spoils they can obtain, as they have for the past eight years, first under Yeltsin, now under Putin.

Putin may love seeing local governors and other big-wigs submit to his authority. But even when their greed actually threatens a number of people with death, he cannot rein them in. He may have thrown out a minister of energy and a governor, but there's still a lit fuse waiting to explode in Russia.

Pages 6-7

Casinos leave Detroit's mayor in the lurch

Apr 2, 2001

Almost from the moment that Detroit's three casinos announced their current "temporary" quarters, the mayor was pushing to give them a new "permanent" home on Detroit's waterfront.

To that end, he used all the powers of city government to force little businesses, restaurants, blues and other music clubs, as well as a few homeowners, to pack up and move out. He wanted 57 acres of prime real estate, including Chene Park where jazz groups played free concerts in the summertime.

The mayor ignored the complaints of people who liked the warehouse music club district, and of people who lived nearby who weren't at all happy about the prospects of the traffic that the casinos would bring into their neighborhood.

He ignored the ballot proposition which had authorized the establishment of casinos –a proposition that had been put on the ballot repeated times, and voted down repeated times before voters finally acquiesced.

The city's courts ignored petitions for ballot propositions turned in by community activists who opposed the riverfront give-away.

Faced with the inevitable, most of the little businesses agreed to the city's terms and prepared to move out, either closing down completely or looking for another spot.

Now, however, it seems, that two of the three casinos have decided they don't want to move. They're doing too well where they are, raking in money hand over fist, so why put out money to build a completely new property?

What's a poor mayor to do when the businesses he's been fronting for leave him with egg all over his face?

Subsidies to big businesses continue, even while mayor claims city service cuts and tax increases are necessary

Apr 2, 2001

Mayor Martin O'Malley says there are only two ways to balance Baltimore's budget for the coming fiscal year. One: lay off city workers with resulting cuts in city services such as trash pick-up, pollution control, street maintenance, parks and recreation and public housing.

The other option, according to the mayor is a tax increase: on utilities, income or both.

The one thing the mayor never proposes is to reduce the tax breaks and other subsidies that the city has given to the rich owners of Baltimore's downtown hotels and office buildings. Nor does he suggest that businesses should pay more taxes.

Listening to O'Malley, you'd never know that the city has spent millions helping out the wealthy owners of the Baltimore Orioles and the Ravens. Why not make them pay a few millions to the city in return for all the services the city has already provided.

Yes, use taxes to balance the budget –taxes on those most able to pay: the corporations and the super wealthy!

"Diversity" at University of Michigan excludes the children of workers
–black and white

Apr 2, 2001

A federal district judge has now ruled that the University of Michigan's "diversity admissions policy" –which takes race into account as one aspect of law school admissions –violated the Constitution.

The decision is the opposite of another judge who ruled that the University of Michigan's undergraduate "diversity" admissions policy did not violate the constitutional rights of the white students challenging it.

Both cases were brought into court by lawyers for the "The Center for Individual Rights," a right wing organization. This "Center" specializes in bringing to court cases in which they try to demonstrate that white workers are being harmed by the special attention being accorded black people.

In order to prove their point, the lawyers chose cases involving white students who came from working class backgrounds. The law school applicant is a 47-year old white woman who had worked for years in clerical positions in order to work her way through school, and then into law school. The other case involved a young woman who had gone to high school in Southgate, a working class suburb of Detroit. The lawyers argued that, although these students had higher scores on admissions tests, "their places" at the university were taken up by black students with lower scores.

If the "Center" had really wanted to take on the issue that the children of white workers were being excluded by the University of Michigan, it could easily have demonstrated this point. After all, the white applicants who brought suit not only were displaced by black students with lower scores on admissions tests, they were displaced by many more white students who had lower scores on admissions tests –but wealthier parents.

Despite the fine words, the University of Michigan, one of the top ranked universities in the country, does not have a "diversity" policy. Its students overwhelmingly come from the ranks of the bourgeoisie and the wealthy petty-bourgeoisie. The vast majority went to high schools which either were private or were located in areas which served the children of the well-off layers of the population.

If the ratio of white students at the University of Michigan is higher than their proportion in the whole population of 18-to-25-year-olds, it's because the wealthy layers of the population are disproportionately white, whereas the black population belongs overwhelmingly to the working class and poor layers of the population. There are, nonetheless, millions of working class and poor white people in Michigan also. And their children, too, are for the most part excluded from the University of Michigan.

Of course, the university wouldn't have to do anything other than use the usual standards of admission –tests and grades –to put together a student body drawn for the most part from the wealthy layers of society. The system of education in this country, which provides more resources, smaller classes and better prepared teachers to the children of the wealthy, automatically guarantees it.

The so-called "diversity policy," of which the University of Michigan is so proud, saying that it tries to overcome these limits, in fact simply reinforces them. An applicant is given "points" for a range of different things, including their ethnic background or class background ("socio-economic disadvantage"). But the few points that any young person, white or black, is given for these matters is overwhelmed by the points given for other criteria: points for the "prestige" of their high school; for the "difficulty" of their high school program; for "advanced placement" classes their high school offered"; for their family link to someone else who already went to the university or who donated money to the university; not to mention for something called "provost's discretion."

But these issues were never raised by "The Center for Individual Rights." And with reason. Its aim has always been to cover up the class bias in capitalist society, to try to convince white workers that their enemies are people of other races and ethnic groups.

The University of Michigan is a public university and therefore supported in part by the tax dollars which working class parents pay to the state. It is only right that their children, all of them, be given the chance for a decent education. For that to happen, however, an attack has to be made on the whole system of public school education which today deprives a vast number of children in their early formative years of the education they need so they can pursue learning later on.

The public schools need to be reinforced, the completely insufficient amount of money devoted to them increased many times over. As politicians love to say, "children are our most precious asset." It's true. But capitalist society certainly doesn't act on that, nor do the politicians who say it. Instead of reinforcing the public school system, they are today dismantling it through vouchers, "schools of choice" and public schools run by private companies for profit.

The "diversity admissions policy" of the University of Michigan is not even a bandaid on this problem. It reinforces the class basis of education in this country which denies a good education to the vast majority of children. In so doing, it also reinforces the racist exclusion of black children from education, including schools like the University of Michigan.

Chrysler's lemons squeeze consumers

Apr 2, 2001

A North Carolina couple bought a new Chrysler minivan in 1996. Later on they found out it was a lemon that Chrysler already bought back from another owner! Then the dealer got it from Chrysler at a discount and palmed it off as new.

The couple's lawsuit is still in court. This month, the judge unsealed Chrysler's records. They show that since 1993, Chrysler spent 1.3 billion dollars to buy back about 58,000 lemons. Nearly every one was resold again as new!

Laws say customers are to be informed of all this. But neither Chrysler nor the dealers did so.

Chrysler got away with this fraud for a long time. Perhaps it was because consumers found it hard to tell the difference between a lemon and any other car.

Prisoner seeks re-trial in death sentence

Apr 2, 2001

(The following information was sent to us by the Campaign for Zolo A. Azania in Chicago.)

An evidentiary hearing challenging Zolo A. Azania's conviction for murder and his sentence to death took place in Fort Wayne, Indiana before Judge Kenneth Scheibenberger on March 13, 14 and 15.

One issue to be decided by the hearing is whether Zolo was denied a fair trial as a result of the false testimony of a crucial eye-witness, testimony knowingly put forth by the prosecutors in the 1982 trial. Almost 15 years after the trial, this key witness has testified under oath that he could not make an identification of Zolo and could not show where Zolo was sitting in the court room. This misconduct was part of a pattern of witness coercion, the use of false testimony and the suppression of favorable evidence which denied Zolo a fair trail and railroaded him to a death sentence.

The other issue was a jury selection system in Allen Country, Indiana which has been fatally flawed since 1980. As a result Zolo was denied, both in his trial in 1982 and in his death penalty retrial in 1996, a jury pool that represented a fair cross-section of Allen County. Specifically, a computer error caused under-representation of Wayne Township, where over 70% of the African- American population of the county resides.

As a result of this computer problem, which despite over 15 years of complaints about the lack of African-Americans summoned for jury service, has never been fixed to ensure it was working properly, Zolo was tried on two occasions by juries without any African-Americans. Rather than monitor and repair a jury selection process that wasn't working properly, county officials tried to cover up the flaws by destroying evidence and lying about the problem. This cover-up not only included jury officials but also judges of the court, one of whom now presides over Zolo's hearing and has refused to recuse himself, despite his clear conflict of interest.

The jury now has the case under advisement and is scheduled to rule by April 16, 2001.

Supporters are urged to write Judge Kenneth Scheibenberger, Allen County Superior Court, 715 South Calhoun Street, Ft. Wayne, Indiana 46802, urging him to remove himself from Zolo's case, or to grant Zolo a new trial.

Hunger strike at Wabash Valley

Apr 2, 2001

Spark received the following letter from a prisoner:

A prisoner at the Wabash Valley Correction Facility, Fred Gilmore, has been on hunger strike since March 18 because his food is being tampered with: spit in, MACE put in it, trash etc. The police are retaliating against him because they say he assaulted another police. As of the writing of this letter, the prisoner has not been before any hearing board nor has he been charged with an outside case. The prisoner tried to get word to the outside but his mail has been ripped up and sent back to him. He has filed complaints but they too have been ignored intentionally. Everything he has tried has been intercepted by the police.

So I am taking the initiative to write in order to generate some kind of support for him. The matter is getting worse with each passing day. Letters concerning the situation of Fred Gilmore can be sent to:

Superintendent Craig Hanks,

PO BOX 500,

Carlisle IN 47838

or to Commissioner Turner,

E334 Indiana Govt. Center South,

302 W. Washington Street,

Indianapolis IN 46204.

Thanks to those supporting us. The matter needs to be addressed before it turns into tragedy.

(From a friend of Fred Gilmore.)

Walgreens drug stores reduce hours in poor neighborhoods

Apr 2, 2001

On March 29, Walgreen drug stores announced that the pharmacy hours of 30 stores in the Chicago area would be reduced. These stores are in the poorest areas of Chicago, many in the South Side black community. The pharmacy sections of the stores, which previously were open to 10 PM on weekdays, will now close at 5 PM. And they will be closed all day on Sundays.

Better not get sick then if you live in one of these areas –either that or be prepared to take a long ride on public transportation, which runs less frequently on Sunday, while you're sick.

Walgreens said it wasn't getting enough money from the federal government and the state of Illinois to cover increased costs on Medicaid prescriptions. The governments said their budgets were overdrawn because of increased prices charged by pharmaceutical companies.

The federal government, of course, could have required the large pharmaceutical companies to reduce their prices. It could have increased its payments for prescriptions, as could the state of Illinois. Instead it penalizes the people without regular medical insurance, the elderly, the disabled, the working poor –the people most in need of government aid.

The federal government subsidizes most pharmaceutical company research –which the big companies then profit from. The state of Illinois finds money to subsidize race tracks and football stadiums. It provides hundreds of millions in subsidies to corporations. Both turn around, saying they have no money, and cut the reimbursement for Medicaid prescriptions and –surprise! –the for-profit drug stores like Walgreens cut their store hours.

Ironically, Walgreens made its announcement of reduced store hours just three days after it announced record profits. It intends to keep them high, so too bad for the people who live near its stores which have a lot of Medicaid business.

This is medicine and social protection under modern day capitalism.