The Spark

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

Issue no. 692 — November 25 - December 9, 2002

Bush's dirty war against the people of Iraq
– Not in our name, nor with our blood

Nov 25, 2002

The countdown to war against Iraq has begun. Iraq was given 30 days to provide a complete list of all its "weapons of mass destruction" and 76 more days in which it must prove to the inspectors it has no such weapons.

Bush says that if, during those 106 days, Iraq violates the U.N. resolution, he will have the U.N.'s blessing for going to war on Iraq.

Who is to decide whether or not Iraq has violated the resolution? Why, Bush himself! And Bush has already declared that Iraq is "in substantial violation" of the resolution. According to Bush, Iraq fired missiles at U.S. planes that were "patrolling" the so-called "no-fly zone." This "no-fly zone" is nothing but the airspace over almost one half of Iraq, which the U.S. has declared it has the right to enter – and has regularly entered during the last 11 years, often to carry out bombing missions over all of Iraq.

Kofi Annan, head of the U.N., says that Bush's interpretation of the U.N. resolution is wrong, that Iraq did not violate it. But, as we well know, it's not Kofi Annan nor the rest of the U.N. that controls the murderous U.S. war machine. It's Bush, and behind him the permanent U.S. state apparatus. And they go by the old capitalist philosophy, "Might Makes Right."In fact, all this talk about the U.N. resolution and inspections is only just that – talk. The war against Iraq is already going on, having never stopped. Since the official "end" of the Gulf War in 1991, about a million and a half people have fallen victim. And the victims of this U.S. war on Iraq have been overwhelmingly civilians; almost a million of the dead were children.

That isn't to say that things can't get worse for the people of Iraq. Today, the U.S. is preparing to carry on a much more murderous offensive against them. There are already a quarter of a million U.S. troops stationed around Iraq, with more on the way, as well as a vast fleet of planes, equipped with, and already using, some of the most advanced "weapons of mass destruction."Don't tell us this war is about Saddam Hussein. He is a vicious dictator, his hands awash with blood. But this didn't prevent the U.S. from arming him and providing him with intelligence when it used him to carry out a long and bloody war against Iran, which claimed a million dead. Nor did this prevent the U.S. from handing him his army back after the Gulf War, when it used him to put down revolts of the Kurds in the north of Iraq and the Shiites in the south. It did nothing to interfere with him until after the revolts, which threatened to spread out and engulf the whole region, had been completely crushed.

Leaving Saddam Hussein in place after the end of the Gulf War was not a "mistake" of U.S. policy. That was U.S. foreign policy in all its naked, disgusting reality.

But times have changed. And the U.S. has another policy today, equally disgusting. Needing to draw attention away from its powerlessness to prevent terrorism on its own soil, the Bush administration seeks to make an example of its power by destroying other countries and other peoples. First, there was Afghanistan, but that war isn't going as well as Bush once claimed – so now there is Iraq.

Bush himself has personal reasons to push to a new war – diverting attention away from the vast quagmire of corruption in which his administration has already been shown to be engaged. It's not a coincidence that Bush suddenly turned attention to Iraq last July – just when Bush's own crooked dealings were coming to light and when it seemed possible that either Vice-president Cheney or Secretary of the Army White – or both – might be indicted. Not to mention all the oil interests that all of these people have – which make control over Iraq look very inviting to them.

It is from this dirty, filthy swamp of corruption that Bush today asks us to go to war against another people.

NO! This war is NOT our war. We have no reason to shed one drop of blood in defense of Bush or his oil companies. Not one drop of blood for corporations that require wars so they can go on draining wealth from other countries, while imposing slave-labor conditions on the workers they employ in their sweatshops around the globe.

Don't let Bush and the other crooks carry out their war in our name.

Pages 2-3

"Homeland Security"
– only for the very rich

Nov 25, 2002

The Senate passed the so-called "Homeland Security" Act. The vote was 90-9, showing that both Democrats and Republicans agreed.

Whatever Bush's propagandists may say, this act provides no "security" for the population – only for a select few.

Drug companies that manufacture vaccines were given immunity from lawsuits over side effects from their vaccines. Eli Lilly happens to make thimerosol, a vaccine that includes a mercury-based preservative recently linked to autism in children. No longer does it need to worry about paying for the damages it let loose on tens of thousands of children. Nor do manufacturers of military vaccines who cannot now be sued when the vaccines they rush to produce without adequate testing prove to be harmful.

U.S. corporations that set up "headquarters" in offshore tax havens in order to avoid paying U.S. taxes were given the OK to hold government contracts! Doubtless, Bush recalls his own offshore exploits, when his Harken Energy Corp. established its own offshore address. This allowed Harken to hide some inconvenient debt and allowed Bush Jr. to sell off his stock before the debt came to light.

As for the political apparatus of Texas, they got a research institute – awarded to Texas A&M University.

By contrast, government workers, who currently have no legal right to strike, will lose more of the few rights they do have under civil-service and seniority protections. At one stroke, this widens the attack on government workers, while assuring that tens of thousands of new jobs will go to "friends of friends."One of the nine votes against this new nest of bureaucratic corruption came from Senator Robert C. Byrd. In his remarks he said, "That Department of Homeland Security will not add one whit of security in the near future to the American people." Not only in the near future, but never.

The growth of long-term unemployment and involuntary part-time employment

Nov 25, 2002

Whatever the "experts" say about the recession ending, for the working class the recession is worse than it's ever been. Since the start of the recession in early 2001, close to four million workers have been permanently laid off. And since summer of this year the number of those being laid off permanently has increased by about 150,000 workers per month.

More ominously, those who lose their jobs are having a very tough time finding new ones. Companies are just not hiring. The average length of time that it now takes laid off workers to find a job has increased drastically. During the official recession that ended several months ago, workers were laid off on average for 13 weeks, according to the U.S. Labor Department. Now that the recession is supposedly over, the average time it takes to find a new job has actually increased to almost 18 weeks!

Of course, the 18 weeks is only an average. Since last summer, more than 300,000 workers per month have been running out of unemployment benefits, both the regular 26 weeks and the 13 week extension that the politicians tacked on temporarily for election purposes.

Millions more workers seeking full-time work have been forced into working part-time jobs in order to gain some income. Officially, the number of workers in this category has increased by 30% since the recession began. All told, there are now four million workers who are officially "employed" but in a much worse situation than they were before they lost their old jobs.

Of course, the bosses are doing everything they can to exploit the workers' growing hardship and vulnerability. They are demanding that those still employed make greater sacrifices – work harder for longer hours, often for lower pay and benefits – what they call "cutting costs." For the bosses, pushing fewer people to work longer and harder can be mighty profitable. But it also contributes to the growth of unemployment at the same time.

Sooner or later, workers will fight against all the ways that the bosses increase exploitation – layoffs, speed-up and the lengthening work day. And sooner would be better than later.

Congress chops the unemployed

Nov 25, 2002

Congress adjourned without renewing the unemployment benefits extension, which will expire December 28, during the holidays. More than eight hundred thousand people will lose their benefits at that point, and every week after December 28, another 95,000 people will lose jobless benefits.

The extension that is expiring had been passed earlier this year, just in time for Congress to claim credit during the election campaigning. Of course, they never talked about that the fact that the extension was set to expire as soon as the elections were over.

Congress did talk about renewing an extension but couldn't come to an agreement. The House, controlled by Republicans, wanted to extend benefits – but only by five more weeks. The Senate, still controlled by the Democrats, would have provided only three additional months. Neither bill would have provided the long-term unemployment benefits which anyone unemployed would need.

During the recessions in the 1970s, Congress managed to extend unemployment benefits for more than twice the usual 26 weeks, to a total of 65 weeks for those who qualified. And even that's not enough.

We've heard for 10 years about how well the country has been doing. It can't be too poor to help those who need it ... its capitalists are just too greedy, and its political leaders so completely their servants.

How can you tell the new governor from the old one?

Nov 25, 2002

Democrat Jennifer Granholm won the Michigan governorship. Voters rejected Richard Posthumus, who promised to carry on the policies of Republican Governor John Engler.

Governor Engler left behind an increasing "shortfall" in the state budget. In an interview, Governor-elect Granholm was asked how she planned to correct that deficit. For example, the interviewer asked if she planned to cancel a tax cut that is scheduled to take effect in January.

Ms. Granholm replied that she intends to allow the tax cut. She said, in regard to making up the deficit, that "we will just have to figure ways to be more economical in the way we provide services."In other words, this new governor stands for more tax breaks for corporations, less money spent on citizens, and more cutbacks in the ranks of the state employees who provide those services.

Those voters who thought they would get a different type of governor by electing a Democrat – soon discovered that they just got a different wolf in sheep's clothing.

Two Maryland governors kiss and make up

Nov 25, 2002

Maryland's new Republican governor, Bob Ehrlich, recently got together with the outgoing Democratic governor, Parris Glendening.

Despite bitter words exchanged during the campaign, the two now seem to be in agreement. Democrat Glendening's ideas about balancing the budget were "real solid," – so said Republican Ehrlich.

And what were Glendening's ideas? Cut virtually every state program except those that benefit land developers, corporations and the rich. Environmental and community development programs? Cut them! Health and welfare programs? Cut them, too. Tax abatements and state subsidies for real estate developers, corporations and the rich? We can't touch any of these, or economic development will be hurt!

No wonder Ehrlich had no problem agreeing with Glendening. Glendening's just a Republican in disguise. Or is Ehrlich a Democrat in disguise? In any case, their political priorities are clearly the same!

The biggest threat of all

Nov 25, 2002

Almost every week, the government seems to issue new terrorist alerts, color coded yellow, orange or red. And according to the government, nuclear power plants are most at risk from terrorist attacks.

So, with great fanfare, the government issued beefed up guidelines for added security at nuclear power plants – and then stepped aside while the owners of the plants forced guards to work 12 hours a day, six days per week – mandatory!

It's obvious that heavy overtime, month after month, makes it humanly impossible for anyone to do a decent job – not to speak of prevent a nuclear holocaust.

It's equally obvious that neither the government nor the nuclear power industry took their own propaganda seriously – not about potential terrorist threats nor about the safe operation of the nuclear power plants.

Unfortunately, scheduling heavy overtime at nuclear power plants is not something unusual. And not just for guards. It is one more indication that the biggest danger of one of these nuclear power plants exploding has never come from terrorists, but from the way the owners of these power plants have always run them – by overworking their entire staff and cutting corners everywhere.

Working people have no reason to listen to these people – for whom what counts is only one thing: the "security" of corporate profits.

Pages 4-5

The undeclared war

Nov 25, 2002

On November 21, two uniformed U.S. Army soldiers were shot and seriously wounded by a Kuwaiti policeman, who was then reported to have fled to Saudi Arabia.

According to Kuwaiti and U.S. officials, this attack against U.S. soldiers in Kuwait is an aberration. Said Kuwaiti Defense Minister Sheik Jaber al-Amad al-Sabah after the attack, "... the [Kuwaiti] people share the government's position about seeking help from the American forces to bolster Kuwait's security and independence."However, this was not the first attack in Kuwait against U.S. troops. Six weeks before, one marine was killed and another was wounded when several Kuwaiti gunmen opened fire on U.S. marines on the Kuwaiti island of Faylakah, while the marines were carrying out training exercises in urban warfare. Access to the island had been restricted to U.S. forces and only those Kuwaitis with special security clearances.

There have been several other incidents like these in the past few months. In addition, U.S. troops have regularly complained that they have been fired on near their bases. U.S. and Kuwaiti officials dismiss these as gun shots from hunters or people celebrating.

In fact, there has been an undeclared war going on in Kuwait. The number of U.S. troops inside the country has more than doubled to over 12,000 in just a few short months. The U.S. military has already taken over the entire western part of the small country, about 750 square miles, and the U.S. is building a massive new military base in Arifjan to house the newly arriving new troops.

U.S. and Kuwaiti officials may try to portray the U.S. as the supposed "liberator" of Kuwait during the Persian Gulf War of 1991. They may claim that the U.S. is merely protecting Kuwait from Iraq. But, obviously, many in Kuwait do not agree. This is reflected not just by the shootings of U.S. forces by Kuwaitis, but by the actions of the Kuwait government itself. Earlier this fall, for example, the Kuwaiti government bowed to the Kuwaiti population's opposition, announcing that it opposed any U.S.-sponsored war against Iraq. Of course, the Kuwaiti government was not really going to oppose the Bush administration, and it quickly fell into line. But the real mark of the situation in Kuwait is the government crackdown inside the country against all opposition. The Kuwaiti government even closed down the local news bureau of the Al Jazeera satellite television station, simply because it reported that the U.S. military had taken over a quarter of the country's territory for military exercises.

A day after the most recent incident, the U.S. news media covered the deployment to Kuwait of several hundred combat-trained marines from Camp Pendleton in California. While the flags waved and the brass bands played, one wife confided to a reporter from the Los Angeles Times that "everybody's worried sick."And well they should be. For U.S. troops are being sent thousands of miles away to a region where undoubtedly most of the population considers them to be the invaders and occupiers of their country.

Fight between Muslims and Christians masks real problems

Nov 25, 2002

More than 100 people were reported killed and hundreds more seriously injured in Nigeria last week. The cause of the riot was supposedly a newspaper article about the Miss World beauty pageant, which had been scheduled in Nigeria for December 7. The article was considered insulting to the Prophet Muhammad by some Muslims, who rioted in the northern city of Kaduna, burning down four churches, crying "Miss World is sin."On Sunday, November 23, the contestants who had arrived in Nigeria were flown out to London, England where the contest has been rescheduled.

This most recent rioting in Nigeria is part of a long-simmering religious controversy in a country of 100 million people divided among 250 ethnic groups, where a majority in the north practice Islam and a majority in the south practice Christianity. The current president, Olusegun Obasanjo, took over as a "civilian" in this country long under military dictatorship, but he is actually a former general who ruled the country from 1979 to 1983.

Nigeria's wealth comes from oil: it is the sixth largest producer in the world, selling about half to British Royal Dutch Shell and a little less than half to Exxon-Mobil, Chevron and Texaco. But, like everywhere else, the revenues don't benefit everyone equally. The per capita average income was estimated at $300 in 1999 by the U.S. Department of State. But officially one in four people is unemployed; non-payment of wages to government workers is common. Only half the population has access to clean water, two fifth of the children under five are malnourished, and life expectancy is only 51 years.

In such a situation, politicians everywhere look for ways to divert the anger of the population. In Nigeria, as in many other countries today, they find that diversion in religion. Three years ago, President Obasanjo, who is a Christian, accepted the instituting of the Muslim judicial system of sharia in 12 northern provinces. These courts began handing out their typical sentences of punishment: amputation for theft and stoning to death for adultery.

Three cases have since come to world attention of Nigerian women sentenced to death for bearing a child out of wedlock. The sentences have not yet taken place, but some of the Miss World contestants publicly declared their opposition to this treatment of Nigerian women.

Muslim leaders were quick to brand this protest an insult to Islam, encouraging their followers to treat the contest as an attack on their religious beliefs. Hence the rioting in Kaduna. Instead of supporting the Nigerian courts, President Obasanjo declared, "I allowed sharia to exist because we are not a secular state. We are a multi-religious state." Apparently Christian leaders are no better in their attitudes, for a well known bishop, Alexander Ekewuba, wrote in a magazine: "The northerners will destroy this country. Let them thank God I am not a politician, otherwise any time they kill one Igbo man ..., I will order that 10 Muslims be killed here."In fact, such attitudes expressed by men of religion – supposed men of peace – have led to the deaths of thousands of Nigerians over the past three years. Muslim clerics promising to stone women to death and a Christian bishop threatening to kill his countrymen: this is where religious leaders lead the Nigerian people.

The Miss World contestants can be flown out of the country, but the millions of Nigerians left behind will suffer from the attitudes promoted by their religious leaders and from the politicians whose soldiers' guns rob them of any hope for a decent future.

The "forgotten" war

Nov 25, 2002

With the Bush administration pushing to escalate the current "low-intensity" war against Iraq into a full-blown war, another war has practically disappeared from sight in the United States: the war in Afghanistan, which Bush long ago proclaimed as a victory.

But there's been no victory in Afghanistan – not for anyone, except maybe Bush and his political ambitions.

Until the September attacks, the Bush presidency inspired nothing but doubt about its legitimacy. He took the presidency, even though the majority had voted for Gore, thanks to the disputed election in Florida, a state run by his brother. George W. Bush appeared to know less than nothing about countries overseas.

Then came September 11th. Anyone who really looked could have called into question what Bush was saying about the hijackers. The evidence and the money both led to Saudi Arabia, a country to which the Bush family, the oil corporations and the U.S. government all had close ties. The Bush family and entourage had close business ties with the bin Laden family, although Osama bin Laden was no longer there. He was in Afghanistan, although no longer in favor with the CIA.

So the U.S. went to war in Afghanistan and quickly declared a victory, even though they couldn't find Osama bin Laden nor the head of the Taliban, Mullah Omar. U.S. bombings may have pushed the Taliban out of power – but only into an underground where they continued to operate under other names.

For the Afghani population, the war in Afghanistan has not wound down. U.S. bombing runs continue, despite repeated incidents in which innocent civilians – including women, children and older people – have been killed.

Conditions remain pitiful in this very poor country. Desperate farmers are growing poppies again in Helmand and Uruzgan provinces – encouraged by the warlords who once provided a large share of the world's heroin supply. Those few farmers who can avoid mines or bombs dotting their fields lack seeds, equipment, safe transportation to markets or financing to start other crops.

According to the UN, the one and a half million Afghan refugees from this war face a cold, hungry winter. It is estimated that half of them live in the slums around Kabul. Between the war and the aid workers and troops from other countries, prices for food and rent have gone sky high in Kabul.

The Bush administration bragged about how well women would do under the new regime. In the provinces nearest to Kabul, UNICEF reports 16, 674 girls go to school out of an estimated school-aged population of about eight million. If half of those children are female, then less than one half of one% are going to school. At the beginning of November, four schools for girls were bombed and burnt to the ground.

These were not the only attacks on schools in Afghanistan attempting to stop girls from gaining an education. In the part of the country under control of the former Northern Alliance warlords, there are almost no girls going to school and very few women teaching. Women covered from head to foot are still the rule. Human Rights Watch has reported the use of torture and murder of prisoners held in these regions.

Hamid Karzai, the president brought over from the U.S., is protected by American bodyguards. He might be a little nervous since two ministers in his government have been murdered.

What is Afghanistan today? A country torn apart by the same old warlords using armed terror against the population. The U.S. also has its soldiers there – more than 9,000 U.S. military personnel are officially in Afghanistan – with the numbers slowly increasing. In addition, there are an estimated 4,000 U.S.-paid mercenaries, plus a UN force of 4,500. What these soldiers have found is that the Afghan population sees them as an army of occupation.

This war was first presented by Bush as a successful fight against terrorism. Today, since it isn't going so well, he sweeps it under the rug. All the more so since his administration seems eager to pursue a new war on Iraq, a war which can only make what is going on in Afghanistan today look like child's play.

A new black tide

Nov 25, 2002

On Tuesday, November 19, the oil tanker Prestige split in two off the coast of Spain. Before sinking, it spilled 4,000 to 5,000 tons of fuel oil, soiling hundreds of miles of coasts. But there are still 70,000 tons of oil in the broken hull of this tanker today sitting on the bottom of the ocean depths. The amount in the tanker is almost double the amount of oil that spilled from the Exxon Valdez off the coast of Alaska in 1989.

On the high seas, this very heavy fuel will pollute fish beds, and if the oil slick is pushed by the dominant west winds and it hits the coast, there will be a disaster.

But it's already a catastrophe for the environment of this part of the Spanish coast, and for an entire part of the population which lives from the sea: fishermen, oystermen and those in the tourist trade. Fishing has already been prohibited on a part of the shore. The cost hasn't been calculated yet, but from all indications, it's going to amount to hundreds of millions of dollars and more likely billions.

Bad weather wasn't the sole cause of this sinking. There certainly were storms off of Spain for several days before, but they weren't worse than usual. An oil tanker, particularly one as large as the Prestige, is supposed to be able to navigate much bigger storms.

But a crack opened up on the starboard side of the steel hull, which spread to 150 feet before the ship split in two, simply because of the wear and tear of the metal and rust.

Despite its name, the Prestige was in reality only one more rust bucket, built 26 years ago – which is considered very old for such a ship. Today its owners say that this was to have been its last voyage before going to a demolition yard in Turkey. But in reality we don't know exactly where it would have gone. Maybe Gibraltar? Maybe Singapore? Probably its destination would have depended on the price of oil some place.

What's certain is that the Prestige flew the flag of the Bahamas, that is to say, one of the countries which offers unchecked and mostly untaxed registration to ships from other countries under its flag. Its captain was Greek and his crew was Asian, which doesn't mean less competent, but underpaid and without the least social or union protection. A completely typical situation.

Who did it belong to? A Greek shipowner? But Greece declared that the Prestige belongs to a Liberian company called Mare Shipping Inc., administered by Universe Maritime Ltd. There's also the possibility it is a Dutch company ... In any case, no small businessman could have fit out and chartered such a ship.

To see how ridiculous the situation is, we can compare the figures: in 2001, tiny Bahamas had a fleet of 45.4 million tons, while the United States had only 11.4 million tons. The record is held by Panama, with 169.3 million tons, then Liberia with 76.7 million tons, compared with the great powers like Japan, with 18.5 million tons; Germany, 7.9 million; and France, 6.8 million. In fact all the ships flying the flag of the Bahamas, Liberia, Panama, Malta, etc., belong in reality to the big capitalists, especially those of the United States, Germany or France.

This situation is widespread because this is what the capitalists of the entire world want, and because the states of the entire world go along with their desires. It's as simple as that.

Those truly responsible for these ecological disasters aren't some shady businessmen, some bad sheep. They are some of the biggest capitalists in the world. The owner of the Exxon Valdez was the biggest U.S. oil company. The authorities bustle about and declare that they are going to take the necessary measures. To do that, they would have to take on the law of money which rules ... on the seas, as on land. And that they have never done.

Pages 6-7

Movie Review:
Standing in the Shadows of Motown

Nov 25, 2002

A new film, Standing in the Shadows of Motown, is a documentary celebrating the studio musicians who played on dozens of hit songs on the Motown label in the 1960s and '70s. The film includes footage from a recent reunion concert by some of the musicians under the name The Funk Brothers. It also contains interviews with some of the musicians, like pianist Joe Hunter, vibraphonist Jack Ashford, pianist Johnny Griffith, guitarists Joe Messina and Bob Babbitt and others. For the concerts, The Funk Brothers are joined on vocals by more recent artists Gerald Levert, Joan Osborne, Ben Harper, Meshell Ndegeocello and Chaka Kahn.

While their music made huge stars of some of the vocalists on the Motown hit songs, and millionaires many times over of the Gordy family, who owned Motown, the musicians were very little known. In one segment, the film makers went to a local record store to ask customers if they knew any of the musicians on the Motown records. Other than the vocal artists, most people could name none of the backing musicians. One of the musicians interviewed tells how one of the guitarists heard a song come on over the intercom at a restaurant where he ate. He started to tell the waiter that it was him playing on that song, but he stopped himself and explained to his friend that the guy would never believe it was him anyway.

Most of the musicians played in jazz bands on their own. The film points out that drummer Benny Benjamin had played with jazz greats like Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and others. Yet the musicians had a hard time making a steady living on their own.

Testifying to the quality of these musicians, one of the former Motown producers says, "Arrangers would come in and just have a general idea of our concept and we'd leave them with the masters."The film pays special attention to one of the musicians, bass player James Jamerson. It emphasizes Jamerson's musical ability and the innovations he made. But there's another side to the story that the film doesn't tell: When Motown relocated from Detroit to Los Angeles, the musicians were informed of the move through a note left on the door. Many of them, including Jamerson, lost their jobs with the company. Not long after, Jamerson died of alcoholism at the age of 45.

What we see in the film should raise questions about the nature of music and art in this society. Why are the musicians only now receiving recognition of their contribution to this great music? And why were they not able to make a living playing their own music? The film doesn't explicitly ask these questions, but it shows enough of the lives of the musicians to make one think. All in all, this is a very entertaining and intriguing film. It is still playing in a few theaters.

Hospital negligent, but its victim is indicted

Nov 25, 2002

Cutbacks in hospital staffing have caused long waits in emergency rooms. One such wait, in late October, led to the death of a newborn girl. But the hospital is not charged with second-degree murder, the mother is.

Sixteen-year-old Selena Jones, a junior at Detroit's Henry Ford High School, went to Providence Hospital with abdominal cramps. She arrived about 7:45 pm. At some point after midnight, she had not yet seen a doctor. She went into a bathroom and gave birth. Doctors found her there with the baby in the toilet, dead, having drowned.

A sixteen-year-old young woman sought help. After four hours of no help, and in who knows what state of mind, she ran out of options and her infant died. Nothing can hide the fact that this hospital was not equipped to diagnose and deal promptly with emergency situations.

It's a mark of how barbaric our legal and medical systems are, that this child-mother could be brought up on murder charges. If she had wanted to kill her baby she would not have gone to a hospital to do it!

The electricity ripoff continues

Nov 25, 2002

Two days after the election, which put California's Gray Davis back in office, the California Public Utilities Commission revealed it had cut a deal with Southern California Edison, the state's second largest utility company. The deal, reached behind closed doors in October before the election, allows Edison to keep electricity prices at their current high levels until the company pays off the billions of dollars of debt it got into during California's "energy crisis" two years ago.

Election or no election, the ripoff of California consumers by the energy companies continues.

In 2000, companies in the energy industry had created artificial power shortages in California. Wholesale prices rose to as much as $3000 per megawatt hour, that is, a hundred times higher than before. The utilities, prevented by a rate freeze from raising the prices they charged consumers, began to plead poverty. Two of them, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) and San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E), declared bankruptcy.

During the election, Davis said that "out-of-state" traders took advantage of California. He also said the power suppliers which overcharged California consumers owe the state a refund of nine billion dollars. But that's only a fraction of the overcharges. A consumer advocacy group, the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, estimates that consumers were overcharged a total of 70 billion dollars.

But it's not just the traders and producers. The utilities themselves made enormous profits. During the first two years of deregulation, the utilities announced 20 billion dollars in profits and who knows how much they had really made, since they were busy shifting assets around between various companies, including their countrywide parent companies, which were making huge profits in the wholesale trade. Then when wholesale prices skyrocketed, the utilities started to pretend they were going broke and got the state of California to pay for the energy they distributed.

All of this is a matter of record. Federal and state officials have tons of evidence that power producers, traders, distributors and the utilities all resorted to legal loopholes, tricks and outright illegal practices to artificially limit production and jack up prices. Why is it then that these companies are not prosecuted? Why are only a few lower officials hauled into courts? Most important, why are these contracts not voided?

It's obvious. The regulators, both California's Public Utility Commission and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, are made of former officials of some of these same companies, appointed by politicians who, in turn, owe their careers to the support of big corporations.

This is the way capitalism works. Those who plan and carry out plunder won't end it.

Tenet Healthcare scandal:
Part of a health care system that kills for profits

Nov 25, 2002

Last June, John Corapi, a 55-year-old priest, was told by his doctor, Dr. Chae Moon, the director of cardiology at Tenet Healthcare Corporation's Redding Medical Center in northern California, that he needed emergency heart bypass surgery. But Corapi decided to go for a second opinion. In the next two weeks he saw five cardiologists, who all told him the same thing: he didn't need heart surgery. When Corapi went back to Redding and spoke to the head of the hospital, not only was he ignored, his complaints were covered up.

For most people, this is where matters would have rested. But Corapi is a lecturer in medical ethics with many contacts in the medical field. So he eventually was able to force federal authorities to look into his case. The FBI eventually concluded that at least half the heart patients operated on by two doctors at Redding Medical Center, Dr. Moon and Dr. Fidel Realyvasquez, had unnecessary heart surgery. On October 30, 40 FBI agents raided the Redding Medical Center, seizing hospital records and computers.

This opened up a broader inquiry into the owner of the Redding Medical Center, the Tenet Healthcare Corporation. Tenet, which owns 113 acute-care hospitals, is the second largest owner of private hospitals in the country. Up until the end of October, Tenet was also considered to be something of a star on Wall Street. Since 2000, that is, when most companies' profits were sharply decreasing, Tenet's profits were growing at a rate of 25% per year.

Now the federal government says that it is investigating Tenet for the generalized and systematic overbilling of Medicare. The SEC is also looking into the insider trading of stocks by Tenet executives. In just a few short weeks, it seems like Tenet has turned into a source of one scandal after another, a kind of Enron Corporation of the health care field.

But Tenet has been caught not just stealing money. If what is said about the two heart surgeons in Redding is true, then supposedly eminent doctors risked the lives of hundreds and hundreds of patients, carrying out dangerous and risky operations – simply for the insurance money. Surely, some of the patients didn't even survive the surgery – which is murder. And of those who survived, most will never be the same, either mentally or physically. They are condemned to lead the rest of their lives in pain, under heavy medication, with their lives severely shortened and their mental functions impaired.

Certainly, most doctors would not do what these two doctors have been accused of doing – at least that is what one would hope. But two doctors out to make extra millions at the expense of the lives of their patients never could have gotten away with it without the complicity of the hospital, Tenet, and the entire medical establishment – which all happen to be driven by the same forces that drive the rest of the capitalist economy – profits.

This is confirmed by the fact that even today, these doctors continue to practice medicine – indeed they continue to operate on patients. It is ironic that in a country in which prosecutors fall all over themselves to prove how tough they are on crime, none have moved to have these doctors arrested, and certainly none have called for the death penalty for doctors who have taken the lives of their patients in order to rip off tax payers.

Neither have these same prosecutors and law makers who pretend to protect the public's purse strings and supposedly oppose "government waste" made much of a fuss over the broader charges that Tenet systematically overbilled Medicare. At most they try to pretend that Tenet is the exception, that it was merely more "aggressive" in charging ever more outrageous and stupendous prices for its services.

But in fact, from the moment the big federal Medicare program was introduced back in 1965, tax dollars have driven the incredible cost increases in the medical care industry. Perhaps at their beginning, Medicare and other government programs extended medical coverage to portions of the population that had no coverage, such as among the elderly or the very poor. But these government programs were always used by the medical care industry to increase their profits. Over the years, Medicare has become their "cash cow."Today, the medical care industry is the largest single industry in the country, soaking up no less than 1.5 trillion dollars, or 14% of the entire U.S. economy. That kind of wealth and resources should pay for a lot of health care for the entire population. But we have the exact opposite. On the one hand, some, such as all those who were operated on just so that the doctors and the hospital companies can get hold of their insurance money, get unnecessary medical care. On the other hand, medical costs are so high that over 41 million people have no insurance coverage at all, while a majority of people don't have adequate medical coverage – including most people on Medicare.

While some of the largest and wealthiest companies in the world – such as pharmaceuticals, hospitals and insurance companies - grow ever wealthier, these same companies are always finding excuses to cut staff and therefore care. And every year, the problems are getting deeper and health care gets more distorted.

The scandals at Tenet are not the exception. No, they are only the tip of the iceberg in a system in which profits come first, and the care and health of human beings count for less and less.