The Spark

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

Issue no. 693 — December 9 - 23, 2002

Death by freezing in the cold of capitalist society

Dec 9, 2002

With the first really bitter cold days of winter came the inevitable announcements: two homeless people died on the streets of Detroit overnight from hypothermia. In other words, they froze to death. The homeless shelters, which are supposed to offer protection in the event of such cold, were filled to overflowing, turning people away. On the night that two people died, shelter officials reported that not a single shelter had even one unoccupied space.

Similar reports came from other cities and towns hit by the cold wave. In New York City, 37,000 people are to be found in the homeless shelters on an ordinary night. When the cold hit, tens of thousands more were trying to crowd in; those who didn't make it huddled in doorways and over steam grates or tried to hide in the subways. And in Los Angeles, where the homeless escaped the bitter zero degree weather, they nonetheless faced a new police chief bent on making a name for himself by sending his police out to roust anyone living on the streets.

Commenting on the deaths in Detroit, the head of one of the shelters blamed the problem on what she called the "softening" economy – in other words, with heavier unemployment, fewer people are giving to the charities that run the shelters, even while there's more of a need for them.

What a disgusting comment on this society. Even while the wealthiest people accumulate still more wealth, their corporations are tossing people out of a job and – literally, in many cases – into the streets. Or they are simply cutting wages to the point that many people can't meet their housing payment. Add to this, rapidly increasing rent and housing payments, produced by speculation in real estate, and you have the recipe for a real catastrophe. Today, the majority of homeless people are people WITH JOBS, but not enough income to be able to cover housing payments.

This capitalist society, which requires unemployment and reduced wages as the condition for turning a good-sized profit, takes no real responsibility for alleviating homelessness – don't even talk about getting rid of it. As far as the capitalists are concerned, homelessness has nothing to do with them. If this society were to relieve homelessness, it would cut into their profits.

So, instead, we have the spectacle of "charity." Even if all the people who run homeless shelters were well-meaning – and some certainly are not – the fact is that they do not have the means to assure what the homeless need. When the last bed is filled, they must turn people away. When the last bowl of soup is served, they can only shut the door. And, as everyone knows, charity is demeaning.

Homelessness is not an accident, nor is it the result of bad planning by the homeless. Homelessness, like unemployment from which it springs, is a necessary product of capitalist society. The mass of the population is deprived to greater or lesser extent of the necessities for a decent life as a consequence of capitalism's drive for profit.

Today, the capitalists all explain that they must "restructure," become more "cost effective." That is, they intend to throw still more people out into the street. With every capitalist trying to do the same, the ranks of the unemployed – and the homeless – will only grow. Even when we have a job, one that pays well and we are situated in our own home, most of us are still only a long stretch or two of unemployment away from finding ourselves in the streets.

We cannot protect ourselves from this scourge individually, trying to put aside enough money to tide ourselves over.

But the day is approaching when the working class will begin to struggle again as a class, against those problems that threaten us all: unemployment, reduced wages, lack of medical care, etc. It is through such struggles that the worst results of capitalism such as homelessness can be overcome; at the same time, it is through such struggles that the working class can begin to fundamentally refashion this whole social order.

Pages 2-3

New police chief's crackdown on the homeless

Dec 9, 2002

At the end of November, the Los Angeles Police Department, joined by the California Highway Patrol, the California Department of Corrections, the U.S. Marshal's Service and the FBI launched "Operation Enough," aimed, supposedly, at cracking down on crime.

In fact, for two days and nights, hundreds of law enforcement officers fanned out through the neighborhoods and low-cost hotels where homeless people have been forced to stay. They shined flashlights into tents, lined up dozens of people at a time against the wall, and questioned people on the street. By the end of two days, the police had made over 200 arrests, most for parole violations. They also handed out several hundred citations, including for jay walking, pan handling and other "traffic violations."The fact that the police would choose to carry out such a large operation against the miserable and poor homeless was nothing less than shocking. After all, the police were not arresting people for carrying out a crime. They were simply harassing and rousting people for no other reason than the misfortune of having no place to live.

Authorities say that over 15,000 people live in the cheap hotels, homeless shelters and on the streets of L.A.'s skid row. This is not, by any means, an accident. Starting in the mid-1970s, with the growth of unemployment, the decline of decent low-cost housing and the cuts in social services for the mentally ill, the homeless population began to skyrocket. The L.A. city government decided to "physically contain" the homeless population in one corner of the city. Instead of taking steps to improve conditions for the very poor, the government officials decided to simply "contain" them, so they wouldn't interfere with business.

This has been official policy ever since. For over a quarter century, prisons, jails, police departments, social services and mental health agencies from all over the region – and even the state – have literally dumped social outcasts and an increasing number of homeless families onto skid row. There, they are expected to survive on practically nothing but the help of a few overwhelmed soup kitchens, homeless shelters and state offices for social services.

Every once in a while, usually when local businesses have issued enough complaints about the filth, pan handling, robberies, drugs and prostitution, the police have carried out much publicized sweeps similar to "Operation Enough." Of course, this changes nothing, since the crime stems from the abject and wretched social conditions that the very poorest have been forced to live under, conditions only made worse by such sweeps.

Upon taking office in L.A., the new police chief, William Bratton, made the usual promises to clean-up and reform the LAPD, which for years has been mired in police brutality scandals, as well as drug and bribery scandals. He also made the usual promises to bring down the quickly increasing crime rate.

But his crackdown on the poor and miserable on skid row shows that Bratton will be just more of the same.

Them and Us

Dec 9, 2002

Over the last 30 years, average pay for American workers has moved upwards, but just a little. Adjusted for inflation, the average salary rose from $32,500 in 1970 to $35,800 in 1999, a modest increase of 10%.

During that same period, pay of the top 100 chief executive officers rose from an average of 1.3 million dollars in 1970 to 37.5 million in 1999 – more than one thousand times the pay of ordinary workers.

By the end of the 20th century, times had been mighty good for a certain select few. But this is the 21st century, with more than enough wealth to go around if we're ready to make sure it gets divided up.

Investigation of September 11th:
A panel led by a mass murderer

Dec 9, 2002

In late November, the Bush administration finally agreed to create an "independent" panel to investigate all the problems surrounding the September 11th attacks. To lead the panel, Bush sent for Henry Kissinger.

Kissinger was Secretary of State and head of the National Security Council under Presidents Nixon and Ford. Kissinger was in charge of the war in Viet Nam (under Nixon) after Johnson decided not to run for election in 1968. In that era, covered by official government secrecy, Kissinger's policy was to bomb cities and villages, in order to terrorize not only the Vietnamese, but also the Cambodians. An estimated 20,000 U.S. soldiers, 100,000 South Vietnamese and 500,000 North Vietnamese died during the era when Kissinger directed policies. Or, as Christopher Hitchens put it in his much-researched book, "The Trial of Henry Kissinger," for Kissinger, "mass murderer" is not a phrase of rhetoric, "it's a job description."The New York Times described Mr. Kissinger's history: "When he was in power, the U.S. carried out secret negotiations to open up China – important members of the cabinet were kept in the dark – as well as covert military operations against Cambodia and clandestine plans to overthrow [the elected government of] Salvador Allende in Chile. It was Mr. Kissinger who wanted to suppress publication of the Pentagon papers." Or as columnist Maureen Dowd wrote sarcastically: "Who better to investigate an unwarranted attack on America than the man who used to instigate America's unwarranted attacks?"No one could believe what is said by a mass murderer in love with secrecy. His appointment tells us a lot about this administration's interest in the truth – or rather, covering it up – concerning September 11th.

September 11:
Used once again as an excuse to cut workers' pay

Dec 9, 2002

While Congress proposed a 4.1% pay increase for federal workers for next year – equal to the pay raise for military employees – Bush knocked it down for civilian workers by a full percentage point to 3.1%. He also eliminated the subsidies going to workers in areas where the cost of living is much higher than average. Bush's excuse, as we keep hearing from his lips ad nauseam, is that "a national emergency has existed since September 11." Well Mr. Bush, you bet something nasty has been going on since September 11. In fact it started the very next day, September 12. Bosses and management, private and government, have used September 11 as a pretext to demand big sacrifices from workers, cutting back on wages and benefits or eliminating jobs altogether. While at the same time, big subsidies are granted to corporations in defense and military-related contracts.

September 11 and its aftermath has become a milestone in more ways than one.

September 11:
Used to award political appointees with cash bonuses

Dec 9, 2002

At the same time Bush chopped pay raises of federal employees, the Bush Administration was restoring cash bonuses for political appointees.

These are bonuses Big Time! And the Justice Department has wasted no time in starting to hand them out. Agency chiefs are authorized to give up to $10,000 each to influential lawyers, advisers and assistants. Awards can go up to $25,000 with approval from the White House.

The Bush-ites say the same magic words to cut the pay of ordinary civilian workers and to reward their political buddies. "September 11" is indeed a handy and versatile tool.

War on Iraq:
Counting the costs in blood money

Dec 9, 2002

The Democrats have challenged the Bush administration's cost estimates of a war against Iraq. The administration estimates that such a war would cost between 100 and 200 billion dollars in the first year of the war. After that, the administration is silent.

According to the Democrats, these estimates are wrong – they're much too high. The Democrats rolled out several scenarios in which a war could cost "only" between 31 and 37 billion dollars. The Democrats, who only yesterday accused Bush of underestimating the risks in such a war, today offered figures based on a war which would last only 30 days, and require only 125,000 troops. (Of course, there are already 250,000 troops near Iraq, and during the Gulf War, there were 500,000.)

In fact, both parties underestimate the true monetary cost of such a war – which, if it is carried out, will require a long period of occupation in a country whose population has suffered 11 years under American bombs and a strangulation embargo preventing sufficient medical supplies and water treatment materials from reaching Iraq. And neither party touches on the real cost of such a war – the additional deaths and further harm to be rained down on an Iraqi population which has already suffered almost two million people dead. Nor do they mention a word about the cost in terms of U.S. troops' lives – those who will die in the war, and the many more who will die and suffer the permanent destructive after-effects of the war. Not to mention the cutbacks in public services, social welfare services and a worsening economy.

No, for both Democrat and Republican these days, wars are just matters of coming up with more dollars, many of which will find their way into the pockets of every big company with military contracts.

Pages 4-5

The war of economic sanctions continues

Dec 9, 2002

Hardly had the U.N. inspectors installed themselves in Baghdad than in Washington, Bush's representatives found a new occasion to raise the stakes by going on the offensive over economic sanctions.

It's important to remember that behind Bush's current threats there has been a low-level war going on for twelve years now, and in particular drastic economic sanctions. These sanctions paralyzed the Iraqi economy which was already ruined by the destruction of the Iran-Iraq War, which Iraq carried out, supported by the U.S., and then the Gulf War. Not only have the sanctions prevented Iraq from rebuilding its infrastructure, including in areas as important for the population as the provision of electricity and drinkable water, but they have deprived this population of basic necessities, including medicines and basic food products.

For a dozen years, these sanctions produced many more civilian victims, and in particular young children, than had the bombs of the Gulf War. And it's the U.N. which has been and continues to be the project manager for those sanctions which have already made so many victims.

Since 1996, these sanctions were carried out in the framework of a hypocritically "humanitarian" program titled "oil for food." Since 1999, this program authorized Iraq to export – but under very close control – a part of its production of crude oil, without any limit on the amount. The receipts of these sales were then transferred to an account at the New York branch of the National Bank of Paris, managed by U.N. functionaries.

A quarter of these receipts go to finance the war reparations imposed on Iraq after the Gulf War, in particular to the profit of Kuwait. Three% goes for the cost of the functioning of the U.N., which includes the salaries of some 4,400 people employed in the management of this program and even the cost of U.N. inspectors. Finally the 72% remaining is used for the payment of Iraq's imports, but with a restriction: only two thirds of this sum goes to Baghdad, the rest is under the joint management of the autonomous administration of the Kurdish territories in northern Iraq and the local delegates of the U.N.

But this doesn't mean that Iraq is free to import whatever it wants. After the revelations of the groundless and scandalous blockade of a whole series of basic necessities by the U.N. bureaucracy, a so-called "rapid" procedure was finally established this year for such products.

Nonetheless, the products which Iraq is authorized to import are subject to numerous limitations. In particular, they can't have a "double use," both civilian and military. In this way ordinary products are prohibited – products like water pumps (which are indispensable for pumping stations and water treatment facilities), and chemicals used in basic medicines.

This list of prohibited products can become the pretext to up the ante.

Some weeks ago, Washington intervened publicly with the Turkish government to put an end to Iraq's secret purchases through Turkey of protective equipment against chemical and bacteriological weapons. Today the U.S. leaders intervene in the same direction through the U.N. From all the evidence, whether or not Bush has decided to go to war, his administration continues to prepare to carry it out. They don't even bother to hide their intention of utilizing those same "weapons of mass destruction," which they prohibit Iraq from having, against the Iraqi population.

U.N. inspector speaks out

Dec 9, 2002

The Bush administration claims it has to go to war against Iraq because Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. Bush has never offered proof. He tells us only that he has secret information.

But there is public information, muffled, because it contradicts Bush at every point. Scott Ritter was the chief U.S. inspector in the U.N. weapons inspection team in Iraq from 1991 to 1998. He was an intelligence officer in the Gulf during the Gulf War. Ritter is waging a campaign to get out his own testimony and information. Shut out of the mass media, he has published his own book to say what he knows. Following are excerpts from that book, as partly reprinted in The Nation.

"In 1998, when the U.N. inspection program ended, the infrastructure and facilities had been 100% eliminated. There's no debate about that. All of their instruments and facilities had been destroyed. The weapons design facility had been destroyed. The production equipment had been hunted down and destroyed. And we had in place means to monitor – both from vehicles and from the air – the gamma rays that accompany attempts to enrich uranium or plutonium. We never found anything. We can say unequivocally that the industrial infrastructure needed by Iraq to produce nuclear weapons had been eliminated.

"...For Iraq to reacquire nuclear weapons capability, they'd have to basically build, from the ground up, enrichment and weaponization capabilities that would cost tens of billions of dollars. Nuclear weapons cannot be crated in a basement or cave. They require modern industrial infrastructures that in turn require massive amounts of electricity and highly controlled technologies not readily available on the open market.

"...Iraq manufactured three kinds of nerve agents: sarin, tabun and VX. . . . Sarin and tabun have a shelf life of five years. Even if Iraq had somehow managed to hide this vast number of weapons from inspectors, what they're now storing is nothing more than useless, harmless goo. Chemical weapons were produced in the Muthanna State establishment: a massive chemical weapons factory. It was bombed during the Gulf War, and then weapons inspectors came and completed the task of eliminating the facility. That means Iraq lost its sarin and tabun manufacturing base.

"...Iraq was technically capable of restarting its weapons manufacturing capabilities within six months of our departure. . . . The important phrase here, however, is "technically capable." If no one were watching, Iraq could do this. But just as with the nuclear weapons program, they'd have to start from scratch, having been deprived of all equipment, facilities and research. They'd have to procure the complicated tools and technology required through front companies. This would be detected. The manufacture of chemical weapons emits vented gases that would have been detected by now if they existed. We've been watching, via satellite and other means, and have seen none of this.

"...They didn't just try [to make biological weapons]. They actually made it, primarily anthrax in liquid bulk agent form. They also produced a significant quantity of liquid botulinum toxin. [Note: they made bulk stores of these weapons by starting from the batches sent to Iraq by the U.S. during Iraq's war on Iran. – Ed.] They lied about this capability for some time. When they finally admitted in l995 we got to work on destroying the factories and equipment that produced it . . . Iraq was able to produce liquid bulk anthrax. That is without dispute. But liquid bulk anthrax, even under ideal storage conditions, germinates in three years, becoming useless . . . For Iraq to have biological weapons today, they'd have to reconstitute a biological manufacturing base.

"...The bottom line is that Iraq doesn't have the capability to do long-range ballistic missiles. They don't even have the capability to do short-range ballistic missiles. They're trying, but not succeeding . . . . Of course now the inspectors have left Iraq, we don't know what happens inside factories. But that doesn't really matter, since they can't conduct tests indoors. You have to bring rockets out, fire them on test stands. This is detectable. No one has detected any evidence of Iraq doing this."

Just where are the terrorists, anyway?

Dec 9, 2002

The Wall Street Journal reported, in its November 27 issue: "The U.S. is pressing Saudi Arabia to block the flow of funds to terrorists, but is treading gently so as not to stir open resistance on Iraq."Now, let's run through that one again. Bush says the U.S. has to go to war against Iraq to stop the terrorists – but it can't afford to block funds to terrorists, because it wants to go to war.

No one should be surprised at this nonsensical reasoning – since Bush has done nothing but blow smoke ever since September 11.

His wars – first against Afghanistan, then against Iraq – are not about stopping terrorism. They are aimed at establishing U.S. control over the oil-rich Middle East, an area of the world in which the Bush family itself has a very big interest. We shouldn't forget that the bin Laden clan and the Bush clan were for years partners in the Carlyle Group.

Iraqi Kurds:
Threatened with disaster ... once again

Dec 9, 2002

Along with George Bush's war cries against Saddam Hussein come Bush's promises of democracy for the people of Iraq. Part of the Iraqi population are the four million Kurds living in northern Iraq, whose two main leaders, Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani, are often mentioned among the U.S.'s important allies in constructing a new regime in Iraq after the possible fall of Hussein.

The history of these two chiefs and the role played by the U.S. in northern Iraq, show what these promises mean – or, more exactly, don't mean.

During the Gulf War in 1991, two rebellions sprang up against the regime of Saddam Hussein, one by the Shiites in southern Iraq and one by the Kurds in the north. The U.S. gave Hussein his army back in order to keep the Iraqi population under control. U.S. troops stood by as Hussein crushed both rebellions, with much bloodshed.

The outcome was especially harsh for the Kurds. Hundreds of thousands of the Kurds had already been killed by the Hussein regime during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. Fearing a repetition of this brutal repression, over a million Kurdish civilians fled north to Turkey. In the mountainous terrain, thousands of people, especially children and elderly, died from the cold, hunger and disease.

Having nowhere to go, the Kurdish refugees returned to northern Iraq where the U.S. had set up a "neutral zone" from which Hussein's troops were forced to withdraw. Barzani and Talabani, under the supervision of the U.S. and Turkey, set up a local administration. Since then, however, the situation for the population in northern Iraq has been anything but democratic or prosperous.

First of all, this is because the war in northern Iraq never ended. The U.S. and Britain continued air raids on this same Kurdish population under the pretext of enforcing a "no-fly zone" against Iraq. Turkey has also joined in, with air raids as well as periodic ground invasions, carrying out a fight against its own Kurdish population, which sometimes takes refuge in Iraq.

Secondly, together with the rest of Iraq, northern Iraq continued to suffer all the consequences of the U.S. economic embargo. Isolated and in a state of war for the past decade, northern Iraq's main economic activity has been the illegal trade of oil, smuggled goods and drugs such as heroin, carried out by the militias of Barzani and Talabani.

What about the prospects for the Kurdish people after a possible U.S. military attack on Iraq? When Barzani and Talabani raised the question of an independent Kurdistan in the areas controlled by them, the U.S. and Turkey both rushed in to object. Turkey has its own history of brutal repression against Kurds, who make up about one-fifth of the population of that country. The Turkish government began to move troops up to the frontier, to prevent refugees from crossing over into Turkey from Iraq. And the U.S. has made it clear it will not tolerate any effort by local authorities to redraw borders in the region. The two Kurdish chiefs quickly reversed themselves and said that all they wanted was to be part of a supposedly "new, democratic" Iraq.

One glance at Barzani's and Talabani's past actions is enough to see what they mean by "democracy" in the areas under their control. As wealthy heads of clans, these chiefs both have their own militias. For decades, each of them has repeatedly tried to gain advantage over the other by seeking the support of the different governments in the region, as well as the U.S. The result has been one disaster after another for Kurdish people. They have a long history of rivalry between themselves. And this rivalry several times escalated into civil war – as in 1996, for example, when thousands of Kurds were killed in the fighting between the two militias.

Quite obviously, a new U.S. attack on Iraq can only write a new episode of disaster for Iraqi Kurds, unless the Kurdish workers and poor can this time organize themselves and fight – not on behalf of the U.S. and their own chiefs, but in their own interest against them.

Cheney used to favor Saddam

Dec 9, 2002

Vice President Dick Cheney claims that Saddam Hussein has to go because he is a "murderous dictator."Saddam Hussein was also a murderous dictator in 1991, but even after the Gulf War, Dick Cheney told a group of oil executives that he definitely did not want to see Saddam go.

Whatever has changed, it's not the Iraqi dictator. In 1991, Dick Cheney was CEO of Halliburton, an oilfield supply company doing millions of dollars of business with Iraq. After the Gulf War, Halliburton's subsidiaries got contracts to rebuild Saddam Hussein's war-damaged oil fields. In fact, the Halliburton boys got more dollars in contracts than any other American business.

If Saddam being a murderous dictator didn't stop Cheney from dealing with him then – what's different now? Maybe Cheney figures that since he rebuilt the oil fields, he might as well just step in and take them over.

Pages 6-7

Fewer nurses mean more deaths

Dec 9, 2002

A study carried out for the American Medical Association reports what every nurse already knows: the more patients assigned to one nurse, the greater the risk that a patient will die or otherwise be harmed.

The study focused on patients who had undergone general, orthopedic or vascular surgery in Pennsylvania during 1998 and 1999. In situations where nurses had to care for eight patients, the patients were 31% more likely to die in the first 30 days following surgery than where nurses had four patients to care for.

The study also drew another conclusion – and that is that nurses with a higher patient load get "burnt out" quickly and soon leave the job.

There is a lot of talk these days about a nursing shortage – used, of course, to justify high patient loads for every nurse. But it's this very load which drives nurses out of the field and adds to and perhaps even creates the so-called "shortage."This system, in order to maximize profit, tries to trick nurses and other workers in the field to work in a superhuman way to cover for the missing workers – supposedly in the interests of the patients. In fact, as this study shows, when one nurse does the work of two, the patients are put at risk.

What would it take to have enough nurses? Nothing other than a medical system which put the needs of the patients and of the people who work in it ahead of the requirements of profit. Those nurses and other workers in the field who refuse to make "superhuman" efforts to make up for what management refuses to provide, offer the best hope of changing the way this system for profit provides medical care.

It's all about the money

Dec 9, 2002

News reports about two retiring Michigan politicians show that Republican or Democrat are just names. It's money that is their common game.

John Engler was governor for the past eight years. His public face was a conservative cost-cutter, taking the waste out of government by tossing people off of welfare and closing down social services for the poor. But in private, he cut deals that gave real estate developers multi-million dollar "welfare" payments and locked taxpayers into rent-to-own deals for 12 and even 25 years into the future.

The Michigan House Fiscal Agency reported that Engler's administration actually set a government construction record. It authorized 160 new projects that cost over 3.4 billion dollars. This was money that Michigan didn't have, and the balanced-budget law prohibited the government from taking on such debt. But Engler & Co. borrowed a page from Rent-To-Own. If the state leased buildings, the debt would fall outside the legal restriction.

No matter that the developers who get the lease payments make the crooks at Rent-To-Own look very small. Engler's deal for the old GM building let GM and Trizec unload an antique building, with the state paying the 167 million dollar remodeling costs and then leasing it from Trizec for 20 years for 12 million more a year! After 20 years the state will pay $1 to own an even more out-of-date building!

Developers Gary Granger and Joel Ferguson have a contract for 4 million dollars a year for 25 years for the lease on the House Office Building near the state capitol – after which the state will then own another out-of-date building. Granger and Ferguson also have the contract to build a new 14-story fortified headquarters for the State Police and lease it to Michigan for about 8.5 million dollars a year for 25 years. Gary Olson, head of the Senate Fiscal Agency, said that the Rent-To-Own deal will cost taxpayers 100 million dollars more than if the state had built it and owned it outright. Olson said, "We presented the data, but the state didn't want to do that."Another retiring politician who "didn't want to do that" is Ed McNamara, a Democrat, the Wayne County Executive who oversaw, among other things, the construction of the new terminal at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport, named after, who else, McNamara himself! The FBI recently raided his offices. They are said to be looking into such matters as why 86% of the new airport construction contract dollars went to folks who were McNamara's campaign contributors.

Metro Cars, for example. Detroit is the only major airport that grants an exclusive limo contract for airport services. Denver and Atlanta, for example, grant over 100 contracts. The specifications for that exclusive contract were written so that only one firm, Metro Cars, could qualify. The chairman of Metro Cars was a consistent contributor to McNamara's various political funds.

Or the granting of a 1.4 million dollar road-sweeping contract to the firm that McNamara's son works for. Or the dealings of the Executive Club, the McNamara fund-raising group whose members were mostly airport contractors. Or APCOA, the parking contractor whose chairman siphoned off tens of thousands of dollars for political donations, according to a whistleblower's testimony.

It will be interesting to see what happens to the investigation, now that McNamara's former corporation counsel, Jennifer Granholm, has been elected Governor of Michigan.

Republican or Democrat, it doesn't matter. The business of politics is business, as these two retiring officials have proven once again.

And – as everyone in the state has long noted, Engler and McNamara always got on well together. No wonder!

USAir demands more concessions

Dec 9, 2002

US Airways, having convinced its workers to give one round of concessions after it declared bankruptcy, has now come back for more.

The first time around, USAir used the pretext of September 11 to go into bankruptcy – holding the threat of the courts over the workers' heads. It got the unions to agree to 5.5 billion dollars in concessions. It was the only way to save jobs – or so said USAir. This time it says that the threat of a war with Iraq and higher fuel prices mean that it can't get out of bankruptcy unless the workers sacrifice another 300 million dollars. At the same time it announced further layoffs.

Accepting concessions didn't stop the loss of jobs. It just encouraged USAir to cut still more workers. As far as the bosses are concerned, any excuse will do – so long as the workers go along with it.

No one should ever believe what a company says when it comes asking for concessions. But even if USAir really is in bad shape, it has resources, including the deep pockets of its bankers, investors – and executives. But so long as the workers agree to make sacrifices, no one else will cough up a penny. What counts for the workers is whether they are determined not to be the ones to pay for the mess that management has made.

This time, let the ones who made money off of the mess pay for it.

A tripartite alliance against the United workers:
Management, government and top union leaders

Dec 9, 2002

The Air Transportation Stabilization Board rejected the loan application of United Airlines and the company seems headed toward bankruptcy. This came after United mechanics rejected the deal that the heads of their union, the Machinists, had negotiated with management to reopen their current contract, giving wage and benefit concessions back to the company.

The papers report that the contract the mechanics rejected included pay cuts of 6% to 7% each year and replaced four paid vacation days a year with four unpaid layoff days. All told, the concessions demanded of the 13,000 mechanics were reported to have totaled 700 million dollars, about $54,000 from each worker. They were part of a larger deal that the heads of the unions representing United workers had already agreed to: pilots were to give back 2.2 billion dollars worth of wage and benefit concessions; flight attendants, 412 million; customer service and reservation agents, who were also represented by the Machinists union, 800 million. Another 1.1 billion dollars was supposed to have come from salaried workers and from management.

For months, United management threatened its workers with bankruptcy – and then job loss – if they didn't agree to give up concessions. These threats have been backed up by the special airline bill that Congress passed, with both Democrats and Republicans signing on. The government offered loans to airlines in trouble, but only if the airlines get their workers to make sizeable sacrifices. Almost before the ink was dry on this bill, the government board set up to administer the loans enforced the company's concessions demands. When United management cut a deal with the heads of the unions, the board sent them back to negotiate even bigger concessions. After the second agreement, the board announced that it would not OK the loans any time soon because it needed "still more information" on the details of the workers' concessions. This announcement was followed by United's statement that it would be forced to declare bankruptcy soon if it didn't get the loans by December 2, the day it has some old loans coming due. Of course, after the first no-vote by the Machinists, United announced it had 10 more days to settle the loan – and thus avoid bankruptcy.

In fact, the Board was simply helping United push the workers into a corner. United was implicitly making the same threat that USAir had made to its workers explicitly: if you don't give us the concessions we want, we will go into bankruptcy, and the courts will take even bigger cutbacks from you.

This is all part of a shell game, taking advantage of September 11 – still – in order to justify bigger and bigger sacrifices from the workers.

The mechanics were right to reject the concessions demands. But they should have no illusion that a no-vote will protect them, or keep United from using its allies to try to impose the concessions it wants. The government, with both Democrats and Republicans concurring, has already shown it is ready to use its weight to make the workers back down.

If United goes bankrupt, that does not mean that the workers can't defend themselves. It simply means they will have to fight to do so – including against their own union leadership that negotiated the concessions.

United management may have the government and the top heads of the unions on its side. But the workers something that the other side doesn't have: the workers have the forces that count in the industry; they are the ones who make this airline function. And the workers too can have allies – first of all, workers at other airlines, who will face the same demands if United workers give in. But beyond that, there is a whole working class in this country which has been seeing its standard of living go down for the better part of two decades.

These are the people that matter. These are the forces that give the United workers the possibility to resist the airline'

Bush rewards the polluters

Dec 9, 2002

Choosing a quiet holiday Friday, Bush's EPA chief, Christine Todd Whitman, announced a new gift to the coal and oil interests. The EPA will "amend" the Clean Air Act. In fact, they will nearly cancel it, so that polluters can continue to pollute.

Even New York's Attorney General stated, "The Bush administration is again putting the financial interests of the oil, gas and coal companies above the public's right to breathe clean air."The Clean Air Act says that power plants and oil refineries, when they install new equipment, must use the most "up-to-date" pollution controls. In fact "up-to-date" as already defined by the Clean Air Act was hardly the best pollution controls around. They're more like a kind of minimum.

In any case, routine maintenance and repair are now exempted from this minimum. One of the Bush amendments will redefine "routine maintenance" so as to include installing new equipment and replacing existing equipment. This is basically a lifetime pollution exemption for existing power plants. It's the best redefinition trick since Reagan said that in kids' school lunches, ketchup would count as a vegetable!

There are many other Clean Air Act rollbacks. Pollution controls on individual pieces of equipment can be less strict so long as the total plant emissions can qualify. New equipment to control one type of pollution can release any amount of other types of pollution while operating!

Polluting plants can also benchmark their pollution by using phony baselines. The Clean Air Act requires plants to improve their pollution based on records of the past 24 months. The new amendments allow plants to go by any 24-month period that they want, in the past 10 years.

And plants that have had a government pollution review don't have to take any pollution control action for 10 years afterward.

Nine utility companies are currently being sued by EPA for excess pollution by their coal-fired plants. The utility companies' lawyers immediately asked for their cases to be dismissed, because under the new guidelines their pollution would become legal!

Bush built his personal future and fortune in the oil and energy business. These new rules show how much of a buddy an old Texas oilman can be!