The Spark

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

Issue no. 695 — January 20 - February 3, 2003

Editorial:
No new Viet Nam - Say NO!
to war against Iraq!

Jan 20, 2003

The Pentagon continues to announce more troop shipments to the Middle East. Hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops are already there.

Why this rush to war? Does Saddam Hussein have weapons of mass destruction?

So far, the inspectors – all of whom were chosen with U.S. approval – say they haven't found any, nor have they found sites capable of having made any.

Yes, the inspectors say that Iraq has not really "co-operated." By that, they mean that while Iraq has allowed them to go wherever they want, and do whatever they want, it hasn't told them where the weapons are!

They act as if a nuclear bomb could be made in someone's closet, or anthrax produced in a van moving around the country. As the investigation in the anthrax attacks here demonstrated, only a very few high tech facilities are capable of producing such weapons.

The fact is, no "weapons of mass destruction" have been found – nor are there any traces that such weapons are being produced.

Bush says that this doesn't matter – he "knows" that Iraq has these weapons! And, he says, he has proof – but he won't show the proof, not even to the weapons inspectors, because it's a military secret!

It's as though the cops told the prosecutor to take you into court, but refused to give the prosecutor any evidence – and on top of that demanded that the death penalty be imposed without any trial.

No, when the U.S. begins this war, it will not be because Iraq has weapons of mass destruction.

As for the charge that Saddam Hussein is a bloody dictator – that he is, but it's not the reason the U.S. is going to war against the people of Iraq. Saddam was a bloody dictator in the first years of his reign, when the U.S. gave him the biological and chemical weapons he used to impose his control over the Kurds and the Shiites. He was a bloody dictator when he then carried out a war for the U.S. against Iran, whose people had recently overthrown the Shah, one of the U.S.'s main bloody dictators. He was a bloody dictator when the U.S. under Papa Bush then defended him against all charges. He was a bloody dictator when the U.S. left him in place after the Gulf War in order to put down the uprisings of the Kurds and the Shiites.

No, the U.S. is not going to war for any of these reasons. It is going – if and when it goes – in order to demonstrate to people around the world that U.S. imperialism is king of the hill, and that no one dare defy it.

The U.S. today is the sole superpower. Its corporations go wherever they want, seeking out natural resources and the lowest wage labor. They need military force backing them up in order to move into other countries. And the U.S. needs to demonstrate occasionally that it will use that military force.

No matter what pretext is given, wars like these are fought to let U.S. corporations drain wealth and impose low wages around the world – that is, to close as many factories here as they can, while shipping the work overseas.

Bush is set to take us into a new war to demonstrate U.S. power. How many Iraqis will die, adding to the one and a half million who already died? How many U.S. troops?

Those troops, when they go, will not be going for a few months, as in the Gulf War. Already the Pentagon is telling us that the military occupation that follows this invasion will last for "at least a year and a half."

That's what they said about the military occupation of South Viet Nam when it started in 1954 – and it lasted for 21 years. It turned out to be a full scale war, fought against most of the Vietnamese population.

This war, when it comes, will make our situation worse in every way. The working class has every reason to oppose it, every step of the way.

Pages 2-3

An unemployment benefits extension?
Not for long!

Jan 20, 2003

Stung by strong criticism, Congress rushed to pass and Bush rushed to sign a bill renewing unemployment benefits for laid off workers. The extension to unemployment is severely limited – in most states, only 13 more weeks after the 26 weeks of regular unemployment runs out. And this relatively short 13-week extension is temporary, just like the last one. The extension is slated to end in May. That means that those who run out of their 26 weeks of unemployment after May will not qualify for even the 13 weeks extension. The number of unemployed continues to grow, as does the number of long-term unemployed. Today, almost two million people have been out of work for 27 weeks or more. Millions of the unemployed will run out of benefits before getting new jobs.

But that was not Bush's concern. It was just to cover his rear end long enough to get his war in Iraq started.

Bush's new budget plan:
Stimulating the wealth of the capitalist class

Jan 20, 2003

Bush says that his latest tax cut proposals, which will cost 674 billion dollars over ten years, have something for everybody. He claims the "average" person will have their taxes reduced by $1,083. But we all know what "average" means: those at the top will get much more than everyone else.

For example, over half of the cuts will come from just one proposal – cutting the tax on stock dividends. Those who own most of the stock of companies, and therefore collect most of the stock dividends, are the very wealthy. The richest ten% of the taxpayers own 91% of all stock held outside of retirement accounts, the stock that would benefit from Bush's cuts. They will be the ones who will receive almost the entire benefit.

Bush justifies this gift, claiming that dividends are taxed twice, since corporations have already paid income taxes on their profits before they dole out these profits to their shareholders in the form of dividends.

Of course, this argument is nothing but a smoke screen. Many corporations pay no income taxes at all. According to the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy, which examined the books of 250 large companies between 1996 and 1998, one out of every six large companies paid "less than zero" in federal corporate taxes, despite the fact that these companies reported profits of 26 billion dollars. Not only did these companies avoid paying any corporate income tax on their profits, they actually received rebate checks from the federal government totaling three billion dollars. This list includes companies such as General Motors, ChevronTexaco, Goodyear and CSX.

For the Bush administration, this presented no problem. After all, the incoming Treasury secretary, John Snow, was the chief executive of CSX, a big railroad company, which paid no federal corporate income taxes on its 930 million dollars in reported profits over four years, and actually received tax refunds totaling 164 million dollars.

Of course Bush says that companies that don't pay taxes won't get this tax break – but the proposal is so complicated that it's sure to be as filled with tax loopholes as is the current law that lets profit-making companies pay no taxes.

Finally – Bush calls this a "stimulus plan" – aimed at stimulating the economy. No – Bush's "economic stimulus" plan is aimed only at "stimulating" the incomes of the very rich.

Steel bosses try to put their hands on the workers' pensions

Jan 20, 2003

While the sharks of the steel industry are busy gobbling up each other, they are also trying to gobble up all of the steelworkers' pension plans.

Early this month, U.S. Steel (USS) bought the bankrupt National Steel, with its subsidiary Great Lakes Steel. And International Steel Group (ISG) proposed to buy bankrupt Bethlehem Steel. ISG used to be LTV Steel, before LTV went bankrupt and changed owners.

Among the new owners' very first words were, "we can't afford to pay these pensions and health care plans."

It wasn't the workers who bossed these companies into bankruptcy! It wasn't the workers who drained off profits into their personal accounts, while riding the companies into the ground. Yet the workers, who made all the steel that made all the profits, are the first to be attacked.

How do these companies go bankrupt? When they can't hope to repay their debts any more. And why do they have these debts? Because in their drive to reduce competition, the larger buy up the smaller. They don't buy with cash, they buy with borrowed funds, and they put up their own stock as security for the loans. But as we have learned all too well, stock prices can drop just as rapidly as they rise.

Did the new owners put aside enough profits in reserve funds to carry them through? Did they pay down this debt load to minimize their risk? Oh no. Exactly the opposite. They drained the good years' profits as dividends into their personal accounts, and they used the book value of their companies to play the international financial markets.

When the bubble burst, they'd made years of good money. So they just declare bankruptcy again under another name.

It's a great scheme. Except for the workers, who have not had the years and years of profits to put in their bank accounts. The workers have whatever small pension plans they've been able to pry out of the companies.

To keep those pension plans the workers are going to have to fight just as hard as an earlier generation once fought to force the companies to give them. Then, too, the bosses said they didn't have enough money. But then too, just like now, the bosses had plenty of accumulated profits they could tap! What it took to get them was the determination of the workers to wrest the money from the wealthy class which owns all the corporations.

Strike over health care at GE

Jan 20, 2003

Some 20,000 General Electric workers went on a two-day strike against the company's rising health care costs. The strike took place at 48 factories in 23 states. GE is one of the very largest and most profitable corporations in the world.

A few hours after the strike began, Kjeston "Michelle" Rodgers was killed by a police car as she picketed in front of the giant GE Louisville plant.

It's right that workers act against companies imposing health care costs on them. Even at the biggest companies like General Electric, workers are having to contribute to the monthly premiums, pay more when they visit a doctor, for their medicines and pay large deductibles when they receive medical care. The entire working class is having its standard of living lowered by being forced to pay for increased health care.

This strike, while it shows that workers are angry over this issue, won't compel these companies to back off. It could be a start, however, but only if the strike spreads to other workers. It's not only GE that's involved here. The whole capitalist class is intent on gutting whatever medical insurance we have. If the unions are really serious about this issue they would propose to the whole working class – unionized and non-union – to begin a movement to shut it all down. And this would be a fitting tribute to Michelle Rodgers, killed on the GE picket line.

Pages 4-5

North Korea:
Nuclear blackmail?
Yes, by the U.S.

Jan 20, 2003

President Bush, in another of his famous "turn-the-world-upside-down" statements, accused North Korea of using nuclear blackmail to get what it wants.

Nuclear blackmail? Yes, let's talk about it. Who holds its nuclear arsenal over the heads of the whole world? None other than the United States. Who, right now, is threatening war against Iraq for no other reason than demonstrating its military might? None other than the United States.

So don't come talking about military blackmail.

Bush also denounced the Koreans for withdrawing from the international nuclear proliferation treaty. If the U.S. finally signed that treaty, it was only because it had already "proliferated" its nuclear stores so that it had more such weapons than the whole rest of the world put together – enough to destroy the whole world many times over. The U.S. may have signed the treaty, but this didn't mean it was about to get rid of any of its advanced nuclear weapons – only the oldest, least useful ones.

What cynicism! Bush, himself, in May of 2001, went back on a U.S. commitment to sign the treaty banning biological weapons. The U.S. has never signed the international human rights treaty. And even though it did sign an international treaty that gives foreign nationals the right to see their own embassy before being brought into court in another country, the U.S. ignores this treaty it signed. It recently put to death a Mexican citizen, despite Mexico's protest, without ever having given the man this right.

We could go on and on about all the ways the U.S. ignores international treaties. (Let's not even waste time talking about the fact that these treaties, if the U.S. did sign them and respect them, would not prevent the U.S. from using its military might around the world to dominate the whole world.)

Finally, what provoked North Korea to take this step – threatening "nuclear blackmail," as Bush pretends? Simply the fact that Bush, coming into office, abrogated a treaty that had already been signed with North Korea, promising aid to build nuclear reactors useful for producing electricity, but not useful for producing bombs. So, North Korea simply proposed to start up a nuclear reactor which could do both.

And if Bush "gives in" to North Korea's "blackmail" – as he appears ready to do, despite his bellicose words – it will only be to sign another agreement which he knows he can rip up any time he wants.

Let's talk about why North Korea is so poor. First, of course, it was an underdeveloped country, and kept that way by the hold of European and Japanese colonialism over the whole area up through World War II. And its situation was made much worse by the decision, imposed by the U.S. and Britain, to divide Korea – which had been one country – into two separate countries at the end of the war. But what really devastated Korea was the war that the U.S. then carried out on its soil, in the air over its cities and in the water near its ports. In the North, industry was practically obliterated by massive U.S. bombing. Its ports were mined closed. Its land was left littered with unexploded ordinance. And, to drive in the stake, the U.S. continued a blockade and embargo for decades.

Is the world confronted by military blackmail today? Yes – carried out by the one big superpower in the world, the U.S., which today uses its military might to impose its order on the whole world for the sake of its capitalists who invest all over the world.

Defend Roger Calero!

Jan 20, 2003

On December 3, Roger Calero was seized by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). The INS is seeking to deport Calero to his native Nicaragua under the pretext of a 1988 conviction, for selling an ounce of marijuana to an undercover cop. Calero had a suspended 60-day sentence with three years probation for this dangerous "crime" – committed 15 years ago when he was a high school student.

Calero has lived in this country for the past 17 years and has held permanent residence since 1990. When Calero applied for permanent residency in 1989 he included information about his conviction, which immigration officials waived in order to grant him a green card giving him the right to live and work in the United States. In 2000 the INS renewed his card, no questions asked. Calero worked as a meat packer in Des Moines, Iowa, and then in Twin Cities, Minnesota, where he participated in a union-organizing drive at the Dakota Premium plant in south St. Paul. Today, Calero, who is married to a U.S. citizen, lives in Newark, New Jersey.

The real issue is not a 15 year old-conviction. The real reason for this attack on Calero now is that he is an associate editor of Perspectiva Mundial and staff writer for the Militant, both publications of the Socialist Workers Party, an organization known for its opposition to U.S. wars and to U.S. attacks on countries like Cuba. In fact Calero was picked up when he returned from a recent trip to Cuba and Mexico.

When opposition to the INS campaign against Calero mounted, the INS paroled Calero on December 13. But they are continuing to push to exclude Calero from the country.

People supporting Calero ask that people outraged by this attack send a letter of protest to Hipolito Acosta, District Director, Immigration and Naturalization Service, 126 Northpoint Drive, Houston, TX 77060. Please send a copy to the Roger Calero Defense Committee, c/o PRDF, Box 761, Church St. Station, New York, NY 10007.

Opposition to war:
U.S. government does not like challenges - even 100 year old ones

Jan 20, 2003

The University of California at Berkeley has just refused permission for a fund-raising letter to be sent out for the Emma Goldman Papers Project.

This fund-raising letter from 2002 was to include a quotation from 1915, when the European powers were already fighting what was called "The Great War." At that time, Emma Goldman said that those "not yet overcome by war madness [should] raise their voice of protest, to call the attention of the people to the crime and outrage which are about to be perpetrated on them." The Berkeley letter also contained a Goldman quote about free speech, stating in 1902 that advocates "shall soon be obliged to meet in cellars or darkened rooms with closed doors, and speak in whispers lest our next-door neighbors should hear that free-born citizens dare not speak in the open."

Emma Goldman was a radical anarchist born in Lithuania in 1869. She was influenced by the early Russian radicals. After emigrating to the United States, she spoke out as an anarchist; she advocated the right of labor to organize for an eight-hour day; she believed in sexual freedom for women. She was imprisoned, once for giving birth control advice to poor women in New York and another time for organizing against the draft. In 1919, the U.S. government deported Goldman and others to Russia as dangerous radicals.

An associate vice chancellor at the University of California edited out Goldman's quotations from the soliciting letter, infuriating the project's director. The director considered the cuts a form of censorship – just what Goldman was protesting a century ago.

This is Berkeley – the same university where students began the Free Speech movement in 1964. They could use another one, especially at this moment in the 21st century with the U.S. government poised on the brink of war, moving to suppress many rights won only through hard-fought battles in the past.

Governor vacates all Illinois death sentences

Jan 20, 2003

On January 10, Governor George Ryan of Illinois pardoned four men on Death Row, wiping out their convictions. All four men whom Governor Ryan pardoned had been tortured by the police into confessing crimes that the evidence had shown – even at the time – that they didn't commit. Three of the men had been tortured in a police headquarters under the command of Jon Burge. Burge had directed his cops to nearly suffocate the men, as well as to use electric shock to extract confessions.

Burge was eventually fired because of such methods, but he was never tried for torture. Nor did any prosecutor make an attempt to look into the convictions. For ten years, Burge enjoyed a comfortable retirement in Florida while many of his victims spent the decade on Death Row for crimes they didn't commit.

Governor Ryan had been goaded to take some action as the result of all the publicity surrounding the earlier release of 13 men from the Illinois Death Row. Those men were not freed through the actions of anyone in the "criminal justice" system, but of prisoner advocates who proved their innocence through the use of DNA results. At the time, Ryan suspended all executions.

Regarding the men he decided to pardon, Ryan said, "Here we have four more men who were wrongfully convicted and sentenced to die by the state for crimes the courts should have seen they did not commit." He attacked the prosecution in the case of Leroy Orange, one of the four men pardoned, "The prosecution has opposed Orange's repeated requests on procedural grounds and even seeks to bar evidence of the torture that led to Orange's confession." And he denounced what happened in the jury room in the case of Madison Hobley, another of the four, "The foreman of the jury, a suburban police officer, intimidated some jurors by laying his gun on the jury table and announcing 'We'll reach a verdict.'"

In addition to the four pardons, Ryan also commuted the death sentences of all the people on death row to life in prison, without possibility of parole – 167 people.

Explaining this action, Ryan said, "The system has proved itself to be wildly inaccurate, unjust and unable to separate the innocent from the guilty and, at times, a very racist system."

Ryan was immediately subject to vile denunciations or extravagant praise for what he did.

Wouldn't it be normal, when someone hears that innocent men have systematically been put to death, to want to prevent that from happening again? Even a death penalty advocate, with even a trace of integrity, would want to provide a wholesale commutation, seeing how the system had conspired to put to death people it knew to be innocent. No conviction, in such a situation, is without suspicion.

What Ryan did should not be viewed as something extraordinary. If it is, it's only because this "criminal justice" system is so corrupt and vicious.

The capitalist system is built on vast inequalities and subjects millions of people to a miserable life of poverty. The death penalty is part and parcel of a state apparatus that uses force to keep workers and the poor down.

Certainly workers, above all the poorest layers, are the ones who are often victimized by crime and they want an end to it. Police eager to "solve" cases and advance their careers, plant and extort false evidence. Prosecutors take these cases to trial knowing they are false in the desire to make a name for themselves. And prosecutors and politicians stir up support for the death penalty, which is supposed to prevent crime and give "closure" to the victims.

It does neither. It simply remains a barbaric act of a state which carries out murder under the cover of law. In a society based on exploitation, divided into classes and racist to its core, the death penalty must inevitably lead to the execution of innocent people and the dehumanization of everyone else.

Where was Mr. Bush when anthrax came calling?

Jan 20, 2003

Anthrax has once again shown up in the U.S. postal system – this time at a mail facility in Washington D.C. serving only the government. Tests last week indicated the presence of anthrax spores.

A spokesman for the Postal Service emphasized "There's absolutely nothing that indicates we have a contamination problem here" – just like they did after the earlier anthrax attacks. But two postal employees and three others died after anthrax spores were sent through the mail in the first attacks.

In any case, this shines the light on the earlier anthrax attacks once again. As we all remember, there was a great deal of noise about them – until it became clear that the person who had carried out these terrorist attacks could only have come from a U.S. military research facility – in fact, from only a very few facilities.

At that point, the whole case seemed to drop from view. No one was ever arrested, no one ever charged. And for all the statements made in recent months by the government, it might as well have never happened.

The reason seems obvious enough. The anthrax terrorist, by all accounts, was one of their own.

Today, we hear a lot about Saddam Hussein and his supposed stores of biological weapons, including anthrax. Bush would like us to think that we are in mortal danger from something like an anthrax attack launched somehow or other from Iraq.

We are in danger – but not from Iraq. We have been put in danger by this government which never stopped doing research into these horrendous weapons.

This latest anthrax "incident" – as they call it – makes that point loud and clear.

Pages 6-7

Movie and book review:
The Quiet American

Jan 20, 2003

The Quiet American is a movie made by Australian director Phillip Noyce, based on the 1955 novel of the same title by British author Graham Greene. The movie was to be released in the fall of 2001, but after 9/11 it was held back by the distributors under the pretext that it dealt with a "sensitive" subject, that is, terrorism – except that, the terrorist in this story is an American, working for the U.S. government.

The two main characters of The Quiet American are an aging British journalist and a young American he meets in Viet Nam in the early 1950s. The story develops around both the friendship of these two men and their rivalry over a young Vietnamese woman. The background of the story, however, quickly takes over. In those years, Viet Nam is still under French colonial rule. Vietnamese nationalists, organized under the Viet Minh (short for 'League for the Independence of Viet Nam' in Vietnamese), are waging war to kick the French colonialists out, and they are close to achieving this goal. We learn that the U.S. is also involved, supplying arms and money for the French war effort.

Alden Pyle, the American, introduces himself as an economic aid worker. But Thomas Fowler, the journalist and narrator of the story, soon notices that Pyle's involvement in Viet Nam is of a different nature. He is often seen around the associates of General The, a Vietnamese who has declared himself a "Third Force" against both the French and Viet Minh. General The is a terrorist: his preferred methods are random bombings in crowded areas of the city and massacres of civilians in the countryside. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Pyle, who is really a CIA agent, is the link between General The and the U.S. government, which finances and advises this terrorist.

The involvement of the U.S. government in other countries' affairs in the 1950s is today well-documented. In Iran in 1953 and in Guatemala in 1954, for example, the CIA played a key role in overthrowing democratically elected governments. In those years, the U.S. was also involved in a major war in Korea and, as The Quiet American shows, was getting ready to take over from the French the role of Viet Nam's imperialist master. When the French finally pulled out in 1955, the U.S. set up a dictatorship in South Viet Nam, which then paved the way for sending in U.S. troops in the 1960s.

In other words, the U.S. in the early 1950s was already deeply engaged in its new role as the main imperialist power in the world, trying to contain the mobilization of popular masses around the globe by direct intervention as well as by supporting colonialists, terrorists and repressive dictatorships.

If, after 9/11, this movie was found "too sensitive" for release by the corporations, it's because the U.S. has never quit playing this role during the half century since. In an introduction to his novel, Graham Greene says that General The, who actually existed, was assassinated in the early 1950s. Thus he remained an obscure figure in history – unlike another U.S.-sponsored terrorist, who started his career in relative obscurity in remote Afghanistan: Osama bin Laden.

Book Review:
The Heat:
Steelworker Lives & Legends

Jan 20, 2003

This little book was written by sixteen steelworkers. The writers work at the big steel mills in the Gary-East Chicago Indiana area and for Bethlehem Steel in Baltimore. They include men and women, most of whom worked 30 years in the mills. A number of the workers are third generation steelworkers.

These short stories tell about the lives of the steelworkers in the mills and in the community. They begin with various workers' first day on the job. One woman's first job was to go underneath gigantic machines and pull large pieces of steel out of rancid axle grease and animal fat that had dropped down from above. Another guy was put to shoveling dust into a wheelbarrow all day long. At the end of the day he said, "I'm just gonna stay here 'til I find a better job." That was 29 years ago.

A number of the stories show the human bonds that form between the workers who labor together doing dangerous work. They have nicknames like Stubby, for a guy five feet five weighing about 250, Frenchie who can speak some French, and Skin for a guy named Harry who is a little bald on top. When Skin's wife has a baby, the other guys on the crew show up at the hospital. A few years later when it turns out the little girl has leukemia and the union-negotiated health care falls way short of what's needed to keep her alive, it's the guys on the crew who raise the money to keep her alive.

Producing steel costs numerous accidents, all too many fatal. When a worker does a double to help out in a big storm, management doesn't offer him any food, and when he comes into their warm office to make a call home, they tell him to go out to the payphone in the cold. He learns to take three days off until the snow is cleared and not to try to come in during a blizzard.

The end of the book records the workers' last day on the job. In some cases it ends in a fatal accident. In others the worker gets off alive, only to die shortly after from the decades of hard labor. And for many others in recent years, the last day resulted because of layoffs and closings of the mills.

This a book gives a warm picture of steelworkers' lives and the solidarity that grows up on the job.

Movie Review:
8 Mile

Jan 20, 2003

8 Mile, the movie starring rapper Eminem, has been out in theaters for some time. The film provides a fairly realistic picture of life in Detroit and an interesting look at the rap music scene. Eminem plays Jimmy "Rabbit" Smith, a white working class young man who is gaining a reputation in the local rap scene. Rabbit runs with an integrated group of friends, including two black friends who have hopes to make it as promoters in the rap industry.

Early in the film we find out that Rabbit has just ended a romantic relationship and has to move home to live with his mother. His mom, played by Kim Basinger, lives in a trailer park on the north side of Eight Mile Road. Eight Mile is known in Detroit as both the physical and symbolic dividing line between the mostly black city of Detroit and the suburbs to its north, most of which are predominantly white. His mother has a young daughter, has no job, and lives with a young guy from the neighborhood waiting to make it big through a cash settlement from a car accident.

When Rabbit is not rapping, he works in a stamping plant in Detroit. The film provides a glimpse of life in the working class through Rabbit's struggle to hang on to his job at the plant, which he has difficulty getting to because of his unreliable car and the inadequacy of public transportation in Detroit.

The movie also presents a picture of the rap scene, as Rabbit takes part in "battles" at a local night club, which are the verbal equivalent of boxing matches. Rappers compete in a kind of tournament, in which the goal is to insult one's opponent and his friends in the most creative manner and to win the loudest response from the audience, what used to be called "playing the dozens." Naturally, with Rabbit being white, there is a certain amount of racial tension surrounding him and as a result between his friends and those of other rappers.

To some extent, the film touches on class solidarity; for example, when Rabbit and his friends burn down an abandoned house where a young girl was recently raped or when he defeats one of his rap "battle" opponents by pointing out that he went to school at Cranbrook, an exclusive private school in one of Detroit's wealthiest suburbs. At the same time, the film promotes the idea that the hope for people like Rabbit is to get out of the working class by "making it" as a professional rap artist.

Unfortunately, the film makers (including Eminem) didn't demonstrate much solidarity when they burnt down the house in Highland Park Michigan to film the scene used in the movie. Highland Park, so desperately poor it can't even provide fire service, let them do it for a few dollars, despite the protests of neighbors. Left behind was another burnt out building on top of those that already exist in that city.

The film is also inconsistent in its treatment of women. It shows some sympathy with the situation of women, as when it shows the abusive relationship that Rabbit's mother finds herself in. On the other hand, the rappers express negative attitudes towards women.

Anyone considering seeing the film should be aware that the film contains a fair amount of offensive language.

The movie shows that this form of music which came out of urban black neighborhoods has pulled in white working class kids who share some of the same problems. But it is also reminiscent of what happened in jazz with white musicians receiving most of the attention for musical forms created by black musicians. It's the consequence of living in a racist society.

With these reservations, 8 Mile is a film worth seeing.

Movie review:
Gangs of New York - a look at the draft riots of 1863

Jan 20, 2003

Corrupt politicians and police officers are two of the many gangs depicted in the new movie, The Gangs of New York. The story begins in the 1840s and ends with a graphic depiction of the Draft Riots of 1863.

The movie focuses on the organized gangs controlling crime in the poor, filthy tenement neighborhoods in New York City. The movie does a good job of displaying the harshness of day-to-day life at the time.

In one part of the film we see the volunteer fire companies, foot soldiers of the Democratic Party, battling each other to be the first to the scene of a fire. The film shows that sometimes they fight each other so much they forget to put out the fire, which happened more than once at the time.

The main story involves a gang feud and a Hollywood romance. But what is most interesting about the movie is the way it captures the politics of the day. We are shown the anti-immigrant politics of the Nativist Party and the gangs who act as their enforcers. We are shown Boss Tweed's Tammany Hall and the Democratic Party rife with corruption.

As the movie hits the time of the Civil War, we see immigrants arriving in New York, immediately signed up as citizens by the Republican Party, enlisted in the union army, and loaded on ships headed for the battlefield, as soon as the coffins of dead soldiers coming back could be unloaded.

The film ends with a fictional account of the actual response to the draft being started up during the Civil War, in 1863, which was draft riots. In 1863 the draft law allowed the rich to buy their way out for $300 by buying a substitute. (This was more than a year's wages for a working person). In the movie and in reality, when the draft started, the poor neighborhoods of New York erupted in riots, destroying the government draft office, police stations and wealthy homes.

But as actually happened, rioters in the movie then are shown moving to attack and lynching free black people living in the city, misdirecting their anger at the draft and the privileges of the rich onto former slaves. What the movie doesn't show – but which was very critical – is the systematic effort made by the politicians and media to divert white working class anger at the rich for buying substitutes for the draft onto black working-class New Yorkers.

At one point, Boss Tweed spouts the statement made by Jay Gould, the famous railroad baron: "I can hire one half of the poor to kill off the other half."

When the draft rioters turned their anger against those with whom they should have made common cause, they lost the fight against the wealthy who exploited them. Even though the riots were finally quelled by military force, the divisions among the poor opened the door to their defeat.

Page 8

Riverside, California:
A city pays off its racist, murdering cops

Jan 20, 2003

The city council of Riverside, California, a suburb of Los Angeles, says it wants to close the books on the 1998 fatal shooting of Tyisha Miller, an 18-year-old black woman, by four white police officers.

The shooting of Tyisha Miller was especially senseless and horrendous. In the early morning hours of December 28, 1998, Miller and her friends were returning home when their car got a flat tire. They pulled into a gas station that was closed; and while the friends went to get help, Miller stayed in the car with all the doors locked and holding a handgun because it was a dangerous neighborhood.

When her friends returned, they saw her suffering an epileptic seizure, with her eyes rolling and foaming at the mouth. So, they called 911 for an ambulance. They also informed the operator that Miller had a gun, so there wouldn't be any problem.

Instead of an ambulance, four heavily armed cops were sent. The cops ignored what Miller's friends had to say. Instead, the cops began pounding on the car window. But Miller was still unconscious, and she did not respond. So, a cop broke the driver's side window. At that point, Miller began to come out of her seizure, disoriented and startled. That was when the cops started shooting: 24 shots, of which 12 hit Miller. Afterwards, the cops tried to claim that Miller had fired her gun at them. But investigators had to admit that Miller's gun had not been fired.

It may have been the kind of racist cop killing that Riverside and the L.A. region are all too familiar with. But this killing was just one too many for the black population. Ten days after the murder, over 800 mourners turned Miller's funeral into an angry protest. In the weeks and months that followed, the protests continued.

The police department was forced to fire the four cops. And the city of Riverside quickly moved to settle Tyisha Miller's family's wrongful death suit, paying them three million dollars.

So what is it that the city of Riverside now wants to do to "close the books" on this case?

Is it finally proposing to try the four cops? No – just the opposite. It's offering each of them a large open-ended settlement: $2,000 per month tax free – for the rest of their lives!

Riverside has just shown what everyone knows – that if there are murderous cops loose on the streets of our cities, it's because they are backed up by civilian authorities.

Detroit policeman cuts off woman's finger tip

Jan 20, 2003

Joni Gullas sat in her van waiting for friends in a parking lot by the bar which they were leaving. It was 2:30 in the morning, and when some men approached her, she thought they might be carjackers. Instead they were plainclothes cops in an unmarked car. After an argument over identification, one of the cops pulled her from the van and attempted to handcuff her. He pulled out a knife, supposedly to cut off a sleeve of her coat, and sliced off the top of her ring finger at the knuckle!

Miss Gullas filed a 100 million dollar lawsuit against the officer and the City of Detroit, alleging violation of her civil rights. The following day, according to the newspaper, the police officer was suspended.

This was not Officer Johnson's first brush with notoriety. In 1998, Johnson was the policeman who shot and killed a 79-year-old disabled woman. Apparently a jury didn't believe his claim he acted in self-defense because they awarded the woman's family $350,000 in a settlement in 2001.

A police deputy chief wanted to distance the Detroit police department from a cop who used a knife while on duty. He said, "We don't issue knives. We don't conduct any training that would involve a knife in the arrest of a subject."

No, but they left this killer on the street to harm again.

Kmart says it's fighting for its life:
What does that mean?

Jan 20, 2003

Bankrupt Kmart just announced the closing of 326 more stores and the layoff of 37,000 more employees. This follows the closing of 283 stores and the layoff of more than 22,000 workers last year. In Michigan, where Kmart had more than 11,000 employees, one in every five will lose his or her job.

Stores closings not only affect the workers laid off but also the entire community. Customers will now have to travel further to shop.

Who will benefit when Kmart executives talk of "saving" their company? They aren't talking about the thousands they will lay off. They are trying to protect the big investment banks and suppliers who are owed money, the wealthy bond and shareholders who can afford to hold onto their almost worthless shares of Kmart stock – unlike most retirees.

In this capitalist world, the "life" of a company refers only to the wealthy "head." The blood and guts – the workers – count for nothing.

Bank merger:
Jobs cut but profits expected

Jan 20, 2003

The New York M&T Bank Corp. which is taking over Allfirst, centered in Baltimore, has just announced 1,132 jobs will be cut this year, about half in the Baltimore area and the rest throughout Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania in their other operation centers.

M&T was willing to pay more than three billion dollars to take over Allfirst, buying it from its parent company Allied Irish. But it immediately announced that it needed to cut costs, like all the bosses do whenever one company buys another.

Allfirst was the bank from which a currency trader was fired after hiding millions of dollars in losses. Six co-workers and two executives also lost their jobs in that scandal. But now more than a thousand people who had no part in that scam will lose their jobs.

A M&T spokesman said, "This is a surgical procedure for us. It is something that a lot of thought and energy went into. It is carefully crafted to achieve long-term results."

And the long-term results are to protect the shareholders and the executives at the expense of the workers – with the job cuts carried out very "surgically"!