The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

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

Issue no. 709 — August 25 - September 8, 2003

Electric Power as a Commodity = Blackout

Aug 25, 2003

Bush said he didn't know what caused the big power blackout of 2003, which ran from New York City through Detroit, including parts of Canada. But, he declared, "We're going to get to the bottom of this. We're going to fix it." State governors issued similar statements.

They lie, and not once, but twice.

They do know what is at the root of this blackout, and they are NOT going to fix it.

None of the power companies have invested in the maintenance and upgrades that would keep the system functioning without such "accidents." Nor do they keep enough employees to monitor their systems and to fix problems as soon as they appear.

If politicians of the two major parties were going to fix this problem, they would have done so long ago. After all, they have had plenty of experience with such catastrophic black-outs. There were widespread blackouts before: 1950 in the Pacific Northwest, 1965 in Canada and the Northeast, 1966 along the West Coast, 1976 in the Mountain West, 1996 in the West Coast and Mountain West. And then there are the usual, regular black-outs, triggered by snow storms, heat, thunder storms, cold, etc. Whatever specific incident triggered each shutdown, the same root cause is at work: power companies run for profit don't invest in the needed equipment and don't hire the needed workers.

For the population of an industrialized country, electric power is a necessity. But for privately owned capital, electric power is a commodity whose main use is to create profit.

Private capital has never been willing to put in the kind of investment needed to create, maintain and upgrade a utility system that would serve the population. In fact, utilities were first created by city governments in and around cities and towns, or by farmers' cooperatives in rural areas. Private enterprise wasn't willing to take the risk until it could be assured of a profit.

Once the systems were built and running, however, private capital moved rapidly to take them over – in most cases buying them up for a song from politicians always eager to do what big business wanted.

It didn't take big business long to run those systems into the ground, draining money out of them, selling off parts of the utilities so they could throw more money into stock market speculation. In the big stock market collapse of 1929, most utilities in the country shut down. They had to be rescued by big sums of money from cities, counties, states and the federal government to get them up and running again. And for the first time electric power finally reached most rural areas of the country, put in by the federal government.

Once created or rescued, these power producing facilities were put back into the hands of private capital all over again. Supposedly, government was going to "regulate" what they did. In fact, government never really prevented them from making a profit at the expense of the population. In recent years, government hasn't even bothered to pretend it was regulating the utilities.

Today, we see a repeat of what private capital put the country through in the 1920s.

Montana Power, for example, pushed through deregulation, tripled its rates, sold off its generating and delivery systems, used the money to set up a fiber-optic cable network, then closed the company. Montana was left without cheap, locally-based power, workers were left without a job or pension.

California was held hostage to the Enron created power shortage, with blackouts used to push rates and the public debt sky-high.

Like the "great blackout of 2003," these are only tiny tips of the iceberg.

Private capital can no more provide the whole population with adequate public services than it can with decent medical care. Basic necessities need to be taken out of the hands of big business and run by the population for the good of the population.

Pages 2-3

The Ten Commandments:
Another Alabama politician pushes reactionary ideas

Aug 25, 2003

Last Thursday, August 21, Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Ray Moore appeared on the Courthouse steps in Montgomery. In front of cheering supporters, he vowed to fight the removal of a 5,280-pound rock with a plaque of the Ten Commandments from the State Supreme Court lobby. Moore said, "I've been ordered to do something I cannot do; I cannot violate my conscience," and added, "To do my duty, I must obey God!"

Moore took this stance after the other eight judges of the Alabama Supreme Court agreed with a federal district court ruling and ordered the removal of the rock.

This is nothing more than another Alabama politician's appeal to reactionary ideas to cover up the deplorable conditions in his state. (The most famous example is former governor Wallace's standing on schoolhouse steps, vowing to fight integration.) What better way to keep people's minds off REAL issues in Alabama – one of the poorest states in the country – than by using religious superstition as a rallying cry?

Moore argues that the rock, which has the biblical ten commandments carved on it, is a reminder of the biblical basis of U.S. laws.

How could the laws of any country that calls itself civilized possibly be based on the Bible, a book written thousands of years ago which condones slavery, the killing of infants, and wife-beating, among other atrocities?

Only if that country is not really civilized. In fact, this society has used the Bible and the trappings of religion to get people to accept a whole slew of abominations, including slavery until the later 1800s and Jim Crow and lynching into the 1960s, the death penalty today.

What's needed is not more superstition, mysticism and ideas based on slave-holding societies, but just the opposite – a scientific view of the world.

Even reactionary politicians ought to know that places like Alabama benefitted when advances in public sanitation helped make diseases like malaria much less prevalent than they used to be. Those advances were won because researchers working in the fields of medicine and public health looked at the world from a materialist, that is, scientific, standpoint. The same thing is true in every field.

Today a politician like Judge Moore is using the Bible to position himself to run for some statewide position. Calling on people to stand up and rally around the Bible, he banks on them forgetting what he himself has done over the years sitting on the Alabama courts upholding the interests of the wealthy against the working people of the state.

L.A. schools:
The "budget crisis" that wasn't

Aug 25, 2003

Two months ago, just before the end of the fiscal year, the Los Angeles Unified School District told its workers that furloughs were inevitable. The only way they could close a budget gap, the district bosses said, was to cut 2½ to 5 days' pay from district employees' paychecks.

It has now come out that the district closed the fiscal year with a surplus of 33 million dollars – about the same amount that the furloughs were supposed to save!

What were the district bosses saving that money for? Parties? "Conferences" where they wine and dine in fancy hotels? Or perhaps bonuses for themselves for "balancing the budget"?

In any event, they've shown that their budgets – or their words – aren't worth the paper they're written on.

Detroit jury rules against killer cop

Aug 25, 2003

In early August, a Wayne County jury awarded four million dollars to the family of Lamar Grable. Grable was shot and killed nearly seven years ago by Detroit police officer Eugene Brown, under circumstances that made it clear the shooting was unprovoked.

Brown shot Grable eight times, including twice in the back. He made conflicting statements about whether Grable was openly holding a gun or concealing one. In any case, the gun Brown claimed he saw was clearly a throwaway. There was never any physical evidence tying Grable to the gun.

Brown already had a lot of experience covering up shootings. He has fired his gun in nine incidents. Grable was the third person he has killed.

The Detroit Police Department clearly wasn't shocked by Brown's actions. Instead of bringing charges against him, they brought him back time after time. Only after outrage at his third murder did they try to dump him – by offering him $340,000 to go away!

Since the murder, Grable's parents, Arnetta Grable and Herman Vallery, have been active in Detroit's Coalition Against Police Brutality, which has organized protest demonstrations, including one involving over 300 people in September 2000. These demonstrations finally led the city council to reject any award for the murderous cop.

Lamar Grable's parents also refused to take money from the city to shut up about their son's murder. They wanted their day in court, where they could expose what Brown had done.

They got it. And the jury believed what they had to say.

Baltimore:
Summer fun undone

Aug 25, 2003

Baltimore's parks were no place for fun this summer. Thanks to cutbacks, there were only 45 maintenance employees left in the city's Department of Recreation and Parks to look after more than 6,000 acres. By the time the grass can be cut, the kids will be back in school.

During the 1980s and 90s, hundreds of city workers were laid off from this department. Some 200 others were transferred to do needed maintenance work for the Department of Public Works.

The city of Baltimore still finds money to award millions of dollars in PILOTs (payments in lieu of taxes) to real estate developers. Why can't the politicians find money for citizens to enjoy the parks? Because they gave it all to private capital!

Free public school education - less and less free

Aug 25, 2003

Until last week, the Avondale School District, north of Detroit, planned to charge a $35 activity fee to all students, whether or not they were participating in extracurricular activities.

After an outcry by parents, the State of Michigan struck down the fee, saying that because Avondale was asking all students to pay, it amounted to charging tuition for public school.

This school district backed off this time. But if Avondale figured it could get away with charging this fee, it's only because of what schools have been able to get away with up until this point.

The very state department that told Avondale it couldn't charge the $35 fee has cut school funding by several million dollars per school district this year, meaning the schools don't have enough money.

This is the argument most districts try to use for all the fees they charge: lab fees for science classes; damage fees on textbooks; parking fees; athletic fees of $100 per year – or per sport. (Avondale still plans to charge the $35 – but only from students participating in extracurricular activities.)

On top of this, the lists of required school supplies are getting longer, including items such as hand sanitizer and paper towels, in addition to folders, pens and paper. Some schools put much pressure on parents to volunteer their time in the classroom, rather than hire paid classroom aides. And everyone knows that teachers pay hundreds of their own dollars every year to make sure their students have the proper supplies.

There are more and more costs that parents and teachers are shouldering, over and above what we're paying in taxes already.

Obviously, the more we are ready to pay – for supposedly free public school education – the more they'll keep trying to charge us!

Pages 4-5

The California "electricity crisis" of 2000-2001:
A contrived shortage to hike prices

Aug 25, 2003

Electricity was barely restored in all areas affected by the 2003 blackout in the Midwest, Northeast and Ontario, Canada when power companies began to demand rate increases. This will have a familiar ring in California where, during the "electricity crisis" of 2000-2001, blackouts went hand-in-hand with increased prices.

In the spring of 2000, "rolling blackouts" hit California, cutting off power to 100,000 customers. The wholesale price of electricity on California's deregulated energy market suddenly rose five-fold, from $30 to $150 per megawatt-hour.

Needless to say, the profits of the companies that generated and traded electricity shot through the roof. The seven largest generating companies, which produced 40% of California's power, increased their quarterly profits in 2000 as much as 700% over the year before. Electricity trader Enron Corp., one of the leading advocates of deregulation as well as one of its biggest profiteers, became number seven in the "Fortune 500" in 2000 – a much-publicized rise for a company which was number 94 only four years before.

A similar scenario was played out in late 2000 and early 2001, when more than a million Californians were affected by rolling blackouts, and wholesale prices spiked up to almost $300 per megawatt-hour!

Power companies, politicians and media "experts" all said that the electricity shortage and the astronomical price hikes which came with it were the results of increased use of electricity due to the weather being "unusually hot."

This was a lie. In fact, the whole "crisis" was created by the electricity companies themselves. During the spring and summer of 2000, for example, the highest electricity demand in California was 45,600 megawatts, way below the 60,000-megawatt capacity available to the state. BUT, an unusually large number of plants were down for maintenance and repairs – all at the same time. The companies had deliberately waited to shut their plants off until the hot summer days, when they knew the demand for power would be the greatest.

How do we know this? During investigations after the collapse of Enron, for example, California officials revealed that company executives knew about the price hikes ahead of time. Months before the "unexpected" energy shortages, Enron was contracting for electricity at future dates at prices much higher than those existing at the time – knowing it could sell it for a still higher price. But that's not all. Enron was also directly involved in artificially increasing the prices. It set up other companies which sold large volumes of electricity to each other, every time at a higher price, before the electricity was finally sold to the utility that distributed it to the consumers.

Of course, there's no reason to assume that Enron was alone in manipulating the energy market, to rip off the people of California. It's only because of the publicity surrounding Enron's collapse that some of the company's machinations have been revealed by politicians and state officials – who pretended they didn't know about this ripoff scheme when it happened.

California's "energy crisis" was finally over by the end of 2001, when wholesale electricity prices had gone back down to $40 per megawatt-hour – 33% higher than before the crisis started. But by then, the state government had already signed contracts funneling tens of billions of dollars into the coffers of Enron and other companies for years to come. That taxpayer money is being taken from services that benefit the population, such as welfare, education and health care.

When the "crisis" broke out in California three years ago, 24 other states had either deregulated electricity or were in the process of doing so. But the public discontent in California put a brake on the rush to deregulation. Several states put their plans on a halt. But now, with publicity around the California crisis and the Enron scandal having died down, companies have dug out the same extortion plot – using the blackout as an excuse to increase rates. And politicians were right there acting as their spokespersons.

Montana:
A new Enron-style scandal

Aug 25, 2003

The Montana Public Service Commission recently ordered the NorthWestern Corporation, a giant regional power distribution company, to provide it with more information on how it sets prices and distributes revenues among its affiliates in several states.

The commission's concern is a bit late. Since 1997, electricity prices in Montana have doubled, redoubled and then doubled again. In 1997, the Montana Power Company got state politicians to approve deregulation of the state's electric power industry. Under the leadership of Montana Power CEO Bob Gannon, and with the assistance of Wall Street investment banking firm Goldman Sachs, within six months of the passage of deregulation, Montana Power began selling off its hydroelectric dams, coal mines and power plants to Pennsylvania Power and Light Company. Next it sold off its electric transmission and distribution system, getting out of the electric power business entirely. All these assets brought a handsome price since the buyers were now free to charge higher deregulated prices for electricity.

With Montana Power no longer in the power business, Pennsylvania Power and Light and other electric suppliers jacked up the price of power in the state. Electricity rates soared. Companies went out of business. Workers were laid off. The former manager of the now-closed Butte copper mine recently said, "If we were going to continue to run, we were faced with prices... five to 20 times what we were paying before."

As for Montana Power, its executives took the 2.7 billion dollars they had received by selling its assets to set up a subsidiary, Touch America, to lay a 26,000 mile network of fiber optic cables.

When the stock market bubble that Touch America was riding on burst, the price of Touch America's stock crashed along with other dot.com stocks. Thousands of Montana Power retirees, whose lives depended on the value and earnings of the stock in their 401k retirement plans, suddenly had no retirement plans. Many had to go back to work.

After laying off half of its employees, Touch America filed for bankruptcy this past June. But not before giving Bob Gannon and the other executives a 5.4-million-dollar bonus and Goldman Sachs a 20- million-dollar commission. The same Goldman Sachs that is currently under investigation for its role in the Enron scandal. The same Goldman Sachs that since Enron went down has itself become a major trader in the energy markets.

So the Montana Public Service Commission is a little late, to say the least, in being concerned about the operations of electricity suppliers in the state.

Words of praise don't pay Detroit city workers' bills!

Aug 25, 2003

In the midst of the power blackout that also shut down water in the Detroit Metropolitan area, Detroit's mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, continuously praised the around-the-clock efforts of city workers to get the water system up and running.

This same Kilpatrick guy only just finished trying to ram through a contract which cut pay, benefits and jobs of city workers, while the city has handed over money and huge tax breaks to corporations like Compuware and General Motors.

Does the mayor really think workers forget so quickly?

The 2003 power blackout - an excuse to raise rates

Aug 25, 2003

Two Ohio utility companies have been accused of triggering the big 2003 blackout which affected 50 million people in seven states and Canada. Certainly these two have atrocious records.

The Ohio Public Utilities Commission had already criticized American Electric for maintenance in a report that came out this May. For example, rather than cutting back tree limbs on a regular four to six year schedule, they cut out old tree limb maintenance except for removing limbs after they cause an outage. Two out of every five of American Electric's utility poles need replacement or maintenance.

The company cut back maintenance by 88 million dollars between 1992 and 2001, claiming they could do so through "process improvements and more efficient use of manpower." Not only did they fail to do the necessary maintenance, they cut spending on new equipment by almost 120 million dollars. What they spent money on was buying up other utilities in eleven states and overseas, becoming the largest utility-holding company in the U.S.

But the Ohio Public Utilities Commission is hardly blameless in what American Electric did. The commission gave the company permission to do all these things – while raising its rates!

The other Ohio utility company, FirstEnergy, which had three of its transmission lines go out just before the blackout, had been warned months earlier about possible problems along its transmission lines. It had been cited by a federal judge for violating the Clean Air Act. And FirstEnergy is the owner of the now shut-down Davis-Besse nuclear power plant in Ohio. Lack of maintenance there caused a leak that burned a hole through a steel lid. Had the lid been destroyed, Ohio residents around Toledo could have experienced all the joys of a massive nuclear reactor melt-down.

Said a former manager at Davis-Besse now suing the company with other employees, "With FirstEnergy, it is profits and production over safety. I see no change today from when I worked there."

FirstEnergy claims not to have the money for maintenance. Yet they could afford to buy six other utility companies. Its management says "we still feel we are an attractive stock," showing exactly what matters to these corporations – and to the government bodies which oversee them.

These Ohio-based utility companies are not small time operators. They are among the ten biggest power companies in he country.

And they are hardly alone in their concern for profit at the expense of safety or even convenience. As the California energy crisis showed, blackouts can lead to ... profits. The energy companies involved in the California fiasco, and not just Enron, sold and re-sold energy contracts, driving up prices and profits – leaving the cost to be paid by California residents (six billion dollars between May and November of 2000.)

All of this was allowed under the deregulation of the power industry begun by Jimmy Carter in 1978 and completed by George H.W. Bush in 1992. And because the deregulation of power allows electricity and gas to travel freely all over the country, especially to where the highest profits can be made, utility customers everywhere have been paying higher prices.

They would have been paying much higher rates everywhere if it hadn't been for the scandal the Enron affair turned out to be. For a period, even though rates went up everywhere, the energy companies stopped pushing so ferociously for enormous rate increases. It seems, however, they are lining up to get those giant increases now – and using the recent blackout to justify them. The 2003 blackout certainly couldn't have come at a more convenient time – the week before Congress is to take up an energy bill giving the power companies much more latitude to do what they want. One might almost believe the blackout was staged.

They tell us that the power grid is in a deplorable situation. It's true, it is. But why?

Even as power usage has soared in today's economy, investment in the grid has fallen. According to an industry association (cited in Newsweek) investment fell from about five billion dollars per year in 1975 to about two billion today. Some of the technology used on the grid remains from the 1950s, although more sophisticated digital devices now existing could be used to control flows of electricity throughout the country. Just like the two Ohio companies, utilities everywhere have been buying and selling companies, getting bigger and bigger, instead of maintaining their system. Having let the system go to waste, the utility companies and their friends in Congress are now preparing to raise the rates catastrophically.

Many solutions exist to solve this particular problem. What's lacking is not money, but a system whose functioning would put human needs before profits.

Pages 6-7

Iraq:
The downward slide of the U.S. occupation

Aug 25, 2003

More than 100 days after the official end of the war in Iraq, a spectacular terrorist attack on the U.N. building in Baghdad cost 23 lives, including the special U.N. representative to Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, plus more than 100 wounded.

We can question the objectives of the people who carried out the attack. They certainly don't defend the interests of the Iraqi people with such methods. Nevertheless, this attack occurred in a situation where the U.S. occupation is becoming more and more intolerable for the population, while the conduct of the U.N. representatives merges more and more with that of the other imperialist powers.

With each passing day, there are more provocations and repressions. Forcible control of ID's and arbitrary arrests create new opponents to the U.S.-British coalition. Hundreds of Iraqi civilians have been killed by the U.S. army (perhaps 600 since the "end" of the war on May 1, according to a humanitarian organization). Thousands of prisoners again rot ... in the same jails that Saddam Hussein used – reopened by the U.S. army.

The U.S. is an occupying power – acting as such, it generates resistance which comes not only from milieus that remain faithful to the old dictator, but from Shiite milieus that hope to succeed him, and even among ordinary Iraqis appalled as their conditions worsen.

Each day, the U.S. occupation sinks a little more into a quagmire. Sabotage, terrorist actions, attacks and riots become a daily occurrence. Every day there are incidents counterposing U.S. troops to the population. The ordinary troops are forced to carry out the dirtiest work – patrolling the poor neighborhoods, repressing a desperate population. They will find themselves more and more the target for terrorist attacks, as well as attacks from the Iraqi population itself.

It seems increasingly obvious that the U.S., by launching this war, put itself into a situation it can't get out of. Unfortunately it's the Iraqi population who pays the price for it, as do the U.S. troops.

France:
An irresponsible government, a failure of the state, a sick regime

Aug 25, 2003

The following article is excerpted and translated from an article appearing in Lutte Ouvrière, (Workers' Struggle), a French Trotskyist weekly.

The figures for deaths linked to the heat wave increase daily. [In mid- August France's largest undertaker estimated 10,000 dead of heat-related illness.] After having denied for days that there was any catastrophe, the government finally declared – 10 days too late and after it began to rain – emergency measures that it should have taken at the very beginning of the heat wave.

The heat wave may have been exceptional, but how can an increase of just six or seven degrees create so many victims and become a major catastrophe? The exceptional heat simply revealed the deplorable situation that exists in hospitals and retirement homes even in ordinary times.

Hospitals, like all public services, have been working under a strain for years. Over several years now, the number of beds has been reduced and whole departments have been closed down due to a lack of personnel. Even in ordinary times, many hospital services function only by demanding many hours of overtime. How can emergency rooms deal with exceptional situations when they already have to put the sick in the hallways during ordinary times? The budgets of hospitals have been cut, making it impossible for them to deal with emergencies since they lack the resources they need every day. How many hospitals were without fans and even without ice? There was not even enough staff just to give a drink of water or to pass a damp towel over someone's face.

To justify its inaction, the government dared to say that half the deaths were among the elderly who died at home. If so, it's because it has become more difficult for the elderly who live independently in their own homes to obtain home health care.

A state that functions in the service of the population should provide the means necessary to face exceptional situations. But the state does not function on behalf of the population!

The Socialist Party and the Greens today criticize the government for not preparing for such a situation. But what happened was much worse than a simple lack of foresight; what happened is the inevitable consequence of the deliberate policy of cutbacks in health care, as in all the social services, carried out by all the governments one after the other, for dozens of years. We are going backward.

It is not just the fault of various administrations. The entire capitalist system is at fault; it is incapable of satisfying the essential needs of the population, even in countries where there are more than sufficient means to do so.

Liberia:
Imperialist pillage amid civil war

Aug 25, 2003

From the photos it seems that the population of Monrovia greeted the first contingents of the international force with some joy. Under the sponsorship of the U.N. and West African countries, these contingents are supposed to put an end to the civil war from which Liberia has suffered for 14 years. The dictator Charles Taylor finally agreed to give up power, but only after he designated his successor and got the international court to drop the charges against him. The representatives of the great powers got what they wanted, which wasn't the well being of the population, but of their own corporations, mostly U.S. corporations, which have the biggest presence in Liberia. This West African country has been entirely under U.S. domination since its birth in 1822.

Liberia was established by U.S. philanthropic societies to permit the return of freed slaves to Africa. But behind what might seem like a generous objective, this operation gave the U.S. government a way to implant itself on African soil and to participate in the plunder of the continent.

Liberian leaders offered the country's natural resources to big U.S. firms. In 1926, the tire company Firestone was given almost a million acres for the exploitation of rubber. It benefitted from forced labor imposed on the local population by Liberian leaders. Even today, Bridgestone-Firestone continues to exploit 50,000 acres of rubber. The second important natural resource of the country, iron ore, is so abundant and rich that it placed Liberia among the principal world exporters of iron up to the 1980's. It is also under the domination of U.S. companies.

Up to 1980, the Afro-American descendants of the freed slaves represented a very tiny minority (barely 5% of the population), but controlled political power and the wealth of the country. Although Liberia got its independence in 1847, the Africans there were second class citizens, exploited and oppressed – and didn't gain the right to vote until 1945.

In 1980, the military coup d'etat led by Samuel Doe overthrew the power of the Afro-Americans. He had the approval of U.S. imperialism, which was weary of supporting a regime with pan-African posturing, which was less and less capable of containing the discontent of the poor. Doe came to power by promising to end the political monopoly of the Afro-American elite. He made agreements with leaders of the different ethnic groups, trying to assure himself a certain social base. Together they turned all of Liberia into a field for plundering.

One of his lieutenants, Charles Taylor, was given control over central purchasing of the government. Because of his tendency to appropriate a good part of the money which passed through his hands during the three years he held this position, Taylor was nicknamed "superglue!" When Samuel Doe accused him of grabbing $900,000, Taylor fled to the United States.

The Doe regime became bloodier and bloodier to keep a poorer and poorer population under its yoke. Charles Taylor returned to Liberia at the end of 1989, putting himself forward as the champion of a struggle to overthrow the dictatorship. He won support from a population sickened by the regime. In his war against Doe, Taylor got material aid from Guinea and especially the Ivory Coast, where he established bases of his guerilla forces.

A civil war has raged in Liberia ever since. The different factions, constituted on ethnic bases, divided up the territory and its natural resources. They were armed by the different imperialist camps. The consequences were terrible for the population: 200,000 dead out of three million inhabitants. 80% of the population has lived for years in conditions of extreme destitution, either in exile in neighboring countries or in Monrovia. In 1991, the war was extended to neighboring Sierra Leone where it lasted for 10 years. For a decade, the population of Sierra Leone suffered horrors exactly like what Belgian soldiers had done in the Congo – amputation of arms.

In 1997, U.S., French and British imperialism decided to calm things down and, helping to impose Charles Taylor on the country, supported his election as the president of the republic. But Taylor was caught up by the war he had unleashed in Sierra Leone, profiting from the pillage of diamonds which that country has in abundance. LURD (Liberians United for Reconstruction and Democracy) is the armed faction which for the moment won the last round of the civil war. It counts in its ranks elements belonging to Sierra Leone president Tejah, doubtlessly with the approval of British imperialism, which supports him.

The imperialist leaders pretend that throwing out Taylor is finally going to permit the establishment of peace in Liberia. But what are the chiefs of the different factions linked to Charles Taylor or to the others going to do? In any case, the entire history of the country shows that the Liberian population can expect nothing from the United States and the other imperialist powers – arsonists who want people to believe their goal is to extinguish the fire they themselves set.

Afghanistan:
Bush's forgotten war

Aug 25, 2003

On August 20, a U.S. soldier was killed in southern Afghanistan during an attack on U.S. troops. Another U.S. soldier was wounded in the same region when a bomb exploded near him.

Once in a while, especially when Americans are killed or wounded, news reports remind us about Afghanistan. But most of the people who have been dying in this war started by the U.S. are Afghans, without getting the same kind of attention from the U.S. media. The death toll of the past two weeks, for example, was over 100.

Obviously, the war in Afghanistan, which Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld declared to be over about four months ago, is still going on. In fact, it seems to be escalating. Despite the presence of 11,500 troops of the U.S.-led coalition, guerrilla-type attacks by the ousted Taliban, as well as other warlords hostile to the U.S.-sponsored government of Hamid Karzai, have become bolder and more frequent. On August 17, for example, about 400 fighters in trucks raided a police station in southern Afghanistan; nine policemen were killed, the rest fled.

Opponents of the regime are not the only ones fighting. In the southern province of Uruzgan, for example, 20 fighters were killed on August 13 in clashes between the troops of two warlords, both of them allied with Karzai. In fact, Karzai's government controls not much more than its compound in Kabul. In the rest of the country, where coalition troops don't venture much, several warlords run their own territories.

These warlords, who today are the U.S.'s allies in Afghanistan, are no less reactionary and oppressive than the Taliban. Despite Bush's claims of "liberating the Afghan women," in general women are still not able to work or go to school in Afghanistan. Any move in the opposite direction is immediately attacked. On August 22, for example, a girls' school was burnt down just south of Kabul.

Practically in every aspect, the country is even worse off today than it was before the U.S. ousted the Taliban government nearly two years ago. After a ban by the Taliban which had effectively stopped opium cultivation, Afghanistan has once again become one of the major producers of opium in the world, with U.S.-sponsored warlords doing the trafficking. Chaos and violence reign in large parts of the country. The U.N. has suspended its humanitarian aid trips in southern Afghanistan after an increased number of attacks, including the killing of three aid workers in the past two weeks. More than half of the over five million Afghan refugees in neighboring countries have still not returned to Afghanistan. Most of those who return can't go back to their homes or find jobs. For the majority of the Afghan population, there are simply no jobs.

Like the people of Iraq, the people of Afghanistan are unfortunately finding out what George Bush's promise of "peace and freedom" really means: more war and violence, more chaos and more poverty.

Page 8

Is this what they mean by a "win-win" solution?

Aug 25, 2003

Saying they intend to "improve" medical benefits in the next contract, UAW leaders have let it be known that they want to include insurance coverage for abortions in workers' medical benefits.

Of course, a woman should have medical coverage when she decides she needs to terminate pregnancy – and women should have had it long ago. Roe v. Wade, the decision that effectively legalized abortion, came down 30 years ago.

So why now? Did the men who head the UAW suddenly discover this oversight, 30 years late? Are they finally ready to stand up to the anti-abortion forces?

Or did someone realize that the costs to medical insurance companies, and therefore to the auto companies, are far less for an abortion than for prenatal care, pregnancy, birth, and pediatric care?

State of Michigan workers already said NO!
What doesn't Granholm understand?

Aug 25, 2003

After Michigan state workers organized a campaign to "just say NO!" to the state's demands for 230 million dollars in wage and benefit concessions, the new governor, Jennifer Granholm, pretended to retreat for awhile.

But her administration is back with a vengeance today, throwing up the October 1 beginning of the new fiscal year as a deadline, after which it says it must have concessions in some form.

Some administration officials have floated the idea of "banked leave time." That's a misnamed program if there ever was one – it ought to be called a work-now-get-paid-later-or-maybe-not-at-all plan. Just one more scheme among many, like all the others it's looking to rob $4,000 on average from every worker – every single year for the foreseeable future.

If workers won't agree to give up concessions – and they've made it as clear as clear can be that they don't intend to – the state says it must lay off 3,000 or more workers. In other words, it's holding an extortion threat over workers' heads: give us your wages or your jobs.

What would this mean? According to the Michigan Citizens Research Council, "Some of the layoffs could come in areas where agency operations have already been hit by early retirements and budget cutbacks. The layoffs could render some department functions ineffective to the point of being a real concern, and the state could start pulling employees out of jobs that affect public health and safety."

In other words, the state is threatening not only the wages, benefits and jobs of state workers, but also the lives of state citizens. But not all citizens, of course. What the state would try is to continue the kinds of cuts it has already made – that is, in departments like social services, public health and education that serve the population.

Today, the state employs only 36,900 non-correctional workers, compared to 65,000 in 1980. Part of the jobs cuts translated into the enormous degradation in state services (or in city and county services, since state money helps pay for some of these services). The rest of the job cuts were covered for by workers who were left doing more work.

No more! There's no reason why the state should cut a single job, or reduce a single public service. There's no reason for any worker to pick up the work of another worker whose job was cut.

The state has other resources it could tap: for example, the big property tax breaks for corporations it handed out ever since the 1990s, or the 15 billion dollars in subsidies and other tax breaks it gave to the corporations in less than 10 years.

There would be no state deficit – none at all – if governor after governor had not let the thieves who run the corporations drive away with truckfuls of money from the state treasury.

There need be no state deficit now if the governor would rescind just a part of the giveaways – or even not give away any new money, like the 115 million dollars she offered to DaimlerChrysler or the 635 million to Pfizer or the 300 million to Boeing.

Well, of course, the governor won't willingly stop handing over the state treasury to the big boys. But governors have been known to back off before when they confronted a state work force determined not to give in – all the more so if that work force attempted to rally the population with them when they fight back.

There's a battle lying ahead for state workers – one they can win.

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