The Spark

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

Issue no. 724 — March 29 - April 19, 2004

9/11 Commission:
Politics and evasions
– no answer to the threat of terrorism

Mar 29, 2004

Richard Clarke's testimony to the 9/11 Commission took aim on Bush's intention to campaign as the defender against terrorism. Furious howls coming from the Republicans signaled he had hit a sore spot.

Clarke recounted that Bush had been focused on Iraq from the beginning, dismissing the threat from al-Qaeda. And he accused the Bush administration of ignoring recommendations to take action against al-Qaeda, given to Bush as soon as he took office, nine months before the 9/11 attack.

In fact, the charges are not new. What made them sting so badly this time was the person delivering them – a registered Republican who had served every administration going back to Reagan as the main adviser on terrorism.

The Democrats, of course, could not have been happier. And Democrats on the Commission went out of their way to praise Clarke and to draw out his criticisms as much as they could. It was priceless campaign material. And it was free!

The news media recounted what was said, asking Bush for a rebuttal, asking Kerry for a rebuttal of Bush's rebuttals, etc. etc. etc.

In all this hub-bub, there was one question not raised – neither by this "terrorism expert" nor by the media afterwards. Why is it that the very measures taken since 9/11 to combat terrorism – the ones Clarke reproaches Bush for not carrying out before 9/11 – seem only to have increased terrorism?

The war in Afghanistan has killed thousands of Afghan people – but bin Laden is still alive, the Taliban is reemerging. And no one – not even George Bush, who wants to appear as the conqueror of the terrorists – dares pretend that al-Qaeda has been dismantled.

Starting at the end of 2001, the U.S. has imprisoned or killed literally tens of thousands of suspected terrorists around the world – only to be met by dozens of attacks carried out by radical Islamic groups, claiming many victims. Among them were the bombing of the night club in Bali; of the British embassy, a bank and two synagogues in Turkey; of three housing complexes in Saudi Arabia; of the railroad station in Spain – to name only the most spectacular.

The war in Iraq supposedly disrupted the plans of terrorists to take up residence in that country, and yet not a day goes by without another bombing, bombings the U.S. military attributes to these same terrorists.

In Israel, the Zionist regime, supported by the U.S., continues to assassinate Palestinian leaders, while attacking civilian areas with missiles, tanks and other heavy machinery – only to push more young Palestinians into becoming suicide bombers every day.

The world is awash in terrorism. And no barricade put up around the U.S. can stand proof against it – for the simple reason that the policies of the U.S. government are what set in motion all this terrorism.

Attempting to control the world, so that U.S. corporations can drain other countries of their wealth, the U.S. has reinforced dictatorial regimes – as bad as or worse than the one headed by Saddam Hussein. And the U.S. secret agencies, run by people like Clarke, were the ones who in previous years armed, funded and reinforced the terrorists like bin Laden who today take aim on the U.S.

The civilian population of the U.S. – and of many other countries – have already paid and in the future will likely pay an even heavier price in terrorist attacks. The criminal policies carried out by the U.S. officials in support of U.S. profit-making around the world rebound back, not on those officials, but on the U.S. population and the people of other countries.

Terrorism, of course, is criminal for the simple reason that it targets civilians in order to get at governments. But no one should believe that what the U.S. today is doing will protect anyone from the terrorists. U.S. policies today only put us more in the cross-hairs.

The bloody policies of all the big countries, including the U.S. first of all, not only do nothing to wipe out terrorism; they reinvigorate it. The misery, expulsions of whole peoples and oppression which decimate the rest of the world – a product of U.S. domination of the world – expresses itself in hatred of the U.S. It is the soil in which terrorism takes root.

People like Clarke, who advocate U.S. terrorism against other peoples, know this very well. They just don't say it publicly.

Pages 2-3

"Reforming" unemployment insurance on the backs of laid off workers

Mar 29, 2004

According to the Los Angeles Times, the California Chamber of Commerce, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state AFL-CIO are currently negotiating some form of "reform" of the state unemployment insurance system.

The supposed reason for proposing this reform is that the state unemployment trust fund is about to go broke because of the high level of unemployment. Of course, given that the economy periodically goes through recessions with periods of higher unemployment this certainly should not have come as a surprise.

In fact, the main reason for the problems of the trust fund is lack of funding. Throughout the 1990s, corporations were allowed to drastically reduce what they pay into the fund. Today, they pay less per worker than ever before. In 1993, for example, the rate was twice as high, and in 1973, it was three times as high as it is now.

So, are the politicians and the business people discussing reforms that will oblige the corporations to pay more to keep the fund afloat? Of course not. No, they want to postpone a measly $40 per week benefit increase that was scheduled for January 2005, as well as cut unemployment benefits that are paid to the lowest paid workers.

Unemployment benefits in California are scandalously low as it is, averaging less than $250 per week, in a big industrial state with a very high cost of living. The unemployment benefits are even low compared to other states, with the level of California's benefits ranking 45th out of 50 states. Even Texas, famous for its lack of worker protections, pays higher unemployment benefits on average than California!

As every politician knows, keeping unemployment benefits low not only taxes the bosses less, it helps them force desperate laid off workers to accept poorly paid jobs, adding to the downward pressure on everyone's wages and benefits.

The government drops another bogus charge of "terrorism"

Mar 29, 2004

The military dropped all criminal charges against James J. Yee, a U.S. Army chaplain who is a Muslim. Last September, the military had accused Yee of espionage, accompanied by tons of publicity. He was supposedly part of a terrorist spy ring, planning to help prisoners of the Afghan war to escape from the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Military prosecutors claimed to have found evidence of their accusations in Yee's luggage and on his computer. They placed him in solitary confinement. They announced that they might seek the death penalty.

By contrast, the announcement of the charges against Yee being dropped was kept very low-key. It came late on a Friday afternoon, when newspapers were already heading to press. The news was buried on the back pages.

No wonder there never had been a case. The prosecution produced no evidence. All criminal charges against Yee were dropped, quickly and quietly. By the time of his release, Yee faced only a reprimand for violating Army rules about having an affair with a fellow soldier and possessing pornography.

Now Yee's ordeal is over; and he has his job back. But the military and the Bush administration have certainly gotten something out of this case. With the complicity of the media, they were able to use all that publicity around this false case to reinforce the idea that "we" are under attack.

The cracks get wider for people to fall through

Mar 29, 2004

While corporations keep laying off workers, they are also cutting back medical benefits and driving down wages.

At the very time the need is greatest, the states have been cutting back the money to pay for unemployment, Medicaid, and food stamps. And while demand for services is mushrooming, the number of caseworkers is dwindling down nearly 20% from two years ago.

In the state of Michigan, the backlog of cases at the unemployment offices is over 70,000. For an unemployed worker who can't use the automated phone-in system, this means three or four months' wait a check they needed in March may not arrive until June or July!

The understaffed state workers who handle food stamps and Medicaid cases have caseloads of about 450 each, compared to about 250 just 2 years ago. Families in poverty or on minimum wage, and mothers with infants, may qualify for food stamps, but they all have to go hungry longer before their cases are processed.

Medicaid patients are particularly hard hit. They must now re-qualify every month for their prescriptions and any ongoing medical care but caseworkers are too overloaded to keep the paperwork up to date. Diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure can't be controlled by taking February's medicine in May!

The state cannot keep up with child abuse cases. During the year 2000, about 11.3% of assistance cases were investigated for child abuse. During the year 2003, that dropped to 8.9% not because people got nicer to their kids, but because staffing is reduced.

While there is less and less state aid for that part of the working class in dire need, one group of state aid recipients is rolling in clover. All manner of tax breaks, subsidies, kickbacks, and sweetheart contracts continue to be loaded into corporate accounts as fast as the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and other state agencies can work the shovel.

To restore health services and human services in Michigan would take only part of the accumulated yearly subsidies of several billion dollars now being given away to business interests. But as it stands, the state is doing nothing but taking the health of its poorest residents and coining it into corporate gold.

Maryland Republicans and Democrats debate:
Which is best way to make working people pay

Mar 29, 2004

Republican Governor Bob Ehrlich of Maryland has been pushing for the legalization of slot machine gambling in the state, supposedly to raise more money for public schools.

Speaker Michael Busch and other Democrats in the House of Delegates oppose legalization of slots, talking about the poverty and bankruptcies that working people pulled into gambling will confront. Instead, they recently approved a package of tax increases that fall mostly on working people too, including higher sales and vehicle titling taxes. While the package includes a hike in income taxes on rich people, this increase, unlike all the others, would expire in 5 years.

Both Democrats and Republicans act as though these are the only choices for financing education and other vital services and programs. It's not true. The state continues to give away subsidies and tax breaks worth billions of dollars a year to the corporations and the wealthy who own them.

Tax the people who have the wealth.

John Kerry:
Cutting corporate taxes, but promising to "create jobs"

Mar 29, 2004

During a recent speech in Detroit, John Kerry outlined a program designed to create 10 million new jobs in the U.S. Kerry said he would increase taxes on corporations that take jobs overseas and ship their products back to the U.S. He would also eliminate a tax break that allows U.S. corporations to stash their profits overseas to avoid paying U.S. corporate taxes.

Kerry says he would give a 25% tax credit to small businesses that pay for employee health care and a payroll tax credit for any new jobs added by a company in an industry challenged by jobs moving overseas. Kerry would refund the company's share of Social Security taxes for new hires for the first two years of the program.

Finally, Kerry said he would cut the corporate tax rate from 35% to 33¼%.

Of course, no one can say exactly how these tax changes would work since details are scarce. And it all depends on the details as politicians campaigning for office well know. Bush claimed he was closing corporate tax loopholes when, in fact, the loopholes got bigger.

But we can look at history to see how previous corporate tax cuts have worked. In the 1960s, thepercentage of all government revenues paid by corporations amounted to nearly 40% of all federal taxes. Kennedy, a Democrat, gave an enormous "temporary" investment tax credit to the corporations. Under Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter, Democrats and Republicans alike, this "temporary" corporate tax credit was extended. There was also an explosion of so-called "corporate tax shelters." In 1977, when Carter took office, corporate taxes were down to only 17% of all federal revenues. By the time Carter left office, they were only 11%. Today corporate taxes provide less than 10% of total federal revenues.

So where are the jobs? If corporate tax cuts actually created jobs, then we should be awash in jobs since one administration after another has been cutting corporate taxes.

In announcing this program, Kerry declared, "Some may be surprised to hear a Democrat calling for lower corporate tax rates." Not at all!

Figures don't lie, but Bush figures

Mar 29, 2004

In recent campaign speeches in New Mexico and Arizona, George Bush bragged about the record rate of home ownership in the U.S. as a sign that his tax cuts are helping the economy.

It's a statistical game. From one administration to the next, home "ownership" has usually gone up. The question is, however, what does home ownership mean?

Saying that people "own their own homes" hides the fact that most people take on 30 or 40-year mortgages to finance their home purchases.

In recent years, however, "home ownership" has been threatened by ever increasing debt. People are even refinancing their mortgages, using the equity that they had paid into their homes to get out from under other debts for a while. Credit card delinquencies and personal bankruptcies are at all-time highs.

This is not because people spend too much it's because wages aren't keeping up with our fixed expenses.

Bush makes it sound like there is a "boom" going on in home ownership. There is a real estate "boom" going on, of sorts. But increased home buying is not really part of this "boom." The "boom" includes a great deal of speculation in commercial real estate.

With the drop in the stock market in recent years, investors sought more profitable places to put their money. And tax policies have encouraged investment in commercial real estate.

Just as the stock market bubble eventually burst, so can the real estate bubble. Already there are countless strip malls with stores standing empty. And the jolt caused by the real estate bubble bursting can spill over into job losses and then more homes lost. Already, foreclosure rates are at near-record levels.

Bush has the nerve to use the figures on "home ownership" to brag about an improving economy. The debt lurking behind that ownership tells the real story.

Pages 4-5

Environmentalism, Pentagon style

Mar 29, 2004

Before the Bush administration published the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) report on the environment, it censored the section on the risk of global warming. Bush's "experts" removed such statements as "Climate change has global consequences for human health and the environment" from the report.

Other "experts" in the Bush administration, namely at the Department of Defense, disagree. In agreement with many scientists, a recent Pentagon report asserts that we are already seeing the warning signs of a major climate change: Extensive melting of polar ice, caused by global warming, has started to slow down large-scale ocean circulation. One theory postulates that this circulation could collapse, making weather in the northern hemisphere much colder, and natural disasters such as floods and droughts much more catastrophic. This, in turn, could cause severe disruption of agriculture, massive migration, and catastrophic wars over diminishing resources. The Pentagon report concludes that such climate change could happen within 20 years.

Are the Pentagon's "hawks" mellowing out, turning into environmentalists? Well, not quite. Guess what the report's conclusion is? We'll need a bigger military, with a bigger budget, to control the social disruption.

No wonder this report was the brainchild of Andrew Marshall, a veteran adviser and a favorite of Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld. Marshall is famous for proposing expensive defense projects in the name of "national security," such as a ballistic-missile defense pushed by Rumsfeld in recent years.

These Pentagon "experts" certainly know how to take advantage of any issue for their own purposes, even if it means exposing the lies of their own boss, the president of the United States.

Another brutal dictatorship, used by the U.S. for the U.S.'s own purposes

Mar 29, 2004

About two months ago, the news media revealed that Pakistan had been selling nuclear weapons materials and technology to other countries including two in Bush's "axis of evil," Iran and North Korea.

The third member of Bush's "axis," of course, was Iraq. And, as we well remember, one of the main reasons given by Bush for invading Iraq was to prevent Saddam Hussein from giving his "weapons of mass destruction" to terrorists. Now it has become clear that not Iraq, but Pakistan, has long been running an international nuclear weapons black market for anyone to shop at. So if Bush really believed what he had said about Hussein, now he should be cracking down on Pakistan's military dictator, General Pervez Musharraf. But Bush has done absolutely nothing; he has not even made a critical remark!

Instead, the U.S. has allowed Musharraf to uphold the absurd pretension that the Pakistani government knew nothing about this extensive black market for nuclear weapons! The entire blame was put on one person, Abdul Qadeer Khan, the scientist who directed the Pakistani nuclear weapons program. Khan confessed on state television, to none other than Musharraf, who turned around and pardoned Khan the next day!

Of course, nothing about this nuclear-technology trading was a secret to begin with. Journalist Seymour Hersh of The New Yorker magazine quoted a U.S. intelligence officer who said: "This was not a rogue operation. ... Do you think he could do that without the government knowing? ... Do you think A. Q. [Khan] shipped all the centrifuges by Federal Express? ... We had every opportunity to put a stop to the A. Q. Khan network fifteen years ago. Some of those involved today in the smuggling are the children of those we knew about in the eighties. It's the second generation now."

Is any part of this charade a surprise? Where does an underdeveloped country like Pakistan get the know-how and technology to start a nuclear program in the first place? From the countries that had such programs before Pakistan did, of course: above all, the U.S. Wasn't it also the U.S. that supplied Saddam Hussein with his "weapons of mass destruction?" Isn't it the U.S. that has always actively supported such brutal dictators as well as terrorists, including Osama bin Laden, to serve the U.S.'s own foreign policy goals?

What is happening in Pakistan today is, in fact, eerily similar to what the U.S. did in past decades both with Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. Just like the U.S. used Saddam Hussein against Iran, and Osama bin Laden against the pro-Soviet government in Afghanistan in the 1980s, the U.S. is now using Pakistan's military dictatorship in the ongoing U.S. war on Afghanistan.

In recent weeks, for example, the U.S. and Pakistan launched a joint military operation along the Afghan-Pakistani border. On the Afghan side, the U.S. military started what it has dubbed, in typical fashion, Operation "Mountain Storm," aimed at al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters supposedly hiding out in the area with the help of local tribes. And Pakistan is doing the same on the other side of the border. In South Waziristan, the rural, mountainous region along the Afghan border, the Pakistani military has launched an offensive against local tribes which it accuses of harboring and helping Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters.

From the time of its inception in the late 1940s, the central government in Islamabad has never really controlled the remote, tribal region of South Waziristan. Now Musharraf's regime is trying to use the opportunity of this joint military operation with the U.S. to gain more control over these tribal areas, attacking its own citizens in the process. The Pakistani military is raiding villages, bombarding and bulldozing houses, and driving the population out.

In other words, Musharraf is doing today what the U.S. now accuses Saddam Hussein of doing against Iraq's Kurdish population during the Iraq-Iran war in the 1980s. And just like the U.S. did then, the U.S. today is working with a dictatorship which perpetrates such crimes against a population. Not only that, the U.S. has encouraged these attacks and is participating in them!

This, exactly, is the nature of U.S. foreign policy. When Saddam Hussein attacked a neighboring country, Iran, as well as his own population in the 1980s, the U.S. not only didn't have a problem with it, but actually supported Hussein. And today, the U.S. is allied with Pakistan's dictator, Pervez Musharraf. The same Musharraf who, unlike Hussein, does have the nuclear bomb and has threatened to use it against India. The Musharraf who has made nuclear technology available to other countries and terrorists. The Musharraf who oppresses and attacks his own population. This dictator today is the U.S.'s friend and ally, just like Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden once were!

This is exactly what Bush's fake "war on terrorism" is about. It not only doesn't protect anyone from terrorism, but in fact makes this world more and more prone to war, violence, and terrorism.

Genocide in Rwanda:
Whose responsibility?

Mar 29, 2004

A French judge recently denounced the president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, for the airplane crash that killed the previous president of Rwanda, ten years ago on April 6, 1994, throwing the country into a real bloodbath. The judge's ruling also puts responsibility for the bloodbath on Kagame, even though the victims were mostly from his ethnic group, the Tutsis. The day after the plane crash, the Rwandan army of the dead president launched a massacre, starting in the capital Kigali and then spreading throughout the country. For three months, the army slaughtered Tutsis, particularly any place they were a minority, and moderate Hutus who protested. This orgy killed 800,000 people, more than ten% of the population!

The Rwandan army, like the slain president, Juvenal Habyarimana, was from the Hutu majority. Habyarimana, like Kagame, was a military dictator who took power in 1973. He and his family enjoyed 20 years of pillaging Rwanda, favoring a Hutu region from which they came. These gangsters controlled every aspect of the country, engaging in crime, prostitution, and drug trafficking. Habyarimana kept control with his own brand of murder, mostly against the Tutsis, but also against Hutus of other regions. So the French judge certainly should have blamed the Rwandan army, as well as Kagame and the Rwanda Patriotic Front. But that accusation would put a different face on the whole story of genocide and disaster in this poor central African nation.

And the judge would also have had to condemn those who stood behind Habyarimana various French governments over two decades. Former French president Mitterrand was Habyarimana's good friend. Like all dictators, Habyarimana stayed in power thanks to the army. And that army was equipped and trained and expanded by French military staff. The French imperialists understood very well what their money was paying for. Kagame used the massacre of his ethnic group to justify an invasion by the Rwanda Patriotic Front, a Tutsi group in neighboring Uganda, formed among the exiled descendants of those Tutsis who had survived a previous Rwandan massacre in 1959. They in turn carried out massacres in Hutu areas.

In the hideous history of Rwanda, the French army had supported Habyarimana against the Tutsis of the Patriotic Front between 1990 and 1993. The French military then stood aside as the 1993 massacres began. No matter what any review commission says about the crimes of Hutu or Tutsi soldiers, the French government was responsible for this human disaster.

Hutu and Tutsi conflicts have had an impact on the struggles among other central African countries, but it is a mistake to consider these "ethnic conflicts," as the press puts it. The very boundaries of Africa were made up by the imperialist powers to protect whichever resources they wanted to get their hands on. Each dictator comes to power and stays in power on the basis of rewarding his particular tribal or ethnic group. But all this death and plunder takes place under the eyes of, and ordinarily with the encouragement of, the French, the British, or the U.S., any of the countries which once held power over parts of Africa as their colonies. Not only do these imperialist governments turn a blind eye to what goes on, so long as the raw materials keep coming to their corporations. They also provide support for the various dictators who exercise bloody control over the different peoples of Africa.

They hold the real responsibility for these disastrous civil wars wracking Africa today.

Israeli policies continue the terror

Mar 29, 2004

On March 22, the Israeli military killed Sheik Yassin, the head of Hamas, and seven other Palestinians, with dozens more wounded in the bombing attack. A crowd estimated at 200,000 people accompanied his funeral coffin through the streets of Gaza, expressing their outrage at this assassination. The assassination of Sheik Yassin simply promises more blood will be spilled in this continuing conflict.

The Israeli government justified its actions as retaliation against the suicide attack which killed 10 civilians in the Israeli port of Ashod on March 14. This lie convinced only Zionist supporters. For Yassin had declared he favored a cease-fire several times. And the March 22 bombing was not Israel's first attempt to kill Yassin. An Israeli bomb aimed at him had blown apart a Hamas meeting, killing others last September.

Neither this assassination nor the suicide bombings resolve any of the problems which have engulfed this part of the world in blood for decades. Even if the Israeli government were to kill every Palestinian leader, destroy Palestinian houses, flatten the villages, create new prisons, such policies would not end the resistance of thousands of Palestinian men and women fighting for their right to life, fighting for their dignity as a people.

What the Israeli bombs do, however, is reveal the government's unrelenting policy of official state terror. The situation of the Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip shows another aspect of that reality. In an area of only 140 square miles (about half the size of Chicago) live more than one million Palestinians, along with 7,500 Israelis in 21 armed settlements. An entire Israeli army division is stationed in Gaza to protect these settlers. Even though Sharon says he will evacuate some of these settlements, this is questionable since he said he won't do it until after the U.S. elections in November. But in the event he has to evacuate Gaza, Sharon seems now to be trying to make the situation so explosive in Gaza that the Palestinian authority will not be able to control it. Some say the Israeli leaders want Arafat's organization Fatah to end up in a bitter struggle with Yassin's Hamas.

The policies of Israel over many decades have denied any legitimate rights to the Palestinians. In this situation, the huge gulf between the Israeli population and the Palestinian people has widened. Some Palestinians have been recruited to desperate tactics of suicide bombings against Israeli civilians. By setting in motion this individual terrorism, the leadership of groups like Hamas have effectively taken control of the resistance away from those most concerned, the Palestinian population itself.

Neither the leaders of Hamas nor Fatah propose a solution for the Palestinian people. But in the Palestinian conflict with the Israeli government, revolutionaries everywhere must support the rights of the Palestinians. The Palestinian people are struggling to attain their elementary rights against the on-going brutality and state terrorism of the Israeli leaders.

Pages 6-7

Book review:
Dennis Boyer, Snow on the Rails:
Tales of Heartland Railroading

Mar 29, 2004

Snow on the Rails is a book of short stories written by a former railroad carman on the Milwaukee Road. The author, Dennis Boyer, has brought to life different jobs on the railroads for people who've never worked the railroads.

The title story, "Snow on the Rails," is about a worker's last day on the job. In the middle of a snowy night, he hears a sound like slow feet creeping in the snow. "A huge blackness loomed over me and I dropped to the icy railbed. With a thunderous crash over my head, heavy metal parts fell on my back. I was lying in the snow between the rails, panting and shaking." Eight detached cars that had been left up the track had silently rolled his way, through the open switch on snow covered rails.

There's a story about a man who works up in a tower completely alone where two rail lines cross, another story about women workers in a repair shop and how the men treat them. Many aspects of rail life that might surprise us: the crews that cut down trees to make ties, a railroad hotel in a small North Dakota town, a railroad security guard investigating a murder on rail property coming out of the rivalry between the United Auto Workers and the Farm Equipment Union at the start of the Cold War.

The stories span the history of the railroads. There is a story set in the Great Strike of 1877 when railroad workers in major cities of the country battled the police and National Guard. "North Platte Christmas" is about a canteen worker at a rail stop in Nebraska during World War II serving injured soldiers coming through during the war. The latest stories deal with the new developments of short lines small railroads designed to undermine workers' conditions, and mergers of the big railroad companies.

All together this book is an engaging picture of railroad workers' lives.

Pollution is profitable

Mar 29, 2004

Twenty thousand plaintiffs in the PCB lawsuit against Monsanto Chemical Company were informed they will each get a few thousand dollars in the settlement reached on August 20, 2004. At issue was pollution in the bodies and properties of people in Anniston, Alabama where Monsanto had a PCB plant until 1971. For 40 years it produced the deadly chemical and dumped waste products into the rivers and creeks there.

PCBs are man-made chemicals used as electrical fluids. They were finally banned by the federal government in 1979. But corporations knew much earlier that PCBs were linked to the possible development of cancer, cerebral palsy and other health problems.

And Monsanto knew about these problems, as shown in internal documents dating back to 1938, when a researcher found that animals exposed to PCBs developed liver damage. But the company continued to use and dump PCBs for decades.

Monsanto is hardly alone in creating a toxic mess. The second worst toxic waste site in the U.S. is New York's Hudson River. It too is full of toxic contaminants from PCB production by General Electric between 1947 and 1977 in a plant along the Hudson.

Even if these corporations had all stopped dumping PCBs and other toxic wastes which they haven't the damage they caused still affects the food chain today. These contaminants remain in the water, air and ground. A July report by the Environmental Working Group found high levels of PCBs in 60% of the salmon it purchased to test. In 1999 the catfish in the Potomac River, on the boundary of Washington D.C., were put on an advisory list for PCB contaminants.

Nonetheless, the main sanction against companies like Monsanto and GE has only been these lawsuits and clean-up costs which are only a slap on the wrist.

To make it worse, Monsanto was allowed, a few years ago, to create a subsidiary Solutia in order to dump Monsanto's liability for health lawsuits and clean-up costs. It won't begin to pay the full costs of overcoming the disaster Monsanto created.

Monsanto and GE continue to be some of the most profitable companies around. Companies which poison us should have all their profits taken away from them and all their property, if they don't cooperate.

Ohio Board of Education takes science back to the Dark Ages

Mar 29, 2004

The Ohio State Board of Education voted last week to open the state's science curriculum to religion.

By a 13-5 margin, the Board passed a science curriculum including a 10th grade section called "Critical Analysis of Evolution."

Of course, we should take a critical stance toward any subject. It's how science moves forward through the constant testing of our theories against new evidence, and if necessary revising those theories to more closely fit the evidence.

But that's not the aim of this section of the science curriculum. Under the guise of looking "critically" at evolution, this section once again gives a hearing to "creationism."

Creationism is the belief that all life was created supernaturally by a god, roughly 6,000 or so years ago. When all attempts to put "creationism" into public school science education failed decades ago, its advocates tried to sneak it in behind the term "intelligent design." They argued that the diversity of life on earth could only have come about through the direct intervention of some kind of supernatural intelligence that is, a god. But "intelligent design" was not a scientific theory either there was simply no evidence to back it up.

This latest attack on science is being pushed by the so-called "Discovery Institute," which claims it's only fair that all theories be given equal time.

Science is not a question of "fairness," but of what can be examined, investigated, turned into a theory which explains all the known facts, tested and tested again against new evidence that is discovered. The only theory which explains the development of life's diversity on this planet and has stood up to such testing is evolution. And it has withstood assault from religion for over 150 years.

The Board of Education was peppered with calls supporting the new curriculum. One board member reported that "about 75% of the e-mails, letters, and phone calls that I've received in support of it have either quoted scripture or stated religious beliefs."

Science education SHOULD give a BETTER understanding of the world and how it works. Instead, the Ohio Board of Education has chosen to give in to pressure from religion.

Religion has always been at odds with science, opposing scientific theories which better explain the universe we live in because they contradict religious dogma.

This section of the curriculum is optional. You can bet it will not be used in the best schools, that is the ones where the wealthy send their children. They will insist upon a rigorously scientific education. Instead, it will find its way into the school districts in the rural areas and small towns, and in areas of the cities where the children of workers go to school. The children of workers will suffer the most.

Clearly, a Board of Education that allows this confusion to be taught does not value a scientific understanding of the world, nor the children of the working class.

Page 8

Military families speak out against war and occupation

Mar 29, 2004

Military Families Speak Out, an organization of families who have sons, daughters or other relatives serving in Iraq, have been a vocal component in anti-Iraq war demonstrations. A good number are parents of servicemen who've been killed in this war.

Sunday March 14, they participated in a demonstration of 600 people who marched to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where servicemen killed in Iraq and Afghanistan return to the States in body-bags. Protesters challenged the Bush administration's restrictions against the public and reporters having access to the base, which is aimed at preventing any coverage of the body bags coming back.

The following day, between 200 and 300 protesters marched to Walter Reed Hospital, where troops wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan are treated. A Pennsylvania mother, holding a framed photo of her son, said that he was lucky that he was only injured. And that he was fighting an unjust war. A Maryland couple with a son and daughter-in-law in Iraq said, "We've got family members in it, but we're not for it. You will not end terrorism by invading a country." One father said, "At first I was for the war. But I see now that Bush has lied to us. I want my son to come home now."

Protesters went on to march several miles to the gate of the White House, hoping to deliver a coffin with 900 cards, each with the name of one of the U.S. troops, coalition soldiers and Iraqis killed in the war. The White House was closed to them. This did not deter them from reading out loud the names of all those killed.

These military families are convinced that the best way to support their loved ones is to demonstrate against this war.

AWOL soldier protests war

Mar 29, 2004

Twenty-eight-year-old Sergeant Camilo Mejia is far from the only U.S. serviceman who has gone AWOL after spending several months in Iraq. Last year, 60 soldiers asked for conscientious objector status, and another 7,500 or so simply went AWOL. What proportion were directly in response to the Iraq war is impossible to know. But what makes Mejia different is that he has gone public: Surrendering to military authorities on March 15, speaking out against the war, and asking for status as a conscientious objector. On March 26, Mejia was charged with desertion and will face a court-martial.

Mejia is a permanent resident of the U.S. who was born in Nicaragua. He enlisted in the U.S. Army at age 19, and then transferred into the National Guard for another five years. His unit was sent to Iraq in April.

Refused discharge when his eight-year hitch was up, he finally went AWOL last October. Explaining his opposition to the war in Iraq, he accused his commanders of seeking combat so they could win medals. "They were trying to draw the enemy onto us for medals and Purple Hearts." He was upset when a young Iraqi boy, who was shot, died because of sloppiness at the medical unit. It made him angry when his unit was reprimanded for celebrating when they escaped from an ambush.

Mejia said, "I made the decision to disagree with this war," adding that his commanders were too quick to take the lives of Iraqis. "I think this war is particularly immoral."

Mejia also said, "When you join, you have no idea what war is like." He is not the only one to discover this truth too late.

If it's a warm body, send it to war

Mar 29, 2004

As many as 40% of the 120,000 U.S. troops in Iraq are National Guard and Army Reserve units. Reports are beginning to surface about serious medical conditions ignored so more live bodies could be funneled into Iraq and Afghanistan.

Knight Ridder newspapers quoted a first sergeant from a reserve unit who reported, "Medical profiles were ignored. It wasn't about healthy troops. It was about the number of troops."

Bush has set June 30 as the date he will begin bringing troops home just in time for the election and to quiet down opposition to the war. But in order to bring some troops home, the Armed Forces have to find other troops to send over there.

This problem of numbers is made worse by the worsening situation in Afghanistan. Ten thousand regular troops, plus an undisclosed number of Special Forces shifted from Iraq, are there, but are not enough to keep the central Afghan government together. Bush's generals want more troops in Afghanistan, more troops in Iraq, but Bush needs enough troops to rotate home to try to impress voters.

So fifty-year-olds with diabetes, high blood pressure, and chronic back problems are being sent to Iraq.

The troops are told they are being sent to risk their lives fighting terrorism. But it's not terrorism that's forcing a wider and wider call-up of the National Guard and Reserves. The troops are sent by a government bent on controlling a region rich with oil. To the government, those troops are as expendable as the peoples whose lands they are sent to occupy.