The Spark

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

Issue no. 740 — December 6 - 20, 2004

Editorial:
We have our own mandate:
Make Social Security whole!

Dec 6, 2004

No one gave Bush a mandate to destroy Social Security.

But that's what he's proposing to do.

Of course, he says that he only wants to "improve" it reducing Social Security payments, replacing that with "individual investment accounts."

To put his proposal in terms we are more familiar with, he wants to do what many companies have already done replace a guaranteed pension with a 401(k) plan, which is nothing but a crapshoot, with the odds stacked against you.

Anyone who depends on a 401(k) plan in place of a pension knows what that means at the end of the day, there's nothing you can count on. Might as well play the lottery.

As the push for getting rid of Social Security heats up, we are going to hear more and more about "baby boomers" until we are sick to death of the term. This generation will supposedly bankrupt Social Security as they begin to retire.

This is nothing but a big fat lie, aimed at convincing us that the politicians must get rid of Social Security in order to save it!

In fact, every independent analysis has shown that not only can Social Security deal with the temporary bulge of retirees represented by the "baby boomers," it has money enough for the foreseeable future that is, for the next four decades. After that, there are so many economic unknowns that no one can say what will happen.

For decades, we have been fed this lie that Social Security was about to run out of money. Not only has it still not happened, the year in which it's supposed to happen keeps getting pushed further and further into the future.

Bush and the Republicans are not the only ones preparing to destroy Social Security. Even while pretending they want to protect it, the Democrats have been busy spreading the same propaganda about the "baby boomers" threatening Social Security.

Yes, of course, there's a great big problem with Social Security and the whole pension system. Employers have been dumping pensions and now they are trying to dismantle Social Security. That's what's wrong!

We need to strengthen Social Security, not dismantle it!

We need one single pension system, handled centrally, paid into by every employer, for every worker, with every worker able to draw a single decent pension, paid through Social Security when he or she retires. Our pensions should not be dependent on whether we worked for one employer most of our work lives. No matter whether we worked 30 years for one boss or 5 years each for six bosses, we deserve a full pension not a patchwork of small change.

Other countries have single pension systems, handled by government, paid out to every worker who puts in enough years and many of them pay out bigger pensions than we get, with our pensions and Social Security combined. If other countries can do that, this country, with all its wealth, could do it too.

Don't let the politicians set the agenda for us. The working class needs its own mandate: increase and extend Social Security, don't attack it! A full pension for every worker!

Pages 2-3

Maryland:
Endangering the life of children

Dec 6, 2004

A woman working in a convenience store in southern Maryland was arrested and charged with child endangerment after her young daughters were found playing in a storage unit the Friday before Thanksgiving. The woman had been evicted from her apartment on November 11th and had rented the storage unit, which was 6 by 12 feet, to keep her things. The children spent at least three nights in the unheated storage unit without running water.

The young woman, 33-year-old Felicia Dorsey, had tried to get herself and her children into a local shelter but had been turned away. In fact, the director of the shelter said they were turning away five to ten families per night. The Ministers Alliance of Charles County put up bail money for Dorsey and said that last year they had also helped six families living in storage units.

Moralists of all stripes denounced Dorsey for leaving her daughters in the storage unit. They should be asking why wages are so low that a full-time working woman can't afford a place to live these days.

Charles County, in southern Maryland where this incident happened, is one of the poorest in the state. The average rent for a two-bedroom apartment was given as $1,218 in a newspaper article. If a worker made $7.00 per hour and worked full time, he or she still would not have enough money to pay that rent – let alone anything else. And plenty of convenience store workers and food and retail workers do not make even $7.00 per hour.

In nearby Washington D.C., rent prices are even worse and the number of people on waiting lists for subsidized housing is even bigger. Even in Charles County there are 2,500 people on the waiting list. Social workers say it takes three to five years to get subsidized housing even when you are on the list.

So, people rent unheated storage sheds, live in their cars or in vacant unheated buildings.

Dorsey's children were certainly endangered – but those responsible are the companies that do not pay a living wage, and the politicians who allow this scandalous situation to continue.

The bosses find a new way to attack retirement benefits

Dec 6, 2004

In their never-ending assault on workers' benefits, the bosses are now filing "pre-emptive" lawsuits against retirees whose pensions were guaranteed by union contracts. The lawsuit requires the retiree to challenge the bosses' decision to stop medical insurance coverage.

This forces the retiree to shell out money for legal expenses. If an individual retiree doesn't pay for legal representation, he or she can lose their benefits. Moreover, some courts have allowed the companies to cut the benefits until the case, which drags on for years, is settled.

Retirees are left to choose the lesser of evils: to pay more for health care, to forgo expensive care or to drop out of their plans altogether. The companies, on the other hand, have nothing to lose. Even if the court finally decides against a company, the company just continues paying the benefits minus the benefits of those retirees who have already dropped out of the plans and those who have died.

So far, it's mostly middle-sized companies, such as beverage-can maker Rexam and railroad-car maker ACF Industries, that have cut health benefits this way. Nonetheless, the trend was set, as usual, by the big corporations.

Companies first attacked the benefits of salaried retirees, who didn't have the protection of union contracts. In the 1990s, GM made cuts in benefits it had offered to 50,000 salaried employees. A federal court in 1998 sided with GM, arguing that the company had the right to alter benefits even though, in print, it had promised retirees benefits "at GM's expense for your lifetime." This ruling emboldened the bosses and opened the floodgates.

With these latest pre-emptive lawsuits, bosses are now arguing that "for life" in a union contract doesn't mean for the life of the retiree but only for the life of the particular contract where the benefits were agreed on. And, once again, bosses are having no difficulty finding judges who agree with them.

Three generations ago, workers in this country fought for the right to have unions and pensions by organizing in workplaces and neighborhoods, occupying factories, going out in the streets. We seem to be moving back to square one, with bosses walking away from contracts they have signed, and the courts letting them get away with it. A new generation of workers is coming to realize the hard way that, in a society run by the bosses, the only rights we have are those we are ready to fight for.

Back toward the days of segregation and poll taxes

Dec 6, 2004

A proposal to remove segregated schools and poll taxes from the state constitution was on the Alabama ballot this year. The proposal lost.

Yes, Alabama's state constitution was never changed to respect the rights won by the civil rights movement. The strength of that movement eliminated segregated schools whether or not state constitutions changed. The strength of that movement tore down the barriers to voting, such as having to pay a poll tax to vote whether or not state constitutions changed.

Now that the mass mobilization of black people has long receded, reactionaries of all stripes and not only in Alabama are coming out of their holes and trying to drag history backward. Voting to keep Jim Crow in a state constitution is a sign of how far backward back toward the days when it was acceptable for the lower classes, black and white to be treated as slaves. Back toward the days when the rulers said they had a God-given, divine right to rule.

It's not any legal words on paper that will determine exactly how far back we will be taken. The civil rights struggles stand as an example and a proof that the difference is always made by masses of people mobilized, ready to fight to defend themselves.

So it will be again.

Vioxx:
Leaving a killer free to kill again

Dec 6, 2004

Dr. David Graham, the associate director of science at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Office of Drug Safety, estimated that between 26,000 and 56,000 patients might have died from taking Vioxx since 1999 when the FDA declared it safe for use.

Perhaps their tombstones should be inscribed with Merck's logo and the FDA's stamp of approval since both Merck, the drug company and producer of Vioxx, and the FDA knew of health problems associated with the drug even before it was approved in 1999.

A recently released internal memo showed that Merck's own scientists knew as early as 1996 that Vioxx would increase the risk of heart problems and stroke. In early 1998, a Merck scientist presented the company with research results explaining the connection: Vioxx reduced the body's own production of an anti-clotting agent, thus leading to the production of potentially life threatening blood clots.

An FDA medical officer pointed out in 1999 that a small medical study found patients taking Vioxx were three times more likely to experience strokes or heart attacks than people taking a placebo, a blank substitute pill.

None of this prevented Merck from seeking approval of Vioxx, nor did it stop the FDA from granting it in 1999.

When, in May 2000, one of Merck's own studies showed that arthritis patients using Vioxx had a much higher risk of heart attacks than those using another painkiller, Naproxen, did Merck stop selling it? No, nor did the FDA make it stop. The FDA simply decided that Vioxx should carry a warning label, and then took another 18 months to come up with the wording for this label.

And it took another three years and more deaths before Merck finally pulled the drug. Promising relief from arthritic, joint and back pain, Vioxx was becoming a big seller. In fact, twenty million people have taken the drug in the U.S. alone since the FDA approved it.

Not only was Vioxx Merck's most profitable seller it came along at the time Merck was about to lose sole patents on several other big-selling and profitable drugs. So Vioxx would prop up what otherwise might have been a tumble in Merck's profits.

Measuring lost profits against lost lives, Merck and the FDA opted for protecting profits.

Vioxx is only a very tiny tip of a very big iceberg

Dec 6, 2004

Dr. David Graham, associate director of science at the FDA's Office of Drug Safety, recently told the Senate Finance Committee that the U.S. public is "virtually defenseless" against dangerous medicine. He listed five drugs that should be subjected to closer investigation. These five drugs, shown in studies to cause serious complications, are Bextra, a painkiller similar to Vioxx, the cholesterol lowering drug Crestor, the anti-asthma drug Serevant, a weight-loss drug called Meridia, and the acne medication Accutane.

Nonetheless, the FDA, despite warnings from its own scientists that the dangers associated with these drugs could outweigh their benefits, continues to give its approval to the drugs. Graham explained that senior management at the FDA emphasizes speedy approval of new drugs rather than reducing the medical risks associated with them.

In other words, the issue is not just Vioxx and not just Merck. There is a systemic problem with the way new pharmaceutical products are reviewed.

Graham is not the only FDA scientist to criticize the way the agency performs. In a confidential survey carried out in 1998, one third of the FDA's medical officers responded. In total, they mentioned 27 drugs approved by the FDA over the previous three years overriding the recommendation of the FDA scientists in charge who had opposed approval.

Scientists working for the FDA or the pharmaceutical companies often find themselves in a Catch-22 situation. Their insider status allows them to investigate risks they wouldn't otherwise know anything about. But if they go public with their findings, they stand to lose their insider status. When Graham publicly released information about the dangers of Vioxx, he came under attack, accused of "unprofessional conduct."

Ironically, Graham testified to these problems in front of the Senate Finance Committee, which opened hearings once the Vioxx excrement hit the fan.

The FDA today may give speedier approval to new drugs and it therefore ends up with more risky drugs on the market. But it's just following guidelines to speed-up the renewal process laid out in legislation passed by Congress in 1992, and renewed again in 1997.

Truly, the problem is a systemic one and not just of the FDA approval system, but of the whole system, starting with a government which puts profit before all else, including health.

Pages 4-5

Two presidents proclaimed in Ukraine both with the same anti-worker policy

Dec 6, 2004

On Friday, December 3, Ukraine's Supreme Court overturned the results of the country's presidential election and ordered a new runoff between the main candidates by December 26.

This is the latest development in a two-week standoff. On November 23, with many of his supporters demonstrating in the streets of Kiev and other big towns of Ukraine, Victor Yushchenko had the National Assembly, which his party controls, declare him the victor in Ukraine's presidential election. Only the day before, Victor Yanokovitch, who is the other candidate for president, had been proclaimed winner by the Electoral Commission of Ukraine, whose members were named by the out-going president, Leonid Kuchma, a buddy of Yanokovitch.

Yushchenko had more votes than Yanokovitch in the first round of the voting. In the second round, however, Yanokovitch came out ahead by threepercentage points. Yushchenko claims the election was stolen from him which is likely given the widespread popular hatred of those in power.

In any case, both candidates arranged the vote totals in the areas controlled by their supporters to ensure their own victory. In an industrial town controlled by Yanokovitch's allies, for example, Yanokovitch was awarded 99% of the vote. In western Ukraine, where anti-Russian nationalists supported Yushchenko, his vote totals were just as impossibly high. In some cases, on both sides, there were more votes counted than there were voters. In this "war of the Victors" as the press called it before the election the voting population were just like extras on a movie set.

Yanokovitch bases himself on the ruling bureaucracy of the large industrial cities, like Donetsk and Dnipetrovsk. This ruling bureaucracy has scarcely changed since the end of the Soviet Union.

But Yushchenko is hardly a paragon of virtue, as he's been described by the Western press. In fact, he shows the same contempt for the population as does his adversary. Yushchenko, the second Victor, was head of the government from 1999 to 2001; like the others, he was a bureaucrat in the old regime under the Soviet Union. Yushchenko may be less tied to the political clans of the large cities than are his rivals, but he was the head of the Ukrainian central bank before he became prime minister. So his power came from another part of the bureaucracy, the financial clan.

In Ukraine, where a streetcar conductor gets between $100 and $200 a month and a textile worker in Kharkov gets about half of that, everyone knows that outgoing President Kuchma used his two terms to enrich himself. He gave his daughter the mobile phone monopoly in the country; his son-in-law got rich in metal mining.

But it's hard not to laugh when Yushchenko claims he'll be the "clean guy" as opposed to the corrupt people currently in power. Yushchenko had nothing to learn about corruption from Kuchma and Yanokovitch. While he was head of the central bank, the loans from the IMF disappeared into his pockets. His assistant Timoshenko was condemned to a prison term not because of the considerable amounts of Russian gas and oil he diverted from the Ukrainian population but for not sharing his riches with the other bank directors. These politicians completely interchangeable at the beginning are now playing different games in attempts to bolster their political future. Yanokovitch looks to Russia's Putin for support, Yushchenko looks to the West, especially the United States.

The aim of both is to enrich themselves and their allies at the expense of the Ukrainian population.

Guantanamo:
A symbol of U.S. imperialism, 1901 to present

Dec 6, 2004

On November 30, the New York Times revealed that, in confidential reports, the Red Cross had charged the U.S. military with systematic torture of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The charges are based on the findings of a Red Cross inspection team which visited Guantanamo last June.

The U.S. government established the prison camp at Guantanamo in 2001, supposedly to detain prisoners from the war in Afghanistan. Today, there are about 550 prisoners from more than 40 countries at this camp. Only four of them have been charged with any crimes.

The government claims that these men can't be released because they are dangerous terrorists. Never mind that many of them were rounded up randomly, without any indication that they were linked to al-Qaeda or the Taliban in any way. Some were even kidnapped from other countries, such as the two British residents who were abducted during a business trip in Gambia. In fact, well-known al-Qaeda captives, such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaidah, are not even brought to Guantanamo. They are held at highly secret locations.

Prisoners, as well as their relatives and lawyers, have repeatedly tried to draw the public's attention to the routine practices of torture at Guantanamo. Practices include beatings, shackling in painful positions for hours, threatening with unmuzzled dogs, sleep and food deprivation, isolation for weeks or months, sexual humiliation, exposure to extreme heat and cold and forced injections. Often, the purpose of the torture is to force false confessions and false testimony against others.

The Bush administration dismisses these charges, basically saying that it has a right to torture these prisoners. On the one hand the administration says that international treaties on the treatment of prisoners of war, such as the Geneva Convention, don't apply to Guantanamo detainees because they are not prisoners of war but "unlawful combatants," a term found nowhere in law books. On the other hand, the Bush administration claims that it is not subject to U.S. law either, because Guantanamo is not part of the U.S.!

But then, how come the U.S. gets to use this piece of land as a torture camp?

Guantanamo is one of the U.S. "possessions" abroad, acquired after the Spanish-American War of 1898. After that war, Cuba, a Spanish colony until then, became independent. The limits of this "independence," however, were set by the Platt Amendment, passed by the U.S. Congress in 1901. With this amendment, the U.S. gave itself the "right" to intervene in the domestic affairs of Cuba, "for the protection of life, property, and individual liberty." It was then that the U.S. also established a naval base at Guantanamo Bay on Cuba's south coast.

Not surprisingly, Cubans were not eager to accept the Platt Amendment. But they had little choice. With U.S. troops still occupying the island, Cuba gave in to the U.S. demand to incorporate the Platt Amendment into its constitution.

An article of the amendment allowed the U.S. to keep its military base at Guantanamo until both sides should "agree" to its return. The U.S. said the base was crucial to the defense of the Panama Canal.

The Panama Canal Zone is no longer a U.S. possession and the Platt Amendment is no longer part of the Cuban constitution. Nonetheless, the U.S. has held on to its military base at Guantanamo. The U.S. ruling class has obviously figured that it pays to have such "possessions" abroad!

Politicians and government officials always tell us that the U.S. is the champion of "freedom and democracy," at home and abroad. They claim to respect the "rule of law" above everything else. But their actions, in 1901 as in 2004, prove that they will break any law or treaty they have signed if it doesn't suit their real goal: to impose the domination of the U.S. ruling class, at home and abroad.

Bush's "victory" in Afghanistan:
More drugs in Europe and the U.S.

Dec 6, 2004

A United Nations opium survey revealed that the land area used for poppy cultivation in Afghanistan has increased by 64% within the last year. The country now produces 87% of the world's opium. The figure would probably be even higher if it weren't for a drought and disease befalling much of the crop.

If you think these figures don't go well with the rosy picture painted by George Bush about Afghanistan's progress, try the White House's own figures – which in fact exceed those of the U.N. According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the area under opium cultivation in Afghanistan has increased about 240% over 2003!

So, three years after its "liberation" from the backward and oppressive Taliban regime (which had effectively stopped opium production in the regions it controlled), Afghanistan has reclaimed its place as the world's top opium producer.

That means more opium and heroin to flood Europe and the U.S. So how come the mighty U.S. and its European allies can't do what the Taliban did and stop the production of opium in Afghanistan?

It's not that they can't. They don't want to. Turning a blind eye to the opium traffic is how the U.S. is rewarding its allies in Afghanistan, the notorious warlords who themselves are the drug traffickers.

Afghanistan:
After the election, only more violence and poverty for the population

Dec 6, 2004

In early November, Hamid Karzai was declared the winner of Afghanistan's October 9 presidential election. Karzai had already been Afghanistan's president for nearly three years, after being installed at this post by the Bush administration.

In his acceptance speech, Karzai claimed that being "elected with the direct vote of every Afghan, with the votes of millions of Afghans who came out in snow, rain and duststorms to vote" makes him the legitimate leader of Afghanistan.

Those words, however, don't check with the realities of the country. Yes, there was a popular vote in Afghanistan. But what kind of choice did Afghan voters have? The contest was between Karzai and two warlords, also allies of the U.S. for the past three years. So, even if one ignores the complaints about widespread voting fraud, this election was nothing but a rubber-stamping of the existing balance of forces in Afghanistan.

Karzai is the official head of a state that in reality does not exist. His authority does not reach beyond Kabul, the capital. And even there, Karzai has to rely on U.S. troops and private mercenaries for his own personal security. The nearly 20,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan are either stationed in Kabul or along the border with Pakistan, where a resurgent Taliban is waging a guerrilla war.

The rest of the country is divided into separate fiefdoms, controlled by different warlords, who also were (and will continue to be) Karzai's cabinet ministers. This arrangement is a direct result of the U.S. strategy in the war against the Taliban three years ago. The fighting on the ground was done mostly by forces loyal to these warlords, while the U.S. involvement was limited to aerial bombardment and special forces operations. The U.S. gave the warlords money and weapons, and, after the fall of the Taliban, allowed them to run their own affairs in the regions they controlled.

This meant that many regions of Afghanistan fell back into a state of war again, as different warlords started to fight each other over control of territory. And even if these wars end, there is no relief for the population – for when a warlord secures control of an area, his thugs literally rob, rape and plunder the population as they please.

The U.S.-led war on Afghanistan has also reversed the ban on opium cultivation which was imposed by the Taliban regime. With most of the warlords themselves involved in drug-trafficking, it hasn't taken long for Afghanistan to climb to the top of the list of major heroin suppliers of the world. According to the United Nations, at least 2.3 million Afghans, or about 10% of the population, are now working in opium cultivation and trade.

Contrary to George Bush's proclamations that Afghanistan is headed "in the right direction," this is what Afghanistan looks like today. It's basically the same situation as in the early 1990s, following the departure of Russian troops. In the absence of a central power capable of controlling the whole country, Afghanistan was divided into fiefdoms of warlords who fought each other. In 1996, with the direct support of Pakistan and the approval of the U.S., the Taliban took much of the country under their control. Ironically, it was the U.S. that pushed the Taliban out of Kabul in 2001 and handed Afghanistan back to the warlords – in many cases the same ones that destroyed the country and terrorized the population in the 1990s.

Needless to say, the population is once again faced with disaster: on-again, off-again wars, dire poverty and unemployment, rampant crime and terror at the hands of the warlords. Under these circumstances, it should come as no surprise that the Taliban not only haven't been wiped out but are able to increase their support in the population.

As the old saying goes, history plays itself out twice: the first time as a tragedy, the second time as a farce. Except that, in Afghanistan today, the only farce is the so-called "democracy" headed by Karzai. As for the Afghan people, this U.S.-sponsored "democracy" is nothing but tragedy all over again.

Guess who stands at the head of the reactionary camp!

Dec 6, 2004

The heads of state from 85 nations, joined by 22 former world leaders, recently endorsed a U.N. plan to ensure every woman's right to education and healthcare, to freedom from sexual assault and the right to choose whether or not she will have children.

Of course, we know what such resolutions mean fine words on a piece of paper almost immediately filed away and soon forgotten.

But one thing was significant about this resolution Bush, representing the United States, refused to sign.

Parroting words about morality and promiscuity, Bush put himself in the camp of those countries and religions that openly treat women as sexual slaves and household servants demonstrating just what his "morality" stands for.

Pages 6-7

Chicago:
A quick tow and there goes your car

Dec 6, 2004

Another scandal is brewing in Chicago involving the towing of cars. A person who accumulates three parking tickets can find his car towed, but not by the city of Chicago. A private company has a contract to tow cars for the city and it's a very lucrative contract.

In order to get your car back, you have to pay $250 plus fines. $120 of this goes to the towing company. But here's the real racket: if a car owner fails to bail out his car in 15 days, the towing company can sell the car. The owner gets nothing and the city and the towing company split a big payoff.

And who has this lucrative contract? Why, none other than United Road Services, a politically connected company which gives generously to Mayor Daley's political fund.

Baseball in D.C.

Dec 6, 2004

The deal that Washington D.C.'s Mayor Williams made with Major League Baseball is a total rip-off. The district is supposed to pick up the tab for the new stadium. The owners of the baseball teams don't pay a dime, but they will make tons of money.

No public monies should be used to build the stadium or upgrade the infrastructure to support the stadium. How dare they propose to build a stadium for the benefit of private enterprise after closing D.C. General Hospital!

D.C. schools are falling apart; students are not getting the attention they need. The roads have potholes, bridges are collapsing, and our cars are falling through the cracks. Department of Motor Vehicle lines are out the door. The list goes on and on. The money Williams proposes to give to the baseball owners should go to the schools and the hospitals.

This is just another handout to the wealthy. So far the score is:

Baseball team owners – 63 home runs; DC residents - zero.

Michigan:
Destroying the public schools

Dec 6, 2004

Reporting that sales tax revenues were down, State of Michigan officials announced they would have to cut funding to schools around the state by as much as $150 per pupil.

This financial attack on public schools comes on top of three years of de facto cuts freezing the state's contribution to the public schools even as costs went up.

The schools in Detroit and other working class urban areas and most rural areas will be hardest hit. In these areas, the populations already tax themselves at the state's limit – a much higher rate than paid by the populations in most wealthy suburban districts.

For several decades, under both Democratic and Republican governors, the state has played a game with funding public schools. When the lottery was first passed, the politicians promised that it would add funds to the schools. In reality, as the lottery money began to roll in to the schools, the state cut back its share of school funding paid out of its regular revenues.

In 1994, under a referendum paid for and pushed by big business, the state reduced property tax support for the schools, replacing it with money coming from a 2% increase in the sales tax. This did not increase money for the schools. But it did reduce the taxes paid by big business, whose main local taxes were property taxes. Individuals may have had their property taxes reduced also – but they more than made up the difference by paying increased sales tax and other consumption taxes on gasoline, tobacco and alcohol.

When the city and state officials were trying to legalize casinos in Detroit, claims were again made for another big bonanza going to the schools – this time, the additional tax money coming in from casino operations.

It didn't happen.

Today the state acts as though it has no obligation to fund the schools. At the same time, it continues to finance more gifts to corporations. The very same week the state announced school cutbacks, it announced tax breaks for businesses worth 15 million dollars.

Our children need an education – and all of them need access to the same good education. That can happen only if the state assumes the full obligation to fund public schools.

Washington D.C.:
Metro management ignores safety

Dec 6, 2004

On November 3, a Washington D.C. Metro train rolled back down a slope and collided with another train, carrying about 70 people. Twenty people were injured. A bigger disaster, with almost certain deaths, was avoided only because there were no passengers on the train that rolled down, and because an operator on the second train happened to see the train rolling and got passengers off in time.

Immediately after the crash, the authorities acted like there was no reason to suspect a failure of the system. They sent in the operator of the train that had rolled down for drug testing, implying that he was suspected of causing the incident.

It took three weeks for the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), however, to acknowledge the real reason for the crash. It turned out that only 70 of Metro's 940 trains had a computerized system designed to stop them from rolling back when operated manually. The train that rolled back was not one of those, and management had ordered it to be operated manually that day. The operator had done his part and tried to stop the rollback, by applying forward power first, and then the breaks. But, as the NTSB found, that procedure worked only if the train was rolling back at a speed of 2 mph or less, that is, only for seconds in the very beginning of the rollback. Furthermore, Metro had never given any of this information to its operators and it hadn't trained them on the proper management of a rollback.

But that's not all. After a 1996 crash that caused deaths, the NTSB told Metro it should reinforce the structure of its rail cars to reduce injuries in future crashes. Metro did nothing, saying that it would be too expensive to do that.

Effectively, the NTSB has now found that this crash was avoidable. Will Metro management be held responsible for all the injuries?

It remains to be seen. After all, the NTSB let them off the hook before.

New study puts numbers on air pollution deaths

Dec 6, 2004

Everyone knows that air pollution is bad for you. In urban areas, high ozone levels commonly trigger health warnings and pleas for the public to do things like wait until sundown to gas up the car.

Now a study of 95 cities by Yale University has established that for every 10 parts per billion increase in ozone levels, the death rate rises a half a%, and even more for people who already have heart or lung problems. For the cities in the Yale study, it meant 3,767 premature deaths per year.

Ozone results when sunlight reacts with nitrogen oxides. By far the largest amount of nitrogen oxides in the air come from power plants, diesel engines and gasoline-powered motors, including those in cars. Power plant operators and vehicle manufacturers have for many years fought to prevent laws that could force them to use some of their precious profits to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions.

Up to now, politicians and industries commonly used the old tobacco-company defense: "We have no conclusive scientific studies." It is truly amazing that it has taken all these years before such a study was produced! In any case, the Yale study is quite conclusive. Moreover, its authors say that its death estimates are almost certainly understated.

Will we see government and industry take this new, conclusive information and dedicate all the necessary resources to cutting down the pollution death rate?

Don't hold your breath.

Page 8

Turning Iraq into a Tombstone

Dec 6, 2004

The media continues to speak about "killing houses" the U.S. has supposedly found in Falluja and piles of bodies shot in the back of the head found in Mosul.

Of course, no one really knows, since the U.S. military controls the information coming out of these places.

Part of the insurgents, which come from the most reactionary religious sects, certainly have used torture and terrorism. And they've bragged about it showing the contempt that they exhibit for the whole Iraqi people, and not just their victims.

But the U.S. government should be the last one to talk about terrorism, given its bloody record in Iraq.

A study carried out in Iraq by public health experts from Johns Hopkins University in the U.S. put the Iraqi death toll at more than 100,000 since the U.S. invasion. This figure does not count the dead in Falluja, since no survey could be taken there. But the doctors who did the survey estimated that the figure of deaths would probably have doubled if Falluja were included.

The U.S. dropped a deadly arsenal on Falluja, on its apartments and homes and streets even shells filled with white phosphorous, which creates a screen of fire that cannot be extinguished with water and that melts the skin.

The U.S. firepower directed against the Iraqi population is nothing but terrorism using the most extreme use of violence against a civilian population to accomplish a political aim. But, by contrast to most terrorism, which is carried out by individuals, this is state terrorism carried out by the mightiest superpower in the world. The people of Falluja were massacred in order to terrorize the rest of the Iraqis to accept U.S. control of their country. U.S. generals were quoted as saying that Falluja would be an example.

This terrorism against the Iraqi people is being carried out in our name The rest of the world, seeing this, can't help but judge us all as barbarians.

We have every reason to oppose this war carried out by the U.S. government in our name. First, we should want the slaughter in Iraq to stop and the U.S. troops themselves brought back home. But we should also want to show that the image the U.S. government today shows to the whole world is not what we are.

Iraq:
The quagmire gets bloodier

Dec 6, 2004

The Bush administration continues to pretend that the situation in Iraq will be "peaceful" enough by the end of January to hold elections, and that the Iraqi police and army will be able to ensure those elections take place.

Whatever "peace" exists in Iraq today is the "peace" of the graveyard. But the mounds of corpses that the U.S. has been creating have only served to create a wider insurgency against the U.S. occupation, and a broader support in the Iraqi population for that insurgency.

The headlines coming from Iraq show it. Not only was November deadly for the Iraqi people, its was the deadliest month for U.S. troops since the very beginning of the war. Starting last June, every month's toll of troop deaths was higher than the month before, leading to the November record. It demonstrates the trend of the war – getting more deadly, month by month.

As for the Iraqi police and army units – in Mosul, the Iraqi police simply disappeared when the fighting started, in some cases, just leaving; in other cases, joining the insurgency. And when the U.S. went into Falluja with units of the Iraqi National Guard that were supposed to be the most "dependable," they discovered that almost half of those forces deserted even before the fighting started.

The U.S. may pretend today that it is creating "Iraqi security forces." In fact, those are nothing but a show for propaganda purposes in this country – to hide the bitter truth, that U.S. forces are becoming more mired down in a sinkhole that will last for years.

This war is a disaster for the Iraqi people. It is a disaster for the U.S. troops, who are already coming back ruined mentally and physically from having been part of an occupying army in a country whose people didn't want them. And it is a disaster for our standard of living as more and more wealth is being drained off into destruction. The war serves no one but the big oil companies, some of their corporate friends and their buddies in government.

The demand of all working people should be: Put an end to this war NOW!

World War II vets used and thrown away

Dec 6, 2004

In 1991, the government was forced to admit it had used over 70,000 soldiers as guinea pigs in chemical tests during World War II years.

In order to get its guinea pigs, the army promised 10-day furloughs; bullied anyone who tried to get out of it; and lied to them about the health risks, stating that whatever "discomfort they felt would not be permanent."

These chemicals included lung irritants, vomiting gases, choking agents, nerve agents and blistering agents, including mustard gas.

The soldiers were placed in gas chambers and left exposed to the chemicals for hours. Many started to vomit uncontrollably, their gas masks filling with mucous and fluid. They were forcibly kept in the chambers even after they begged for release.

Skin that was exposed to the blistering agents broke out into huge blisters literally because the tissue underneath the skin was dissolving. Eyes would swell shut and spasm.

This testing is linked to a long list of diseases that afflicted the soldiers afterwards respiratory cancers, skin cancer, various other skin abnormalities, leukemia, asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis and sexual dysfunction, plus mood and anxiety disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder.

When the story finally broke, 13 years ago, the military acknowledged these tests. Before then, the soldiers were sworn to secrecy, threatened with imprisonment if they said anything. Anyone who tried to get medical treatment from the Veterans Administration (VA) was denied it.

After the truth was forced out in 1991, the VA promised to contact everyone who had been used in these tests and to give them the treatment they needed and the compensation they deserved.

In fact, according to the Detroit Free Press, the VA never contacted a single person. Not only that, but many veterans who contacted the VA on their own continued to be denied treatment or benefits.

Why should anyone be surprised? A government that grinds up young men and women as cannon fodder in its wars to control the world certainly wouldn't shrink from killing them in military tests.